Monday, July 30, 2018

Tonkin mon amour, an intro

When we used to live in Beijing, there were tons of places in Asia we wanted to visit. And there were a few that were at the very bottom of my list. And the country at the very bottom of that one? Vietnam. Why? I don't know. There was lots of Asia and of China itself I wanted to see first. There was probably some prejudice as well – at the time it seemed to me less charming than Laos, less radically different than Thailand, too popular with tourists and therefore maybe too conventional? Whatever the reasons, we spent four and a half years in Beijing, and never even considered visiting Vietnam.

But with time, one changes. And now we find ourselves living back in China (a thing we once swore we'd never do again), in Guangzhou (the last Chinese city we would have thought of living in), and we're loving it! And it's also made me more interested in the places and cultures of Southeast Asia, especially of what was once called Cochinchina. And Vietnam, suddenly, became the top destination in our list of countries to visit this second time around in China. Just like that.

And so, as our first trip outside of China, and as our 17th anniversary trip, we chose the North of Vietnam. There was so much we wanted to see and do. But we also wanted to spend enough time seeing what was worth seeing. In the end, we stuck to two places – Hanoi, and Halong Bay. The area once called Tonkin (hence the tittle for this blog post series). It was one amazing trip and anniversary. And you should be warned there are very many posts coming ahead. 

While those get written, though, I leave you with a lotus from the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. The lotus is the symbol of Vietnam. As a flower that rises from the mud and blooms beautiful above the water, it's a metaphor for resilience and optimism. Nothing could be more accurate.  

Monday, July 16, 2018

Hanzou Sushi

Yay! We found a place with amazing sushi! We were looking for a quick lunch around K11 (yes, we've been going there a lot lately) and, just out of curiosity, I checked this place's rating on Dazhong Dianping (let's say it's China's Yelp). What did we find? Five stars!? The maximum rating? This tiny corner sushi place?

So, we went for the omakase (お任せ), which is basically letting the chef choose what to serve, based on what's best that day and what he may think flows better together... And it was AMAZING. So good. We're converts now. Coming back to Hanzou (半藏).

Friday, July 13, 2018

Yan Ji You mega bookshop

Falling in love with this city's bookshops. The other day, at K11 (darn, this mall that I originally hated is raking up quite a few brownie points!) we came across this bookshop, Yan Ji You (言几又). We decided to take a look. At some point, after exploring a bit and looking at books, I went like "huh? did I make a turn and I didn't realize? how come I'm still inside?". The place is massive! 

It's got a huge section of Hong Kong and Taiwan books, where I bought The Handmaid's Tale (in traditional Chinese, mind you; what a torturous way to improve my Chinese reading, right?). And, in case you're not just after books, there's also a barbershop (yep, not a salon, not a hairdresser's, a BARBERshop) and a small store selling the most beautiful of crafts, including translucent ceramic cups that are yous impossibly delicate and beautiful! At 2500 RMB or so (some 375 USD), we're still undecided on whether to buy at least one. But they're gorgeous!

Like I said, falling in love with the city's bookshops.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Disguise and Blue Cocktails

Went back to Kui Yuan Gallery (逵园艺术馆)! This time for an exhibition called Disguise (幌子), by Huang Liyan (黄立言). Curious art. I didn't like all the pieces, but there were a few I did. Plus, I still love that old house! And to finish, and since it was raining, we went for the roof café to read and have a house cocktail made with vodka and who knows what stuff that gave it a rich blue colour! A cool afternoon.

Monday, July 09, 2018

100 day celebration

We were incredibly lucky to have been invited to a 100 day celebration banquet (百日宴) of a friend's baby! When a baby turns one hundred days old, a big feast is organized to celebrate and to wish the baby may live to a hundred years old. Red eggs are traditionally served, gifts given to the baby and her family, and special food is served. A fantastic feast. But I'm so glad I don't have kids, I'd never manage to pull off something like this!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Hainanese food!

How come we'd never tried Hainanese cuisine? Hainan, in case you don't know, is the southernmost Chinese province, a tropical place with beaches, jungle, and – depending on who you ask – the disputed islands of the South China Sea.

So, there's this Hainanese restaurant not too far from us, Ye Ke (椰客), which is basically a chicken and coconut place. Yet not just that. The menu is simple when it comes to the main dishes – you chose a combination (we had gone for chicken and chestnuts and coconut, but they ran out of chestnuts and we went instead for bamboo shoots, coconut and some type of sponge), a size, and that's it! Eventually, a cooking pot with a transparent lid arrives, they throw in your ingredients, and you wait for them to cook. So simple! And so tasty!

Maybe they don't use plain water, or maybe it's the simple process, but the broth you get after everything cooks is just amazing. And then, of course, the ingredients you have just cooked, which you can dip in a sauce of your own mixing (there's garlic, chili paste, chillies, herbs, lime... so much to choose from!). Really really good.

Oh, and for dessert? We went for this incredible combinations – beans, watermelon and sago in coconut juice. Wow. Wow.  

So now I'll have to add Hainanese cuisine to my list of favourites!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Kui Yuan gallery and Lin Yusi's work

You know we love the Dongshankou (东山口) area. It's full of lovely old-style buildings, local businesses selling all sorts of yummy stuff, pleasant winding streets. Were this not a bit too far from work, it would have been my choice number one to live in!

So, recently we decided to go back to visit a gallery we hadn't been to yet, set in an old house from the 1920's, Kui Yuan Gallery (逵园艺术馆). Charming brick building in front of a small square, with high ceilings, its original tile floor, tall windows... It's a joy walking around the place and picturing times gone by!

But we were there for one specific exhibition, The Feast (家宴), by Lin Yusi (林于思). Awesome technique, but even more interesting subjects – a man combing a dragon's whiskers... an alien like being watching over a Chinese-style lion... a child riding a strange beast... All made in circular rice paper, which added a nice texture. 

We kept exploring the building, which had a number of boutique shops and a café on the terrace. Interestingly, many of the shops were set as to facilitate selfie taking! You know, like very prop-like, such as seats next to mirrors with just the right light... We found numerous young women posing all around the building and taking stylized selfies or having their friends shoot portraits of them.  

Anyhow, like I said, we love Dongshankou. And that was one super nice exhibition. We'll be back. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Lumei Institute

Roast goose (燒鵝, "shāo é" in Mandarin, or "sīu ngó" in Cantonese) is everywhere here. A bowl of rice, roast goose, pickled veggies, egg, tofu and greens? No problem! You can get that just about at whichever corner! The pics below? From the Lumei Institute (鹿谜休闲茶吧), which is not extraordinary, sure, but it does a good job and is close to where we live (very important combination!).

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts BA Degree Show

I enjoy going to the Guangdong Museum of Art (广东美术馆). We can get there by foot and it's a really nice 20-30 minute walk across a bridge over to Ersha Island (二沙岛), through very green spaces. And then you get to this museum which has given us quite a few nice surprises, the last of which was the GAFA (Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, or 广州美术学院) BA Degree Show. 

Now, sure, these were the works of graduating students. But the technique! Really impressive. As often happens, though, what shines through is just the technique, and aesthetics. But, how can I put this... These are things you look at and say "Hey, that's really good", but they're almost never things that blow your mind or really move you. This applied especially to the part of the exhibition that occupied the main halls. But mind you, I liked what I saw:

But then, there was this other section, the "experimental visual arts" one, hidden away in an upper floor by a corner. I guess some curator or official isn't too keen on the students' explorations of "allegedly non-Chinese" traditions?

Anyhow, I found this much more interesting than the previous section. There was this gorgeous old piece of furniture with a digital love-themed video instead of a mirror... 

Clips of different people shedding tears...

Comics commenting on romance, sleeping pills, plastic surgery, and same-sex romantic friendships...

This super nice bear made of multicolour string! Strangely, I couldn't help seeing some bondage there, with the black strips resembling black leather and the strings behind looking like ropes to tie you up? I'm pretty sure that wasn't the artist's idea, though...

Some super slo-mo videos à la Bill Viola...

OK, these were more cute than challenging. But I have a soft spot for animé-like art over here, so...

You go figure. That's a screen, and different faces – with their mouths on the lower edge – were showing one after another. I liked it. 

And who wouldn't love all these different renditions of the proverbial Chinese lion?!

Being an amateur linguist, art that deals with language is an immediate hit with me, of course.

And my favourite among everything I saw: "Flower of Evil" (恶之花). The toxic black viscous liquid... a black metal spike with rings inside the bottle... the book with burnt edges and "flower of evil" printed on top with bold rough characters... Wow. 

I've said it since forever – they've got the technique. They've got the impulses. They've got the diversity of experience, of origins, of cultures. If the Chinese didn't have to contend with brutal censorship, they'd be one of the most powerful contemporary cultural forces on this planet.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Italo-Belgian Gala

Officially, a tourism promotion event by the consulates of Belgium an Italy. In practice, a fun party with good food, a fantastic drag queen, showing off progressive and liberal Belgium, and a successful effort to get as many queer people as possible in. Yay!

Also – all you need is Abba to get everybody on stage dancing? and La Diva (the drag queen), what a voice! No lipsynch there!