Hong Kong’s hidden gem: Foo Tak building

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Foo Tak building in Wan Chai

 

Sometimes I am surprised by readers’ responses to my blog entries. My previous entry on Hong Kong’s secondhand bookstores have generated more responses than I expected, so I gathered that people are still interested in independent/secondhand booksellers.

What astonishes me about Hong Kong is that it has much to offer beyond the glossy shopping malls, yet often these places are overlooked. During my stay, I discovered a hidden gem called Foo Tak building (365-367 Hennessy Rd), an inconspicuous 14 storey old residential building in Wan Chai filled with cultural hubs, alternative bookshops and artist studios etc. This building is truly one of a kind in Hong Kong, and it is easy to figure that out as soon as you step into the lift as it is covered in anti-government and political stickers. Cool.

 

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The coming society

 

Located on the second floor of the building is The Coming Society, a second-hand bookshop selling English and Chinese (and some French) titles in literature, arts, philosophy, social science and history. Founded in 2011 by Daniel Lee and Chen Ho-lok, both Philosophy graduates from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with the aim of stimulating discussions. The shop also organises talks, book launches, film screenings and mini concerts on a weekly basis.

Aside from a reading corner, the shop provides a self-help pantry and free wifi. I was impressed to see alternative publications on gay and lesbian rights and US zine ‘Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison’ on the human rights of female prisoners. These are not publications that you would find in any mainstream bookstores in Hong Kong. Last but not least, there is even a set-your-price box for CDs produced by local musicians… now that is something that I have never encountered in Hong Kong before!

 

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Art & Culture Outreach

 

Located on the 14th floor is the brainchild of the building: the non-profit organisation Art & Culture Outreach. Founded by in 2003 and supported by Dawei Charitable Foundation, ACO aims to use the building to facilitate both local and overseas art and cultural practitioners to have cross boundary/ discipline development. In 2014, the bookshop moved from 1st floor to a bigger space on 14th floor which includes a cafe, gallery space and a rooftop vegetable farm. The bookshop stocks a range of books from local and foreign independent publishers with a strong focus on art, design and architecture. There are also lifestyle goods made by local artists/designers on sale, and an exhibitions area for local artists/illustrators to showcase their works.

 

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MaKee

 

On the 8th floor is MaKee, a retro cafe and shop that sells vintage household/accessories/stationery that the owners found during their travels. It is common to see these types of shops in Japan, but seldom in Hong Kong. The homemade cakes are baked by the friendly owner, and the ambience makes you feel like a visitor at a friend’s home rather than being in a cafe/shop.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit all the shops/venues in the building, but I will certainly return again in the future as this building is what I considered as an ‘oasis’ in Hong Kong.

 

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Cool poster designs on local events

 

Hong Kong International film festival 2015

While in Hong Kong, two major culture festivals were taking place, so I took the opportunity to attend the Hong Kong Arts Festival, where I saw a China and Hong Kong collaborative play ‘The Crowd‘ and listened to traditional Korean music reinterpreted by contemporary groups Jeong Ga Ak Hoe & Su:m.

However, as I am a foreign documentary and film buff, my favourite annual festival is no doubt the Hong Kong International film festival. Since the ticket prices at this festival were much cheaper than the one in London (about 1/2 the price), I could easily watch a bundle without breaking the bank, though my only limitation was time!

Here are the ones I saw at the festival:

A Pigeon sat on a branch reflecting on existence (Sweden/Norway/France/Germany) Directed by Roy Andersson (2014)

Eccentric Swedish director Roy Andersson‘s latest film is the final one of his Living Trilogy; and it is bizarre, beguiling, dark and fun. There are multiple stories (and layers), and nothing is what it appears on the surface. It is impossible to write about it nor even make much sense out of it, but the experience is utterly mesmorising.

 

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Trailer) from Roy Andersson 

 

Borderless (Iran) – directed by Amir Hossein Asgari (2014)

This film won the ‘Best Asian Future Film Award’ at Tokyo International Film Festival, and it was one of my favourites at the festival. The film is gripping, powerful and it is accompanied by outstanding (and non self-conscious) acting. The young boy (central character) effortlessly steals the show. At the Q & A, the director mentioned that he shot the film without the kids realising it, hence he was able to capture the kids’ most natural state. This is a tremendous triumph for the director as it is his first feature length film.

 

Borderless Trailer from TaaT Films

 

Ixcanul Volcano (Guatemala/France) – directed by Jayro Bustamante (2015)

One of the reasons why I love foreign cinema is because it can broaden my horizon and enable me to understand different cultures around the globe. This simple fable-like story on a young teenage girl is set in the the Guatemalan highlands near the volcano; it is low-key, refreshing and eye-opening esp. regarding the superstitions and rituals of the Indigenous culture. This film also won the ‘Alfred Bauer Award’ at the Berlin International film festival.

 

Ixcanul Film Trailer from Archipel Productions

 

Sworn Virgin (Italy/Albania) – Directed by Laura Bispuri (2015)

Another intriguing story (based on a novel of the same name) about a woman from the highlands, and this time, she is a ‘sworn virgin’ from Albania. Played by well-known Italian actress, Alba Rohrwacher (who somehow resembles Tilda Swinton), the film is a sensitive study of her self discovery. The actress’ subdued acting is convincing despite her feminine facial features. Nonetheless, it is the subject matter that really fascinates me esp. after finding out that there are only around 100 sworn virgins left in the world now!

 

Sworn virgin trailer from ERAFILM ALBANIA

 

ATA (China) – Directed by Chakme Rinpoche (2014)

The sole reason that I picked this film was because it was directed by a Tibetian lama Chakme Rinpoche, who is also the ninth incarnation of Gyalwa Cho Yang. The title ATA comes from Sanskrit, which means “to heal the pain”. The film is about a blind boy and his single mother’s dream for him to become a ping-pong champion. And it is only until the boy vanishes one day that the mother begins to understand his world.

The film is beautifully shot with an emphasis on lighting. The message of the film is subtle and yet insightful; however, it did not touch me on the same level as the other films did at the festival. I found it hard to develop strong empathy for the mother, and I felt quite detached throughout the film. Despite the good intention and effort, I was slightly disappointed with the director’s first feature film.

 

 

The look of silence (Denmark/Indonesia) – directed by Joshua Oppenheimer (2014)

American director Joshua Oppenheimer‘s ‘Act of killing’ is one of the most powerful and harrowing documentaries that I have seen in recent years. This second companion piece is equally haunting, and again it probes the nature, conscience and morality of human beings. In human history, there had been numerous genocides that took place, some were commemorated, while others were forgotten. In Indonesia, most of the government officials and perpetrators would use propanganda to make the public forget. It is horrific that all the these perpetrators dismissed past events, and insisted on looking to the future!

Both Oppenheimer‘s documentaries are important not only for the relatives of victims, but they also act as reminders that by choosing not to confront history or our past actions, they will continue to haunt us (even on a subconscious level) and history may repeat itself unless we are conscious of our actions and behaviour.

 

The Look Of Silence / Teaser from Intermission Film

 

Jia Zhangke: A guy from Fenyang (France) – Directed by Walter Salles (2015)

Jia Zhangke is regarded as the leading figure of the ‘Sixth Generation’ movement of Chinese cinema. My initial encounter with the director’s work was ‘Still life’ in 2006, and have watched several others since then. This documentary made by Brazilian director Walter Salles is warm, captivating and it reveals Jia‘s struggle as an uncompromising director working in China today. Jia comes across as mild, down to earth and introverted, yet he is also an artist who is passionate about storytelling and documenting social issues that affect his country today. Not only I have great respect for the director, and I am eager to watch his earlier works like ‘Platform’ and ‘Unknown pleasures’ if I can get hold of them.

 

I am the people/ Je suis le peuple (France) – Directed by Anna Roussillion (2014)

An intelligent and insightful documentary on Egypt’s political changes in past few years, seen from the perspective of villagers from a rural countryside. Despite all the turmoil taking place in the country, life goes on as usual for these poor villagers. It is fascinating and compelling. This film also won the documentary award at the film festival.

 

Spring hike in Hong Kong

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Silver Mine Bay, Mui Wo

 

So far this year, I have only hiked twice, yet both took place in the rain and mist… first in Surrey and then in Hong Kong!

Spring is probably not the best time to visit Hong Kong as the weather is humid, damp, foggy and unpredictable. After the fog has finally cleared in Hong Kong, I was yearning to get out of the city. My friend suggested a hike in Mui Wo (Lantau Island), and it sounded like a perfect plan.

 

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Morning fog

 

Despite having checked the weather forecast beforehand, my friend and I were caught out in the rain after taking the ferry to Mui Wo. At the beginning, it was merely drizzle and so we carried on even though we didn’t have any rain gear nor did we dressed warm enough (the temperature also dropped overnight). Unfortunately for us, the rain did not stop, and we had to turn back because the ground was getting too slippery.

 

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Main: Cycling culture in Lantau Island; Bottom left: A colourful mosaic house at Silver Mine Bay; Bottom right: Lantau Island bus company established in 1973.

 

After an unsuccessful hike, we considered taking a bus to the fishing village Tai O on the other side of the island, but since the journey would take approx. 45 minutes, we gave up on the idea and decided to stay in Mui Wo.

We then spent the next hour or so meandering around the Silver Mine Bay area. Although we didn’t complete any hiking routes, it was relaxing to walk in an idle manner. The contrast between the bustling city life and the slow pace of these outlying islands is huge, and our pace slowed down naturally as we walked on.

 

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The day provided us opportunity to admire the wonders of nature, something that is hard to do living in the city. It was also educational for an amateur like me to learn more about plants and trees, and to see what blooms around this time of year in Hong Kong.

We saw Morus nigra full of black mulberries (which we initially mistaken them for blackberries), Catalpa trees (my guess) with long pea pods, many other wild flowers, old banyan trees and a giant snail crawling slowly on the path (I think even the snails here crawl slower than the ones in the city).

 

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After wandering around for a few hours, we had a huge late lunch at the Turkish restaurant near the ferry terminal. And when it was time for us to head home, commuters of the island were starting to return. Most of them ( including students, Westerners and office workers etc) had parked their bikes outside of the terminal, and this cycling culture surprised us, as we seldom see people cycle in the city (probably because it is too dangerous).

Although we didn’t hike very much, we felt exhausted when we arrived back in the city. Yet my friend and I both agreed that it was a pleasant and relaxing day despite the rain and setback. We both can’t wait until our next adventure!