Giant Angry Clown Face?

Just some random observations, nothing in particular.

First and most important, I left the car at home, which meant this was the first time I was able to drink alcohol since …. hmmm, actually can’t recall.  Here’s a tip for y’all, when you haven’t had a drink in weeks (or months?), it doesn’t take much to get you tipsy.   And that’s why no photos, I didn’t want to bring along a camera and worry about dropping it or leaving it behind.

We wanted something different for dinner last night and decided to try Istanbul Express, a place we’ve passed many times but never tried.  Not bad, especially the chicken dish my gf ordered, a huge amount of chicken shaved off of one of those vertical rotisserie thingies, together with salad and rice or fries, $65.   We will return.

Then it was over to a birthday party at Red at IFC.   I don’t go to the 4th floor rooftop area of IFC often, actually I think this was just my second time.  It is an example of a place done fairly well in Hong Kong – an oasis of sorts in Central, a huge open area with trees, fountains and lots of outdoor seating with a terrific view across the harbor (though said view may go away in a few years when they build the new highway, something about some ventilation shafts or buildings that will be built).  And a handful of super expensive restaurants and bars up there.

The area where we sat, outside of Red, has these huge wicker monstrosities that you cannot possibly sit on comfortably and believe me, I tried.  They have these huge 50 pound weights on them to keep them from blowing around when it’s windy and last night it was fricking windy – glasses were blowing off tables among other things.  They try to compensate for this with those huge propane outdoor heaters and those who’d shown up without jackets were huddling around them.

HK$70 for a glass of Johnny Walker Black & soda?  My guess is that’s a bargain given the rent these people are probably paying but it does tell me it’s not a place for serious all-night drinking.  Plus it’s just weird going to a shopping mall and then up 4 levels of escalators to drink – especially because one then has to get down 4 levels of escalators to get out.

Because the outdoor areas are a public space, there seem to be all these rules there.  Hello nanny state.  So even with these prices, drinking was like a fast food restaurant.  Go to one counter.  Make your order.  Pay.  Get a receipt.  Go to another counter to collect your drink.  And pay $15 more per drink for that privilege.

Because it was a birthday party, people were showing up with bottles of wine.  And Red won’t do corkage.  We had to have someone do a run down to City Super to buy a corkscrew.  Finally someone had the idea to buy a bottle of wine from the bar because that would provide an ice bucket and glasses.  And then someone put some of the gift bottles of wine into that ice bucket.  And the bar staff came out to tell us that we could only put their bottles of wine into the bucket, not bottles we’d bought elsewhere.  Maybe they were afraid we’d hurt their bucket.  Or some bizarro IFC rule.  Meanwhile the DJ stood outside and every song he played sounded like Katy Perry except when he played Bruno Mars and I was thinking that Cee-Lo’s Fuck You would sound very appropriate but that never came on.  Really, production techniques on pop music in the last few years, everything sounds the freaking same.  It’s gonna get old fast, if it hasn’t already.

And then came the moment when I wished I’d had a camera with me – not to steal shots of some of the extremely attractive women at this party, but because I noticed what looked like a giant angry clown face on the side of one of the buildings across the harbor in East TST.  Is this for real?  Has anyone else seen this?  Do you know what it’s for? Or was I just hallucinating?  It looked a little like Li Ka-Shing without his glasses.

And then, taxi home, taxi driver kept wanting to take the Eastern tunnel and that meant I had to stay awake to keep him on track to the Central tunnel.  And then when he got to Choi Hung, he was on the verge of making several wrong turns.   (For those who don’t live here, for some bizarre reason red taxis either stay on HK or Kowloon side and when they cross over, they get to charge you double the toll to cover their presumably empty trip back to their familiar stomping grounds.  And the Eastern tunnel toll is double the Central tunnel toll, so the guy would have pocketed an extra, wait for it, HK$10.)   Once home, I slept really, really well.

So, in summation:  rooftop of IFC, good for tourists or one or two romantic drinks with a view but not an all night hang out place as far as I’m concerned unless you’re also having dinner in one of the places there (which costs beacoup de bucks).  Giant angry clown face on building side – Hong Kong needs more of these!  Drinking  – some definite potential, could catch on in Hong Kong.

A New Favorite Singer – Rumer

Sometimes I think I should stop buying magazines like Q and Mojo, which I get primarily for the reviews and especially to help guide me to new artists I might not otherwise ever hear.  And then both of them give mega rave reviews to the debut album by Rumer and I manage to find it online and fall in love with it within the first 12 bars of the first song.

Rumer is not, as some might guess, the lantern-jawed daughter of Bruce Willis.  She is, according to Wikipedia, 31 year old British singer-songwriter Sarah Joyce.  I guess she’s been knocking around here and there for awhile but in the past several months has been gaining a lot of attention for herself.  She did a great job singing Leon Russell’s classic “This Masquerade” live with Russell at the Electric Proms recently and Burt Bacharach is said to be a huge fan, which won’t surprise anyone once you hear her voice.  She’s got a classic 60s pop sound and I think this is an album that I won’t be able to get enough of for awhile.

Here’s the video of her second single, Aretha.

Osteria Ristorante Italiano at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile

(Full disclosure – I received one night’s free stay at the hotel as well as free dinner and breakfast, presumably in return for posting reviews here.  Naturally this might incline me to be more positive than usual but I promise that everything here is my honest opinion; feel free to treat this with as many grains of salt as you’d like.)

I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in The Bronx and I’ve been eating Italian food all my life, but all of the Italian food I ate growing up was Americanized versions of southern Italian cuisine.   Italian food is extremely popular all over Asia and Hong Kong is blessed with some really special Italian restaurants representing all of the country’s various regions, allowing me to broaden my taste and experience.  Even after all these years here, I have yet to visit all of the notable Italian establishments here.  My favorite Italian meals in Hong Kong to date were at Toscana at the Ritz-Carlton.  Toscana is gone and that chef has a new restaurant in HK that I have yet to try.  At any rate, I feel that I do know a thing or two about Italian food.

When the Holiday Inn Golden Mile informed me that my free night’s stay would include a free dinner, I looked at the list of restaurants there and I was hoping it would be at their Italian restaurant and luckily it was.  Osteria Ristorante Italiano opened in 2009 and represents one of the steps that the Harilela Group is taking to upgrade this iconic hotel.

When we approached the restaurant, I was thrilled to note the open kitchen.  Not only could we look in but they could look out and that was a good thing because there was no one at the front desk to seat us.  The chef noticed us standing there and called over to the staff to get someone to help us out immediately.  This is the chef:

Michele Camolei is originally from La Spezia in northern Italy and is said to be a veteran of Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo.  From a bit of googling around, I discovered that he’s a vegetarian, which in this case means that he’s made certain vegetarians are well catered for on his menu, which concentrates on classic recipes and simple fare.

The restaurant doesn’t really look like the titular Osteria but the look is simple, clean, low key and somewhere between casual and formal.  The only drawback I could find was that the relatively low ceiling made for a noisy venue when the place was full – and it definitely was full when we arrived.

Manager Gianluca Ciola made us feel very welcome.  One might think it was because they had written “VIP” next to my name in the computer but he seemed to be putting on the same level of effort at every table.  Luca comes from Venice and told me he’d previously lived and worked in Shanghai.   We started off with two glasses of chianti.  There were some nice bread sticks on the table and someone came by with their basket of breads, another server filled small dishes with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Exactly the way it should be.

My gf loves her ham so I suggested she should start with the classic combination of parma ham and melon.  The ham was excellent and the portion was about twice the size that I would have expected.  That was good because I was able to steal from her plate more than once.

For me, whenever there’s a carpaccio on the menu, I go with that.   Here it’s a little bit different – some salmon (smoked in house) served with green apple slices while the “first class beef” was topped with mushrooms and some ricotta cheese (to which Chef Michele later told me he added other ingredients to keep it light and fresh) and of course some parmesan, with a lightly dressed salad of arugala (or rocket as the Brits call it) and cherry tomatoes.  The salmon tasted very nice, fresh, just lightly smoked.  The beef was fantastic.  I can’t recall ever having a better carpaccio.

On to the main courses.  My gf went for the porchetta, two large sizes of perfectly cooked suckling pig.  The skin was amazing, the sauce was great (sorry, I neglected to write down all the menu details) with a nice green vegetable and some fingerling potatoes.  The portion was way too large for my gf to finish which meant once again that I had a generous tasting of this.  Nice.

I was originally thinking about the osso bucco but then I decided to go for lighter fare.  Spinach fettucini with lobster, prawn, scallop and asparagus lightly dressed with olive oil and garlic.  They make their pasta in house and again, what sets apart this basically simple dish is that it was expertly prepared.  The pasta was al dente, of course, and the shellfish was excellent as well.  Again, a huge portion, I couldn’t finish the whole thing!

At this point we were really full.  Unfortunately we couldn’t even contemplate any dessert, so I can’t tell you about that.  As we finished off our wine and let our stomachs settle, I looked around the room at other plates of food coming out of the kitchen.  Even the look of the pizza impressed me.  I could be very happy to return here with my gf and we could order a pizza and some wine and enjoy.

Signing the bill I saw that if we had paid, the meal – two starters, two mains, two glasses of wine – would have cost us under HK$1,100 and I think that’s very reasonable given the quality of the food that we ate.  I’ve got “no reservations” about recommending this restaurant and definitely plan to return.

VLC Fucked Up My iPad

VLC is now out for the iPad as a free download.  This is big news if you have an iPad and watch movie or TV shows.  VLC (available for multiple platforms) is one of the best multimedia playback programs since it’s free and can handle almost any codec known to man or beast.  And this means one no longer has to convert AVI and other formats to QuickTime to play back on the iPad; in theory just about any format should be playable with it.  So even though it’s not the first iPad app capable of playing AVI files (that would be CineXPlayer, which was crap in its first release but much improved in the update), it’s one I’ve been using for years and years.

Except that as soon as I installed it, syncing my iPad went all to shit.  I’ve got about 15 gigs of free space on the iPad.  I selected three AVI files totaling under 3 gig.  Copied them on.  Fine.  Tested play back.  Super.  Then went to do another sync.

First I got multiple messages that the iPad couldn’t be synced because a file couldn’t be found – but naturally nothing to tell me what file couldn’t be found.  That little piece of info is too much to ask for apparently.  So, sync cancelled, and now iTunes tells me that I have somehow managed to load up my iPad to 5 gigs OVER its capacity.  Nice.

Unplugged iPad.  Restarted iTunes.  Replugged iPad.  And now it tells me that it needs to restore my iPad from the previous back-up.  Nice.

Ten minutes later, iPad restored.  Go out for the day.  iPad is working fine.  Angry Birds, okay.  Email, okay.  Music and video, okay.  Oops, for some reason it didn’t sync my eBooks.

So get home, get the eBooks back in, sync.  Okay.

Then add in some more movies to VLC.  Oops.  Back to square one again.

So, restore #2 is finished.  Again, eBooks are not marked for sync, so I have just synced them.  VLC is there but without the movies I just tried to add, so now adding them again.

Files added.  Hit sync.  Now I’m over capacity by 37.6 gig.

Time to remove VLC.  And of course it won’t sync because it thinks I’m over capacity.  Unplug iPad.  Replug iPad.  Restore.  Argh.

Restored.  VLC removed.  Everything back to normal.

And so re-install CineXPlayer.  Wait for 1.1 of VLC.

Rubert Murdoch Does Business With North Korea

Okay, by now hopefully you all know about the whole brouhaha about the second largest investor in Murdoch’s Fox empire being an Arab billionaire whom Fox News accused of ties to terrorism – sorry, no links, but you all know how to find the deets, right? – and how Jon Stewart among others opined that this could be on purpose because fear seems to drive numbers to Fox News which in turn increases revenue for all concerned.

Here’s one you might not know.  Did you know that North Korea is making video games?  And in 2007, they made two mobile video games based on Big Lebowski and Men In Black.  “They” being programmers at the North Korean government’s General Federation of Science and Technology.  These were then distributed in western countries by a shell company called Nosotek Joint Venture Company and Fox Mobile was the publisher in certain territories.

Did Rupert know?  Is he so willing to abandon his conservative, anti-terrorist ideals to make a little extra profit?  We’ll probably never know for certain.  Any finger-pointing would be mere conjecture on my part.  (But you can probably guess what I’m thinking.)

Here’s the full story from Games Industry (which I’m quoting in full assuming that many of you will be interested in this but won’t want to create the required account at that site):

News Corp subsidiary Fox Mobile published two games made in North Korea, it has been established.

In 2007, programmers at the North Korean government’s General Federation of Science and Technology created Java-based mobile titles using the Big Lebowksi and Men in Black licenses, which were then distributed in the West by Nosotek Joint Venture Company.

Nosotek claims to be “the first western IT venture” to originate from Kim Jong Il’s iron rule, and is prepared to launder invoices through a Hong Kong or China-based subsidiary, as well as “skills, secrecy, dedication.”

Fox Mobile was formerly known as Jamba, which News Corp acquired in 2006 for $188 million. However, the Jamba subsidiary – Ojom GmbH – which nominally published the titles was closed in 2008.

Business deals with North Korea are technically legal under UN rules, unless related in any way to the weapons industry. However, there have been concerns that fuelling the country’s IT knowledge and infrastructure might aid its cyberwarfare capabilities.

Any sort of transaction that gives cash to the North Korean government works against U.S. policy,” James Lewis from Washington policy group the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Bloomberg.

“The coding skills people would acquire in outsourcing activities could easily strengthen cyberwar cyber-espionage capabilities. Mobile devices are the new frontier of hacking.”

South Korean officials have previously claimed that North Korea has already attempted cyber-attacks on the US, while August saw President Obama increase sanctions against business with the nation.

However, Nosotek co-founder Volker Eloesser dismissed concerns that game development might increase the risk of attacks upon the West. “Who could train them, as neither me nor the Chinese engineers who are cooperating with the Koreans have those skills ourselves? Training them to do games can’t bring any harm.”

By contrast, Paul Tjia, director of Rotterdam, Netherlands-based GPI Consultancy, told Bloomberg that Western firms outscouring software development to Korea may help the notoriously closed and poor nation to escape its government-imposed isolation.

Fox Mobile’s Juliane Walther confirmed that the subsidiary had “extensive partnerships with content producers in all areas, with operators, and with the biggest media companies worldwide, including various Asian companies.”

No further confirmation of links to North Korean software development was provided.

Catching Up on the Week

Yes, blogging was uncharacteristically light for me during the past week.  It was an extremely frustrating week both at work and at home – not going into details, just take my word on it.

Although there was one good lunch this week at that middle eastern spot, most lunch hours were spent at Cyberport and my hatred of the food choices there and the shopping choices in that mall seems to increase on a daily basis.  Thinking back …

One day hit this place, Hang Heung or something along those lines.  I ordered a combo of prawn wontons with brisket and noodles – there were no prawns to be found in those wontons and the brisket was 98% fat and tendons.  But I did better than my friend, who I suppose hasn’t been in Hong Kong long enough to figure out that when you go into a place where everyone is eating congee or noodles or roast meats, don’t order the fucking fruit salad.

Another day, Tutto, the ersatz Italian joint which has proved to be relatively decent although a tad expensive, which is probably why the place is almost always empty at lunch time.  There were three of us and we got burgers.  We already know that the bun is about 6 times bigger than the tiny burger they give you, but this time they outdid themselves with dried out lumps of what I think was once hamburger combined with bacon that had yet to see anything resembling a flame.

And Friday, trying one of the few remaining spots I hadn’t tried up till now, Beautiful Shanghai.  Like most third rate so-called Shanghai restaurants in Hong Kong, they thing if they put xiao long bao and pork belly on the menu that they can call it Shanghai food, and most of the other choices came from all over the map.  A $48 set lunch that included the absolute worst dan dan mian I’ve ever had in my life.

And this shopping mall, filled with its useless, empty shops stuffed with merchandise that no one in their right mind could possibly want.  Just to break up the monotony one day, went into this “art” place that specializes in recreating classic paintings using crushed up bits of left-over gem stones.  Van Gogh in oil not enough for you, you want smushed up bits of colored rock instead?  Tens of thousands of dollars.  Or if you’ve got more money than brains and an ego to match, you can bring in your own photo and they’ll “gem-ify” it – and it takes six months.  From the way the woman reacted when we came in the shop, giving us a 15 minute tour, we were probably the first people there in weeks.  Then again, given the prices they charge, they probably only need 1 or 2 sales per month to stay afloat.  I’ve heard a rumor that these shops pay either $0 or close to $0 rent so that the place doesn’t look like even more of a disaster than it actually is.

And while I’m at it, what about the pitiful magazine rack at the Park & Rob, aimed at the idle rich women living next door in Smell-Aire.  I mean, it’s one of only two places to buy some magazines in the midst of what is supposed to be Hong Kong’s high tech center and they don’t stock Wired or Fast Company but you can find People and OK and every global variation on those.

When I worked in Quarry Bay for 8 years, I used to tell myself how much I missed working in Central.  Now I’d give anything to be back in Quarry Bay again, where there are dozens of reasonable lunch spots across all cuisines and budgets and some places that have some actually useful shopping.

Thanks goodness the photo shoot at PASM on Friday night was fun.

That’s just a quick sample I’ve pulled out from the batch I’ve shot, more maybe later.  The model was a very sweet and very thin young lady down from the mainland who also spoke surprisingly good English.  She also posed topless in each session (but with pieces of tape covering the relevant bits).  I posted the above picture on Facebook and someone thought it was Chrissie Chau and looking at it now, I see a slight resemblance.  I was happy to hang out with a group of friends for the evening and actually managed to relax for a few hours, even if I was driving and had to restrict my drinking to 7-Up.  Anyway, we had a good turn out and as always I’m looking forward to the next one.

Saturday became the day to catch up on shopping.  Since I was in Quarry Bay to get my iPhone, we went over to Cityplaza to grab a few things we needed.  Lunch was at Ruby Tuesday and I have no idea why I bitch and moan about food choices in Cyberport and then choose this place for lunch.   Yes, another burger, and quite expensive at over $120 for a bacon cheeseburger and fries.  They also have a “wagyu” burger at $148.   This place is seriously expensive for a franchised American joint.  A half rack of ribs here costs the same as a full rack almost anywhere else.  Their deal is that they offer a 50% discount card but you gotta buy that and the thing costs $600 for 6 months or an uncool thousand for 360 days (why not a year?).  I actually shelled out for a $52 lemonade with bits of mango in it that was so ludicrously sour that it made sinigang taste like apple pie.

This evening, Inception, as previously mentioned, at Mega Box.  Only 1 movie trailer in between the 10 minutes of ads and it was a local film, City On something or other, with bits of action but lots of really bad CGI and even worse make-up effects.  It looked like the cinematic equivalent of most of the meals I’d had during the week, in other words shit on toast – but be grateful for the toast I suppose.

After the movie, we decided to walk around Megabox before heading home.  The joint was packed.  I mean seriously packed, with long lines of cars waiting to get into the car park, long lines of people getting on and off buses, every shop busy, every restaurant busy.  It occurred to me that as much as I (and some other English-language bloggers) love to make fun of this place, local people actually like it.  And why shouldn’t they?  Movie theater, tons of cheap restaurants, ice skating rink on the 10th floor overlooking the harbor.  Even Ikea was packed tight with people and at 9 PM on a Saturday night the 7 check-out lines were each six people deep.

So Sunday’s just gonna be a day to chill out, watch a movie or two around the house, get caught up with chores, relax in preparation for a week that I am hoping will be an improvement on the previous one.

(Oh, how nice, just as I was writing the final paragraph above, WordPoop gave me a message, “you have logged out, cannot save draft!”)

Busy Doing Nothing

Actually, I was intending to go to Shenzhen Saturday, but the friend who was gonna go with me backed out and I couldn’t find anyone else to go at such short notice.  Could have gone on my own but one of my reasons for going was to hit a couple of favorite restaurants, neither of which make sense if I was going to be there alone.

And so I stayed home and … sigh … installed the 64 bit version of Windows 7 and a couple of dozen apps.  I figured it was time.   I’d installed Win7 before and was dual-booting but I’d never gotten around to installing most of the apps I use on it.   Lightroom 3 64 bit is noticeably faster than 32 bit under WinXP – not sure if that’s a fair point of comparison or not but what the hell.

Migrating iTunes with all my settings and playlists seems to have as well as can be expected.  I’m syncing my iPad now and it’s an hour so far and not even halfway through the back-up.   And that reminds me – I’m running Open Office here instead of MS Office, except that I’m still using Outlook to manage my contacts.   I don’t want to go the bloat-ware route and install Outlook here so I need another strategy for a contact list that syncs to iPhone – any suggestions?

Win7 may be the fastest selling version of Windows ever, or whatever it is that they’re claiming, and I can see some improvements but also, one day into this, I can see a lot of the same old errors and crap that’s been carried over from older versions.  Minor annoyances such as how File Manager still shows directories on tree on the left even after that directory has been moved or deleted and even after I’ve hit the refresh button several times.  You’d think they could at least get the simple stuff right.

So I’ll leave you with a link to Wired’s list of “cerebral sci-fi films.”  Actually it’s rather disappointing – no Forbidden Planet or Fantastic Planet, let alone Silent Running or Dark City.

And another movie list by Julie Gray at Huffington Post, she says this is an evolving list from GASP (without saying what GASP is) of films you should have seen if you plan on working in the entertainment industry.

Although it is simply not possible (or advisable) to have seen every movie ever made, the criteria for this list is that these are movies that have seminal, iconic or culturally significant performances, writing, direction, or premises. These are the movies that set the bar, raised the standard or innovated something new and oft-imitated.

I counted 156 films on the list and I’ve seen them all but I find the list rather distressing.  I counted a total of 3 non-English language films on the list and those are Amelie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and La Dolce Vita.  No Kurosawa, no Bergman, no Truffaut or Godard or Antonioni or Rosselini or Satyajit Ray.  And the sad thing is, this list is the set of cultural touch points for Hollywood today, which is probably one reason why most American commercial film making is so unambitious.

I could probably sit down and do blogs that collect essential film and music lists – well essays more than just lists, perhaps group blogs with several trusted contributors.  The only problem is that I have this little thing called a job.  Could I jettison the job and do these?  Yeah.  Could I jettison the job and do these and earn a decent living from it?  Maybe not so much.