Travels & Traditions: Hong Kong - Part Two - #1402

Burt Wolf:

I first visited Hong Kong in 1975. And for over a hundred years it had been a British territory. It was clearly pre disposed to British tradition. But in, under and around all that British stuff was over 5,000 years of Chinese culture, and in many ways that’s what dominated the city.

In Hong Kong, Chinese culture is almost always a mixture of something very old with something very new. They keep what works, discard what is no longer relevant and invent or adapt what’s new.

Let’s start with something to eat ---Dim Sum.
A little over 2,000 years ago, merchants began making regular trips from China to the Mediterranean. The route they travel became known as the Silk Road because --- they sold a lot of silk. It ran for over 4,000 miles, and like any well traveled highway it needed rest stops.

At first, the rest stops just offered tea and that was it. After a while, however, they saw business in offering snacks. And eventually, those snacks evolved into today’s Dim Sum.

Dim Sum is made up of an assortment of steamed buns, dumplings, and noodle dishes. In the more elaborate dim sum restaurants you will also find steamed vegetable dishes, roast meats and desserts.

The ancestral home of Dim Sum is in the Cantonese area in southern China, and the epicenter for Dim Sum in Southern China is Hong Kong.

Going to a restaurant for Dim Sum is know as yum cha, which translates as “drink tea” and traditionally the meal starts with the selection of the tea you want to drink with the meal. And, of course, there are rules about how it is to be served.

If you are the designated tea pourer, you pour for everyone else before you pour for yourself. If you are poring for someone on your left you hold the pot in your right hand and pour. If you are pouring for someone on your right you hold the pot on your left and pour. If someone has poured for you the appropriate thing to do is to thank them by curling these two fingers and tapping them on the table. theres an old story that goes along with that. Apparently one day there was an emperor who wanted to pop into town and have tea while disguised. He went in with his entourage of course, and he poured the tea. well everybody thanks the emperor when the emperor does  nothing for them. And the way they thank him is by bowing, but they could not bow in public so they curled their fingers to look like a bow and tapped them on the table.

There are many ways for a restaurant to serve Dim Sum. You can end up in a rather elegant restaurant or a small dim sum parlor or a huge space that accommodates hundreds of eaters at a time. You can spend hours eating Dim Sum, drinking tea and talking, or you can turn it into a fast lunch.

I thought it would be a good idea to go for Dim Sum a couple of hours before I dealt with the subject of Hong Kong’s Tailors. Remember it was Confucius who said, “Eat long before you measure”.

Bespoke tailoring is an English tradition. The word “bespoke” indicates the ordering of something, and in this case refers to clothing that is ordered and made to the specifications of the buyer as opposed to the mass produced stuff you find in a store.

Baron Kay’s Tailoring is a perfect example. Burt:Big chest. Baron Kay’s: Not really. Burt: Not really? That’s what I was afraid of. A bespoke garment goes out where you go out, as opposed to mass-produced clothing which always fails to take into account the results of my grandmothers lasagna. Baron Kay’s: I’m going to measure your stomach. Burt: Don’t tell anyone. Baron Kay’s: Okay, secret , secret. The buyer picks the fabric, the design and the specific features of the garment. Want a special pocket for a Pez dispenser, you got it.

And to show my appreciation for my beloved crew, who suffers with me day after day, I’m going to buy each of the a suit.

There are basically three ways for a guy to buy a garment. The first is called “Off the rack”. You go in you pick out what you want, you’re a 42 regular and somebody has decided this is what a 42 regular is, you pay for it and you’re on your way. It was made in a factory but thats life. Next is called “ Made to measure”. They measure you a little bit, it’s still a factory made garment but this time they’ve altered it so it fits you a little bit better. The ultimate is called “Bespoke tailoring” they measure every part of you, at least those parts that you would allow them to measure. and them they make a garment thats just for you. It goes in where you go in, it goes out where you go out, it’s all about you.

Bespoke Tailoring became part of Hong Kong culture when the English moved in during the 1800s. But no one was in a hurry. Bespoke speed tailoring was introduced to meet the needs of the naval officers on ships.

Hong Kong was and still is a major commercial port. But a ship only stays here until it can offload its cargo and take on a new one.
Burt:When’s it going to be ready?
Baron Kay’s: Today’s Tuesday, I will have it ready Thursday for you.
Burt: So two days? That’s faster than my cleaner.
Baron Kay’s: Thank you
Burt: Thanks a lot, thank you.

During the 1800s, local tailors realized that if they could make a bespoke uniform in two days, they had a whole new market.
Baron Kay’s: Hey good afternoon welcome
Burt: Hi, we’re back live
Baron Kay’s:Your shirt is ready for you, come inside

The naval officers are still coming in, but bespoke tailoring is now designed to meet the needs of tourists.

Fits perfectly, there’s only one problem with bespoke tailoring, it is made to your exact shape. So you better keep that shape. Do I always sound like grouch.

PMQ stands for police married quarters, and that is what these buildings used to be --- the place where young married police officers lived. Eventually, the cops moved out and the creators moved in.

Today, the building houses more than 100 creative entrepreneurs. Each occupies a small retail space. There are jewelers, artists, a shop devoted to things made from bamboo and there is always an emphasis on conservation.

Just down the block from PMQ is the Man Mo Temple. There are a number of Man Mo temples in Hong Kong, but my favorite is the one on Hollywood Road.

It was originally built in 1848 and honors two gods --- Man is the god of literature and Mo is the god of war.

Man is on the right, dressed in red and next to a writing brush. Mo is on the left, dressed in green and next to a blade.

If you were a student about to take the entrance exams for a job in the Imperial government and you wanted to pray for a higher grade point average, this was the place to come. The statues around the sides of the temple represent Buddhist and Taoist deities.
Long coils of incense hang from the celling and burn for days. The length of the burn attracts the attention of the gods. It’s also thought that the smoke from these coils act as food for the spirits in the other world.

In Chinese culture it is believed what ever you need in the present life you will need in the after life including money. So what you do is you go into the temple, you use your regular money to buy magic money. And then you take it to this furnace when you throw it in smoke goes up to heaven, your ancestor receive it, they stop in to the local heavenly credit Suisse and convert it to heavenly money. Here you go Grandma.

Victoria Peak, not to be confused with Victoria’s Secret, who was widely known as Prince Albert, is the highest point in Hong Kong. It tops out at 1,800 feet and offers a spectacular view of the city.

The most interesting way to get to the Peak is the Peak Tram, a funicular railway that opened in 1888. It begins at St. John’s Cathedral and goes up towards heaven. Nice symbolism.

Starting in the 1800s, if you were a European of wealth and status, this was the place to live. It had the great views but it also had a more temperate climate in comparison to the subtropical climate in the city below. At the moment, it is the most expensive real estate on the planet. A nice property can sell for over 250 million U.S. dollars

Originally,people who lived in the peak got to and from their homes by being carried in a sedan chair. Not the most comfortable way to travel. And if you thought on your way to work you were going to drink your coffee or read the news paper, forget about it.

The Victoria Peak Restaurant was originally built for engineers working on the Peak Tramway. In 1901, it became a rest area for the guys who carried the sedan chairs. In 1947, it was rebuilt as a restaurant, and today it’s a rest area for film crews.

I am always fascinated with the way words change their meaning. When I was growing up in the 50’s in New York City and you said someone was “high” it meant that they were very happy about something or had consumed too much alcohol.

In the 60’s it meant that the person in question was passing through a drug induced state, like California.

Now, in Hong Kong, it can mean you’re in a room at the top of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, which tops out on the 118th floor. It’s an amazing experience.

At the time of our filming, the Ritz Carlton’s OZONE bar was the highest bar in the world with a series of signature drinks design to raise you to an appropriate altitude.

The hotels Spa has a great pool.
These days, the ultimate fashion in pools is described as an infinity pool.
For those of us who are bound by the Oxford Dictionary “infinity” means endless, something that goes on indefinitely.
In pool parlance, it appears to mean a pool that is laid out so you can’t see where it ends.
It sets up an illusion where you think you can go on forever, when in fact there is distinct end point coming up. It’s reminiscent of teenage dating patterns --- not quite endless love.
The hotel entrance is on the 9th floor. It’s the launch pad for a 52 second elevator ride to the Lobby, which is on the 103rd floor.

The suites are what you expect in a Ritz Carlton
The surprise is that each suite comes with a telescope.
Look it’s Elvis!

The hotel’s Italian Restaurant, called Tosca, has been awarded a Michelin Star.
It’s named after an opera by Puccini, and it’s rather melodramatic --- the opera not the restaurant.

The opera is set at the time when Napoleon is invading Italy.
The Kingdom of Naples is threatened.
It was a stressful time.
Fresh pasta might be hard to come by.
Mascarpone might go missing.
The restaurant is loved by food lovers.
The opera is loved by opera lovers
I love both, but between you and me I’m always gonna pick pasta over Puccini.
The chef, Pino Lavaria grew up on Italy’s Amalfe coast and demonstrated two of his favorite dishes. He calls the first Sea Tiramisu --- red prawn carpaccio, seared scallops and a parsley cream.

Chef: So I already prepared seared carpaccio, add a little bit of seasoning, olive oil.
Paso spaghetti, I put it around so it can hold everything. It’s a warm spaghetti.
It’s a tartar with quinoa grain so it’s a nutty taste with the quinoa, I use it as a base.
Rice crisps and cereal crisps, it will look like a Tiramisu.
Tiramisu is a base of cookie and then a nice fluffy sauce.
Press it properly so it stays very compact.
Seared scallops just lightly seared.
This is the foam from the sea water from all sea food the muscle clams it’s all in here.
Tuna powder.
So it makes like a cocoa powder on top of the Tiramisu.
Some sorrel to add acidity to the dish.
Always freshly picked.
And we terminate it with the chips of a red prawn.

The second is green spaghetti “ a la chitarra” with swordfish, baby squid and black olive oil.

Chef: Just press on the chitarra, the chitarra comes from central Italy.
Beautiful spaghetti.
Now we make a little sauce, use some butter and lightly melt the butter.
Not too much color, I don’t need too much color.
i add the swordfish
Now I'm cooking the pasta, the pasta will cook shortly.
Not to over cook the pasta because it will absorb the sauce.
freshly diced tomato, nice and crunchy.
And at the end we add the Calamari because it doesn’t have to over cook.
Extra virgin olive oil.
It’s Starting to blow the calamari so the sauce is done.
So we wrap it in a swordfish carpaccio, the carpaccio with the steam of the pasta will start to cook.
And we terminate with a black olive oil.

The hotel’s Chinese restaurant is called Tin Lung Heen.
It has been awarded two Michelin stars, which is a big deal.
The chef prepared three of his favorite dishes.
Barbecued Pork with Honey
Skewered sautéed prawns with ham and vegetables.
Fried rice with diced abalone, duck and shrimp wrapped in lotus leaf.
Lantua Island was one of the first trading posts set up by Europeans to do business in China. It takes about a half-hour to get to Lantau from Hong Kong, and the easiest way is by subway.

The subways in Hong Kong are modern, clean and well designed.
Mike: We are going to the last station, on the last stop, on the yellow line, which is Tung Chung here. Where we are going to get the cable car Ngong ping 360.

Burt: Perfect.
Each car has a sign indicating the rules for seating.
If you walk with a cane, have a child on your lap, or one in your belly, or need assistance moving about --- you have priority.

I understand the government is considering adding aging television journalists to the priority seating. But so far nothings been announced.

Once you arrive on Lantau, you want to take a ride on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car.
It runs for three and a half miles and takes you through some spectacular scenery.
Burt: Someday this will all be yours.

The cable car ride ends near the base of an 85-foot high bronze Buddha, one of the largest outdoor Buddha statues in the world.

The Buddha sits next to the Po Lin Monastery

The monastery has its own vegetarian restaurant that is open to the public.

Hong Kong has one of the highest population densities in the world with over 6,000 people per square kilometer. Accordingly, from time to time you need a brake and Lantau is the place to go.

Over 40% of the island consists of national parks There’s a section on South Lantau Road where you can get a good look at the natural stone steps and the nearby dense woods. It looks like the landscapes in traditional Chinese paintings. The park has a number of campsites, youth hostels and a great beach.

There is a hill on Lantau that is usually engulfed in fog. To warn motorist, they put up a sign that says FOG. Of course you can’t see it because it’s always engulfed in fog.

The first patent for something like an escalator was issue in Massachusetts to Nathan Ames in 1859. It was a design idea that was never built. The first escalator to be used they way we use them now was built in 1892, by Charles Seeberger and the Otis Elevator Company.

Seeberger had a copyright on the name ESCALATOR. It was a combination of the Latin word scala which means steps and elevator which was then a word in common use.

These days the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system is the Central-Mid-Level system in Hong Kong. It runs for 2,600 feet and was built to provide an easier commute between two districts in the city.

In the mornings, from 6am to 10am the escalators go down taking everyone down to work. At 10am it changes direction and takes everyone up until midnight. From midnight to 6am your on your own. It’s a trip.

The escalators run through some of the most interesting parts of the city --- popular bars, terrific restaurants, remarkable shops. It’s the hip place to visit. Or as my son would say, “ It’s super cool”.

Well, that’s Hong Kong always on its way up.
For Travels & Traditions - I’m Burt Wolf.