Book Club Takes Hong Kong

More Hangover than handover, the Adelaide Book Club visited Hong Kong last month, so I thought I’d share some of our highlights, and a reading list.

(A pause here to acknowledge that with our book club being how it is, the actual reading list comprised Elle, Vogue and Who magazines.  But nominally our book of the month was Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, which I reviewed here).

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong on and off for the last ten years and become familiar with its bright lights, sights and smells (and smog, humidity and impatient pressing of the close-doors button in lifts).  I love the Donkey Kong high-rises and the view over the harbour, and there is an abundance of bars and restaurants to indulge in, with new places opening all the time (too many, and too much indulgence, you could say).  Where to start?

The Jade Market

We went from the airport straight to the Jade Market, to catch Irene of stall 278 before she left for Japan to stock up on pearls.  Nothing if not dedicated, we shopped here for two hours before checking into the Conrad!  Sandy’s Pearls (around stall 400) is also very good.

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Shopping hard at the Jade Market – hotel check-in can wait…

Le Garcon Saigon

We had a great dinner here on the first night.  It’s in the Star Street precinct with I really like: old-school factories mixed with independent Western boutiques (increasingly so, and some might say it’s losing some of its original character, but for me the balance is still okay).  French-Vietnamese with a buzzy atmosphere, outdoor tables and people watching.

We took a walk down Queen’s Road East after dinner and ended at Lee Tung Avenue – prettily decorated with red lanterns – and had a negroni at Ophelia.  This is a luxe bar with a peacock theme and glamorous dancers in cheung-sams performing and posing.  I don’t think I could spend too much time there, but it’s very Hong Kong.  Another bananas bar by the same people is Iron Fairies, 1 Pottinger Street, Central (on the corner with Hollywood Road) – I recommend the watermelon daiquiris.

Sevva

A favourite roof-top bar, with a great view of the harbour and the light-show at 8pm.  We had a pitcher of Sangria, possibly a mistake – I would recommend the lychee martinis next time.

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At Sevva

Ho Lee Fook

A fun restaurant in Central, with great food.  Asian fusion with Momofuku influence, wonderful flavours.  The prawn toast and XO noodles are a must.  No bookings (unless over 6 people) but they’ll drink sake with you while you wait, or you can take a drink on the terrace at Chom Chom across the street – we had a delicious mint chilli cocktail there.
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At Ho Lee Fook.  Kathy and Nicola each bought a lucky cat to take home, so they are sure to have good fortune this year!
Sunday brunch here is a must.  Free-flowing champagne, impeccable Japanese food and a fun crowd – what’s not to love?
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Zuma – the best Sunday brunch.

Cafe Gray Deluxe

I love this restaurant.  It has a fabulous bar overlooking the harbour, beautiful fit-out and the food is always great: I am still dreaming about that steak (I don’t eat much meat and rarely order steak but this was perfect).  Highly recommended for a special night out.

… and now for rest and recovery … and that means books!  I haven’t read as many books set in Hong Kong as I would like, but these stand out:

Myself a Mandarin

by Austin Coates

A charming, funny memoir of Austin Coates, who was appointed a magistrate in Hong Kong unexpectedly in 1949.  I found this book thanks to Simon Winchester, who mentioned it in The River at the Centre of the World.  Highly recommended.

The World of Suzie Wong

by Richard Mason

A classic.  A story of a man who meets a woman on the ferry from Kowloon and stays in a hotel/brothel in Wan Chai.  It has some wonderful descriptions of old Hong Kong and romance at its heart.

Fragrant Harbour

by John Lanchester

This novel does a great job of evoking Hong Kong from the 1930s to the 1990s, starting with a young man who travels there from England for an adventure.  Through him you have the first impressions (eg the blunt frankness of the Cantonese language, the smells of the harbour) and we then meet other characters and see Hong Kong through their eyes.  Well-observed.

The Expatriates

by Janice Y. K. Lee

This novel from the point of view of three American women in Hong Kong captures the expatriate experience in all its superficial glory.  Told with compassion and an eye for the small details that make up Hong Kong life, I found it sad but compelling.

If you have any recommendations for books set in Hong Kong, please let me know!

 

Read Harder

I’m doing Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2017 for the first time this year, with some of the (always-inspiring) London Book Clubbers.

We have 24 tasks to complete, so it equates to two per month (although one book can cover  more than one task).  Like DiverseAThon, it’s great way to expand my reading.  Fantasy and comics will be new to me, and Roxanne Gay has set a task to read a book published by a micropress, which will be fun to seek out.

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Read Harder Challenge 2017 tasks

Here is my progress so far…

Read a debut novel:  several of my 2017 reads have been debuts: Shelter, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, The Nix and The Dry by Jane Harper

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Reading The Dry at Adelaide Airport

I really enjoyed The Dry, a thriller set in rural Australia.  A smart protagonist and some realistic local characters, with a strong, well-paced story.  Harper does a wonderful job of creating the atmosphere of a small country town, both the landscape and a community on edge.  Recommended.

Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: both The Good Immigrant and Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue qualify – I reviewed The Good Immigrant (excellent selection of essays) in an earlier DiversAThon post.

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Behold the Dreamers is a warm, engaging story about Cameroon immigrants to New York.  The characters are sympathetic and Mbue does not shy away from the difficulties they face, the stress of job insecurity and the strain this puts on a marriage.  For me, it lacked dramatic tension, as we know what happened to Lehman Brothers, and it was a little too earnest, but I liked having Jende and Neni’s perspectives.  Thought-provoking and good, honest writing.

Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: Fantastic Night by Stefan Zweig.

A wonderful collection of Stefan Zweig’s stories.  His writing is elegant, philosophical and humane.  Zweig was extremely erudite but wore his knowledge lightly.  He conjures up beautiful turn-of-the-century European settings and a time when people travelled, for leisure and then necessity.  The bittersweetness of past loves, the fears of war and a reverence for forgotten greats (a bibliophile, an actor) drive these tales, told with warmth and style.

Read a YA or middle-grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.  I have to thank Jamie Klingler of the London Book Club for this one: the audiobook of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, read by Lin Manual Miranda.

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An excellent book – poignant, true and funny. I laughed, I cried and absolutely loved Miranda as a narrator.  A winner!

Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: Nightwood by Djuna Barnes.  I’ve had this on my TBR for years, ever since I read about Djuna Barnes in a biography of Peggy Guggenheim, so in between the 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest I thought I’d do this as a ‘quick’ read and tick it off my list.  Wrong!  Only 208 pages but oh so dense!  My review below…

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Sublime but elusive, the story of the doomed love between two women, told in vivid prose.  Paris is seedy, the characters flawed and Gothic.  Barnes’ writing gleams: her poetic wordplay and wit reminded me of Shakespeare; the confessional tone pre-dates Camus’ The Fall, and the Woolf comparisons are apt too.  Strong, dense, it refuses to be matter-of-fact, but feels searingly honest.

Read a book where all point of view characters are people of colour.  I have something quite different for this one.  Our Adelaide Book Club is going to Hong Kong in June, so in preparation this month we have read Crazy Rich Asians (about to be made into a movie).

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This has been called Dynasty on steroids and the next 50 Shades of Grey.  If you’re a fan, you’ll love it.  Some of the praise is overblown (it’s no Pride and Prejudice or Evelyn Waugh), but Kwan meticulously describes the lives of the super-rich in Asia, and the materialism and prejudices of those places, with accuracy and humour.  One-dimensional characters, every luxury brand name-checked.  A bit superficial for me, but very good for what it is.

And here is my Read Harder TBR stack!  I’ll leave you to guess what tasks these relate to.  Next, I’ll be immersing myself in Japanese books for our trip to Tokyo in April. Yay!  Sayonara for now…

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