Ghetto at the Center of the World by Gordon Mathews

Likely the most fascinating place in Hong Kong with some of the best South Asian food in the city. Chungking Mansions is a curiosity that is not to be missed.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 256 pages.
Read from June 25, 2019 to July 3, 2019.

I’ve called Hong Kong home for a few years now and have come to love it for all of its unique flaws and qualities. Hong Kong is a busy city but outside of its city walls are beautiful running trails, beaches, and hikes. There is something for everyone in this diverse city no matter what kind of person you are. As an expat, Chungking Mansions is a fascinating place that needs to be visited at least once, but for locals, it is generally a place to be avoided. The stories of crime and gang activity, along with the lack of familiar local faces, usually are enough to keep many locals away. However, this impression of Chungking Mansion isn’t its whole story.

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Grey facade – Photo by Gerald Figal on Flickr

Gordon Mathews is a university professor in Hong Kong and spent years living in and studying the people and it’s unique economy and isolated globalization. Chungking Mansion is located in the bustling and wealthy Tsim Sha Tsui area of Hong Kong on the Kowloon side. It’s a popular district for shopping and has lots of tourists from mainland China and elsewhere from around the globe. Yet inside Chungking mansions is like entering a different world. Just outside of the building, you’ll find it brimming with South Asians, who, if you’re white, will try and sell you knock-off watches, handbags, or tailoring services. Inside the building is old and run down compared to the shiny shopping area it’s surrounded by. Inside you’ll find cheap rooms for rent, refugees, illegal workers, traders, sex workers, drug addicts, and small businesses from all around the globe. African traders come to find cheap cellphones to bring back to their countries. South Asians come, often illegally, to try and improve the quality of their lives as well as their families. Many refugees come and get trapped in the system of long waits within Hong Kong and are unable to work legally too. Despite the illegality of most of what goes on in the building, a blind eye is often turned by police. Without the illegality of workers and many other trades, Chungking Mansions would not exist. The diversity of the building makes for some of the most eclectic and delicious food in Hong Kong and for rock-bottom prices. It also makes for a unique area of globalization that isn’t really seen anywhere else in the world.

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Image from Asia Times

I’ve actually had the pleasure of dining in Chungking Mansions with a group of refugees and have nothing but great things to say about the place despite its seedy reputation. I would go back in there in heartbeat for the great food, company, and people watching. That isn’t to say that sketchy things don’t happen at Chungking but in general, it’s a decent place to grab a good bite to eat provided you don’t mind how run down some of the establishments are.

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Image from Wikimedia

This book is a perfect insight into Chungking Mansions as its clear that the professor himself has become an established name inside the building and is someone that everyone seems to be comfortable talking with. He seems to have a clear understanding of Chungking Mansions and the people that live there. The novel felt a bit like something I would read in a university class but that’s not surprising since I’m sure that was one of the reasons it was written. Mathew’s writing is as informative as it is fascinating and if you’re in Hong Kong and have ever wanted to visit or know more about Chungking Mansions I would highly recommend this book.

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from March 3, 2019 to March 9, 2019.

Lindsay Wong describes the Woo-Woo as a Chinese superstition that ghosts are the cause of bad things in your life, which unfortunately for her and mental-health-ridden family, meant an array of irrational behaviour followed by never seeking treatment. This book is in the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist after a few near misses in previous years so no doubt this book will be a fan favourite for the debates.

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Joe Zee defending The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong during the debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.

Lindsay and her siblings are first generation Chinese-Canadians. Her family came over from Hong Kong and settled in Vancouver which has a large Chinese population giving the city the appropriate nickname of Hongcouver. She lives in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood with her mother father, brother and sister, and for a short time her grandmother. Lindsay basis of daily dealings with her family and her life included things like swearing, name-calling, bribes with money, escaping life decisions and people with makeshift camping trips, and smothering bad feelings and “ghosts” with junk-food. Shouting matches, arguments, grudges and personal hang-ups are what Lindsay thought being a family was all about.

Despite her family having a comfortable income Lindsay wore old, dated clothes and showered once a week. Lindsay lacked the social skills to make friends but her aggression made her an excellent hockey player, an endeavour her father bribed her into to achieve some sort of Canadian-dream status.  Her father insisted that she was extremely stupid and fat as some messed up means of motivating her to achieve more along with a sick sense of dark humour. While her mother fell prey to the mental illness that plagued her own mother resulting in her being obsessed with ghosts and trying to protect her family from them. Her protection came in the form of insisting that her family never show any emotion as to not invite the ghosts in, terrorizing midnight wakings, lighting Lindsay’s feet and bedding on fire, day-long walks in shopping malls, and more.

Lindsay grew up in fear the Woo-Woo as she saw it slowly wreck her grandmother, her mother and eventually even her Aunt, whom she thought was safe. Without the means to empathize and deal with normal human situations in a healthy manner, Lindsay was in constant worry about her own mental state. Despite all this Lindsay managed to get into a university far from home where she was relieved to finally escape her family, only to find that the Woo-Woo seemed to have followed her there.

Even with these enormous hurdles to overcome, Lindsay seems to have found peace and understanding with her upbringing. Despite the dark and sometimes traumatizing events that Lindsay endured she approaches her story with a stoic and entertaining sense of dark humour. This is a trainwreck of an upbringing that you can’t help but sympathize with, as you berate yourself for laughing at the strangeness of it all. It brings awareness to the stigmas around mental illness and the barriers we still have to overcome, especially culturally, which healthcare systems could benefit from learning more about.

If you live in Vancouver, I would absolutely say this is a must-read. This is also a relevant book for those looking from some reprieve from their own families and mental health struggles.

The most moving part of this story comes from Lindsay finding the courage to write such an intimate memoir about her family, especially since she is writing from a standpoint of success in battling her inner Woo-Woo and family troubles. It’s a testament to the power of healing yourself and finding faith in yourself against the odds.

 

 

Tea and Tea Set by Li Hong

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
-Lin Yutang

4/5 stars
Paperback, 159 pages.
Read from May 28, 2018 to June 1, 2018.

Buying a book spur of the moment is one of life’s greatest pleasures. After I swore off buying new books when I moved abroad I altered the rules a little bit to acquire this book under the guise that it was a souvenir. 30140894 I have always had a love of tea and have enjoyed learning about it. Admittedly, there is much more to tea, its history, growth, preparation and drinking than I anticipated so I still have a lot more reading to do.

I picked up this book while I was visiting one of my favourite places in Hong Kong, the Nan Lian Garden which is located parallel to the Chi Lin Nunnery. Within the gardens, there is a teahouse, Song Cha Xie, that is donned in traditional Tang dynasty style architecture and is set within the middle of the beautiful gardens.

After removing my shoes and slipping on some sandals, I was whisked away into the tranquil environment of the teahouse where I was able to choose from a variety of traditional Chinese teas. I settled on a 20-year old pu-reh, my favourite type of tea.  I was shown how to make the tea properly with a proper Chinese tea set and inquisitively asked about all the different tea-tools at the table. Even though I was at the Nan Lian Gardens on a writing assignment, I had always wanted to visit the teahouse, despite the steep (no pun intended) prices, and decided to venture in and find a way to include the visit in my piece.

After a few utterly delightful hours of drinking tea on my own with nothing but silence around me, I regretfully had to leave. On the way out was when I spotted this book. I knew I had to have it after my great experience in the tea house. Prime marketing right? There were two other books to choose from by the same author, one on pu-reh and the other on green tea, but I didn’t dally on the decision long before walking out with this book. I wish I had all three, perhaps I will go back and get the one on pu-reh…

The book details the brief history of tea, the different types of tea, where they’re grown as well as descriptions of their taste and colour. The final chapter is dedicated to different types of tea sets, their best use and their history.  Even though this book is short, the content is concise and interesting. It also has fantastic accompanying images that really bring life to the book.  I have read much larger books on tea but found myself inundated with too much knowledge all at once whereas this book was concise and to the point and is easy to look back and reference. By far, this has been the most straightforward and enjoyable book on tea I have read so far and one that I am sure I will use again when I have more inquisitions.

This book is a perfect introductory piece for tea and tea knowledge. There is a selection of the author’s works on Amazon, so if you are tea lover I would definitely recommend snagging a copy for your library, coffee table, tea room or kitchen.

Want to know more about the Nan Lian Gardens or the Chi Lin Nunnery? Check out the piece I wrote for Sassy Mama Hong Kong.