Monday, 31 January 2011

Senescent beauties

My posts have been far too urban of late. There's been concrete in excess and hardly a plant to be seen. It's a shame, because nature and buildings can mix beautifully, if they are allowed to do so.
These elegant houses near Fanling are a case in point.

The Hong Kong countryside is sprinkled with these beautiful decrepit gems, usually glimpsed through masses of untended foliage. I'm convinced that the only reason I'm not a novelist is because I don't live in one!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Shoppers repent!

Just like shopping malls, there are several categories of supermarkets here, ranging from the kind in a basement where the shop floor itself is used as a warehouse, to the kind with roomy aisles and fruit and veg in wicker baskets. Near my flat, there is one of each, so I use both, depending on whether I need to get food staples or something a bit fancy and European, like wholemeal pasta or creme fraiche. Although I split my food shopping about 50-50 between these two stores, I don't need to tell you at which I end up spending the most money.

In the UK, this category of upmarket supermarket (poshmarket) is similarly pricey and spacious. However, the image of these UK supermarkets, (and indeed their justification for steep price tags) is based not simply on quality, but also on a responsible, organic, or generally 'local' food ethos. And if the produce is from abroad, well, it looks really really authentic, (you can almost smell the llamas) and it's fairtrade too, so that cancels out the carbon footprint guilt. The supermarket I'm thinking of even has its own glossy magazine featuring interviews with smiling, weather-worn, soil-smudged growers, and food photography pitched at that irresistible spot between natural and mouthwatering.  Poshmarket customers pay for good food and peace of mind.

The Hong Kong equivalent isn't, actually - the comparison ends after the price and decor. Because  poshmarkets here are quite the oposite of ethical, responsible, or related notions designed to comfort the western middle class. Here, you'll see perfect pears wearing individual polystyrene skirts. You'll see special onions from Japan (that look exactly like ordinary onions.) You'll see enormous Chinese chicken breasts which don't look like they got that big by gambolling in the fields. And on every shelf, you'll also see the little flags, proudly announcing where the item has been flown in from. It's almost telling you to calculate the kerosene budget:

Another poshmarket enthusiastically flaunts this element in its advertising poster:
In Hong Kong, buying imported food isn't seen as irresponsible; on the contrary, it represents quality, especially if the items come from Europe or Japan. The territory is so small that it needs to import most products anyway, so hey, what are a few extra air miles if it means one can have chorizo? The supermarket shelves suggest that ethical shopping is still a minority trend here. Tastes are sophisticated, but morals less so (my own included).

In an ideal world, I'd have a house on Lantau Island and grow my own food in the garden. In the meantime, I'm still shopping at the poshmarket and doing my bit to destroy the planet whenever I get cravings for camembert.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The quantum physics of workspaces

With well over 6000 people per square kilometre on average, (and up to an incredible 53000/km2 in some urban areas) it is unsurprising that Hong Kong's population density is 4th highest in the world.  In the city, living and working space is therefore precious. No nook is wasted, as demonstrated by the two estate agencies below.

The Wedge (in an an acute angle between two shops, Shau Kei Wan):
The Broom cupboard (Quarry Bay):
taking the phrase 'claustrophobic office' to an entirely new level.

(What I wonder is, is the size of the agency directly correlated to the size of the flat you get?)

Monday, 17 January 2011

Milvus migrans

I don't have a back garden in which to watch birds, but the aerobatics of the black kites outside my window make up for it.
Sadly, I haven't snapped a rare gem. These easy-to-spot Hong Kong raptors are actually the most abundant birds of prey in the world.
Still, they're cooler than blackbirds, as far as window-birdwatching goes, don't you think?

Now for the answers to my earlier post, what's in a name:

Fairwood, despite its garden-centre overtones, orange colour scheme and leaping man logo is actually a fast-food chain. Vanguard's logo design hints at the petrochemical but in fact it's just a local supermarket. The visual identities of these two always strike me as off-kilter... as if I'll step into Fairwood and get a personalised fitness regime or into Vanguard and pay for a full tank... actually maybe that's the point.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

In preparation of the coming of the rabbit

Chinese New Year is in less than three weeks' time! If it wasn't for the subtle shift in colour scheme (less green, as much red, more gold) I wouldn't have thought Christmas was over at all. In fact, according to the shops here, 'tis the season to be merry from October through to February (leaving a mere 7 non-festive months in which to be hot, instead.)

Aside from the decorations, there are other preparatory goings on.
A spot of shape-shifting (eyelids blinking and ears a-flapping) in Luk Tei Tong (near Mui Wo):

and the appearance of the obligatory well-wishing-cum-promotional posters from local manufacturers: this picture, sadly dispelling the myth that ads on the MTR are changed by elves overnight. (He definitely was not an elf since he displayed an un-elfish lack of festive spirit by refusing to give us the old poster!)

I'll give the answers about Fairwood and Vanguard next time.

Friday, 14 January 2011

What's in a name?

Before coming to HK I was unfamiliar with these local brands.
If you, too, haven't seen them before, (and preferably don't read Chinese) have a guess at what they might be:

A. Fast-food chain
B. Catalogue shop
C. Outdoor/sportswear label
D. Gym

A. Detergent
B. Petrol station
C. Toothpaste
D. Supermarket

Scroll up two posts for the answers! Or click here.
By the way, in the last post, the two people were wheeling the remains of a piano along the road.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Trolley dollies

There's a recycling business round the corner from where I live, and I often see diminutive grannies heading that way, pushing trolleys piled high with cardboard along the pavement. I imagine they only get a few dollars in exchange for the waste items they've spent the day collecting. But in this city of short distances, trolleys are used for manoeuvering all sorts of junk.

Can you guess what it is these two are wheeling? (Answer in this post)

And sometimes, trolleys and kerbs don't mix:

To see some beautiful cases of trolley (well, technically tricycle) overloading in China, click here.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Magma pizza

Happy New Year!
These chums seem to be having one.
I wonder how they plan to celebrate it?
But of course, the new creation from Hong Kong Pizza Hut, with the trademark anything-and-everything on top.
What could be the name of this masterpiece?*

Look out for the B-movie tie-in featuring Etna and all the right ingredients at a screen near you soon!

*literal translation: scallop volcano pie, which actually sounds fun. I think PR were trying a bit too hard to terrify.