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Showing posts from January, 2009

Nikko Revisited 重返日光

It has been 18 years since I last visited Nikko (日光), an idyllic city nestled in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県) two hours from Tokyo by train. My memories of the place have yellowed, but time has only made the heart grow fonder. So when I decided to spend Chinese New Year in Tokyo this year, I made certain that a proper visit, long overdue, was paid to the City of Sunlight.

I planned a three-day sojourn at a ryokan (旅館; traditional inn) in the town of Kinugawa (鬼怒川). A popular onsen resort in the city of Nikko, the town was named after the Kinugawa River, which literally means the wrath of demons. Far less sinister than its name suggests, the sleepy town is home to thousands of retirees eager to chat up visitors who cross their paths... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

And I Finally Exhaled 終於呼口氣

I stayed up till 2 am last night to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama on live television. Two million cheering fans packed the Washington Mall and turned the quadrennial domestic ceremony into a global celebration. Reporters and pundits talked ad nauseam about the historic significance of the first African-American president. But this transformative moment in history defied narration and words. It speaks for itself. 
As one administration ends and another begins, I can finish my obituary of George W. Bush’s failed presidency.

Bush is not a terrible person per se. In fact, W seems to be an all-around nice guy. In the 2000 presidential election, the Republican machine sold the boyish Texan to the American public as the kind of Joe Six-Pack you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a plane, in contrast with the professorial and sometimes awkward Al Gore. Weeks of cliff-hanging vote recounts and millions of hanging chads later, the average Joe stumbled into the Oval Office and began runn…

Rhapsody on Pedder 畢打街狂想曲

It was an unseasonably cold November afternoon. I finished my workout at the gym and hurried back to the office. I walked down the precipitous Wyndham Street, where dense traffic from Midlevels collected and emptied onto Queen’s Road Central. The cacophony of car horns and audible traffic signals for the blind reached a deafening crescendo, drawing everyone’s attention to the busy crosswalk that marked the start of Pedder Street. There, pedestrians built up along the curb and stared unseeing at their mirror image on the opposite side. Double-decker buses and delivery trucks pushed forward in every direction and shook the ground like a wildebeest migration. Dispassionate traffic lights changed at even intervals, trapping and releasing machines and humans competing for speed. The opening bars of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue started to ring in my head. It was lunch time in Central.


Outside Marks & Spencer, a homeless woman lay prostrate on the sidewalk, her hair wrapped in wru…

The Tutelage of the Tutored 上了學的生一課

I have been teaching English in my spare time for several years now. I classify my students into two main groups. The first comprises mostly 11th and 12th graders who need help with their literature class. They tend to be children of well-to-do expatriates who have been plucked from faraway homes and placed in one of the handful of exclusive international schools in the city. As traumatic as their displacement has been, these young, porous minds quickly adapt as they bond with schoolmates who share similar experiences to their own.

I work with a learning center in Central that supplies me with a steady flow of students. Corporate executives and their spouses, dissatisfied with their children's report cards and either too busy or unable to rectify the problem themselves, turn to the learning center for a hired hand… _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

Daily Conundrum 每天的困惑

Every weekday at roughly the same time, when the Hong Kong market is about to take its mid-day break, a recurring question pops into my head and gives me an instant migraine. Tackling this question requires creativity and the ability to work through an intricate matrix of parameters: timing, budget, location, weather and mood. It has nothing to do with finance, accounting or the law. It’s the eternal question of what’s for lunch.

To most worker bees, lunch is a welcome break in a never-ending day and a source of relaxation or gastronomical indulgence. To this picky eater, however, the mere mention of the word makes his head throb. Every day at the dreaded lunch hour, I find myself out of options and out of time.
_______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

Department Store Culture 百貨公司文化

Back in my school days in Philadelphia, The Wanamaker’s, founded by prominent merchant and politician John Wanamaker in 1902, was among my favorite places to hang out in the downtown area. Every Christmas, the department store delighted children and adults alike with an in-store light show while holiday tunes played beautifully on the world’s largest operational pipe organ housed inside a majestic, seven-story high courtyard. 
Unfortunately for Philadelphians, as the department store industry waned, the iconic retailer eventually succumbed to changing times and in 1997, the century-old Wanamaker’s name was taken down from one of the city’s most prominent landmarks.

Once a social institution, department stores around the world are facing extinction. The rise of the “big-box store” that specializes in a single category of merchandise, such as office supplies, toys, footwear and sporting goods, has forever altered our shopping habits and made it impossible for department stores to compe…

Kowloon Complex - Part 2 九龍的心結-下卷

I decided to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon exploring West Kowloon. I dragged a friend along both for company and for a second opinion. 
Jack moved to Hong Kong from Los Angeles to take up a banking job two years ago. Like many other expatriates, my friend's knowledge of Hong Kong is limited to Central, Wanchai and Causeway Bay. Anything outside his tiny comfort zone completely eludes him. I thought Jack's unfamiliarity with Kowloon would give his perspective some objectivity.

Driving through the Western Tunnel felt a bit like going through immigration in a foreign country: there was that mix of excitement and trepidation. It was, after all, the first time I took my car to the other side of the harbor. Jack made the old joke about Kowloon, “I think I forgot to bring my passport.” His remark got a few chuckles from me. 
At the toll booth, the uniformed cashier asked me for a whopping HK$45 (US$5.50) for a one-way passage, which prompted me to gripe to my friend about the West…