Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stornoway - Fuel Up


Not liking any of the mooncakes that one can buy and finding them too sweet and greasy, my father decided to make his own mooncakes. These are the low sugar, low fat organic mooncakes he made over the weekend. The darker coloured ones have date paste and the lighter coloured ones have green bean paste in them. It is his first attempt and the results are just perfect.

My father never fails to impress.

He was born in the 30's at a time when there were only wars, more wars and yet some more wars. A few months after the Japanese had surrendered he came to Hong Kong.  As a 13-year-old young refugee who had never been to school and did not know anyone in Hong Kong, he found a job as a junior sailor and went on-board a cargo ship to Malaysia. With the very little money he earned, he managed to support the livings of his parents and his brothers and sisters, who were then all stuck in Tianjin. He taught himself English and continued to perfect his skills as a sailor. One examination after the other, he finally became a Captain, before he turned 26.

My father spent half of his life on ocean going ships. As a father of four and uncle of kids of my other uncles who preferred not to work, he had to work extremely hard. He never took any extended leave so that he could earn the extra bonuses. In my younger days I saw him probably less than 20 days in a year. Although we had very little time together, I was somehow more attached to him. I guess it was because he was the easy to identify hero and I, foolishly enough, did not have the wisdom to see all the sacrifices and contributions of my stay-home mum.

A few years after his retirement my father took up another job - to take care of his wife who was suffering from Pick's disease. Anyone who has experience with patients of dementia will know what it is like to take care of a patient whose brain steadfastly decides to shut down a part of it every day. When she was formally diagnosed as a Pick's disease patient, all the doctors predicted that she would live for another three or four years. It turned out that she lived another eight whole years, thanks to my father's 24/7/365 care and attention. My father's place was like a hospital ward. There were breathing aids, wheelchairs, mechanical mattress, electrical nebulizer, feeding apparatus and all kinds of tubes.

Witnessing the whole degeneration process (memory loss, personality change, loss of speech, immobility, incontinence, inability to swallow, breathing difficulty and finally death) was painful. My mother left two years ago. I did not feel particularly sad when she died. There was this guilty feeling of relief...

There were times that we were worried that our father would not recover from our mother's death. Every time we went to his place he would tell us things like, "Your mum died 435 days ago", "it would be your mum's birthday in 112 days", and so forth. The mooncakes shown in the picture above are testimony to his partial recovery from his wife's departure. He is always a curious and energetic man and wants to try something new. I hope he will remain so.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cat and Dog

Soon after we had got married my wife suggested that we should have a cat. As a great admirer of the feline creatures, I jumped at the chance and promised to get her one. When searching for a cat we bumped into Mr and Mrs H, a couple from Holland who were breeders of the Balinese breed (long hair Siamese). They happened to have a new-born Balinese which we fell in love with at first sight. When the little hair ball was 3 months old, we brought it home and gave it a new name - Mui Mui.

As the only kitten in the litter and having seen more men and women, boy and girls than other cats, Mui Mui was deeply convinced that she was a member of the human race. She was very attached to us. Every evening if I was not home by 9 p.m., she would become agitated. If we went on vacation, I had to call back home every now and then to talk to her, or she would refuse to eat. When we were happy, she was happy; when we were sad, she knew. She was always interested in the books that we were reading (as if she could read) and food that we were eating. I once put a glass of red wine in front of her. After some hesitation she gave it a try. And, I can't describe it. You have to see it yourself to believe that a cat is capable of making such a face - eyes squeezed to a line, whiskers pulled to the front and mouth pulled back. Very funny indeed.

Mui Mui was some 4 to 5 years old when our daughter was born. She was the most wonderful elder sister. Whatever our daughter did to her (poking her ears, pulling her tail, throwing toys at her), she would never fight back. When her younger sister was asleep, Mui Mui would sit next to her, guarding her, not making a sound. When she was awake, she would jump to the living room and meowed to us, commanding one of us to attend to her immediately.

Mui Mui passed away some three years ago. Sad. All good things will come to an end, won't they? We thought of keeping another cat, but, as our daughter turned out to be allergic to all other cats, we had to give up the idea. Our daughter loves dogs. Ever since she was able to read she has been reading everything about dogs, from dog breeds to dog training to dog history.  I dare say that our daughter is one of the least materialistic girls. She never asked for anything, be it toys, modern gadgets, new cloths or new school bags (I guess she is the only student at her school who use the very same school bag from grade 1 through grade 5). So, when she asked for a puppy we found it hard to say no. Because of her allergy and asthmatic tendency, poodle appeared to be the only breed open to us (I'm not Obama and can't order someone to find me a non-shedding Portuguese water dog). We then found her a poodle...

I once said that I did not want a kid in my life. It turns out that I am a happy father. I also said that I hated small dogs like poodle and Yorkshire terrier. Now, I have a tiny poodle sitting next to me as I am typing this. Never say never.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Yashica EZ F521 Review

There are two major drawbacks that turn me away from this little Yashica.

First, it takes three seconds to boot. Not fatal per se but, given that it loves to turn itself completely off (not stand-by) after 60 seconds to save power, if you are not shooting non-stop and there is a 60 second gap between two pictures, you have to turn it back on and wait for another three whole seconds before you can shoot on.

I also hate that there is no way to turn the monitor permanently off. Yes, you can suspend the monitor by pressing the display button a few times. But the slightest touch of shutter release will bring it back on. I do not "chimp" and only use the viewfinder to frame. That means I have to constantly struggle with the display button. To make things worse, the shinning bright light from he monitor, which is very close to the viewfinder, is more than distracting. It makes the viewfinder hard to use. Why bother building into a camera a viewfinder that is not usable?

These two things together, my shooting mode is like this: turn the camera on, wait for three seconds, press the display button a few times to turn off the monitor, frame and shoot, press the display button again to turn the monitor off, frame and shoot...(60 seconds later)... turn the camera back on, wait for another three seconds...

This little inexpensive Yashica feels good in the hand and produces images of acceptable quality. It is a pity that it tries too hard to impress by pretending to be capable of doing things that are not expected of a supposed to be simple and fun to use camera. Take away the all the built-in filters, cancel the video mode and limit the monitor for pictures review purpose, it will then be a great fun camera.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Han Yuan Book Store 漢源書店

Han Yuan Book Store (漢源書店) is more like a friend's place than a book store or a cafe.  It is is located in a quiet corner of the former French Concession, surrounded by publishing houses, traditional Shanghai-style residences and trees. The exact address is no.27 Shao Xing Road, Shanghai (5 min walk from Shan Xi Road South station, Line 1).

The owner of Han Yuan, Deke Erh, is a photographer based in Shanghai.  Signed copies of his books are available at Han Yuan at no extra cost. The book store carries books on photography, fashion, literature and old Shanghai customs and cultures. Scattered over the place are some old furnitures and antiques from Erh's own collection, which include antique tea sets, calligraphies, paintings, lamps, cameras and aged books. Some photographs of Han Yuan here.

Han Yuan is just the perfect place to have a cup of coffee and to read. You can bring your own books, sit down, order a cup of coffee and stay there for a whole day. No one will ever ask you to buy a second cup of coffee or disturb you from your reading. Sitting in Han Yuan takes you back to the old days, the days when you could idle in the yard in the lazy days of summer, when time seemed to pass slowly and nobody was in a rush. We went to Han Yuan on a Sunday and spent our entire afternoon there. Our daughter found a copy of Sophie's World (an early print which is not for sale).  After reading the first 20 pages she fell in love with it. She found in the middle of the book a bookmark with some scribbles on it which said, "Please leave this bookmark in its place. I love this book and will come back to finish it.". My wife found a reprint of 楊絳《雜憶與雜寫》 and I managed to finish 龍應台《目送》which I never had time to finish. We went to Han Yuan the next day and spent another afternoon there. If there is something in Shanghai that we really miss, it is Han Yuan.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Amanfayun, Hangzhou

Hidden deep in 飛來峰 (Feilai Peak, the Peak from Afar) are seven ancient temples. The most famous of which is 靈隱寺, Lingyin Temple (meaning: "Temple of the Soul's Retreat"), first built some 1,700 years ago during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, around the time when Constantine summonsed the Council of Nicaea. To the West of Lingyin Temple there lies a historic village called 法雲古村 (Fayun Historic Village). From its name, 法雲 (Fayun), one can readily guess that the village formed part of the seven ancient temples. According to some publications, the village was established by the monks and nuns of the nearby temples who had chosen to return to civilian life but wished to live close to the temples. A few of the farm houses in the village have been turned into AmanFayun 法雲安縵, a resort run by Aman Resorts. The farm houses have been kept in their original state. From the outside, the Aman villas look exactly like the other farm houses.  Unless you already know, you cannot possibly tell that farm houses are now Aman villas.

Although the village is open to public, it is very little known. Chances are that you will not come across more than a few visitors in a day. The place is extremely well preserved. I can imagine that it looked exactly the same hundreds of years ago. There is an old Chinese story about a man who walked into a mountain and stayed in a hut for a night, only to find out the other day when he walked out of the mountain that the outside world had changed beyond recognition. I cannot help thinking that the story actually happened here. Time seems to have frozen at Fayun Village and there seems to be a spirit in every tree and every piece of stone. It is kind of surreal, almost dream-like. If someone tells me that the little spider on the twig, having listened to the monks' morning and evening prayers for over a hundred years, can recite a script from a Buddha text, I will believe it.   

AmanFayun does not offer facilities common to other resorts.  There are two small restaurants, a tea house, a library and a spa but there are no gym, swimming pool, karaoke or the like. To keep the ambience of the place, things are TVs and bath tubs are not to be found in the rooms and villas.  Our villa is some two or three hundred metres away from the restaurants and spa area.  Not very conveniently located one may think, but we love walking on the stone path.

This is our first Aman experience and we are Aman Junkies already. True that Aman is twice as expensive as other resorts like Banyan Tree but Aman is a hundred times better than others. If I have to choose between a paid night at AmanFayun and a free week at Banyan Hangzhou (which comes with meals in any restaurants in Hangzhou of my choice and a limo with driver), I will go for a night at AmanFayun, definitely. There are five more temples that I need to visit.

My next blog will be about another great find in China - a cheap one.

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