10/08/2017Comments are off for this post.

Hong Kong, working— CHIC, episode 6

Hong Kong, working— CHIC, episode 6

The HKUST (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) campus was quite unlike any university campus I have stayed at. First of all, we used 3 elevators between the bed and the breakfast, each of them spanning 10 floors, and some walking in between. The whole journey took 13 minutes. And then 2 escalators to the bus. The upside of these daily journeys was the view of the sea at all times. There was very little time left for socialising on campus, but we met some friendly cockroaches in the room, and compared to most of Hong Kong’s spaces, each room seemed very spacious.


Cloudy morning

As we could also see by visiting an expat meetup, most white-collar jobs in Hong Kong are in finance, which makes the city economically fragile. The sky-high real estate prices do not support new businesses, and at the same time they have 30 years left as a special administrative region in the People’s Republic of China, so I did not see it as an ideal place for entrepreneurs, however there are many institutions that want to present Hong Kong as one. We visited the Science Park administered by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (a non-profit set up by the Hong Kong Government), although some of us were late — the 3 elevators to reach breakfast are to blame.

The Science Park aims to create an ideal place for hi-tech startups. Design-first companies can go to InnoCentre, which we did not visit. The main areas of interest for Science Park are “Biomedical Technology, Electronics, Green Technology, Information & Communications Technology and Material & Precision Engineering”, and they also develop three “over-arching cross-disciplinary platforms (Smart City, Healthy Ageing and Robotics)”.

I have no idea what they are developing in these domains. I would have loved to see the projects on campus, but as it is the case with most company visits, the really juicy things are hidden and confidential, so I can’t tell how successful they are in their mission to “bring about a golden age of technology” or “enhance the city’s diversified economy, and guide Hong Kong into a new era of prosperity.” (Quotes are from their mission.) Judging by the resources poured into these institutions, attracting or facilitating the creation of new and successful startups seems to be a priority for the city.



This was the HKSTP Data Studio

The two other visits of the day were memorable in a very different way: they made me feel very tiny. We visited Modern Terminals, which is the second largest container terminal operator in Kwai Tsing Container Terminals in Hong Kong, which is the sixth busiest container port of the world. So it’s pretty big. We could even visit the control room to take these nice top-view pictures, and guess whether the cars are self-driving or not. They still have drivers, at least for now.

We also went to see how the containers get filled up in a warehouse. Now if I will order something or hear ‘we could just sell it online’, this is what will come to my mind. I know there are 7.5 billion people on this planet, but do we really need all of this stuff?


No image can show the heat and sweat in this hall

To quickly wash away these disturbing thoughts, we went to have dinner at a nice low-key restaurant and then admired the skyline from a sky-bar where we definitely did not fit the dress code, again.


We took up two tables and finished around 15 dishes, maybe?


All my photos have glass reflections from the window, so here’s a drawing

Our last serious day in Hong Kong was spent getting to know important design hubs of the city. In 3 groups we visited 3 different design institutes: 2 universities and a museum. Although learning about the Hong Kong design ecosystem would be more direct through company visits or meetups, I enjoyed the visit at the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Center. 2 enthusiastic alumni showed us around among the numerous exhibited projects. Their facilities are also impressive. Since they have about 160 students in a class, their scale is different than what we are used to in Europe with classes of approximately 15 people. At the center students can show their diploma movies in a real cinematic setting.

What I was jealous of: the amount of space they had. They could exhibit the projects in a dedicated open space, and had their classes elsewhere. No same-day vernissage and finissage!

However, I missed the mess. Maybe they just did not show it to us, but it seemed way too sterile for comfortable ideation and execution. I wanted to see scraps of paper and sweat on the floor, but I only got to look at the beautiful white cubes (except for one installation that was literally a pile of trash as an outcry against the art world and its institutions).

And then the fun part: visiting Joker Entertainment, the producers of the original slimy. The showroom we were standing in had no indication that this funny and quite disgusting material can also be used in healthcare and for cleaning — it looked like My Little Pony decorated that room when it was drunk for the first time. I would love to show a photo, but I can’t find any.


At least it was cold against the skin

However, the kind gentleman who talked to us gave genuine answers about how they built this company and the challenges or losses faced. This turned out to be much more inspiring than all the diplomatic answers we heard before and after at other companies.

And some less organised activities:

The scavenger hunt

The teams were mixed up from the different cities (Geneva, Fribourg, Lugano), and set free with a list of tasks that we had to mostly disregard with the best of intentions as it was way too long for one day. (We did answer one question: Starbucks does not always use the green color here — why? Is it too close to the color of jade stones?)

What we really completed was the visit to the Golden Computer Arcade full of, well, computers. And cameras, tablets, phones, cables and chargers, game consoles, drones, printers, etc. It was a challenge to not lose our engineers there, luckily at one point they got hungry. Then we switched to some less nerdy fun: we took the ferry and some subways to arrive at the beach. It was more than nice to dive in the water and then float, staring lazily at the skyscrapers loosely attached to the hills.


Surprisingly not crowded

Looking at the skyline

From the beach in Kowloon, from a skybar, from the ferry to Hong Kong Island and from a beach close to Makerbay. And Victoria Peak of course, from where we walked down to see the nightlife at Central, where the super busy and rich work and drink.


Walking down from Victoria Peak


Happy figure in a restaurant


Central during the day

Markets

For scarves, bags, fake watches, powerbanks, clothes, etc. Finding a common price with no common language is not hard if one has a calculator. Theatrical performances are required on both sides. There are so many markets, and then there are the malls. Basically all urban life is inside malls, there is one or more at each subway station, it is a place to hang out, etc. Which is crazy from a Western European perspective (although not unusual in Budapest), where shopping centers are pushed to the outskirts of a city.


Closed market


Say hi to the ducks!

I also visited the Jade Market, since I have studied jewellery design a bit. However, most vendors were more skilled in harassing the buyer and not so much in finding quality items. In a far corner though I found a lovely lady who knew about each stone’s origin, why is it that colour, and had a deeper knowledge about the symbolic meanings of the carvings than just the Chinese zodiac signs.

Temples

The crazy real estate prices probably do not inspire religious constructions, but there are some temples, lying low among the tall buildings, or a bit outside in a park.


Incense in the humid heat — only nice on the picture





Man Mo Temple


Temple Garden Nan Lian

And on Sunday, we crossed the border to Shenzhen.


The government does not wish to discriminate by birth planet.

Next post: Makerbay. Partly because this one is already too long.

14/07/2017Comments are off for this post.

Buddha, Ganesha and me hammering silver, or Chiang Mai — CHIC episode 4

Buddha, Ganesha and me hammering silver, or Chiang Mai—CHIC episode 4

I love how accidental relationships, acquaintances change during travel, as it happened with G. who luckily left Bangkok for Chiang Mai later than us and brought the content of T’s locker after us careless girls. Or J., who is nearing the end of a world tour, and knew much more than us as a practicing Buddhist about the symbols and meanings in temples, and how Ganesha and Buddha can share the same ground in peace.

There are zodiac signs around the temple (same as the Chinese) and different choices to leave wishes materially: on gold or silver leaves, or pulling it up to an outside-sitting Buddha on strings.

Different religions mix not just between Buddhas and Ganeshas on the market stalls, but on the shared grounds of the temples. And the Halal district. And monks studying English in the entryway of the temple.

There is another mystery though: what are clocks doing next to Buddha-statues? Based on their placement (and sometimes number) it can’t be purely for practical reasons. There is also the tiny fountain which has a beat. Timelessness achieved through ignoring the measurements? Or am I looking for reasons where are none?

Clock on the right

Chiang Mai shows another side of Thailand. Compared to Bangkok it’s a quiet, tiny town, though crossing a road still requires the skills of a stunt. The proportion of tourists compared to locals is higher, which changes the profile of the city. There are tiny shops and long market streets everywhere, they feel embarrassingly cheap when converted from Baht to CHF (not so much in HUF), with cheap and/or quality objects under ‘handmade’-signs. We decided to avoid all forms of human-elephant interaction, one of the biggest tourist attractions, since the treatment of riding elephants is cruel, and we can’t be sure other captive elephants are better off when they ‘just have to play’, so we will avoid the whole issue. The focus was on wandering and temples.

Lanna Architecture Center — Bedroom, corridor, altar and coffeehouse

We visited the Lanna Architecture Center, which is basically a well-preserved old house where nobility used to live, the decoration was intricate but subtle, e.g. woodcut patterns.

Wat Pratha Doi Suthep

After the struggle with the crowd at the Grand Palace we still dared to visit Wat Pratha Doi Suthep on a Buddhist holiday, and luckily it was much more quiet. The altitude and the stairway leading there probably helped.

The temple and its site was in the middle of a national park. If one could block out or get away from the group photographers who were pushing everyone out from the background, the place had a strong spiritual atmosphere.

Many locals and Westerners came for blessings, mechanically or cheerfully given out by monks. This included a generous showering of holy water and getting a white bracelet from a wise man in a beanie.

In a different weather, the top of the mountain also provides a great view of the city, but for us, the future was cloudy. However, we could witness a monk playing with two kids and a robot dinosaur.

Huay Keaw waterfall

The last few minutes before the flood/rain were spent at a beautiful waterfall. It also had a closing time when the tourist police (that’s a thing here) came to get everyone.

For tourists and expats it’s easier to find traditional Thai crafts here, like the silversmiths at the Silver Temple, where women can’t enter (?!?!). Not all the temple is silver, it’s mainly aluminum, but breathtaking nevertheless also from the outside. Monks and novices consider the craft as a practice of religion and also teach it to visitors. However I tried it later, when I was standing outside a nearby workshop. I stared so intently at the silversmith’s work that he just handed me the tools when he took a break.

My contribution is the curly line in the lower right corner

In another temple we could meditate with three elderly monks who were sitting there as stable as the statues behind them. It was a powerful experience to see them ‘at work’, I did not even dare to take a picture.

And the temples were still not over, although the last stop was at the local makerspace. There some very nice teenage boys tried to show what equipment they have with few English words and lots of smiles. Some machine parts were laser engraved with motifs and there was a separate corner just for jewelry. In total they have about 300 members, and looked like only a few were expats.

Next stop: back to Bangkok, just in time for some more temples before leaving Thailand! (They were beautiful, but the photos will have to suffice here. I haven’t seen a computer since we set off, and it’s hard to structure text on a tiny screen).

Temple of Dawn — why use gold when you can just smash some porcelaine plates on it?

One big Buddha — Wat Pho

And there was the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall, which was probably the weirdest museum-experience so far in my life, partly because the number of guides was much higher than all the visitors in the building (just us 2). But that’s for another post, because let’s focus now on the change of scenery: Hong Kong!

10/07/2017Comments are off for this post.

Bang Saen — CHIC episode 3

Bang Saen — CHIC episode 3

On leaving Bangkok, we finally managed to catch a real public bus to the minivan for Bang Saen, where stopping the bus is just extra precaution for getting on and off, but not necessary. After correcting the tiny hiccup that the minivans leave from a different place than advised, we slept very well on the way.

Bang Saen is the closest beach to Bangkok, easy distance by car, the Balaton of Budapest. Which meant we were practically the only whites around among wealthier locals and the students of a fairly good university.

The beach and the sea has the magic ability to shut up critical thinking and more generally the mind. And if I see water I have to go in anyway. The first day was not ideal — high tide, strong wind — but the second was beautiful.

For some reason, everyone goes in wearing sports clothes, no one wears a swimming suit.

We also went (after our regular local-style dinner) to a local hip place, where we picked a drink by pointing at the menu randomly, and quickly discovered that organic here is not a trend yet. Matcha tea is not green tea! And what we normally consider breakfast food, like jam on toast, that’s fancy-fun food.



Still Jim Thompson’s house.

I love the spirit houses that are next to most regular buildings and look like doll houses. They provide home to the spirit in the ground that was disturbed by the construction and needs a new home. The family also has to feed the spirit. Some even have LED lights — they use that also in temples though, e.g. to highlight the donation box. Here LED is holy enough.


The money can be spent here in many ways: on oil, flowers, candles, or just throwing it down the hole. And buying clothes.

On day 2, we went to see the only monument around, a temple that had something to do with monkeys (Khao Sam Muk) but also functioned as a clothing store. It was not entirely clear, though many people came there to pray. The living monkeys (and I assume the statues too) were used to humans and were rather assertive in getting food from us, they were only scared of locals with slingshots.

We also found the pier where our last consumed fish probably died. It looked beautiful, if slightly dissolving.

And then we were humming our way through rice fields and forests to Chiang Mai. The train was in no hurry to get there, so we could really see everything where we pass, like the different, non-European shapes of leaves and all the green with some yellow and brown dots.

In memory of all the mangos we eat and drink, especially there, here is a song for those who follow us.

06/07/2017Comments are off for this post.

Bangkok — CHIC episode 2

Bangkok–CHIC episode 2

The greatest trick to Thailand (anywhere, but here it’s absolutely vital) is to treat each part of our day and our stumbling around as part of the sightseeing and not try to get from one place to the next.

Because we won’t, surely not how and when we imagined. Public transport is still a mystery, and the distances are huge, bus stops are rarely signed, and no itinerary or timetable is to be found. Uber was so far the most reliable, as the price was clear and the car had AC, even if that meant giving up consumer ethics for this week.

Real planning is not efficient here, so our days are mostly series of images and moments, like when the history museum was already closed (it was open, but there were no more guides), which left us snacking and talking about how stupid are passports and borders (imagine M.I.A. — Borders in the background). Or when we found a lovely bookshop, run most probably by someone who lived for a while in the US based on his accent. 3 monks were peacefully and quietly drinking their coffee there, which seemed like a good recommendation.

Our biggest luxury spending here is coffee, which equals to our lunch meals, as it’s approximately the same price as in Italy. There are some local variants of course, but I reserve my experimentation for the numerous street food places where we usually eat, the spices probably disinfect us too.

The evenings were spent either at the couch surfing meetup (where are the girls?), the evening market for tourists with blasting music and cheap clothes, or a high-end bar with live music and local guests, who did not appear to be of legal drinking age.

And we had our first huge rain that got us stuck at Jim Thompson’s House, which is a museum. Thompson revived international silk trading in Thailand. He seems like a beloved figure, if a little eccentric. As a businessman, he sticked to cottage-based production, mainly by women, and as an architect, he built his home here to live among his Asian art collection.

After the formidable rain, we also had our first success with public transportation: we took a boat — we already got soaked, it couldn’t get much worse. The canal gave a view of backyards and half-open rooms of haphazard construction, which clashed with the view of the skyscrapers behind them, which was how I visually imagined Bangkok. What I did not see before was that almost everyone operating the boat would be a woman. They were effortlessly jumping-gliding in flip-flops between the shore and the boat at stops. And how we found a boat? A nice gentleman in military uniform helped us out, as Google and local signs failed us, though I still love the Thai alphabet’s typographic rhythm and pattern.


Don’t show your feet to Buddha — or don’t ride? We will never know

Of course we went to the Grand Palace, it would have been really awkward to come here and miss it. Due to the intense heat and the even more intense crowd we just followed the short version with crowds of Chinese tourists, while avoiding the mourners of the king. Next to the palace there were places of real prayer and worship, and the Emerald Buddha (from jasper) also drew real believers, but I hope to find places that still feel sacred and I don’t have to navigate between so many selfie-sticks.

They had an interesting business model at the entrance of the Palace, where they sent back nearly all tourists to buy some more clothes to cover up: a shirt with longer sleeves, long skirt or pants, hats, etc, and some stores were conveniently located just there. Apart from the sarcasm, we could have thought of this ourselves beforehand if our heads were not melting off our necks in the sun, and this gave some kind of uniformity to the crowd.


Chinese and Thai Buddhist temples

And there were other places where Buddhism is still practiced. Amid the noise and easy-to-follow beat of Chinatown we found a Chinese Buddhist temple where people drop by to pray to a massive amount of cheap-looking Buddhas in different sizes and shapes, some still from the ascetic period of the prince.

In a Thai Buddhist temple an extended family was taking pictures with a distinguished-looking monk, in different group settings and alone, with 2 professional cameras. The temple was beautiful with an authentic look and soul, and it’s still used apparently.

The touristic Golden Mountain’s main attraction was definitely the view of the city. The altar did not command silence, did not feel spiritual, however the mountain itself was impressive. The first time we accidentally tried going up the wrong way, so we also saw the tiny cemetery behind it, which turned out to be a dead end (pun intended, sorry). Also I’ve met the biggest insect of my life, the Godzilla of centipedes.

My biggest question though: what are the mirrors for in the temples?

The Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace was, among many other things, placed between two huge mirrors. Instead of being a tool for vanity and more at home in palazzos than churches, does it stand for self-reflection here? Anyone?