Generally when the top of my pier is transformed into something, it’s either some sort of private party for luxury brands or a showroom for development projects. This time around for art week, my pier was transformed into an exhibit by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto aka “Vhils”. His techniques range from screen-printing, metal etching and super high frame rate videography.
I only realized that the exhibit was right under my nose when a former colleague tagged this neon sign installation posted this.
After climbing two flights of stairs to reach the roof of the pier (whose upper floors I never had the chance to enter despite commuting through every day for the last six years), you will enter a tent-like temporary structure and start with portraits made of columns of styrofoams. It’s unmistakably the artist’ style: the edges, the hybridity, the verticals.
The spine of the exhibit is a super slow-mo video taken on the streets of Hong Kong playing on long horizontal screens, which might be around Tsim Sha Tsui, the Star Ferry and Nathan Road, with a mesmerizing soundtrack of beeps and bops from the city and/or your Facebook webapp. Who knew you could either make lights flicker in post-prod or that they just flicker on their own when in filmed at a very high rate?
Some of the art used found materials in Hong Kong, like doors that the artist etched faces on, or paper advertising posters that he would stick together and carve into so to reveal faces.
The exhibit “DEBRIS” runs until tomorrow, April 4 at 8pm.
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).
The counter at cristal chinois
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.
The menu and market prices
My double kinds of meat: roasted duck and roasted pork
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.
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?
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”.
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
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.
What’s a “cucumber”? The European Economic Community has a definition for that.
Some Newfoundlanders move their homes to follow the source of their livelihood: fish.
Freed slaves “colonized” Liberia, reestablishing the power structures they experienced in America.
The bungalow: symbol of colonial power and occupation.
Skilled labour from Piedmont and Lombardy transformed the granite industry in New England during the late 19th century.
Building the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s was an opportunity for planning the new town of Iroquois.
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.
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.
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 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 in 2006…
…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.
Vancouver South in 2008
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 in 2008
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).
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.