Monday, November 20, 2017

’All The Beloved Ghosts’


There’s nothing creepy about Alison MacLeod’s ‘All The Beloved Ghosts’ (2017). It's not horror. 12 short stories evoke dreams, regrets and ghosts from the past. The stories clevery weave fictional characters with re-imagined factual historical figures and current-day politicians and celebrities (say, Sylvia Plath, Anton Chekhov Princess Diana and Tony Blair).

I was keen to see where the stories go, but I was a a tad bored. These stories aren't quite my cup of tea, so it took me a while to get into her writing, which is excellent, and the tone of these stories and their prose. (Reviews here, here and here.)

The last story in the book is the eponymous ‘All The Beloved Ghosts’ is set in Charleston and focuses on Angelica Garnett, drawing on the actual Angelica Garnett (1918-2012), an accomplished painter, musician and author of the family that runs Bloomsbury Group. Her aunt is Virginia Woolf. In this story, it tells of Angelica in her twilight years who attended an event at the old house in Charleston, and was overcome by her memories of the past.

She wanted only to be alone with the house, her old family home, to be where visitors, where others, were not. She wanted to feel again the warmth of its floorboards beneath her feet; to see the bright chintz curtains blowing in the breeze. Perhaps she'd unearth her earliest sketches, drawn with lumps of chalk her brothers had gathered for her on the Downs all those years ago. She'd dawdle over memories of poached eggs made from daisies for her rag doll; of the River Cuck icy between her toes; of the old bay tree in whose branches she once balanced, small but queenly.

'In Praise of Radical Fish' is an intense and almost funny look at three would-be jihadists in Brighton whose fears about an upcoming mission surfaced. It would be funnier if it isn't hitting so close to the bone when the world is in this state of flux.

I never knew it till the day Omar asked me to flee with him to jihad, but I wanted to know what fulfillment meant when Amazon wasn't number-crunching the shit out of it. 
At the police station, Omar and Ham weren't detained for more than a few hours, but they were cautioned for public disturbance, and now were known to the police. It was difficult to say how much the cops know about Omar's jihadi boasts to his father, but the truth was, he'd been giving it large there on the beach.

My favorite story would be 'The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov'. It draws from uses renowned Russian playwright Anton Chekhov as a subject, and tells of his later years when he was suffering from tuberculosis. It uses the first person narrative to indicate that Anton Chekhov was a ghost and witnessed his own funeral and eulogies. It's hilarious.

In the corridor outside our room, the doctor and the Maître d'hôte are arguing. Finally I am removed from the hotel under the cover of darkness in - how fantastic! - a hotel laundry basket. At 6'1", there is nothing for it: this corpse can only sit up. 
Olga and a small procession of acquaintances bear me to a nearby chapel. The light from the two lanterns plays upon my face, and I seem to wear a most inappropriate smile.  
You couldn't make it up. 
Of course travel arrangements for the dead rarely achieve the gravitas of the grave. In the end, the Russian Embassy commandeers a train - or, to be specific, a refrigerated car marked 'Oysters'. 
I never subscribed to any heroic ideal. 
I am happy to be mistaken for an oyster.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

再見啦香港!


It's always lovely to walk through the streets of Hong Kong. There's something familiar and yet different about them. I might be mistaken, but the city's vibes have distinctly changed. Especially downtown. The crowds and the palpable vibes on week days and weekends.

Wherever I go downtown, nobody addresses me in English or Japanese anymore. They speak to me in Mandarin. Not even Cantonese. That's not really odd, all things considered. Plus my face, clearly Asian. The suburbs feel more unchanged. Developing, of course, more new estates, buildings, et cetera. It feels like the Hong Kong I've always known. But since my last visit, the city has already shifted significantly in terms of demography and all. I guess what I'm trying to say is, Hong Kong today doesn't feel very different from Shenzhen or Guangzhou. Sure, each city has got its distinguishing characteristics, but they now feel similar. Perhaps it's just me and my feelings. Someone else would have a different opinion.

It was wonderful to stroll through streets with a camera. No specific aim but to just shoot wherever possible and appropriate, and would not incur wrath. The camera lens could always pick out the street scenes it wants to capture. When I finally uploaded those photos, I saw things in the frame that I didn't notice when taking that shot. Things like...actions, humans, light, angles, the sorts. Happy random stuff. And I did get my money shot. Two, in fact. ✌🏻

Till the next visit then. Bye 🇭🇰!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Working Out On the Megaformer


Finally satisfied my curiosity about the Megaformers developed by Lagree Fitness at the very conveniently located H-Kore studio along Des Voeux Road Central. The Megaformer hasn’t arrived in Singapore. I’d have thought it would be a much better fit for the gym than the current pilates reformers they’ve chosen.

The instructors don’t have to be trained in the Pilates method, and are only required to go through the Lagree certification. It’s not exactly pilates since there’s less focus on spinal articulation and such. Imho, the exercises on the Megaformer stress on heavier resistance and slow reps to build strength and endurance. The slow burn is real. Managed to hop into a few Megaformer classes at H-Kore and I’m really pleased with what the classes offered.

My shoulders, quads, glutes and obliques totally felt it after the second class. Hahahha. The muscles were fatigued in a different way as the exercises on the Megaformer teased out different layers and utilization. Some new moves. The killer is- all those pulses on the last rep! The instructors love to do that. It applies to exercises in pilates, barre and unsurprisingly, on the Megaformer. Yeah, core is always involved, but obliques and lats have been pushed to the max with a ton of planks, push-ups, holds and twists. Fun!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Coffee in Hong Kong

N1 Coffee & Co in Tsim Sha Tsui.

As much as I wanted to check out the hip new cafes and coffeeshops that have sprouted all over Hong Kong, I didn't have that much time to sit down and chill. On most days, I made do with the coffee powder (drip) I brought along. Managed to grab a few cups to-go from two outlets of 18 Grams, and hop into a grand total of TWO NEW-TO-ME coffeeshops- N1 Coffee & Co on mainland in Tsim Sha Tsui, and of course a hip one on Cheung Chau island- Valor (啡寮).

Since I keep circling Tsim Sha Tsui, N1 Coffee & Co is the designated caffeine supply spot. Invariably, it would be a piccolo latte. Perhaps it's the time of the day or whatever, but I don't seem to want an espresso or an Americano. I love the friendly rich nutty flavors in N1’s cup of piccolo latte.

Since we also spent a fair bit of time in Cheung Chau island, we were pleased to discover Valor (啡寮) decorated in that stark white minimalistic contemporary cafe decor. What an unexpected find! The girlfriend has ordered its caffe latte and black coffee, and enjoyed them. I didn't know she was so free to go gallivant around the island! Hahahah. One fine afternoon I was free and made her take me along.

It was a hot day. The others ordered cold brews, and the girlfriend bravely ordered a coconut ice-dripped coffee. Hmmm. Too adventurous for me even though it tasted fine. I like Valor's black coffee. I drink my coffees hot though, never cold. The baristas do a wonderful job with its Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. It's my preferred flavor of beans for drip coffee, and Valor does a good one by nudging out the familiar solid and dependable flavors. ☕️

Valor (啡寮) on Cheung Chau island.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

香港長洲思維靜院


Glad to have spent quiet time at Xavier House on Cheung Chau island (香港長洲思維靜院—依納爵靈修中心). It’s an Ignatian spirituality center whose mission is to provide the necessary silence for those of us inclined to contemplative prayer. Sited amidst the lush hills and sea, it's quite the idyllic spot to be alone with our thoughts and God.

Xavier House observes total silence, even during meal-times (the kitchen provides simple dishes with rice) and the subsequent washing of dishes and pots by all who sat at the dining table. It can be intimidating towards visitors new to silent retreats. If you haven't done one of these, consider choose a shorter period to start with, i.e. two to three days to ease into a contemplative silence. That's not to say you can't gesticulate, but full communication might be a difficult unless we speak in a common sign language. Whispering is discouraged. The girlfriend did a full 8 days there. I definitely don't have what it takes to do a week. 😳

There's no wifi provided, but you could always bring your own. Yes, there's air-conditioning in the rooms, and en-suite bathrooms for those who can't deal with communal toilets. :P The surroundings are not lavish, as it should be. It's functional and comfortable for people with the right frame of mind. It provides you the necessary ambience for those seeking a period of inner peace.

Xavier House sits tranquil atop the hill, overlooking half the island, offering gorgeous lookout points and perfect shady spots for people to sit and meditate at all times of the day. When you visit, be sure to pack light and lug only backpacks. There isn't vehicular access to the door step. Walk. The many uphill steps and slopes are totally unfriendly to suitcases. The other option is do like we did- take a few extra days in the city and store suitcases with the hotel. That said, it's a wonderful place for a jog. Uphill and downhill in and out the premises and round the island. Quite a workout.

This has been much-needed stop for loads of centering. It's always good to incorporate intentional stillness. I used this sojourn to pray for the friends and their parents, to pray for those who are in pain, to think and reflect about life and living, anticipate possible challenges and pitfalls, how I may continue serving, and how I should shape my next decade.

[4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 
~ John 1:4-5, Douay-Rheims

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Over Drinks and Supper


How the years have flown and times have changed! We come to Hong Kong, but we don't bother heading out to chic and trendy watering holes anymore. Well, I'm not into cocktails or checking out the latest hip bars and partying that way. It has always been about the alcohol. I can't do 2am nights now, and I most certainly do not want to puke out single malts. A pity I couldn't stay longer or fly in again for the Clockenflap weekend.

Stopped by a regular hotel bar for early drinks. The company more than made up for a boring bar. Hahaha. Well, it does offer a great view of the harbor and a decent range of drinks. When this group generally takes beer and wine or whisky, we don't need fancy cocktails. Picked out my beer for the night. Three bottles of Hong Kong's very own Dragon's Back. A pity the beer wasn't on tap. Still refreshing. Pale ale always works for me.

Wanted to have a late dinner at an old favorite- Mui Kee 妹記大排檔 on Kimberly Road (Tsim Sha Tsui), but it has moved. So we didn't bother since it's been growing till it's become a restaurant more than a da pai dong. So we drove out further to Sham Tsui Po's Keong Kee 強記大排檔 (the one that opens till past midnight) for a super satisfying meal. Not great, to be honest, but full of old-school vibes and street flavors. :P It was a good night catching up with the friends. 

蛋撻與杏仁酥餅


I don’t know the yardstick for good egg tarts and almond cookies, which seem to be the thing that people buy as souvenirs when it comes to local snacks. The girlfriend told me that her parents would go out to Sai Kung to buy almond biscuits. Waaaaah. Well, the tastebuds can discern why some are good or bad, depending on the flour, the consistency, et cetera. But my tastebuds don't care about them. I don’t go out of the way to buy 手信 of biscuits and such to lug home. It's not so much about the logistics, but more of the fact that nobody at home appreciates them. Even if the man loves egg tarts, regardless of which 'best shop' they come from, they taste horrible when they’re cold.

The girlfriend insisted that we eat the egg tarts from this shop in Cheung Chau. It was supposedly the 'second best' shop just directly across the ferry pier. The 'best' shop ran out of egg tarts already. She bought them for her parents (who were in town), but made me eat one. We got them fresh out of the oven. The shop assistants had to dig them out of the moulds before packing them into boxes for us.

The egg tarts were cute and tiny! By most people's standards, I think they weren’t too sweet. I can understand the love for egg tarts. Well, they tasted pretty decent, in the egg-to-flour ratio, and better than what many bakeries offer. Still, the one egg tart was clearly a tad wasted on me. 😉


So the girlfriend's parents went all the way to Sai Kung (西貢) and bought ten boxes of almond cookies (杏仁酥餅). They kept one for me. I was like, hey, keep it for yourselves or someone else who'd appreciate these a little more. But they insisted I have one box. Luckily it was a compact little box that wasn't too heavy. Whewww. I'd have felt really bad if they had to lug around this many boxes.

Apparently the parents love only this version of almond cookies stocked at a little shop called Juice Beauty. They don't quite fancy cookies from anywhere else. They would know. They like Hong Kong almond cookies. I couldn't seem to find a brand except "西貢田園手信: 胚芽專家".

Stared at the box for a bit. Decided to open it up to sample them. Upon first bite, I was quite blown away. WOAH. These cookies are fantastic! Loads of almonds; plenty of crunch They would have sugar, but the sugar content is low enough for me to want to have two pieces at this first tasting. I've never tasted almond cookies done this way. It's really quite delicious.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

皮蛋碎牛粥


I love congee and could eat it every day. To me, it’s definitely not ‘sick people’s food’. I can cook a pot of superbly flavored, thick and smooth congee, so I’m picky about it if I have to pay good money for the convenience of having someone else cook it. Unfortunately I’m not fond of the usual chicken or pork congee most Singapore restaurants serve. I quite like their fish congee, and a dunno-why-difficult-to-find version with minced beef.

This trip, I’m intentionally seeking out minced beef congee, simply because I don’t come across it often at home. No, not beef balls needed. Not into them, although those beef balls done the old way comes out interestingly half soft and half crunchy from the fried noodle bits. Minced beef works fine. I love the combination of century eggs and minced beef (皮蛋碎牛粥). Salted eggs optional. Hehehehe. Found many stalls offering really delicious minced beef congee everywhere.

On Cheung Chau island, there're many stalls in the 'town area' (fanning out the narrow strip between the pier and the beach), serving up congee and noodles. I like this one- 根記粥麵店. No English name, I suppose the transliteration is like... 'Gan Kee Congee and Noodles'. My century eggs and minced beef congee comes freshly cooked, and not at all salty. Didn't even need additional soy sauce. It only required a dash of pepper. Also, its friendly resident young cat always sidles up each time I sit down for a meal. Absolutely adorable. I like him!

Monday, November 13, 2017

500 Things To Be Happy About


Had to wander around Eslite (yes, that wonderful bookstore from Taiwan) and browse those books. Couldn’t pass up the chance to hang out at a bookstore even if it’s located in a mall. Didn’t bother with English books or the translated versions. Merrily checked out the Chinese books.

The girlfriend bought me a beautifully illustrated cheerful book by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar- ‘Happiness is... 500 Things To Be Happy About’ (2014). It’s originally in English, but at Eslite, there were two editions- the original English only, and one the English phrases and their accompanying Chinese translations. Chose the one with Chinese translations because it was more interesting, and the translations have been done well. 《500 個生活裡的小幸福》、陳思穎譯。

It’s a small book, but thick and heavy. Read it in a heartbeat. Too cute, these illustrations and phrases. Definitely a book to flip through to read it again and again. There's no story, so you don't have to read it page by page in proper order. In fact, I could just open it to any page and start from anywhere.


Clearly not every action stated in the book brings me happiness. Some are meh. But many are pretty funny. Loads resonate with me too. Those are the things that make me wear this secret grin for a few seconds as the exact memories floated up.

"when you tear a page from a notebook and its edge is perfectly neat / 從筆記本上整整齊齊撕下一頁",

"being home alone / 一個人在家",

"making that shot into the wastepaper basket / 把紙球精準地投進了廢紙簍",

"using a pen 'til the very last drop of ink / 把一支筆寫到墨水耗盡", and

"scaring the living daylights out of someone / 把別人嚇得魂飛魄散"

Hahaha. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES.