Archive for the ‘English’ Category

Le cristal chinois (BBQ) 水天一色/燒臘

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Le cristal chinois 燒臘/水天一色

A new shop for siu mei, or siu lap, opened in the past couple of weeks. It’s called Le cristal chinois (水天一色 or literally “water sky one color”, aka the horizon), which is also the same name as the restaurant in the same building (presumably the same management).

This sort of Cantonese-style BBQ (the only sort, really) is popular in Chinatowns across the world, with its BBQ pork (char siu/叉燒), roasted duck (siu aap/燒鴨), white cut chicken (bak chit gaai/白切雞) and, my favourite, roasted pork (siu yok/燒肉, literally roasted meat, as if it were pig equaled default meat).

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The counter at cristal chinois

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Full on pork. Ask for the ribs part, if you can!

Despite raving regularly about Chinese food in Montreal and elsewhere over the years, Comme les Chinois has never written about siu mei. Siu mei is probably something just so default, so easy to pass over: my family has always ordered it for takeout when we were young and I would buy it on my way home when I didn’t have time to cook.

When I moved to Hong Kong four years ago, I would be constantly enthused to find it anywhere I go, including at the university cafeteria (at ridiculously low prices too — CA$3 for a rice and meat lunch). It’s simple, cheap and nourishing. And tasty. What more can you ask?

In Montreal, there aren’t so many takeout places anymore. In Chinatown, you got the one up on St-Laurent on the east side of the street, north of de la Gauchetière, and in the mall with the Kam Fung, across Dobe & Andy. Restaurant Hong Kong used to be the classic place for siu mei, but their counter shrank to the point that I wonder whether they still make their own. There may be some other places on de la Gauchetière on the pedestrian stretch, and I think Le rubis rouge restaurant has a stand attached.

However, the most prized item, the rice and meat (and double kinds/雙拼) lunch box, is a rarity and not frequently offered for takeout.

It’s hearty chunks of meat for $6 a box, with a side of Chinese cabbage, and $7 if you take a double kinds of meat of your choice. Too bad there isn’t enough volume to do suckling pig “on-demand” (as far as I know, in Montreal it’s only available as pre-order for takeout or in restaurants).

You can get the rice and meat combo at Restaurant Hong Kong for about the same price across the street, but it just isn’t the same in terms of your experience (no counter to check them meats out). Probably also at other siu mei places across town if they have warm rice on hand.

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The menu and market prices

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My double kinds of meat: roasted duck and roasted pork

Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles in Toronto

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

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It was a bit after I saw a photo posted by Kristen Fung on her Instagram that I decided to make a detour to check out Ai Weiwei’s art installation before hopping on my bus back to Montreal.

The thing was smaller than I imagined it from pictures seen online (really). A nearby stand labelled Forever Bicycles (aka Yong Jiu 永久) as conceptual art. It was re-exposed, grander than the one in Taipei, for the Toronto Nuit Blanche last week. It seems a lot more dramatic too without the dark rubber tires, with only the pure, cold metal in the Toronto version.

You can peek in and even walk under the metal structure composed of several dozens (probably hundreds) of superimposed bicycle frames, or parts of bicycle frames.

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There was something really invigorating to watch the succession and repetition ad nauseam of regular forms (triangles, circles, arcs that make up circles), like you would often see in a data visualisation with lots and lots of data.

The message, if there is one, probably lies instead in the composition of the sculpture: bicycles, symbol of the pre-economic boom China, dismembered and reassembled into what looks like nothing, but that is grandiose to look at. Wat?

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See the entire set on Flickr

Yung Kee, a Chinese BBQ and cured meat shop in Marham

Monday, October 14th, 2013

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When I come to Toronto with my parents, we will inevitably do a trunkload full of Chinese food that you can’t find in Montreal. It’s less and less the case nowadays, with places like Kim Phat and others like C & T in Ville Saint-Laurent, that opened while this blog was busy living in Hong Kong. There are however still some items that you wouldn’t be able to find at the same level of freshness or quantity of production or year round availability.

One of those things is the Hong Kong-style cured meats. We went to Yung Kee BBQ (Market Village, Unit A10) to grab some of those. The shop sells the regular siu mei, but also had the regular kinds of cured meats that are typical in Hong Kong. In Montreal, as far as I know, you can only purchase them vacuum-sealed in Chinese grocery stores. Not that having them exposed in ambient air is a sign that it is fresher, more “home-made”.

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My mom, browsing the meats

When we were growing up, we typically had Chinese sausage (dried, uncooked, Chinese spirit-flavoured) in the refrigerator drawer alongside dry Italian cheese, western-style cold cuts and Chinese dried fish. The other items that we bought yesterday, namely the cured duck, was a bit more of a rare sight. The preserved pork belly (I think they use a mixture of soy sauce as a base) was even rarer.

How do you prepare them? We did them in the rice cooker, while cooking rice. It seems like the typical way of preparing Chinese cured meats for the eating. You can either put them directly on the rice in the mid-stages of rice cooking, for extra flavouring (and fat all over the place), or just on a plate over the rice. It could probably work on a plate in a steamer too.

The sausages are cured, so could you eat them raw? I’m too used to eating them steamed to try, but some people do argue that they are cooked and edible, thus as good as eating those pepperoni sticks. :S

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Preserved duck pieces

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Preserved pork belly

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Chinese sausage (“lap cheung”)

A new siu mei shop in Chinatown!

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

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Was lunching in Chinatown today and stumbled upon a new siu mei shop on St-Laurent at the ground floor of the Swatow. Le Cristal chinois probably opened a few days or weeks ago.

Siu mei (BBQ pork, roasted pork / duck chicken) used to be my default lunch when I lived in HK. I’m always excited when something new opens in Chinatown.

I peeked inside and saw that they had rice boxes with a roast for 6$, only written in Chinese. Will try it out in the couple of weeks.

Journeys

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

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When I traveled home for a visit during the Christmas holiday of 2010-11, I took a free afternoon to visit the Canadian Centre for Architecture‘s temporary exhibit at the time, Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment. Journeys was about the idea of travelling ideas and the people and things that circulate around the world to create the hybridized spaces we live in.

The curators organized the exhibition around examples of places that demonstrated how natural things (cucumbers, coconuts) and ideas (Old South residences in Liberia, Italian granite expertise in Vermont) traveled to enrich their environments. For instance, Japanese settlers in the post-war era of the 1950s went to Bolivia to experiment with agriculture, opening sections of jungle, starting with rice, but eventually going with other crops.

Hong Kong, the place I call home for the past three years, is the epitome of migrating cultures, ideas and fruits. Established as a British colony, the now Special Administrative Region has always been a place of transit for people and knowledge (and money), where things never quite stay the same (see 2046 and Culture and the Politics of Disappearance).

Hong Kong is one of those places where the land was established fairly recently (it ain’t Rome), and at the same time sees different cultures, ideas attach themselves, merge, mix and remix. People often stay in Hong Kong on transit, leave and come back.

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What’s a “cucumber”? The European Economic Community has a definition for that.

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Some Newfoundlanders move their homes to follow the source of their livelihood: fish.

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Freed slaves “colonized” Liberia, reestablishing the power structures they experienced in America.

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The bungalow: symbol of colonial power and occupation.

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Skilled labour from Piedmont and Lombardy transformed the granite industry in New England during the late 19th century.

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Building the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s was an opportunity for planning the new town of Iroquois.

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The Bijlmermeer was a modernist city built in the 1960s, only fully settled in the 1970s by Surinamese immigrants.

My family has been out of China since my grandparents. Probably because my parents were born in different places, we didn’t fully embrace the proxy culture (Madagascar and Vietnam) as much as some of my cousin’s families did, and took Hong Kong as a default ancestral home. And like a lot of Hongkongers (which we’re not even), our actual ancestral home is somewhere else. Right now, I would say that after three years, Montreal and everything that goes with it is my home. There’s nonetheless something familiar about Hong Kong, in such ways that I wouldn’t feel as comfortable living in Beijing or Taipei, say.

Re-visiting Ge’an, my ancestral village

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

My French cousin Olivier was in Hong Kong, so we decided to go up together to our ancestral village of Ge’an (葛岸村/Got’ngon in Cantonese), up in the Pearl River Delta, just kilometers south of Guangzhou (Canton). Ge’an is now completely gobbled up by the city of Foshan (佛山市/Fotsan), a satellite of the provincial capital. It is in Lecong Town (樂從鎮) of Shunde District (順德區/Shundak) in Foshan City.

I visited our village for the first time in 2005, and more recently talked about it on this blog back in 2008. The town changed a lot in 6 years, and so did I. I didn’t live in South China and my Cantonese was not up to today’s level. I couldn’t properly communicate with Uncle Chi Tong (my dad’s cousin). For instance, I only fully understood this time around that this uncle, who was slightly younger than my dad was actually born here. He immigrated to Madagascar before turning 2, and grew up in Hong Kong afterwards.

My grandpa was apparently the more adventurous one, of the two brothers who lived under this house. Uncle Chi Tong’s father stayed in China until the mid-1950s, before joining his brother in Tananarive (now Antananarivo), Madagascar, to operate in the grocery store business.

Our family later left Madagascar entirely. The younger brother (my paternal grandfather) joined my dad in Canada. The older brother went to Hong Kong. Unwittingly, my mom’s family also comes from the agglomeration of Foshan, but after passing through Vietnam…

My cousin initiated the trip, because he had never travelled to China before, let alone visit his ancestral village. My impressions was that the house will one day crumble, but that it was very well preserved despite not having anyone live there for about half a century (maybe squatters?). The home even had some wiring for electricity, so it may have been less than half a century.

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So, we went inside the house, and unlike last time, even ventured on the top floor. We must say that the house is in pretty bad shape, and that the walls are cracking all over the place. Non-renovated wood floors in subtropical climate equals accelerated decay. There were pots stored, chairs and other simple furniture like stools and some chairs and drawers. I thought we should’ve taken something, because we wouldn’t have a chance to go back soon. But we didn’t, perhaps too busy taking photos.

The house could’ve been anymore, since there were no indication that it was ours, except that we knew the address. But we picked up some pieces of paper from my uncle’s parents’ drawers clearly identifying our family. There were letters to Tananarive that were never sent (the address on the envelope was in French! Which is probably pretty neat for South Chinese peasants of the time), my grand-aunt’s talc powder and some of my uncle’s official papers (he was surprised to find them too) with passport-size photos of his family members.

Also, we found dog shit all over the place, and there were some small paper cups left near a bottle of moonshine. There were also construction materials left near the house’s entrance, perhaps by workers who thought the house abandoned (as it was so).

Surely now with the improved state of public transportation in the region, we could find our way back there pretty easily. A metro line was just built between Guangzhou and Foshan, and the travel time between Central in Hong Kong to Foshan a tiny two hours, if you don’t count the time at the border and waiting between trains. Yep.

The Chinese Canadian vote, poll by poll

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Aside from being the proud owner of CommeLesChinois.ca, I am also a computer/media/data specialist. Recently, I launched an updated version of my election maps with Cyberpresse. The map was designed using results by polling division from previous elections, the smallest available division for electoral results. Each of these polls has about 200-500 people living in them, and you can basically know what your block (if you live in the city) tends to vote for.

The consequence is voyeurism for political junkies. And I also like to go play with the maps, and decided to assemble a bunch of interesting ridings with relatively a strong proportion of Canadians of Chinese origin living in them. For that, I used Pundits’ Guide‘s fantastic tool for finding census data divided by riding.

I found that the Richmond riding, south of Vancouver was in fact the most “Chinese” (based on the 2006 census), with 50.2% of the population declared to be Chinese. The 2008 map is not in fact interesting, but juxtaposed with the 2006, shows the dramatic shift from Liberals (rep. by former cabinet minister Raymond Chan) to the Conservatives (Alice Wong). 2006 was when the Liberals lost power to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

Richmond 2006
Richmond in 2006…

Richmond 2008
…and in 2008

Some ridings were won or lost by a hair. In the Vancouver area, the closest race happened in Vancouver South, the third most Chinese riding of the country (43.7%), where the MP is a Liberal, former health minister Ujjal Dosanjh. He won the last election by 20 votes.

The map by polls succeeds in showing that the vote was in fact hugely clustered among neighbourhoods. I don’t know the geography of Vancouver very well, but I’m almost certain that the strong groupings of red and blue (deeper the color, larger the margin of victory in a polling division) represent opposed socio-economical groups.

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Vancouver South in 2008

Brossard--La Prairie
Brossard–La Prairie in 2008

The Montreal region’s most Chinese riding comes at a lowly 32nd position, with Westmount–Ville-Marie, a largely downtown riding. Brossard–La Prairie on the South Shore is in fact what people in Montreal recognize as the “Asian suburb”. With 7.5% Chinese, it is still a far cry from Toronto or Vancouver’s suburbs.

The contrast in the map is striking, but expected. The northern portion of the riding is Brossard, where a large Asian population lives and where the Liberal vote is concentrated. La Prairie to the south tends to be typical “450”, middle-class French Canadian, seems to be voting Bloc. The race for this suburban riding was won by as little as 69 votes.

Oak Ridges--Markham
Oak Ridges–Markham in 2008

Markham--Unionville
Markham–Unionville in 2008

In some other cases, the municipalities are split over different ridings. Markham, with one of the largest Chinese populations in the Toronto area, is comprised within the ridings of Oak Ridges–Markham (Conservative) and Markham–Unionville (Liberal).

(Fellow Montrealer living in Hong Kong Christopher DeWolf also wrote a post on his website Urbanphoto.net about the use of this map for street by street vote analysis.)

More on Cyberpresse…

Emoi: Lifestyle design made in China

Monday, March 7th, 2011

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If you are familiar with Muji, you will understand what aesthetics Emoi is referring to. I was travelling to Shenzhen this weekend and stayed a night at the city’s YHA Youth Hostel located in an art and culture district called OCT-LOFT (if you know 798, it’s kinda Shenzhen’s equivalent of it).

In short, I was walking down one of alleys during the evening and saw this brightly lit shop with large windows and very minimalistic counters reminiscent of a Apple and Ikea. It was called emoi, which translates in French as “ruckus”. As many of my friends know, I’ve been looking for a new bag for months, and it seems like emoi had the answer to my quest. I liked the style and I liked the design. I particularly stuck on the wool felt bags, because I never saw bags made with such a material and that were not necessarily a women’s bags/handbag.

It was the first time I encountered this brand, but at least two of my (designer) classmates had bought products from emoi. One of them had a wool felt wallet, which ages very nicely, like a fleece sweater would. I guess that even if not unique, one of the nice thing to see is that it is a domestic store, from mainland China. We will perhaps see more and more of these original stores made in China, and before long, Chinese companies will help drive design and innovation internationally.

Dim sum à deux mondes opposés

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011


新興食家 San Hing Sek Ka, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong


Tong Por, Ville Saint-Laurent, Montréal

Inside Swatow Plaza

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Swatow Plaza opened about five months ago on Boulevard St-Laurent in Montreal’s Chinatown. It took three years to build, but its biggest would-be tenants have yet to move in, such as the Japanese restaurant on the ground floor, and a Chinese restaurant at its very top.

In the meanwhile, small boutiques are occupying the first floor. The alleys are wide and shops are arranged in alcoves. My impression upon visiting on a Thursday night before Christmas was that the boutique area on the first floor had too many people behind the counter than people shopping. Being on a first floor when the second and ground floor didn’t have shops open added to the awkwardness.

Foggy morning on the ferry

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

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The day before the very cold two days in Hong Kong (13℃ during the day and 7℃ at night in urban areas), there was an episode of fog for most of the day of Tuesday…

Found: 1970s Hong Kong Tourist Association Official Guidebook

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

1978 HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
Hong Kong Tourism Association Official Guidebook (circa 1977)

Before leaving for Hong Kong, I brought with me this copy of an “official guidebook” distributed by the Hong Kong Tourist Association (香港旅遊協會), the precursor of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (香港旅遊發展局). My dad had given it to me some time ago when he was digging up his junk, and presumably picked it up when he and my mom got married in 1977, at the Lee Gardens Hotel, where the Manulife Plaza now stands (see map).

Flipping through it, I saw that the exchange rate was HK$4.70 for each US$1, compared with the HK$7.77 pegged rate today. It was during a short period of nine years when the Hong Kong dollar floated.

1978 HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
Lee Gardens Hotel, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (circa 1973)

Hong Kong Island in the 1970s
View of the Harbour in late 1973

1977 HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
“Because only Pan Am fly the new Boeing 747SP”

Hong Kong Tourist Association Official Guidebook (1976-77)
Visit places like Tiger Balm Gardens in Tai Hang

And now the racier parts

Hong Kong Night Life
Hong Kong Night Life

Escort / call-girl ads in a 1970s HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
54 D’Aguilar Street, that’s at the middle of today’s Lan Kwai Fong

Do I need to say that this is an official guidebook produced for and endorsed by a government-funded organisation?

Advertisement

1970s camera advertisement
The Nikkormat EL was Nikon’s first electronic camera…

1970s camera advertisement
…but my dad was actually a fan of Minolta and had one similar to the one in this advert. On the right, Braun also made video cameras with sound…

1974-78 HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
Wearing real fur in the 1970s was still very politically correct. I mean, look at this, it’s imported from Scandinavia!

The Dark Side

Kowloon in the 1970s
View of Kowloon in the 1970s

1974-77 HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
“Public transport in the 80s.” The Cross-Harbour tunnel and the MTR were still just a project… Wikipedia has a clearer map of the first MTR line that would open in 1979 between Central (Chater) and Kwun Tong. Other retro station names: Waterloo (Yau Ma Tei) and Argyle (Mong Kok).

1974-77 HK Tourism Association Official Guidebook
Finally, we found that the publishers of the booklet, Kwun Tong based A-O-A Offset Press Limited is in business!

Central Pier #4 (Lamma) made into a giant advertisement and launch party for Cartier

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Central Piers #4 Lamma - Cartier

We have no idea what this is for, but in about two weeks, they built this giant red box on top of the Lamma pier (#4) in Central, Hong Kong. We theorized half-jokingly that it was perhaps a deluxe stripper’s club, because the flashiness just points to that.

We finally had our answer this Friday night when what looked like an exclusive party was in the process of being hosted on top of the pier to the least anti-glamour outlying island of Lamma.

In general, this blog approves of urban development, but this is just wrong and a total eyesore — I was told that they were going to add such 2/F levels to all the other piers who don’t already have one. We wonder if they are going to take it down any time, or it’s going to stay there to forever block our ever-receding harbour’s view.

Central Piers #4 Lamma - Cartier

Central Piers #4 Lamma - Cartier

Fête nationale et de ma première année à Hong Kong

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Fireworks in the Harbour, National Day

October 1st is the day of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (in 1949) and otherwise National Day, and most importantly, a well-deserved public holiday in China and Hong Kong. It’s also what I consider the day of my arrival in Hong Kong last year.

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Le 1er octobre est jour de Fête nationale en Chine et à Hong Kong, et aussi le jour de mon arrivée à Hong Kong en 2009. Je me souviendrai de ce spectacle de feux d’artifice l’année dernière qui se terminait alors que mon autobus en provenance de l’aéroport longea le port de Hong Kong. Cette année, j’étais sur un bateau avec des amis… un bateau qui nous a donné bien des frissons, tant la mer était houleuse avec les dizaines d’autres embarcations civiles dans le port en même temps.

L’Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal recrute… par les médias chinois !

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Par hasard je suis tombé sur cette nouvelle publicité virale réalisée pour nul autre que l’Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal, un hôpital du CHUM ! En haut à droite, le nom de la » station de télé «, c’est 也不上哪, qui veut dire (je pense) que ça ne sortira nulle part. :) Façon originale de spoofer les médias chinois au Québec !

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This is an advertisement for recruitment at the Sacré-Cœur Montreal hospital that I found by chance while surfing on a local Montreal news portal. Featuring a former baseball commentator and two professional hockey players, you would probably pick up pretty quickly that this is not real news. The Chinese characters on the top right corner 也不上哪 (ye bu shang na) mean that “it won’t be broadcast anywhere”. Interesting and original way to spoof mainland Chinese media in Quebec!