Friday, March 31, 2017

Away from the concrete jungle and madding crowd in Hong Kong (Photo-essay)

Among the reasons why many people in Hong Kong like to go hiking is so that they can be temporarily away from the concrete jungle.  So imagine their horror and frustration when these folks get into Hong Kong's country parks and encounter concreted trails galore!

For my part, I sometimes am fine with hiking along a concrete or paved trail on a rainy day (or even the day after a super wet and rainy day, when unpaved trails would be super muddy and/or slippery).  But it's also true that I do have a fondness for Hong Kong's old boulder trackways along with an appreciation of the history they represent and outright admiration for the efforts of those who created them. 

Among the best preserved of these can be found in Ma On Shan Country Park, in the vicinity of Tai Ping Tsuen and Mui Tsz Lam.  And the added benefit is that this is one of those sections of Hong Kong which feels far from the madding crowd, who either have elected against doing any hiking or, if they do decide to venture into the countryside, tend to fixate on going along such as the Maclehose Trail (despite a number of its sections having been paved and concreted over) rather than a less well known path... ;b 

An unpaved section of hiking trail that cuts 
through a bamboo grove

Unpaved but easy to go along on account of the trail 
being fairly level and also obvious at this point!
 
A colorful shrine to Taoist deities erected along the way
 
Artificial but not unpleasantly so?
 
How much effort and skill went into building this?
 
A still well-maintained place of worship
 
In contrast, little of the old village's domestic structures remain
 
One can but imagine what stories these walls 
could tell if only they could talk...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Musings on a bike ride between Sha Tin and Tai Po

Leisure biking between Sha Tin and Tai Po

The majority of the bike path is by the water's edge

Also by the water's edge were this Great Egret in the
foreground and Little Egret in the background :)

I really should do this more often.  That's the sentiment that kept on popping into my head when I went bike riding in the New Territories for the first time in over a year.  And this even though the afternoon I chose to do so had overwhelmingly gray skies and occasional sprinklings of precipitation.

Something else that kept on popping into my head while cycling from Sha Tin New Town to the old market town of Tai Po this time around was a song I learnt to sing (and play on the piano): Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two); and this even before I actually saw a couple riding on a tandem bicycle on the bike path!  In addition, a good measure of how much I remain in the thralls of Funassyi mania can be seen in my having visions of the Pear riding a bicycle in New York and various parts of Japan (including its hometown of Funabashi) while out riding myself in Hong Kong!   

As unlikely as it may seem, there were quite a number of people out bicycling that day.  I guess it helped that the temperature was actually pretty pleasant: warm enough for the likes of me to go about in shirtsleeves (just days after it felt cold enough for me to need to put on my Norwegian sweater made for a climate where summer temperatures can be in the single digits on the Celsius scale!) but still enjoyably breezy enough that one didn't actually sweat buckets on the approximately 10 kilometer ride (and for some of the migratory birds to remain to decide against flying off to cooler climes).

A few people, some with pretty substantial looking loads on their vehicles, appeared to be using their bicycles for serious purposes that afternoon.  For the most part though, the riders I saw along the way looked to be leisure cyclists, even if some of them were kitted out like they were taking part in a competitive bike race!

It's been said of the Japanese that they get seriously costumed and equipped for whatever leisure activity they take part in: be it golf, tennis, mountain climbing, bicycling or what-have-you.  From personal observation, I'd say that this is true too of a substantial percentage of Hong Kongers.  All in all, both these cultures sure do seem to take play seriously: in terms of wanting to (appear to) do a good job of it as well as being willing to genuinely let their hair down when the time and opportunity allows! ;b        

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quality dining at a mystery sushi restaurant ;)

A sign that you're in a quality sushi-ya :)

A sign that your delicious meal is coming to an end ;(

Last week, I went to a sushi restaurant in Central that two "in the know" friends (one of whom is part of the Japanese bar and restaurant owners circle, another of whom knows a number of food writers) told me had recently opened.  When I tried to look it up online, I found that it had neither website nor an entry on Openrice, a restaurant guide widely utilized here in Hong Kong.  And although it has a Facebook page, the information there is on the sparse side.  Among other things, while its address and phone number is listed, there's no menu that you can peruse -- and, consequently, no small amount of uncertainty regarding its price range.  

Based on the pricing at a couple of sister sushi-ya, however, I figured that one would have to shell out quite a bit of dough if one went there for dinner.  Consequently, a fellow sushi enthusiast friend and I decided to err on the side of caution and go there for lunch (which tends to be cheaper as well as more casual) rather than for an evening meal.

The day before we were due to go there, the restaurant called my friend to confirm our booking and told her that there was just a choice of a sushi set (of around HK$690 (i.e., US$89)) or omakase (for around HK$1700 (~US$219)).  It's worth noting that these prices don't include an effectively mandatory 10% service charge -- and, since we both have the mindset that we need to drink sake when eating sushi (or sashimi), we figured our bill would go up to around HK$1,000 (~US$129) at the very least (i.e., if we "just" went for the cheaper option).

And so it proved, and yet I think I can safely say that we both agreed post the experience that our lunch that day had been worth the price!  What might seem even more astonishing to some people (I'm thinking here of non-foodies but also sushi fans who have yet to dine at a seriously high quality sushi-ya!) is that seconds after I stepped into the restaurant, I felt pretty assured that I'd be having the kind of meal that my tastebuds didn't want to ever end even while my stomach got so full that I ended up not feeling able to have dinner that day until around 9.30pm!

The first sign of guaranteed quality for me was the existence at the counter of a shark skin grater for what I knew would be fresh as well as real wasabi.  The second was that the entire restaurant had just 10 seats (all of them at the counter).  The third was that my friend and I had been placed right in front of the head chef (rather than his assistant at the counter).  And of course the bonus on top of all this is that that particular individual is a sushi chef who's already made a name for himself here in Hong Kong post coming from his hometown of Sapporo, and already has more than 25 years of sushi-cheffing experience.

Yet another sign that this would be a meal to cherish and remember was that despite my friend and I having the sushi set rather than the omakase option, we still were served individual pieces of sushi straight from the hand of the (head) sushi chef rather than all at once and/or via a third party such as a waitress (who, instead, only served us the non-sushi dishes, such as the chawan mushi and miso soup, and alcohol).  Oh, and although we were free to use chopsticks if we so wished, a wetted cloth had been placed in front of us to indicate that the preferred method of picking up the sushi involved our using our fingers.

Unusually for Hong Kong, the chef was confident enough to begin the sushi part of our meal with unfancy ika (squid) rather than bombastic o-toro (fatty tuna) (which was reserved for later on).  Another unconventional decision to my mind involved the serving of miso soup midway through the meal; a step that actually induced mild panic in me as I got to thinking -- thankfully mistakenly, as it turned out -- that our lunch was over at that point!    

Instead, the way I knew that the non-dessert part of the meal had come to a close was when a sublime piece of soft anago (saltwater eel) sushi and a piece of tamago (Japanese-style grilled egg that tastes like a sweet omelette) was placed in front of us.  At which I found myself inadvertently letting out a sigh that actually was an improbable mix of disappointment and contentment!  

At one point during the meal, I asked the chef about this new restaurant and he openly stated that this actually was the preferred one of the two dining establishments that now bear his name.  Additionally, in response to my query regarding the lack of a website and such for it, he straightforwardly stated that it's the kind of place where he'd prefer only regulars to eat at -- and since seating was so limited, it'd be better if it wasn't easy for non-serious folks to hear about and find!

Upon hearing this, my friend, who had lived for some years in Japan, murmured something about this arrangement being fairly usual for good restaurants in the chef's home country.  At which point, we all smiled at one another; me in part at feeling privileged for having found out about this place and included in this particular circle, and also because my knowledge had allowed my friend and I to have had a thoroughly satisfying -- even if pricey -- meal there. :) 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Flying dreams and paragliding realities

Paragliders at play in Hong Kong!
 
Getting ready to take off and fly away :b
 
Whether from up close or less so, 
it all looks really awesome to me! :)
 
Have you ever wished you could fly up in the air, as free as a bird, particularly those that look like they're effortlessly and majestically gliding about?  I figure I must have since one of the recurring dreams I've had over the years involves me doing just like that; and yes, I've always felt really relaxed and happy during those experiences and for a time after I wake up the morning after!
 
Ironically, in real life, I've come to realize over the course of hiking along narrow paths on the sides many a high hill and steep mountain that I am acrophobic and therefore probably would not enjoy being floating high up in the air in real life.  Thus I've never attempted doing any of the following which seemed like they could be a lot of fun in theory but would in all likelihood cause me great terror in reality: hang gliding (something which I longed to do as a kid after watching -- and loving -- the action adventure movie, Sky Riders, but have never dared to do as an adult); bungee jumping; parachuting; and paragliding.
 
Although I haven't witnessed anyone attempting those first three live, I've seen quite a few paragliders flying about in the air since moving to Hong Kong close to 10 years ago now as well as when visiting Bergen's Mount Ulriken one beautiful spring day in Norway and also the sand dunes of Tottori.  And I must say that every time, those extreme sports enthusiasts leave me in awe at their daredevil ways but also how beautiful their actions look. 
 
Here in Big Lychee, the top three spots for paragliders to jump off appear to be Hong Kong Island's Dragon's Back, Lantau Island's Sunset Peak, and the Ngong Ping plateau that's located within Ma On Shan Country Park (as opposed to the one on Lantau that's home to the Big Buddha).  And it was on Ma On Shan Country Park's Ngong Ping plateau that I've been most able to get my closest views of  these intrepid souls doing their thing.

In fact, so close was I to the action that early on I worried that a paraglider would accidentally land on me!  But the more I stayed in the area and observed these people in action, the more I got to realizing how in control they really can be; with one particularly expert paraglider looking to be practicing his landing and being able to fly off and then land again and again on the precise spot that he had chosen to do... which, of course, left me feeling all the more awed at these individuals' skill as well as admiring of their overall daring! :b

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hope against the odds?

Mural with a message in a Sai Ying Pun alley

 Out of Africa comes hope?


This repressive government/police action strikes many people as vindictive, and smacking of an attempt at political cleansing rather than a genuine upholding of justice, particularly since the crimes the pro-democracy activists are now possibly being prosecuted occured some two and half years ago and it's not like they -- who include university professors, lawmakers and a clergyman -- have got a criminal reputation.  And it might make those who already feel despair at the selection of 777 feel even more hopeless.

But even while I'm saddened by recent political events, I refuse to give up on Hong Kong just yet.  For one thing, I learnt a long time ago that life is a marathon, not a sprint and also that we need to think long term rather than just knee jerk react to events related to causes that we hold dear.  And in this particular case, I really hope that people don't decide that the race is over before the finish line is in sight.

And as far fetched as it may initially seem, I think people could do worse than look at the fight to save elephants from extinction in our world.  Human actions caused these noble pachyderms' numbers to fall dramatically in the 19th and 20th century, and there were fears at certain periods in some quarters that these large mammals -- who have existed on this planet for millions of years -- might not exist in the 21st century. 

But while these pachyderms are still being killed for their tusks and their habitat shrinking, elephants continue to roam across much of Africa (including Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia -- all countries I've personally seen these creatures wandering about in the wild) and various parts of Asia (including Malaysia, where elephants can be spotted in national parks and elephant crossing signs by the side of at least one highway).  And there actually have been elephant conservation successes to celebrate in recent years.  

Among the biggest of these was the decision by China late last year to ban domestic ivory trade by the end of this year.  Not too long ago, that action on the part of the Mainland Chinese government would have been unimaginable.  But thanks to the effort of conservationists, some of whom -- like Tanzania-based primatologist Jane Goodall, pictured on one of the murals I came across in Sai Ying Pun last week -- have been at it for much of their life, they have actually become not only possible but reality.     

Returning to the subject of Hong Kong: Rather than despair about its future, one should keep hoping, and also acting -- like the conservationists have been doing.  At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, I'd like to urge those who love Hong Kong to stay angry and active, and keep your eyes on the prize. 

Or, in the words of Jane Goodall: "Without patience, I could not have succeeded"; "It is these undeniable qualities of human love and compassion and self-sacrifice that give me hope for the future.  We are, indeed, often cruel and evil.  Nobody can deny this.  We gang up on each one another, we torture each other, with words as well as deeds, we fight, we kill.  But we are also capable of the most noble, generous and heroic behavior"; and "What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you make".  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

As the sun sets on 689's term, in comes 777!


Seen in November 2014, and still applicable today
 
Carrie Lam has been (s)elected as Hong Kong's next Chief Executive:  Surprise, surprise -- or, rather, so not!  Within minutes of the result being announced, jokes started flying about the 777 votes she had received from a possible 1,194-- and not just about how paltry were that number that she needed to get a well-paid job (whose salary, more than incidentally, is higher than that of the Presidents of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, among others!). 

Somehow, the heavens -- or is it Beijing? -- seem intent on playing numerical jokes on recent winners of Hong Kong's Chief Executive "election".  For example, the 689 votes that Leung Chun Ying received in 2012 invariably gets one thinking of June 1989 and what happened in Beijing on the fourth day of that month.      
 
Now there's the number of votes that Carrie Lam received today: which, when taken at face level, is better than what the man whose five year term she spent the bulk of as Chief Secretary received by an auspicious sounding 88.  Unfortunately for her, however, the number seven is -- as Apple found out last year -- phonetically similar to a slang term for "penis"; so her total number of votes can be expressed as "penis, penis, penis", and probably will be by a large number of people at such as this year's edition of the annual July 1st protest march!
 
More than incidentally, this July 1st is when the woman who I'm pretty sure will now get regularly referred to as 777 is scheduled to take over from the man known as 689.  And even as the penis jokes were being circulated, so too were promises and calls for friends to meet up that day to voice our protests against the small circle election and its results, and to let it be known that we still do seriously want genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A protest on the eve of Hong Kong's Chief Executive (s)election

Police warning at East Point Road at the start of today's rally 

You know it's an extraordinary unlawful assembly when the likes of 
lawyer-Civic Party senior member Audrey Eu are taking part

Denied the right to march on the street, protesters make use of 
overhead bridges, sidewalks and such like at points in the march!

We may not be able to vote but we shall be seen and heard!


Here's why people think that it's a sham election or selection rather than actual election: despite Hong Kong possessing a population of some 7.3749 million people and close to 3.8 million registered voters, only 1,194 individuals will get to decide tomorrow which of three candidates will succeed the reviled incumbent known as 689 because that's the number of votes he received at the previous Chief Executive "election".  And if this is not bad enough, consider that Beijing has been very actively interfering in the process by doing such as making their preferred choice very clear and even leaning pretty heavily on those with a vote to cast to try to ensure that they do its bidding.

Some two and a half years ago, I held discussions with people on the streets of Hong Kong during which I envisioned a nightmare scenario involving Hong Kong chief executive elections where the candidates would consist of Leung Chun Ying, Regina Ip and Carrie Lam.  While that did not come to pass, the prospect of Carrie Lam becoming Hong Kong's next Chief Executive is sadly all too real; this despite her trailing rival John Tsang by a substantial margin in the popularity stakes and her handling of the Palace Museum Project currently being under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)

The very inevitability of Carrie Lam's selection should be ample proof enough of how wrong Hong Kong's current small circle "election" system is.  For this is a politician so out of touch with the regular world that she didn't know where to get toilet paper after midnight (or to think of using such as tissue paper instead to serve the purpose she required the toilet paper for) on her first evening as an ex-senior government official (with underlings to attend to such small jobs in her stead) and doesn't appear to know how to use an MTR turnstile!     

Actually, this woman lost me a while back when she voiced her absolute certainty that there was a place in heaven reserved for her!  And it really did not assure me to learn in recent months of her believing that God had told her to run for Chief Executive!  For, among other things, surely it's a sign of utter arrogance to feel that one has such an exalted relationship with a all-mighty being?  And whither all this in view of Communism's founder, Karl Marx, having asserted that "Religion is the opium of the masses" and the so-called People's Republic of China still at least nominally being ruled by Communists?! 

Returning to the issue of the (s)election of Hong Kong's Chief Executive: I not only genuinely believe that if more Hong Kongers had a say in this matter Carrie Lam would not be Hong Kong's next leader but, also, that Hong Kong would have a Chief Executive who would not be so arrogant and have to listen more to the demands, grievances and dreams of the people.  And I know I'm not alone in this since the old Umbrella Movement slogan of "I want genuine universal suffrage" was heard issuing from the lips of many, and many times, over the course of this afternoon's protest march.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A fairly easy yet enjoyably scenic Hong Kong hike (Photo-essay)

Hong Kong's hiking community has been abuzz in recent days about an emergency call for help by two hikers stranded on a mountain leading to the death of a firefighter who was a member of the rescue team.  Questions have been asked regarding why the hikers went on such a difficult trail in less than ideal weather, how prepared they were for their endeavor, and what previous hiking experience they have had.  

As it so happens, there recently has been news coverage of a new breed of hikers in Hong Kong who seem less prepared and frankly less respectful of the environment (in more ways than one) than more experienced ones.  As I've often thought to myself (and also said aloud to my hiking companions), too many people don't seem to realize that they are out in the wild when they venture into Hong Kong's country parks and either overestimate their physical abilities or underestimate the demands that hiking can place on them.

On a related note: many inexperienced hikers look down on the easier trails when, in fact, they may better suit their ability levels -- and also can actually be pretty pleasant to trek along.  As an example, the path from Siu Sai Wan to Big Wave Bay via Pottinger Peak is one of those that doesn't require all that much effort, yet delivers much bang for your buck as far as scenic views go.  And it's also easy enough to add extra length and exertion to your outing by throwing in a walk from Big Wave Bay down to Shek O and Tai Tau Chau, like a friend and I did one unseasonably sunny and blue sky day a while back! ;b 

 Siu Sai Wan may not seem an obvious place to find
a trail head for a good hike but look, and ye shall find! ;b
 
On the Siu Sai Wan side of Pottinger Peak too is
a shrine where pots of tea wait to be drank :)

Not a resort facility or college but the Cape Collinson 
Correctional Institution for young male offenders! :O
 
Surfers abound at Big Wave Bay ;b
 
The waves don't seem that big but the surfers 
seem to enjoy them all the same :)
 
 Things were considerable quieter at Tai Tau Chau,
with more cool rock formations around than humans
 
Not the kind of scenery many people expect to find on an 
easy hike that began in an urban part of Hong Kong, right? ;b
 
A view of Shek O bathed in sunlight and looking 
pretty idyllic from Tai Tau Chau :)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Death notes and more at Art Basel -- Hong Kong 2017

 
A scene from this year's Art Basel -- Hong Kong! 

A Picasso and a Murakami in the frame
 
A still view of Mr.'s spirit-filled video work
 
Art imitating movie, and reflecting life?

"People don't look like they're having much fun." That was the verdict of an artist friend I met earlier today at the fifth edition of Art Basel -- Hong Kong, Asia's premier modern and contemporary art fair -- and probably its largest too.  

When viewed in the context of this event being big business for the 242 galleries from 34 territories taking part, there concurrently being many monied art collectors out there seeking to make good financial investments as well as "just" buy a piece of art because it happens to aesthetically speaks to them and a good number of the show's visitors being uniformed school students who were there for educational purposes, it makes sense that the atmosphere about the place was on the serious side.  In addition, I don't think it's solely my own bias that made it so that a large percentage of the works on display at the fair this year that I found to be of note were by dead people, had to do with death, or both!  

Among the famous and also now very dead artists with a number of works featured in this year's Art Basel -- Hong Kong were Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Francis Bacon (1909-1992), and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997).  Two other deceased individuals whose arts works I ended up standing for minutes in front of were Abbas Kiarostami (whose films I admire as much as his photographs) and Irene Chou (whose expressive ink paintings I'm somewhat embarassed to admit that I hadn't previously been familiar with).    

Then there's the fact of Chinese artist Shen Shaomin's Summit, the installation work which look to have caused the greatest stir at this year's Art Basel -- Hong Kong, consisting of life-size sculptures of four dead dictators lying in state in plexiglass coffins and the now dead -- but still alive, when the piece was completed (in 2015) -- Fidel Castro lying on a hospital bed near them!  

In addition, perhaps my single favorite booth at the fair was that of Japanese gallery Kaikai Kiki: which, somewhat surprisingly, more prominently featured works by the artist known as Mr. rather than parent company founder Takashi Murakami (who was well represented elsewhere in the show).  The initial impression was of bright colors, and kawaii and anime elements predominating the area.  But venture deeper into the booth and one will find a mesmerizing video work featuring unearthly music... and what look to be illustrations of spirits at home in a cemetery!     

The somber frame of mind that came from viewing these works and also such as Ben Quilty's pieces documenting the Syrian refugee crisis may also have caused me to see darker meanings in certain works.  In this light, Chow Chun Fai's The Midnight After, Our City Changed Irrevocably looks to be a lament for what Hong Kong's (already) lost.  And the yellow umbrellas seen dotting the landscape in Bulgarian-born Christo's The Umbrellas (Project for Japan and USA) got me wistfully recalling a now past time when yellow umbrellas abounded in peaceful protest areas here in the Big Lychee. 

Still, lest it be thought otherwise, here's stating for the record that I did enjoy the six hours or so that I spent at Art Basel -- Hong Kong today as well as get much intellectually from the experience.  Also, for the record, there were works by living artists (including the now 80-year-old Frank Stella and 52-year-old Anila Quayyum Agha) that caught my eye at the art fair.  And I hope that come next year, there'll be new works by them to enjoy along with what look to be increasingly strong representation of works by my old favorites! ;b

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lunching at Hong Kong's three Michelin star L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

A beautifully presented amuse-bouche 

A main course that looks like a work of art ;b

Mashed potatoes that look like butter, and 
butter that looks like pastry!

"Exceptional cuisine, worth a journey."  That's what the three stars awarded by the Michelin Guide are meant to denote of a restaurant.  And as of 2017, there are just six dining establishments in Hong Kong -- out of an estimated total of over 15,000 in the territory -- that have been deemed worthy of such praise by the inspectors for France's Michelin company that began producing guides for their home country in 1900 but only since 2009 for this part of the world.

Much referenced and cited, the Hong Kong Michelin guide also is fairly controversial; with some of its picks and exclusions being heatedly disputed in local foodie circles, and Michelin-starred chefs often involving themselves in these discussions too.  But while the common consensus over the years has been that the Michelin inspectors seem to not be the best of judges when it comes to restaurants dishing up Asian fare, it does seem to be generally agreed that they're pretty much right on the money with regards to their assessments of those dining establishments that serve Western food. 

Consequently, my expectations were high indeed when I went and had lunch last week at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the only French restaurant in Hong Kong with three Michelin stars since 2014 -- and, for good measure, a place in the Asia's 50 Top Tables list.  In a nutshell: I was expecting deliciousness galore throughout (along with the kind of professional service that would add to the impeccability of the overall experience)! 

Although I was having it in a French restaurant in Hong Kong, my thoughts early on during the meal drifted to Germany as I dug into some of the most satisfying bread I've eaten outside of those I've enjoyed on my visits to Deutschland, and saw the green asparagus that was the center-piece of the enticing amuse bouche and ate the tender white asparagus (with foie gras rolls and iberico ham) that I chose as my appetizer since, thanks to a visit to the Rhenish town of Schwetzingen, I had learnt that that spring vegetable is a much looked-forward-to seasonal delicacy.  At the same time, I also was floating in the clouds a bit because the food really was tasting pretty heavenly.    

Unexpectedly, however, I got brought down to earth by a bouillon so overly peppery that my first spoonful of it actually caused me to have a coughing fit!  And while the chunks of foie gras and meat, the small whole white mushooms and slices of celery that were in the soup were delicious enough, I was shocked at how bitter the brussel sprouts -- a favorite vegetable of mine that even preparers of boarding school dinners previously hadn't been able to ruin for me! -- included in the mix were.

Fortunately, things did improve after the disappointing soup course.  If I were absolutely critical, I'd feel obliged to report that the saddle of lamb served for my main course was not as easy to cut as I would have liked.  On the other hand, I have zero complaints about the accompanying vegetables (which included flavorful green asparagus and baby potatoes along with the famous Robuchon creamy mashed potatoes).  Indeed, all the vegetables -- bar for the puzzlingly sub-par brussel sprouts -- served during the meal were so wonderfully prepared that I now understand why this restaurant feels comfortable to offer a vegetarian lunch option priced at over HK$1,000 (or over US$130)!

A dessert of ultra smooth chocolate, creamy ice cream and flavorful pear compote followed, with the meal drawing to a close after a generous selection of petit fours was laid out before us.  Free to linger, the friend I was with and I leisurely drank cups of tea (that were needed after the rich food we had had) while continuing to enjoy each other's company as well as the welcoming ambience of this fine dining establishment which, to judge from our observations that day, is a favorite place for people to have their birthday meals.   

Upon leaving the restaurant, we were moved to immediately assess our dining experience.  While L'Atalier de Joël Robuchon received the unequivocal approval of my friend, I have to admit to not being as thoroughly impressed.  In all honesty, I feel that I've eaten better meals -- including lunches -- in some other restaurants here in Hong Kong, including at fellow three Michelin star-rated Lung King Heen, and zero Michelin star The Chairman, Uehara and Godenya.  At the same time though, I can see why the Michelin guide inspectors would find this dining establishment to my liking; something I still can't quite understand with regards to the also three Michelin star-rated Bo Innovation!   

Monday, March 20, 2017

The lure and allure of the world's most kawaii supermarket!

Yes, Hong Kong is currently playing host to a
 
One of the cashier's desks at a supermarket where the sheer act
of grocery shopping will feel kawaii for some and hell for others!
 
Devoted fans of Hello Kitty would have known to expect
to see (Hello Kitty-fied) apples at this supermarket... ;b
 
It's taken more than a month but I finally bowed to the inevitable earlier today and paid a visit to the world's first Hello Kitty pop-up supermarket, which opened in Hong Kong on February 12th (and will stay Hello Kitty-fied through to the end of May), and which I received advance word about -- including from various well-meaning friends -- weeks before it opened its doors for business. 
 
As I made clear in a post on this very blog some years back, I'm not a fan of Hello Kitty edibles.  Hence my not having keen originally to visit a Hello Kitty-fied supermarket, much the way that I've not been attracted at all to go to the Hello Kitty-themed dim sum restaurant in Kowloon or the Hello Kitty Secret Garden cafe in Tai Hang (though it's true enough that I couldn't resist snapping some photos of its kawaii exterior when I passed by the latter a while back).
 
Truly though, the publicity for this Hello Kitty pop-up supermarket has felt pretty relentless; with advertising for it emblazoned not just on more than one tram but also buses and even mini-buses for weeks now.  And slowly but surely, the thought seeped into my mind that I could always just go and enjoy the sight of the supermarket's decor and more than 250 items on sale (including sushi and apples as well as candy, cookies and expectedly sweet stuff) that bear Kitty-chan's visage without making a purchase.
 
As it turned out though, I ended up not leaving empty-handed.  For, as I discovered during my visit, there are kawaii -- but also useful! -- Hello Kitty-themed kitchenware on sale there as well non-Hello Kitty-themed groceries, including the kind of edibles from Japan that I do like to consume.  And one of those items each are what I came away with from my first and still maybe last trip to the world's first -- but probably not last -- Hello Kitty pop-up supermarket! ;b

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ballaké Sissoko's music and my African connections

The concert program for the Hong Kong 
Arts Festival's World Music Weekend
 
A little more than a month ago, I attended the opening concert of this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival one day before the 2017 edition of the fest officially got going if the listed dates are to be believed.  So it seemed appropriate enough that I'd attend one of the three concerts collectively billed as making up the World Music Weekend taking place today despite the final day of the annual mega performing arts feast officially having been yesterday!
 
Kora player Ballaké Sissoko is by no means the first Malian musician I've heard performing.  Some two decades ago now, a friend from Mali introduced me to the music of his country by playing me cassette tapes of performances by such talents as songstress Oumou Sangaré.  And, in fact, Sissoko's not even the first Malian musician I've seen and heard live; what with my having been there when Tuareg band Tinariwen wowed the audience at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2012!
 
While listening to Sissoko playing on his 21-string harp-like instrument (whose sounds I personally associate more with that made by the guitar), I couldn't help but get to thinking about my friend, his countryman.  The rippling sounds that flowed from Sissoko's kora also brought to mind the lyrical music I heard in Timbuktu, Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako's affecting portrayal of Mali under the rule of foreign jihadists whose list of haram activities included music-making, however innocent and beautiful -- and made me feel ever so glad that the West African country is once more largely rid of those overly-puritanical religious extremists.  
 
In addition, even though it's over on the other side of the African continent, one of Sissoko's sets got me thinking back to my time in Zanzibar all those years ago.  In particular, his music triggered memories of many an evening spent hanging out with friends on that Tanzanian island; not so much because it was like the music that got played on those occasions when we decided to just listen in silence rather than -- as we were more often to do -- lay back, gossip and laugh a lot but, actually, because it actually got me thinking of night-time in Africa itself.
 
Here's the thing: even when one lived in an urban area in that part of the world, one still would be able to see lots of stars twinkling in the black sky and have the air filled more with the sounds of people talking, sometimes singing, and going about mundane activities than hear such as vehicles moving around or other machines being operated.  And somehow, that African night scene was what Ballaké Sissoko's music conjured up in my mind -- to the extent that even when my eyes were physically wide open, it at times seemed like I was seeing something else other than the interior of the auditorium I was seated, and he was performing, in this afternoon!
 
All in all, it was quite the hypnotic experience; one which I'd love to hear if it was shared by others at this afternoon's concert.  This much I do know though: after the performance's conclusion, there was much clamoring by audience members for CDs of Sissoko's evocative music.  And, in light of my experience at the concert, it made sense to find that among those for sale was one with the title Musique de Nuit