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Hokkien New Year

I know, it’s getting confusing. First there’s the Chinese New Year, which some also dubbed Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, which falls on the same day as the Vietnamese New Year (“Tet”). Then, separately, the ethnic group known as the Hokkiens (or Fujians) celebrate their particular new year on the 9th day of Chinese New Year in a ceremony that’s known as Bai Ti Gong. That’s literally “Praying to the Heavenly God”, and it occurs on his birthday.

Hokkien New Year

Hokkien New Year

My family mostly identifies ourselves as Hokkiens, following matrilineal practice passed down by my (paternal) great-grandmother. Funny that, considering my great-grandfather was actually Henghua yet pretty much nobody in the family speaks this dialect at all following the passing of my grandfather. Notwithstanding, both ethnic groups originated from the same region in China. I suspect there’s a lot more to know about family history if I am to really dig into it, but to keep things simple, I’m first and foremost a Hokkien, with a touch of Peranakan from Penang.

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Reunion of the departed

Much has been said about the importance of family reunion dinner during Chinese New Year. However, within certain ancestor-worship practicing family, the reunion of the departed is equally important. We were taught to remember our ancestors, to invite them home on special occasions, and to share festivals with their spirits.

CNY preparation

CNY preparation

This Chinese New Year also noticeably marks my first ancestor prayer session where my grandfather now sat among the departed, while everyone else had had time to get used to it in the past couple of years. In the past, he would be the one cooking up a storm in the kitchen and prepared the reunion meal. I kept expecting to see him by the large wok, tipping in all kind of ingredients and served up dish after dish in quick succession.

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At the joss paper store

For the third time in seventeen years, I travel home to celebrate Chinese New Year. Usually, I keep my visits to the summer months, when I could take extended time off without too much difficulty, but upon my grandmother’s request, I’m back for two weeks and pretty much entirely at her disposal.

CNY preparation

CNY preparation

In the run up to the Chinese New Year celebration and the preparation for family reunion dinner (and prayer), I accompanied her to a local joss paper store to stock up decorative items for the house as well as some supplies, like joss sticks, prayer papers, candles, “money” for the dead “in the Kingdom of Helheim” no less! It’s all part and parcel of the culture, but sometimes I feel guilty about all these burnings of offerings considering the dire state of our environment…

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Pâtisserie Myu Myu

It seems there was a silver lining afterall in finding the Pâtisserie de Choisy closed on a day when I really needed to buy some fresh Asian/Chinese pastries for G’s going-away do the next day. This ex-colleague of mine had just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and was pondering why there aren’t any dessert shop in Paris similar to those I recommended to him. He absolutely adored them.

Myu Myu durian cake

Myu Myu durian millefeuilles

In my attempt to hunt delicious alternatives, I stumbled upon Pâtisserie Myu Myu mere minutes walk away, tucked away in a small street off Avenue de Choisy among residential buildings and would easily go unnoticed. It also doubles up as a salon du thé for those wishing to stay there for a bit.

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Dining Izakaya – 6036

Last year, Chef Haruka Casters – formerly of Abri, where I had great meals with family and friends but a nightmare to get into nowadays – striked out on her own and opened up a small, 14-seats izakaya in Belleville. Its name 6036 represents the distance, in miles, separating Paris and Tokyo, but here, the two food cultures are closely wed to make an interesting Franco-Japanese meal, tapas style.

Izakaya 6036

Izakaya 6036

The menu here changes regularly but there are seemingly some staples (onigiri, cold cuts of Galice and Belotta, St Nectaire or Comté, macha crème brûlée), others rotated and appear every so often, and some depending on the season. A good mix, I would say, for a menu of approximately 10-12 items: 7-9 savoury, 1 cheese and 2 desserts. On the late November night we were there with a few friends, we tasted 10 of the 12 items possible, skipping out on the soup and the carbonara.

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Tales of two photos

Weekend morning, every now and then, I allow myself the luxury of a lie-in. What was different this particular morning was the effort F put in getting breakfast ready. He didn’t just got me any random croissant, he had gone to a rather fancy bakery (where you must not stretch your hand beyond the glass barrier to point at something!) and picked up a selection of goodies. With tea and mandarin juice to complement the pastry.

Breakfast

Breakfast

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Niki de Saint Phalle

We made a last ditch effort to catch the exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalle at the Grand Palais today. My colleague S saw it recently and absolutely loved it. I don’t know anything about Saint Phalle, except some of her sculptures are permanently installed by the Centre Pompidou and her style of work is so distinctive that I immediately recognised it when I saw “La Tempérance” in Luxembourg City.

(Note to self: I should write about Luxembourg City one of these days, as this blog contains only two measly P365 posts about it.)

Niki de St Phalle

Niki de St Phalle

I had expected to see more of her characteristic colourful and bountiful figures, and I ended up getting to know a lot more about the artist – sculptor, painter, filmmaker; the sources of inspiration – albeit painful ones in some cases – of her works; and some very personal story brought forth to the surface. I learned that art was “a way of taming those dragons which have always appeared in [her] work” and she wanted “to show everything; [her] heart, [her] emotions”.

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Forming new habits

At the start of the year, I figured I would start working on self-discipline, a concept that somehow escaped me in the past year or two. Nothing too drastic though. The plan is to identify key things I would like to do each month and then adopt a handful of daily actions that contribute to these goals and be mindful about maintaining them. This way, every month, I will be consciously doing something rewarding, advancing self-development and most importantly, reinforcing discipline.

River Seine

Reading though a couple of articles (1,2) I came across yesterday, it appears I have gone into the realm of habit forming, even if I had not specifically targetted such an action from the start. I was not even aiming to change my behaviour into automatic deeds per se but the mechanism I’m applying is similar, all for the sake of “focus”.

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The perks of museum passes

Let me just put it out there – if anyone ever feel like giving me something but not sure what makes a good gift, one of the sure things would be an annual museum pass. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solo or a duo card – although the latter is handy to bring F or a friend with me – as long as I get to enjoy the many different exhibitions around town. ;)

Museum passes

Some of the perks attached to these passes?
– No queuing to enter a museum nor its exhibition(s)
– Share the joy of museum visits without queuing (with duo card)
– Multiple visits to interesting (temporary) exhibitions
– Discounts for purchases at the gift shop
– Discounts for guided visits or exhibition conferences
– Free/discounted tickets of affiliated sites/museums
– Free/discounted tickets to linked/special events

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Missing Dublin

Late November, upon getting news that a close friend of mine would be back in Dublin all the way from Australia, I did a quick search for flights, asked for a day off work the following morning, and bought my tickets back to the Fair City too. It was impromptu enough for one of my aunts to complaint that I didn’t give her enough notice to make arrangement to see me!

Dublin from the air

Dublin from the air

I woke up super duper early to catch the first metro to Porte Maillot, then bus to Beauvais Tillé, and Ryanair to Dublin. Tired, I ended up taking a quick nap during the flight and when I next opened my eyes, we were approaching the Irish coastline and I could make out the Wicklow Mountains in the horizon. We approached by way of Dun Laoghaire, Dublin Bay and then Howth, before landing in Swords. It was a beautiful day for my homecoming.

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Trolling Fox (Faux) News

Life in Paris – and France – is gradually returning to the norm in the aftermath of the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. In this past week, enormous queues had been spotted all over Paris at newsstands, everyone eager to get their hands on a copy of the survival issue of Charlie Hebdo, currently printed at a phenomenon number (5 million copies!) and being doled out to the newsstands like ration during tough times. The first mornings, they sold out rapidly and disappointed folks were told to return the next day after they were restocked.

Charlie Hebdo

I found myself standing in a queue on the third morning, fulfilling a request that came from abroad just the previous evening, and snagged the third last copy at my local newsstand. Not that I read it though; we had never read Charlie Hebdo before and were not particularly pushed in starting anyway. The copy got duly posted away and I hope it won’t disappear in transit. Anyway, this is less interesting than the skirmish between Le Petit Journal and Fox Faux News.

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Feasting on galettes des rois

January can only mean one thing in our household – it’s open season for galette des rois! It seems the limited time availability only fueled my hunger for more, so this addiction is unlikely to go away anytime soon. However, after two seasons of buying small/single portion galette des rois on a nearly daily basis, this year, a change of strategy. We would buy only at the weekends, and fancy galettes des rois are on the table. * happy dance *

Galette des rois

A whopping eight galettes des rois had came through our door so far. Well, we started early this year, over the New Year’s long weekend, before Epiphany officially kicked off. It made sense since C&M were staying with us and C loves them as much as I do! We’ve largely stuck to one galette des rois per weekend-day rule, except yesterday when we had a small tasting party with friends; three galettes des rois were served and today we’re having none. It was a “sacrifice” I’d gladly make because it’s a lot more fun to share them :)

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Postcards: Louvre (FR)

While going through my stash of photos taken last year – way too many of them! – so I can select a few for printing, I noticed I’ve a good few photos taken while I was at the Louvre or in the vicinity. There are probably more lost in some of the folders that I don’t have time to give much scrutiny to…

Louvre

Louvre

I must admit that I don’t go there as often as I’d like to because I’m not a fan of the massive crowd that jostles to get in and see only the “highlights” when there are so many other gems to look out for. I make special efforts to go there, however, when I get to go on THATLou hunt with Daisy. Now, she’s the woman who knows it inside out! ;)

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Let peace be the guiding light

I had not realised how significant these photos could be when I took them a few days ago, on a night out with friends to catch a ballet flamenco performance. I thought I was just photographing things that I thought to be pleasing to look at.

Peace and light

Today, millions – French and non-French alike – came out to demonstrate unity against extremism and terrorism, to defend their rights and that of their compatriots, and to mourn the deaths that remind us how fragile life can be if we choose violence against peace.

Anyone who the need to kill, to pillage, to rape, or to strap bombs onto a 10-year old little girl so to make a point, the only point they are making is their barbarism knows no moral nor ethical bound. How sad is that? Sowing fear does not make one a hero, but a coward who fear living a righteous life; the scheming, the plotting, everything in utmost secrecy. How sad is that? Living half a life and mostly lies; nearly loveless and nobody that truly cares. How sad is that?

Please, let peace be your guiding light, no matter where you are, which religion you adhere to, what custom you practice.

Let peace be the core of your being.

Laughing with

No one laughs at God in the hospital
No one laughs at God in the war
No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God, we’re all laughing with God

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Neige d’Été

When I stumbled across an article recently that pointed to a new praiseworthy restaurant in my neighbourhood (mere 5 minutes walk from home is a bonus!) it’s a no-brainer that I should check it out. Taking advantage of the fact that we have visitors to entertain over the new year period, we need no further excuse to try snagging a table. What’s nice – for once, we were not working so we could even opt for the more budget-friendly lunch menu.

Neige d'Été

Neige d'Été

Neige d’Été (a somewhat whimsical “summer snow”) is discreetly located, with nary a sign pointing to its existence, until you’re right at the entrance and see the name palely etched across the glass of the door. Its interior – work of Japanese architect Shinku Noda – of minimalist features with shades of white is punctuated by occasional colours from the bouquet of fresh flower near the door and earthy tones of the settees. It felt a tad delicate to step in. Even the cutleries were hidden from sight – check the drawer in front of you but be careful not to spill everything onto your lap!

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Postcards: A Parisian sunset (FR)

The start of year has been very kind to us. We hosted a couple of friends since New Year’s Eve, which we celebrated by attending a graceful performance of the Nutcracker at Palais de Congrès, and since then we’ve been busy with various activities. That was how we ended up at Jardin des Tuileries on day 2 of the year and caught this beautiful sunset.

Sunset in Paris

Sunset in Paris

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(re)focus

Happy New Year! Bonne Année! Selamat Tahun Baru!

Lightshow

I suppose this signals another yearly recap is due. Did I learn and did I make mistakes in 2014? A-plenty! Did I go off (life) tangent and lose sight of goals that I’ve set for myself? Ab-solutely! Did I carry bagfuls of regrets and mutter sorries along the way? Nope!

I refuse to wallow in laments for things I cannot change.

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Once upon a clear sky in Hong Kong

Sunny days with blue sky were hard to come by during my little sojourn in Hong Kong. We had snatches of it on our first day – ah, what a bright welcome – and then the city was just shrouded in foggy whiteness/greyness on the following days. I was beginning to wonder if I was actually in Hong Kong or in Beijing… Lo and behold, on the final day of my trip, I woke up to clear blue sky and everything was basking in shimmering light!

Sunny Hong Kong

Sunny Hong Kong

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How to gain a few kilos in a week

First, there were dim sums. Then, came desserts. There were even some street food/ snacks. But, as you may have guessed, I was not done with eating yet. I dare not step onto the weighing scale when I got home from Hong Kong, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I’d put on a few kilos; my jeans felt snugged… /whistles

Food in Hong Kong

Food in Hong Kong

For someone who is not big on biscuits and cookies, I had fun tasting a large range of goodies offered at Kee Wah Bakery and Koi Kei Bakery. There are multiple branches for each of these famous bakeries, with friendly staff that really want you to know how delicious their treats are and why you should buy a few more packet of everything. Guess who was the sucker who hand-carried boxes of delicate egg rolls back to Paris?

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So many markets

I’ve lost count of the number of markets I stumbled upon in Hong Kong. In the vicinity of Mong Kong/Yau Ma Tei, visitors’ guides are recommending the Bird Market, the Flower Markets, the Ladies’ Market, the Temple Street Night Market and the Jade Market. The variety of things that anyone could buy is just mind-boggling. Not only that, all of these markets could be pretty much visited in one go – they form a complete walking tour route! Somewhere along the way, there are shops and stalls to pick up walkabout snacks. ;)

Hong Kong markets

Hong Kong markets

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Hong Kong by night

Central Hong Kong puts up a colourful display of neon lightings no matter where you go and look, and over at the harbour waterfront, the Symphony of Lights set to wow visitors nightly at 8pm with its almost-15 minutes lightshow. I caught the show one evening from the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, and for anyone interested in listening to the accompanying narration, the places to be are the Avenue of Stars and Golden Bauhinia Square (Wan Chai).

Hong Kong by night

Hong Kong by night

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Occupy Central with Love and Peace

It is difficult to walk around central Hong Kong and not run into the occupy protestors, with their tents and living areas pitched on a number of streets around Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Admiralty. The Umbrella Movement valiantly stood their grounds, but alas, their courageous protests and occupations were brought to an end last week. It is a complex socio-political issue and one which I don’t have enough knowledge to discuss, so all I can offer are a few photos, guiltily taken, during the week I was in Hong Kong.

Occupy Central

Occupy Central

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Chinese desserts galore

One Chinese New Year many moons ago, I organised a dinner in Dublin for 35 friends and colleagues. In keeping with the theme of the meal – Chinese dishes which non-Chinese can’t find on their version of the menu (the restaurant owner was very nervous when he saw 35 non-Chinese walked in with me because I had pre-ordered some very traditional dishes!) – I had specially ordered red bean soup for dessert. The meal was a great success but I wish I could say the same about the dessert; a majority of the diners abandoned it after a spoonful or two, and proceeded to order frozen desserts available in just about every Chinese restaurants in Europe (you know which one I’m talking about, right?).

Asian desserts

Asian desserts

It is true that Chinese desserts are not very conventional by European/Western standards. Many are in the form of warm soup or custard, the ingredients often include beans or seeds or nuts, there are glutinous and/or jellied textures… I could go on, but that’s no reason to confine Chinese/”Asian” restaurants’ dessert menu to ice cream, frozen stuff, and at a push, banana/pineapple/apple fritters. If bubble tea and the chemically-induced flavours could gain popularity in the West, why not other desserts too?

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Postcards: Stanley (HK)

For yet another change of scenery from central Hong Kong and its skyscrapers, A and I took the bus out to Stanley, one of the oldest villages in Hong Kong, and the site of a former English fort that is now famous for its market bearing the same name. En route, I spied the cable cars that transport visitors to the Ocean Park and some of the park’s rollercoasters, and I also looked admiringly at the scenic Repulse Bay – nothing repulsive there, right? We found Stanley Market highly commercialised and generic to many other local markets; walking along the main street waterfront and Stanley Ma Hang Park was decidedly more interesting.

Stanley

Stanley

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Tai O fishing village

A short 20-minutes bus ride away, to the west of Po Lin Monastery, lies Tai O, a traditional fishing village that sits partly on Lantau Island and partly on a small island mere metres away – not immediately obvious until I had a closer look at the map. The small island is today connected to Lantau by way of 2 bridges: Tai Chung footbridge (completed 1996) and Sun Ki bridge (completed 1979); until then, river crossing relied on punting and even rope-tow ferry pulled by elderly Hakka women! If you want to experience the latter, it may be possible on some weekends and holidays, but not on the day I was visiting.

Tai O

Tai O

On arrival, we were lured by the touts selling boat tour of the village and to see the pink dolphins. The 30-minutes ride is very affordable, and while no sighting of the dolphins for us that particular day, what I actually found more fascinating is the way of life in this small village that relies heavily on the river and the sea for their livelihood. It is as different from central Hong Kong as day and night. No skyscrapers, no shopping malls, but houses so close that the neighbours could stick their heads into each other’s living rooms.

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Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha

SL and I arrived at Tung Chung, and we started to hem haw – should we trek for 3-3.5 hours or queue up for for the cable car in order to get to the Ngong Ping plateau, where the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha are located? It was already past noon, the sun high in the sky, and the queue for the cable car didn’t look too bad (it ended up being a 40-minutes wait). And I admit it, I was feeling lazy too. Cable car, it is!

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

The 6km-ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping plateau took about 20-25 minutes, over uninhabited peaks and rather magnificent view. We could also see the trekking trail just below us, and spotted the occasional walkers heading downhill towards Tung Chung. Clearly, they’d been up at the Lantau Peak much earlier in the day and were ready to wind things down.

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Wong Tai Sin Temple

The temple of Wong Tai Sin lies a couple of kilometres to the west of the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. It is also just one MTR station away from Diamond Hill (“Wong Tai Sin” station, exit B3) for anyone looking for a quick access option, although frankly, it’s easy enough to walk between them. A and I walked it in about 20 minutes.

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Home to three different religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – there are distinct differences between them even if they’re often lumped together as “Buddhism” – the Wong Tai Sin Temple complex is large and bustling with worshippers and visitors alike. Apparently, there is an one-way system which visitors are encouraged to follow, and during festival periods, this system is compulsory to keep things in order. Well, since we arrived through “Supreme Paradise Gateway” that was definitely not the main entrance, we explored the complex randomly.

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Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

I found myself heading towards Diamond Hill on my second morning in Hong Kong, in search of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden, for something more traditional and away from the gleaming towers in the Central district. For anyone travelling by public transportation, the access of the Chi Lin Nunnery is easiest through the Nan Lian Garden, mere minutes walk away from the MTR (exit C2).

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Founded in 1934, the temple complex of the Chi Lin Nunnery was renovated in the 1990s. The elegant wooden architecture was constructed using specific interlocking systems to hold the wood together, very much like how they used to do it during the Tang Dynasty, and thus not a single iron nail was required in the present-day buildings. A series of temple halls can be found, with exquisite statues of the divinities, including Buddha, Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and other bodhisattvas. (Sorry, no photos of the halls and statues allowed!)

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Postcards: The (Victoria) Peak (HK)

Victoria Peak is the highest peak on Hong Kong island. Locally known as The Peak, it gave a superb view of the Victoria Harbour as well as other neighbouring islands. I trekked up there twice during my six-day stay, blocked sinus notwithstanding. I was glad to have repeated the experience since the second go was on a clearer day and right before sunset; it was beautiful.

The Peak

The Peak

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