On The Same Page

I’m not sure why the titled it “Take a leaf out of book groups” in the paper, as that makes no sense to me, but here’s the latest musing anyway… (a link, and full submitted text below, as usual).  

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/families/article/1843994/why-we-should-be-encouraging-everyone-read-pleasure

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Over the summer every student, administrator and teacher at my son’s High School will read Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Carefully selected I suspect for the timely themes of race and identity, this book will ignite conversations and spark debates around the campus. Curious, I decided to read the book too, and it prompted me to consider further the value of a common literature reading experience among a large group of people.

I have had the pleasure of being a member of an active book group in Hong Kong. We take turns hosting, providing a simple meal over which we earnestly discuss the book without a moderator or prescribed set of questions. Like many expatriate communities, the composition of our book group has changed over the years – currently more members of our original book group live in New York City than in Hong Kong – but we have always replenished with perceptive and literate women who love books.

Beyond the social aspect, the value of this group has been the broadening of mind and perspective that occurs as the result of reading books I never would have chosen myself, or didn’t even particularly enjoy after reading. When members share personal history, cultural references and academic expertise relevant to the book, my understanding and my appreciation for the book is always enhanced.

When children’s author Deborah Wiles visited Hong Kong the entire HKIS Upper Primary read one of her books to build enthusiasm in preparation for her visit. Children were able to discuss the book, gained confidence meeting the author and shared the experience with their peers. Unlike didactic work in which a book is assigned and taught by an instructor, this type of common literary experience is voluntary, undirected and intended for fun.

Parent/child book clubs are another way of connecting, bonding and sometimes broaching difficult or embarrassing topics through literature. Difficult circumstances faced by characters in a novel provide distance and hypothetical scenarios that are useful in initiating tricky discussions with children. These conversations offer insights from both parents and peers that can translate into real life lessons.

Sometimes common reading experiences expand beyond the personal network to larger communities. The One City One Book program started in Seattle in 1998 and has been embraced in some form or another by hundreds of cities around the world. The Library of Congress keeps a running list of these programs in the U.S., and the National Endowment for the Arts funds similar programs under the title The Big Read in some cities.

Oftentimes initiated and managed by public libraries, these programs encourage all community members and visitors to read a carefully selected title, and many host creative events to encourage discussion, bring the community together and enhance the reader’s understanding of the book and the underlying themes therein.

Selecting a single book that is both noteworthy, but does not offend or endorse any one group or ideal over any other is the most difficult element of implementing this kind of program.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated eleven cities around the world as Cities of Literature. These cities embrace a rigorous process to demonstrate a unique and fervent appreciation and support for the creation, consumption, critique and celebration of all aspects of literature. Achieving this designation from UNESCO is an arduous process and a considerable honor.

Bookstores are closing all over Hong Kong and less than half of our city’s adult population admits to reading for pleasure. The benefits of reading for pleasure have been widely reported, but like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, daily exercise and abstaining from harmful behavior, the advice is rarely heeded. Modeling reading is important for building young readers. Hong Kong might consider striving to be the next UNESCO City of Literature to encourage reading for pleasure and to set a good example for the younger generation.

Twelve Meals in Hong Kong

Driving the entire perimeter of Hong Kong Island takes less than an hour with no traffic.  I sometimes think of HK Island as a clock with Central at noon, Stanley at 5, Pokfulam at 8 and so on.  Going out in Hong Kong can be lots of fun, but deciding where to go can be a challenge. Many of the restaurants in HK are mediocre and expensive, and not really that much fun.

Over the years I collected a running list of places where I really like the food, or at least the vibe of the place.  Working my way clockwise around the island, here are twelve tried and tested eating adventure itineraries (A separate list will include the hole-in-the-wall, local, bargain interesting food places beyond HK Island, and another for hike/meal combos).  Enjoy eating your way around the island:

1.  Wanchai East – Start at Stone Nullah Tavern for a drink in the fun London-style neighborhood pub, then walk across Queens Road East and down a block toward the wet market to Serge et le Phoque for an unbelievable “can’t make this at home” tasting menu.  Plywood tables, french blue banquettes and a long horizontal mirror strategically placed to capture the red signs from the Wanchai wet market outside create the perfect paired down chic interior, coupled with the cute French waiters and earnest sommelier; it’s a great night out.  Best with one other couple or a few girlfriends.

2.  Causeway Bay – I must admit I didn’t spend a lot of time eating in Causeway Bay.  I understand that it’s a food mecca, with fantastic places tucked high above the hustle and bustle, but I never really tapped into the scene. I had a great meal at Town, but I never really discovered much else because the pull of our absolute favorite family meal, Din Tai Fung was just too strong.  Despite it now being a global chain from Taiwan, everyone loves the xiao long bao and beautiful greens.  The more the merrier, but get there when it opens or plan to wait awhile for a table.

3.  Taikoo Shing/Quarry Bay – Years ago my friend Cindy introduced me to the greatest pottery studio and private kitchen called Gitone in a housing estate in Quarry Bay.  This is a total gem of a place with a delicious tasting menu for dinner or simple, healthy noodle soup and vegetable lunch in an oasis of calm and beauty as soon as you walk through the doors.  Take your book group for a pottery/dinner, host a private party, or just grab a few couples and have a quiet delicious meal in the capable hands of the husband/wife artist owners who will make sure everything is perfect (I even hosted a 12-year-old pottery birthday party there and the kids seemed to love it!).  Top off your night with a drink at Sugar, a rooftop bar on the top of East with stunning views of Hong Kong.

4.  Stanley – The best food in this seaside town is tucked in a windowless room in the middle of Stanley Market.  Lucy’s has been serving delicious, innovative food to the south side for decades.  Don’t go to dish, as you will know everyone when you walk in.  Relative newcomer Stan’s Cafe has a beautiful view, the best baguette, cheese and sausage available southside, and a strong, if expensive, French menu.  With the kiddos, skip the sketchy Softee truck and instead hit The Cave (below Paisano’s Pizza) for Pinkberry-worthy frozen yogurt.

5.  Repulse Bay –  Despite the recent opening of The Pulse, RB is still a culinary straggler.  Spices is an old-time favorite, good for a birthday lunch with a pan-Asian menu, and tea at The Verandah, run by The Peninsula Hotel, gives you the same experience without the trek to TST, but neither is spectacular.  I didn’t find a restaurant I really liked at the Pulse, despite several attempts.  Limewood has a great look and location and is really good at private parties, but I’m not a huge fan of the regular restaurant.  Not sure why their food is much better when the party is private, but after 2 parties and six attempts at lunch/dinner, that was my experience.

6. Aberdeen/Wong Chuk Hang –  My current favorite food in HK is located on the 22nd floor of the Yally Industrial Building.  The sketchy lift from the cargo loading dock opens out to an industrial chic, order at the counter, soup/salad & thinnest crust pizza ever made by earnest 20-somethings at 3/3rds.  With free wifi, generous light, couches and mis-matched tables, this is a place to go with friends, or on your own with a book to hang out for awhile.  I love this place!

7. Kennedy Town –  This is old school, but if you want to feel a million miles away from the HK scene, Bistronomique is a classic French place with a great look and a tucked away location on a small gentrified street.  It’s industrial and refined.  Reviews online are mixed, but we had a noteworthy meal and a wonderful night there, so I have only good things to say about it.  A great date night spot.

8.  Sai Ying Pun – Ping Pong Gintoneria is clever and great style, but you have to get there early, as last call is at 10 even on a Friday night.  When I’m feeling really wholesome, I’ll go for an organic, vegetarian meal at Grassroots Pantry, but trekking to SYP for healthy food on a weekend night is a stretch.  A good mid-week bet, or girlfriend lunch, especially if you have something to do at HKU, or combine it with Ping Pong and have a little devil/angel night.

9.Sheung Wan – Dozens of restaurants have come and gone in the time it’s taken Yardbird to settle in as a HK fixture.  No reservations and a line every night, swing by Yardbird and put your name on the list.  They’ll give you a buzzer and call you in an hour or so when you can finally get a table at this delicious yakatori style chicken place that never disappoints.  Head to Aberdeen Street Social at the PMQ for a cocktail first.  Ronin (Japanese) and Cocotte (French) are two other perfect date night spots off Gough Street in the same neighborhood.  We recently hosted a party at Cocotte and the sweet and earnest manager made our party just what we had hoped.  He has just opened a nightclub across the staircase from Cocotte, so you can make a night of it.

10.   Central Classic-  While they go without saying, how can a HK restaurant list not include Sevva (the Dosa!), Mott 32 (the Iberico Char Siu!) and the China Club (the Peking Duck!)?  It seems cliche even to mention them, but they truly are excellent.  Service, food, decor are impeccable at all three.  For discerning out of town guests, these places are a must.

11.  Central New – Start at On Dining on the 29th floor of 18 On Lan Street.  Giancarlo Mancino will make sure your drink is the best you’ve ever tasted from his signature Negroni with his own Mancino vermouth to the margarita made with bergamot and Himalayan pink salt shaved over top.  I hear the cheese plate is great too.   Or, if you want upscale delicious, NUR by chef Topham Nurudin is the best.  Another fun night out in Central includes Chom Chom, Chi Cha and Chachawan.  I just like saying that!   Chom Chom in Soho has the best Vietnamese street food (no reservations, but hang out on the precipitous landing outside until you get a table).  Chachawan has great cocktails and the flank steak salad is delicious and Chi Cha just fits with the other two.

12.  Wanchai –  Burgers are the name of the game in the Star Street neighborhood.  22 Ships, Beef and Liberty, The Butcher Club, The Pawn all compete for your attention for the best burger.  While I love a burger the much as anyone, for a truly special Chinese meal, try Michelin starred Guo Fu Lou tucked away in the basement of the Empire Hotel.  It could be because I had a culinary genius and dear friend order for our group, but this was one of the finest dining experiences I had my whole time in HK.   

Bon Appetit!!