Friday, 12 August 2016

Inevitable Queues and Dazzling Eats in Hong Kong

One think that immediately struck me about Hong Kong is how much Hong Kongers like to queue. No sooner does the occasion lead to a slight pause, then people start lining up one behind the other, a dynamic line of expectation waiting to enter a restaurant for lunch time yum cha, or to step onto a train (to travel to yum cha...). Queues are self-policed, and taken rather seriously; on the platform floors in the MTR stations are markers indicating where people should wait, and lines form quite regularly. There is no pushing or shoving. After a lifetime living in England followed by a six-month stint living in Sweden, I myself am very accustomed to queueing; but it is not a practice that one immediately associates with other countries. Of course, Hong Kong was a British colony for so long, it is obvious how the influence entered the territory.

Pictured above is just one of the (many!) queues that I encountered whilst in Honkers. It was outside a Szechuan restaurant close to Wong Tai Sin temple. The restaurant was inexpensive, but high, high, high up on taste.

I don't like to eat out at fancy restaurants when I am in Asia. There's just no need: you can get the most amazing meals at the humblest of establishments. This restaurant, like many in HK, seats parties squashed in next to each other at any available space; but unlike many other places I ate at during my 5-day sojourn, it was relatively spacious. Food appeared, as if by magic, through a hatch in the wall; and the waitresses paced endlessly up and down the tiled restaurant floor. You eat, dazzled by glossy pictures of food fixed up on the walls, surrounded by a glittering array of dishes in any direction you look.

And so what did we eat? This is not a food blog, but indulge me for a moment longer. Szechuan food is popular (the restaurant was packed by 5.30pm) but less common in Hong Kong, which is largely Cantonese and famous for the region's yum cha (dim sum), wonton noodles, sea food, and all manner of delicious things. We took the house speciality, noodles in a fragrant and warming soupy gravy, topped with peanuts; shared Szechuan wontons; and a dessert of sticky rice balls filled with ground black sesame, in a sweet ginger broth.

I'm hungry reminiscing about the experience, rather far away now sitting in my partner's flat, listening to the South London night that's peppered by reggae beats and the waft from the chicken shop. One day, England will have as varied, tasty, and - importantly - affordable a food culture as in Asia. I only fear  that I may be awaiting that day for the rest of my adult life!

Supersize Textiles: Harmonic Motion at the IFC, Hong Kong

Hello folks! This week I've got back to London after a whirlwind research trip and holiday in Asia. I spent several days in Hong Kong researching my Masters thesis, and really enjoyed discovering the city accompanied by my friend, in-between museum and archive visits.

When I am in a new city, I like to walk; but walking in Hong Kong found me frequently puzzled and confused. Routes form a jigsaw-like arrangement of stairways, overpasses, and interconnecting shortcuts through shopping malls to avoid the heat of the streets. Within the tallest, shiniest glass tower in Central is a big surprise: a textile art installation.

The installation is entitled 'Harmonic Motion', and is by the textile artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam.This brightly-coloured, abstract sculpture hangs suspended from a rig, like an upside-down big top, or an alien trampoline. Its colours and ergonomic, abstract-yet-naturalistic shapes give immediate associations of child's play; and indeed, Harmonic Motion must be booked in advance for a short time-slot allowing HK Darlings to enter and romp freely. The sculpture is presented as art, yet treated as a giant playground or toy.

And indeed, it is fun! I loved the doughnut-like seating beneath, and the pendulum, dangling balls that one could swing around on. The sculpture only truly came to life once people entered the space, running, jumping, playing. Its massive, amoeba-like form quivered and sang, flowing internally under all the movement. Play is written into its form due to the bright colours and bold shapes; but play is what transformed the physicality of this installation from object into being.

Technically, Harmonic Motion is impressive. The accompanying billboard proclaims that it  used 800kg of nylon braid measuring 60 kilometres, taking the artist over 10 months of work to create by hand. The attention to detail is perfect, and I particularly liked the colour-matching of the safety nets at the top level. Although the curators describe the installation as 'the world's first knitted playground', they also describe Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam's crochet technique. My examination of the work leads me to believe that it is crochet, not knitting; but the colours of the piece, and its unexpected presence in a luxury shopping mall, certainly are reminiscent of yarn bombing - which does tend to be referred to as 'knit graffiti'.

Harmonic Motion's  presentation as 'art' rather than 'a children's playground' warrants deeper interrogation of its relationship between space and play. The installation is currently on show at IFC, which stands for International Finance Centre. However, it's worth noting that Hong Kongers' relationship to the streets and to public space is certainly different than in Europe, where the street is supposed to belong to the people. Hong Kong's climate is humid and hot, and the air-conditioned interiors of shopping malls become regularly-used thoroughfares in a city that buzzes with capitalism. Pedestrians claim sparkling shopping malls filled with luxury brands as a right-of way. I have never seen so many Chanel boutiques in one city, but Hong Kongers around me marched straight by, oblivious to the glitter. So the location of the playscape in Hong Kong perhaps has different resonances to elsewhere. Nonetheless, the playground is not opened to all: a strictly-policed booking system is in operation. There is little spontaneous or naturalistic about the approach to Harmonic Motion: it's organised fun.

Nonetheless, it is a dynamic addition to the Hong Kong summer; and the tactile nature of hand-made textiles is a wonderful contrast to all the glossiness and glass of affluent Central Hong Kong. I liked that this piece was so forthrightly playful, so obviously dynamic - again, very different to the self-conscious nature of the district that it is presented in. And of course I like to see hand-made textiles everywhere, particularly in a country that was famous for its factories and mass production in the post-WWII period. I would love to see this piece presented in a wide-open field; or suspended above the water. But in this urban landscape, a mall suffices; and one can admire it from afar.

Harmonic Motion is on display until 12 September 2016 at IFC, Hong Kong. Click here for more information.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Portals and Hubs: Singapore Changi Airport

The border is the first experience we have of a country. Some would like it to be temporary, entirely liminal, a place for passing through; but Singapore takes tourism very seriously. Arriving in Singapore at the start of my trip, the airport is clean, calm and orderly even after midnight. Proceeding down a glass-sided escalator one is confronted with a huge wall of planting, the rainforest greenery consciously reminding us of this highly-developed island nation's jungle past. It takes hardly any time at all to get through immigration, even with forgetting to fill out a landing card and having to re-queue. Past the counter, the last-chance duty-free alcohol shop beckons. Baggage control is similarly lush, and the whole airport is filled with brushed steel, glass, and foliage.

I end up spending rather a lot of time at Changi airport this trip, as I shuttle between Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong; and now await my flight home to London. The airport departures lounge is like a huge hotel lobby, studded with expensive shops and plenty of comfortable places to sit; or perhaps it's more like a theme park, a miniature Singapore within. I was also surprised to discover a butterfly garden in Terminal 3. I believe that most of these photographs are of moths. Time passes ponderously, but it is not unpleasant. The authorities have done well to create a relaxing atmosphere, where the visitor retains favourable impressions of both Singapore and air travel.