Non-Spoken Language

I’d recently walked into a very decent free music gig and it reminded me of a sunday afternoon I spent time at a live outdoor jazz festival. There was the trio (Jacob Karlzon Trio) from Sweden that participated the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival in 2013. It was spectacular and I could hardly forget. If they’d ever come to Hong Kong again, I’d definitely buy the ticket for the show. Check out their performance.

A little about the so-called international jazz festival. It just happened to me that the festival is not quite a festival with stage that’s as amateur as it could be. Compare it to one of our neighboring southeast asian country South Korea. They have that Jarasum International Festival with a legit stage that practically makes the performers and the entire event like a professional gig. If you really look at the one in Hong Kong, we invited the professional performers but the stage is like for the Sunday school charity choir. As simple as the stage as you would imagine for a low budget organized by the local Jazz Association. It looked cheesy but still sufficient enough for the artists to interact and get to know promote their music. But The only thing that caught my true attention was the music I heard from distance, until the Jacob Karlzon Trio had gone on the stage. I knew I’m looking at guys that live with music. I needed to secure a spot to see the gig. They could all do solos which it made them standout as a whole. I googled their names the evening after. It turned out they’re some really gifted musicians that also compose. Their style is a mix of smooth/acid/modern/neo jazz. 8 mins full of solos and melodic verses on each tune and performed for nearly an hour without any script. It’s not easy to not lose track of where they’re on each tune. As many have said, music is a language of its own. I totally agreed.

The IFC Mall had invited (or hired) two groups and one of them is a trio (Serenading Harp Trio) comprised of a violinist, Cellist and Harpist/Singer. Their performance was magnificent not only because it’s free or the instrument selection (the harp really caught my attention dearly as it’s huge), it’s because I get to see the performance in such close distance. Imagine how far it could really be in a paid theatre. It got me thinking, why don’t I hear music like these more often? You may say in such classy place (IFC Mall), only classical and timeless tunes should be performed. Exactly! When I hear street performers perform, they often just do the hit pop songs. They require a lot less skills and arrangements to get the music playing. Perhaps it’s precisely why I was so indulged to the music played by this trio, it was beautiful and pieces that we do not hear so often anywhere. Yes, the instruments are just like a mini orchestra. I’m quite sure they’d performed a tune or two of a movie theme song as the melodies were like the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Violinist and Cellist had practiced long enough to do the harmonic solos and duets. This freebie gig I wholeheartedly recommend anyone in town to see them play. The event would go on until mid June. Make sure check out them schedule, you’ll love it.

Serenading Harp Trio
Serenading Harp Trio

Food Culture

How amazing food is not only a necessity to just filling up our stomach, it is also an art, history, a culture that represent a country, a region, a community, a civilization. In our modern days, it’s also a romantic leisure activity, a skilled asset (course, certificate) that may even get you a job (knowledge, experience), a science to research on the food ingredients. You need to know the people, travel the places in order to understand the entire picture. Excuse for all the manners and formalities in fine dining for a sec – When food serves in front of you as a fine dining situation, it elevated not only your party’s mood but also to the food. It’s such a stress reliever for some who could afford the price. Not only the food ceremony itself is the celebration of life, the entire process of eating and sharing is such an important gathering moments for all culture.

Food and cooking is a complete set of language of itself. I’m not even a chef but my curiosity have brought me far enough to learn about another culture of food. It’s not until recently I interacted with several guys on their book project, I realized how little I know about my own culture as a local. I really know nothing about the old school traditional ingredients nor the history behind it. Rather I’m chasing after another food culture that I have not even been to the origin and actively looking for more. Isn’t it strange?

To the Cantonese cooking, we do not care much about the oil as it’s mostly for cooking situation. To the Western culture, it’s heavily used as dressing, seasoning and the final touch. It gets very interesting when I hear how the Italians (being a vastly successful food exporting country) extract their common olive oil through cold press method, it can be unfiltered for even more rustic look (many expert says it does not affect the taste) and where & what olives are collected from. It can be a semester course just to learn about the olive oil. How it’s used is just ‘oh my’, unbelievably easy. The rule of thumb is to really keep it simple, drizzle on the salad, rice, steak, seafood, anything uncomplicatedly cooked. It works like sesame oil except olive oil should be generously used to carry out the maximum flavor of the accompanied food.

Shadows of Bottle
hairy pig
when homemade is long way from home
from all directions

Look Out the Window

If you’d been following the blog, you’d know I religiously document my ‘only’ trip out of Hong Kong, to Jiangmen, China at least once a year. Every year I visit, i notice changes. Villages and farms had turned into modern concrete town houses and apartments. What’s even more haunting is that the first time I see a real skyscraper in Jiangmen. It’s unprecedented besides the local TV tower. The Wanda Plaza opened last November. Phase I and II comprises of office suites, hotel and a gigantic shopping mall. I did not have time to visit the interior, but the brief drove-by to the underground garage told me it’s one ambitious landmark of the city. The size is nothing i’d even seen, i’d imagine the size of a stadium. This is what exactly the real estate tycoon ‘2nd richest men in China’ would do. It wowed me to see such shiny skyscrapers and the shopping avenue nearby. It also questioned me who are these occupants of those office suites. To my understanding, Jiangmen is not too much of a business hub. Transportation is not as well facilitated as the nearby GuongDong cities

Bicycles got replaced by motorbikes, now automobiles are replacing motorbikes. Things do improve, do evolve at a pace we do not know about. The husband-in-law I spoke with had said they do not make a lot of money, but the expenses are really nothing compare to Hong Kong. Properties are much cheap, you’d buy a place not even need to stress about renting it. He claimed the trade off is the lack of modern city life. He does not want to worry about politics and all. All he cares is he and his family is getting all the basic needs, stay healthy and get on be happy with a normal life. He said he got really fed up with the government manipulation on the TV programs from Hong Kong. Not that because he could not see what happen in Hong Kong, it gets really annoying; just like when seeing a movie in theatre a big guy walk in front of you the whole time (this parable comes from me). I told him how I admire with the choices out there with the CCTV network, lots more program to choose from than in Hong Kong even a free sports channel is available. A good way to inspire their people to become athletes?

This time we had an alternative water route passing thru the Maliuzhou Waterway. It’s our first time passing thru it. I got to see some of the infrastructural development along the waterway in HengQin. It’s almost like a piece of blank paper, up to however they want to use this piece of flat land. I already see a few top hotels built along the shore. They’re there to cater the tourism needed for the Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom opened in 2014. It’d probably the last time we’d be traveling back the Jiangmen by water. Sooner or later they’ll cut the service between here and there. The schedule will changed to some odd hours which we’d not be able to meet for a single-day trip. We traveled back to Hong Kong for 4 hours by bus with congestion halfway thru.

Through the windows
Through the abandoned brickhouses
The last bit of remaining village
Tree vs. Antenna
Younger generation lives on
HengQin Bridge in construction

Putting a Flag on a Moon

The first concert I’d ever been to was the Alanis Morissette’s in HK 15 years ago. It’s probobaly the loudest or crappiest sounding concert. It’s sounded so distorted and heavy. My second concert was then in the US, while I was studying. I dragged everyone I knew to go together and there were over 10 of us. It turned out that it was a bust, the lead vocal of Linkin Park claimed he’d lost his voice or whatever. Rumor says he got really drunk and hungover. And the show got canceled.

Then during the years I attended concert every once in a while. Going to a concert is as common as going to a movie when the band/artist tour in the States. It’s way cheaper too. Bands such as Korn, Velvet Revolver, Alice in Chains, Nickelback, Sevendust were all a blast.

Some I even drove nearly 3 hours to places out of nowhere. But the most memorable band out of the bunch had to be the Presidents of the USA. They were the band i accidentally came across on one of the re-runs of the Late Show with David Letterman when I was 14 or 15. They performed their mega hit ‘Peaches’, it’s just so catchy even people do not know English can sing along the chorus. It was the last few months before returning to Hong Kong for good. They were doing a local tour for their new record. The Irish Pub they performed at was even smaller than a highschool assembly hall, the vibe just felt great with all the closeness. I was standing literally on the first roll, below the feet of their 3-string guitarist; I could taste his sweat. The crowd had gone bouncing up and down. It was a pure joy. How amazing my dream of going to see them play live had actually happened!

Hong Kong is still not among the top tour destination in Asia for bands and artists, especially for the heavier rock genre. I believe it has everything to do with the record sales, the scale of the tour and the music scene of the city. They prefer Tokyo and always Tokyo not sure why, perhaps Tokyo is Asia. Second choices would be Seoul, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and even Taiwan over Hong Kong. It’s the closest thing to putting a flag on a moon. So whenever any international known singers/groups visit Hong Kong, I just feel honored. I think we all should be, as our Gov said we’re the ‘Asia’s World City’ as the tourism brand motto. It’s almost as privileged as the Queen Elizabeth coming to town, despite our media and reception are usually not so keen on the lesser known (but famed around the globe) which I think it’s not a healthy reaction for whom flew across the ocean.

At the end of a day when I go out to support the band, I just simply live for the moment and have a good time.

Anticipation of The Empty Stage
The Performer
The Whole World on the Line
Newsline to the World
The Natural Model
The Unnatural Celebrity

A Paradise (Throw Away the Rulebook)

Ever wonder what a park would be in your dream? I never, until I walked into one. And I very much wish to share with you after seeing people in groups were:

playing board games
sun tanning
having a picnic
group of kids chasing/screaming
couples kissing/hugging
shooting group photograph
appreciating rare flowers (sakura)
playing music with guitar
playing frisbee
playing soap bubbles
riding bikes
riding kick scooters
riding rollerblades

This may sound very natural on your side of world. But here, it’s a very unique scene when all these were actually happening in one place. What’s even more amazing is the traffic/skyscraper-free backdrop.

The majority of parks in Hong Kong were created and managed by the Leisure and Cultural Department. Most of them were created with the think-inside-a-box or stick-with-the-rules type of design. Really if a park is managed by rules that people do not even want, would people love that? It supposed to be the best place to social and relax. They’ve created parks that tell you what you can’t do, just like a rulebook so everyone needs to follow. Frak that, really.. can we?

The park system is one fine example of the difference between international schools and local schools. Kids come out of these schools are just two different breed even if they were raised similarly at home (well there’s the tuition but that’s not my point). Rules absolutely hinder and limit the scope of development. We need rules to govern, but not to design parks around the rules.

It’s not my first time visiting the Inspiration Lake near Sunny Bay. I’d been there a couple times until last time I had realized another example why government branches are so dysfunctional with the old-fashioned thinking. Do they ever question themselves – why not?

The size – The artificial lake (12 hectares) and park (30 hectares) created by Disneyland. It’s opened to the public without any admission fee. Imagine what’s it like in a golf course, it’s got a paved trail for walking/jogging. On the sides around it and the lake are the accessible lawn. The lake also has a boat centre where you could go for something more adventurous. It’s much larger than the Victoria Park that’s supposed to be the biggest city park (where people usually gather for protest/march). Hong Kong people just wish to enjoy as much open space as possible and this is the answer.

The design – I do not know if there’s such thing as landscape architecture in Hong Kong. Maybe you think Hong Kong is just too small to have something that’s supposed to be large in scale? Wrong. They’re there for a reason, they create space for you just like what indoor architecture do but with a much concentrated field. My dad easily observed and pointed out at the Inspiration Lake that the lawn area were smartly designed with hills and valleys. It’s to create more visual depth, space and area out of a fixed area. The entire park was literally barrier free. Plenty of huge trees were planted to provide a large cool shade.

The surrounding – The scenic view is one of a kind in Hong Kong. All you see is the sky and a mountain covered with greens. No more skyscrapers, residential estates, traffic, or any kind of development. What a beauty! Even the air you breath in would feel a lot fresher.

In the weekends visitors (friends, couples, families) would flock to the Inspiration Lake for quality outdoor time. All I saw was the happy faces, laughters, joyful atmosphere just like how I’d picture a paradise.

There’s something about this park that just makes it the most ideal park to be. Most of the government parks would just prohibit you from doing this and that, if you do security would come ruin your day. This might just the only place with less of the metal and concrete, more woods and greens, and facility friendly park. And boy, I just love lakes!

Park - Nature at its best
Park - Full of Smile and Happiness
Urban - fluorescent light and elevators
City - Full of little geeks

For Paul

After seeing the Furious 7 movie, it does feel like I’d also lost somebody I’d known for a long time. He’s just such a cool person on screen. I totally understood what made the rest of casts/family so emotional. The last two scenes had really touched me and it’s the best fan appreciation and goodbye for Paul. It’s as real as looking right at Paul smiling in heaven.

The Fast and Furious had been with me ever since I first arrived in the US for study in 2001. I have become a fan since then. The last 2 Fast and Furious movies I saw were in Hong Kong with my long time buddy. There were just so much struggle as a foreigner before, which could turn into a book chapter. Seeing those movies just remind me of my past, and coming back home is the sweetest thing ever. I look at it as my next chapter.

My then next chapter had really turned into something I’d only dreamt about, doing what I enjoy and get recognized in a way. The interview which i had done earlier last month is finally available on the Where Hong Kong Magazine. It’s very cool to know when other 3 out of 4 photographers interviewed are either in the photography business or have recently turned into celebrity status (happy for her though). What more could I ask for? I really appreciate the editor’s support.

No matter what happens next, I would still look at it as a bonus.

P.S. The last photo is dedicate to Paul and the Fast and Furious.

Desperate to exist - To Kwa Wan
What HK is seeing, heading
Can't wait to wipe it out
Looking back the history
Alternative to flowers, cotton
for Paul

Spirit of Our Home

It’s such an experience to work on something so journalistic for the first time with the professional editors. It’s actually quite similar to how I approach some talkative strangers for photo. We approached traditional dry goods businesses that run by family. Some of these people have been working in the industry for all their lives, including their long-time staff. It’s so great to hear all their stories, how it all started etc.. I could feel the love with their stories. They represent the Old Hong Kong which I believe we desperately need to preserve. Believe or not, the industry can disappear.

The Old Hong Kong is knowns for its kindness, hospitality, genuinely welcoming vibe (人情味). It’s a Chinese term that is not easy to be translated. I cannot say it’s disappeared, but the city currently is really unhappy about just so many things. Perhaps the information these days flow just too fast on our cellphones, or most problems these days can be solved with money, or there’re just too many people living in the city. Or maybe the term (人情味) is simply skimmed down to how we Hong Kongese call as – nice.

During this year’s Chinese New Year lunch gathering with the family of my dad’s brother, my mom spoke about how difficult life was back then. A visit back to her hometown in China sounded like a trip to the Amazon jungle. First, the boat ride took long and was very rough. Then the only pier available was in Lantau Island which would take another long bumpy land/water ride to get there (the islands were not connected to the city). That was 50 years ago. She told us how she missed the once-a-day boat to China in heavy rain. She was just a girl and some unknown family allowed her to stay for the night. Imagine that today, to have a stranger come to your apartment. What’s even crazier was the family showed her around in Lantau the morning after. It’d imagine Lantau was more like a fishing village back then, as remote as you could imagine.

When people speak about the spirit of Hong Kong people, they would refer it to this classic Cantonese tune 獅子山下/Under the Lion Rock sang by Roman Tam. You get a sense of how difficult life was for that generation. We lived under the same roof, we struggled, we united, we gave, we helped each other. There’s always hope when we fight hard, work hard. Even the SAR Government re-wrote a song based on this one – 同舟之情/HK Our Home. It’s quite a contrast if you view the clips one after another. Our government sends out message to us, wanting us to cheer up and remind us who we really are.

Windmill of Fortune
World of tiny monitors
Closing Business
Sparkle Up