Saturday, 18 November 2017

Sesame Zen and Tinariwen Vibes

Tinariwen got the crowd excited on the second night of Clockenflap
The thing about living in Hong Kong is that you can be doing one thing, and then something completely different the next.

This morning I interviewed a Japanese Buddhist chef who is introducing people around the world to shojin-ryori cuisine, or temple food. Toshio Tanahashi is one of the few people in Japan who cooks this kind of cuisine, where only vegetables are used. Not only that, but he also makes everything by hand; while he uses knives and the stove, he does not use machines to pulverize or grind the food, nor does he use ingredients like onion, garlic, shallots and leeks.

Toasted sesame seeds in a grooved ceramic bowl with a pestle
He starts off each morning with a meditation by grinding sesame seeds and he let us try it.

We each got a large V-shaped ceramic bowl that had many fine grooves in it, along with the toasted sesame seeds and a wooden pestle with a point at the end.

Then he instructed us to either sit on our knees or cross legged and place the bowl right in front of us. Tanahashi instructed us to put one hand on top of the wooden pestle and the other hand holding it and making circles by turning the wrist, not using the shoulder.

We sat there quietly and you could hear the swish of the seeds going around the bowl and soon after we started smelling the gorgeous rich aroma of the roasted sesame seeds already filling the air. I decided to try to be as efficient as possible and not grind them too hard and keep the same tempo.

Tanahashi demonstrates how he meditates
At one point I closed my eyes and just listened to the sound of people grinding the seeds in their bowls and found it calming and nice to do something repetitive without having to think too much.

After several minutes he said we could stop and we were each given a spoon and try the grounded sesame paste. Mine tasted nutty. Then he told us to try other people's ground sesame seeds. Each of them tasted different! Some ground them so hard that they were about to become like a paste, while others like me were still at the roughly ground stage.

He explained that machine made sesame paste tastes exactly the same, while the ones done by hand each taste different.

This calm, chilled experience was contrasted with watching Mali group Tinariwen on the main stage at Clockenflap at 6pm.

I checked back on my blog and found out I had seen them five years earlier -- I had thought it was two -- and they were amazing. One of my friends dragged us out to watch them perform at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and I'm so glad she did.

The ultra chilled Tinariwen from Mali heating up the stage
So when I saw that they were performing at Clockenflap this year I was really excited, and the crowd tonight was too. The musicians, who are Tuareg rebels, were very laid back in their performance, but still full of energy.

There was one older man dancing on stage practically all night until one of the songs he grabbed a bright red electric guitar and started strumming away.

So cool.

And only in Hong Kong.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Clockenflap 2017: Day One

The 10th edition of Clockenflap kicked off this evening in Central
It's that time again -- Clockenflap, a three-day music festival that kicked off tonight at Central Harbourfront for the second year.

The chilled out DJ Kulu
It was unusually hot today -- 27 degrees and temperatures are expected to plunge to 19 tomorrow and Sunday with some rain patches.

We got to meet a gentle soul this afternoon -- the legendary DJ Kulu -- yep that's his name.

He's from Hong Kong and went to the UK in the 1960s to learn graphic design but ended up in fashion photography instead. He did quite well for himself and grew to have a passion for jazz.

In the 1970s he started DJ-ing. He regularly held parties once a month in his photographic studio and said one time his partner went to India and didn't come back -- so Kulu just started spinning the discs.

He came back to Hong Kong in 1999 and has been seen around town with his trademark looks Chinese robes, straw fedora and Chinese goatee playing at various gigs. He's such a gentleman too, so polite and chilled.

Higher Brothers rapping under the PLA gaze...!
In contrast, Higher Brothers, a hip hop group from Chengdu, Sichuan province was getting the crowd excited as they rapped in Mandarin and a few words in English.

The most ironic thing was them rapping provocative lyrics with the PLA or People's Liberation Army building behind them. I wondered if they could hear what they were rapping...

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Carrie Lam, Beijing Whisperer?

Lam tried to play down fears of greater control of Hong Kong by Beijing
During the 19th party congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the central government's "overall jurisdiction" over Hong Kong should be combined with the city's high degree of autonomy in an "organic way".

What does that mean?

For Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, it was a statement that Beijing was committed to upholding the "one country, two systems" principle that guarantees the city's semi-autonomy.

Xi is taking a greater interest in Hong Kong, good or bad
But how "semi" is "semi"?

Which is why Lam was keen on playing down perceptions that the central government was having greater control over the city.

"Sometimes it is because of some misunderstanding or oversensitive reaction," Lam said during an interview on RTHK television program Legco Review. "Sometimes someone says something out of their care for Hong Kong but it is seen as interfering in Hong Kong affairs. Sometimes the chief executive tries to explain the central government's policies but then I would be seen as currying favour with the central government.

"This kind of meaningless speculation and suspicion does no good to the successful implementation of the one country, two systems policy."

Is she saying we shouldn't read too closely into Xi's words?

Does she think we're newbies?

Every pronouncement from Beijing must be carefully scrutinized, though they can mean one thing one day, and something completely different another day. Or they can be twisted into whatever verbal pretzel the Chinese leaders want it to be.

For Lam to think we would be mollified by her comments, it only raises red flags.

In the meantime we're going to continue to see if we can gather more hints from Xi, while Lam's credibility as the Beijing whisperer is questioned.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Change Afoot in Harare?

General Constantine Chiwenga may be behind the possible coup in Harare
There were news reports this afternoon Hong Kong time that the military had put Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his family under house arrest, according to Major General S. B. Moyo, who made a statement on the state broadcaster ZBC.

While he and another uniformed officer confirmed Mugabe and his family are safe, and their security was guaranteed, Moyo said: "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice."

No bloodshed, but tanks and soldiers are in the streets
He also warned that any provocation would be met with an appropriate response.

There is speculation that General Constantine Chiwenga who is leading what looks like a coup, is close to the former Vice President Emmerson Mnangawa, who was expelled from the government and governing ZANU-PF party last week.

These latest developments have a Zimbabwean friend of mine who has lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years very excited.

In my first newspaper job, he was one of the first photographers I worked with, a white Zimbabwean whose family had been there for generations. It was he who explained to me what Mugabe had done to his country since he took power in 1980.

Is this the beginning of the end of Robert Mugabe?
He was frustrated and upset when President mandated blacks take over farms owned by whites, causing racial backlash against whites, like his parents who had been there all their lives. They were told to go back to where they came from, but where? They were from Zimbabwe too.

His parents' farm was taken over, a place that his family had lived in for decades, which caused his father so much shock that he died of a heart attack soon after. His mother had to create a new life for herself in a small apartment with a tiny balcony for her to continue growing plants and flowers, a tiny fraction of what she was used to looking after.

The story he told me was very similar to Peter Goodwin's When a Crocodile Eats The Sun: A Memoir of Africa, a memoir that my friend YTSL lent me.

A powerful memoir of Zimbabwe
Ever since my friend told me about Mugabe, I would read about any news on him and be shocked and horrified by what he was doing to the country, particularly the insane inflation that rendered their currency worthless by the day.

Several years ago I caught up with my friend who had been going to Mandarin class. I asked him what for and he said to be able to get a Chinese passport. He was so ashamed of carrying a Zimbabwean passport and was ready to renounce his citizenship of his native homeland if he could get a Chinese one. I don't know if he managed to get it or not.

So I can imagine he is anxiously watching the news of the so-called coup that the military claims is not a coup, while there are reports people in the streets are happy to have anyone else but Mugabe.

We shall see what happens, but it may be the light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel.