Hong Kong Diary 3b: Temple Street Night Market

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Temple Street Night Market is an icon of Hong Kong, a mecca for hardcore shoppers and foodies alike – and as the name says, it only opens at night.  Good news for us, as we wanted to shoot the night lights and atmosphere.  Arriving at our hotel from Shau Kei Wan, we spent a while at the harborside promenade shooting the Symphony of Lights again, then took an hour’s much-needed rest; not only had we walked all day, we had to come back during the rush hour and so spent the entire train ride on our feet. 

Did I mention we were tigerishly hungry?  No?  Well, whatever the condition of your appetite when you enter the Night Market, be assured that it will be in excruciatingly hyperactive mode within minutes of wandering in!  A whole section of the market is devoted to streetside dining, where just about anything edible seems available in just about any Chinese style of cuisine.  Soy-basted ducks and geese hung on racks everywhere, live groupers and other fish swam in aquariums, pails or basins along with lobsters and fat crabs, and there were plates of beautiful shellfish everywhere.  Unless you totally hate Chinese cuisine, it’d be impossible not to find something to your taste here.

Cat and I finally decided on a place to eat, not so much by the menu as by the fact that the waiter spoke English.  One thing about dining here: have an idea already what you want to eat! There’s a great throng of people waiting to be seated, and any hesitation is taken as a sinful waste of time by the busy restaurateurs.  I took matters into my own hands and ordered something I thought we’d both like, as well as feeding my spice addiction: a dish of crispy Szechuan-style chicken.  The dish arrived smothered with crunchy bits of fried garlic and dried red chilies, steaming hot and with a fragrance that might’ve been detected by the wolves in Mongolia.  And yes, it was that good.

Dining at the Temple Street restaurants as a couple however is not the optimal way to do things.  Far better to come here as a family or troop of friends, for only thus can you order a wider variety of dishes.  We discovered the table beside ours was occupied by a Filipino extended family; at first we had no idea, as they were just so busy munching on a profusion of seafoods that I couldn’t make out what they were saying.  Then a waiter walked between our tables carrying a crab dish that made both me and the guy nearest me on that table exclaim in Tagalog.  Voila! Instead friends!  And yes, they did call the waiter over on his way back to order the same crab dish for themselves.  Another nod to Pinoy pride: a lot of diners, including many Caucasians, were washing down their vittles with golden San Miguel beer.  What can I say? Good food deserves good beer.


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The Night Market is also a great place to shop for Chinese handicrafts as well as toys, watches, jewelry and other gewgaws, provided you’re prepared to wade through a crowd and haggle aggressively.  I was prepared to do neither, having in fact not an iota of inclination for shopping, but I did want photos of the merchandise.  It was challenging to squeeze in and find a space to shoot, and even more challenging to get a stable shot what with people bumping me from every direction, but I did manage a few.   It was near midnight when we got back to our hotel, tired, but very happy with our experience.

Hong Kong Diary 3a: Victoria Peak, Shau Kei Wan


Day 3 of our Hong Kong escapade began as the previous days, with no sunrise but just an increasing level of brightness filtering through the overcast.  Nevertheless, we decided to push through with the planned outing to Tai Ping Shan, formerly known as Victoria Peak.  I have to say I do like Tai Ping Shan better – sounds more picturesque.  On the way from Kowloon to the Hong Kong side, I found a shot that would perfectly illustrate the conditions for the day: this vividly painted ferry was almost the only spot of color amid the gray seas and skies.


As we waited to board the historic tram going up Hong Kong’s highest peak, I took the opportunity to lean over the rails and get this perspective shot.  This is where I got to really appreciate the hilliness of Hong Kong’s terrain – from the very start the tram’s tracks were already at a dizzying, almost 30-degree incline. 

_MG_5995 I was also very glad that Cat and I had visited the HK Museum of Art before the Tai Ping Shan outing.  Had we not done so, I might’ve spent most of the time on the peak moping about the lack of sun.  Instead, I found myself eagerly looking forward to working the fog into my photos.  Inspired by the minimalist yet highly evocative ink paintings I had seen, I again set my camera to Monochrome and overexposed most of my shots  by a stop or more.  Hiking the peaceful trails leading down the slope from the Peak station let me discover some nicely layered landscapes, which I tried to capture in the Chinese painting style. 

_MG_6007 The atmosphere of the fogbound trail was great; some say fog saps the spirit, but I found rather that going into the mist came with a strong sense of adventure.  What lies beyond the bend? I have no idea! That’s why I want to go there!

_MG_6061 _MG_6028 I had meant to work in black and white throughout my trail walk, but as I rounded a bend I was faced with this exquisitely textured wall of moss-covered rock.  I looked out over the fog-bound hillside, saw that I’d already gotten the best angles as far as I could see, and so wistfully set my camera back to color mode.  Another lesson from the Nan Lian Garden; be as the bamboo, Grasshopper, and shoot your surroundings the way they’re asking to be shot.

When at last Cat and I were ready to leave the Peak station, we made our way to Shau Kei Wan.  Our research had indicated this was a fishing village.  Ha ha. No more fishing village.  The galloping pace of Hong Kong’s real estate development had gotten there before our online guides could update their info, it seems, but we did find an older, cosier commercial area that again lent itself well to being shot in monochrome.  The people were kindly and took with amusement to our shooting everything, some even posing with a glee that felt almost Filipino.  I was only asked to desist once, when I entered a roadside shrine.  In respect to their religious taboos, I bowed and shut off my camera. 



We made our way to the waterfront, where we found fleets of sampans plying the Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter as taxis and fishing boats.  The smartly dressed passengers on this water taxi, talking into her snazzy new cellphone as the boat came in to dock, was so iconic of the continuity of culture here that I just had to shoot them.   By this time Cat and I were getting rather footsore and hungry, so we headed back for the nearest MTR station for the long trip back to Kowloon.

Hong Kong Diary 2: Meditations at the Nan Lian Gardens

Monday, February 22, 2010

_MG_5871 I had high hopes for our shoot in the Nan Lian Gardens, and I was not to be disappointed.  This despite waking up to a cold, foggy morning, so hazy I couldn’t even see the top of the building next to ours.  As we ate breakfast, though, I was treated to a wildlife drama right out of Nat Geo right outside our window; a falcon making a kill!  I’d noted the raptors patrolling over our hotel since our arrival, but never saw one up close.  Now as I sipped my morning coffee my eye was drawn to a flicker of rapid movement outside. 

I looked out just in time to see a panicked pigeon swerve into a window bay, zooming up inches from the glass, with a falcon in hot pursuit.  But the pigeon made a fatal mistake, underestimating the falcon’s climb – it zoomed above the pigeon, folded its wings, then dropped like an avenging angel.  I of course was hooting and cheering like an English football fan, while Cat, still without her contacts, saw nothing but brown blurs.  Ah well.  I took the sight as an omen for the rest of the day, and I was right.

_MG_5710The Nan Lian Gardens, we found, were located right beside the Chi Lin Nunnery, and was easily reached by taking the MTR from Tsimshatsui Station to Diamond Hill, with a change of train along the way.  I lost a few dollars here though, as I failed to realize that you could change train without having to exit the station; we bought a ticket to Mong Kok, planning to buy tickets again to get to Diamond Hill, but as it turned out we could’ve gotten a ticket for the whole trip several dollars cheaper.  Oh well, it’s called learning. 

The gardens were a revelation.  Only the tall buildings peeking above the garden’s surrounding trees betrayed the presence of modern Hong Kong outside.  Within, winding paths led around a tranquil little artificial lake with pagodas, artfully arranged rocks, and enormous, languid koi.  All around were exquisitely shaped and trimmed pine trees, flowering plants, and bamboos.  There were no sounds of street traffic to be heard, only the calls of birds, the gentle gurgle of falling water, and soft instrumental Chinese music.  _MG_5705

The sensation of entering the garden was exactly like that of plunging into the waters over a coral reef – from a world of noise and chaos into a welcoming blanket of utter harmony.  The incredible Zen of the place seeped through the very soles of my feet and through my hands into my camera.  I soon lost sight of Cat as I went into a kind of meditative trance, walking, absorbing, shooting. _MG_5718I found this waterwheel that reminded me of the scene from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, moving me to set my camera to Monochrome mode.  From there I wandered into an enclosure housing some rock-and-sand arrangements reminiscent of the Ryoan-ji in Kyoto (which I swear to visit someday).  More black and white, naturally, and I found my light lying prone on the floor to get my shot.  A guard spoke to me in Cantonese, which of course I couldn’t understand, so he told me in English I wasn’t allowed to do that.  He was very courteous, far from the brusqueness I’d been told to expect from the Hong Kong Chinese. 

_MG_5813After shooting the sand gardens, I got very absorbed studying the ancient textures of the bonsai outside.  Rather than shoot the bonsai as a whole, I dug into the textures and the way the light was playing on them for my subject matter.  I had the luck to have the sun coming out at just this time – the only time I’d see the sun on the whole 4-day trip. 

With the sun out, I decided to see if I could get another shot of the golden pagoda. I ran out just in time to catch the sun’s glints on the gilded surface, after which the cloud cover closed again, and stayed that way the rest of the day.  There was still no sign of Cathy; I was sure she was lost in the same blissful state as I.  I found I was now at the bridge leading to the Chi Lin temple complex itself, so I went in and took some shots of the architecture.  Then, feeling hungry, I went to look for Cat.

_MG_5783 _MG_5867_MG_5863 Cat of course wanted to shoot in the temple too, so we decided to delay lunch in favor of doing a few more shots.  That eventually took another two hours, during which I rested a bit and shot a few more details of the temple’s architecture.  Sadly, photography was forbidden inside the main temple.  Too bad, as I’d seen a beautifully lighted statue of Sakyamuni within, and the sounds of chanting betrayed the presence of monks that I also would’ve wanted to shoot.  Well, this was their place, and if they say no shoot, I’ll respect that.  

We headed back for the train station, which was fortuitously located right by the Hollywood Plaza mall.  Cat and I were both absolutely ravenous by then, so it was into the mall first for lunch. I could tell Cat was really hungry – normally it’s her role to steer me away from expensive-looking places, but now she would stop at every restaurant we saw and ask if I thought it was a good place to eat.  Good thing the Zen harmony I’d absorbed in the gardens was still with me, as I was able to resist and coax her into the food court.  Cat got a Japanese curry, while I, recalling the dumplings from the previous night, got myself some more Shanghai noodles and xiao long bao.


We’d originally planned to do the Nan Lian and the Yuen Po Bird Garden in the same day, but by the time we finished eating it was 4pm and getting even more darkly overcast.   We finally decided to postpone the birds, and instead shopped in the Hollywood Plaza for digital photo frames for our parents.  We caught the train back to Tsimshatsui Station at 5pm, and found Cat’s brother Martin resting at the hotel.  After a brief rest ourselves, we all trooped out to the harborside to shoot the signature night skyline on the Hong Kong side and await the Symphony of Lights show.

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The fog never let up, so thick that we couldn’t see the top quarter of the famous Bank of China building.  I also saw that it would greatly diffuse and brighten the lights, so I made sure to underexpose a bit.  I liked the golden cast I got using a Cloudy white balance setting, then switched to Sunny and a faster shutter speed for the laser show. 

It was cold, almost Europe-cold to me thanks to the wind chill factor, and damp.  I could only imagine what Cat was feeling, as Cat doesn’t have a high tolerance for cold.  I found out soon enough; as soon as the light show was over, Cat clapped her icy hands over my ears.  I yelped.  No, I shrieked.  Like a little goosed girl.  Laughing, we headed back to the commercial district for hot noodles.  Lots of hot noodles.

Hong Kong Diary 1: Hong Kong Here We Come!

_MG_5635Hong Kong.  While most of us Pinoys know it as Asia’s mega-shopping center, home to Disneyland and Ocean Park, Cat and I were able to discover and immerse ourselves in its quintessentially, timelessly and truly Chinese side, thanks to a bit of online research.

When Cat announced that her dad was planning to bring the entire family to Hong Kong for a four-day holiday, the very first question in our minds was, ‘All right, everyone and their grandmother has shots of Hong Kong, so what will we shoot?’  Okay, I’ll have to admit that was the second question in my head -- the first being ‘What dimsum do they have there that I haven’t tasted yet here, and where do I find them?’.  So we researched.  Three destinations quickly became of prime importance: the Nan Lian Gardens and the Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery to which it was attached, the Temple Street night market, and the Yuen Po Bird Garden.  All were on the Kowloon side, which was also where we had booked our hotel. 

Speaking of hotels, ours, the YMCA Salisbury, far exceeded our expectations and had the perfect location for us independent adventurers.  First, it was near the Hong Kong Cultural Center and two museums, the HK Space Museum and the HK Museum of Art, and beyond them, a fine harborside promenade.  Second, it was a literal hop skip and jump away from a shopping and dining district, and third, it was another hop skip and jump from the MTR subway stations.  As if that wasn’t good enough, the accommodations were surprisingly cozy; we had come in expecting a typical YMCA dorm, and found a pretty posh room waiting for us.

_MG_5605Arriving on a Wednesday as we did, we decided to spend our first day taking advantage of Hong Kong’s free museum day.  First, however, was the matter of lunch.  We walked to a nearby mall, passing some rather interesting signs along the way (grin), and ended up in the mall’s basement food court.  Having a camera with me, I of course ended up shooting some stuff before deciding what to eat.  Inevitably, it was dimsum.


It was past 2pm when we finished with lunch, and from there we walked to the museum row. We had originally planned to hit three museums, but the Museum of Art had so much fascinating stuff we wound up staying there the whole afternoon.  There was a great collection of art there, from the earliest dynasties right up to the present.  I was particularly enthralled by the samples of classical Chinese ink paintings, the visions of which would later inspire my black and whites at Tai Ping Shan.  On exiting, I was struck by the beautiful lighting on this statue of Kwan Yin; it’s not every day that a literal goddess deigns to pose for you, so I of course shot her. 


As we  left the Museum of Art, we took a quick look across the harbor hoping the foggy conditions we had arrived to would clear in time for the nightly Symphony of Lights; alas, no such luck.  In fact we would see the sun only once during our four-day stay.  Off to dinner then, with the entire family at the Crystal Jade restaurant in the Harbour Centre.  As we went in I found the mall all decked out in preparation for the coming Lunar New Year.


We had Shanghai-style thick noodles, xiao long bao dumplings, sweet and sour fish, a fried rice dish with multiple kinds of grain, and this dish of steamed cauliflower and broccoli.  Everything was so good, it disappeared before I could shoot it! At least Cat snagged this veggie dish for me so I could go at it.  White balance was a bit difficult in the restaurant’s mixed lighting, but there was some nice hard light broken up by some nice metal bead hangings, which gave my dish good highlights.

_MG_8088The big winner for the evening however was the xiao long bao.  These ‘small steamer dumplings’ packed minced pork and herbs and an absolutely heavenly dollop of broth in their dough wrappers.  I liked them so much I decided I had to have them again before we left Hong Kong.

Cat and I ended our first night in Hong Kong  doing the exact same thing we did on our very first date – we spent the time shooting.  I let Cathy have the tripod, so nearly all the shots taken that night were hers.  A perfect evening, doing exactly what we love most.

Immortal Fish, Phosphor Bubbles

Friday, December 4, 2009


These fish will never go hungry, never dig up the gravel and cloud the water, never poop and never die.  Because they’re 3D digital constructs, that’s why!

This is a sample of Dream Aquarium, a virtual aquarium screensaver – and apparently one of myriads available nowadays.  As someone who likes to stare into an aquarium especially when I get writers’ block, having a digital aquarium right on my desktop is a nifty and relaxing convenience, without the problems of a real aquarium. 

Yes, I’ll never have the satisfaction of seeing my fish grow or breed, but on the other hand I won’t have to clean the glass, nor worry about the Ph of the water, or who’ll feed my pets when I go out of town.  I won’t have to worry that the new fish I introduced considers my current tank residents part of the menu or vice versa, or that Fish A likes its water acidic and Fish B likes it alkaline.  And these Archer Fish will never shoot out the lights – I’ve seen  that happen once with a real archer fish, it spotted a bug on the light bulb and zzzap! No more lights. 

Best of all, though, I’m not encouraging anyone to damage the coral reefs. Given my requirements and lifestyle, this virtual aquarium thing seems to be just the ticket for me.  If there’s just one thing I wish Dream Aquarium had, it would be the option to have saltwater fish models and a coral reef-themed tank.

Kublai’s Rock

Monday, November 23, 2009

07 exterior copyOnce upon a time, the great warlord Genghis Khan asked his generals, ‘What is best in life?’

One hulking northern barbarian said, ‘To crush your enemies, drive them before you, and hear the lamentation of their women!’

But wise Kublai, grandson of Genghis, said, ‘Wrong! What is best in life is a mug of ice-cold beer in the hand, great food in the belly, and rock music in the ear!’  And Genghis had to say, ‘That is good.’

08 interior copyThat hulking barbarian is some kind of Governator now, with all the woes of California sitting heavy on his troubled brow, but wise old Kublai rocks on at Kublai’s Rock, a hip and cozy restaurant and bar at the Magallanes commercial center in Makati.  Kublai’s Rock offers a well-stocked bar, an equally well-stocked Mongolian barbecue buffet – which is what Cat and I always have when we’re there – and a new discovery for us, some great ala carte dishes as well.

What can I say about the food? As soon as the dishes started coming out, Cat practically had to beat me off them with a stick to make me shoot them instead of tucking in right away! We got to shoot and sample five of Kublai’s signature dishes; the best-selling Barbarian Burger, excellent beer companions in the Spicy Chorizo Sisig and Seafood Combo, the very filling and tender KR Kababs, and even one for the health in the form of bite-size Laing.

03 barbarian burger copy

The Barbarian Burger is huge, easily the equivalent of three or four burgers from the major fastfood chains, and much beefier – in all senses of the word!  Truly something to satisfy an appetite gone berserk, by Crom! As if the burger wasn’t hefty enough, it comes with a side of thick-cut fries and crunchy onion rings.

02 chorizo sisig copyThe Chorizo Sisig was a sweet-and-spicy dish, basically skinless sausage in the Fil-Hispanic style – garlicky and peppery, just the way I like it – served on a sizzling plate with a topping of onion rings and sliced chilies.  Classic beer food, but I could have this for breakfast!

01 seafood combo copyThe sisig also went well with the Seafood Combo, another sizzling plate dish, this time of squid rings, shrimps and I believe clams, fried in tomato paste and spices then served topped with melted cheese.  Really rich and filling!

04 laing copyWith all these treats, the Laing made a very welcome side of vegetables.  Kublais’ Rock presents this classic Pinoy dish in an intriguingly new way, as bite-size rolls of taro leaves cooked in and topped with a rich, thick coconut cream sauce and garnished with red chilies.  My tastebuds having suffered permanent damage in India (grin), I would’ve welcomed even more of the chili garnish here. 

05 kabab copyFor Cat and I, the great star of the evening was the Kublai’s Rock Kababs.  Thick chunks of beef, pork and chicken grilled on skewers with mushrooms, green bell peppers, onions and tomatoes, and served with a sort of rice pilaf, this dish alone could easily satisfy two rather light eaters.  The meat was very tender and with a light, herby-peppery-smokey flavor that’ll make you scream for either of two things: Rice! or Beer! Me, I would’ve wanted both …

As the Governator said: I’ll be back.

Kublais’ Rock is open from 5:00pm to 2:00am every day, and frequently hosts viewings of major sports events where patrons can watch the action on their three widescreen plasma TVs.  Belgian beers are now also available at the bar.

Ondoy’s Insights, Part II

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

As a new storm develops off the east coast of Mindanao, threatening to bring more rains to flood-wracked Manila, I’ve been forced to think of how I should deal with future emergencies.  While my house came off OK, my street is in a low-lying area and we’re in a cul de sac that’s easily cut off by flooding. Water came within 2 inches of entering the house. I believe in preparing now for a flood that’s possibly worse than the last one.  And as Cat and I helped out the the CFC (Couples for Christ) center in Sucat, I also observed some things that bear thinking of for the next disaster.

Home Strategy:
I don’t quite foresee flooding here on a level with that experienced in Marikina or Cainta, as the density of houses is not as great and drainage probably better.  We have a roofdeck and my sister’s house next door is roomy and has a 2nd storey; no problem with where to run. My main problems will be isolation, as the floodwaters block the street, and loss of electricity over a period of several days. 

Solutions: lay in a stock of canned food and bottled water good for 2-3 days at least, draw up a checklist of what needs to be done/stuff to be moved should floodwaters enter the house, have some clothes ready packed, have a first aid kit with lots of disinfectant (for injuries, and if I have to wade out/in). That’s done. (Is this kind of planning easier because I’m a gamer? I think so. Games make you think strategically, and I think that’s as valuable as stuff you learn in college.)

Observations on Relief Program at CFC:
It was great to work with the volunteers at the CFC center, inspiring and kind of humbling to see that kind of bayanihan spirit still so vigorous.  So many donations, so many volunteers!  Filipinos do shine in adversity.  I think though that we can still improve the way we do volunteer relief work.

Item: I think we should reconsider the idea of sending flood victims instant noodle packs.  I seriously doubt if many of them have the facilities to cook or even heat water.  Same observation goes with oatmeal and rice. Perhaps we could focus on sending biscuits, and bread – stuff that people can eat without preparation or need for utensils.

I sort and pack food with the young volunteers Donating raw ingredients or stuff that needs preparation like instant noodles maybe should go to groups that are running soup kitchens.  Anton Sheker’s group also had a good idea – they prepared hardboiled eggs.  Thousands of eggs. Hardboiled eggs are a great relief food – they’re nutritious, they’re easy to eat, and they come in their own sanitary packaging.

If you’re planning to give cooked food, cook it in a way that maximizes shelf life.  You don’t know how long it will take for the food to reach the victims, so a dish that will spoil in just a few hours is sub-optimal.  The funny thing is, we Filipinos actually have the exact solution for this in our traditional culinary repertoire already! They’re called adobo and paksiw.  Cooking in vinegar practically pickles the food, letting it last for days even without refrigeration.

Item: Canned goods are only useful if they can be opened.  I wonder how many victims have can openers? Not many, I’d bet.  That’s why I told Cat to select only cans with easy-open tops for donation and for our own emergency rations.

Item: Not all PET bottles are equal.  Some brands come in relatively flimsy bottles, and we had bottles cracking and leaking as we packed them.  Bottled water for donation to relief efforts should be chosen for the sturdiness of their bottles as well as cost and quality. Also, I believe it’s far more useful to send 1-liter bottles.  Less waste afterward, for one, and more is better. 

All that plastic ... where will it end up?Item: Next time, perhaps advisories could be sent to would-be donors on what is appropriate to donate, and to sort the items to be given.  One of the overwhelming tasks facing the volunteers was the need to sort the great piles of clothing donated into packages by user – adult males, adult females, male children, female children.  Next I donate clothes I’ll put my shirts in one bag, shorts and pants in another, and Cathy will do the same with her items.]

The mountainous task of sorting clothes

Item: I think we could also have used more coordination.  One of the things local governments or homeowners’ associations can do in the future is to hold seminars on dealing with disaster, both as victims and as aid volunteers.  The people at the center were actually getting swamped with the number of donations and volunteers. 

If team leaders had been assigned to each task/area we could have been much more efficient.  I got assigned to pack food and water, and I was able to speed things up by organizing the young volunteers into an assembly line – A, ready the bag, B, you put in item1 and pass to C, who puts in item2, and so on until the pack is complete and ready for transport. Before I went in the kids were all over the place scrounging for items, each making up pack on their own.

Human conveyor belt!

Come to think of it, this is where training in organizations like the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts or heck, even the much-dreaded CMT could’ve been put to good use.  I remember hating my CMT with a passion – what the heck was I supposed to learn baking my brains out in the sun in formation? If they’d used the time instead to do stuff like teach us CPR, basic rescue work, swimming and water rescue techniques, team-building and leadership, stuff like that, I would’ve  been much more motivated to attend my CMT classes.

I don’t think we can deny any longer that global warming has made our weather more violent.  And it’s going to get worse before it gets better, if at all.    Best thing to do is be prepared for the next blow.

And for that lesson – thank you, Ondoy.