Chinese New Year—or the Spring Festival (春節), as it’s sometimes called—just ended here, and we had a great time taking in some of the sights and sounds. It’s a big deal here (obviously), and quite different from Solar New Year in the US: more days, more family, more decorations, less booze. The celebration of the lunar New Year is a bit different in different parts of Asia. Here in Hong Kong it’s “only” four days.
Of course there are decorations. Here’s the entrance foyer of our building. Continue reading
As promised/threatened in my last post, I offer for your enjoyment a short video of worshippers at Wong Tai Sin Temple. You will be shocked to learn that I made this all by myself. That ridiculous Chicago-to-Hong-Kong globe animation at the beginning? That took nearly 30 seconds of work in iMovie, 20 of which were devoted to deciding between the regular map and the old-timey map.
I note that Koyaanisqatsi came out in 1982, and Baraka in 1992. That means we’re 10 years overdue for a follow-up. Once I get, like, 90 more minutes of footage like this, I’m going to commission a minimalist soundtrack and go for it.
Filed under Kowloon, temples
Another weekend, another trip to a religious site. Hooray!
Last weekend we took another short jaunt on the MTR to Wong Tai Sin temple (黃大仙祠), a very popular shrine just east of us [Wikipedia entry, official site]. We had originally planned to combine a visit here with our trip to Nan Lin Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery, but I’m glad we didn’t. There’s enough at each of these places to merit a trip of its own.
So it’s pretty impressive just approaching, yeah. Continue reading
Last weekend we explored a bit around Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island. Sheung Wan is one of the old neighborhoods of Hong Kong Island. While the British were developing Central (just east of Sheung Wan), the Chinese population of 19th-century HK were developing Sheung Wan. Here’s a little map for you.
In Sheung Wan is Possession Point and Possession Street, which mark (you can probably see this coming) the spot where the British formally took possession of Hong Kong in 1841 near the end of the First Opium War. Behold:
What’s slowly being constructed under festive red wrapping in the middle of Our Mall?
I’m pretty sure there’s a rocket under here.
What’s this merry platform?
It’s hard to resist the temptation to run up those steps and start singing “Sleigh Ride.”
Might it have anything to do with these giant bedazzled jellyfish descending from the ceiling to spread glad tidings with their gingerbread-spiced nematocysts ?
Swarovski® presents their latest creation, the Portuguese Man o’ Solstice (Physalia diei natalis). If it stings you, you have to pour champagne-spiked eggnog on the wound to stop the stinging.
The music hasn’t started yet, but soon, friends. Soon.
A few weeks ago Cate and I made our first trip into mainland China. Like many Hong Kongers, we took a day trip into Shenzhen, the city just across the border from Hong Kong, in search of deals. We took the MTR north about half an hour to Lo Wu, walked through immigration, and there we were.
First, a word on immigration. HK immigration was, as always, easy. I was a bit curious—heck, apprehensive even—about what the Chinese border crossing would be like. The answer is: surprisingly quick and pleasant. Also surprising is that each passport control station has a little set of buttons like so:
A little hard to read. The buttons are labeled Greatly Satisfied, Satisfied, Checking Line Too Long, and Poor Customer Service.
(Image via SpeedofCreativity)
When they’ve finished checking your passport, the lights blink and you are invited to push the appropriate one. The number above tallies the score of that line. I would give anything to find these buttons at O’Hare’s TSA lanes. Harrumph. Continue reading
Last night Cate and I ventured into the fascinating and awesome world of private kitchens.
A private kitchen is a restaurant that can’t call itself a restaurant. It can’t openly advertise, it can’t post a menu for passer-by to see; in fact it can’t, really, be openly visible to passer-by at all. They don’t even have official websites, relying instead on word of mouth and other means to get the word out. Because it’s not a restaurant, you see. It’s a private kitchen.
Private kitchens operate in a legal gray area. What usually happens is that some awesome (most of the time) chef and some partners buy a space (like an apartment) and turn it into a restaurant—errr, private kitchen. They’re not subject to governmental oversight because they’re not officially restaurants, and because they need to be mostly invisible, they’re typically in out-of-the-way places that are hard to find. That’s part of the appeal, of course. Continue reading
When we first arrived a month (!) ago, the big item in the news was the opposition to the Moral, Civic, and National Education curriculum that was being proposed for Hong Kong. The real opposition was to the “National” part and to the possible implications. Here’s the two-sentence summary of the new curriculum:
Moral, Civic and National Education is an essential element of whole-person education which aims at fostering students’ positive values and attitudes through the school curriculum and the provision of diversified learning experiences. It also develops students’ ability to analyse and judge issues relating to personal, family, social, national and global issues at different developmental stages, and enhances their willingness to make commitment and contribution.
There’s a lot there to give a reader pause. Like, students’ positive attitudes towards what? What might a good analysis and judgment of a national issue look like? Hong Kongers saw this as a ploy by China to inculcate more, well, nationalist sentiments in Hong Kong (which, as I’ve noted ad nauseam, views itself as being very distinct and different from mainland China).
Now it appears that the whole thing has been scrapped. (I’m linking to the coverage in China Daily, which tends to be much more pro-Beijing than, say, the South China Morning Post.)
But here’s a little artifact from the protests, which a colleague gave me.
The caption reads “We don’t want red education.”
Cate and I trekked over to the HK Registration of Persons office this morning to apply for our Hong Kong ID cards, which are required for anyone staying more than 180 days. There’s no real analogue to this in the US, since there’s no mandatory national ID system in the States. The HKID is kind of like a green card, except that it can be issued for a specific duration; it’s not a “lawful permanent resident” card like the green card is.
My handsome temporary HKID.
I should mention—hopefully without jinxing us—that in general our (granted, rather limited) experience with government bureaucracy here has been quite positive. When we came through HK Immigration upon our arrival, the passport control officer stamped my passport with a tourist visa because I didn’t point out to him that I had an employment visa stuck in there. (In my defense, though, it was a long flight, and the thick sheet of glass between me and the immigration guy seemed to discourage dialogue.) Once I noticed the problem (fortunately, right after going through) and asked another immigration officer about it, he put me back in the front of the line to return to the window I’d come from, whereupon the guy apologized to me for the error. A few crazy stamps, a little bit of paperwork, and a five-minute wait, and everything was shipshape. Unbelievable.
My frame for comparison here is the French, since that’s the only other foreign government I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with. Those of you who have ever partaken of French bureaucracy will no doubt agree that French fonctionnaires are uniquely adept at making you feel like (at the very least) a huge nuisance and, in most cases, a complete and total asshole for having the audacity to impose on them for even the most basic of job duties. (Examples include: selling you some postage stamps; stamping your passport; getting you a book from the restricted library stacks; pointing the way to the Louvre.)
So it has been very refreshing to encounter what is, by and large, a very efficient bureaucracy with really quite pleasant and knowledgable civil servants. One also gets the impression that there is, shall we say, less of a commitment to Kafka-esque arbitrariness than the French demonstrate. (Fellow seekers-of-early-manuscripts in French libraries and holders of French cartes de séjour, please stand up.) To get our HK visas, I only had to fill out a pretty simple application form and return it to CityU with a photocopy of our passport pages (not the passports themselves). A few weeks later, they sent us the visas, which we stuck into our passports ourselves. Now that’s how to do it.
I had intended to get this blog up and running long before we actually arrived in Hong Kong, but the final flurry of activity leading up to our departure made that unfeasible. So here we are, settling into our apartment in Kowloon, and gradually—oh, so gradually—adjusting to life in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
I hemmed and hawed about what the name of this blog should be. There is considerable pressure—or at least I thought there was considerable pressure—to think up something memorable. More than a few god-awful puns crossed my mind, but nothing seemed quite right. Then, this summer, while on a long road trip from Chicago to the East Coast and back, Cate and I listened to a series of fascinating lectures on the history of modern China, and of course references to the Forbidden City abounded. It’s hard to imagine a more evocative or provocative name for a place, notwithstanding the considerable irony that nowadays floods of tourists flow in and out.
So every time the lecturer mentioned a Chinese emperor, I’d think “How cool would it be to live in a place called the Forbidden City?” But, as anyone who’s ever watched The Last Emperor knows, it actually wouldn’t be that cool at all: locked gates work in two directions, and all that stuff. Surely it would be better to live in an unforbidden city.
But ultimately, “unforbidding” is aspirational—it’s my hope for the coming year. HK is legendarily full of hustle and bustle; we’ve already experienced a little bit of that in just a few days, and we haven’t even made it into the dense fray yet. We have been told to expect to be a bit overwhelmed, sometimes even a lot overwhelmed, by the all-out, near-constant energy, movement, and sound. So the name of this blog is an ambition—that we should as much as possible, I hope, be awed, be impressed, even be exhausted by all that we find around us; but that we should never find it forbidding.