The Safe Haven

It’s either there has been a certain level of speculations built up or someone at the news agency wishes to answer the questions I raised last week. On the PMQ re-vitalization project, it’s almost the time due for an annual overall review since their opening last year. Ming Pao Newspaper had done their own for them for whoever’s reference (if you read Chinese). It’s basically reported on their financial deficit, and doubts on its future as a spinoff independent-run organization. The events that previously done last year around Autumn/Winter had brought enough foot traffic to the site, but the true intention of the visitors they’d drawn had not transformed into business revenue, a.k.a. dollars. Some tenants and visitors have claimed the entire PMQ project weights more on the commercial side. Rain has been pouring for 2 straight weeks here. I’d basically done no interesting photographs. This PMQ topic had got me typing instead.

From another direction
The world on a wall

Frankly, when we look just a bit closer, most of the goods found at are not for everybody unless you’re somewhat fitting in the 30-50 age group with a decent paid grade. And when they could afford, why not picking up from the top international designers? That’s if they’re a diehard HongKongese.

I still find it so so so so so odd to enter a shop through a door instead of an entrance. It makes me want to knock on the door and ask ‘May I come in?’ It’s just different from how I interpret a store, here. On the other side of me, I also see them as the little cozy boutiques. We must accept that these shops are there to provide more alternative choices to better our living. The PMQ is not a shopping mall.

When there were night markets with live music and exhibitions at the PMQ, It really brought foot traffic there. When it’s over, then it’s really over. They could curate just any kind of local art exhibition to further embrace the 100% made in Hong Kong awesomeness. There could be more art & design type of festivities happening at the PMQ. As they say on their motto: ‘Creativity at a new address!’. I always like the element of surprise. I feel a bit more ‘come on in and buy please’ at this stage.

There’s a very cool venue called QUBE. I found it so mysterious as I cannot physically locate the entrance anywhere and the window wall is always curtained. It holds events/exhibitions mostly by invitation. It’s on a bridge which connects the entire complex with a very high ceiling, just like the Apple Store @ IFC in Hong Kong. You could see a Dries Van Noten fashion show held at this venue. The runway carpet made by Alexandra Kehayoglou was amazing. It’s professionally executed. I could see the all kinds of possibilities up ahead.

I like the location of PMQ. It’s at a close proximity near the SOHO bars and restaurants scene; close enough to the Mid-Levels neighborhood, and the Central/Sheung Wan business district. Plenty of art galleries along the Hollywood Road. On the surrounding, behind the back and side there’s the historic stone stairs and trees on a wall (huge trees, yes). These trees would not last forever and impossible to replant another. Recently, quite some were fallen and hit the ‘unlucky’ pedestrians at the district due to natural causes. To me, they’re phenomenally picturesque and a representation of our city’s historic remain.

Is PMQ just a foster home for the emmerging local design labels or a springboard to the bigger stage? We are yet to find out. I found it so absurd to weight on profit and loss when it shouldn’t. Have we ever complain about it to the our parks, city halls, libraries and museums?

Our Assets, Our Charm, Our Future

I have the respect of those original creators of sorts – whether it’s a large device/sculpture (lesser known due to our city’s limited space), drawing and painting (lots of comics and makes me wonder if we have oil painters in town), animation (no, not just the cartoon pig), act/play, dance, music (not the cover bands, cover songs), industrial designs (new tech), writings (sorry I read too much when I was in schools), fashion (where can we find you when everything is so H&M, Zara, Uniqlo?). Most of them are small in scale, I totally understand the difficulties and have sympathy for them.

Given, they need full dedication in order to make their names. But without a proper government program and possibly investors’s support, there’s just no guidance, no hope. Even if there’re supports, it’s not sufficient enough for the international stage. Very few was fortunate enough to make their names and become a tenant in PMQ – The hotspot for our local based designers. The site was once a police dormitory and now converted into a shopping arcade. The used-to dorm rooms standard in size are now nicely decorated according to each tenants’ likings. All of them are very modern and chic. It’s almost like a trick or treating experience to go from shop to shop. I’m happy to see them there however here comes my worries.

Are they doing okay?
Is that it?
How do we value our own city’s talents?
Are they all so alternative in mind?

It sounds as if I’m so serious and harsh on our own people. But my real intention is really quite the opposite. I want to see some of our best talents’  designs to become the leader in Asia (someday). It’s the only way to have sustainability or even survive. It’s obvious that when it comes to fashion we’re nowhere near the Koreans and Japanese. Seriously who would come to Hong Kong just for that, in Korea and Japan we’d however spend money on their brand labels and designs.

Designs are like food. Every region has their own place for it. We need our own identity and form our own culture. Who says designs are all luxury?

It feels quite odd when we all seem so international in the city when we’re not so in some ways. No doubt, it has a lot to do with our city’s history, our policies, our infrastructure, our efficient/hardworking outlook. It really is our gift and we need to inherit all that goodness to our creative workers. So they become our assets, our charm, our future.
Illuminate
On the set
Digging under and building over
The repair of a broken water pipe

The Better Future

HK on notice board
I’m not political but more of a concerned individual. I do not think a political view can lead us anywhere by blindly following along. The political parties are destroying the future of The Hong Kong my dad always says, he mostly means the Pan-Decmorats. While it seems like all the blame goes to them, I particularly found that what they do is only a show. They want to steer the shifty minds of people, they want to make us think. They are offering us a choice, maybe just a choice that they could not promise. Nobody likes to have no option but to pick what they’ve to accept, it’s precisely what they do while they expressed it in a uncooperative way. To the Legislative Council, it’s deadlock; to the general public, it’s drama. Many have also expressed how incompetent the Chief Executive is, we know the fact that he has to do everything he can do to protect the elites. So the city could be functioning. He’s powerless, but to obey to the harsh split verdicts in Council. It’s basically two or maybe three different organizations working together to pave for our future. What can we do when we’re just a normal citizen?

Whoever will be the next Chief Executive, they should think about hiring a team of PR experts rather than any secretary positions.

The Business TripConstructionFilming the streetDoor to door

We have questions why the Singaporean could have a Garden by The Bay, while we could have a similar structure in West Kowloon years ago. Why cannot we build/design more tourist attractions even locals can benefit from it? We all thought our retail sector serves up as our major economy pillar. The fact is, it ties with tourism. Not only that, when tourism alone is not sustainable; retail businesses, restaurants, and hotels can all suffer.

We really need charismatic type of leaders that could aim for the future. And then a panel that lives normal life (not the elite) and DO know the city inside out, as well as the awareness of all the international cities’ happenings and affairs.

Ever since excessive noise complaints were reported around from the Hong Kong Stadium in Happy Valley, they should have re-located it somewhere else immediately. The stadium notorious for its lack of lawn maintenance and only host for 1 or 2 international+local sports tournaments (namely, the Rugby Five Hong Kong, and perhaps the Chinese New Year Soccer Invitation Game). The stadium is so underused for what its purposed. A stadium that can’t host concerts is already handicapped and dysfunctional. Our government can take down a pedestrian bridge near where I work due to underused, but not an underused stadium which occupies a huge piece of useable flat land.

Sometimes it just make people frustrate on why private luxury apartments could be built so fast, and a single block of government property can just sit there and rot. Central Market can be anything we want but it just sits there for over 10 years now. Why not simply re-model the premise, then re-locate the forced-to-close wet market businesses from nearby to it? Or just make a super huge food court, there’ll always be people at this financial district. I’m referring to market or food court in style, super clean, super high tech, super environmental friendly, free wi-fi coverage, great food, anything lovable put it there! It’s the perfect gathering spot for tourists before jogging up the world famous Mid-Levels escalators.

Am I overthinking for the future of our city? In contrary, if there’s a sounding plan from either the council and government I’m more than happy to hear it.

//

These images are not from my phone finally. My debut with Diana Mini. They call it a toy but it’s not. You just cannot make it work the way you wanted without the analogue photography understanding.

Show You the Coffee

I enjoy coffee. And more specifically, a comforting warm cup of latte. There was a former high school classmate/volleyball teammate named Jan Yeung, that’s now a barista for years. I have not met him in person since our last day in high school. With coffee related matters shows up on my Facebook once in a while, I asked his advice just few years ago and he kindly shared his thoughts. That was about it.

Show You My Coffee

Last month in June, I saw yet another cafe/restaurant got replaced by another near where I work in Sheung Wan. There’s a huge signature logo, a yellow neon-lit comma sign by their entrance window. I thought I should come by again during the day to at least check out their menu.

Not long after I read an announcement on Facebook, my very same former classmate Jan will be stationed at the cafe that I walked by. I thought how ironic, I should meet him in person and try his latte. I dropped by the cafe after the busy lunch hours. My impression to this place was, very bright and tidy. Their staff all dressed properly like a team. They’ve got the coolest denim aprons. It’s such a funny feeling to see someone so different after many years, especially at his workplace. I’m not entirely good with words and compliments but I guess my genuine smile would show enough of my appreciation. I ordered my favorite Piccolo Latte and we chatted for a good half hour.

Jan is a determined barista and now co-owner of Little Break Coffee and Kitchen. I’d like to share you his story, so you know what a non-franchise barista is up to in Hong Kong and more on what’s behind every cup he makes. Here’s my debut interview:

When did you discover your interest in coffee? how long have you been acting as a professional barista?
It was just 3 years ago, I got interested in coffee and wished to make my own perfect cup. I began by investing on a cheap semi-auto espresso machine. And in order to expand my coffee knowledge and I attended coffee courses and obtain all the resourceful help from the internet/blog, as well as the traditional way from books. With lots of practice and patience, I felt a sense of accomplishment when my first perfect cup was born. I then spent a year in Perth, Australia as a barista.

Precision Tamper Do you consider being a barista is your second life?
Absolutely. This is my passion and I could make my living out of it. I used to study Environmental Science in University and worked for 2 years as instructor in the related field.

How different is a barista from the rest of the food and beverage line of work?
They all have their own expertise. Chef has knowledge in cooking, server knows how to read faces and serve people. Since Barista is still a relatively new profession in Hong Kong, people tend to feel mysterious about this profession. It’s all a bit over-fantasized. And the people in this field treated it like a cool type of job, this all multiplied and gave barista an aura so to speak.

I notice a surge of demand in serious bean. What do you think about the prospect of baristas and coffee related business in Hong Kong?
It all depends on the demand. When there’s a growing amount of people enjoying espresso based coffee or seeking for a quality cup of coffee, the demand will go up. The salary of baristas may also go up. But with the unique high-rent business environment of Hong Kong, a salary ceiling cannot be avoided for the business owners. There’s a demand for barista and I see people entering this field.

I agree that more and more people know their coffee. I would like to stress on it does not matter what type of beans or origin it’s from, as long as you’re getting what you enjoy from a cafe. It’s about how you appreciate the cup you ordered at the cafe, rather than all the science and lingo behind it.

The Espresso Motor I understood that you’ve been to Australia and Taiwan. How different is our coffee culture here and there?
I believe that their cafes in Australia is equivalent to our Cantonese diner (Cha Chaan Teng), very accessible and essential. The Aussies come in for breakfast around 6am and for work break around 10am. There’s the normal lunch and snack hour around 2pm. They tend to end their day early before 6. All business close in the evening, leaving the city like a ghost town. Cafe can close as early as 3pm. “They drink coffee like water” due to the lower cost per cup. I wish to import the Aussie coffee culture to Hong Kong.

The Taiwanese focuses more on the flavor, the cafe look and feel. They all come up with their signature coffee beverage, making it fun to visit. They like roasting their own beans, giving us an impression of a small production boutique roaster. They do not need to meet any sales target, as their rent is significantly lower than Hong Kong. The hand-drip and siphon methods are often used for their coffee. There’s a huge influence from the Japanese.

The baristas in Hong Kong love what Taiwan is doing, such as to own a manageable size shop, roast their own beans, serve a few side dishes and whatnot. However, it’s an impossible dream.

Also in Hong Kong, baristas here like making their own private coffee brand and treat it as a side business for pocket money. They roast and re-sale their own beans. They’re quite a lot of it out there. But when everyone dives into this niche market and the actual demand is only this small, it’s not sustainable to do it independently.

Thailand is similar to Hong Kong in terms of development.

The South Koreans are good at marketing and designing the shops. The cafes are often beautifully dressed. From what I heard from my Korean friend, there’s plenty room for improvements on their coffee.

Crema Are we there yet and what needs to be done to become one of the top places?
The quality of coffee we do in Hong Kong is high but the mass majority of baristas are still lack in professional experience,  making our overall standard still behind Australia. There can be a skillful barista on site and their second in-command makes just an average cup. It’s all affected by the character of a person, whether they’re willing to listen and learn from a experienced mentor is up to them.

On the other hand, if the public can be more knowledgeable about food and lifestyle. It’d be a boost to cool down the overrated coffee and food franchise brands. People would then not follow blindly to the brands without realizing there’s much better choice out there, while I understood franchise cafes are offering their space, not their coffee drinks.

Frothing When an order of coffee can cost as much as a meal in Hong Kong, will it be possible to match that Australian pricing in Hong Kong one day?
It’s all up to the supply and demand. We’re trying to do that here with the combination of food order from customer. But quite frankly it’s the rent.

I totally think that a coffee place should be as accessible as it could be and to live and possibly grow with the community, the district. Have size and location formed (upstairs) a unique (in a good or bad way) coffee atmosphere for us?
To whose who don’t know about this type of upstairs cafe, it’s often conceived as the high schooler chill-out spot. Back in the days we used to visit these places for board games and they offer poorly prepared food. It’s about time for them to be replaced by the modern ‘coffee-centric’ cafes.

It’s affected by the high rent, in order to survive people need to move their business to the hidden upstairs location. When high rent gets in the way, lots of compromises would be made which at the end hurting the overall coffee business. The lower food costs, the lower the food quality. It’s a cycle. Only franchise could survive in this game. The rapid expansion trades off for quality and consistency. Many had started out okay when small and eventually becoming rip off places.

There could be great baristas around town. They tend to get hired by those who could pay them well, usually the franchise higher bidder.

Pulling What’s your specialty?
Latte art is my specialty. I studied and practiced a lot in control. And my experience in Australia helped me dearly, it’s all about learn by doing. To this day, my record was using up 3kg of beans in two hours by myself. I have the speed and without sacrificing any quality. I see latte art as an enhanced presentation, something additional that’s pleasing to the eye which could make a cup of coffee even better.

Tell me more about this cafe Little Break.
Little Break is a cafe/restaurant focuses on food. We believe food is usually what draws customers to a restaurant because we get hungry all the time. Although the coffee part comes second, I still do my best to serve up my customers with the best we could make.

Little Break started in Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon in an remodeled industrial building. Our chief owner Will also knows coffee and his cousins are passionate folks with their unique skill set such as cooking, dessert making. Will hired people to operate including me. He’s highly sociable, so you know he’s our PR!!

And until recently Will found this amazing Sheung Wan shop open for rent, making it our perfect opportunity to land on the Hong Kong Island – a slightly more upscale location. We are still adjusting our menu and working on the marketing for this shop. Currently during our soft opening, we close early at 6pm. Eventually, we want to set a dinner menu and have customers come in hungry, leave happy.

The Perfect Cup What’s the first thing people should try when visiting you/Little Break?
It’s up to what’s hot on the OpenRice page! But my recommendation for food is to try the Pancake hamburger, our chef makes everything from scratch. Due to its complicated procedure, It’s only served in the morning and afternoon with limited quantity. Our chef is also good at the steak department and he fine tunes his own sauces.

What’s your opinion about takeaway coffee? It’s a big ‘NO’ for those who know coffee.
Coffee is often treated as a leisure activity. But in fact, it can just be your any beverage commodity. Whether it’s a takeaway or not, people should drink up fast not letting it hang around hours. And yes, we do takeaway coffee in Little Break too!

He does not want to see people walk around with the one and only super tall 16oz. takeaway cup. Then we chuckled…

Thanks your awesome coffee and I’ll have you introduce us your own company for Fairtrade products on the coming post.

//

Little Break Coffee & Kitchen info
Facebook
Sheung Wan
Lai Chi Kok

Cruel Reality

Under the Lion Rocks is a way of saying the Hong Kong Peoples’ spirit, that has been told since the 70s where Hong Kong was in its blossoming stage of economy. We worked hard and while lives were still simple. At the skirt of the Lion Rocks (Hill), it was where most the blue collars lived and worked. There were planes flying in and out of the former International Airport in Kowloon City was also in the area. You could picture a very different Kowloon Peninsula back then. We were so proud of the beautiful names that we sought after. This was the golden era from the past. That’s until when Hong Kongese understand the fear of our future and worry what comes next. It’s always too late to realize but never too late to catch up though. The past of ‘Spirit of Lion Rocks’ – how we used to work hard had been already replaced by the ‘Spirit of Victoria Peak’ – the cruel reality, to another mountain so to speak.

Of which parents do not want their kids’ first job as a investment banker? Who does not want to set a lifetime goal to finance their crib, perhaps somewhere at the Peak?

Fast forward back to our times, what’s on the skirt of Lion Rocks is now packed with public estates, residential buildings and really nothing else; versus back then there were factories. Hong Kong was well known for its ‘Made in Hong Kong’ label, quality and price. How about now? Our economy had shifted to the stock market, real estate, and tourism. If you had ever visited the Victoria Peak, you gaze from that point of view is what exactly you see about Hong Kong. The population, the ridiculously priced housing, the Stock Market from the tallest skyscraper on Hong Kong Island – International Financial Centre (IFC).

And seriously why on earth our government considers Tourism as our major pillar industries and we never develop any new and exciting tourists spots. I believe, folks at the Tourism Board must question themselves where ‘else’ could tourists go after their first visit.

The media is a dangerous weapon, it can twist peoples’ minds. False can become true. With all the mixed up views in the media, the truth is out there for you to determine. The louder, noisier outweighs the quieter, thought-out crowd. There’s very little or no way to diversify our attention from politics when all we hear is all the fights between political parties and the SAR Government. There’re people out there just want to break free. That’s why I always raise the question why we do not have any free TV channel about history, documentary, sports, food. Not only it can inspire our people, it offers more choices for viewing. It can definitely divert our attention from the politics.

Looking at
Nip
Eyes
Pops
The Green Bag
Everyone's dream
Dream like candles

Small World

In the early days graffiti was considered as a rebellious act, people would generalize them as (I think of) dysfunction, anti-social, no-life, psycho, troubled,… This was until these graffitis evolved into a new breed, to an art that actually give life to the boring concrete and steel.

Just by seeing the moving images from the last World Cup in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), it had provided me a solid belief of how graffiti can actually add vibrance to a city. That is when each piece tells a story. A story comes from the very place, the origin. It’s an expression to speak lots of peoples’ mind. Whether you agree or not, graffitis have added so much colors and energy to the entire soccer mania. These graffitis come from professional artists that get paid for, no more stereotyping of just any street kid could do it at will. Some of these professionals get curated at galleries and even seen in various fine art auction. I always appreciate people making art so convenient at ease that just about anyone could use them, just like an ambiguous-looking piece of furniture. It has more than its own design intent for practical use, while also as an installment piece.

Graffiti reminds me of tattoo artists, you see how all the footballers (soccer) have their both arms tattooed. Although I thought some of them look better without them, it’s a trend, a fashion. Some people just want their property walls a fun unique, representable ways. And it’s a on-going trend for the hipsters with the ‘why-not’ attitude.

I bumped into this Californian-looking guy (oh he reminds me of the Maroon5 vocal, Adam) who was holding a spray paint. I had to stop and appreciate his work, the colors he used was just so eye catching. I knew he’s busy and it’s odd to interrupt. I guess it’s my appreciation and curiosity got the little conversation going. We have no idea who each others were until I recalled the Master Kong Quarterly Magazine Issue 2 that featured street arts that I thought this English gentleman might have heard of. Then, he immediately told me he was on it. ‘Small world’ he implied after knowing I was on the first issue. He’s in Hong Kong for about a year originally from the UK. He has a solid foundation from painting in different sizes. He handed me a pair of his signature art stickers (which was a blue camouflage eye) and his name card. He goes by the name – UsedPencil.

Go check out his work/enquiry here:
http://usedpencil.com
Gear
Man at work
The professional script
UsedPencil

Imaginary Mentor

I tend to believe ‘Si Fu’ would only appear in your early stage of life. ‘Si Fu’ by all means I refer them as the mentor/coach. When you’re grown up, there’s just no excuse for you to take care of yourself. There might be exceptions found in church or other types of religious communities. I just wish I could meet one soon enough that I could get influence from. I’m very fed up on figuring things and go around circle in life. This cycle has been going on for so long until I realize I’d become my own ‘Si Fu’. Maybe it’s just my nature to dig into my own world and experiment.

I was watching a documentary of festival in India. The host said people there are so easy to be happy. My mom told me it’s true that people are happier when they’re living in a place where everyone is poor. There’s no comparison, less desire on money and material. To take one step further, how can it possibly done here in Hong Kong? Who are we, when in the absence of money and status? Are we really all equal? One thing that I’d been thinking about for so long is, what you could contribute to the society without producing major economical values is what proved you to be a useful person. I know being poor is my biggest weakness, It totally steered me toward my philosophy. It’s why I think I’m doing some goods to the society as a photographer.

People often ask me why don’t ever go on vacation for a travel. I try to be dodgy and come up with a sub-par excuse that I answered: that’s because I could easily over-spent. My real fact is, I’ve got retired parents without pension to take care of. That’s my priority. Whatever comes next is what I spend on locally, things such as food, clothes. Sometimes I even think thankfully that I do not have rich friends that I need to catch up with. I do want to travel, ever since I come back from the U.S. I’d not set my foot at the airport terminal. It’s a real shame for a photographer. It’s life I must accept.

Behind the Scene
The Act in Life as a stage
City of Glamor
The City Night
Glamor with a price
Message: To Let, less of the glamor
Colors in real life
Colors in imagination