The big 40!

Filed in Life

My birthday is just one day away. On Saturday, I will hit the big 40.

I don't know if I should celebrate or not. 40 is a big number. Fortunately, many in the Chinese culture believe that 40 is just the beginning of a man's life. I tend to think that this will be true for me too, with far more opportunities and experiences to materialise in the coming years. Call me an optimist (and a cynic but that's another topic) but that's what I feel.

So, Happy birthday to me, and also to Esther, a good friend whose birthday is also on Saturday, just a couple of hours before or after me; not sure which.

Stage vrs TV

Filed in Work

I've just returned from another rehearsal for "Perfume" 香水 (which by the way is now being advertised with huge posters in many of the Hong Kong MTR stations). Five days away from the premier performance and we continue to improve our performances and the play as a whole.

That's the interesting thing about plays. Because you're working on the same thing every day, the dialog gets out of the way very early on and you become familiar with the 'life' within the dialog. The life can be intepreted in many ways and it's not uncommon for the intepretation to change with every rehearsal, or even while the play is actually running.

When I was working on "Magic is the Moonlight" 上海之夜, I remember changing the life and approach of one scene at least five times. As the actor becomes more familiar with the scene, the director begins to see alternative intepretations and opportunities to improve the scene. It's a truely evolutionary process.

The development and evolution of life within the play is probably one of the reasons that so many television and film actors try to get back to the stage between their television/film schedules. The constant attention to the same scenes allows the actor to develop their focus and acting skills and it benefits them in many ways.

This kind of development is not possible with television, especially the television series made at TVB. We, the actors, are never given the time to develop the scene. We do our homework and analyse and visualise the scene before we get to the studio but that doesn't do much to prepare us for the affects of the set and of the other actors. And it's never enough to allow us to evolve and develop the life between the dialog. The actors at the TVB are pretty damn good and they do extremely well under the circumstances; working 18 hours a day with little or no sleep every day for three to five months straight, sometimes getting the script on the day of filming. It would be interesting to see what they could do if given the opportunity to perform on the stage instead.

I think "Perfume" will be a great production. I was going to say "in its final version" but stage plays never stop evolving so there's never a final version.

In any case, I think it'll definitely be worth watching; even if I do say so myself.

中文很難

Filed in 中文文章

中文絕對不容易。雖然我已經說廣東話說了十九年多,不過還有困難,可能是因為廣東話有那麼多音調。雖然如此,通常我跟朋友談話的時候,說話絕對沒有甚麼問題,而看香港中文報紙也沒有問題。

寫中文對我來說比較難。看的時候,那些字已在你面前,你只要認得它們就可以。但是寫的時候,每個字每個筆畫要完全記得。

現在,我打著這編文用著國語拼音輸入。唯一的問題是很多拼音打了已後要揀字,很花時間。將來,我會考慮用倉頡或者手寫板。倉頡比較快但也很難學。用手寫板對我寫字會有一定的幫助。但是國語拼音輸入對我說普通話也肯定有幫助。怎麼辦?

下次告訴你們。

‘Perfume’ coming soon

Filed in Events, Perfume 香水 (2005), Work

The stage production "Perfume" that I am working on will be showing very soon, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. If you can read Chinese, there is more information over at Spring Time Productions and at the "Perfume" site.

Perfume, playing soon

This will indeed be an interesting experience. It only occurred to me last week that this will be the first time in my eighteen years of acting that I've had a main cast role so this will be an important mile stone for me.

It will also be interesting because the whole play only involves four actors and a small stage surrounded on all sides by the audience. I think it'll be great and I'm getting more excited with each day that passes.

There are going to be nine shows. One show is already fully booked. If you'd like to see the play, be sure to get your tickets soon.

Buds of Spring

Filed in Photo of the Day

Buds of Spring

Household enemy #1

Filed in Hong Kong

You know the weather is changing when the pets change the way they sleep, or rather the surfaces they sleep on. Yes, the weather has finally warmed up here in Hong Kong. The fog has left us and although we still cannot see blue skies because of the nice pollution we get from our large neighbour, the weather overall is great; not too cool and not too hot. We're averaging around 28 degrees celcius, probably warm enough to go for a swim which we probably won't do anytime soon even though we live literally 10 minutes walk from a beach.

When the weather cools, our dogs scrunch up the blankets we provide them and then sleep on the blankets. Now that the weather is warming up, they're choosing to sleep on the tiled floor instead where it's cooler, so cool in fact that considerable moisture builds up in front of their faces on the floor as the moisture in their breath condensates upon contact with the cool floor.

Mosquito Along with the warmer weather came more mosquitoes; many more. It is now one of my responsibilities here at home to scan the home before I sleep, armed with an electric mosquito swatter, pouncing on every mosquito I can find. I have the best eyes in the house so it's only natural that I'm the one to be given this responsibility.

I hate mosquitoes. In fact, they're probably the only existing animal or insect that I despise. We don't have many flies here so they don't bother me although the meat-eating flies are a real threat if any of our dogs are injured with open wounds. Last year when I was stung on the big toe by a centipede, I didn't seek to kill it or punish it. It was simply protecting itself so I accepted the warning and let the centipede continue on its way. I didn't get off lightly though because my foot and then my lower leg were in severe pain for three to four hours after the sting. It was very difficult to bear, even when iced.

I hate mosquitoes so much that I'm now quite adept at swatting them in mid-air with my bare hands. I can swat them so fast that they slam against the wall and frequently stick to the wall as their blood-filled belly explodes onto the wall. Consequently, our maid has the additional task of wiping dead mosquitoes off the walls whenever she sees them. It happens a lot.

I hate their buzzing at night while I'm trying to sleep. They don't bite me often because they apparently don't like my blood, and I also suspect that the hair on my arms and legs makes it more difficult for the mosquitoes to get close enough to my skin to actually begin sucking. However, that buzz and the mere threat of being bitten while asleep is impossible to ignore. It also annoys the heck out of my wife, and they love to suck on her blood. Unfortunately, she swells readily at each and every point where they bite, and the itching really gets to her. It can be very uncomfortable for her at the best of times, so it is doubly important that I kill as many mosquitoes as possible before I sleep.

Mosquito trap We actually purchased a mosquito trap from the U.S.A. a little over a year ago. It mimics a heart beat, releases a fragrance similar to the carbon dioxide that animals release and emits warmth just as a warm-blooded animal does. It works pretty well but it doesn't catch everything. The instructions state to place the trap away from where the people live to attract the mosquitoes away from the people rather than to them. This theory simply doesn't work in our case. With ten dogs and five people, the warmth and carbon dioxide emanating from our home is simply too over powering and attractive for any mosquito to ignore no matter where the mosquito trap is placed. After weeks of experimentation and some careful analysis of my own, I concluded that the best place for the trap was just outside our screen door. The breath and warmth of ten dogs and five people would ultimately draw the mosquitoes to the door. When they realise that they can't get to us, they'll take the next best thing; the mosquito trap. In its current position, it works really well. Unfortunately, we can't buy replacement carbon dioxide strips and sticky paper here in Hong Kong so we have to organise with friends to get the replacements from the U.S.A. whenever we can.

There are other mosquito traps available which transform LP gas into warmth and carbon dioxide and attract the mosquitoes to a vacuumed area using these attractants. These traps are apparently very effective, even more so than our current trap, but they are extremely expensive to buy here in Hong Kong. In fact, the Mosquito Magnet Liberty trap costs twice here in Hong Kong what it costs in the U.S.A. At those prices, only institutions can afford to buy them. That counts us out. So for the foreseeable future at least, I'll be the principal weapon in our war against mosquitoes.

I was going to talk about something surprising I found in a loaf of bread, but I'll talk about that another time. I'm going to brunch with friends at a friend's restaurant tomorrow morning so it would be prudent of me to shower and sleep earlier rather than later tonight. My friend's restaurant by the way is great. She cooks everything she serves, and that includes more than fifteen varieties of cheese cake. Yummy!

Till later, don't let the mosquitoes bite.

Java from Australia

Filed in Food & Drink

Here's that coffee article I promised.

I have some friends who I have known for a long time. We met in Australia while attending the University of New South Wales, were together frequently for most of the time I have been in Hong Kong and still stay in touch since they moved back to Australia. We're good friends.

Occasionally, I help my friends out with their Apple Mac computer problems. I've been working with Apple Mac computers since the late 1980's and know enough to be helpful to my friends. So when my friends announced that they were coming to visit their families in Hong Kong, I quickly asked them about bringing me a coffee espresso maker.

While in Australia last Christmas, my family's neighbour mentioned that the Australian Choice magazine had done a study and comparison of espresso makers. Remembering this little tidbit, and the fact that the leading espresso maker was not the most expensive one, I went online and found the study. It turns out that Breville makes good espresso makers at a price that I could justify. I researched the Breville espresso makers and promptly asked my friends to check the local pricing for me.

Now I've had one or two bad experiences with buying electrical appliances overseas before. Back in April of last year, I purchased a KitchenAid countertop cake mixer while in Los Angeles because the price was great and decent cake mixers are almost impossible to find in Hong Kong. The average Chinese person does not make cakes. My wife brought the mixer back with her but we later discovered that the mixer had developed a problem. In Los Angeles, we actually tested the mixer once and it worked fine. Back in Hong Kong, the vaunted "very slow stir" was malfunctioning. I can only conjecture that the mixer was damaged while being transported by airport cargo staff. If you've ever watched the video seen of airport cargo staff on 60-Minutes, you'll understand that your cargo is definitely not in the best hands at the airport.

Unfortunately, the mixer's warranty only applied to the U.S.A. so unless I could get the mixer back to the States, it wasn't going to get fixed. It never got back because we couldn't find any friends to take it back for us. We then discovered that KitchenAid actually does have a distributor here in Hong Kong, one that even supplies 220V models. If we'd known earlier, we would've bought it locally. They can fix our mixer for us but it will cost HKD600 for inspection and extra for any parts they need to replace. The price of the mixer could easily double once the cost of the repair is included. It's a really nice mixer so we'll have to fix it; soon.

So this time, I was a little more careful and checked to see if the Breville espresso makers were available in Hong Kong. It turned out that Breville has a local office and distributes product locally but they don't distribute the espresso makers locally. Bummer!

My new Breville espresso maker Well my friends came to Hong Kong and were anxious to see me asap. They completely surprised me by bringing over Breville's top model; the 800 Class Espresso Machine; and giving it to me as a gift. I was one very happy customer.

I've now had the espresso maker for almost two weeks. The available options are extremely limited but its two primary functions work extremely well; making espresso and frothing milk. There are no electronic LCD control panels and there are no complicated choices to make. And the machine is made extremely well; no plastic! It's a work of art.

So I won't be visiting Starbucks as often as I used to. The coffee I'm making at home is pretty good and getting better every time I make another cup. All I'm missing are a couple of shot glasses to measure the espresso output.

For those of you into coffee, here are the primary characteristics of the espresso maker from my perspective:

  • The entire machine is made of stainless steel. There's almost no plastic used in its construction. Almost every other espresso maker I've seen on the market is made of plastic unless you're buying the really expensive models.

  • It uses a 15 bar Italian-made thermoblock pump to deliver the espresso and the steam. 15 bars is a lot of pressure and espresso makers with that much pressure usually cost a whole lot more.

  • The water tank is easily removed for refill. It also features a transparent plastic gauge on the front so that you can instantly see how much water is left. It even uses a small blue light above the water so that the water level is extremely obvious no matter how bright or dark the room is. In addition, the water tank can be refilled by removing the tank or by flipping down a door at the back of the espresso maker and pouring water directly into the tank.

  • The milk frother just works. It's extremely easy to froth milk and it's quick.

  • There's a 'full' indicator in the drip tray so you'll know instantly when it needs to be emptied.

  • Maintenance and cleaning are simple and it doesn't require priming before or after each cup of coffee as some espresso makers require.

So if you're in the market for an espresso maker, take a look at Breville.

If you have any suggestions for coffee brands, please let me know.

Update (26 March 2008)

The Breville 800 Class Espresso Machine is now available locally here in Hong Kong. I've seen it in the B&Q store at Megabox.

High on a fence

Filed in Photo of the Day

From time to time, I manage to take one or two nice photographs (subjectively speaking of course). I'm currently using a Canon IXUS 400 but may soon have a new Canon EOS 350D to play with. Combined with the Canon SRL lenses that I already own, it should enable me to take more appeasing and attractive photographs. The problems with the IXUS 400 are the limitations of the lens, the non-sharpness of the images and the delay between pressing the button and actually taking the picture. All of these problems will be pretty much eliminated by the 350D.

In the meantime, here are two pictures that I took today in an area called Causeway Bay. Click on the images to view them at a larger size.

Two guys painting a fence

Painting a fence