RELATED BLOG ENTRIES: HONG KONG 2007, HONG KONG 2008

 

THE NEW DECADE
2010, Jan 1 - Happy 2010!

10...the crowd at Lan Kwai Fong swells to a solid block of people

9...we step out of Post 97 having just finished a tasty Pre 10 dinner. With streamers, noisemakers, and glittery hats ready we join the party

8...we are the final customers in line at 7-11 to buy our liquor for the stroke of midnight

7...I quickly teach Holly some actions to help her learn how to say happy new year in Cantonese--(Shining)Sun Lihn(on Me) (Fee)Fi(Fo Fum) (Pad)Lohk!

6...A mostly Chinese crowd cheers in unison waiting in anticipation for the new decade to begin

5...The mass of disco balls hovering above us twirl and shine. It's an absolute cacophony of music, cheers, and noise. Gord keeps clacking his noisemaker like an excited kid

4...The neck strap on my camera slips open and my camera drops, cracking the LCD screen...grrr...

3...Everyone is laughing, hugging, and and so happy as they join the countdown...old acquaintances have been forgotten

2...I look around and smile--how cool is it to be in Hong Kong on New Years?

1...This is it! Not just the end of a year, but a friggin decade...

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Good health and happiness to everyone for 2010!

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NUMBERS 10.01.01 HONG KONG
New Years dinner at Post 97: $380
Panasonic Lumix LX3 broken LCD repair: - repair quote: $160
- labour: $300
- new LCD: $770
- new back casing: $280
- new screen protector: $35

HONG KONG
Jan 4 - Hong Kong is F'ing Cold!

It seems that Hong Kong has a problem when the temperature drops under 20C. It's like they don't know how to handle the "cold" weather. People bring out their winter coats and scarves. Meanwhile I'm loving the weather in my t-shirt and shorts. This is like perfect fall and spring weather in Canada, and about 40 degrees higher than our winter weather.

At first I thought the Hong Kongers were using the "cold" conditions as a chance to model their winter wear, but then I started to realize that I'm getting damn cold myself. Not outside, but INSIDE. WTF?! When the temperature is below 15C, I notice that there's no heating in any of the buildings. I especially notice when I'm at home. It's like I'm sleeping outside at night. Fawk! So I requested a small block heater for my room, and that makes it warmer but I wake up feeling like crap.

Then when the temperature is between 15C and 20C, it seems like suddenly everywhere turns on the air conditioners full blast. So what is a really great day outside turns into a freezer once I get inside. It sucks. So I've started to bring my long sleeve jacket, my puffy vest, and my scarf. And I put them on over my shorts and tshirt when I get inside. When in Hong Kong....

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HONG KONG
Jan 9 - Being a Tourist

So I spent some time being a tourist this weekend. I've found that while I'm working in Hong Kong, I seem to forget that I still have so much left to see here. I need to remind myself to look around a bit and appreciate where I am.

But luckily my friends, Baha and Roy, stopped in the city on their way back from SE Asia. They knocked me out of my lazy stupor and we did a tour of some of the typical tourist places in Hong Kong.

I first took them to eat one of my standard Hong Kong meals and a local Hong Kong speciality, a steaming hot bowl of shrimp dumpling noodle soup (shui gow mein) in a noisy, busy, no-nonsense eatery. Oh heaven!

Then we walked a lot around Central, snapping shots of the fantastic buildings in the area. My favourite building is a toss-up between the Lippo twin towers which reminds me of the shape-shifting puzzle box from Hellraiser, and the HSBC building which looks like a Lego house at night. It was a relatively clear day and the view from the Peak was quite spectacular. It's hard to imagine that the Burj Khalifa (Dubai) that just opened up is actually taller than the Peak itself!

We also wandered into Sogo and found the whole basement level floor covered in small booths selling beautifully packaged treats and snacks, just like the depachikas in Japan. We weren't very hungry and just settled for a tasty mochicream ball. Rum and raisin...mmm....

At night after seeing the amazing view from the clock tower at Tsim Sha Tsui, I took the boys on a tour of Lan Kwai Fong and the bars in Hong Kong. After doing our early check-in at Propaganda to avoid the crazy cover charge, we found a hidden gem of a restaurant called Yun Fu. Coincidentally, I found out later that it is part of the same chain of restaurants as Hutong, a high-flying restaurant where we were originally trying to get reservations. Going into the Yun Fu itself was cool--it was like we were entering the Hong Kong mafia's hideout. After passing the tiny buddha shrines and the funky circular bar at the entrance, we walked through a dramatic hallway bathed in red light with Chinese screens and lanterns on each side. I imagined the people peeking out of the private rooms as prostitutes and their johns taking a rest between sessions. And the wisps of dry-ice fog floating through the air as an intoxicating opium haze. The food was delicious and each dish became a temporary work of art under the spotlight at the centre of our table.

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NUMBERS 10.01.09 HONG KONG
Peak Tram with Sky Pass: $52
height, Victoria Peak: 552m
height, CN Tower: 553m
height, Burj Khalifa: 828m
mochicream ball: $14
shui gow noodle lunch for 3: $90
dinner for 3 at Good Luck Thai: $600
dinner for 3 at Yun Fu: $1250
amazing view Kowloon clock tower: free

HONG KONG
Jan 14 - Fan Tai Shui

According to Chinese astrology, every 12 years in a person's life as they roll into a new cycle of the calendar, they must face 犯太岁 -- fan tai shui. This is a year where you face setbacks and obstacles in your health, love life, career, etc. Basically you're fucked.

As my friend told me this, my jaw dropped as I realized that I was turning 36 this year. Then I thought about it a bit more and realized that since I was born in January, I actually restarted the cycle in 2009! Which put my fan tai shui last year--that explains the knee injury and my lacklustre love life. Whew!

But this is a warning to all my Tiger friends out there--go buy a talisman, red underwear, or anything you can get your hands on to protect you this year! I wish I knew that before!

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HONG KONG
Jan 23 - Lumix LX3 18mm Wide Angle Conversion Lens

I decided to buy myself a birthday present and scored the 18mm wide angle lens for my LX3. I went to the Panasonic showroom in Sogo and the guy kept explaining everything to me in Chinese, even after I asked if he spoke English, so I only understood about 40% of it. But it sounded good to me!

This is the first after-market lens I've ever bought--mainly because I generally stick to the non-SLR cameras for their sheer convenience. It's pretty cool how much space I can fit into one photo now. On the down side is that the conversion adapter and lens seem like a one-off--if I ever change cameras, I won't get to use them. It's also pretty bulky which kinda negates the reason I bought a compact in the first place.

I did try to do some comparison shopping around Sham Shui Po and Stanley Street in Central, but couldn't see any Panasonic dealers. I did find a place in Tsimshatsui that sold my camera. When I asked about the wide angle converter, they showed me a conversion ring and wide angle lens made by Fujiyama. I tried it out and then went home to look at the pics. They were pretty bad as the edges of the picture were obviously fuzzy and distorted.

I did some comparisons with the new lens in the sidebar. It's hard to believe, but I'm standing in the same place in both photos. It's also interesting to notice how the perspective gets warped on the edges--you can especially see this with the subway photo.

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NUMBERS 10.01.23 HONG KONG
(all prices converted to Canadian $)
SOGO 10th flr Panasonic Showroom:
- conversion adapter DMW-LA4: $30
- Panasonic 18mm wide angle lens: $219
- Panasonic polarizing filter FZ28: $96
A&B Photo & Audio:
- Fujiyama conversion adapter: $21
- Fujiyama wide angle lens: $175
- Both, with "discount": $140
Henry's.ca, adding 13% tax:
- conversion adapter DMW-LA4: $45
- Panasonic 18mm wide angle lens: $260
- Panasonic polarizing filter FZ28: $102

GUANGZHOU
Jan 29 - Learning Cantonese, Part 3 of 3

This is the final chapter in my quest to relearn my first language. Almost like a final exam, I organized a trip to nearby Guangzhou with my friend Vincent. Guangzhou is a one of the huge Chinese cities within a short train ride from Hong Kong. City Mayors.com has it listed as the 32nd largest city in the world, with 4 million people. In comparison, New York has 8 million, Hong Kong has 7 million and tiny Toronto has 2.5 million. It's amazing how little we (Westerners) know about the big cities in China.

I was here once before visiting a friend who has now since moved--what I remembered from that trip was a big crowded city with amazing food. But this time, this trip was a different experience because I was exploring it more as a tourist, rather than a local.

We stayed on Shamian Island, a pretty tree-lined island full of old colonial buildings. The buildings were somewhat crumbling and seemingly derelict, but the busy construction in the area showed that they were preparing the area to be reborn. We also toured a scenic hill dotted with monuments. A nice Pearl River cruise with our Tsingtao beer. And the fantastically colourful OneLink Centre in the Haizhu wholesale market area, beside a mall full of nothing but shoes.

We also checked out a king's tomb from the Nanyue, an ancient civilization that became the Cantonese speaking region today. The king was eventually assimilated by China at large. And that almost seems to represent what is continuing today. Guangzhou does not seem to speak Cantonese anymore. A tsunami of mainlanders have settled into the area and whenever I spoke Cantonese to anybody, they would reply in Mandarin. Signs, announcements, public ceremonies, all we heard in Mandarin. And I would accidentally go to the second floor ("yi lau" in Cantonese) when someone told me to go to the first floor ("yi lau" in Mandarin). It was just a bit of a shock as I thought that Guangzhou was the centre of the Cantonese language.

Meanwhile, my friend was in heaven because he had so much opportunity to practice his Mandarin. White people who can speak Chinese automatically seem to get a warm reception. He could say single words and send the local girls into happy giggles. Meanwhile, whenever I tried to speak my Cantonese, I felt like and was treated like a third rate loser. It really disenchanted me to see the difference in reaction and perception. I think as an Asian, I get treated better speaking English rather than speaking Cantonese.

So there ends my attempt to preserve my language and heritage. Just like the Nanyue king, It's time to bury this and move on. How can a two-bit try-hard like me contemplate keeping this language when Guangzhou in the centre of Canton itself can barely do it?

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NUMBERS 10.01.23 HONG KONG
return ticket, HK to Guangzhou: $380
atm rate, 6.3 Yuan - C$1
negotiated cab, trainstation to hotel: 80Y
- real price: 40Y (?)
- metro: 5Y
1 night, Guangdong Victory Hotel: 350Y
Pearl River tour: 65Y
- VIP ticket: 105Y

MTR Intercity Services - site to check time and prices for trains to the mainland.

HONG KONG
Jan 31 - I Miss Being Asian!

So I was born and raised in Canada. A "CBC" (Canadian Born Chinese) as they would say. I've lived in Canada all my life--only traveling outside for relatively short periods of time. This was the first time that I've lived in a country where everyone is Asian!

First, let me consider what it's like for an Asian person in Canada today. Being born in Canada, I fit in pretty well and for the most part felt pretty normal growing up. Being Chinese wasn't an issue. Everyone is different and you notice the differences, but it doesn't stop you from playing hopscotch with the kid next door.

As you grow up and get into the real world, it's pretty much the same thing. Overall everyone is cool. But I have noticed some things that show a little racism bubbling underneath it all:

- The media in North America really places the whites on top of the food chain. Billboards are covered with beautiful WHITE people. TV shows and commercials show WHITE people. Magazines. Music. Advertisements. Is it really because all the beautiful and talented people are white? No, it's because it's a form of racism that tells the people that white is beautiful.

- Growing up, you hear about the stereotypes of the different races. Chinese people are good at math (TRUE!) and bad at driving (ok...probably TRUE). Natives are drunks. Black people are criminals. How come there are no generalizing stereotypes about white people?! It's because they are the de facto benchmark to compare everyone else against. And that would make it strange to have a stereotype about the "normal" people. Anyways, I think stereotypes suck--but they've been engrained in my thinking just like everyone else.

- Being a Canadian Chinese in a multicultural society, you also get pegged with any of the stereotypes that get attached to the newly arrived Chinese. I had a time when I had just started working at a job in Ottawa where my boss said to me during our first meeting "...you don't have an accent?!". Uh yeah. I don't...bitch. When will Canadians start assuming that a Chinese person on the street is not an immigrant? Again--funnily enough, people don't think a white person on the street might have just come "off the boat".

- When you meet someone in Canada, the first thing you notice is their race. And for a split second all your past experiences with that race will be bestowed upon that person. White people get to start with a blank slate.

...Hmm I could probably think of a few more things. Anyways, I'm not super complaining about it, they're just observations. Now, coming back to Hong Kong. Wow, everyone is Chinese. How fucking weird is that?! Coming here, I felt like "I'm actually Chinese!". At first, I even felt a bit like I was coming back to the "homeland" even though my home is Canada.

But it is so cool seeing billboards and magazines full of beautiful Asians. Funny, goofy Asians on TV. Rich Asians. Poor Asians. And yes, even Asians that are good at math. But suddenly, the whole Asian thing turns moot. Totally irrelevant. Now when someone meets me, I no longer start as "Asian". I now start as "tall", "dark", or "handsome"! It's a strange feeling to be stripped of my "Asian" identification.

It definitely made me realize how different and special Canada is with its multiculturalism. I may have bitched above about some of the drawbacks, but it is really a gift to be able to walk out your door and see the people of the world in your own backyard. It's not perfect, and I feel sorry for the new immigrants who are really burdened by the racism.

But I do miss being Asian when I'm in Hong Kong.

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HONG KONG
Feb 4 - Last Thoughts About Hong Kong

I felt a bit sad leaving Hong Kong. I always think of that Leaving on a Jet Plane song when I fly somewhere now. So I spent the last few days packing up, checking out some last tourist sites (I highly recommend the observation elevator at Hopewell Centre...wow!), and seeing the Merchants of Bollywood show at the HK Academy of Performing Arts (after seeing the show, I've decided to marry Indian).

But I'll be back again. For now, I'm looking forward to my next adventure!

THINGS I LOVE ABOUT LIVING IN HONG KONG:

1. The convenience of life. The MTR and that amazing Octopus card makes getting around a breeze. Taxis are so easy to find and a cheap alternative. I've also just walked across the island. Also, cheap good food all around your doorstep, especially if you can remember how to say your favourite dish in Cantonese.

2. Enough order and cleanliness to make it comfortable, enough chaos and weirdness to make it interesting.

3. My housekeeper...every day. Nice.

4. The expat scene is great. And you naturally have a lot in common with them as everyone is in the same boat. It definitely makes it easy to meet people. Funny thing is that the first question anyone asks you when you meet is "where are you from?". It's perfect when you have a standard ice-breaker.

5. Chinglish is the official second language here! Used it everywhere I went!

6. The jawdropping view from the harbour--it will make any city-lover wet.

7. Health care on demand. You know I understand that idea of universal health care and everyone getting the same standard of care regardless of personal wealth or power. But damn, when you have a major problem and you can get it fixed within a few days by paying more money, it's pretty un-fucking-believable!

THINGS I HATE ABOUT LIVING IN HONG KONG:

1. The pollution. I had 2 or 3 lung infections or something over the course of my stay here. And I very rarely get sick at home. I also break out in zits like a teenager when I'm in Hong Kong and China specifically.

2. The gay scene sucks for a city this concentrated. Where the hell is everybody? And why are there so few clubs? And what's with the 240 HKD (C$33) cover charge? Unbelievable what you can charge when you have a monopoly.

3. Somehow with cheap transportation, cheap food, cheap housekeepers, Hong Kong still ranks as the 5th most expensive city in the world. And it's because of the housing costs--holy shat, I could have raised a small Haitian family on the amount I paid for rent while I was here.

4. Random stairs while walking down the streets.

SOME THINGS I LEARNED LIVING IN HONG KONG:

1. Super crowded cities are fun to visit, but living in one is draining. And I don't think it's just because of the constant crowd of people around you. It's also that people who live in one of these cities just think differently. I think they are naturally less considerate of strangers. I started getting to a point where I could actually feel my anxiety level go up a bit every time I stepped out from my apartment, and I consider myself a hard-core city guy. I think I could live here about 6 months a year without going crazy. Now I know why visitors to Canada say that we're polite. We are. And it's a compliment.

2. I will never understand Cantonese, and I give up. I took a few classes, practiced a bit with the locals, but I am still pretty much clueless when someone starts speaking to me. It's an impossible language to learn as a second language. I may try learning the slightly easier Mandarin the next time I come back to Asia--but I'm not optimistic about getting close to any level of fluency.

3. Hong Kong is not a relaxing place. You don't find a nice patio to chill and read a book. You don't sit on a corner with a sandwich to people watch. You don't grab a latte at the coffee shop and have a fun gossip session with your friends. Hong Kong just doesn't seem like that kind of place. I'm looking forward to taking the stress level down a notch and going to Buenos Aires, where I think life will be slower and more social.

4. In Hong Kong, people buy things to help them get whiter skin. In North America, people buy things to help them get darker skin. It goes to show how the media shapes our image of what is beautiful, and that's how they make more money!

5. Living somewhere is totally different than visiting. I had my favourite noodle shops. I started getting into comfortable routines--like grocery shopping and going to the gym. I had to negotiate longer term deals like for my apartment and gym membership. I had to worry about making friends--which I found it easier to connect with the ex-pats than the locals. I started getting a sense of the local prices--things that were cheap to me as a tourist were not cheap as a local. I definitely got to know the city more intimately, and it made me appreciate the good and bad even more.

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NUMBERS 10.02.04 HONG KONG
VIP ticket, Merchants of Bollywood: $705

THINGS THAT ARE CHEAP HERE:
transportation
maid service
noodles
vegetables
chicken

THINGS THAT ARE EXPENSIVE HERE:
housing (!!)
pasta sauce
orange juice
cover charges
yogurt
berries
flights
cheese
steak
ethnic food: sushi, mexican, thai


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