Thursday, May 31, 2007

It Was Forty Years Ago Today...

...Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.

Today (June 1) marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' landmark album "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which is still considered a milestone of popular culture and rock and roll. It consistently ranks at or near the top of numerous "Best Albums of All Time" lists. So take an hour out of your day to listen to it and remind yourself all over again why this is still a mindblowing album 40 years later.

We now return to our regularly scheduled Hong Kong blogging.

UPDATE: See this op-ed from today's Washington Post. I wonder where the author got the title...?

Also - see this special section on the Rolling Stone website asking readers to contribute their reviews of Sergeant Pepper for the 40th anniversary, and Rolling Stone's commentary on its selection of Sergeant Pepper as the top pick on their 500 greatest albums of all time list.

Last but not least - see this video of Jimi Hendrix doing a live cover of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

More information about the performance here and here. The key detail:
Jimi Hendrix played the song live three days after it was released. McCartney was in the audience and later said he was honoured. A live version recorded at the Isle of Wight was included on a postumous live album, Hendrix in the West.


After receiving some feedback from readers, I tweaked the look of the site to make it easier to read from a visual perspective. Expect a few minor changes here and there as it gets fine-tuned before settling on a final look.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monastic Beach

Picking up where I left off in the previous post, we headed to the Po Lin monastery at the bottom of the hill from the Buddha statue. One of the first things we came across on the grounds was a courtyard-type area where people were buying and lighting incense, and leaving it in a series of large pots as offerings.

After that, we continued on inside to another courtyard where the main hall was located. At the bottom of the steps were several fountains with small statues of Buddha. Adherents would take a spoon-like device, fill it with water from the fountain, and symbolically and literally bathe Buddha.

At the top of the steps was a porch area extending along both sides of the main entrance doors. The balcony was lined with flowers I couldn't identify, and a series of columns featuring dragon motifs were on the outside wall.

Although signs didn't say so, we got the impression that photography was prohibited inside the main hall and some of the other buildings that were open to the public, so there are no shots of any of the altars or Buddha statues or paintings we saw, which were pretty spectacular.

We wrapped up our visit of the monastery and asked for directions to Chang Sha, a local beach where a friend of Joe's recommended we eat lunch at a restaurant called the Stoep, which specializes in (oddly enough) Mediterranean and South African cuisine.

We got on the bus and during the course of the ride, a downpour of near-Biblical proportions began. UPDATE: I forgot to mention before the fact that a few rows in front of where we were sitting, an old woman was practically hacking up a lung or kidney or some other internal organ very loud for pretty much the entire ride. Natasha smartly plugged into her I Pod and turned it up to 11 for a (somewhat) blissful ride to try and phase out the racket up front. Joe and I just tried to focus on other things and ignore what was going on, pretty unsuccessfully I should add.

We got to the stop and made a mad dash for shelter of the roofed outdoor dining area of the restaurant. After waiting several minutes for a table to clear, we sat down for lunch. The food was amazing, and every few minutes, one of the local dogs would make his/her way between the tables and occasionally make a racket. There were several tourists in bathing suits there, probably crashing at one of the several local resorts. We were there for about 2 hours eating and waiting for the rain to calm down so we could head back up to the main road and wait for the bus to make our way back to Hong Kong.

Big Buddha

Yesterday (Sunday), our intrepid heroes (Natasha, Joe, and myself) ventured out to Lantau Island, which is one of the neighboring islands to Hong Kong which most people are familiar with because that is where the airport is located. We were there to see the Po Lin Monastery and the 26-foot bronze statue of the sitting Buddha, the largest of its kind in the world.

We decided to take the scenic route - a 25-minute ride on a cable car - to get to Ngong Ping, the small town that is the launching pad for tourists visiting the monastery and the Buddha. Here is a sampling of photos from the cable car ride:

I want to point out that although none of the photos show it, while we were riding the cable car we could see a path leading from the cable car boarding point up to the town, where a few valiant hikers here and there were making the trek the old-fashioned way. I tip my hat to them because I don't think there's any way in hell I would have made it.

Once we got on the ground, Natasha and I made a pit stop in the town square for some Italian gelato. This was probably the last place on earth I expected to find any, and it was a perfect quick fix for the hot and humid day.

We made our way to the bottom of the hill where the statue is located and began climbing up the seemingly endless steps to the top, pausing for a few pictures along the way:

We eventually made it up to the top of the hill. The Buddha is built on a circular platform where visitors have a 360-degree view of the local landscape (walking around the statue of course). The statue is also surrounded by a series of smaller statues that are about 7 feet high. Underneath the statue, visitors can walk in and the walls were lined with plaques or etchings honoring hundreds, if not thousands of people, and there was also a gift shop. I found it strange that they have a problem with photography in a room to honor the people who I got the impression were dead, but not a cash cow to rip off tourists.

There were two higher levels up on the base of the statue we could go, but to do that we would have been required to buy a meal ticket for the local vegetarian restaurant, which Joe's intelligence sources said wasn't very good.

We took a few pictures at the base of the statue, then headed back down to see the monastery:

More details about the monastery and our trip to the beach at Chang Sha to be continued...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Political Insiders and Wardrobe Malfunctions

Luckily, these are two separate stories.

On Wednesday, I followed an AP photographer and the Hong Kong AP Bureau Chief to an interview with Hong Kong Democratic Party leader Martin Lee. Before I forget all of what was said, let me recap (this is also for my own records so I can include this in my paper about the tenth anniversary of the handover.)

The topic was the tenth anniversary and universal suffrage in HK. Lee stressed that without full democracy, the whole way of life in Hong Kong is threatened. He's still banned in China for his pro-democracy views. When asked what Beijing's real fear was, he said he doesn't know. He said the fear was probably that with full democracy in Hong Kong, the elected executive would not be one to cooperate with Beijing.

He's kind of a funny looking man, but the kind whom you know - behind those spectacles - has seen and done it all. I almost held my breath through the entire half hour because a) it was being video-taped and I didn't want to be the only one of the four people in the room making noise and b) I wanted to take in every word he said.

On Wednesday night, we joined Jessica and her boss at the Lotus Bar to celebrate its one-year anniversary. As you can tell from the pictures, the mixologist made the most exquisit cocktails we'd ever had. Expertly mixed so you can't taste the alcohol - and the flavors ranged from Asian-lychee-type things to foam salt Margaritas. Plus the food was amazing. And to make it that much better, we were there as VIP guests courtesy of Jessica's BC Magazine, the arts and culture publication here in Hong Kong. All of it was FREE.

On Thursday, Camille and I went to Ladies' Market in Mong Kok. That's on the Kowloon side. It's a huge market with stalls selling everything - knockoff purses, clothing, shoes, watches, toys, gadgets...but you have to haggle for everything. I was really glad to use my Mandarin and get good deals. You have 1) make a face when they say the price, and say "that's too expensive, 2) pretend like you aren't THAT interested, 3) name a price that's really low, 4) say you don't want it when they refuse your price, 5) if they name a lower price that's still not as low as you want it, then you start to walk away. Count three seconds, and they'll come after you and accept your price. We got lots of goodies.

On Thursday night we went to see the new Pirates. Of course in recent months I've become a pirate princess myself ;) My cousin Tory and I have collected quite the "Pirate Princess" clothing and accessories collection from Disneyland...and hey, we have ancestors who were Portugese, so who knows. They may have been pirates landing in Macao for all we know. And then I played Edith, who married a pirate king in Pirates of Penzance in Oxford. So there. I wore my pirate princess pants and my medallion to the movie.

It was great - highly enjoyable, and all you'd expect of a Pirates movie. Swashbuckling, deception, and love. Love above all. Terrible love, beautiful love, painful love. It's heartbreakingly great. The film itself, well, it's no masterpiece of all time. But a satisfying end to the trilogy.

Saturday, we went out to Lan Kwai Fong at night. It's the few blocks of severe partying. And I wore one of the tops I bought from Ladies' Market. One with just strings tying the back. Of course the cheap piece of crap that it is, one string came off. And when one string comes off, there's not much else holding it together. I used tape, needle and thread, staples...I think that was the debut and the finale of that top. So not worth the trouble. I hardly wanted to move for fear of being exposed. Thus the "wardrobe malfunction."

Oh, and the picture reminds me...I got a haircut. And I have to pin it up, otherwise I look like an anime cartoon. I shouldn't complain - it's not a terrible cut, and it was really really cheap.

Today, Joe, David and I went to Lantau Island (southeast of Hong Kong Island) to see the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha (made of bronze, 26 ft. tall I believe?). It was nice to step out of the city and see the beautiful mist float along the mountain tops like you see in all those Chinese water colors.

And with all this exploring, who wants to go back to work tomorrow morning? Not unless there are some interviews or press conferences to shoot...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Most Expensive Smoothie Ever

So we went out on Saturday night to explore the famed Lan Kwai Fong district of Hong Kong, which is known for its bars and night clubs. Good idea, bad execution.

Our evening started at a place called the Hong Kong Brew House, an American-style bar, if you use the term loosely. I'm looking at the drinks menu, and I decide to order a mango daiquiri. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, here's the recipe:
3 oz (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) amber rum
1 1/2 cups (1-inch) cubes of firm-ripe mango (from two 1-lb mangoes), frozen
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 oz (2 tablespoons) triple sec
4 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar
2 cups ice cubes

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
The problem? I took one sip of it and it felt strange, so I took another and then I had a friend try it to confirm my suspicions. There was NO alcohol in the drink whatsoever. I ordered a mango daiquiri and I got a mango smoothie.

The kicker? When it came time to pay the tab, I find out it cost me about HK$60 (that's between $7-8 in the United States). Compare that to Natasha, who got her drink with alcohol in it for about HK$40 and the fact that the cab ride to Lan Kwai Fong cost me about HK$30. I got ripped off - badly.

On our way out, there was a group of about a dozen or so middle-aged women wearing cowboy hats who sounded like they were from Australia. They ambushed Joe and me as we were walking out after hearing us talk and asked if we were Americans. I denied it, and Joe said he was Canadian. As I recall, they wanted us to either sing the U.S. national anthem for them or lead them in singing it. Either way - we were not up for it and got the hell out of there as fast as we could.

For those of you who might ever find yourselves in Hong Kong, avoid this bar like the plague.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lotus, Buns, Pirates and Monkeys

No, these aren't ingredients for some evil recipe.

Earlier this week, we went out to a bar/lounge called Lotus, which was throwing itself a 1-year anniversary party. The food, drinks, and music were amazing the whole night. The most interesting thing we had there was a plate consisting of several small appetizers made of trout, eel, vegetables, and assorted spices, served on a leaf (lotus perhaps?). They were VERY good, and a fun night was had by all.

Yesterday was the annual Bun Festival on Cheung Chau Island, which is about a 1-hour ferry ride from Hong Kong. I went with a cameraman to cover it for Reuters. We walked into one of the bakeries to interview the owner. There were about a dozen or so people working there, making the dough, cooking the buns, and then selling them to customers and tourists, which I took several photos [see below]. The space was a bit claustrophobic but at least they had fans to help alleviate from the blazing heat and humidity outside and the throngs of crowds.

After the interview, we made our way to this designated pen for the media to film the parade processions as they passed by. We got a good spot first, then went to a local shop to get cold drinks and a quick break. The parades included guys in dragon costumes, musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments and songs, and floats with small children (my guess is 6 and younger) who were standing/propped on a beam while dressed in some costume or other. We stayed for the first hour or so of the parade before calling it a day. A small sampling of photos:

Later that night, a group of us from USC went out and saw "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." It's long, clocks in at about 2 hours and 45 minutes, so be prepared for the long haul. Without giving away specific details about the plot, I will say that the movie requires an attention span of steel because there is so much dealing and double crossing going on, it becomes very difficult to keep track of whose side everyone is on. Even I, a longtime observer of politics and the negotiating process it entails, was completely lost during some points of the movie. By the end of the movie, I think Jack the Monkey is pretty much the only one who hasn't been on the giving or receiving end of a doublecross! The action sequences and special effects are, like the previous movies, first rate. All in all - I recommend it.

Interesting observation: Buying tickets to a movie in Hong Kong is like buying plane or opera tickets because you buy them for specific reserved seats, not on a first-come, first-serve basis as in most other movie theaters I've been to.

Finally -- I picked up a copy of the new Arctic Monkeys album. Excellent stuff, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Game, Set, Match

Natasha writing in again.

There are moments in life when you don't expect very much because things are overwhelming. It's at those times when having a good day can really be a surprise. Today is one of those days.

After going to Monday's press conference to hear British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett talk about the future politics of Hong Kong and climate change (our AP story:, I got to go to another press conference today at the Four Seasons.

A fellow intern from the Hong Kong Baptist Univeristy went with me and two AP staff for this announcement from the Venetian Macao casino and resort. I'll put up the link to the story when it's out, but I think someone's writing and editing it now. Federer and Sampras will play each other in November at this 15,000-seat arena in Macao. So exciting! Too bad I'll be gone by then.

The cool part was that Phoebe, the other intern, and I got to practice filming with a tripod and a Sony PD170, which is almost the same as what we use for Impact. I've worked with a similar camera before, but it's a whole other story actually walking the walk with the other reporters on the scene. Cameras are heavy, if you haven't noticed. A girl like me needs to work out some more arm muscles before signing on to become a photographer.

After the press conference, we got a very lovely buffet lunch (can you imagine the Four Seasons, looking out over Victoria Harbour?) with dim sum, salad, pasta and scrumptious mini desserts. I thought for a moment about all the ethics we talked about in school, and journalists not accepting any meals, gifts or freebies...but my supervisor, Diana, said these things happen very rarely and since this wasn't an underhanded "deal" to make the journalist promote the event, it was ok to accept. Different companies have different policies.

On the taxi ride home, I got a message from my mom, saying that Ma Ying-Jeou (current mayor of Taiwan and candidate for the presidency in 2008), agreed to my interview request. I would be meeting him in Taiwan after my whole Hong Kong and China extravaganza, and I would be interviewing him for my thesis documentary on Taiwanese/Chinese identity. This is a huge opportunity, but daunting of course. If I make this work, it could launch me in great directions...if I screw this up, I'll go apply to be a Grey's Anatomy set intern. Who am I kidding...I would intern for a drama or sitcom anyway. Maybe I'll be a journalist/entertainment producer? An oxymoron if ever there was one. What I do know is that this thesis could be a great project, and I'll get to produce a feature piece similar to the skills needed to produce any entertainment piece of the same length. It's good practice for anything I end up doing.

In about three hours, I'll be following Diana back out for an AP exclusive interview with Martin Lee, Democratic Party leader in Hong Kong. I'm sure I'll get great insight into the Hong Kong/China relationship and reflections in light of the 10th anniversary of the handover. Wow, I'm really diving right into international politics, aren't I?

This is all well and good, but I've got to keep it fun too. Throw in a little tennis star hoopla, and a night out on the town tonight at the Lotus Bar with fellow USCers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hazy Days

I (Natasha) am going to re-post what I put in my own blog so there'll be some personal commentary on what's going on with me in addition to the group at large. Here's the bulk of my first post from yesterday:

So this is the end of my fifth day in Hong Kong, and it was my first day at work for Associated Press Television News, or APTN. More on the job later. It feels like I just got here, but also as if I've been here for five years already. No significant issues with jet lag, but I still wake up at night occasionally with some really bizarre dreams (most of which the content is influenced by TV shows' season finales I'd just been watching).

I'd been in Hong Kong before, once in 2000 for about a week. And it was with my family, and we stayed in Kowloon. This time, I'm with 6 other fellow students (there'll be 7 soon - we're waiting for you, Laura!). We're staying on the Hong Kong Island, although in a rather remote area. We're at one of the Hong Kong University dorms. Let's just say we think it's officially a hostel (by looking at the sign out front), and one really said anything about that before we got here. I'm in a cheaper, more "modest" student room, as opposed to a "simple" guest room that's a little bit nicer. For some people this isn't an issue at all - traveling is just like that, right? - but I am my mother's daughter and my brother's sister...I don't have OCD like they practically do, but I do care about cleanliness and would rather not see paint chipping away on my furniture or mold in my shower.

The goal then, is to spend most of my time outside of my room, which can be problematic when it's 90 degrees and raining outside. The weather is gross, like Florida times five, which is enough to make any sane person a cranky old witch. But I only have to look at a few things to get my spirits back up. First, there's an amazing view of the harbour from almost anywhere. Second, there's so much to do and so much food to eat. Well - the food is starting to become a negative when I realize I'm going to be the size of a house when I get back to the states.

Most of the time a haze crawls across the skyscrapers around the edge of the water, sometimes clearing so you can see parts of the mountains in the background. Central is the area with the most shopping and exploring thus far, but I know there's a lot more out there. I work in Wan Chai, which is a couple of subway stations east of Central. I work on the 48th floor of the Central Plaza in Wan Chai which is a really amazing building with gold reflective plates on the outside. The lobby even has a piano that plays itself.

So that's a brief overview of a whirlwind few days. Of course there will be details to follow! For now, I need to prop my feet...I made the mistake of wearing heels today. I had to do a lot of walking and standing at the press conference for the British foriegn secretary at the Ritz Carlton where the elevator guy was extremely attractive. Totally irrelevant. But it was a highlight anyway, and highlights need to be mentioned.

Checking In...

So we've been a little slow at getting this thing started due to a combination of jetlag, busy sightseeing and orientation schedules, and the start of our jobs. Here's a brief recap of our first few days in Hong Kong...


The Trip: Sixteen hours stuck on the flying purgatory that is the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong isn't anyone's idea of a fun time, although food, sleeping, a fully charged I Pod, and the in-flight entertainment (Casino Royale and Blood Diamond, among others) help pass the time.
The trip was about 90 minutes longer than anticipated because of strong headwinds which forced the plane to make a refueling stop in Taipei.

On the Ground: We didn't waste any time as soon as we were in Hong Kong. After checking into our rooms at the University of Hong Kong, we met up and headed to Central, the heavily developed commercial area of Hong Kong with shops and skyscrapers and Victoria Harbor most people are familiar with.

We had our first group lunch, dim sum at a local restaurant in Central. After that, we went to the Wan Chai and Tai Koo neighborhoods of Hong Kong to get oriented where all of our offices would be located, and also managed to get local cell phones.

In the evening, we explored the Soho neighborhood and ate at an Indian restaurant. We came back to HKU and called it a night fairly early, after having been up for nearly a day and a half.


I went to explore Tai Koo and Central by myself to get oriented for next week. In the late afternoon, we all met up at the Mandarin Hotel in Central to head to a reception organized by the USC Marshall School of Business which we were invited to.


We met for dim sum as a group over lunch, after which we went over to the ferry terminal to head to Macau for the rest of the day. The weather took a turn for the worse while we were having lunch and continued raining nearly the entire time we were in Macau. The ferry ride took about an hour and we kept ourselves entertained with sleep, I Pods, and a few scattered widescreen monitors which were showing skits from a late night Chinese comedy/variety show. The most widely known skit from the show is this one, dubbed "Matrix Ping Pong," which has made the rounds on the Internet.

Interesting to note that all the signs in Macau are written in Mandarin, English, and Portuguese. We headed for Largo do Senado (Senate Square) which is the historic heart of Macau and began walking around. We eventually made our way to Macau's equivalent of the strip in Las Vegas, where several casinos have set up shop targeting the Asian market who wants to get their quick gambling fix without having to fly to the U.S. We had dinner at a Japanese restaurant inside the Wynn before heading back to the ferry terminal and eventually, back to HKU.


We did a whole lot of nothing during the day, and the weather didn't help which was just as miserable as yesterday. We eventually met up for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Soho a few blocks from the Indian place we went to on the first night.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blog is Operational

T-minus 2 days and counting until we fly to Hong Kong...