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Dining Out... - Part 2 出街食-下卷

Both my freelance work and my day job give me plenty of opportunities to live out a foodie’s dream. 
As a restaurant reviewer I get to try out fancy new places and sample their best dishes for free. The price to pay, however, is having to keep detailed notes of everything I put in my mouth so that I can spit out a thousand words on a two-page magazine spread the next day. 
Likewise, expensing client lunches sounds like a no-lose proposition until I find myself stuck with a table of stodgy bankers yapping about China’s next big IPO and why everyone should buy gold. It all bears out the old adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise and we have the numbers to prove it. There are over 20,000 eating establishments listed on Open Rice, the city’s popular online restaurant guide. Based on that figure alone and excluding thousands of hole-in-the-wall noodle houses and neighborhood kitchens yet to be catalogued by the website... _______________________

NEWS FLASH: Jason's Book Now Available! 快訊:《香港情懷》現已出版!

Dear Readers,
My new book HONG KONG State of Mindis available in Hong Kong at fine bookstores across the city. Readers outside Hong Kong can order it from www.amazon.com or www.blacksmithbooks.com.
Support a local writer and purchase a copy today!


PRESS RELEASE
HONG KONG State of Mind is a collection of essays by Jason Y. Ng, a popular local blogger, who zeroes in on the city’s idiosyncrasies with deadpan precision.
The 37 essays are organized into three thematic sections: people we see, things we do and places we go, each providing a window on Hong Kong’s city life. Ng’s topics range from the shark fins debate to our unique and unmistakably Cantonese coffee-drinking culture. While the book is meant to pay tribute to Hong Kong’s many quirks, it also puts her flaws on center stage. In “Rhapsody on Pedder,” the author juxtaposes his fellow citizens’ sense of alienation and vulnerability against their unbridled materialism. In “Total Eclipse of the Mind,” he puts our pervasive superstiti…

Dining Out... - Part 1 出街食-上卷

The Michelin Guide published its first Hong Kong/Macau edition in 2009. Since then, the little red book has sparked spirited debate and sometimes even nationalistic rumblings among citizens. Hong Kongers balk at the idea of a bunch of foreigners judging our food, when most of the undercover inspectors sent by the guide can’t tell a fish maw from a fish belly or know the first thing about dun (燉), mun (焖), zing (蒸), pou (泡) and zoek (灼) – to name but a few ways a Chinese chef may cook his ingredients with steam. For many of us, it seems far wiser to spend the HK$200 (that’s how much the guide costs) on a couple of hairy crabs currently in season than on a restaurant directory published by a tire manufacturer.
Food is a tricky business. It confounds even the most sophisticated of cultures and peoples. The English and the Germans, for instance, excel in everything else except for the one thing that matters most. Young nations like America, Australia and Canada... _______________________

Post Mortem on a Massacre 屠殺後的檢討

Not since the SARS outbreak in 2003 has a news event gripped the city with such intensity, as live coverage of the hostage crisis in Manila unfolded on prime time television and left us in shock and disbelief. On August 23rd, what started out as a media stunt staged by a frustrated ex-cop ended in a shooting gallery leaving nine dead and three seriously injured. In the days that followed, as details of the bungled rescue were exposed, dissected and analyzed, citizens of Hong Kong united in a kind of collective anger never seen before directed at another sovereign nation.

A lot of ink has been spilled by the local press over the sheer incompetence of the Manila police force. We saw it with our own eyes: rescue units performing a slapstick comedy titled Amateurs’ Night at Rizal Park. Using props from sledgehammers that bounced right off unbreakable windows to ropes that broke after a few pulls and purple glow sticks that smacked of a Halloween toy, the comedians completed their unfunn…

I Died Three Saturdays Ago 我在三星前期死了

“I have never given much thought to how I would die,” wrote Stephanie Meyer in the opening line of her bestselling vampire romance Twilight.

Well, neither have I. But on the ordinary summer morning of July 14th, at a busy intersection on Pokfulam Road not 50 feet from my apartment building, my moment of reckoning finally arrived. In the last few seconds of my life, I realized that death—the ultimate leveler of mankind—was not nearly as fearsome as I had thought. Nor was it as remote... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


An Okay Performance 不過不失的一埸

The World Cup is over. Finished. The End.
Now that the soccer circus has left town and the blare of the vuvuzela is no longer ringing in our ears, we can’t help but feel a little lost. I am not talking about that sense of emptiness we get when something spectacular has finally come to an end, like finishing a great vacation or learning your best friend is moving to California. Instead, it feels more like watching a firework rocket into the sky, explode and then realizing that it is merely good but not great. Okay lah, as we Hong Kongers would say.

Calling this World Cup a bore or a disappointment would have been too harsh. To be fair, there was no shortage of twists and turns, surprising upsets and reversals of fortune. Who could have predicted that past champions France and Italy would crash out after the second round in such public disgrace? Even the once invincible Brazilians became suddenly beatable, losing 1-2 to The Netherlands in the quarter-finals. 
As much as the suspension …

And Then There Were Thirteen 剩下的十三個

After months of jeers and cheers, gaffes and laughs, even a mock referendum and a televised debate, the government’s 2012 Reform Package was passed by a wide margin this Friday. 
Less than two weeks before the bill was put to a vote, with time running out and Beijing breathing down his neck, Donald Tsang cobbled a feeble campaign together to promote what he touted as the only way to break the legislative impasse and to pave the way to universal suffrage. 
But the snake oil salesman failed to impress and Tsang was all but ready to accept defeat, just as he did five years ago when the pan-democrats vetoed a similar bill. Then suddenly, the storm calmed and the sky cleared: the biggest opposition party came to the chief executive’s rescue and handed him the seven votes he needed to close the deal. The rest, as they say, is history.

Before we begin talking about the reform package, you need to understand a few of things about our wacky political system. The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-co…

Paradise of the Blind 瞎子的樂園

Not long ago I asked a friend of mine what he thought about Vietnam. Lee, a Taiwanese living in Hong Kong, travels there frequently for business. “The country is not much to look at,” Lee shrugged, “except for their beef noodle soups and mail-order brides.” Indeed, there is a perception in the wealthier parts of Asia that, with all the human trafficking going on in the country, you can order Vietnamese girls online or even bid for them on eBay. My friend’s candid response left me with a frozen smile and a broken heart. That’s when I decided to write an essay for all the Lees out there, not to change their minds but to open them to a beautiful country with an ugly past.

I visit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s twin metropolises, a few times a year for work. Few in Hong Kong know or care much about Vietnam... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


Rebels With a Cause 阿飛正傳

Two Sundays ago on May 16, I drove 30 minutes to my designated polling station at a high school tucked away on the far end of Guildford Road. In the quiet auditorium, the station manager handed me a ballot and a marker, before a uniformed volunteer ushered me to the voting booth. My footsteps squeaked noisily on the shiny floorboards and echoed through the hollow space. I was the only voter in the room. This cannot be good, I said to myself as I stamped a checkmark next to Tanya Chan’s (陳淑莊) name.

Earlier this year, five opposition lawmakers from the hawkish League of Social Democrats (LSD 社民連) and the white-shoed Civic Party (公民黨) resigned to trigger by-elections they hoped to turn into a referendum on universal suffrage. The political campaign was ingenious in its originality and deviance. Thrown in a few manga posters and radical slogans, the lawmakers-cum-rebels stirred up a smoldering cauldron of social discontent that promised to plunge the administration into a constitutional …

Pink Elephants on Our Streets 馬路上的大象

On any given day at any given time, from Kennedy Town to Chai Wan, Tuen Mun to Shatin, close your eyes and all you will hear are the roaring diesel engines of our double-decker buses. Hong Kong joins Britain, Russia, Singapore and Sri Lanka in the exclusive club of insane countries that still let these urban dinosaurs roam their streets. 
With its narrow roads, hilly topography and gridlocked traffic, Hong Kong is about the least qualified place on Earth to have two-story vehicles running around town. No matter which way you look at it, our double-deckers are out of place, out of scale and, at a time when carbon footprint is on everyone’s lips, grossly out of style.

Public buses are the biggest polluters on our streets and they hit us on multiple fronts: air pollution, thermal pollution and noise pollution... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


Ah Gah and The Hill 阿家與禧敏

I come from a big family. The age gap between the oldest and youngest siblings is well over a half generation. The five children, three boys and two girls, grew up in a crammed apartment in Tin Hau fighting over the bathroom and poking fun at each other every day. 
Born in the year of the tiger, my big sister Margaret combines the temperament of a ferocious feline and the maternal instincts of a loving tigress around her cubs. Ah Gah (阿家; Big Sis) – for that is how everyone in the family addresses her – was nothing short of a second mother to me. She would check my homework every night and buy me nifty school supplies as rewards for good grades.

When I turned four, Ah Gah got me a set of 24 coloring pencils in a sleek tin box... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

Bangkok Story – Part 3 曼谷物語-下卷

Last month I took a trip to Bangkok for work. It was right around the time when anti-government protestors began entering the capital city to open yet another chapter in the country’s bloody political history. 
Frequent visitors to Thailand such as myself have long grown accustomed to its political crises that ebb and flow roughly on a biannual cycle. At best, Bangkok is an epicurean paradise where foreign vacationers and the local working poor pass each other by on the streets like ships in the night. At worst, the city is always one political misstep away from becoming the epicenter of the next social upheaval, military coup and inevitable bloodshed.

And so it started all over again on the hot, breezeless March day when a recent Supreme Court decision to seize the assets of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra triggered mass demonstrations by an army of 100,000 Red Shirts... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major booksto…

Restaurant Review: The French Window 食評:「法國窗」

One moment I was window-shopping outside Prada and Burberry, the next I found myself being ushered down a never-ending tunnel lined with giant louvered shutters painted in a rustic fern green. At times it felt like the fictional land of Brobdingnag in Gulliver's Travels, or was it the curious hallway after Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole? The otherworldly entrance to The French Window, the latest addition to Hong Kong’s upscale restaurant scene, is as much a bold design statement as it is a harbinger of the gastronomical journey to come. I could almost see the Cheshire Cat grinning in the tree.

The new kid on the block hides inconspicuously between a health club and a Chinese restaurant on the third floor of IFC Mall, just about the last place in the city I would expect to find haute cuisine. That perhaps explains why AB Concept, the award-winning interior designer for the restaurant, spared no expense (or space) to create an entrance that bridges reality to fantasy. The dinin…

Tokyo Impressions – A Year Later 一年後的東京

When it comes to men’s clothes, there isn’t much in Hong Kong to choose from besides European and American imports. In the era of “vanity sizing” that caters to those ever-expanding waist lines in the West, foreign labels have one by one sized me out over the years. So I turn to Japan, where the local demand is strong enough to support ready-to-wear clothing specially made for the petite Asian man. Where else can I pick up pants with a 29” waist off the rack?

A few weeks ago I found myself back on the bustling streets of Shinjuku (新宿) and Shibuya (渋谷) to catch the tail end of the winter sale. I raided the usual hotspots, checking off my shopping list and day by day filling up an empty suitcase... _______________________ Read the rest of this essay in HONG KONG State of Mind, available at major bookstores in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.

High Speed, High Drama – Part 2 高鐵鬧劇-下卷

It frustrates and it infuriates. At times it makes us question the very future of our city.
The express rail link (XRL) controversy has hit a nerve in Hong Kong. What started out as a rubber-stamping exercise has snowballed into an all-out social movement gaining more momentum by the day. In less than two weeks, this runaway train will collide with the upcoming five constituencies resignation (五區總辭), a de facto referendum on political reforms staged by two pan-democratic parties. The collision is guaranteed to send shock waves through our political landscape not seen since the July 1st rally in 2003. And the new decade has barely begun.

As we well know and mourn, Hong Kong’s one-of-a-kind electoral system is as bizarre as some of the English names we give ourselves. Among other oddities, half of the 60 seats in our legislature are taken by “functional constituencies” (功能組別) elected by pro-establishment special interest groups and designed to keep democratically-elected lawmakers out …

High Speed, High Drama – Part 1 高鐵鬧劇-上卷

After weeks of floor debate and filibustering by pan-democratic lawmakers, the Legislative Council finally approved the HK$66.9 billion (US$8.6 billion) funding for the local section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (廣深港高速鐵路). The section will connect the city to the Mainland’s massive high-speed rail network, an ambitious program that boasts the world’s fastest and longest rail line among numerous other superlatives.

Given Hong Kongers’ penchant for convenience and connectivity, you would expect the public to welcome the new transport system with open arms and open wallets. Our government had certainly counted on the rail link proposal, like so many other infrastructure projects in the past, to sail through the legislature without anyone putting up much of a fight. 
But the proposal has instead stirred up a hornets’ nest and landed the government in the center of one of the biggest political crises in recent memory. Angry protestors besieged the legislature buil…