Inside Swatow Plaza

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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.

Found: 1970s Hong Kong Tourist Association Official Guidebook

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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

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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

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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 !

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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!

東宮西宮 East Wing West Wing & Les parlementeries

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Quebec: Les parlementeries

Les parlementeries is a mid-late-90s comedy show that marked my youth growing up in Quebec. Two dozens of stand-up comedians would play the roles of fictional politicians in a parliament context, often based on their own trademark character.

The “Parlementeries” title is itself a play on word, being a portmanteau of “parliament” and “lying” in French.

One of the YouTube videos I found featured an insult match between both “black” and “white” parties and their representatives, all pretty much household fictional characters impersonated by the best comedians of the time, many of which are still active today.

After a ten-year hiatus since 1997-98, Les parlementeries came back to the theatre in 2008, although received a bit of lukewarm welcome from reviewers. You can find many clips over on YouTube.

Hong Kong: 東宮西宮 East Wing West Wing

東宮西宮九/十大九官inception:looks like a comedy show poking fun at the govt (guy at far right is chi ef exec Donald Tsang)

A little by chance, I saw this bus stop advertisement at Central Piers on 東宮西宮. After figuring out the characters and googling, I realized that this was in fact their ninth edition already!

This is a trailer made for their next show coming in late September. The advert is a spoof of Inception, but I don’t know what the show will contain. The title for this edition is 十大九官. Literally it means the ten big nine officials. But apparently the two last characters 九官 (nine officials) is the name for mockingbird in Chinese!

The big difference between 東宮西宮 East Wing West Wing and Les parlementeries is that the former involves real-life politicians from the executive council. Hong Kong might not have universal suffrage, but it can poke fun at its top politicians! Perhaps because of that, the focus is perhaps a little more political and focused on real-issues (rather than being of death matches between comedians on general-interest topics).

You will find lots of videos of this comedy show on the Internet. The ubiquitous figure with the bow-tie is Donald Tsang.

In previous years, real-life progressive legislative council member Tanya Chan even participated in the play. You can think of her as the darling of social liberals. She played a leading role in the play in September 2009.

東宮西宮 East Wing West Wing also has a Facebook page.

The Sea Superb 海永: A new ship on the Lamma Island ferry service

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Sea Superb 海永 and its yellow streak

Rear deck of Sea Superb 海永

Onboard Sea Superb 海永

Onboard Sea Superb 海永

Onboard Sea Superb 海永

Washrooms Sea Superb 海永

Sea Superb 海永

Lamma Island has a new ferry ship! HKKF, the company that runs the ferry service between Central and Lamma Island has a new ship on this route. I don’t know when it first sailed (it could have been off rush hour), but I took it on both Thursday and Friday mornings at 8:20AM from Yung Shue Wan pier.

According to the ship’s manufacturer Cheoy Lee Shipwards, the Sea Superb (or 海永 / Hoi Yong / “Sea Forever” in Chinese) is different from other catamarans operated by HKKF on the Central-Yung Shue Wan route and also built by Cheoy Lee. It is 32m long instead of the 28m basic models, like I think the Sea Superior and Sea Smooth are. The rear deck of the Superb is indeed noticeably longer.

Now I wonder what they will do when the second boat arrives too. Is HKKF going to reassign the other boats to different routes from Central, or are we going to see the reappearance of a night ferry

Sea Superb 海永 plaque

Sea Superb 海永

Sea Superb 海永

Rainy Lamma Island

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Trying to predict weather in the summertime, especially in a tropical region, sounds like a daunting task. It was perfectly sunny in the morning of Wednesday, and at lunchtime when I went out on my lunch hour, and just slightly cloudy when I got off work.

Thus my tweet that day: “Good thing I left my umbrella at work; good thing I decided to take it home. Thunderstorms in the Harbour now.”

Once I boarded the ship, thunder started lighting up the skies, and rain was hitting hard on the hull. Once we were on Lamma, many people obviously forgot their umbrella somewhere, and were stranded at the Yung Shue Wan ferry pier while the storm was raging. As I finally decided to brave the ten minutes between the pier and my home, a man came rushing by with a large orange parasol, which could have been more suited planted on a sunny beach or on a terrasse than between someone’s arms.

I walked through the village. I came home early that day — it was just 7PM when I arrived on Lamma. Many shops were still open, but their owners were busy looking at the rain, chatting with each other from across the street.

It rained and thundered for the rest of the evening, but I was happy to stay home, coding away on my computer. It turned out that it was not one of those dreaded black rain storm alerts, although it made it to TVB’s late evening report as a red rain storm alert, the level just below.

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Qingyuan 清遠: Niuyuzui music festival (2 of 2)

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On the second day of our mini-trip to Qingyuan (see part one), we took a taxi to the natural park of Niuyuzui, a scenic location 30 minutes from Qingyuan City to attend the 2010 Niuyuzui music festival on July 18th, 2010.

Niuyuzui Music Festival in Guangdong 牛鱼嘴音乐节
2010 Niuyuzui Music Festival in Guangdong 牛鱼嘴音乐节

WangWen at Niuyuzui
WangWen 惘闻 (Dalian)

It was a hot day
It was a hot day in South China…

Zhaoze at Niuyuzui
Zhaoze 沼澤 (Guangzhou)

Ourself Beside Me at Niuyuzui 2010
Ourself Beside Me (Beijing) (This is Yangfan, lead singer of OBM)

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People attending the Niuyuzui festival

The previous night, we stayed in the city because of the heavy rain, and did not see many of the bands scheduled to play. The good thing is that all the bigger acts of Saturday, which included WangWen, Hedgehog, and American band Caspian, were all squeezed in on Sunday night! At RMB80 (CAD12) for the day pass, we had at least 6-7 major bands on the Chinese indie scene!

It rained the night before, so it was just a slightly fresher summer day in South China. People didn’t really start showing up until the late afternoon, after two post-rock bands, along girl-fronted Ourself Beside Me played. Go Chic from Taiwan literally lit up the place, but that was already after I stood up previously for two entire sets, especially for Ourself Beside Me, who I saw in Beijing in 2008. They were missing a band member, and had a new one (a guy) on keyboards.

Toddler drinking Pepsi
Toddler drinking Pepsi

Go Chic at Niuyuzui
Go Chic (Taipei)

Niuyuzui Music Festival in Guangdong 牛鱼嘴音乐节
Night falling on festival-goers

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Caspian at Niuyuzui 2010
Caspian (USA)

Niuyuzui: La fille du fan club de Caspian avait son iPad au show
Caspian fan club girl flashing her iPad

Caspian had their local fan club at the festival. They wore red t-shirts emblazoned with the band’s name, and even carried an iPad with an app that displays banner announcements… And now I wonder when the day will come when we get digital displays malleable enough to be built in your clothing, say.

Hedgehog at Niuyuzui 2010

Hedgehog at Niuyuzui 2010
Hedgehog (Beijing)

Hedgehog at Niuyuzui 2010

Balloon!

I had to catch a bus, so left Niuyuzui at around 9:30PM. It was a Sunday night, and I had to work early the next morning, and about 4 hours (which turned into 5 because of traffic in GZ) separated us from Hong Kong.

The last band was Hedgehog, a indie rock “noisepop” trio that I had been listening to a lot in the past few months. They played right after Caspian (post-rock), and was another band that definitely woke the crowd up, as you could see in the pictures here above (and there was a mosh pit too). Their tiny drummer girl was hitting away, while her two band mates stood coolly while the crowd did most of the moving.

We left, and our friends stayed behind for the bands that they wanted to see, Pet Conspiracy. Unfortunately, I was told that they played about three songs and had to leave (the organizers had to squeeze in all of Saturday’s bands). There was Brain Failure and the Subs too, but one of them cancelled, and I forgot which it was.

The last part of the evening was Carsick Cars, perhaps the biggest name in Chinese rock right now. But they played at 1:30AM, two hours and a half after they were normally scheduled for… My friend said that they were a bit underwhelming, as the crowd was then dead tired at this point. But they did sing their hit Zhongnanhai

Qingyuan 清遠: Far and refreshing (1 of 2)

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(See part two, when we go to the Niuyuzui music festival outside Qingyuan…)

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Qingyuan 清遠, off Bei Men Jie

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Crossing over from the Shenzhen special economic zone

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Underwater bus

Qingyuan. A few weeks, we started off on a bus from Luohu, at the border with Hong Kong over in Shenzhen, on our 36-hour adventure to Qingyuan, a little town of 3-4 million people about 60 km north of Guangzhou. It was a 4.5-hour bus ride to start with.

We were planning to go to a rock music festival, in some national park 30 mins drive from Qingyuan. The Shanshui (because there was mountains and water at the said park) music festival in Niuyuzui was poorly documented, with almost no infos in English. But many, if not all, major names of the Beijing rock scene, like Carsick Cars and Hedgehog, along with many other ones from Guangzhou like Yufeimen and Zhaoze, came down to rock Niuyuzui, which is some kind of nature reserve run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

On the first day, we planned to catch some shows in the evening, once we got to Qingyuan, but Typhoon Conson (which directly hit the nearby province) totally disrupted our plans. Our bus ride became one of the most exciting ones I’ve ever taken in my life in the last 30 minutes or so, with rain literally putting our vehicle underwater. We arrived, met our friends who took the previous ride, and just decided to postpone music listening to the next evening.

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One of the nice things about Qingyuan was that it is in mainland China, and yet is not Shenzhen, Dongguan or Guangzhou. It is actually a relatively small city, not a gigantic sprawl, and where it is possible to take pleasant walks.

After giving up on the concert for Saturday night (there was a power outage at Niuyuzui from 7PM and on), we wandered the streets to find a place to sit down. We were staying in a pedestrian alleyway called Guojin (國金), right by the commercial street of Bei Men Jie (北門街 or North Gate Street). Walked, but did not buy. Things are probably not marginally cheaper than in Hong Kong’s street market, I assume.

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After getting some drinks and pastries at a corner bakery, we found Ali Baba’s cavern! It’s a liquor store, selling liquors in jars. The quantities were counted in kilos (for a few yuans per kilo), and the store owner would only put them for you in recycled 1 litre soft drink plastic containers (so bring your own cup). Our friend bought one black rice liquor (tasted like toasts, in my opinion), and a plum one. I was a bit absent-minded and forwent buying any.

I don’t have the address, but it was maybe 100-200m on the main road from the city’s main bridge, just off the city square/park. In Chinese, it’s called the Chongqing Three Gorges Liquor Store. In fact, the owner is a Chongqing-er, like one of the friends who came on the trip, and who was all happy to speak her own dialect in deep-down Guangdong province.

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We found a fruit store, bought some fruits, and then found a bar by the river, which showed WWE, offered 12 cans / 100 RMB “specials”, and which had dice and barbecue from the nearby store.

We ended the night searching and finding late night snacks (barbecue, of course), before rolling back in taxi to our hotel beds.

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Slipped under every door. Not my friend for the night.

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This was my friend for the night

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View from the balcony of Guojin hotel

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Hotel room, with a computer

On Sunday, we met after 1PM, and set off to find a way to reach our festival, along… the famous Qingyuan chicken…

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After going to the city’s new bus station (south of the river), we walked around for 15-20 minutes, before finding something that suited our tastes on one of the back streets. The place we went to was called the 水哥大牌档 (Brother Water Dai Pai Dong). We ordered chicken (from Qingyuan, so it tasted really really fresh), served with pepper and coriander. We also had fried beef with bitter melon, another light Chinese cucumber salad, and a mapo tofu…

Read part 2 of 2

Hua Qiang Bei (华强北) – Electronics market in Shenzhen

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Hua Qiang Bei - Electronics city in Shenzhen

Hua Qiang Bei - Electronics city in Shenzhen

We went to Shenzhen last weekend, to watch the game, eat some barbecue, and in my case, visit the electronics market, Hua Qiang Bei (华强北). Located in Central Shenzhen, right by the Metro station of the same name, Hua Qiang Bei is a commercial boulevard with almost a kilometre lined with two or three layers of multi-storied malls, mainly selling electronics, but also children goods and jewellery (like, each entire mall was themed). I was one day impressed with Sham Shui Po and Akihabara, but this is completely out of this world.

Laptops, cellphones, cell phone accessories, fake iPads (running Android, for about RMB600 or US$85), gadgets and all of the rest that has electric/electronic components in it could be found there. If you know that the Pearl River Delta region is currently the world’s factory, it is not at all surprising to find such a place in Shenzhen.

Because I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t buy anything, except a bunch of replacement batteries for my energy-leeching phone. You won’t find crazy deals, but you will find about anything to be found in electronics.

Will be back there with my renminbi later this year…

Dim sum with my friends

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Dim sum with friends

We celebrated the actual St-Jean-Baptiste as it should at the dim sum restaurant (Kam Fung on St-Urbain). Frankly, dim sum, “small bits” Chinese brunch, may not always be my favourite meal to have. But in Montreal, it doesn’t get better, as a way to assemble our group of friends around the same table.

In fact, one good thing about Chinese restaurants is the round tables, instead of rectangular ones that you’d find in Western restaurants. It’s really nice, because I wouldn’t have been able to speak to everyone sitting around the table otherwise.

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On a célébré la St-Jean-Baptiste comme il se doit, c’est-à-dire au restaurant dim sum (Kam Fung sur St-Urbain). Mais pour être franc, le dim sum est loin d’être mon choix personnel de resto, mais y’a rien qui bât ça quand vient de trouver quelque chose pour rassembler tous mes amis autour d’une table.

Le resto chinois, peut-être comparé au resto occidental, a la qualité de placer les convives autour d’une table ronde, ce qui favorisera les interactions. Si on s’était mis autour de tables rectangulaires, je n’aurais certainement pas pu parler à tout le monde rassemblé ce midi-là. Alors, bravo au concept des tables rondes !