Went to see the New York Mini 9-man volleyball tournament at Seward Park

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It was a heat wave weekend in New York, with record temperatures of over 100°F (37°C) before humidity, but the show went on anyway at the 32nd annual New York Mini 9-man tournament, at Seward Park in Chinatown.

9-man is a type of volleyball played with nine players (rather than six) on each side and historically played by early Chinese communities in North America.

I’m definitely not a volley guy (my high school experience during phys ed was less than conclusive), but the sport is particularly meaningful to my family.

New York Mini 2019
New York Mini 2019
Connex A at New York Mini 2019

Maybe one day I’ll get around to watching the 9-man doc on the topic (check out their Instagram in the meanwhile — they got the list of winners).

(Note: There were also a women’s tournament! Don’t know how it happened I only took photos during the men’s matches…)

China Chalet Is the Coolest Chinese Restaurant in Fidi to Have a Party

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It was a coworker’s birthday party this weekend, and they decided to have it at a Chinese restaurant. Didn’t know why one would book a Chinese restaurant as a place to have a party, but also, why not? The Chinese banquet-type restaurant is built for weddings and other celebrations, so if you have enough friends (they did), then it’s the perfect venue to organize a party to your heart’s desire (it was an extremely awesome party).

The location is in Financial District, a very empty neighborhood on Saturdays, like any Central Business District.

I asked a few questions to the people working there, when the restaurant opened (forgot what they said… maybe the 50s?), whether one could go to a random party on any given weekend (yes, check the Instagram location), whether it’s a family business (nope).

I could also refer to all these articles saying how cool it is to have a party in a place that seems uncool. You can imagine that yourself.

China Chalet in NY FiDi
China Chalet in NY FiDi

I have no context as to why a Chinese restaurant could be a venue for a party for people who aren’t there for a Chinese context and/or food. But it’s a great to refresh your image and be part of the mainstream conversation, a little bit like what Pearl River Mart did with its mezzanine gallery at their TriBeCa location on Broadway.

I saw The Joy Luck Club last night

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The Joy Luck Club was screening last night at Columbus Park. It was free and I was free, so I went to see it!

Why not! After all these years thinking about JLC, I wondered if it wasn’t probably about time to update my impressions about the film. To me, it was this movie telling the story of Chinese Americans with values stuck in time. The setting was one that I have not known in my family, which emigrated mostly to come study in Canada or France, and didn’t exactly have to escape war and hardship, were in abusive relationships or felt the pressure to assimilate.

Google for Joy Luck Club criticism and there goes your Saturday night. I had not seen The Joy Luck Club since probably the early 2000s, or even the 90s, when I was a teenager growing up in Quebec. The movie was maybe dubbed in French (Le Club de la chance), but I don’t remember. Least to say, if it was showing on late weekend night on Radio-Canada TV (going by my memory, which I’ll come back to later), it was because it had achieved mainstream recognition among Western audiences.

The JLC was the only Asian-American movie growing up. Based on a 1989 novel by author Amy Tan and directed by Wayne Wang, the 1994 feature was produced by a major American film studio.

The scene of the watermelon above was what I remembered the most. During the same segment (one of the four mother-daughter relationships), there was probably one of the most horrible characters, one of the un-redeemable Asian males of the film, Harold.

Harold, Joy Luck Club

Lena, one of the daughters of the JLC marries Harold, is at his mercy financially (he’s her boss!). He’s the guy who splits up everything 50-50, which is cool in theory, but where she ends up paying a lot more (for her personal items on her own, while paying for his ice cream that she doesn’t eat). What a jerk. The point was that it’s an implausible relationship, and so wtf.

(It mirrors the marriage that her mother had with the watermelon guy, who is hands down the most horrible guy in the film.)

She eventually divorces Hasshold and has a new hot and cool boyfriend… What I didn’t remember was that he was Asian! Yeah, there’s that recollection that I had going on that she had a horrible Asian husband, therefore she must’ve started dating someone else, as if race had anything to do with it. My selective memory didn’t register that her new beau, in the narrative’s present day, was actually played by Asian American actor Philip Moon.

Mom you're a jerk, Joy Luck Club

There were also some quite horrible white characters, like the parents of Ted, who try to intimidate Rose, the daughter character played by Rosalind Chao, into not dating their son anymore. The mother was the one delivering the message, but you could equally place the blame on the father.

Was the movie a satirical comedy? I don’t know. At times the tone made it feel like one. Take the scene where the successful Waverly, played by Tamlyn Tomita, throws her condoms and her boyfriend’s clothes in the face of her mother. She “tried to marry a Chinese guy” was probably one of the worst lines (does it mean if you marry someone of your race, you do what your family wants and not what you want?). Her bumbling new white boyfriend Rich is a riot, splattering caricatural cultural ignorance at the first meet-the-parents dinner.

It wasn’t what the tone I took home during my first watch twenty to thirty years ago. It’s a work of fiction, and it’s fine to be dramatic and introduce elements of fantasy. I think where it hurts (and one of the reasons why the movie was so polarizing) was that it was the only Asian American movie during a very long period and it was caricatural, but wasn’t clear about it. So maybe these elements are taken at face value, and generalized to the lives of all Chinese immigrants coming to America, in the imaginary of those who consume only mainstream media?

(Also, the reliance on fabulism, or the belief in, as a plot device, wth with that?!)

The people outside of the mothers and daughters in this movie are generally failing, horrible or plain antagonistic, but there was a character I forgot who was extremely sympathetic. At the end of the movie, June, played by Ming-Na Wen, whose mother lived a tragic life before coming to America (this film’s idea of Promised Land), was going to go to China to meet her long-lost half-sisters. Unsure of what she would do to explain the death of their mother that the sisters were unaware of, her dad gives her old photos of her mom, a swan feather and a pep talk about a mother’s hope.

June and her dad, Joy Luck Club

While it won’t be the best movie for me to ever to recommend, it has significance to Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans (since it tells the story of immigrants from China). It’s a movie to watch if you want to understand the place given to hyphenated Asians in America. It’s also important for seeing the context that Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe came to existence in 2018-19.

If you have a chance to see it again, you could benefit, like I did, from having a new perspective on the JLC.

Afternoon in Chinatown During 40th New York’s AAPI Heritage Celebration

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40th Annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Celebration

It was a gorgeous late spring day in New York this Sunday, so I decided to jump on my bike and head down to Chinatown for the 40th Festival for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

I already missed yesterday’s opening of the #StarringJohnCho exhibit at Pearl River Mart, so decided I would not miss going there again, and added it to an expanding list of spots I needed to visit during my stroll.

Before going anywhere, I essentially took care of the essentials, first catching the last act of the festival, a choreography by the MoustacheCat Dance about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Got a pre-summer haircut and did my Chinese groceries.

40th Annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Celebration (last act, a choreography on internment of Japanese Americans during WWII)
Where Mott Street begins
Chinatown Fair Arcade
Mott & Pell during the 40th Annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Celebration
Taiwan/Republic of China flag on Mott & Pell

I thought, why is the Taiwan flag (probably more thought of as a Republic of China flag) so prominent in 2019? Maybe because this is Chinatown? (Like, in Montreal’s Chinatown, they still had a branch of the Kuomintang 10 years ago, perhaps just nominally related?)

I also stopped by Chinatown Fair, a video arcade that opened in the 40s and whose original incarnation existed until 2011, re-opened since under management. I don’t know any of that information first-hand, but I will return to Chinatown on Thursday to check out the screening of The Lost Arcade documentary on it, at MoCA ($15, at 6:30-8:30 p.m.).

After the supermarket run at Hong Kong Supermarket to replenish my stock of instant noodles and affordable veggies, I went to MoCA to check out the current exhibit. I saw that it was called Moon Represents My Heart, after the Teresa Teng song, thinking it would be something on the Taiwanese mother of Mandopop. In fact, it was a very personally interesting exhibit on music identify for hyphenated Chinese that I only had about 20 minutes to enjoy.

In my last years in Montreal, before moving to Hong Kong, I used to run a music show on the community radio about alternative styles of music sung in, primarily, Chinese languages (which I have mediocre control of). It was during that period that I found out about all sorts of Chinese rock bands under labels like Modernsky and Maybe Mars, twee pop Hong Kong bands like the now-defunct The Marshmallow Kisses or the still alive and kicking My Little Airport, or large music festivals in Taiwan dedicated to (more) independent music like Spring Scream.

So, definitely I would have to go back this summer. It’s on view until September 15.

Moon Represents My Heart at MoCA (May 2-Sept. 15, 2019)
Moon Represents My Heart at MoCA (May 2-Sept. 15, 2019)
Moon Represents My Heart at MoCA (May 2-Sept. 15, 2019)
Moon Represents My Heart at MoCA (May 2-Sept. 15, 2019)

I found out bumping into a friend at MoCA that Banana Mag was launching its 5th edition, aka 005, on the same day. I think it was after that friend spotted my collection of Giant Robot that he spilled the beans about Banana, a beautifully-produced magazine with stylish photography and original reporting that include interviews with high-profile New York Asian American cultural figures, food recipes, discussions on cultural trends. They do share some common themes that take me back to the mid-2000s when I discovering my identity as an Asian-Canadian.

I also got my hands on an elusive copy of long-gone 001! Here’s the preview, of me flipping through pages with greasy with hot wings fingers:

Banana Mag 005 launch at Canal Street Market
Banana Mag 005 launch at Canal Street Market

Next and last stop of the day would be the Pearl River Mart, the chinoiserie shop that re-opened on Broadway and Walker, on the Tribeca side of Chinatown, which now also hosts an art gallery for their artist-in-residence program, in the back mezzanine.

Worth seeing for yourself, if you’re in the area. The current exhibit is from William Yu, the artist-activist behind #StarringJohnCho. It’ll be on view until July 7.

Pearl River Mart mezzanine art gallery
#starringjohncho at Pearl River Mart (May 18-July 7, 2019)

Ghost in the Shell and Hong Kong

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Went to see Ghost in the Shell yesterday in the theatre, in regular non-IMAX version, at Lincoln Center. It won’t win the Oscar for best film of the year, but it vastly satisfied my craving for Hong Kong.

When Mamoru Oshii made the original animated feature adaptation of GitS in 1995, the setting was very obviously based on Hong Kong. Hong Kong is fast-paced, nervous. And Hong Kong has this natural darkness to it, thanks to the lower latitude, surrounding mountains and a very wet climate.

Stumbled upon Hong Kong-based filmmaker Edwin Lee’s study of the original movie and scenes of Hong Kong, where you can observe for yourself:

I can’t wait for the comparison to start emerging once GitS gets off the big screen and starts appearing on the ones at home. The shooting locations are very obvious for anyone who’s spent a meaningful amount of time in Hong Kong.

Yes, there’s been talk that Scarlett was seen in Jordan last year. How did they book the busy street at Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay, with the ring-shaped footbridge? The busy markets with the open-air butcher shop provides a great visual while the meaning of flesh and shell is discussed.

Yau Ma Tei street

Sham Shui Po street

In the meanwhile, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell is a box-office failure in the U.S., but seems to be doing better overseas.

Making xiao long bao

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Let me tell you, homemade xiao long bao (aka those pesky exploding dumplings) are still an elusive one on my lifetime food to-do, for a good reason. (This was a lone attempt in 2004!) Somehow, you need to get gelatinous parts of pork with pork meat mixed together in the right proportion so that it’s solid-ish at room temperature, but then partially melts into the soup that makes it famous at steaming temperature.

The skins are probably the hardest part. If you make dumpling skins on your own, as we’ve tended to have done during our 2004-09 dumplings parties in Montreal (I’ve abandoned the practice in Hong Kong), they have always been on the thick side. I’ve never researched why they always seemed to inflate, but with my current bread know-how, I guess it’s the gluten contents of your flour.

Vol Beijing-Montréal sur Air China (CA879)

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Air China B777

Le vol 879 de la compagnie aérienne chinoise Air China est le premier vol direct qui relie une ville est-Asiatique et Montréal (il y a des vols directs vers le Moyen-Orient). Les différents paliers gouvernementaux y ont travaillé très fort durant les dernières années et il faillait que je l’essaie.

En général pour rentrer à Montreal de Hong Kong, où je vis depuis près de sept ans, je passe par Toronto, Vancouver, des villes américaines (via le Japon ou direct) ou même l’Europe, avant d’arriver à Montréal. Je n’ai jamais pris la route par la Chine, la raison principale étant que ça voudrait dire deux connections (à moins que ce soit le Japon, suis pas vraiment intéressé) et qu’en genénal, les lignes aériennes chinoises sont perçues comme inférieures sur plusieurs plans, dont celui du divertissement à bord, des repas.

J’assiste à un mariage en mi-septembre et lorsque je magasinais durant l’été pour les billets aller-retour en partance de Hong Kong vers Montreal, ceux-ci coûtaient tous plus de 1350 $US (par Air Canada, United) ou avaient des connections ridicules (le fameux Seattle-Minneapolis de Delta ou via Dallas-Fort Worth avec American — à des prix aussi élevés). Après vérification, il était possible à la dernière minute d’obtenir des vols via Narita et une autre connection pour moins de 900 $US.

On the Beijing airport express
Escale à Beijing

J’ai eu de la veine et suis tombé sur un billet à 800 $US (et même à 550 $US quelques jours plus tard) avec le vol Air China direct CA879 entre Beijing et Montréal (qui poursuit ensuite sa route vers La Havane, qui pour l’automne sera une journée sur les trois vols initialement prévus), surtout que je voulais m’arrêter dans la capitale chinoise pour voir la ville. La dernière fois c’était au printemps 2008, épisode bien documenté sur ce blogue.

C’était donc un vol en soirée de Hong Kong (CA116 — avec option pour un des vols plus de bonne heure au même prix) et une escale d’une nuit à Beijing, avant le départ du CA879 vers 13h15 heure locale, arrivée à 14h à l’aéroport PET.

Les vols vers Beijing (et Shanghai) sont notoires pour leurs retards en raison du traffic sur les routes aériennes entre la région du delta de la rivière aux perles (et ses cinq aéroports majeurs). Donc j’étais agréablement surpris de n’avoir que 40 minutes de retard sur le CA116.

J’ai eu un peu de difficulté avec mon étampe pour un transfert de moins de 24 heures, ayant pris la mauvaise voie, celle des transferts internationaux. Un forum sur Trip Advisor avait parlé d’une « voie spéciale », que je n’ai pas vu, par fatigue ou mégarde. En fin de compte, j’ai pris le transfert et les gens de la sécurité m’ont refait passer tout le tralala et je suis finalement ressorti par le comptoir ordinaire devant la file d’une bonne quinzaine de minutes.

Également eu de la difficulté à expliquer en Mandarin approximatif où mon hôtel était, mais on a trouvé et j’ai pas été surchargé (course de 19 RMB pour l’hôtel Ibis adjacent à l’aéroport). Prochaine fois, je prends mon hôtel sur la ligne d’airport express.

Parlant d’airport express, le lendemain, vendredi, j’ai réussi à sortir pour une balade de 4 heures entre mon hôtel, le parc de Chaoyang, et de retour au terminal 3 de PEK. Choses à laquelle on est pas habitué ? Une ligne express de train qui fait un détour dans un terminal de vols domestiques, et des trains vers l’aéroport qui te passent sous le nez à une station intermédiaire (Sanyuanqiao) car trop pleins. Mieux vaut éviter de faire la file plusieurs fois pour un billet en se procurant une carte du métro de Beijing (20 ¥ de dépôt, 25 ¥ par voyage d’airport express, environ 4 ¥ par voyage en métro habituel).

Ensuite, l’aventure du passage de la frontiere et de la sécurité. C’était une heure exactement entre l’entrée de la zone sécurisée pour voyageurs seulement et la sortie de la sécurité vers ma porte, terminal 3E. Pas fameux, mais pas loin de l’expérience de tout autre grand aéroport international qui n’est HKG.

Air China seat screen world map

Alors, ce vol CA879 ?

Bon, le vol lui-même ? CA 879 était super à l’heure. Les passagers avait l’air d’être à 95% en provenance de Chine (pas vu beaucoup d’Occidentaux), quoiqu’une bonne proportion des gens sont probablement citoyens canadiens. Boissons standard. Pas de menu papier distribué en début de vol, comme les vols de compagnies japonaises, européennes, m’ont habitué. Mais le choix c’était canard ou bœuf. J’ai pris canard, qui fut un bloc de riz et un ragoût style chinois de viande type volaille (je mettrais ma main au feu qu’il n’y a pas de canard dedans), au céleri, champignons et carottes. Il y a eu un petit pain pas très bon au beurre Président. Et une surprenante salade aux algues noires (je pense) et un morceau de vrai crabe (impressioné, sans ironie).

Pas de photos, car malheureusement mon téléphone était à off à ce moment-là. C’était une des rares fois dont je me souviens avoir été sur un vol où on interdit d’allumer même son téléphone (mode avion non accepté) et que l’équipage semblait devoir faire appliquer la règle (« c’est comme ça en Chine, monsieur »).

J’ai pris une melatonine et dormi après le dîner jusqu’à mi-vol (6e heure d’un vol de 12-13 heures).

Mon constat ? À prix égal, et si on a pas d’intérêt particulier pour s’arrêter à Beijing, vous êtes bien mieux de prendre un vol via Toronto ou Vancouver si votre destination est Hong Kong. Au rhytme où vont les choses, une connection entre Montreal et une autre destination est-asiatique ne semble justifiable que par le traffic en provenance d’Asie, et non vice-versa. Tout simplement pas assez de gens au Québec.

Écran de siège Air China

Il y a du français sur l’écran de siège devant vous, mais aucune annonce ne sera faite dans la langue de Molière.

Mais je peux voir certains avantages, au-delà des inconvénients de passer par PEK, et de l’escale de nuit dans les deux bords (car les vols entre PEK et HKG ne sont pas encore assez prévisibles, je pense). À prime abord, on arrive plutôt frais à Montréal, ce qui est franchement bien. J’ai pu aller me balader en ville à Montréal le soir de l’arrivée (sans sieste) et prendre un souper et des verres de pré-mariage, avec quelques espressos dans le corps, sans trop être pêté.

Sans l’attente estivale de deux heures aux frontières à Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau (ce ne fut finalement que cinq minutes aux frontières et quinze minutes en inspection secondaire pour me faire saisir mes deux gâteaux-lunes), on est content que notre journée dans un avion ou en attente n’est que de 14-16 heures, au lieu de facilement 20-24. Sur un vol via EWR ou ORD, c’est départ de la maison à 7h le matin à HK, fermeture de la cabine à 10h30, arrivée à notre destination américaine 14-15 heures plus tard, attente de 3-4 heures à l’aéroport, avant le vol d’une heure et demie pour YUL. Ici, on parle plutôt de se lever entre 8h et 10h le matin, être aux douanes vers 11h30, prendre son vol à 13h, puis atterrir à YUL direct 12-13 heures plus tard.

On aime moins qu’on interdise formellement d’allumer appareils électroniques à bord, surtout que le choix audio-visuel soit surtout en chinois ou de type plutôt « B » si en anglais (genre Démolition de Jean-Marc Vallée avec Jake Gyllenhaal ou la comédie Keanu). On peut encore y échapper si on écoute juste de la musique. Ah ouais, les prises de courant sous les sièges ne fonctionnaient pas (celles à côté des toilettes en arrière, oui).

Le taux de voyageur de première fois semble plus élevé qu’ailleurs mais on s’en fait pas trop (mélatonine + masque + bouchons pour les oreilles + coussin Muji avec capuchon).

Pour le prix, le plus important des facteurs, ça varie. Je me souviens l’avoir vu à 1400 $US auparavant (ne me rappelle plus de l’époque de l’année), mais il était bien en deça de ce prix en septembre 2016. À la dernière minute, le prix était d’environ 850 $US selon Google Flights.


Air China plane at BCIA

Cantonese theatre on Lamma Island

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Cantonese theatre at Yung Shue Wan soccer pitch, Lamma Island

Every year, there’s a bamboo theatre set up from scratch at the soccer pitch near my home. In a matter of days, a temporary theatre made out of bamboo sticks (and surely some metal support) is setup to host Cantonese opera for Tin Hau’s Birthday on the 23rd of the Lunar Year. The soccer pitch happens to be just across the street from the Tin Hau Temple and just by the harbourfront in Yung Shue Wan.

It’s interesting to live in what’s technically the New Territories and definitely a rural area, which is only a 25-minute ferry ride to Asia’s most important financial centre. The festivities will go on until May 2 and, exceptionally, ferries out of Yung Shue Wan will run until 12:30 a.m.

Finding Taiwanese mandarins in Hong Kong

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Taiwanese mandarin orange

When I was living in Canada, I used to consume citrus fruits purchased in bulk with my family — a whole box of 30+ orange from Costco or crates of clementines from the supermarket. They make for a great quick snack, especially clementines, that are seedless and very easy to peel.

In Hong Kong, oranges are easy to find, but not so much for clementines. Since moving to Hong Kong, mandarin oranges (or 柑/kam in Cantonese) are the alternative. They are bigger, but usually have the trade-off of not coming in a seedless variety and are still somewhat harder to peel.

Mandarin oranges sold in Hong Kong usually overwhelmingly come from mainland China. Despite knowing about the Taiwanese ones, it wasn’t until recently, after consuming a lot of them as I was trying to shake off a seasonal cold back in March, that I paid attention to them. I even bought some a few years ago in my neighbourhood, but never realized how different they could be.

The mainland variety peels a lot easier, but the ones that I bought have always been drier and of varying quality (they taste fermented). Taiwanese mandarins are a lot sweeter and considerably juicier.

Taiwanese mandarin orange

Taiwanese mandarin orange

The Taiwanese ones are harder to find and you have to look to find them. According to a FAO estimate, 15.2 million tonnes of tangerines, mandarins, clementines, satsumas were produced in mainland China in 2013, compared with only 185,000 tonnes in Taiwan (around 80 times less).

In Taipei, I bought 8 for 100 TWD (~3 USD, so one is close to 40 cents) at a fruit shop outside Songjiang Market. The ones I bought on Friday were 6 HKD each, which is 77 cents, so roughly double the price. But if they’re specifically selling the fruits as coming from Taiwan and that the difference in taste and texture are so noticeable, it’s not surprising that there would be a market for them.

Sheung Wan fruit stall - Taiwanese mandarin orange

Sichuanese at the Shek Tong Tsui cooked food centre

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I really enjoy going to cooked food centres, natural descendants of the Hong Kong dai pai dong. One of my favourite ones is on the 2/F of the Shek Tong Tsui market, in the west of Hong Kong Island, close to HKU. I’ve never known it by name and simply called it “the Sichuanese” (for the record, it’s called 良品 / leung ban) and used to go there with friends after work.

We returned to that market for the first time in maybe a year or two, and ate at the Sichuanese, where we hadn’t been back for even longer (last time, we had hot pot nearby). The bright yellow signs that served as menu were gone and replaced with something a lot more sober. I was initially afraid that the place closed down, but upon asking whether they had their trademark “saliva chicken” dish, to which they answered positively, I was at least sure that if it was new management (not sure if it was), they kept their old dishes.

I did the ordering: saliva chicken, green beans fried with ground meat, pork slices with garlic and shrimp with a salted egg “sandy/golden” sauce. And we shared two large bottles of cheap lager, which is what you definitely should have with a cooked food centre meal. Back in the days, they even kept Pabst Blue Ribbon in the freezer (or a very cold refrigerator), and the bottles would be covered in frost from summer’s humidity.

Pork slices with garlic / 良品 at Shek Tong Tsui cooked food centre

A bottle of Tsingtao

Prawn with salted eggs sauce / 良品 at Shek Tong Tsui cooked food centre

It’s too bad that I forgot to take photo _before_ eating. But it was just simply too delicious.

Saliva chicken is really more like a “mouthwatering chicken” than being made from any corporeal fluid. It’s a boiled chicken that’s then served with a mixture of chili oil, spices (including peppercorns) and maybe peanuts, garlic if you like that.

With bowls of rice and drinks, it was only HK$105 per person, and we were definitely full.