Hong Kong: The Main Library (and a better day)

My Hong Kong expert wrote about my Macao experience: "It's a place for indulgences - food, gambling, pretty hotels. Not really your taste I think." This is a remarkably good assessment, and gave me a lot to think about. I love food, and do indulge in it: but some people might dispute even that as I'll always do it relatively cheaply. The other things, no.

I've also realized that I let the time constraints in Macao wind me up. And that part is absolutely not Macao's fault (well - none of it is, really - Macao is what it is, and how I see it is my choice). I looked at a long list of sites I wanted to see, and the fact that I had approximately eight hours to do it in, and set off in a rush to see all of them. With a blister on my foot and a bad stomach that denied me the one indulgence of Macao that I might have enjoyed. So - bad day, pretty much guaranteed.

Today it's drizzling in Hong Kong, and looks to do it all day.

I had breakfast at Joy Cuisine - having hardly eaten all of yesterday, I overdid it a bit. I ordered "pork dumpling with chili sauce," "steamed fluid egg yolk buns," "steamed glutinous rice with lotus leaf," and "baked egg tart." The pork dumplings turned out to have lots of extra wrapping and be in a peanut chili sauce. They were quite good. The egg yolk buns ... I think they cheated a bit with those, adding stuff to prevent the egg yolk from solidifying (and they also added sugar, it was a bit sweet). Tricky to eat: give them a bite and the yellow centre flows out and burns your fingers. I'd be happy to eat them again, I enjoyed them, but I probably wouldn't order them again. The lotus leaf rice was interesting: it was three tiny packages (as opposed to the usual one large one) and each one was also wrapped in paper. I was disappointed to find that this restaurant doesn't think lap chong (aka "Chinese sausage") was an ingredient of this dish: it's my favourite part. They used ground pork. And like the egg yolk buns, good but I wouldn't order them again. The egg tarts also fall into this category: I've always liked them, but eating alone I get to have three of them, more than I want at a sitting. (Food: "indulgence," "obsession," or "fetishism," your call.)

After yesterday's rather unfortunate trip, I decided the first order of the day (is it the "second order?" ... I just assume breakfast is a given ...) was some peacefulness and thought. So I went back to the Chi Lin Nunnery and sat in their gorgeous and peaceful courtyard, watching the rain, admiring the bonsai, the lily ponds, and the lovely wood-beam architecture. It worked wonders.

photo: Bonsai at the Chi Lin Nunnery

Ancient Bonsai in the Chi Lin courtyard

Next up was a visit to our competitors. The Hong Kong Central Library is a very large and blocky building. Squat for Hong Kong at a mere 12 storeys, but given that it's the width of a city block, it's quite large for a library. The outside struck me as a rather ugly jumble of architectural elements: I'm particularly fond of the flying set of Doric Columns that looks like an entranceway on the 12th floor. But inside the place is nice, although I did get a severe sense of deja vu. I mean ... it's a Toronto Reference Library remix. Let's see: six storey open atrium, rounded corners, essentially identical rounded glass elevators facing into the atrium ... I assumed it was designed by Raymond Moriyama, the same guy who did TRL and North York Central. I asked at a reference desk who designed the place, and this thoroughly flustered the two librarians (it wasn't my speaking English: they were fine on that front). At Toronto Public, everyone knows who designed TRL and NYCL, so I was pretty surprised. One of the librarians disappeared into the back for five minutes to finally re-emerge with pages printed from building.hk mentioning "Architectural Services Department Senior Architect Ho Chiu-fan." The building opened in 2001, long after TRL and NYCL, so it would seem Mr. Ho has borrowed rather liberally. I have mixed feelings about that, but if anything he's improved on the design. And one of my biggest complaints about the atrium, the noise transmission, seems to not matter here. People in Hong Kong aren't particularly quiet, but this is a very heavily used library and the silence is astounding. It's what North American librarians only dream of. You hear papers shuffle and keys click ... and not a word is spoken. It's heaven.

Sadly, they have a no photography policy inside the building. And I'm just not a rule-breaker, especially on what feels like my home turf. You can use Google Images to look up the interior of the HK Central Library and judge for yourself if it looks like TRL. I'm interested to hear people's thoughts on that.

I went looking for a restaurant in Rough Guide that sounded pretty good. Given my recent history with RG's restaurants, you'll be unsurprised to hear that it was no longer there. I walked into the next mall (they occur about one every two blocks in downtown) and found the food court (on the 11th floor). I looked around at the various places and decided I didn't want to fight the crowds for a table, so I went into Curry House CoCo Ichibanya - which had its own seating. It didn't hurt that the idea of a Japanese curry was very appealing: I loved them in Japan, and greatly enjoyed it here too. I've learned to cook a pretty decent Japanese curry, but I don't do deep frying, so I got one of the ones with a breaded, deep-fried chicken cutlet. Yum.

photo: Night in the rain

Glowing building facade lights the sidewalk and the people with umbrellas

Then on to Dim Sum Labs, HK's maker space. Tuesday evening is traditionally open house night among maker spaces. DSL is in a small apartment on the 14th floor of a slightly shabby building near Sheung Wan MTR. In the elevator up, the only other occupant asked me "what's going on tonight?" Daniel mentioned that most of their population is Caucasian, as were both of us in the elevator. I told the gentleman that I'd never been there before, and he said he hadn't been there in about a year. Once in the lab, we got to introductions. I said I was from Toronto, and he said "I'm from PEI." He gave it a beat and said "but no one ever knows what that means." He's here to work on consumer electronics: products not yet launched that he wouldn't discuss. But it's much easier to get into Hong Kong than China (ie. Shenzhen), so he lives here and commutes occasionally. The other guy we talked to a fair bit was Andy (a local, I think), who was happily attempting to pick locks and occasionally describing his cloud-controlled IoT LED light controller. It was an interesting evening.