equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
31 Mar 09

Kowloon City

Old apartments

Thumbnail: Alleyway
Thumbnail: Sundries
Thumbnail: Candy stand
Thumbnail: Crossing street
Thumbnail: Fresh seafood
Thumbnail: Fruit stand
Thumbnail: Fruit stand
Thumbnail: Old buildings
Thumbnail: Jewellery store
Thumbnail: Jewellery store
Thumbnail: Magazine stand
Thumbnail: Munchies stand
Thumbnail: Old apartments
Thumbnail: One way street
Thumbnail: Street corner
Thumbnail: Subway route
Thumbnail: Alleyway
Thumbnail: Sundries shop
Thumbnail: Traffic
Thumbnail: Waiting at light

My grandma’s apart­ment is in Kowloon City, a very old area of Kowloon, char­ac­ter­ized by dirty build­ings and slummy areas. There’s so much char­ac­ter here. It seems like every shop has a story, and every street a his­tory. My dad told me that since it’s so hard to find park­ing, some restau­rants have a valet park your car for you if you go in.

Since it’s a long-established area, there’s pretty much every­thing you need within a cou­ple blocks, or a few min­utes walk. This includes:

One of Hong Kong’s famous real estate agents said that liv­ing in such high den­sity is a habit, and that Hong Kongers could expand out­ward (instead of upward) if they wanted to. I can under­stand why this is true, because every­thing is so close and con­ve­nient. When you live in the mid­dle of all this, you really feel like you’re part of the city’s pulse.

30 Mar 09

Octopus Card

Octopus card

Everyone car­ries an Octopus card in Hong Kong, because it’s used every­where. When you take the bus, you pay the fare by tap­ping your wal­let (with Octopus card in it) on the scan­ner; the fare may change depend­ing on whether you take it before or after cross­ing the har­bour. Subway fares aren’t flat-rate either, so shorter routes are cheaper. The dis­tance you travel is tracked by scan­ning your card when you get on and again when you get off, and the appro­pri­ate amount is deducted.

Even vend­ing machines, park­ing meters, con­ve­nience stores, and restau­rants have Octopus scan­ners used to pay for their ser­vices. It’s also used as an iden­tity sys­tem, where stu­dents sign-in to class by tap­ping their cards on door scan­ners, or res­i­dents enter their apart­ment build­ings with­out need­ing a key.

The Chinese name for the card is “eight arrived pass”, because eight has spe­cial mean­ing in Chinese, espe­cially when it comes to direc­tions. The English name comes from an octo­pus hav­ing eight ten­ta­cles, and the logo is an infin­ity sym­bol that’s also in the shape of an eight. So clever.

29 Mar 09

Grandma and Her Parrot

Grandma loves her par­rot. We carry it around for her, and she sleeps with it on her bed­side table. Whenever she talks to it, I can never really tell if she really is talk­ing to her par­rot in an act of senil­ity, or whether she does it to humour us.

A note on the trans­la­tion: The name “Fat Bird” is really “Fat Woman Parrot” in Chinese. The word “par­rot” is a homonym for the last part of grandma’s name, so “Fat Woman Parrot” sounds like it’s refer­ring to her as well. That’s how she got her nick­name as “Fat Woman”.

This is grandma on a good day. I love to see her smile and laugh.

29 Mar 09

Victoria Harbour

Victoria Harbour panorama

(This is a 360° panorama that pops up in a new win­dow. Be warned: it’s big.)

Thumbnail: Newsstands
Thumbnail: Bruce Lee statue
Thumbnail: Jet Li handprints
Thumbnail: Night lights
Thumbnail: Train station

The best place to see Hong Kong’s sky­line is at Victoria Harbour. Along the walk­way is the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s ver­sion of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as a bus ter­mi­nal, and the dock­ing area for the Star Ferry.

The world’s largest per­ma­nent light show is here, run­ning every night at 8:00, where many build­ings across the water time their lights to music. I recorded it, but my footage didn’t turn out so well with the fog. So here’s some­one else’s awe­some record­ing, that does the show justice.

29 Mar 09

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28 Mar 09

Apartment Hunting in Hong Kong

Main hall with furniture

Thumbnail: Bathroom
Thumbnail: The view
Thumbnail: Study room
Thumbnail: Main hall without furniture
Thumbnail: Master bedroom
Thumbnail: Closet doors
Thumbnail: Second bedroom
Thumbnail: Dock view

I had the chance to take part in some apart­ment hunt­ing, and saw two suites in a new sky rise. The smaller was $1.3 mil­lion CAD, the larger $1.8 mil­lion CAD. Which pretty much means that I could never afford them, even if I won the lot­tery, but I still dream of liv­ing here one day. A cozy space with a nice view and mod­ern trim­mings. Mortgages go up to 30 years in Hong Kong. If you’re buy­ing a place that hasn’t been built yet, you get to design the lay­out of your condo like a house.

Space is so expen­sive here that offices are often com­bined with bed­rooms, unlike Canada where there’s a sep­a­rate room for each (unless you’re a stu­dent). Furnishing a place would be much cheaper though, since empty areas get filled quickly. I imag­ine that it’s hard to be a pack rat when stor­age areas are at such a premium.

28 Mar 09

Hong Kong Flower Show 2009

Domi and Ami

Thumbnail: Entranceway
Thumbnail: Flower dragon boat
Thumbnail: Flower statues
Thumbnail: Fountain pond
Thumbnail: Full garden
Thumbnail: Hanging plants
Thumbnail: House garden
Thumbnail: Japanese garden
Thumbnail: Miniature farm
Thumbnail: Monkey pot
Thumbnail: Mushroom star
Thumbnail: Orchid display
Thumbnail: Photographers
Thumbnail: Swing set
Thumbnail: Rest area

I just hap­pened to be here dur­ing the Hong Kong Flower Show, a demon­stra­tion of var­i­ous flower cul­ti­va­tors and appre­ci­a­tion orga­ni­za­tions. Each group had their own lit­tle sec­tions to present their areas of spe­cial­iza­tion. It’s amaz­ing to see how cre­ative peo­ple can be with flow­ers; liv­ing things, no less.

27 Mar 09

Grandma's Story

I’ve been try­ing to get a bet­ter idea of grandma’s life, so I’ve been ask­ing her as many ques­tions as pos­si­ble in the last three weeks. Her mind tends to drift and she gets lost on sub­jects; lit­tle snip­pets from the rest of my fam­ily sort of fill in the blanks. I’ll add more if I can get any­thing else out of her.

Grandma was born in Hong Kong, but she fled to Chiu Chow dur­ing the Japanese inva­sion by climb­ing a moun­tain with her only son slung on her back. For some rea­son, she feels a lot of pride about Chiu Chow even though she wasn’t born in that city, and always points out peo­ple from there1. As a result, she can speak both Cantonese and the Chiu Chow dialect.

Read the rest of this entry »

  1. She says she rec­og­nizes them by their faces. []
26 Mar 09

Hong Kong: Nights

Tung Choi Street (or Ladies’ Market), as seen in my Hong Kong: Markets video as the area cov­ered with blue tarp, is for the ladies, and opened all day.

Temple Street, on the other hand, only starts to come alive at night, and is also known as Men’s Street. There are no stalls out dur­ing the day. This is the street that one of my favourite Stephen Chow movies, God of Cookery, is based on, so it was awe­some to be able to see it in person.

Instead of hand­bags, clothes, and posters sold in Ladies’ Market, they sell cheap men-oriented trin­kets like bat­ter­ies, lighters, base­ball caps, elec­tron­ics, cam­era gear, and sex toys. There’s also a sec­tion with rows of stalls for for­tune telling (at 2:12), offered in both Chinese and English lan­guages, and European (tarot) and Asian (face, palm read­ing) flavours.

Temple street is also known for it’s road­side din­ing, where you can order pots stuffed with meat or deep fried del­i­ca­cies. I was warned not to eat any­thing on tem­ple street though, as the stan­dards are too low now1. One might get away with an upset stom­ach at best, and end up with a trip to the hos­pi­tal at worst.

Since Temple Street is noto­ri­ously shady, where there’s more open pros­ti­tu­tion, drug deal­ings, and other unsavoury activ­i­ties, I lim­ited my film­ing on the off-chance that I may have cap­tured some­thing I shouldn’t2. Can you spot the two hookers?

  1. Even my dad won’t eat there any­more, which is say­ing some­thing. []
  2. During the walk through the stalls, I was yelled at once by a ven­dor to put my cam­era away. []
25 Mar 09

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak at sunset

Victoria Peak is the high­est moun­tain on Hong Kong Island, offer­ing an oth­er­wise unavail­able view of Hong Kong, includ­ing the Kowloon side. On clear days, you can see the hori­zon go on into the distance.

Thumbnail: Tram arrival
Thumbnail: Riding the tram
Thumbnail: Riding the tram
Thumbnail: Tramway incline
Thumbnail: Victoria Peak Tower

To get to the peak, you can a tramway train, which is about a five minute ride. On the other hand, wait­ing to get on the tram took me about 30 min­utes on a good day at a good time. The tram actu­ally has stops like a bus, because some peo­ple actu­ally live on the peak, though these are con­sid­ered lux­ury estates.

Victoria Peak at sunset

At night, the lights of Hong Kong’s famous sky­line start to turn on, and the view changes dra­mat­i­cally. The sky­line is nor­mally seen and pho­tographed from the Kowloon side, so this is a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive from usual Hong Kong photographs.

Thumbnail: Peak side
Thumbnail: Shopping area
Thumbnail: Foggy restaurant
Thumbnail: Mall and patrons
Thumbnail: Peak Galleria

There’s an entire lit­tle vil­lage at the peak, with lots of touristy areas sell­ing over­priced memorabilia.

25 Mar 09

(Mis) Understanding Therapy

Occasionally, con­ver­sa­tions around the din­ner table turn to psy­chother­apy — some­one knows a co-worker, or a friend, or a rel­a­tive who sees a shrink — and my fam­ily would talk about it so disparagingly.

They’d say there’s some­thing wrong with peo­ple who go to ther­apy; not the fact that they have men­tal health issues, but the fact that any­one who needs to pay some­one else to feel bet­ter is fool­ish. They think psy­chol­o­gists are bad, or of no use. That you only need to go to ther­apy if you don’t know how to “find a hobby” or “blow off steam”, or don’t have any friends to talk to. Their ideas about it are so naïve, sim­plis­tic, and stereo­typ­i­cal; a per­fect reflec­tion of their minds and the way they see the world.

I’d always stay quiet. How could I explain the dam­age done, when it was some of them who dam­aged me in the first place?

But when the con­ver­sa­tion turned to me, I men­tioned that I had a ther­a­pist. Perhaps to change their minds about it, to defend some­thing that has helped me so much. After all, I might not even be here talk­ing to them if it wasn’t for my therapy.

Now they know.

But they still don’t understand.

25 Mar 09

Old Family Portrait

Old family portrait

I found this pic­ture at my uncle’s house. It is:

  1. Hilarious
  2. Hilarious
  3. Hilarious
  4. All of the above

How weird is it that I didn’t even rec­og­nize myself. And look at those glasses! They were my first pair, which prob­a­bly means I was around 14 or 15. Apparently, I was still wear­ing my cal­cu­la­tor watch at that age.

24 Mar 09

Star Ferry

Hong Kong is com­monly divided in two — Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula — by Victoria Harbour. One of the most iconic ways to travel between the two sides is by Star Ferry. It’s a pop­u­lar and pic­turesque method of trans­porta­tion, because it’s inex­pen­sive (about $2.2 HKD or $0.30 CAD for a one-way ride) and allows for a great view of Hong Kong’s famous sky­line. A fleet of 12 fer­ries car­ries 70000 peo­ple a day, even though there are many cross-harbour tun­nels and bridges that have been built to allow for auto­mo­bile trans­porta­tion. The ride takes about 10 min­utes, includ­ing board­ing and alighting.

23 Mar 09

Blending In As A Local

When I tell the taxi dri­vers here the name of the street I want to go to (pro­nounced from mem­ory because the names are too com­pli­cated to under­stand), they don’t always know how to get there. That’s why I always have the name of a pop­u­lar land­mark in close prox­im­ity mem­o­rized, and when I men­tion this, it usu­ally gets me where I want to go. Sometimes I get a part-time cab­bie though, who doesn’t even know where this land­mark is. That’s when they ask me how to get there, or what else is around, or if it’s close to such-and-such-a-place adja­cent to such-and-such-a-street. Somehow, they assume that I’m a local.

Which is odd, because I know I have an English accent when I speak Chinese, so I assume most peo­ple can tell I’m not from around here. When I was here five years ago, most peo­ple said they knew I wasn’t from Hong Kong before I even opened my mouth. Something about the way I looked or dressed or acted.

Guess I’m fool­ing some­one now.

23 Mar 09

Hong Kong Food Diary: Week 2

Soft shelled crab

Thumbnail: Banana cream pie
Thumbnail: Fried white Chinese carrot cake
Thumbnail: Banana pancake
Thumbnail: Barbecue spare ribs
Thumbnail: Stewed Chinese cabbage and spare ribs
Thumbnail: Cauliflower with pork
Thumbnail: Stir fried Chinese broccoli with garlic
Thumbnail: Chiu Chow Congee
Thumbnail: cloud ears, tofu, Chinese mushrooms, and glass noodles
Thumbnail: Canoe congee with calamari
Thumbnail: Deep fried banana
Thumbnail: Deep fried fish
Thumbnail: Fish balls and pork rice noodles
Thumbnail: Iced Horlicks
Thumbnail: steamed fish with black bean sauce and minced pork
Thumbnail: French toast
Thumbnail: Fried eggs with preserved pickles
Thumbnail: fried noodles with bean sprouts and bbq pork
Thumbnail: Fruit bowl
Thumbnail: Green tea tiramisu
Thumbnail: Ham and mozzarella sandwich
Thumbnail: Honey and lemon tea
Thumbnail: King fried noodles
Thumbnail: Minced beef roast congee
Thumbnail: Mixed Chinese vegetables
Thumbnail: Fried noodles with bean sprouts
Thumbnail: Noodles with shrimp
Thumbnail: Oil fried ghosts
Thumbnail: Oil ghosts in flat noodles
Thumbnail: omelette with Chinese onion and bean sprouts
Thumbnail: Paninin
Thumbnail: Pho
Thumbnail: Pho garnish
Thumbnail: Pigs blood congee
Thumbnail: Plain big flat noodles with peanut and sweet sauce
Thumbnail: Pork chop, wings, and fries
Thumbnail: Pork and preserved egg congee
Thumbnail: Pork jerky
Thumbnail: pork knuckles, ginger and eggs in black Chinese vinegar
Thumbnail: Stewed preserved Chinese cabbage with spare ribs
Thumbnail: Sea salted chicken
Thumbnail: Bean sprout shrimp omelette
Thumbnail: Small pizza
Thumbnail: Smoked fish patty
Thumbnail: Soups and noodles
Thumbnail: spare ribs with black bean and red pepper
Thumbnail: Steamed fish
Thumbnail: Stir fried chicken with string beans
Thumbnail: Stir fried glass noodles with shrimp
Thumbnail: Fried tofu with Chinese onions
Thumbnail: Chinese vegetables with fatty pork
Thumbnail: Vietnamese coffee
Thumbnail: Vietnamese sandwich
Thumbnail: Vietnamese spring rolls
Thumbnail: Winter melon and pork bone soup

My cousin brought over some Japanese apples that cost $90 HKD ($15 CAD) for a pair. They were light green and quite large, but they didn’t taste that unique. My uncle believes the cost comes from the way the apples are grown: all the branches but one are cut from the apple tree, so all the nutri­ents go into one apple.

I’m so glad my fam­ily knows how to eat; I get to par­take in all the amaz­ing food they buy or cook. Even snacks — cook­ies, candy, ice cream, and drinks — are of a par­tic­u­lar qual­ity. I’m won­der­ing how much weight I’ve gained so far.

Other weeks in my Hong Kong Food Diary

Sum Sum eating dessert