jeudi, janvier 29, 2015

Larb (Thai/Laotian Minced Meat Salad)

Larb - a portion

Hub almost never travelled when he was working at Ferrari Spa. in Maranello, but Shanghai is an altogether different story. As the company in China grew under his management, his travels also increased. First it was just to Wuhu (Anhui) where their first plant was located; then he started going to Foshan (Guangdong) when he set up their second plant; then to Wuhan (Hubei) where they have started a joint-venture with the Chinese. Outside China, he flies regularly to Penang having taken over the company's Malaysian operations and a few months ago, he also started to go to Yokohama when he was given the Japan operations. Not to forget occasional trips to Europe to either Stuttgart or Milan for meetings with HQ.

Life is busy and I imagine, stressful. Fortunately, after a learning stint at INSEAD in Singapore last March, he came back not only a better business leader, but also a man more determined to keep healthy knowing that his current lifestyle is not the most ideal. He started working out regularly and eating better, insisting that I prepare salads and make sure that we have fruit at home. For many households that would be normal fare, but I'm not fond of fruit and vegetables so my WW3 pantry had lots of food but nothing too green or leafy.

I'm now really fat because since Hub is often away, I could continue eating whatever rubbish I fancy. But I do make an effort when he is home for dinner. Since he currently has a thing for cabbage (for its calorie-burning qualities), I made him Larb last evening when he flew back from a 3-day trip to Foshan.

Larb is a salad sometimes served in Thai restaurants and I was told that it is popular in the north of the country near Laos. In fact, it is actually more of a Laotian dish, but you will agree that there are more Thai than Laotian restaurants outside the region.

Basically it is minced meat (e.g. pork, beef, chicken, duck) served with fresh herbs and dressed in a fish sauce, lime juice dressing. And eaten wrapped in cabbage leaves. Very often I would find raw French beans on the plate as well, but I dislike this vegetable raw so you wouldn't find it in my version of Larb.

Larb :

The meat filling :

2 tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil
300g fresh ground pork, beef or chicken
2 tbsp onions chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
half a stalk of lemongrass bashed
red chilli sliced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
pepper to taste

The dressing :

2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp hot water
red chilli sliced
1 kaffir lime leaf shredded
half a stalk of lemongrass bashed
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lemon or 2 large limes

The garnishing :

2 shallots or half a small red onion finely sliced
a handful of fresh basil, mint and coriander leaves chopped
cabbage leaves

Method :

Wash your cabbage (you can use iceberg if you prefer your leaves tender and crisp, but the normal cabbage holds the meat and sauce better) and decorate a serving plate with it.

Wash, drain and chop the fresh herbs and set aside in a bowl.

Slice the shallots or red onions, set aside.

Prepare the dressing by dissolving the sugar in hot water and infusing the solution with the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and chilli. Add fish sauce and lime juice and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (more for the taste than for the temperature).


In a frying pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I have an almost odourless light olive oil so I used it) and fry the onions, garlic and lemongrass till fragrant. Add the chilli and sugar and let it cook for a little while before adding the minced meat. 

Stir fry to mix well and when the meat is almost cooked through, stir in the fish sauce and soy sauce. Add pepper to taste. 

When the meat is cooked (beef could be eaten rare but not chicken or pork), turn off the heat. Add the raw shallots/red onions and the chopped fresh herbs. Mix well and then stir in the dressing.

Larb can be eaten warm or cold. Scoop some of the meat onto a cabbage leaf and enjoy.



lundi, janvier 26, 2015

Wuzhen (乌镇) with the Parents

Dad and mum in Wuzhen

I wonder sometimes if the parents regretted our growing up. Because, on those evenings when I hugged my youngest child as he slept next to me (which he does when Hub is away), I always wished that I could immortalise the moment in time and not let it slip away. But of course, children grow up and we should be thankful that they do so, only I couldn't stop myself feeling sad that soon I will have no more babies to hug and kiss, nor will I have anyone calling me "mummy" in the cutest of voices followed by the tenderest of hugs.

This, I guess, is middle age. Your babies are growing up really quickly and your parents are visibly ageing and exhibiting various health hiccups. It is not exactly the most gay period in a person's life, yet at the same time, if you have played your cards right, you should be most comfortable in your 40s in both material and mobility.

I love you all, my Babies, and I hope that you will never have cause to doubt or forget this in your lives. Just like I know that my parents love me and I am thankful for that.

The parents came for a short visit last October. I last saw them in Singapore in July and August, but we were so often out of the house doing some activity or traveling around the region that I felt frustrated about not seeing them as much as I would have liked to. Therefore I invited them to come stay 11 days with me in Shanghai, so that I may bring them out a little, cook for them, be with them.

Wuzhen when you arrive by boat and a map of the town

Mum's bow legs seemed to be getting from bad to worse. Climbing and walking long distances were definitely out of the question, and it was fortunate we did the bulk of our Shanghai sights 3 years ago when they first came to visit, and this time I have 2 drivers so we always had someone to drive us around. With the kids at school, we had to look for a trip that could be done in the day which would be interesting enough for everyone. Mum had already visited Zhujiajiao, Suzhou and Qibao, while I last brought MIL to Tongli near Suzhou, so we were more or less left with Wuzhen which is near enough to Shanghai.

Wuzhen by day

I've always wanted to visit Wuzhen (乌镇) and when mum said that she would like to do so too, I got Driver Ju to drive us there. Ideally, one should spend the night as Wuzhen is divided into 2 sections that are a small distance (about 1km) away from each other, with one section that is smaller but older and the other larger, newer and cleaner - hence there would be quite a bit to visit and discover. But we have to return home to the children and dad was going to go on a short trip to the South the day after to visit his relatives.

Many stone bridges

Pretty covered wooden bridges and grand stone doors

We chose to do the bigger and newer part of Wuzhen. It was clean, organised, with only one smelly tofu stall (at least we only saw one). Once you enter the walled village/town, you could choose to get on a boat that will bring you across to the main part of the sights and from there you navigate between lanes and bridges, duck in and out of courtyards, shops, eateries, museums...

Nice wood and stone work and very clean too
I found the old water village really pretty. We were lucky to be there when there were few tourists and the weather was nice which made the outing very pleasant. We made our way slowly around (often with dad looking out for mum and holding her elbow etc), buying little snacks to share and taste, and lunch was in a small restaurant specialising in healthy cuisine that was part of the Wuzhen Clubhouse. Thinking about this I get all emotional because I really miss my parents, 19 years make up a long time to be away from home and the family...


Streets, library/bookstore, courtyards
Wuzhen is part of Tongxiang in Zhejiang Province, about 2 hours by car from Shanghai. It is  divided into sections where different crafts and trades are displayed, and is known for its stone pathways, stone bridges and wooden carvings. The restaurants that were situated along the canal were tempting as the idea of lunching with a view of the water, old houses and bridges was enticing, but healthy should be more important when you have 2 senior citizens and the only "health" restaurant around was smack in the middle of 2 lanes.

The healthy lunch at the Wuzhen Club restaurant

When I visited the tiny shoe (for bound feet) museum alone, mum spent her time trying on cloth shoes (normal sized, of course) as dad glared at her from the side wondering if she was about to make another "unnecessary" purchase. It was quite funny catching this scene as I walked out of the museum, and I had to employ quite a bit of diplomacy to diffuse the situation and make both sides happy. Well, mum couldn't find the colour she wanted in her size and I knew of another shop (in Wuzhen itself) that sold the same shoes for half the price (online), so I told mum she would get what she wanted when we return home and in the meantime we should just move on. (Thank goodness we managed as promised the next day!)

Cloth shoes shop outside the lily shoes museum; mum with her new cloth shoes

People dining by the water
There were quite a number of little inns in the bigger town (and many looked pretty charming, like in the gungfu movies). I was told by Driver Ju that it should get more crowded later on in the day as most tourists usually start with the smaller town and finish with the bigger one, eventually spending the night in the latter. I should return with the Hub and kids another day, maybe spend the night there too. I'm sure we would love the romantic feel of this ancient village at night, especially if we should manage to dine in a little restaurant by the water...(I've not given up on the idea, of course)

A number of the traditional trades were displayed in the old town, from wine making to blue cloth production, hand-sewn cloth shoes, traditional sweets etc. One of the things about being middle aged is that I have lost my penchant for buying souvenirs everywhere I go; when you have spent a few decades accumulating souvenirs that you have nowhere (else) to store/display and that you will most probably have no use for whatsoever once you've acquired them, you learn (eventually) to stop buying them. I just make sure I spend my money on decent accommodation, comfortable and safe means of transportation, good food, interesting experiences and a good guidebook when I travel nowadays.

Blue cloth maker, rice cake seller, soy sauce shop

I have also stopped buying gifts to distribute to friends, family and neighbours. It is futile spending precious time trying to hunt down a suitable gift for everyone when the goal is to visit. Besides, most people travel quite a lot nowadays so there is no need to share (or show off) your trips like before. Parents were of course from another era, and you could see that they really needed to buy something (usually edible) to bring back; it reminded me of the time we travelled to Perth when I was 12 and dad literally filled up a suitcase with Cadbury chocolate to bring back to everyone else who couldn't go on the trip. I myself brought back huge boxes of Turkish lokum to share with my 140 colleagues in MND HQ back in 1995, and that seemed like light years away now.

By the water

There are so many more places near Shanghai, not to mention in China, that I have not visited because we are so afraid of the crowds. It is a pity, of course, but unless you haven't heard of or been in one of those notorious crushes, you wouldn't be so foolish as to brave going anywhere when the Chinese themselves are on holiday. Paralysis is personified on those occasions and wave of humanity has true meaning then. OK, maybe I exaggerate, and I am definitely making excuses for not having visited much of China. Maybe in 2015 and 2016 I will plan more short trips on long weekends: Beijing, Nanjing, Lijiang, Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu...?

I have however noted, in the past 4 years, that the Chinese are traveling more and more both within China and out of the country. Many of my Chinese friends have husbands who used to earn 10 000 rmb a month up to about 10 years ago, after which they started seeing salary increases of between 10 and 30% annually and today the same guys are earning between 100 000 and 200 000 rmb per month! If they were based in Shanghai and had had the foresight to invest in real estate, then their wealth would have doubled, tripled and more. Even the average Chinese in Shanghai wouldn't have done too badly as I often discover. Many would have seen their old family homes bought over by property developers and given cash and/or new flats in exchange. They would earn pretty decent salaries today and since the majority would only have one child, life is usually comfortable. The old lady pulling out weeds in our garden has a son who owns 2 large cars that he rents out to foreigners and she is only working because she loves being out in the open and having something to do. And where our villas and garden stand today, her house and fields used to stand.

Parents in Wuzhen (I think I look more like dad)
Back to Wuzhen, it was definitely worth a visit and I hope that the parents had enjoyed it. Hopefully after Ma has had both legs operated on she would be able to walk better and we could go on other visits in the years to come.

I do not know how many more years we are going to stay in Shanghai, and therefore how much opportunity I  still have to discover Northeast Asia. However, for those of you who know me, I try to make the most of my time wherever I am whether I would be there 6 months or 6 years. My only constraints are time and cash, and in these recent days, the drastic devaluation of the Euro is definitely not making things easy for us. Greece may not be the only one who needs to battle against austerity soon. 

  


lundi, janvier 19, 2015

Noir: Dining in the Dark, Ho Chi Minh City

Noir - Dining in the Dark

More than 6 months ago, we were asked if we (as in Hub and The Teenager) would like to take part in a friendly golf tournament in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to be held just before the New Year. That was a couple of months after our trip to Hanoi (during CNY), so we were obviously quite destined for Vietnam in 2014. 

My only problem with visiting Vietnam is the cost of the visas. I do not need one with my Singapore passport, but it's 440 rmb for a single entry for the Hub and the kids. Considering that each trip there lasted between 4 and 8 days, I found paying for 2 rounds of visas in the same year a little painful.  

Anyway, we booked 2 rooms at the 5-star Sofitel Saigon Plaza with its famous rooftop pool and once again, it wasn't really my idea as I usually prefer boutique hotels. But the organiser of the above-mentioned golf tournament pre-paid for his rooms and informed us after, that we were expected to do the same so that we could all be together. In other words, I didn't really have a choice.

Fortunately, apart from 3 first nights of lights that refused to be switched off (my mother would tell you the room was haunted), the hotel was comfortable and well-situated, so I had no reason to complain about it. Plus, I found out that Vietnam had an interesting rule about prostitution in such hotels: a member of our group (a divorcee) came back one evening with a Vietnamese girl of questionable reputation and was discovered by the hotel manager himself who informed him that he would only be allowed to bring her in if she happened to be a guest of the hotel (which would involve paying for another room on the spot in her name). Guy, I heard, is like a sailor with certain habits at every port of call; needless to say, with all his ECAs he ended up last in the golf tournament.

Once again, I digress. I was out to blog about a restaurant we dined in in HCMC (among many others, but that will have to wait) named Noir - Dining in the Dark. We like to go local at different levels when we travel and while I could possibly eat Pho Bo Tai every day, I was also keen to try something new and dining in the dark was something I had yet to try at that time. It's not at all unique to Vietnam, but I had not been to one anywhere before.

I had expected the kids to reject the idea when I first suggested it; they were reticent, but were at the same time curious enough to want to give it a try. Our greatest problem probably is the fact that we are very picky eaters and you do not know what you are going to eat when you dine at Noir. Then, out of politeness, I asked our group of friends if they would like to join us and they all said pourquoi pas?

We arrived in a renovated old house with pretty floor tiles one evening at 8pm. With those French people's habit of having aperitif before dinner, we had to dine late every evening when we were in HCMC, not to forget eat and drink way too much. I would have preferred to eat at 7pm latest, but once again I wasn't asked my opinion.

One of the owners G coming out of the bar

We were a group of 10. You were served cocktails (not very tasty) and asked to choose between a western and asian menu (with no idea what's going to be in it exactly). Then you had to blindfold yourself and attempt a simple game where you return to your childhood and have to match wooden objects according to their shapes and place them on a tray (see picture of the group next to us doing just that). During the meal, the food would be served in 5 containers set on a tray, this being a foretaste of what you would need to do once you are in the totally dark dining room.

Totally dark. It seemed that a few members of my entourage had only just realised that we were going to eat in total darkness. It wouldn't be diplomatic on my part to suggest that there was a bit of panique à bord, but one or two of them started to act really weird. He's one of those tall, commanding, very disciplined (military background), successful sort; he called one of the restaurant owners T over and asked if T could guarantee that he would not dirty his clothes during the meal...(!) 

Our neighbours playing the pre-dinner game
T was taken back, I guess, and didn't give a tactful enough answer and we could almost see a volcano about to erupt in front of us. Now friend said he didn't want to dine there because of T's bad attitude! Fortunately, friend's usually quiet wife decided for once that she would take things into her hands and just dragged him out of the restaurant. So we ended up 8 to dine.

You have to surrender all of your watches and mobile phones before the meal so that nothing that could produce light would be introduced into the dining room. Second friend, as we would discover later on, didn't surrender his watch and I would spend the whole evening being irritated by this light moving around opposite me. What's with these macho, strong, successful types and their weird reaction to being in total darkness? Are they afraid of not being in control?

The dining room was on the first floor and we were greeted at its entrance by 2 visually-impaired waiters. Our waiter was called Vinh and he spoke beautifully-accented and clear English and I couldn't help thinking that he must have very good hearing to have picked up such a crisp accent.

Vinh guided us to our side of the table and placed us in front of our chairs. The room was totally dark except for 4 red dots at four corners of the room. People tend to talk loudly in the dark for some reason so we could hear the other diners giggling or talking more loudly than usual as we tried to settle in.

It wasn't that difficult trying to take stock of one's space because the table setting was kept simple and we each had a glass, a fork and a spoon. I could feel both edges of my table so I knew it wasn't big and that if I kept feeling my way inwards from the sides I'll be able to find my cutlery etc. Personally, I felt quite liberated at the initial loss of my sight; I felt light, at one with my universe. 

When you cannot see, it's important to listen more and I wished my fellow diners could be calmer. Unfortunately, one was cold and kept screaming for the aircon to be switched off, another had a watch shining through the meal and Baby Girl played the zombie and refused to use her hands to find anything or eat anything (so I ate up her entire western dinner on top of my asian one!). The Teenager (actually since October last year he's an adult, so we will call him The Young Adult after these words) was surprisingly calm and compliant, eating his dinner quietly and joining in the talk with a few jokes here and there, while Baby Boy talked too loudly, but managed to try a bit of the food in front of him after Vinh assured him that it wasn't fish. Hub started to criticise the food, do you think it's gourmet? Don't you think it's too cold? Sight is really very important in food appreciation...

Sight is indeed very important in food appreciation, which is why Japanese food is very much appreciated and admired. Taste probably starts with our eyes, followed by smell (which somehow wasn't pronounced during the meal), by the actual tasting and in this case, if I may say so, by touch; because I stopped trying to use my cutlery, preferring to feel my food before I ate it and I found that it worked quite well.

One fear I had though was the possibility of everyone around me crashing their glasses and spilling their drinks on me. I had no idea why they were always loudly trying to find their glasses when the glass wasn't normally going to move elsewhere if you've put it back on your right above the cutlery. My lemongrass soda was delicious, by the way.

The reception hall
At the end of our dinner, Vinh guided us out of the dining room, warning us to keep our eyes on the ground so as not to be disoriented when we see light again. I must say that at this point, I was happy to leave the darkness as it was starting to be very tiring keeping the eyes open in the dark, in fact, it would be advisable to shut them from time to time in order to rest them.

I was also feeling sad, thinking that while we would be able to welcome light into our lives again, Vinh and his colleagues would remain in the dark.

As I had suspected, our chairs were acrylic (Philippe Starck to be exact) and our tables square and not very big. The 8 of us were sitting in 2 rows of 4 facing each other. G showed us what our meal looked like on an iPad, and we probably only guessed half of what we ate right. Everyone agreed that it was an experience to try at least once in our lives, though probably not too often as we do prefer to be able to see what we are eating. Finally, I wouldn't advise eating in the dark for a large group. With no other distractions around, it's a good opportunity to go all philosophical on your partner or kids, or at least become a better listener than usual. It was trying trying to get everyone to speak in turns or figuring out who said what from where etc.

lundi, décembre 22, 2014

Hong Kong with Younger Sister (September 2014)

Hong Kong Island seen from Avenue of the Stars (Kowloon)

I mentioned somewhere that I've travelled quite a bit in the past few months. Not as much as Hub for work, nor as much as this Singaporean GF of another friend who apparently travels to Singapore every month just for a hair cut.

One memorable trip I made recently was with my younger sister D in September. We are Lotus and Phoenix, with 4 years between us. I think we sometimes fail to realise how time truly flies, and how we tend to procrastinate in so many ways, not just in things we have to do physically. Though I try to return to Singapore every one to two years, D and I have not seen each other much in the last 19 years and before you know it, we are fat Obasans with a number of kids each in tow.

The idea was to meet up somewhere for a quick getaway: away from our daily chores, endless duties and routines, away from the grumpy Hubs, the demanding, ungrateful kids and in her case, the cook-the-same-food-everyday FIL.

No, we didn't go to HK to shop. When you have as many kids as we do to feed and educate, shopping is no longer a priority. And when you have husbands who are ready to pounce on yet another "unnecessary" purchase, you prefer to indulge in stuff that you can ingest and digest quickly leaving minimum evidence behind for scrutiny. When you are already padded like us, a few extra kilos at the end of a short trip wouldn't make much of a difference either (there, I caught your thought!).    

Wanchai on HK Island
And of course, the idea really was to spend some precious time together, to catch up and bond. We used to share a room when we were kids and often talked through the night. I guess we didn't imagine then that all that would become just a part of our memories and no longer part of our lives once we leave home.

We met at the airport in HK and  stayed at the OZO WESLEY in vibrant Wanchai. The boutique hotel was renovated in 2013, the room was simple and modern. Hotel lobby smelled of detergent most of the time though which I found disturbing as we all know it could be cancerous. Conveniently located  between Admiralty and Wanchai with a tram stop just in front.

Our room at Ozo Wesley, Wanchai
We took the Star Ferry from Wanchai Pier and crossed the sea to Tsim Sha Tsui. Took in the usual sights (The Peninsular Hotel etc) and then found our way to the Avenue of the Stars. OK, this stretch of walkway on the sea front is fairly kitsch and was filled with Chinese tourists who took pictures of themselves with anything that was standing and which could be used as a background. And if the floor was filled with hand prints of HK Stars (many whom we knew from our lost TV-watching youth), then they could be found almost on all fours for that important souvenir picture. Seeing that it took me months, why not years, to deal with the few photos I've taken on my trips, I wonder how they cope with the thousands of photos they must have taken on each trip, limited only by the memory of their SD cards.

But we were there just before sunset and it was the most beautiful moment of the day for admiring HK Island opposite. I was actually pretty awed by the colours facing me, colours reflected by the buildings as the sun started to go down. And it was always lovely breathing in the sea breeze, knowing that there would be no need to prepare dinner nor supervise the kids' homework nor hurry to make oneself charming for the Hubs.

HK like most important cities is easy to explore on foot and it is recommended that one take in the sights and smells by taking one's time to do so. The island has lots of good things to eat that one would probably discover by chance as one is wandering around.  
Some of our snacks, Sift has great cupcakes!
We came across the famous Mak Noodles as we made our way to Ashley St and needless to say sat down promptly to gobble down a tiny bowl each of the springy egg noodles in its rich broth. A few steps down the street we saw a famous dessert shop and also settled down for a little something - all that before our planned dinner at Ned Kelly's Last Stand!

It's kind of unfathomable when you are Singaporean to make plans and not stick to them, so of course we had our dinner of burger and chips and everything's that greasy in the Australian pub run mainly by Filipinos.

Dinner, cocktails and jazz at Ned Kelly's Last Stand
The highlight of the evening starting from 9:30pm (but Happy Hour finishes at 9) is always the jazz band and I wanted D to hear them play. The English leader works as a manager in Ocean Park in the day (and he's married to a Singaporean, by the way) and sings/plays in the band most evenings. Heard he has been doing this for a few decades now.

On the evening we were there the band was pretty small, but I was told during an earlier visit that at certain times of the year they were perfectly capable of sitting 16 musicians where there were currently 6 or 7!

You don't have to pay a cover charge to hear the band play nor do you have to eat, but you have to order a few drinks, of course, in order to be able to sit in. The food is usually quite decent in the pub so I actually just make a point to dine there before the jazz.

The Star Precinct in Wanchai with its little boutiques and restaurants
D and I speak Cantonese so HK wasn't complicated for us, in fact I welcome the opportunity to practise the dialect as it makes me feel nostalgic for our parents' home. HK seems very modern on the one hand, and also so broken down here and there, like Singapore such a very long time ago. I like this mix very much, the way the old and the new co-exist and I also feel comfortable there because we share a British colonial past with many shared references (not to forget street/building names). However, I think they are also much more Chinese than us. The only darker-skinned folks you see around are the Indonesian and Filipino maids. And under many bridges you find old Chinese ladies hitting photos with shoes and slippers - like in that ghost movie I last watched when I was in Singapore. 

The next morning my dear friend and ex-neighbour J met us in the hotel lobby and took us out for a walk and we ended up having dim sum at the famous Maxim's in City Hall. As usual we ate a little too much too fast, wanting to order everything we saw in the carts. I have to admit that at such a moment, I think the Hub is pretty awesome because I know that he can usually afford to pay the bill. The afternoon was spent walking around Times' Square and we ended up in a diner near our hotel for an almost home-cooked dinner that was quite delicious. We are very fond of simple meals too, you listen to the waiters banter and gossip in Cantonese and you try to remind yourself not to give them any reason to scold you.

With J at Maxim's, the soy bean curd with ginger syrup was divine!
Neighbourhood diner near our hotel

Saturday's highlight was lunch at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Hub insisted on inviting us to lunch there and we accepted his invitation graciously. The Head Chef had left to set up his own restaurant a few months ago and the second Chef was about to leave for Singapore MBS. The food was fine and creative as usual and we even had nice cocktails to go with it. I always make sure to request for a seat away from the entrance as I dislike having my back to the door, and this time we didn't go for the longest set menu as we were hoping to keep some space in the stomach for other stuff later in the day.  Still, the meal was filling and we couldn't finish the petits fours at the end of the meal. Merci, mon chéri!

The CBD (love the trams)

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, 3* Michelin in HK

The potato puree was made with ratte potatoes imported from France

Needless to say it was important to walk off the calories, and I think I forced things a little too much and poor D ended up with a very inflamed ankle before the end of the day. We've taken the escalators to the Mid Levels, taken a look at Lan Kwai Fong, walked to PMQ and spent some time looking through the little boutiques there, even took in an Hermes exhibition that was quite amazing. They don't do things in half measures, so you get to touch the fabulous leather, admire one of their artisans at work, and dream your way through all the bags and shoes and gowns. Actually I'm still not at all quite a fan of the famous Birkin or Kelly, though I rather like their leather boots and suitcases.

Around the escalators leading to the Mid-Levels

The red door frame was part of Man Ho Temple,
looked kind of eerie from the outside
The PMQ was apparently a new trendy spot to visit in HK when we were there. They have converted the former Police Married Quarters and Clubhouse into a market place with café. There are floors and floors of small shops and ateliers that you basically have to pop in and out in order to visit.

I am vague about the geography but I know that it's somewhere between Central and Sheung Wan, and it's also on the way to Man Ho Temple which is near an antiques street and the Holiday Inn Express I've stayed in once with Hub. I'm very fond of the Sheung Wan area though recently I read an article about it being kind of haunted because of its past, but well I guess it makes it all the more exciting as such.

PMQ (and one of its toilets)
D was quite excited at one point when we wandered into a room and there was this doll with fat head surrounded by pink at the entrance. I have never heard of Chocolate Rain before that, but well, now I know. I think I've left Asia for too long a time because I don't have this Asian fondness for cute stuff. Can't believe people actually spend a fortune collecting pens, umbrellas, bags, mugs, bedsheets etc etc with this character printed on them.

We didn't buy anything at PMQ because much of the stuff was actually quite expensive and probably too original for us. A French company was selling perfumed underwear for men, for example. Releases the good stuff during contact with perspiration... 

D is crazy about this Chocolate Rain

Hermes exhibition

FOC and very well done
There was a French lady showing off her stitching and I talked to her to find out about her training and career. Pretty interesting and it more or less confirmed what I found out once watching a video about Hermes during one of my plane journeys.

At the same time, what she's doing is a dying art as it costs too much to maintain this kind of standards and systems. All those major houses like Prada, BV, SF all claim to only make their leather goods in Europe, but my Chinese neighbour made his fortune making part of SF's shoes here in China and a friend who used to work for Prada in Shanghai told me she suspected that part of the manufacturing was done here in the South, but all very hush hush, of course.

Under Bridge Spicy Crab in Wanchai
That evening, we met J again for dinner and she invited us to...Under Bridge Spicy Crab!!! So very generous of her as those crabs cost a small fortune. Basically the crab was buried under a mountain of fried garlic, so not exactly the kind of dinner you want to make with a new suitor, for example.

Had a lovely time catching up with her, really miss those days when we would lunch out together almost every week with F as well. J returned to HK last December and F left a few days ago for the USA...I've just lost my 2 good friends in Shanghai, probably almost time for me to leave too.

Voila a quick weekend getaway in HK for 2 sisters and we agreed that we should make a habit of it and do this again.

vendredi, décembre 19, 2014

A New Hobby

My 3rd Hu Yongkai Painting (and my 14th painting)

A couple of fellow bloggers disappeared and returned months or years later with a cookbook, a new baby, why not a younger spouse, designer kitchen and/or house, new body, re-designed face, eventually a more exciting job! 

Unfortunately, none of the above have I accomplished. I'm still fat, still stuck in Shanghai (though I've travelled quite a bit in the past year), still live in the same house (though we moved out for a couple of weeks in November because of a termite infestation) and still have the same hub (though he's now a few kgs lighter after he returned from a month at INSEAD and started embracing a healthier lifestyle that includes jogging 12km every other day)...

I searched far and wide in the neuron network in the past few months and finally woke up this morning with the perfect alibi: I've taken up oil painting a little more than a year ago! With age the circuit is a little retarded, sometimes clogged and bulbs just do not light up as often and as quickly as they used to. But, I did start to paint and have been religiously doing so every Tuesday morning since autumn in 2013.

My younger sister is the artistic one in the family, and I couldn't usually draw an egg to save my life. However, I was told by a number of people that with minimum guidance even an idiot could paint with oil and when offered the opportunity to try, I felt I had nothing to lose and jumped at it.

I think my teacher Yao ZW is originally from Ningbo, but must have spent most of his life in Shanghai. He rents a ground floor flat near Century Park in Pudong and sets up 6 easels so that he could have 6 students in the morning and another 6 in the afternoon. In the week most of his students would be Chinese housewives (usually pretty wealthy), and during the weekend and public holidays he would have lots of children (often children of the same rich tai tais).

My very 1st painting, took me 9 hours to finish

2nd painting, kind of scary having that
mountain range and body of water to paint

Impressionist 3rd painting
Teacher Yao is pretty cool and teaches so that he could feed his only passion which is to paint. His plan is to make a final exhibition of his paintings before he retires so that he could sell them and retire comfortably. At the moment he has bought a house with some land in the countryside about an hour and a half from Shanghai and starting next year will live there during the weekend and remain in Shanghai during the week just to continue teaching. He is actually a pretty well-known painter from some old school, but because his only child is a girl, he had no need in the past to buy a flat in anticipation of her future marriage and as such missed out riding on the property wave that made most Shanghainese rich, see very rich, in the past two decades.

All new students would start out with a series of 6 paintings chosen by Teacher Yao. Once we have completed these paintings and decide to continue with him, we can begin to more or less paint whatever catches our fancy as long as it's within our ability to do so. After the first few paintings, one would somehow start to have "the feeling" and would more or less know what to do, only occasionally asking Teacher Yao to come rescue us.  

4th painting: one of my favourites and now with Anna
 I really look forward to joining this class every  Tuesday morning, I think I've almost never missed a session since I started. I find it calming to spend 3 hours concentrating on trying to get as much painted as I could (and I'm very slow at it) and often spend days leading up to the class planning what I would do when I get my fingers on the brushes.

 We were the same group of 6 ladies painting together, except for my dear friend and neighbour F who gave birth last June and then moved back to the USA a few days ago. My classmates are all wealthy Chinese ladies with only one child each. The children attend the best Shanghai schools, have expensive tutors, go on exclusive school trips to Europe, and these mothers spend quite a bit of their time during class exchanging notes about their progeny. I usually have nothing much to say about mine because when your kids spend most of their time playing, have no exam pressure and no particular talent to display, you have nothing to share with the others.

And I am very slow, Teacher Yao complains about it from time to time (though he should be happy as it means each one of my paintings costs me more than usual), and the others would turn up in front of my easel once in a while to tell me that I pay too much attention to detail blah blah...

5th painting, I can't really do grass

They are all more advanced than me (at least by a year if not more) and are really amazing with their trees, mountains, sea etc. They are also really fast when they paint, often skipping the pencil sketching part, making me look even slower than I already am. So to set myself apart, I try nowadays to paint stuff that require a lot of patience e.g. buildings, figures, furniture...and they would mumble all the time I spend too much time on the details.  

6th painting and the license
to choose future paintings more or less freely

What did I do with my paintings? The first 2 paintings are currently hiding in my pantry, hanging over my shelves of dried goods and bottles of water; the next 5-6 paintings found their way to my several bathrooms (I have 6). One of the more edible ones went to Anna, and my favourite is at this moment making its way (via Hub) to MIL; yet another is currently hanging in the guest room. 

I also like to paint water villages (8th painting)

My 2nd Hu Yongkai painting
that MIL chose to have for Xmas (12th)


A European water village? (7th)

The 1st painting I dared to frame up (9th)

My favourites are the Hu Yongkai paintings (the ones with the Chinese ladies) and I have decided I may paint one between two to three landscapes (which are good for training our painting skills though they are boring) as I gain a lot of satisfaction from doing them. I've already painted all the 3 paintings that Teacher Yao has on photo though, and will have to source for my own samples if I want to paint more of Painter Hu's work. 

My very 1st Hu Yongkai painting (10th)

I like this one but the rocks were tough to paint
and saw a copy on Taobao selling for 12000 rmb! (13th)

Another Chinese water village (11th)

Well, so you know what I've been up to in the past year.