Archive | March, 2014

Justin Bieber in Hong Kong? Nope it’s a tubby Tory in a suit.

21 Mar

Hong Kong colonial flagI was in Beijing last week (gratuitous photo-porn post coming soon) and had the strangest experience. Everyone was actually pretty friendly. I mean, not bend-over-backwards have-a-nice-day friendly but, you know, civil. I was not shouted at, hockled on or barged out of a queue. It was a thoroughly relaxing weekend.

All of which made me think how parochial and moany Hong Kongers can be, especially on the thorny issue of mainland tourist “locusts”. I’m not saying the big city types of Beijing are representative of the entire Middle Kingdom, certainly they’re not of the tourists who swarm the streets of Tsim Tsa Chui. But Hong Kong’s NIMBY shrillness is increasingly getting on my wick.

Or at least it was, until a couple of days ago when this little rocky outcrop of 7 million people outdid itself. The occasion? Last British governor of the former colony and current BBC Trust boss Chris Patten was in town to open an exhibition at the Maritime Museum. Now we all know colonial era Hong Kong flags are increasingly being waved about by protesters a) to get on the nerves of the Communist Party b) to protest against what many see as an erosion of civil liberties, press freedom and rule of law here and c) because the Union flag is, quite frankly, a design classic. But the bizarre scenes which greeted Patten’s appearance outside the museum last night took the colonial love-in to a whole new level.

I’m pretty sure portly Patten has never received quite so rapturous a reception. He didn’t really know what to do with himself as God Save the Queen started blaring from a nearby loudspeaker and fans holding banners such as “Dear Governor Patten, we miss you so much” and shouting “we love you” jostled to get a view of the tubby Tory. Some had even waited over 3 hours to catch a glimpse of their silver haired hero, who by now presumably thinks he’s some kind of grey-suited rock star.

The irony, of course, as we’ve mentioned many times on the Noodle, is that Britain never made much of an effort while it was in charge here to transition to a system of government democratically elected by universal suffrage. On the other hand, what it did manage was to uphold those precious civil liberties pretty well. Following the recent knife attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau, two execs from the soon-to-be-launched Hong Kong Morning News were attacked in broad daylight this week by four men armed with iron bars. Hong Kong is an increasingly dangerous place to be a newspaperman.

The saddest sight during the Patten-love in for a definite article pedant like me, however, was one of the banners held up by his adoring fans. “Save us from the hell!” it read. Hmmm. I imagine another might have added: “Look what’s happened since you left us Chris. All our grammar are wrong now!”

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Best dim sum in Hong Kong? Lung King Heen

17 Mar

xiao long baoI’m glad I saved Lung King Heen till pretty late on in my Hong Kong sojourn. Like flying business class for the first time, once you’ve done it, everything seems inferior by comparison. I’d hate to have spent the past two years moping about from one ‘sub-standard’ dim sumerie to the next; bemoaning the stolid thickness of the pastry, the prosaic mediocrity of the filling and the sub-standard Ryanair-ness of the service.

As it is I’ve had a blast so far. But good dim sum is not great dim sum and Lung King Heen has brilliantly blown my carefully constructed ‘dim sum quality graph’ out of the water.

On that fateful Saturday lunchtime a fortnight ago we were escorted into a light, airy room – a picture of modest understatement (apart from the silver leaf ceiling) as befits the first and only Michelin 3 star Chinese restaurant in the world.

I’m not one to dwell on surroundings as long as the food is good, but this is one of the nicest dining rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure to park my overfed arse in. Everything from the silver-plated tea warmer to the matching dim sum basket holders, the elegant Chinese tea pots and art deco-like toothpick holders gelled effortlessly. As did the service; less obsequious than the two starred Tin Lung Heen across the harbour and only missing a beat once when we waiting 10 minutes for our menus.

I’d made my mind up to stuff as many different little treats down my cake hole as possible on that, my first and probably last visit. Cheung fan came first – the thinnest, lightest rice noodle rolls I’ve ever tasted. A scallop version slippery and singing of the sea came with a nice bamboo crunch while an earthy mushroom variety was bejewelled with finely chopped carrots and mange touts. Next came ha gao – shrimp dumplings containing huge juicy prawns entombed in ethereally thin rice flour casing. This dish is a kind of steak-frites test of a good dim sum restaurant and it passed with ease. Turnip cake came with the addition of dried scallops (conpoy) and was all the better for it, although I’d have liked the edges to be a bit more crispy.lobster dumpling

The standout dishes came later. Sea bass dumplings were filled with soft, delicate fish and, unexpectedly, chopped okra, which gave the parcels a different texture and helped bind the whole together. From the subtlety of that dumpling we then got a huge garlic kick from prawn spring rolls. Again those monster prawns, fat and juicy and this time wrapped in paper-thin deep fried wantan pastry.It was served with Worcester sauce which was a nice touch to cut through the greasiness of the dish. Xiao long bao followed, the best I’ve had outside of Din Tai Fung – thin casing, and a juicy, umami-packed porky filling, with each bao perched on its own little bamboo gazebo for easy serving.

xlb

The best we had, though, was the lobster and scallop shumai. At one piece for around HK$45 it’s not cheap but if there’s one dish you try off this menu it should be this one. Like a greatest-hits-of-the-sea shumai, juicy chunks of lobster and minced scallops came wrapped in a strange green steamed wantan case topped with another prawn – just in case lobster and scallops weren’t enough seafood for you. Sadly even my oversized gob wasn’t big enough to take this in one bite which led to some rather inelegant spoon-sawing in the basket. But it was incredible.

All told the bill came to around HK$750 with jasmine tea, which for cooking of this quality in these surroundings is not bad. I’d be back in a second but I’ve got some graph rewrites to do first.

You dirty Ho! HK lawmaker gives democracy a kick in the teeth

7 Mar

Those of you (both of you?) that regularly read this blog may detect a certain implicit distrust of the establishment and tendency to side with the underdog in many of my posts.

albert hoWell, in the interests of balance, I’ve decided to focus this week’s rant on former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho, who decided to do something rather silly during last Wednesday’s budget speech.

Having resigned his chairmanship of one of the SAR’s numerous “pan-democrat” (ie anti-Beijing/establishment) parties following poor performance in the 2012 elections, Ho is now the secretary general of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

More importantly, he’s the rather portly and well-tanned member of Legco who helped Edward Snowden escape to victory, or er, to Moscow, during the time the sysadmin was holed up here following his high profile dash from the evil US empire (ie Hawaii, where he lived in relative affluence with his pole dancing girlfriend).

62-year-old Ho, who’s an outspoken pro-democracy and universal suffrage advocate, was photographed in the chamber last week browsing through pictures of bikini-clad hotties on his tablet. All of this as finance minister John Tsang gave arguably one of the most important policy speeches of the year.

Now I’m all for lawmakers browsing the interwebs to buy gifts for their loved ones and I’m sure that all Ho was doing was looking for a nice swimsuit for his niece, or daughter, or … wife’s birthday? Or perhaps his secretary’s.

Anyway, you’ve got to play the game Albert. You can’t be on your iPad when you should be taking notes on an, albeit dreadfully dull 90 minute-long, important budget speech.

It’s what you were elected to do matey. Fannying around, almost literally, when you should be at work is the preserve not of elected politicians but those employed by social media and digital marketing companies.

Your campaigning for greater democratic accountability among Hong Kong’s leaders, including support for the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement which is pushing for true universal suffrage, has been rather undermined by the fact you couldn’t wait 90 minutes to look at some fanny.

What Ho should have been doing was taking apart Tsang and his “fiscal advisors” dire warnings that Hong Kong could face a structural deficit of HK$1.54 trillion (£115bn) by 2041, miring the place in Greek-style levels of debt.

Now Hong Kong is, I believe, the only country/state/call-it-what-you-will which actually runs a budget surplus. Yup a surplus. Every year it gravely predicts a deficit – the last fiscal year a HK$3.5bn one (£269m) – but each year lo and behold a surplus appears. This past fiscal year it was a whopping HK$64.9bn (£500m).

The reason? It makes the US seem positively generous with welfare and social spending. Yes the SAR is starting to increase spending on the poor and ageing but it’s still a pittance.

For years the government has relied on good old Confucianism to ensure families look after their elderly members and it still allows a fifth of its population, over one million people, to struggle below the poverty line – with tens of thousands ‘living’ in cage homes little bigger than a coffin.

So should we believe the dire financial warnings from the government? Nope, I smell vested interests trying to scare the populous and justify continually, shockingly, low welfare spending.

I’d love to think the pan-democrats could effect some serious change in this regard, so come on guys, do it for the Noodle. It’s my way or the Ho-way.