Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sweet (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Say the word "tofu" to many a native English speaker and they'll think of something bland and unappetizing as well as famously "good for you". While the last attribute is true enough, I think that it does this type of food a disservice to think that it can't be tasty. But having seen how tofu tends to get served up in England and non-ethnic Asian sections of the U.S.A. (i.e., often pretty plainly, ungarnished and at room temperature), I understand why tofu has gotten the reputation that it does among many residents of those territories.

In much of Asia, however, tofu is a culinary treat as well as versatile item and ingredient that is part of savoury, salty, spicy (I think in particular here of the Sichuanese speciality dish called ma po tofu) and/or sweet dishes. It also is made into a drink -- known as tao chooi (trans. "[soya] bean water") in Hokkien (my mother tongue) and tao cheong (trans. "[soya] bean milk") in Cantonese -- that's sweetened by having liquid sugar mixed into it and is a staple in Shanghainese restaurants.

Apart from drinking tao chooi, my favorite way of consuming tofu is as a dessert. As a child in Penang, it was quite a treat to get a bowl of tao hwa (literally translated as "[soya] bean flower" but more regularly plus plainly known in English as beancurd) from the tofu vendor -- who often would serve up his fare in wet markets and/or from roadside stalls -- that, like tao chooi, was liberally laced with lashings of liquid sugar.

While that already may sound quite novel and sweet to those who've never had tofu as a dessert, you really ain't seen nothing yet until you come over to Hong Kong and check out what speciality dessert shops and restaurants like Sweet Dynasty do to the humble tofu! Which gets me to my photo for this week's Photo Hunt...

To sum it all up: Yes, some of the white bits floating about in the pictured dessert really is tofu; and, although it may not be readily apparent, this enticing cold dish's base and principal ingredient actually is tofu though it's true enough that it's lavishly topped with assorted fruits (including strawberries, mangoes, lychees and kiwi fruit) that have been shipped to Hong Kong from various other parts of the world. ;b

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Live is Beautiful

Continuing with my Culture Vulture tour of Hong Kong: Two evenings ago, I attended the classical music concert entitled Inspired by Harmony: Grainger Quartet x Hong Kong Sinfonietta that I had previewed in bc magazine a couple of weeks back. As I sat in the prime seating -- just seven rows from the front -- I had been allocated for the performance, I got to realizing that this would be the first classical music concert that I was attending since I left Philadelphia -- whose resident orchestra is truly world class -- back in July 2003.

Then shortly after the concert -- one whose attendees, contrary to what one might expect for a classical music audience, were a wonderfully egalitarian mix of young and old and often quite casually dressed in the bargain! :) -- commenced, I got to realizing what I've been missing in the intervening period when I was in Malaysia. Put another way: How right the folks behind the Hong Kong Sinfonietta are in extolling the maxim that 'Live is Beautiful'! (A slogan which, more than incidentally, appears on the orchestra's current season programme, publicity materials and even the tie-in t-shirts that were being sold in the lobby area of Sunday evening's concert venue.)

Have you ever had the experience when listening to a piece of music caused you to feel as though your heart was melting? Although I wasn't literally moved to tears the way that two music-loving friends of mine were at the Tsai Chin concert we attended some months back, I actually did feel at certain points in this Hong Kong Sinfonietta concert -- specifically, when listening to the sublime sounds issuing out of special guest artist Peter Cooper's oboe during the performance of nationalist composer Antonin Dvorak's Serenade in D Minor, Op 44 and, again, during Baroque composer Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in C Minor -- that I was tearing up inside!

Here's the thing: I love classical music but circumstances have made it so that I feel that I can only properly enjoy classical music live. What circumstances, I hear you ask? Okay, disclosure time, and please don't be too shocked, but the fact of the matter is that I'm actually 40 percent deaf and have been for a long time. (I first discovered this when aged 16 but the diagnosis was that I had been this way for a while before; I just hadn't quite realized it!)

With regards to what being 40% deaf means: it's not so much that I generally have difficulty hearing sounds but more that I have what I think is rather funnily called a "discrimination" problem. For instance, I usually can hear such as regular volumed conversations okay, except in crowded places (e.g., popular bars on a Saturday night!) where and when lots of people are talking and different voices consequently blend together to me. And although I do listen to pop music at a louder volume than many people, I think it'd be fair to say that quite a few other individuals are prone to listening to pop songs at a (much) higher volume than me! ;b

However, classical music is a quite different matter entirely. For fairly early on in my life, I realized that a lot of its subtleties are lost on me when I listen to recorded forms of them -- even CDs, never mind cassette tapes and less high quality devices. Thus it's got to be live or not at all for me. And hence the existence of such as the Hong Kong Sinfonietta in Hong Kong giving me yet one more reason to enjoy being here in the Fragrant Harbour more than -- sad but there you have it... -- my birthplace of Penang. ;S

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shiny (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This week's Photo Hunt theme was one of those on the 2007 Photo Hunt Themes list that I worried for a time that I couldn't think up or find a good photo for. That is, until this past Tuesday (a public holiday here in Hong Kong on account of it being Tuen Ng -- aka the Dragon Boat Festival or Dumplings day!), when I decided to take my mother -- who was here visiting for a few days -- around different parts of the territory, including over to Diamond Hill to visit the sublime Chi Lin Nunnery and adjoining Nan Lian Garden.

I had previously been to the Tang Dynasty-style Chi Lin Nunnery a few years ago. So I knew what would be in store for me there in term of aesthetic delights. However, this was my -- not just my mother's -- first visit to the similarly Tang Dynasty-style Nan Lian Garden, which only officially opened to the public less than a year ago. Consequently, I had little inkling that I'd find a park that would be as beautiful as it is there; and one that came complete with a pagoda -- and one that was so shiny! -- as part of, plus dominating, its landscape.

In the manner of Beijing's Forbidden City and Summer Palace, this Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department-administered space has some bombastic-sounding names. For instance, the shiny Pagoda happens to be at the center of the Pavilion of Absolute Perfection Lotus Pond! And although that description of the place may tad exaggerated, I'd actually freely grant that the LCSD at least does seem to be heading in the right direction as far as its mandate of "Quality Services for Quality Life" is concerned. :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not your usual Hong Kong harbor vistas (Photo-essay)

My heart fell when I caught my first glimpse of Hong Kong back on May 1st. This wasn't necessarily because it gave concrete proof to my having left my Malaysian homeland once again in search of greener professional and related pastures. Instead, it was because May 1st happened to have been one of those days when the Air Pollution Index (API) in Hong Kong hit Very High levels, making it so that the visibility was pretty low indeed.

Fortunately (and very much touch wood), since then, the air has cleared by a considerable margin. And, as the photos below provide concrete proof, there have been some wonderful days -- including treasured weekends, during which I've made it a point to be out and about (rather than stay indoors) -- when the skies have been blue and good views are to be had as well as healthy air to breathe... :)

View across Victoria Harbour
from Shau Kei Wan (more specifically,
the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence)
to the village of Lei Yue Mun and the area beyond

A broader view which shows that
Lei Yue Mun village may be sans high-rise buildings
but still isn't that far away from them
in the grand scheme of things!

View from Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter
looking west across Victoria Harbour
towards the town of Yau Tong
(And yes, that is a large wild bird flying about in Hong Kong!)

Peaceful scene near the Brennan Torpedo Station
of what was Lei Yue Mun Fort
but now is the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence

The breakwater for the
Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter

A further-than-it-may-seem view across the water
to Kowloon from the replete-with-small-boats
Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter
over on Hong Kong Island

High rises south of
the Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter

and boats resting within it

A quieter, more blue and greener vista
than many normally associate with Hong Kong

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Professional disclosure and links of interest

Here be dragons -- and not just in Kowloon either! ;b

My apologies to those who are used to a more frequent output from this blogger. Anyways, and in case some of you still haven't realized it, I'm currently writing for bc magazine. So, if you're hankering for new stuff to read by me, do feel free to go and check out the following pieces from its current issue over on its website (and then feel equally as free to post your comments on them over here!):-

i) Here Be Dragons -- a feature article on dragons in Hong Kong;

ii) Eye on Yau Nai Hoi -- an interview with the Milkyway Image scriptwriter turned director;

iii) Relax x Appreciate x Learn -- based on an interview with Yip Wing Sie, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta's music director and conductor;

iv) Hong Kong Return -- a piece on the National Ballet of China's two upcoming Hong Kong concerts;

v) Reviews of local films Eye in the Sky (Yau Nai Hoi, director), Kidnap (starring Rene Liu and Karena Lam) and Mr. Cinema (starring Anthony Wong, Ronald Cheng, Teresa Mo and Karen Mok) and French offering 2 Days in Paris (directed by and starring Julie Delpy); with a few reviews by others, including a certain Hong Kong cinema website webmaster who I count as a very good friend... :)

vi) other writings which don't bear my name but which you still might be able to recognize as my handiwork... :b

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Another "what I've been up to lately" report

From two Sundays ago: proof of there actually being
sunny clear air days in Hong Kong
when bright blue skies can be glimpsed! :)

From last Sunday:
George Lam and Teresa Carpio in concert

Before anything else, yes, I've been continuing to work hard and play hard. As far as work is concerned, last week was the most tiring one yet; what with my not leaving the office on Thursday until around 11 p.m., Friday's work day going on until around 3 a.m. (yes, you really read that right!) and after returning to the office around 10:30 a.m. later on Saturday, having that work day not end until around 4 p.m. :(

So I actually felt rather relieved that unlike my previous few Saturdays, I wasn't scheduled to go out that evening...and, instead, was "only" booked to go out on Sunday evening. More specifically, this past Sunday evening was reserved for attending what turned out to be a three hour long concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum.

Headlined by veteran entertainers George Lam -- husband of Sally Yeh; star of movies like All the Wrong Clues (1981) and All the Wrong Spies (1983); and a songster whose warblings can be heard on cinematic offerings as diverse as the farcical The Thirty Million (Dollar) Rush (1987), martial arts classic Once Upon a Time in China (1991) and the romantic Anna Magdalena (1998) -- and Teresa Carpio (whose most recent Hong Kong movie appearance was as Lawrence Chou's character's mother in Truth or Dare: Sixth Floor Rear Flat (2003)), it wasn't one which I'd deem to be a classic as far as musical quality is concerned. For truth be told, Lam and Teresa -- as their fans refer to them -- are somewhat long in the tooth, and show it.

At the same time, I'm not going to deny that it was enjoyable and...interesting in its own way. After all, it's not every day that one gets to see a grown man hugging a stuffed frog and singing to it (as George Lam -- who I got the impression is known in some quarters as the Frog Prince! -- did at one point during the event!). Or that the choice of guest star for a concert gets revealed to be Lowell Lo, a composer and singer as well as actor who I first spied when viewing Magnificent Warriors (1988) and, consequently, have thought looked kind of funny. And that a musical event's guest star would take it upon himself to deliver a serious lecture -- with slides and all -- on global warming as part of his star turn!!

In retrospect, I should have expected some more surrealism during an evening that also included my spotting Natalis Chan (whose most famous film moment may well have come when he served as Stephen Chow's human paintbrush in Flirting Scholar (1993)) among the crowd at the concert. And this all the more so when on the way to the concert (more precisely, when I was in the MTR station nearest my Hong Kong abode), who should I spot walking past me, with shopping bags in each hand, but -- I really kid you not! -- Bobby Yip, a character actor who is most famous for being -- sorry, there's no way to put this nicely -- ugly! And when I assure you that he looks in the flesh pretty much exactly like how he appears in the movies... ;D

All in all, I think you'll get a good idea of how eventful as well as just plain full my life in Hong Kong is when I assure you that this past weekend may actually have been the quietest weekend I've had since arriving in the Fragrant Harbour back on May 1.

Still, for those who need some evidence, here's reporting that the weekend before that saw me doing such as attending the modern dance extravaganza entitled
Awakening on Saturday and then spending a big chunk of time on Sunday -- which, more than by the way, was one of those precious sunny and clear days that Hong Kong still can have, though not as much as most people would like -- at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence (which doesn't only have interesting exhibits to boast of but also magnificent views from its historic Redoubt and the surrounding area). And that the Thursday evening before it saw me attending an immensely entertaining multi-media performance entitled Anatomy-Anomaly over at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.

As for movie viewing and reviewing: Interested parties might wish to note that my reviews of Gong Tau,Whispers and Moans and Single Blog are among those up and available to be read over here. Also, that by the later part of this week, so too should my reviews of three other Hong Kong films and a French movie that I've recently checked out -- together with some other articles, including an interview with a new director to whose face I confessed that I've actually viewed twenty-three out of the twenty-five cinematic works that he's scripted to date and another interview, this time with an individual who -- despite her not being a professional actress -- was among the star names who appeared in McDull: The Alumni (2006)! ;b

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Shoes (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

A Pair of Boots (2007) -- photograph by YTSL

A Pair of Boots (1887) -- painting by Vincent van Gogh

In a break with "tradition" (i.e., my usual Photo Hunt practice), I'm posting an image that's not my creation along with a photograph that I took. And if you're wondering, of course there's a story and reason behind my doing so, and here it is:-

The photograph above the Photo Hunters button is, in keeping with this week's Shoes theme, a pair of boots. At first glance, they may seem like a couple of ordinary -- and humbler than usual -- pieces of footwear. Look more closely, however, and you'll find that they're actually a ceramic rendition of a pair of boots rather than the real McCoy. (Hence my "artistic" decision to photograph them on a background of ceramic tiles! ;b )

More specifically, they're a miniature as well as ceramic pair of boots; ones that I bought in large part because they remind me of the boots -- and related footwear -- that one of my favorite artists of all time, Vincent van Gogh, sketched and painted several still lifes of (most frequently during his Paris period but, also, would return to during at least once later in Arles).

One of the reasons that I like the work of van Gogh as much as I do is because, unlike so many fine artists before him (and since), he'd paint and thereby draw attention to humble subject matter. Instead of noble lords and ladies, he painted poor, presumably honest laborers like field hands, miners and other potato eaters. Instead of roses and other expensive flowers, he depicted irises and sunflowers. Instead of fur, velvet or jewellery, he focused on boots and shoes.

So, yes, it does seem pretty ironic that his works have come to regularly command the highest prices at art auctions and such as well as hang in many of the world's major museums. And even more so when it's realized that this tormented genius -- one of those who truly was (too) far ahead of his time -- never managed to sell a single painting over the course of his life! ;S

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dona Nobis Pacem

Dona Nobis Pacem = Latin for "Grant Us Peace". Thanks go to Mimi Lenox for being the main person behind the Blogblast for Peace initiative.

And for good measure, here are seven of my favorite songs of peace (in no particular order; please click the titles to read their lyrics):-

Monday, June 4, 2007

Another revelatory post and meme

A little more than a week ago, I got tagged by Lissa of a pity i'm an aquarius to take part in this meme which asks the participants to reveal seven little-known facts about themselves. I must admit that while thinking up this post, I had a sense of deja vu in that this meme seemed rather similar to the one I participated in back in April that got me to reveal six weird things about myself.

Of course, for this one, I'm not obliged to reveal weird things; yet, doesn't it seem to be the case that things which are -- or may be -- interesting also frequently can seem weird at one level or another? Anyways, you can be the judge of this by reading and then commenting re the following revelations... ;b

1) I share the same birthday as Will Smith, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Mark Hamill and the late Christopher Reeve.

2) When I was about three, I was bitten in the neck by a dog and, according to the doctor, literally came within half an inch of losing my life.

3) At aged seven, I won first prize in a dog-handling competition handling my pet dog, Cindy (named after the youngest daughter in The Brady Bunch; incidentally, one of my favorite TV shows as a child).

4) I studied music and to play the piano for more than ten years (from the age of about five to fifteen) but haven't played the piano in earnest in years.

5) I was stung by a pretty toxic jellyfish on my ninth birthday and couldn't walk for a few days as a result. The experience has left me with, among other things, a taste for jellyfish. (I feel like I'm having my revenge every time I eat some jellyfish!)

6) One of my still unrealized childhood ambitions -- and one which I don't think is going to get realized any time soon -- was to cross the Sahara Desert by camel!

7) I belong to a club that counts Sir Run Run Shaw among its members... :o ;)

And now comes the hardest part: i.e., tagging willing others to take part in this meme. Since I had some difficulty with this part the last time around, I'm going to just try for three rather than the requisite seven individuals. So will the folks behind the following blogs please consider themselves tagged?

i) Alejna of Collecting Tokens

ii) Sharon of Bibliobibuli

iii) Willow of Morsels of Peach Souffle


Saturday, June 2, 2007

Art (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Recently, my posts have been on the Asia-centric side -- reflecting the fact that I've spent the last few years of my life over on the world's largest continent. Then there's it also being so that since returning to my home continent in July 2003, I've not ventured outside of Asia even for vacations -- that is, unless one counts the time I spent on the European side of Istanbul as time spent outside of Asia proper. Additionally, on a photographic note, there's the fact that I only started using a digital camera in the past couple of years; making it so that all the photographs I've taken using a digital camera have been taken in Asia.

Still, while it's true enough that I took the above photograph of the piece of art back in my home state of Penang, the fact of the matter is that the painting by an artist friend named Muzu Suleimanji is one that depicts a Zanzibar Stone Town street scene; and is one of the art works that I considered very much worth lugging all the way back from Tanzania -- where I became acquainted with a number of talented artists (including Makonde wood sculptors and Tinga Tinga painters as well as those who favored more Western art styles and media) -- after my one and a half sojourn in that East African country came to an end in July 1996.

On an even more personal note: The street depicted in the painting is one that I used to regularly walk on when I lived, as I did for some six months or so, in the Zanzibar Islands. And yes, should you wonder, I did often feel like I was in a scene from an Indiana Jones type movie and that I was quite the intrepid adventurer for being at home in that kind of scene!

Returning back to earth: Although it may not look like it (and especially to those who are more used to towns possessing roads that tend to be accessible to cars), the pictured -- and, I think you'll agree, picturesque -- street actually was one of
the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Zanzibar Stone Town's wider and busier public ways! More to the point as far as I was concerned, it was one of the ways that led to my usual workplace -- the Palace Museum, should you wonder; and yes, this means that I actually worked in a building that used to be home to sultans for a time! -- from a couple of the places I lived in when I was in Zanzibar. (For one reason or other, I ended staying in four different residences during my relatively short stay there... :S)

In any case, should you think I have a colorful past, let me tell you about Zanzibar's: A part of the United Republic of Tanzania since April 26th, 1964, it used to be a British protectorate and its own independent sultanate (whose last sultan was overthrown -- though did not lose his life -- during the bloody Zanzibar Revolution, an event that also took place in 1964). Further back in history, this Indian Ocean territory that became home to Hugo the Hippo in fiction -- and one that, let's face it, is now part of one of the poorest countries in the world -- also actually served for a time as the capital of Oman! ;o