Sunday, 18 April 2010

'Petit Bourgeois' cafes on Gulangyu islet

Some observations about 'petit bourgeois' cafes on Gulangyu.

The odd thing about Gulangyu is, apart from the typical tour groups you see everywhere, you have loads of petite bourgeoisie there as well, or petite bourgeoisie wannabes. They may be Xiamen locals rushing to the island for its 'tasteful' coffee shops and small shops (typically called 'zahuo' shops now; more about this later), or other mainlanders from all over China. Basically they look for the same thing: petit bourgeois sentiments and consumer goods. There's always a list of coffee shops they want to visit (most of these people have done extensive research), small items they want to buy at various zahuo shops. It's interesting how a boring second (or third) class city like Xiamen could attract so many of these people just because of Gulangyu. You'd be surprised by the number of cafes, shops and guesthouses catering for these petit bourgeoisie (wannabes, most of the time).

The cafe I find most interesting is called 'Cantone'. It's also called 廣聲港調, and I guess it's more known by this name. It caught my attention because it associates itself with Cantonese stuff, from the food (typical Hong Kong cha-chaan-teng food) to the use of traditional characters in their menu. To be honest, I found it pretentious but at the same time endearing, as Cantonese or traditional characters are indeed considered 'posh' to the petit bourgeois crowds in China, and personally I do think traditional characters are more aesthetically pleasing. S commented that Cantonese and traditional characters are 'hip' and 'in' in Guangzhou, and many Guangzhou kids are proud of being able to speak the dialect and use (or at least read) the characters. Anyway, we didn't really go into the cafe as we weren't craving coffee or some pseudo-Cantonese stuff (Yes, I'm sceptical), but I did pick up their card which is quite tastefully designed.

See how they insist on using the hard-to-write traditional characters for numbers? I don't think they're used much now, except when people issue cheques.

I found some photos of the interior of this cafe, which strikes me as funny.

Out of all Hong Kong MTR stations, they've chosen Choi Hung. It's ironic as it's prolly my least favourite MTR station! And I don't think if you do a poll in Hong Kong about people's favourite MTR stations this would actually have any votes... Then I found that the founders of this cafe are not Hong Kongers but some Guangzhou kids... okay, no wonder. Call me stubborn but I think you really have to know some place well to call yourself an expert on it, or you're bound to make yourself a joke.

Hmmm there are actually lots of other cafes I want to write about, maybe next time...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Random photos taken on the recent Fujian trip

I know the word 'random' is shamefully over-used and everybody is saying everything is random. Anyway, I don't care since 'random' is really the word for me here.

My photo-taking pattern varies from trip to trip, and the number of photos taken also reflects that. When I'm travelling alone, like I did a couple of years ago on different trips in Europe, I take photos of whatever that interests me, plus all those cheesy shots of sights, and me with sights, or my toys with sights. (I remember once I brought a stuffed toy to Macau and took loads of photos for it) That means I take heaps of photos and I snap furiously, when I'm travelling alone.

When I'm travelling with S and he's got his 'more' professional camera, I take a considerable amount less. ('More' in quotation marks as it only applies when compared to mine) I'm a lazy bone when someone's doing the snapping job, and I can happily wander around without worrying about not capturing something. This is a flawed thought, of course, since my idea of important and his can be totally different, which is the case most of the time. I was telling my parents some days ago how my aesthetic sense is way better than his, though his camera's better than mine. LOL!

Okay, enough of this crap. Here are some of the random shots I took on the Fujian trip, which are really hard to categorise and I see no point in including them in previous posts:

Empty seats in a surprisingly empty arrival hall. Turned out the food's quite expensive there, which explains!

China's never short of this kind of 'slogan' and they never fail to impress me! Don't you think they're hilarious?

I meant to show this photo to my students...for some reason, rules in the English language are nonexistent to Chinese people!

Does this surprise you? Chinese people are not known for good hygiene. Needless to say, there were heaps of flies in this resto.

Another great slogan. I didn't know they still exist in the modern world; apparently they're still everywhere.

I don't actually have anything to say about this photo. Sometimes I'm ambivalent to how artists exploit these images in their commercial work, but without them these images are not as cute as they are to us now.

Trying to play artist here. What I did was blowing hot air to the lens!

It's very important for us to remember where we're from." I especially took this photo for my dad as this is something he always says about people.

A lot of "Lau"s contributing :P


Slogan again. Maybe I should compile them and create a blog just for them! (Guess someone's doing it already...)

This blue is different from yours, don't you think?

Beauty never fails.

Skillful? (I'm not blushing!)

Ni hao! Want some noodles?

If you've seen that film there's no need for any explanation


Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Gulangyu, Xiamen, Fujian

From my 'offline blog'

9th April 2010


...Anyway, we went to Gulangyu after brekkie. Originally it's the focus of the trip, before we decided to visit the earth houses as well. It’s supposed to be a place with lots of old western architecture and other sights. Originally we had planned to visit all the old houses, but we ended up buying tickets (at the hefty price of RMB 80) for the sights about Zheng Chenggong, a national hero, which turned out to be a waste of money again. @_@

The islet was packed, unlike other parts of Xiamen we had seen. Perhaps all the tourists were there? There were the stupid tour groups, the pretentious ‘bourgeois’ young people who are only into cute stuff sold in chic shops and western-style cafes, and us (I guess we don’t really fall under either of these categories…). :P The buildings were pretty nice to look at (and photograph), and many couples were taking their pre-wedding photos there. We visited a number of old buildings, the Bagualou which was formerly the Xiamen Museum and now a disappointing organ museum, the Sunlight Rock (the most stupid spot really but again it proves S’s theory that mainlanders looooove climbing ‘to the top’, no matter where or what it is), and the park where the famous statue of Zheng Chenggong, the symbol of Xiamen, is located.

Of course we also shopped around the chic shops and cafes. I was impressed by the designs found in some shops, as they’re really quite tasteful (though not very original). The quality of some of the stuff is quite high, e.g. tasteful reproductions of retro / vintage designs. That’s indeed a pleasant surprise.

We had lots of snacks for lunch, tea and dinner. The food’s not superb but a lot better than the previous two days already. Overall, it’s a pretty satisfying visit!

10th April 2010

The park surrounding Nanputuo Temple was quite nice for photos, though it’s very packed when we arrived. I like how the whole park was full of cotton trees (also seen around Gulangyu). We do have cotton trees in Hong Kong, like in the neighbourhood where I work, but you only get the chance to take photos when you’re a tourist.

After the temple we headed to Xiamen Uni which is just next door. What shocked us was that there was a security block outside the campus and we weren’t allowed in as ‘the campus was not open to tourists’. @_@ It’s just ridiculous – I’ve never heard of such a rule in other unis. We could have made up some excuse to get in, but what’s the point – it’s not really that attractive a place anyway! So we took a taxi back, and explored some old side streets in the neighbourhood. It’s interesting how the busiest street is actually quite close to some really local alleys with lots of weird stuff. That’s the real Xiamen, and we were happy to have explored the area.

After the brief exploration we had lunch in a Hakka resto I found online just yesterday; we thought we needed a more decent meal before we go back. The resto was not disappointing – it’s a proper resto, at the very least. The food was finally ‘normal’, and we finally didn’t have to bear with super oily MSG food! Of course I’m not so naïve to think that there’s no MSG used, but at least it tasted better. One of the dishes, chicken marinated in wine and salt(鹽酒河田雞), actually tasted like something my dad would make at home with granny’s rice wine! :) It’s the best dish in the whole meal. We also had Hakka-style stuffed bean curds(客家釀豆腐), which were pretty random, some unidentified veggies, and stewed fish and bean curds(黃骨魚燜豆腐), which was flavourful but a bit too salty to my liking. You can’t say it’s a good resto but it’s already one of the better places we’ve been to!

Yesterday on Gulangyu we did have other interesting food. We had bianshi (扁食, some Taiwanese wonton?, a miniature version of dumplings), longsuyanruan (龍鬚燕丸, some other kind of dumplings with a long tail…), maci (麻餈, hand-made sweet dumplings), jinbaoyin (金包銀, some dumpling again made with ‘ou-fen’ skin and with stuffing made with winter mushrooms, bamboo shoots and some other stuff), fish balls, oyster cake, tusundong (土筍凍, some kind of jelly made with WORMS!), shaoxiancao (燒仙草, grass jelly with beans, barley and some ‘QQ’), and bean paste cakes. It sounds like a lot but it’s nothing compared to street food found in Taiwan or Hong Kong!!!

We decided to go back to Gulangyu before leaving, just to kill the time we had. It’s sooooo crowded since it’s a Saturday. We just wandered around to take more photos, and went to the famous western-style cafe Zhang San Feng to have the highly celebrated milk tea. Turned out the place and the drink were both so-so – the milk tea was nothing special, just normal milk tea with some raisins and cornflakes. @_@ It definitely doesn’t live up to its name! We finished the trip with a final visit to a grass jelly drink store. I quite like the very chewy ‘QQ’ inside!

Our final taxi ride was to the airport. The taxi driver’s very nice and told us to take the Huandaolu route as ‘it is a sightseeing spot’, he claimed, and on the way he introduced other spots around to us. It’s indeed quite a nice end to the trip.

Just now we were reflecting on the trip, and here’s a little conclusion: Xiamen’s definitely got a long way to go to be comparable to Shenzhen or even Guangzhou, but it’s a place full of possibilities and opportunities. Just the islet Gulangyu is a pretty easy place to start a business – coffee shops like Babycat, Miss Zhao’s Shop, Zhang San Feng are not hard to clone, and it appears to be a super easy way to make big money actually. :P But Xiamen as a whole lacks places of interest, so I don’t think I’ll visit again!

Hongkeng & Tianluokeng earth house clusters, Xiamen, Fujian

Excerpts from my 'offline blog'

8th April 2010


...we visited two other clusters today, the Hongkeng cluster (of which the agent Mr Lin’s earth house is a part) and the Tianluokeng cluster. The day really wasn’t that interesting, partly because of the rain, and partly because these clusters are already quite commercialised. The ground floor of many of the houses have already been converted into shops, and many of the units in the houses have become guesthouses. You feel a lot less voyeuristic (and guilty), but the life of the people that is part of the tulou culture is also lost. The fact that it kept on pouring didn’t help, and we were eager to finish visiting all the spots. It’s a pity, though, that the heavy fog prevented us from seeing the panoramic view of the Tianluokeng cluster, which is also nicknamed ‘Four Dishes and One Soup’ because the cluster resembles dishes on a table.

We left Yongding around noon and headed back to Xiamen. It took us three hours, and it’s another bumpy and tiring trip. @_@ We didn’t have lunch, as planned, as we were really quite fed up with the MSG food. We were really relieved when we arrived at the hotel, the historical four-star (so-called) hotel Lujiang. The hotel’s location is unbeatable, as it’s right next to the ferry pier overlooking Gulangyu islet. The hardware was pretty disappointing though. The staff was unfriendly, unhelpful, inflexible, unprofessional (they didn’t know a really famous resto that we wanted to book). Basically it proved once again that if you’re paying the same hefty price, you really should go for an international chain instead! At least this is the case in China!

Xiamen the city is also quite disappointing. I thought Zhongshan Road and the surrounding area would be quite happening as it’s supposedly the downtown in Xiamen. How untrue this is! The streets were eerily quiet, and there were lots of malls with no shoppers inside. As S said, it’s even worse than Guangzhou! @_@ We couldn’t even find a proper resto for a good meal, something we had been deprived of in the past two days. We ended up in a food court in the hope that we could find some Xiamen street food. Needless to say, the meal was rubbish. *sigh*

Hukeng earth house cluster, Fujian

Excerpts from my 'offline blog'

7th April 2010


Our first stop after lunch was the Hukeng tulou cluster. We were told business was very busy the previous few days, as Hong Kongers were having their public holidays. If that’s really the case then it’s a really big contrast! There was no other tourist the whole time we were there. The entrance fee for us was RMB 40, a ‘discounted price’ from the original RMB 50, and it covers all the Hukeng earth houses. The first two or three were quite interesting, but after that it felt a bit repetitive, as most of those earth houses are more or less the same. Of course, some (and the most famous ones) are all circular, while there are also rectangular ones.

I actually felt quite bad while visiting the Hukeng tulou cluster. It’s a comparatively less touristy cluster, and a lot of people are still living in the houses. When we were visiting I felt like a voyeur who’s disturbing those people’s lives. Most of the residents were expressionless when they saw us, and they were not particularly friendly, which is totally understandable, and that made me feel worse. I think we might be paying to see these places which are homes of these people who have no say about who can visit. They might not have received any benefits at all. A lot of these people are really living their lives there, many of them cooking and preserving bamboo shoots, which I guess is for sale elsewhere (Xiamen perhaps?). They were not performing for tourists, which is the case in a lot of ‘cultural villages’.

We ended up not going into all of the Hukeng earth houses, as some didn’t seem too interesting. It did take us quite some time (about two hours) to visit the Hukeng cluster. Then we headed back to the guesthouse booked with the agent, which was really worse than what I expected. It’s not a proper place to stay in terms of basic amenities and cleanliness, though it cost only RMB 120 with an en-suite bathroom. The agent we had contacted before the trip turned out to be a pretty cunning man, which is not surprising, and his staff (all his relatives) only had money in their eyes. They tried to charge us RMB 120 for a chicken (think about where we were!). Do we really look that dumb? We eventually had dinner outside, near the ‘Tulou King’ Chengqi Lou, at RMB 32 for two. @_@ Then, with the help of the agent’s sister, we went inside the ‘Tulou King’ to take some night shots. The atmosphere’s quite nice and she’s quite nice in taking us inside for free.

We were worried that we would have to eat with them the next day, so we bought some apples and biscuits. I also bought some Hakka-style dried cabbage (mui choy) for my parents, as they kept on reminding me before the trip to get ‘as much as possible’. The Hakka-style dried cabbage cannot be found in Hong Kong, as the preserved cabbage found in Hong Kong is an altogether different kind and it’s no match to the Hakka ones!!!

Monday, 5 April 2010

3 Idiots

I hadn't seen a very good film for a long time (A Single Man is only pretty good), and yesterday 3 Idiots made my day.

It's soooooo hilarious I laughed my head off! Not joking. But it's not a no-brainer, as a lot of the funny stuff in there is actually meaningful, and there are lots of moving episodes too. The friendship between the 3 'idiots' is so great it is enough to drive them to do the craziest of things. In life, are there such friendships?

I like how Rancho talks about his belief that the heart is scared all the time and we need to fool it when there are difficulties or uncertainties. He constantly rubs his chest and says 'All is well' whenever a problem pops up.

'Indeed,' I thought then.

Spring has come...or not?

It's still quite chilly here in my city. Yes, I mean Hong Kong. :) What the Chinese say does have some validity in it: 'Don't store your winter clothes until you've eaten the May dumplings' (I hope you do get what it means!). But everywhere you see new clothes for spring!

Making dinner

I'm pretty good in picking up cooking. Well, at least that's what I think. I rather enjoy the process of thinking about what to make, grocery shopping in markets / supermarkets (a lot of times the menu changes when I'm shopping, especially when I'm in a market with lots of choices), cleaning the veggies, cutting them, cooking...and eating. :) Things don't always work out and we've had quite a few times of despicable food (S's always very lenient and encouraging), but the interest hasn't faded yet. :) It's got me thinking I may actually make a good housewife, as I like cooking and I don't hate quite a number of chores (please don't ask me what chores I don't like, the list is still a bit long).

Yesterday we cooked a meal for our parents. I invited my parents on a whim when I ate at home one night, and my mum's face glowed when I asked. I'm pretty sure she didn't really anticipate my cooking, or thought she's going to have some gourmet food. :P My dad was equally happy when I brought it up later, and so it's fixed - we would have an 'Easter meal' at my place on Saturday.

Basically my schedule for Saturday was: get up, make lunch, eat lunch, prepare for dinner (last-minute shopping, lots of washing and cutting...), cook dinner, eat dinner. After the parents were gone, S said, 'It took us 9 hours to have this meal.'

Nine hours. Wow. I didn't realise that, but I do know we actually started the prep work the day before - I went to buy a chicken and had it marinated. It's a surprisingly horrible process, as it's the first time we bought a whole chicken and it's still got its head, giblets and feet. @_@ Well, I don't want to mention how nerve-wrecking it was getting it 'done', as it still makes me sick. Go to my facebook album 'Horror film' if you're interested.

Still, I think it's rather fun cooking. Sometimes I have no idea how things would end up when I'm following recipes (or rather, not following most of the time!), so there's always a nice surprise. And I like these surprises.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Boredom is...bliss

It's the third day of my Easter break and I'm having the time of my life doing absolutely nothing. Getting up at noon, getting lunch (either cooking or going out), reading magazines, cleaning the flat, cooking dinner, surfing the net or reading magazines again...what a life! I haven't started on the work I should be doing but I'm a happy procrastinator. :)

One bad thing about public holidays is that it's so crowded everywhere and you don't get what you normally do. A case at point: originally we were going to have sushi lunch at Festival Walk, but we knew we would have to wait ages to get a table, so we went to Pizza Express instead. Their menu's pretty extensive, the food's decent, and curiously there's rarely a queue (while its neighbour Simply Life always has a queue though the food's far from great). However the food we had today at PE was quite disappointing. The dough balls were cold, the salad was bland (perhaps we should have gone for our usual one), the pizza was a new entry in the menu but it's a pretty disappointing one (meatballs on pizza - and the meatballs taste exactly like the meat used to make sausage mcmuffin). Usually meals at PE are nothing special but decent; today it was far from that. The saving grace is probably the really nice and polite Singaporean (we guess) waiter!
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