Monday, 31 July 2017

Stephen Chow's Vision of a "Better Future"

The Hong Kong Youth Military Summer Camp in San Wai, Fanling
Ah Hong Kong kids. Many are very sheltered or their lives are so micromanaged by their parents that the children don't know what to do with themselves when they have five minutes to spare.

But hey -- what about some boot camp -- PLA style?!

For the past 13 years, the People's Liberation Army has held an annual summer boot camp and its latest endorser is Hong Kong comedian and filmmaker Stephen Chow Sing-chi.

He recently visited the camp and talked to some of the 400 participants of the 15-day program at the PLA's San Wai Barracks in Fanling.

Stephen Chow is pleased by the young people's PLA training
At their graduation day, they performed drills, shadowboxed, and sang revolutionary songs in the 35-degree Celsius weather.

China Daily reported Chow said of the participants: "They overcame challenges and hardships through arduous training in this garrison's summer camp. To my surprise, they spent time experiencing this special training, instead of playing around. For me, it is remarkable that they do this."

It's also important to note that Chow is an adviser to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

"If more young people were to take part in this summer camp, Hong Kong would have a better future," he added.

How so?

This "better future" phrase is so simplistic. Singing revolutionary songs?

Discipline, hard work and training is good, but a better future?
Perhaps by going through bootcamp, more young people would be more disciplined and hardworking, but these days it's not enough. Maybe they will get better grades, but perhaps their parents cannot afford to send them abroad for further education, or they don't have the right connections to get a job.

The way things worked 20, 30 years ago is different from now, and many middle aged people either forget or don't realize how things have changed so much.

Admittedly the camp did push some kids to change their lazy habits into more productive ones, or they learned the value of teamwork and perseverance.

But a "better future"? It's kind of ironic hearing it from a comedian whose characters are known for mostly being lazy and thinking of quick-fix solutions that don't always go the right way...


Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Sad Demise of Print

Eat and Travel Weekly ends publication on August 3
Eat and Travel Weekly used to be the bible to pick up if you wanted an authoritative guide to the restaurant scene in Hong Kong. It featured the newest restaurants, reviews, the best of the best, as well as travel tips for destinations around the world.

One former editor told me that working there would ruin your digestive system because when they tried to find the best char siu or the best mooncake for example, they definitely tried a lot of them -- in one go.

An article testing out different Mont Blanc cakes in town
Samples from 50 or even 100 establishments would be couriered to the office, where someone was delegated to label each one from one to 50 or one to 100 so that they could be tasted blindly.

And yes, they would try each one to try to determine which one deserved the gold standard.

However, in the last few years, the economy has taken a big hit especially in print media, and advertising plunged, forcing the magazine, owned by Next Media (now Next Digital), to be downsized and folded into Next Magazine in 2015.

But a few days ago it was announced the popular magazine would have its last print run on August 3, and from then onwards will be digital only with a website and mobile app presence.

The announcement comes after the trouble publishing company owned by Jimmy Lai Chi-ying sold several magazines to businessman Kenny Wee Ho for HK$500 million, but Eat and Travel Weekly was not included in the deal.

A story about different styles of izakaya in Hong Kong
"Owing to the decline of print media, it is with regret that we are announcing the end of our print edition... although the room for survival in print media is shrinking, we will carry on with our professional spirit and continue to shine on the digital platform," said a statement on the magazine's Facebook page.

"Lastly, we would like to express gratitude to our readers for their support over the past 20 years."

It's sad news when such a popular publication ceases to put out a print version -- if Eat and Travel Weekly can't survive, what hope is there for the rest of Hong Kong's magazines?

This is the death knell for print publications in Hong Kong -- that the shift to digital is moving really fast, as everyone checks their smartphones for the latest news, than deliberately go to the newsstands to get a magazine.

Which publication will die next? Stay tuned.




Saturday, 29 July 2017

Arty Afternoon

Taryn Simon documented counterfeit items that were seized in New York
After lunch, my cousin and I hit some art galleries in the Pedder Building in Central.

One exhibition in Gagosian Gallery that was really interesting was Taryn Simon's Contraband (2010). It features 1,075 photographs taken at the US Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the US Postal Service International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Plants (above), drugs, and animal parts were seized too
She apparently worked for a week non-stop at the airport, photographing the constant flow of goods seized from passengers and express mail entering the United States from abroad.

The photographs are small and grouped together in certain ways -- there were lots of sausage shots, mostly in tact, some sliced up, as well as counterfeit clothing and bags like fake Hermes bags, Adidas runners (together with the boxes), and jewellery.

There were also pirated DVDs, steroids, narcotics, plants and sex stimulants. Other odd items included dead animals, cow-manure tooth powder, gold dust and overproof Jamaican rum.

It was a fascinating documentation of what people try to bring into the country, and how Simon tried to photograph them as clinically clean as possible without any frame of reference, except for a plain white background.

The flowers for the China-Pakistan agreement
Another project she did is called Paperwork and the Will of Capital. Have you ever noticed at any major agreement signed between two (usually male) leaders of two countries that there is always a flower arrangement on the table?

This is what Simon photographed -- not the actual flower arrangements, but recreated them before taking their pictures and researching where the flowers came from and how they seem to have no relationship with the countries or the agreements that are signed.

The photographs are blown up large and placed in beautiful teak frames that include a description of the arrangement and the history of the accord, treaty, or decree that was signed.

Floral arrangement for the China-Russia gas deal
That's not all -- the flowers are then pressed and dried and saved too. This is a bit much, but at the same time, the photographs don't mean much without the historical context.

Taryn Simon
Portraits and Surrogates
Until August 5
Gagosian Gallery
7/F, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street
Central
2151 0555




Friday, 28 July 2017

Picture of the Day: Hot and Tired

Clear skies last night looking over towards the skyline in Central
This is a picture of the Hong Kong island skyline last night -- crystal clear, though very hot and humid.

It was very hot again today with record temperatures recorded at 34.4 degrees Celsius, and it will continue this weekend, as typhoon Nesat is approaching southeast China, though it will miss Hong Kong.

This afternoon my colleague and I went out to check out an event at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and afterwards we wanted to catch the MTR, but were frustrated by the crowd control set up.

We were directed to walk outside the convention centre and navigate around the construction site near the building which was really frustrating, not to mention very hot.

The crowded MTR station at Wan Chai at rush hour
So by the time we got down to the MTR station we thought the worst was over, but instead we saw tons of people at the platform.

That's because the Tsuen Wan line had suffered power failures, which affected all the other MTR lines, making them run at four-minute intervals instead of the usual two.

The power failure hit around 5pm, so by the time we got to the Wan Chai MTR station at around 5.35pm, we had to wait for three trains to go by before we could get on the fourth -- literally squeezing on.

Imagine being hot and sweaty on the MTR, and also tired from walking in the sun. Not a good combination, but at least we had finished our work for the week...


Thursday, 27 July 2017

Selling the High-Speed Rail Joint Checkpoint

An image of the cross-border high-speed rail link terminus in West Kowloon
The controversy over China having its immigration officers stationed in Hong Kong's cross-border express rail link between here and Guangzhou was settled Wednesday with little opposition to kick up a big fuss.

In West Kowloon, the cross-border high-speed rail link terminus is being built, and as far back as eight years ago, many pan-democrat lawmakers slammed the government for planning to establish a joint checkpoint there, which would violate the Basic Law.

At the time, Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said: "The Basic Law has banned Hong Kong from implementing a co-location arrangement which allows Chinese Communist Party officers to enforce mainland laws in Hong Kong. This is crystal clear."

The train that will travel between Hong Kong and Guangzhou
Her colleague, Ronny Tong Ka-wah also said it was constitutionally impossible to set up such a joint checkpoint in the city centre.

But fast forward to today and Tong quit the party two years ago and is now a member of the Executive Council, which advises the chief executive, and endorsed the deal.

In this agreement, mainland officers can exercise nearly full jurisdiction in the 105,000 square metre designated port area at the terminus that it will rent from Hong Kong, but currently that's technically not possible, but Beijing and the Lam administration will work out some kind of backroom deal...

This is a sensitive issue because Hong Kong and China have separate laws, the former being more liberal than the latter. There are concerns that what a traveler does in the Hong Kong side that is considered legal maybe considered illegal on the mainland, so would that person be arrested?

Another somewhat trivial but important question is that once a traveler goes to "Chinese territory" in the terminus, will they suddenly not be able to have access to things like Facebook, Youtube and Google, which are currently banned in China?

The construction of the terminus in West Kowloon
That's why some legal critics say allowing Chinese officers to exercise mainland laws in this particular space on Hong Kong soil is a slippery slope in quickening the pace of the mainlandization of the city.

Dr Cheung Chor-yung, from City University's college of liberal arts and social sciences, said the co-location agreement would set a "very dangerous" precedent that could "shake the civil rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people as protected under the Basic Law".

"The price is too huge if we have to give up some of our guaranteed protection to trade for convenience in taking the train," he said.

Currently the joint checkpoint is being sold to the public as a form of convenience when traveling to the mainland. Business and tourism sectors are saying this will generate more economic benefits, but will it really?

Rimsky Yuen welcomes legal challenges to joint checkpoint
The set up we have now between Hong Kong and Shenzhen is convenient already, with a no-man's land in between the two border points at Lo Wu. But for example, Federation of Hong Kong Industries deputy chairman Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah says the new rail link will give more opportunities for Hong Kong people to find work across the border, making it more convenient for them to commute.

Really? Is there suddenly going to be a surge of people rushing across the border to work there? And the same with tourists, because it's more convenient?

Those reasons make it even harder to believe the new arrangement is a win-win for Hong Kong. Perhaps over time more workers and tourists will travel back and forth, but with the current sentiment Hong Kong people have about their northern cousins, they aren't eagerly sprinting over the border. And if they are working there already, they haven't been loudly complaining about their commute.

The joint checkpoint is also being compared to the arrangement between the United States and Canada, but in the latter case, US officials may only question and search travelers in Canada, but do not have the power to arrest them, which would be the case in Hong Kong.

Once again another divisive issue in the city, but does the public really understand the implications of this new arrangement? How do they feel about it?

Probably a mixture of uneasiness but also resignation. There are some legal challenges to this new arrangement and it will be interesting to see how they are received in court. It's a last-ditch attempt to protect Hong Kong.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Picture of the Day: Hello Kitty Bling

Care for a Hello Kitty-themed necklace from Mikimoto? Only HK$2 million
Today I was out for a story and was at Elements mall at Kowloon City when I passed by the Mikimoto boutique and when I saw this necklace I couldn't help but laugh.

The 12-strand pearl necklace features the face of Hello Kitty, with her distinctive eyes, nose and bow on her left ear.

I couldn't make out what's on the left side of the necklace -- perhaps a cat that just went splat on the screen door?

But I did a bit of research and discovered this collaboration between Mikimoto and Hello Kitty was back in 2014, and the necklace I just described has a whopping HK$2 million price tag.

There's also a choker featuring the famous feline around the neck of the wearer.

How chic.

Who would be a Hello Kitty freak and have enough dough to buy these jewellery pieces?

Or is this a serious miscalculation on the part of Mikimoto that this would be a sure winner?

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Savouring Roast Goose and Sunset

How can any carnivore resist a delicious half portion of roast goose?!
With friends in town it's a good excuse to hit some old favourites restaurants. A friend's son is visiting here on his own and wanted to check out Kam's Roast Goose, a perennial favourite and Michelin-starred spot.

However I was concerned about the possibility of a long line up because every time I pass by on the bus, I see a line of people outside, as well as others waiting for take-out.

Very creamy century-year-old eggs with ginger
But today seemed to be a lucky day for us. We only had to wait a few minutes before being shown a table for four that we shared with two mainland visitors. We were forewarned that all the rice noodles were sold out -- we could only order rice or egg noodles, which might be why some discerning diners didn't wait in line. Roast goose is best with lai fun, or thick, round rice noodles that are difficult to pick up with chopsticks.

While the menu is extensive, there are only a few things you need to order and for two people, there is only so much you can eat.

First came the century-old eggs (well one sliced in half) and the creaminess of the dark grey-coloured egg was heavenly. It was beautifully paired with the pickled ginger that was hardly spicy.

Silky smooth and delicious goose blood "tofu"
Next came the main event -- half portion of a roast goose. It was quite large for two, but I told my dining companion we didn't have to rush, even though turnover at this restaurant is fast, it didn't mean we had to hurry.

So we started eating the roast goose and it had a thin roasted skin on top, and some fat in between that acted as a buffer to keep the meat underneath tender and juicy. Oh so good. We slowly plowed through this dish that had beans underneath soaking up the sauce.

Accompanying our dinner was an order of egg noodles in soup, and dry egg noodles topped with shrimp roe. And to be healthy, we also had a plate of choi sum -- the other option was cabbage, which our dining companions next to us practically left untouched.

What was left of the roast goose!
We also ordered goose blood "tofu" that was very smooth -- better than pig's blood, and it came with several strands of chives. It was my friend's son's first time eating it and he really enjoyed it the texture and taste. Not something you can get in California, let alone roast goose.

After the tables around us turned twice and onto the third batch of customers, we practically finished everything! I was impressed, though quite full. The bill came to HK$512 for two, and the restaurant makes a killing as it only accepts cash or Octopus.

As it was still early, we decided to walk off the dinner with a visit to the Golden Bauhinia sculpture -- something he wanted to see -- and that also resulted in seeing a fantastic night view looking towards Central at the tail end of the sunset.

An amazing view of Central from the convention centre
Then we tried to navigate ourselves out of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to the harbourfront pedestrian walkway, but it was so difficult to get there with all the construction going on. We had to make several detours and run across roads to get to safe pedestrian areas.

Nevertheless, it was a good way to help us digest, though now several hours later I'm still full!

Kam's Roast Goose
G/F, Po Wah Commercial Centre
226 Hennessy Road
Wan Chai
2520 1110

Monday, 24 July 2017

Enough Rain Already!

July's rainfall beats records from 30 years ago -- blame it on global warming?
July isn't over yet but Hong Kong has seen record rainfall. The Hong Kong Observatory recorded more than 500mm of rain in the first three weeks of this month, more than the average 376mm for the past 30 years.

The rainfall for July also exceeds the averages for June at 476mm and 432mm for August.

Johnny Chan Chung-leung, chair professor of atmospheric science at City University says global warming will result in more water vapour in the atmosphere, and so the frequency of heavy rain will only get higher.

Last Monday evening when I was caught in the red rainstorm warning, the observatory recorded 184.6mm of rain, the third-highest amount recorded in one day in July over the past 20 years.

We might have a respite from the rain this week -- overall sunny with a few showers for the next few days.

All I can say is -- thank goodness I finally invested in rubber boots!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

HK's Short T8 and Lau Wong-fat

Tropical cyclone Roke came and went through Hong Kong today
Yesterday was so hot and humid, it was a sign a typhoon may be coming. Late last night it was T1 and I didn't think much of it.

But this morning it was already T3 and I got a text message from the Hong Kong Observatory, saying it would be T8 by 9.20am with Roke making landfall at Sai Kung East Country Park at 10am.

The T8 signal didn't feel serious this time around
That was such a surprise -- I didn't see that coming at all. So I stayed at home all morning and afternoon, and by 3.10pm the signal was lowered to T3.

I decided to go for a swim and the outdoor pool at Kennedy Town wasn't open, but the indoor ones were. It wasn't packed, but I had to weave around people in the smaller pool.

There was no rain at all, a bit windy outside and I finished the rest of my shopping and came home.

But by 7.30pm it was pouring rain when I went out for a late dinner in Central. Luckily I brought my big umbrella with me, but I should have worn boots. However within 10 minutes in the MTR, the rain had subsided in Central.

After dinner at 10.30pm it was pouring again in Central -- even harder than before. There was no choice but to get wet even under an umbrella. And then back in Kennedy town there was very light rain even though there is amber rainstorm warning. So bizarre!

Heung Kee Kuk strongman Lau Wong-fat has died
The next two days are expected to be unsettled followed by really hot sunny days Friday may see showers and then sunshine again on the weekend. Or that could all change tomorrow.

In other news, former Heung Yee Kuk leader Lau Wong-fat has passed away at the age of 80. He has been ill for a while.

For 35 years he represented the indigenous residents of the New Territories, and became known for his fight to include an article in the Basic Law to ensure that indigenous interests were still protected after 1997.

This includes the small three-storey houses they build and allows every male child to do the same, while the rest of us are crammed into shoeboxes in the sky everywhere else.

A few government officials previously dared to stare down Lau and his gang, but retreated with their tails between their legs. Are they really that threatening? Apparently so...

However, Lau's son, Kenneth Lau Ip-keung has taken over as leader, though he has yet to bare his teeth like his father.

May be now the government can really start pushing the housing agenda forward to make it more equitable for everyone...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Sham Shui Po Eats

Kaya toast and French toast with Hong Kong-style drinks at Wai Kee
A good friend of mine from California is here visiting with her teenage son and all I've been doing all week is eating every day!

Thank goodness today I was finally able to hit the gym and burn off some calories, only to put more on later in the afternoon.

Shrimp roe egg noodles with braised beef tendon
I met them again, this time in Sham Shui Po for some local eats, and another friend who lives in the neighbourhood took us around.

Sham Shui Po is one of those places I am hardly familiar with, and feel like a tourist when I'm there. But actually the places we went to were very close to each other and we saw a lot within two hours.

One of the first places we hit was Wai Kee Noodle Cafe (62 & 66 Fuk Wing Street), where it is well known for several food items, one of which is pork liver vermicelli in soup.

We didn't order that, but instead had French toast with kaya spread in between the bread slices, as well as kaya toast, washed down with cold milk tea, hot Horlicks, and hot milk tea with sweetened condensed milk.

Black tripe with shrimp roe noodles at Lau Sum Kee
The cold milk tea hit the spot on a very hot and humid day, though the hot milk tea with condensed milk was so smooth. Meanwhile the French toast was better than toast, but it was good to try both to compare.

Lau Sum Kee (48 Kweilin Street) is famed for its bamboo noodles, where they use a bamboo pole to knead the dough. We tried the famed shrimp roe lo mein -- one with braised beef tendon, the other with black coloured tripe garnished with green onions and ginger.

Both were delicious -- the tendon full of flavour and had a soft texture, while the tripe was crunchy and spiced up by the chilli soy sauce. The egg noodles were very thin and didn't have much alkaline taste.

Finally we went to a shop that sells curry fish balls and boiled octopus on skewers in the late afternoon on the street. The fish balls had a slow burn -- eating them after a while could leave your mouth on fire! The chopped octopus was so tender and nicely seasoned.

Curry fish balls and octopus skewers in Sham Shui Po
It's a pity another Sham Shui Po institution, Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong (118 Pei Ho Street), which sells tofu products, including fermented tofu, soy bean milk, and tofu dessert is currently being renovated, but it gives me an excuse to go back after it reopens in August.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Remembering Liu Xiaobo Seven Days Later

A memorial for Liu Xiaobo was held at Tamar in Admiralty
I'm sorry I missed another memorial for Liu Xiaobo in Hong Kong last night.

It was the seventh day of his death, where the Chinese believe the spirit of the newly deceased will return home to bid a final farewell to their loved ones.

In Hong Kong, about 1,500 people gathered at Tamar in Admiralty, where they paid their last respects to the political dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner who died of liver cancer on July 13.

Liu is remembered with pictures of a chair by the water
People signed condolence books and placed flowers in front of a large portrait of Liu with the words "Remembering Liu Xiaobo -- Free Liu Xia" at the park. Local musicians also performed several songs, including John Lennon's Imagine. At the end of the one-hour memorial, people raised three fingers in the air to represent resistance, freedom and hope.

Finally, a chair with a candle on it was lowered into Victoria Harbour. There are reports police were present but didn't intervene.

There were similar memorials in Vancouver, Boston, Melbourne and London.

It is believed the family was pressured by the Chinese government to cremate the Chinese dissident's body so soon after his death -- usually it is done at least a week after in observance of the Chinese custom.

Also his ashes were scattered into the sea in a controversial burial in an attempt by Beijing to deny supporters a place of pilgrimage. It is also known as a cruel form of posthumous punishment in traditional Chinese culture, where having a tomb is a place for one's descendants to pay tribute to the dead.

Projecting Liu Xiaobo's face on the facade of the PLA!
In the meantime there is serious concern over the whereabouts of his wife, Liu Xia. It is believed she may have been forced to "take a vacation" in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

Not only was she apparently detained, but also Liu Xiaobo's friends, who were reportedly under house arrest, unable to attend memorials. Others were detained after holding ceremonies by the sea.

On social media, people have been posting pictures of chairs by or in the sea, sometimes with flowers and the hashtag #liuxiaobo.

It's telling how far the Chinese government has gone to try to censor anything related to Liu Xiaobo, and yet people just keep remembering him through creative ways.

I think Liu would have been pleased to know so many around the world came out courageously to remember him in various ways.

Perhaps projecting his image on the barracks of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong is probably the most daring.

Only in Hong Kong...




Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Picture of the Day: Emily Carr

Abstract Tree Forms is on show at the Vancouver Art Gallery now
The Vancouver Art Gallery has one of the best collections of BC artist Emily Carr's work. The museum's latest exhibition is called "Emily Carr: Into the Forest" focuses on one of her favourite topics, trees.

It also gives the VAG an opportunity to showcase Carr's work in a thematic way and showing her progression from a realist painter to more abstract.

One of the paintings I really liked was this one, called Abstract Tree Forms that was painted from 1931-32.

And in this case the tree has been pared down to sensual, curvaceous forms, and connecting one tree to the rest of the forest like undulating waves -- a sea of trees.

Nearby where this painting was hung was a timeline of Carr's life and it was interesting to note that in 1930, she had solo exhibitions in Ottawa, Victoria and Seattle. In the same year she also went to Toronto and New York, where she met American artist Georgia O'Keefe.

After that Carr paints this painting.

One can see clearly that in Abstract Tree Forms that O'Keefe's influence rubbed off on Carr.

We can only imagine the conversations they had! To be a fly on the wall back then! Both women were very independent, determined, stubborn, and they also had a mutual love for nature around them.

Emily Carr: Into the Forest
Until December 3, 2017
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street
Vancouver

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Harry Benson: Shoot First

Photographer Harry Benson is passionate about the pictures he takes
I really enjoy watching documentaries, not just for the subject, but also see how it is portrayed, or how the story is told.

Fun image of The Beatles playing around in their hotel room
On the way back to Hong Kong I watched a few documentaries, one of which was called Harry Benson: Shoot First that was released last year.

The Scottish-born photographer is now 87 years old and to say he's had a colourful career is an understatement.

In the documentary, viewers get to have a first-hand view of him, hearing his thoughts and feelings when he shot particular subjects or assignments, as well as testimonials from many people he has shot, or talking to journalists about why the photos Benson took were so "iconic" and that they were crucial documents to history.




Benson never knew he would become a well-known photographer -- he just took whatever assignments were given to him to make a living. When he was a child he didn't do well in school so he took a job as a delivery boy.

His father built him a small hut in the back yard, which became his darkroom and in one of the scenes Benson visits his childhood home and the hut is still there, though the current owners or inhabitants aren't there to explain what it's used for now.

An iconic image of Nancy and Ronald Reagan
In 1964 The Beatles were so hot in their first trip to the US and Benson was there to cover them by fluke because apparently the paper's top photographer wasn't good looking enough to be with them.

He caught them in fantastic poses, most particularly having a fun pillow fight on the bed of a hotel room. Another features the band encountering Muhammed Ali, who had no shame in promoting himself and proclaiming that he was beautiful.

From there Benson became known for shooting celebrities, everyone from Elizabeth Taylor before and after her brain surgery, Michael Jackson, chess champion Bobby Fischer.

He also took pictures of Robert F Kennedy when he was a senator, and then happened to be next to him when Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968. While it was hard for Benson to take those photographs, it was important to get the images to preserve history.

One of the pictures Benson took is of a terrified Ethel Kennedy with her hand out, trying to block photographs of her in the moment. It's haunting, but also immediate.

The endless sea of huts of starving people in Ethiopia
Other famous photos he took were on the cover of Life magazine of Ronald Reagan with his wife Nancy dancing, Winston Churchill, and Boris Yeltsin.

Benson didn't want to be just known as a celebrity photographer -- he also took pictures of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr and how blacks were lynched -- he risked his life documenting these horrific attacks on people because of their skin colour.

On the other hand he also went to document the mass starvation of children in Ethiopia in the 1980s, where the journalist Benson was with recalled how the babies and children were so malnourished and died daily, making it such a heartbreaking story to cover.

But it wasn't all seriousness for Benson -- he had a wry humour and always quick on his feet. Getting access to chess prodigy Fischer was very difficult, but somehow Benson managed to do it. He shot pictures of the quirky American playing underwater in a swimming pool and outside where wild horses roamed.

Bobby Fischer nuzzled by a wild horse in Iceland
At first Fischer seemed nervous to be around these animals, unsure of what to do, but Benson recalled telling him the horses loved him, and sure enough, a white horse came up to Fischer who was sitting on the ground and nuzzled his head and the American was so surprised the horse was so soft.

Benson's career spans over 60 years and one can tell he loves what he does and it comes so naturally to him. He credits his Texan-born wife Gigi for his success, helping him archive his work and is also his business manager.

It's fascinating to see how he is really focused on his subjects, trying to put them at ease, and how they trust that he will take the best pictures of them.

Harry Benson: Shoot First
Released 2016
Directed by Justin Bare and Matthew Miele
1 hr 27 mins


Monday, 17 July 2017

Picture of the Day: QE Park

Such a nice treat to see the park in full bloom in the summertime
After my friends and I had an early dinner on Main Street, I suggested we head to the nearby Queen Elizabeth Park to walk around and digest our meal.

It was still bright outside and I hadn't really visited the park in ages. Turns out all of us needed a refresher.

The 130-acre park was named after Queen Elizabeth, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, and it's the highest point in Vancouver at 152 metres above sea level.

Succulents line the bases of these trees and giant plants
It has sunken gardens because it used to be a quarry, and the landscapers definitely made good use of the land. The gardens are well maintained and it's a favourite place for wedding photos in the summer.

While some parts of the park are the same, there are others that have been upgraded or modernized. One section featured mounds of trees where the bases are decorated with lots of succulents! Talk about creating more colours and textures!

There's also another section that has three metal sculptures where happy couples can demonstrate their love by putting their lock on the three dimensional figures.

Apparently it's inspired by Pont des Arts in Paris, where couples seal their love for each other, but the sculptures here are hardly covered in locks, though there are many. And it's not just couples showing their love, but also grandparents and grandchildren too, some in different languages like French and Chinese.




Saturday, 15 July 2017

Another Chinese Acquisition

Grouse Mountain is a short 45 minute drive away from Vancouver
When I was a teenager I learned how to ski on Grouse Mountain. I was cautious at first, but after learning the moves I became more confident skiing down The Cut, one of the main trails. On the other hand my brother had no fear and zoomed down the hill.

In recent years Grouse Mountain became popular in the summer thanks to the Grouse Grind, a 2.9 kilometre (2,830 steps) nicknamed "Mother Nature's stairmaster" all the way up to the top. If you could do it in under an hour you were really fit. Hardcore visitors were called "grinders" and liked to boast their times.

The Grouse Grind is popular with fitness addicts
In any event in the last day or so it has been announced that Grouse Mountain will be sold to China Minsheng Investment Group, the largest privately owned investment manager in China.

The property has been for sale since September last year and it is believed the deal is worth CAD$200 million that will be finalized in the next few days.

Apparently there are potential areas the new owners could develop, such as a hotel and spa, a bike park and conference facilities, but these are all subject to regulatory approval.

In the meantime all staff have been kept and operations will continue as usual.

Grouse is a popular and close by mountain for skiing
China Minsheng Investment Group was started in 2014 by Premier Li Keqiang and this purchase is apparently its first in Canada. Other Chinese companies with a foothold in the city include Anbang Insurance, China Poly Group Corporation, Greenland Group and Ping-An Insurance, Wanda Group and Fosun.

Despite the possible changes in the coming years, one thing's for sure -- the Grouse Grind will not be touched -- it's on government land.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Picture of the Day: Sunset Summer

Catching the tail end of a gorgeous sunset at Spanish Banks in Vancouver
I've had a short trip to Vancouver, but enjoyed every moment thanks to the fantastic weather we've been having. The best part is that the humidity is so low you hardly break out into a sweat, unlike Hong Kong, where walking outside for five minutes results in sweat pouring from your forehead like a waterfall.

After dinner my friend and I headed to Spanish Banks to catch the sunset and we got there at the tail end with the sky was already a deep pink and mauve.

Down the beach we saw a gaggle of Canada geese hanging out right by the water -- I don't remember ever seeing this before. But there they were standing around and cleaning themselves. Wondered what they were up to next.

It's so nice to see the sun go down just before 10pm -- in Hong Kong it's already dark by 7pm, but then again in Vancouver, it's dark by 3pm in the winter.

Nevertheless I was really glad to be able to catch the beautiful sunset right by the water -- before heading back to Hong Kong.


Epic Meal at Phnom Penh Restaurant

A unique (and delicious) place serving Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisines
Yesterday I met up with an acquaintance in Chinatown and he suggested we eat at Phnom Penh, a Cambodian-Vietnamese restaurant.

He was shocked to find that I had never been there and insisted we eat lunch there.

I arrived at the appointed time to find a crowd of people standing in the foyer waiting for a table, while others preferred to soak up the sunshine before their name was called to come in.

Watching people come in and out, there were not only Cantonese-speakers, but also Mandarin, as well as non-Chinese who seemed to be very familiar with the place. Guess it was a good sign.

Deep-fried chicken wings have alight batter and tart sauce
By 1pm the restaurant was still bustling, and after about a 10-minute wait we finally got a table. And since my acquaintance is such a regular here, he practically knew all the dishes we should order, adding that four of the items on the menu are ones one should eat before they die. Die? Really?

He asked me if I had such a list... I had to answer in the negative.

I'd never thought of it that way before, but that just made me more skeptical of how good Phom Penh really was.

Nevertheless, the food soon arrived fast and furious on the laminate table. A half portion of deep-fried chicken wings were garnished with spring onions, garlic, and coriander, with a peppery lemon sauce on the side. Fantastic, and perfect beer food. The batter wasn't heavy and was quite crunchy.

Cubes of beef covered in a dark sauce, topped with fried egg
Next came fillet beef luc lac on rice with egg (CAD$10.95). Honestly it doesn't look pretty -- the cubed beef was smothered in a very dark brown shiny sauce with a fried egg on top. The egg was a bit more cooked than runny, which would have made it takes a bit better.

My friend mixed these all up as well as he could, minus the salad on the side. This wasn't a dish I would consider a must-have before dying -- the flavour was actually flat -- even the egg couldn't save it.

However, we really liked the beef fillet anchois (CAD$19), which was basically beef carpaccio topped with a soy sauce mixed with lots of coriander, garlic and lemongrass. The sauce complemented the beef, and interestingly for a restaurant in Chinatown we did not get sick after eating a raw meat dish!

Finally the flavour of the Phnom Penh hot and sour soup with prawns (CAD$12.95) was fantastic. I like sour tastes, and this one pretty much hit the jackpot. It was a curious combination again lemongrass, and probably lime for tartness, added with tomatoes, pineapples, beansprouts, potatoes and overcooked prawns.

 SE Asian beef carpaccio with lots of coriander and garlic!
The food we ordered was enough for three people, but we somehow managed to almost finish it all. Needless to say I was so full afterwards that I could have almost skipped dinner.

When we came out of the restaurant, there was yellow police tape cordoning off the sidewalk a few doors down with police cars on the street and people in uniform checking out the area. One wiped blood off the sidewalk which meant that it was probably a stabbing.

And we didn't even know! We were too busy eating to hear any commotion if there was any...

Phnom Penh restaurant is pretty good, but as long as you're willing to wait...

Phnom Penh
244 East Georgia
Vancouver
604 682 5777




Thursday, 13 July 2017

Liu's Day has Come

Artist Ai Weiwei's Lego portrait of Liu Xiaobo
Anyone who has been reading the news of the deteriorating health of dissident Liu Xiaobo has been dreading this day, but it has come. He died today at the age of 61.

He is the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in custody since German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won the prize in 1935 during the Nazi era.

This will be a dark stain on Chinese President Xi Jinping's legacy and the Chinese Communist Party that is desperately trying to win over the rest of the world through soft and hard power.

Letting Liu leave the country in his last days and hours would have been the humanitarian thing to do, and win Xi points on the world stage, but this is not how the president operates, as he has taken a harder line than any recent previous leaders.

China didn't want to be seen as giving in to Liu's last wishes of leaving the country in the hopes that his wife Liu Xia would have a better life.

Perhaps even more outrageous is that Liu's liver cancer diagnosis was announced at such a late stage that there was nothing any doctor or treatment could do. This appears to be a deliberate move so that no one could do anything.

At the same time, Liu's health condition had to be announced to avoid China being accused of killing him in prison, which would have raised issues of his treatment in incarceration.

While we are outraged at how the Chinese government treated Liu, where were all the world leaders speaking out about violating his human right to proper medical treatment? They are too scared to anger China with economies dependent on the country to stay afloat.

Liu can now rest in peace, but what of his wife? She will probably remain under some kind of house arrest, though she is the innocent bystander in all of this. Liu Xia is emotionally fragile and surely his death will make it even harder to keep going.

PEN America will be holding a vigil tonight in New York and we will probably see other groups hold similar events tonight and in the next day or so.

Liu was China's moral compass and he has died knowing he has done his part for his country.