Showing posts with label Hong Kong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hong Kong. Show all posts

02 April 2021

A conversation about China

- Hi I am from Indochina. I'd like to think what you think of China.

- Hi I'm from Europe, I'd be interested in your views too, wanna start? 

- China has traded with Indochina for thousands of years. Several times over those centuries, it was the world’s most powerful empire. Never once they sent troops to take our land. Admiral Zhenghe came to Malacca five times, in gigantic fleets, and a flagship eight times the size of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, Santa Maria. He could have seized Malacca easily, but he did not. 

- True he did not, but not because he was an especially nice guy, it was not his order from the emperor. He was to explore. Many Chinese emperors did not want much contact with the outside world. They wanted isolation.

- In 1511, the Portuguese came. In 1642, the Dutch came. In the 18th century, the British came. We were colonized by each, one after another. When China wanted spices from India, it traded with the Indians. When they wanted gems, they traded with the Persians. They didn’t take lands. 

- True they didn't invade India or Persia but they did at various times invade parts of Siberia (later lost to Russia), Korea, Vietnam, Turkish central Asia, and of course Tibet. The last two they are still holding on to. 

- The only time China expanded beyond its current borders was during the Yuan dynasty, when Genghis and his descendants Ogedei Khan, Guyuk Khan & Kublai Khan conquered China, Mid Asia and Eastern Europe. But Yuan Dynasty, although being based in China, was actually a part of the Mongol Empire. 

- I'm glad you brought up Mongolia. Here either you argue Mongolians are really Chinese, then "China" invaded central Asia and eastern Europe. Or you argue Mongolians are not Chinese, then China is now occupying half the country, which explains why the other half (the independent Republic of Mongolia, called in China "outer Mongolia") is always staunchly pro Russian, whether it's the Soviet Union or capitalist Russia. They want Russian protection against a potential Chinese threat. You can't have your Mongolian cake and eat it too! 

You also forget that The Chinese empire under the Mongols tried to conquer Japan, but failed because their fleet was destroyed by typhoons, the "kamikaze" or divine winds. That saved Japan, but China did try to invade, a couple of times actually.

And now China is slowly occupying the South China Sea on no internationally recognized legal basis. 

- Then came the "Century of Humiliation". Britain smuggled opium into China to dope the population, a strategy to turn the trade deficit around after the British could not find enough silver to pay the Qing Dynasty in their tea and porcelain trades. After the opium warehouses were burned down and ports were closed by the Chinese in ordered to curb opium, the British started the Opium War I, which China lost. Hong Kong was forced to be surrendered to the British in a peace talk (Nanjing Treaty in 1842). The British owned 90% of the opium market in China, during that time, Queen Victoria was the world’s biggest drug baron. The remaining 10% was owned by American merchants from Boston. Many of Boston’s institutions were built with profit from opium. 

- I agree with you on this point completely. The British conquest of Hong Kong and its opium trade was disgraceful and ought to be remembered as such. 

- Eighteen years after the Nanjing Treaty, in 1860, the West started getting really really greedy. The British expected the Qing government: 1. To open the borders of China to allow goods coming in and out freely, and tax-free. 2. To make opium legal in China.

Insane requests, the Qing government said no. The British and French, started Opium War II with China, which again, China lost. The Anglo-French military threatened to burn down the Imperial Palace, the Qing government was forced to pay with ports, free business zones, 300,000 kilograms of silver, and Kowloon was taken. Since then, China’s resources flowed out freely through these business zones and ports. In the subsequent amendment to the treaties, Chinese people were sold overseas to serve as labor. 

- Sadly this is true as well, shame on the French as well as on the British. 

- In 1900, China suffered attacks by the 8-National Alliance(Japan, Russia, Britain, France, USA, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary). Innocent Chinese civilians in Peking (Beijing now) were murdered, buildings were destroyed & women were raped. The Imperial Palace was raided, and treasures ended up in museums like the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. 

- Again I agree and am ashamed my country was part of this shameful attack. 

- In the late 1930s China was occupied by the Japanese. Millions of Chinese died during the occupation. 300,000 Chinese died in Nanjing Massacre alone. 

- Japan's horrific occupation is well known and should be remembered as such. The Nanjing massacre too, though the numbers you mention are probably too high. One sad problem is that Mao and Chiang were too busy fighting each other instead of joining forces against Japan. 

- Mao brought China together again from the shambles. There were peace and unity for some time. But Mao’s later reign saw sufferings and deaths from famine and power struggles. 

- Be serious: yes Mao won the civil war, but then he brought unprecedented misery to China. More innocent people died at his hand than did in Nazi camps and Soviet gulags combined. Mao destroyed the economy, the cultural revolution destroyed more of the country's cultural heritage than all foreign invasions. Luckily Chiang, for all his crimes and corruption, took Some 7000 crates of artifacts to Taiwan, now preserved in a museum in Taipei. 

- Then came Deng Xiaoping and his famous “black-cat and white-cat” story. His preference for pragmatism over ideology has transformed China. This thinking allowed China to evolve all the time to adapt to the actual needs in the country, instead of rigidly bound to ideologies. It also signified the death of Communism in actual practice in China. The current Socialism + Meritocracy + Market Economy model fits the Chinese like gloves, and it propels the rise of China.

- There is no socialism in China except for one-party rule. Education is not free nor is housing or health care. As for meritocracy, yes there are many opportunities for capable people to emerge, but still, China is very corrupted, ask any Chinese in private (they won't say it in public or post it online). 

- Singapore has a similar model and has been arguably more successful than Hong Kong because Hong Kong is the gateway to China, was riding on the economic boom in China, while Singapore had no one to gain from.

- To compare Hong Kong and Singapore is difficult, too many differences. Both have been successful, but Singapore has been free for half a century, Hong Kong was never free: not under the British, not under China. 

A comparison of China and Singapore is even more of a far-fetched proposition. There is minimal corruption in Singapore and much more meritocracy. Hong Kong was successful because of its market economy and free trade, both of which are now in question. 

- In just 30 years, the CCP has moved 800 million people out of poverty. The rate of growth is unprecedented in human history. They have built the biggest mobile network, by far the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, and they have become a behemoth in infrastructure.

- Indeed, when China jettisoned socialism in all but name and embraced capitalism the economy predictably took off. 

- They made a fishing village called Shenzhen into the world’s second-largest technological center after the Silicon Valley. They are growing into a technological powerhouse. It has the most elaborate e-commerce and cashless payment system in the world. They have launched exploration to Mars. 

- Indeed huge progress in all of this, though Shenzhen was more than a fishing village, and I am not sure about the second-in-the-world, still, it is now an amazing XXI century city. 

- The Chinese are living a good life and China has become one of the safest countries in the world. The level of patriotism in the country has reached an unprecedented height.

- Sadly not all Chinese have a good life, far from it, much the countryside is still poor, inequalities are huge and many workers have no holidays, no pension plan, no insurance, in other words: no rights. 

- For all of the achievements, the West has nothing good to say about it. China suffers from intense anti-China propaganda from the West. Western Media used the keyword “Communist” to instill fear and hatred towards China. Everything China does is negatively reported. 

- Obviously, there are different views about China in the west, this is the nature of democracies. Many, like me, admire China's achievements and think we can all learn from them, but that does not hide its faults and shortcomings. 

- Westerners claimed China used slave labor in making iPhones. The truth was, Apple was the most profitable company in the world, it took most of the profit, leaving some to Foxconn (a Taiwanese company) and little for the workers. 

- Indeed it is not difficult to find many western companies which profited from China's labor laws, which give little protection to workers. That western companies make money in China does not make these laws good. I believe things are changing, as Chinese workers claim more rights, the way their colleagues in the west did decades ago.

They claimed China was inhuman with the one-child policy. At the same time, they accused China of polluting the earth with its huge population. The fact is the Chinese consume just 30% of energy per capita compared to the US. 

- The one-child policy was Deng Xiaoping's overreacting response to Mao's push to have as many children as possible. Both policies were wrong. Now China has a demographic time bomb waiting to go off as not enough young people will be there to support an aging population.

- Western countries claim China underwent ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang. The fact is China has a policy that prioritizes ethnic minorities. For a long time, the ethnic minorities were allowed to have two children and the majority Han only allowed one. The minorities are allowed a lower score for university intakes. 

- True indeed that minorities have enjoyed some privileges for a long time, but again that does not mean they are not repressing the Xingjian culture. Some in the West claim it is genocide, which it is not, but it is still a massive form of human rights violation.

- There are 39,000 mosques in China, and 2100 in the US. China has about 3 times more mosques per Muslim than the US. 

- I don't know where you got that number. The point is that in China all religions must submit to the central government, which is why the Vatican still does not recognize Beijing. China argues that its minorities are Chinese and is working to sinify them. 

- When terrorist attacks happened in Xinjiang, China had two choices: 1. Re-educate the Uighur extremists before they turned terrorists. 2. Let them be, after they launch attacks and killed innocent people, bomb their homes. China chose 1 to solve problem from the root and not to do killing. How the US solve terrorism? Fire missiles from battleships, drop bombs from the sky. 

- I agree the American response to Islamic fundamentalism has long been flawed and has failed. But China is trying to erase Turkic culture, not just Islamic extremism. 

- During the pandemic, when China took extreme measures to lock down the people, they were accused of being inhuman. When China recovered swiftly because of the extreme measures, they were accused of lying about the actual numbers. When China’s cases became so low that they could provide medical support to other countries, they were accused of politically motivated. 

- China initially denied there was a virus and repressed whistle-blowing doctors who flagged the problem back in late 2019. Time was lost and the problem got worse before they started doing something about it. 

- Western Media always have reasons to bash China. 

-I agree with you, it is always easier to blame others for one own mistakes. 

- Just like any country, there are irresponsible individuals from China who do bad and dirty things, but the China government overall has done very well. But I hear this comment over and over by people from the West: I like Chinese people, but the CCP is evil. What they really want is the Chinese to change the government, because the current one is too good. 

Fortunately, China is not a multi-party democratic country, otherwise, the opposition party in China will be supported by notorious NGOs (Non-Government Organization) of the USA, like the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), to topple the ruling party. The US and the British couldn’t crack Mainland China, so they work in Hong Kong. Of all the ex-British colonial countries, only the Hong Kongers were offered BNOs by the British. 

 Indeed it is hypocritical of the British to offer BNO just to Hong Kong, but any county is free to offer its citizenship to whoever they want. 

Because the UK would like the Hong Kongers to think they are British citizens, not Chinese. A divide-and-conquer strategy, which they often used in Color Revolutions around the world. 

They resort to low dirty tricks like detaining Huawei’s CFO & banning Huawei. They raised a silly trade war which benefits no one. Trade deficit always exist between a developing and a developed country. USA is like a luxury car seller who asks a farmer: why am I always buying your vegetables and you haven’t bought any of my cars? 

-I agree China is beating the old capitalist world at its own game though there are serious issues with intellectual property theft, cheating on licences, fakes etc. On the other hand I sympathize with China when it is requesting technology transfer from investors. Too many times in the past western multinationals made money in the developing world by localizing only cheap labor-intensive activities there while keeping all the high-tech for themselves.

When the Chinese were making socks for the world 30 years ago, the world let it be. But when the Chinese started to make high technology products, like Huawei and DJI, it caused red-alert. Because when Western and Japanese products are equal to Chinese in technologies, they could never match the Chinese in prices. First-world countries want China to continue in making socks. Instead of stepping up themselves, they want to pull China down. 

The recent movement by the US against China has a very important background. When Libya, Iran, and China decided to ditch the US dollar in oil trades, Gaddafi was killed by the US, Iran was being sanctioned by the US, and now it’s China’s turn. The US has been printing money out of nothing. The only reason why the US Dollar is still widely accepted is that it’s the only currency with which oil is allowed to be traded with. Without the petrol-dollar status, the US dollars will sink, and America will fall. China will soon use a gold-backed crypto-currency, the alarm in the White House go off like mad.

- China is playing this game as I understand it it is the largest holder of USD bonds in the world. Gold-backed cryptocurrency is a joke. But they could make the Renminbi convertible, it would be a strong currency, but the government in Beijing would lose control which is likely not acceptable.  Also, China is developing electronic money, not cryptocurrency, just e-Renminbi, this is a good model for others.

China’s achievement has been by hard work. Not by raiding other countries. 

- I would agree with you and admire post-Mao China a lot because of this.

I have deep sympathy for China for all the suffering, but now I feel happy for them. China is not rising, they are going back to where they belong. Good luck China.

- Yes China was a world leader several times in the past and it looks poised to become one again soon. Indeed good luck to China, it's going to need it. And the world needs a strong stable China integrated into the world economy.

19 February 2019

Lanterns Day Festival in Hong Kong


Pomeriggio a spasso per Kowloon, ci fumiamo un sigaro con un mio amico in visita dall'Italia. Mentre ce ne stiamo tranquilli su una panchina a fumare e guardare le barche che passano arriva un guardiano, o un giardiniere forse, che ci avverte che è vietato fumare. All'inizio non capiamo poi ci prende quasi per mano e ci accompagna un centinaio di metri più avanti, in una zona riservata ai fumatori. Molto gentile.

Il mio amico poi passa dal sarto che gli è stato consigliato. Ce ne sono tanti qui a Hong Kong, molti sono indiani, e fanno vestiti in 48 ore a prezzi stracciati. Io non ci capisco nulla ma il mio amico sì e dice che la qualità è ottima, i tessuti sono spesso importati dall'Italia e la manifattura è impeccabile. Se lo dice lui deve essere vero.

Carine le lanterne enormi predisposte intorno al museo delle belle arti, in rifacimento da anni.




Ma il punto forte dei festeggiamenti sono gli spettacoli teatrali. cui per fortuna riusciamo ad accedere senza troppi problemi nonostante la grande folla.







16 February 2018

Chinese New Year parade in Hong Kong

Traditional parade organized every year in Hong Kong for the Chinese (Lunar) New Year.








15 February 2018

Alaskan crab in Hong Kong



Easy day of relaxing at the W hotel pool overlooking the city and some walking around.

Dinner at the Star Seafood restaurant on busy Nathan Road, there are only locals, obviously not yet discovered by the big guidebook publishers. I was here a few years ago by myself and tried to order their signature Alaskan crab, but they refused to serve me because it was too big!

We can not choose our own crab from large tanks which are prominently located at the ground level by the sidewalk. Each crab has a price tag attached to one of its claws.

A waiter grabs one for us and takes it to the table where he holds it up high for our final approval before dispatching it to the kitchen.

It comes back a while later on a large serving dish, piping hot and with all the shell and claws cracked open for us to enjoy the delicate meat inside.

It is a noisy restaurant, not really ideal for a romantic dinner with my wife but the crab is amazing and the price does not break the bank.

The head waiter advises us not to order anything else as this large animal (well over 1kg with the shell ) will be more than enough to sate our appetite. he was right.

When we ask for the bill he points out to my wife that it's CNY and so he expects a red packet from us, ie a significant tip!

14 February 2018

Hong Kong New Year preparations and flower market on Valentine's Day


Visit a new year market with lots of flowers, food and a couple of musical shows. Huge crowds! The flow of the masses of people is channeled so that everyone is going in a one-way direction around the portion of Victoria's Garden at Causeway bay which is dedicated to the fair. It would be impossible to have everyone move at random, freely, there are just too many of us. Those in the middle of the human river can't even see stands on either side!

In the middle of it all there was a theatre with a sequence of shows: singers illusionist, some free snack are offered to the crowd.

For street food, Hong Kong is rightly famous and today is no exception. We can stand in a fast-moving line at one of many howker stands and buy some quail eggs on a skewer for me and a pot of beef noodles for my wife. No meat, no meal!

While we are munching away, waiting for a show to start, a charming lady in her seventies comes to talk to us. She speaks good English and says her slight American accent is due to the fact she lived in Massachusetts for a few years. Her brothers went to MIT, my classmates! Then they decided to come back to Hong Kong. She is happy about her choice, this is home, but is worried about the future of the Special Administrative Region. A dilemma many Hongkongers face after the return of the British colony to China in 1997. As usual, the British left their old possession in a mess, just like India.

Filipino helpers are mostly sticking to themselves, there are so many here in Hong Kong, they are let in pretty easily to help out in the homes of the middle class. It is paradoxical but it is easier for a Filipino to come and work here than for a Chinese!

Dinner at one of the thousands of "hole in the wall" eateries of Hong Kong, this we found by chance as it was the only one still open at 11pm, excellent pork noodles. We sat at a cramped table along a narrow corridor and were joined by a talkative local lady. She is an ethnic Chinese but actually comes from Canada and is a regular here, she assures us we ahve been lucky to find this place by chance as it is one of the best "holes in the wall" around. She complained about mainland Chinese who come in droves and empty shelves of whatever it is they can't find in China. Baby formula is a constant. I don't really understand: why is it so difficult to procure more baby formula? If there is demand, local shops should be able to just order more from international suppliers and let the Chinese buy as much as they want.

Christians in Hong Kong.



Very dense crowd!

19 August 2017

Hong Kong: Stanley, Aberdeen e Lamma

Oggi decidiamo di andare sul lato sud dell'isola di Hong Kong. Viaggio in taxi di una mezz'oretta, molto economico. Prima tappa Stanley. Lunga passeggiata sulla "boardwalk", un camminamento lungo il litorale che passa davanti a ristoranti e negozi, luogo di incontro di locali soprattutto in una bel sabato soleggiato come oggi. Fa caldo ma non troppo, veramente piacevole con la lieve brezza di mare che muove l'aria.

Un mercatino delle pulci non è di grande interesse, paccottiglia da due soldi e zero qualità. Dopo aver bruciato un quantitativo ragionevole di calorie ci fermiamo per un pranzetto all'aperto da Lucy, un ristorantino microscopico sul boardwalk da cui possiamo vedere il mare quasi a 180 gradi. Una fila infinita di navi portacontainer ci sfilano davanti ininterrottamente, Hong Kong, nonostante la concorrenza di Singapore e quella più recente degli altri grandi porti cinesi, rimare un centro commerciale di prima classe.

Lucy ci propone agnello e pollo arrosto, decidiamo di prendere entrambi e dividerceli. Ottimi, succulenti entrambi ed il pollo in particolare si presenta coperto da una pelle croccante, abbrustolita alla perfezione. Una birra belga, la classica Stella, servita ben ghiacciata completa un perfetto ristoro per 100 dollari HK a testa.

Più del pranzo ci costa, poco dopo, una noce di cocco che aprono davanti a noi, dicono che viene dalla Tailandia. Non è freschissima, forse il trasporto non è stato fatto a regola d'arte. Difficile trasportare cibi freschi a queste temperature immagino.

Un vecchietto con la chitarra canta senza interruzione per ore, sotto un albero. Non ha difficoltà ad intonare qualche canzone che gli chiedono i passangi. Soprattutto canzoni cinesi, ma anche americane, soprattutto Country and Western. Indice di Hong Kong cosmopolita. Gli metto molto volentieri qualche moneta nel cappello, e mi ringrazia con un cenno della testa.

Una signora che sembra una hippy venuta dagli anni sessanta del XX secolo sta sotto un altro albero e fa enormi bolle di sapone, i bambini che passano corrono per acchiapparle divertiti. Ma non vedo nessuno dei loro genitori che le allunga monete!

Verso metà pomeriggio prendiamo un altro taxi per Aberdeen, la principale città sul versante sud di Hong Kong. Il nome viede da George Hamilton-Gordon, 4° Earl di Aberdeen, già primo ministro britannico (1852-1855) ma è rimasto invariato dopo la restituzione di Hong Kong alla Cina, anche se pare molti locali la chiamino "piccola Hong Kong".

Prima della colonizzazione britannica Aberdeen si chiamava Hong Kong, è qui che il nome attuale dell'isola, che vuol dire "porto fragrante" ha origine. Infatti nei secoli arrrivavano qui dalla terraferma i tronchi tagliati di fresco di alberi di incenso (Aquilaria sinensis) destinati all'esportazione, che spandevano il loro proverbiale profumo in tutto il porto. I giapponesi, durante la loro breve occupazione durante la seconda guerra mondiale, si preoccupavano di cancellare i nomi inglesi e la chiamarono Moto Honk Kong, che vuol dire "origini di Hong Kong".

Passeggiata lungo il porto dove sono ormeggiate migliaia di barconi da pesca colorati. Lo chiamano il "villaggio galleggiante", la gente ci vive. Ci sono anche ristoranti.

Mentre scatto qualche foto una vecchietta sui 70 e oltre, forse anche 80, si avvicina a piccoli passi e, senza profferire parola, mi fa vedere un pezzetto di carta. C'è scritto, in inglese, a caratteri colorati, che lei è proprietaria di un "sampan" di legno e che ci potrebbe portare in giro per il porto. Mezz'ora per 60 dollari di HK, 100 per un'ora, a persona. Negoziamo 100 dollari per mezz'ora per tutti e due.

Mi siedo a prua per fotografare. Il paesaggio che ci si presenta è intrigante. Vecchi barconi di legno tradizionali riempiono gli angusti specchi d'acqua tra le banchine, e come sfondo una folta schiera di grattacieli di Aberdeen. Bei colori, saturati dal sole che comincia a tramontare. Incrociamo altre barche che portano in giro i turisti, tutte guidate da donne, ma la nostra vecchietta ci piace di più. Parla pochissimo, ogni tanto sorride, ma guida il suo sampan con sicurezza tra un molo e l'altro, seduta a poppa su una sedia che appartiene più ad un salotto che ad una barca, con la barra del timone in mano.

La nostra marinaia si destreggia abilmente tra le banchine, ci porta in lungo e in largo per il porto. Tante barche da pesca, mediamente alquanto malconce, e neanche troppo pulite, ma a loro modo affascinanti, portano alla memoria tempi andati quando i piccoli pescherecci erano la vita dei porti.

La prospettiva dal mare è ovviamente diversa, siamo più bassi e i grattacieli sembrano più alti. Passiamo davanti all'enorme ristorante galleggiante appropriatamente chiamato "Jumbo", dicono che si mangi bene ma io diffido di cucine che servono parecchie centinaia di persone alla volta.

Finito il giro la signora ci riporta al punti di partenza, si sta facendo tardi ma pensiamo di andare in traghetto a Lamma, un'isola poco lontana, conosciuta per i tanti ristorantini di pesce sul lungomare. Da lì torneremo a Central dopo cena. In teoria.

In pratica, il traghetto ci fa aspettare, e ne approfittiamo per fare due passi nell'adiacente mercato del pesce, che sta per chiudere. Come spesso, anzi quasi sempre in Cina, il pesce è tutto vivo, tenuto in bella vista in acquari di vetro pieni di acqua di mare e ossigenati da mille pompette che emettono un delicato fruscio di bollicine. Il cliente sceglie il pesce, che viene venduto vivo in una busta, oppure tramortito con un bastone di legno dal pescivendolo prima di essere pesato. Non mancano i crostacei, immagino di importazione, e i molluschi in conchiglie di ogni foggia a colore.

Il ferry per Lamma prende una mezz'oretta. Al timone un marinaio di larga stazza, con la barba incolta e la canottiera sdrucita. Fuma una sigaretta decisamente ripugnante. Anche piuttosto burbero quando mi avvicino e chiedo di fotografarlo. In realtà, infatti, lo trovo pittoresco, intonato al contesto di questo porto.

Arriviamo al molo di Mo Tat, nord di Lamma, e ci avviamo a piedi al ristorantino The Bay, con una gradevole terrazza sul mare. Il profumo di pesce fritto che si spande dal tavolo di una coppia inglese ci convince a cenare qui. Infatti la meta che ci eravamo prefissati, Yung Shue Wan Pier, dove mangiare per tornare a Central si trova ad oltre un'ora di cammino e rischieremmo di trovare tutti chiuso. E poi non è divertente passeggiare al buio sui sentieri bui che attraversano l'isola. Non ci sono auto in tutta Lamma, neanche taxi.

Non tutti i mali... la cena è ottima, pesce fresco e birra ghiacciata. Terrazza romantica, luna in cielo, onde che risciacquano la battigia, candela sul tavolo. Perfetto! 

Decidiamo di prendercela comoda e aspettare l'ultimo traghetto, alle 22.30, prima di tornare ad Aberdeen, da dove riprenderemo un taxi per Central. Sul molo, mentre avvistiamo lo stesso traghettino con il burbero capitano che ci aveva portati qui qualche ora fa, chiacchieriamo con due ragazzi locali. Sono molto presi dalla loro canna da pesca, vengono a tentare la fortuna qui perché le luci del molo attirano i pesci. Dicono che in genere ci scappa una cenetta di frittura. Mentre saliamo sul traghetto gli auguro buona fortuna, ne avranno bisogno perché finora non hanno preso neanche un pescetto!

16 February 2017

Leave Hong Kong to Bohol, Philippines

Sorry to leave our nice hotel. It's early in the morning we got to catch a 07:50 flight and the fabulous Airport Express is not running early enough. So we need a taxi and get a brand new electric Tesla. Beautiful, quiet, and of course not polluting the Hong Kong air, which is often on the brink of health limits. In part, this is because of factories on the Chinese side, but traffic, air-conditioning and so much more energy consumption in Hong Kong itself play a part.

As we drive past the Kowloon station I notice a lot of roadworks, and I ask our driver. He says they are building a new high-speed train station that will connect with the Shenzhen station just on the other side of the border and offer a seamless superfast connection with Beijing. One more way that Hong Kong is becoming more and more integrated with the mainland.

To fly to the Philippines you need to check-in at Terminal 2, but there are no gates there. After check-in, you can walk to Terminal 1, about ten minutes, or take a shuttle which takes virtually no time.

The Hong Kong airport is my favorite in the world. Bright, spacious, beautiful, full of great shopping and food, efficient. Of course, free and fast wifi everywhere.

After an uneventful flight to Manila, we have to wait a few hours for our connection to Bohol. Manila airport is a bit chaotic but we find a nice bench outside, it's a sunny day and wifi is free. Time goes by relatively fast before we are called in to board a Philippines Air flight. It's OK, nothing to write home about.

When we arrive in Bohol it's raining, not a good start. But it's warm and our driver has a comfy car with cool water and A/C, so the two-hour ride to our resort is bearable. Before setting off we stop at a large shopping mall near the airport to get some cash from an ATM, it would be our last chance here.

Seafood soup
By about 7:00pm we reach our resort, Amun Ini, in Anda, on the eastern side of Bohol. We are tired and hungry. After leaving our stuff in the room we head to the restaurant, a beautiful terrace overlooking the resort's garden and pool. Food is plentiful land varied, and it will be for the rest of our stay.

14 February 2017

San Valentino a hong Kong

Giornata pigra, in albergo. Ma stavolta ci siamo concessi il Ritz Carlton, quindi non ci siamo certo annoiati. Buffet stratosferici a tutte le ore del giorno, piscina al centodiciottesimo piano di uno dei grattacieli più alti di Hong Kong, sauna, massaggi, sala lettura con vista da (letteralmente) capogiro sul porto, quasi 500 metri di altezza sul livello del mare.

Ciliegina sulla torta: siccome è San Valentino, cena al Tin Lung Heen "Home of the Sky Dragon", 2 stelle Michelin in mezzo alle nuvole. prendiamo il menù degustazione che è prevedibilmente sublime, e la lista di vini per accompagnarlo che è altrettanto prevedibilmente troppo cara per quello che offre, ma fa parte del gioco...

Uno dei tanti motivi per cui Hong Kong è un gran bel posto da visitare, ed immagino sarebbe un vantaggio per chi ci vive, è che si mangia benissimo. Si spende quello che si vuole, dai 5 euro, magari qualcosa meno, per un "buco nel muro", un ristorantino bisunto sotto ad un cavalcavia, ai 500 euro a testa per un pasto multistellato Michelin che farebbe invidia ai migliori concorrenti francesi.

Uno dei motivi per questa eccellente scelta è che, oltre alla cucina locale, Hong Kong può beneficiare dell'afflusso di culture gastronomiche molto diverse. A cominciare dalla panoplia di cucine cinesi, ovviamente, ma anche dal resto dell'Asia. Con la colonizzazione inglese poi sono arrivati gli europei, e gli americani e quindi si mangia di tutto. 

L'unico altro posto al mondo che mi viene in mente si potrebbe paragonare è Singapore, che certamente è altrettanto cosmopolita dal punto di vista gastronomico, ma forse manca di radici proprie, mentre qui le radici cantonesi forniscono una struttura portante su cui si è sviluppato il resto.




04 February 2017

Arrival in Hong Kong

Every time I arrive at the Hong Kong international airport I am amazed. By the beauty the spacious check-in area wrapped the high concave ceiling, by the brightness of it all by the free superfast internet connection that does not require complicated login procedures.

And by the MTR train. The Mass Transit Rail that takes you to Hong Kong in a little over 20 minutes. At each station, luggage carts are ready for travelers, perfectly lined up in sets of three in front of each door of the train: solid, clean, smart-looking and free. I think back to Rome Fiumicino, where it costs 2 Euro to rent one and they are usually rickety and dirty. Never mind...

Meet and greet from our hotel. A very thin man, in his early sixties, come to help with our carts full of cases and diving equipment. he said he has been working for our hotel for 24 years. He leps us buy a ticket for the Airport Express, takes our trolleys to the platform, puts them in the luggage racks of the train car for us, tells us on which side of the train the door will open at our stop, and leaves after refusing a tip which I was handing him in gratitude.

08 October 2016

Cucina cantonese e sigaro cubano a Hong Kong

Oggi mi sono iscritto ad un corso di cucina cantonese da Martha Sherpa, una scuola che ho trovato online e che riceve sempre ottime recensioni. Sono molto curioso.

La scuola si trova in un appartamento in uno dei tanti enormi palazzoni che caratterizzano Hong Kong, qui siamo nella zona di North Point, sul lato settentrionale dell'isola principale.

Martha mi ha mandato le indicazioni per arrivare da lei per email, messaggi quasi furtivi, non ci sono indicazioni visibili dall'esterno per arrivar    e da lei. Come se si volesse nascondere, o comunque tenere un bassissimo profilo. Strano per una scuola che dovrebbe alimentarsi di pubblicità per trovare sempre nuovi clienti. Quando arrivo (con dieci minuti di anticipo sull'orario, aveva specificato a caratteri rossi e nerettati nella sua email di conferma di NON ARRIVARE IN ANTICIPO!) mi accoglie il marito, che poi però sparisce e non si rivedrà più.

La scuola offre lezioni molto diversificate, che spaziano dai dolci all'agrodolce cantonese, allo speziato. Oggi lezione sul wok, la padella onnipresente nelle cucine cinesi. Cucineremo un po’ di pollo, in po’ di pesce e qualche verdura. Non posso scrivere le ricette perché Martha ci ha fatto promettere di non pubblicarle online o su carta stampata.

Ce le ha date stampate su un foglio pezzo di carta, dicendo di conservarle con cura perché non ce ne avrebbe mai data una seconda copia in nessun caso e per nessun motivo. Ci ha intimato a voce e per iscritto di evitare di scriverle o chiamarla per avere una copia digitale delle sue ricette!

Il corso di oggi verte sulla cucina nel wok che è poi l'unica pentola che si trova in una cucina cinese tradizionale.come del resto si trova un solo coltello. Una specie di mannaia ma molto affilata con la quale un bravo cuoco cinese riesce sia a pulire uno spicchio d'aglio, o affettare un piccolo peperoncino piccante, sia a disossare un pollo di 2 kg.

Durante tutto il tempo Martha ci fa seguire principi estremi di legge e igiene e pulizia sia per gli strumenti che usiamo sia per le nostre mani. Per esempio ogni volta che tocchiamo il cellulare durante una pausa dobbiamo immediatamente lavarci le mani: quand'è l'ultima volta che avete lavato il cellulare? Ci chiede retoricamente la maestra di cucina.

Marco e Martha

Siamo in tre alunni: io e due cameriere filippine che lavorano presso famiglie di Hong Kong. È pratica comune mandare il personale a scuola di cucina. Anche a Singapore capita spesso di sentirlo, non costa molto e se lo possono permettere in tanti. Un buon modo per il datore di lavoro di assicurarsi una tavola variata!

In Italia sarebbe una cosa da ricchissimi. Adesso. Una volta no, a casa i miei avevano una cuoca fissa e così tanti nostri amici. Ma era diventata una persona di famiglia, è stata con noi tutta la vita, non era una semplice impiegata che viene per qualche anno come le filippine qui. E poi erano tempi diversi, parliamo di vari decenni fa. E naturalmente erano situazioni diverse, l'Italia del dopoguerra e Hong Kong nell'era digitale. Insomma difficile fare paragoni. 

Martha ci fa lavorare sodo per tutto il giorno, con una pausa durante la quale mangiamo quello che abbiamo cucinato. Alla fine le mie due compagne di classe si portano via tutto quello che abbiamo cucinato, le ho regalato anche le mie porzioni, non sarebbe stato facile portarsele in giro per il resto del pomeriggio e comunque avrebbero fatto più comodo a loro che a me.

Finita la lezione di cucina mi avvio verso la filiale locale di Uniqlo. Mi serve un paio di jeans, e la marca giapponese è sempre interessante, economica, comoda e classica nelle linee, almeno per i jeans. Ha un successo enorme in tutta la Cina, compresa Hong Kong.

Mentre passeggio verso il negozio Uniqlo più vicino, dove voglio comprare un paio di jeans, Googlemaps mi instrada sotto una strada sopraelevata nel quartiere di North Point. C'è un fitto assembramento, e avvicinandomi capisco che sono tutte ragazze filippine, come le mie compagne di classe di oggi: donne di servizio, cuoche, bambinaie che vengono qui a frotte a lavorare. 

Poi quando hanno tempo libero si vedono nei soli posti dove possono passare il tempo gratuitamente, all'aperto: sotto i ponti. Anche perché oggi c'è stato un "typhoon warning", un'allerta uragano, che quando arriva, qui ad Hong Kong come a Taiwan e in tutta la costa meridionale della Cina, può essere veramente devastante.

La mia giornata finisce al Humidor @L’étage, un cigar lounge un po’ Nascosto che ho trovato cercando su Internet. Al piano alto di un anonimo edificio si apre un appartamento con poltrone comodissime e aria condizionata per aspirare il fumo. Humidor con sigari da tutto il mondo, accessori in vendita e naturalmente vino, birre e whisky per accompagnare i profumati bastoncini.

Scelgo un Trinidad cubano ed una birra giapponese. La ventilazione è perfetta, tutto il fumo che produce il mio sigaro sale su su e sparisce nei bocchettoni del condizionatore, l'aria nella sala resta fresca e pulita. Sono da solo e soltanto il rumore del condizionatore mi dà un leggero fastidio nella quiete totale, ma non si può avere tutto!



07 October 2016

Trekking in the New Territories of Hong Kong

Meeting Stanley at my hotel in Mong Kok. He is a late-twenty-someting Hongkonger who freelances as a tourist guide.

We hop on the ever trustworthy MTR and are whisked to a station in the New Territories called Tai Po Market. From there it's a short taxi ride to the start of the trek. We walk through thick forests, and come within sight of the mainland: Shenzhen in just across the narrow bay.

At our destination we meet with David, a local local Hakka guide. He speaks German as he lived and worked in Germany for 20 years came back to revive village. With not a little pride he shows us around the Hakka village. Simple dwellings, a school, a temple. Hi brother cooks a delicious lunch for us: duck, pork and tuna. I am not sure which I liked the most, I ate too much of all of three. Yet I don' feel guilty, we are going to walk a lot today, some 20km all in all perhaps, so I need the calories.

The village is "protected" by a Feng Shui wall, which serves the dual purpose of keeping the evil spirits out and good fortune in (good fortune gets into the village through the gate, which somehow the evil spirits can't muster). The gate is impressive, very pretty and solid. Next to the door, on two golden panels, one can read the names of the people who live in the village, a kind of census. Next to each name a number: the amount of money each donated toward the restoration of the village.

It is called the Lai Chiwo (lychee) Village because in the early days people found the fruits in the surrounding area.

On the main square I am impressed by an austere building, the old school, now shut.

The temple is, as always, a deep experience. David insists, and I oblige, that I don't take pictures directly to the face of the deities who are watching us from the top of the altars.

Villagers mostly live off sustainable agriculture. They grow many different vegetables, notably rice and sunflower.

Toward the end of the tour we meet two ladies working in the fields, they speak good English, too good to be farmers of an isolated village. After talking to them I discover they are actually academics, have MAs and PhDs but do this farm work for free when they have time to keep their old village alive.

It's almost sunset, we are going back. Stanley takes me to another route, so I have a chance to see a different area. Lush valleys and rolling hills, I would never have expected Hong Kong to have this hidden face to show a curious traveler who digs deeper than shopping and dim sum. At one point Stanely tells me we are almost home, ie to the bus terminus: then I see a sign that says we have 5km to go! Distances are relative. It's a bit exhausting for me but I enjoy it. Stan walks ahead of me but never forgets to look back and check on me. there are no other trekkers around. I enjoy the solitude of the moment though I can also anticipate with enthsiasm the moment I will lower myself into a hot bath back at the hotel.

06 October 2016

Hong Kong traffic and storm

Today easy walking around and shopping in Central. My old Samsung wants to retire so I am obliged to go find a younger replacement. Hong Kong, contrary to popular belief, is not a shopping heaven for electronics. It is easy to be cheated and prices are not necessarily better than at a duty-free shop elsewhere. But sometimes it is possible to find a good promotion or two. 

Which I did, by chance after an amazing melt-in-your-mouth sushi lunch in a shopping mall I can't even remember. So, mission accomplished, I too to explore some more, without any particular destination in mind.

As I waited under the scorching sun for the green light to cross a street by some zebra stripes together with a lot of other quiet and well-behaved people, I saw tall blond man with a clear American accent walk across the street while the light was still red. Traffic was not too bad but still, cars were zipping by as they had a green light. A policeman stopped him and started charging him, pointing to the red light, which was still red! He mumbled something and tried to walk away from the officer but the stodgy uniformed agent followed him and alerted two colleagues at the other end of the zebra lines. They quickly converged on the tall man and asked for his ID, while calmly writing their report. I can only hear the American saying "are you kidding me?" before I walked away. They were not kidding.

A glass of Italian white at a wine bar marks the end of today's stroll, just in time before the sky opens up and a tropical storm inundates central Hong Kong. A bit later I took advantage of a break in the precipitations to make a quick run to a nearby cigar lounge I read about, called the Blind Pig. I was mostly curious about the name but found myself welcomed to a luxurious wood-paneled and perfectly air-conditioned room by a polite and well-informed cigar expert who showed me his impressive humidor. I was awed to see a sign that read "strictly no cigarettes" on the main table.

Dinner at the "Fish and Meat" restaurant nearby, on the balcony. It is still raining cats and dogs as an old British colonial officer might have put it, but it is pleasantly warm and I can eat on the balcony, protected by a large canopy. The chef today matches different foods by colors, I am enthusiastic about his red creation: raw tuna and watermelon core, I'll try and do it at home.

When it's time to go back to my hotel it was still raining beyond belief, I was not sure what to do. My polite waitress offered me an umbrella. I told her I could not take it as I was staying in Mong Kok, I would not be coming back to Central. She told me not to worry, I could take it with me tonight because I needed it. Very kind. Despite the umbrella, I still got drenched before I could make it to the subway, but I guess that is part of the Hong Kong experience.

05 October 2016

Migrazioni e maglev back to Hong Kong

Colazione molto proteica con gli avanzi di ieri: il mio preferito è il tortino di pesce. Anche l'anatra. Lo stufato di cane francamente non fa per me, sapore e aroma non mi convincono. E tanto riso, come sempre servito, anzi preso da ciascuno per sé nel cucinariso in cucina, durante la seconda metà del pasto. non dovrò mangiare per molte ore! 

Saluti sbrigativi con la famiglia, non usa abbracciarsi, tantomeno baciarsi, neanche tra genitori e figli. Il contrario diametrale di quello che sarebbe stata una partenza simile in Italia. O in Belgio, dove ho vissuto tanti anni, e i baci sulle guance sono addirittura tre invece di due. Io ci ho provato ad abbracciarli, un po' perché ci sono abituato, un po' perché gli voglio bene, hanno fatto tanto per Lifang, e un po' per vedere come reagivano. Sono stati gentili, hanno accennato a ricambiare l'abbraccio ma sono rimasti distaccati, quasi come se volessero fare attenzione a non farmi male! Credo non ci ripoverò, bisogna rispettare il loro modo di fare.

Ma non ho dubbi che nel cuore i genitori di Lifang siano altrettanto dispiaciuti di vederla partire come lo sarebbero genitori italiani. Anche se ci sono abituati, è da quando ha 12 anni che parte di casa, per studio, per lavoro, e adesso anche per amore, per me.


Poi via in Didi, l'Uber cinese, fino alla modernissima stazione ferroviaria di Chenzhou, da dove prendo il treno veloce per Changsha. La stazione è molto ben organizzata, a parte i controlli a raggi x dei bagagli cui le guardie della sicurezza non sembrano prestare alcuna attenzione. C'è moltissima gente, la prima settimana di ottobre è di festa in Cina, il 1° Ottobre infatti cade l'anniversario della fondazione della Repubblica Popolare, nel 1949, e tutta la settimana è di festa. 

La folla è ordinata, si sta tutti stretti nella enorme sala d'attesa aspettando che il tabellone indichi con caratteri verdi il numero e la destinazione del proprio treno, e solo allora è permesso scendere al binario. Ordinata ma non sempre educata: c'è chi occupa due posti, magari con il bagaglio di qualcuno che è andato al ristorante, mentre altri sono costretti a stare in piedi. Mamme che mettono i bambini a dormire occupando tre posti e guardano dall'altra parte se qualcuno si avvicina, magari un'altra mamma con bambino: è la giungla!

Una volta giù al binario devo trovare sa scritta del mio treno, ciascuna carrozza di ciascun treno è indicata con un diverso colore. Tutti in fila davanti al punto dove si apriranno le porte, e puntualissimo il treno si ferma con precisione millimetrica proprio lì. Un po' di trambusto per sistemare i bagagli (non c'è mai abbastanza posto, abbiamo tutti tante valigie, regali per le famiglie, cibarie fatte in casa che i cinesi amano riportarsi verso il luogo di lavoro.

E non solo i cinesi: anche io ho la valigia piena di noccioline coltivate dai miei suoceri (imbattibile per fragranza e croccantezza), bottiglie di salsa piccante al peperoncino, aglio e zenzero, germogli di bambù selvatici raccolti con fatica in mezzo a rovi spinosi dalla mia suocera nelle colline circostanti il villaggio di famiglia di YanJia. Stamattina me ne hanno dato più di quanto potessi farne entrare in valigia, il resto li porterà Lifang che resta qualche giorno in più per aspettare il compleanno del padre.

E poi tutti seduti e  via il treno accelera con decisione verso nord. L'annunciatrice ci spiega in perfetto inglese che siamo benvenuti sul treno "Dell'armonia" della compagnia CHR (China High-speed Railways). Poi ci raccomanda anche di non fumare, "perché come tutti sanno il fumo fa male alla salute e  potrebbe attivare l'annunciatore e causare l'arresto del treno. Poi finisce con il raccomandare a tutti di fare attenzione al momento di lasciare il treno e aiutare gli anziani ed i bambini. In caso di incidente, infine, esorta a non uscire da treno e soprattutto a non fumare. Peccato che l'annunciatrice non dica che non è consentito ascoltare video con il volume a palla durante tutto il tragitto perché questa è l'attività piuttosto fastidiosa (per me!) che sembra accomunare tutti i miei compagni di vagone!

A Changsha scelta amletica: come andare in aeroporto? Bus o trenino navetta? Scelgo senz'altro il secondo, perché sono curioso di provare le carrozze a levitazione magnetica. A parte il fatto che ovviamente ci mettiamo molto meno tempo del bus, devo dire che però mi aspettavo più velocità, più silenziosità, mentre il trenino è sì comodo ma sobbalza un po', insomma non sembra così speciale, ma forse sono un incontentabile!

All'arrivo a Hong Kong si nota subito che la temperatura è decisamente più alta, direi tropicale, anche se siamo relativamente vicini, ma le montagne dello Hunan isolano la provincia anche climaticamente. E c'è che è preoccupato anche della temperatura corporea dei viaggiatori in arrivo: alcuni di noi, credo a caso, vengono avvicinati da impiegati dell'aeroporto con un termometro che viene mirato alla fronte, ma per fortuna siamo tutti sani e  possiamo passare.

Mi sistemo all'hotel Cordis, a Mong Kok, gran bel posto senza i prezzi dei concorrenti più famosi di Kowloon.

03 December 2014

Book review: River Town (2001), by Peter Hessler, *****

Synopsis

When Peter Hessler went to China as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1990s, he expected to spend a couple of peaceful years teaching English in the town of Fuling on the Yangtze River. But what he experienced -- the natural beauty, cultural tension, and complex process of understanding that takes place when one is thrust into a radically different society -- surpassed anything he could have imagined. Hessler observes firsthand how major events such as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam have affected even the people of a remote town like Fuling.

Review

This is a superbly written account by one acute observer of one part of China while the country was undergoing tremendous change in the mid-1990s. One view by one person in one small part of this immense country does not allow a reader to draw more general conclusions. However, the many microstories we read here help a lot in understanding the new (then) China rising from the ashes of maoism. Hessler is curious, even a bit nosy, but always respectful. He learns Chinese and always tries to understand. He questions himself but does not fall into the trap of many travelers who always marvel at what they see and whom they meet, no matter what. He does criticize, with strong arguments, people and practices he meets along the way.

The Yangtse near the Three Gorges
Hessler walks on thinner ice when he addresses more academically charged historical, economic or political issues, but this is not meant to be an academic book. His perceptions of the reality around him, and of how he changes over the years while in China, is what makes this an invaluable read for anyone interested in how China changed during the post-Mao "Reform and Opening" period.


Read my other reviews of books on China here in this blog.



18 February 2010

A few days eating around in Hong Kong



I have spent a few days in Hong Kong, and I am so impressed. This is a fantastic city, so full of life, energy, fun and culture. And amazing food, cheap and tasty! I have eaten all kinds of stuff, some that not even J. could quite explain what it was... I tried hard but could not find anything, I mean ANYTHING, I did not like. The one plate that stuck most in my memory was pig's lungs in almonds' soup. OK a bit unusual, not even J. ate the lungs, she was happy with just the soup, but I found it all quite well matched. Which was followed by pork liver. WOW!

Often J. and I would eat at street stalls, delicious and cheap food served in paper bags, so cheap and so tasty I had to really make an effort to stop.

For food shopping, there are countless markets of all kinds. I found the "wet markets" especially interesting. They are called so because fish is so fresh... it is fact sold alive! Instead of dead fish on ice or shrinkwraps you buy fish here that is still swimming in styrofoam boxes. One day J. bought an octopus, which was still alive when we took it home for cooking. I was slightly shocked to see her cutting it up as it was moving around the kitchen table, but it was definitely fresh!

We even found a specialty shop with Italian produce, you can get real mozzarella di bufala flown in from Italy daily. I could buy some pancetta and Roman pecorino cheese, and was proud to make some authentic amatriciana at J.'s home for all the family! OK OK for purists: I did not find the mandatory guanciale, but maybe I did not look well enough!

Touring Hong Kong is fun in the traditional two-storied trams, that apparently were now bought by Veolia, a French company which however has pledged to keep the traditional trams running. However, for longer distances, and to cross over to Kowloon, the metro system is fast and superefficient. Taxis are convenient and cheap too.

15 February 2010

Arrival in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year's celebrations

It's my first time back in Hong Kong after 14 years. Last time I landed in the old airport, an experience I will never forget! This time I am welcomed by the new airport, an architectural and logistical masterpiece that is voted best airport in the world over and over again... This, also, is a great experience!

22 October 1997

Stopover in Hong Kong on the way to Australia


Cathay pacific offers me a day room at the hotel by the airport. Landing at this airport is an experience in itself. As we approach in the early morning hours it is still pitch dark. I can see the bright lights of the bustling city, which has just reverted to China a few weeks ago, in stark contrast with the black background of the mainland. During the final approach the  pilot comes on the intercom and advises that he is going to switch off the main cabin lights so we can see better outside. A few minutes later I understand why. The plane comes in low literally between rows of high rise buildings! You can almost see inside the bedrooms of the apartments as he makes a precise landing in the narrow strip of reclaimed land in Kowloon bay!