When Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo wanted to stand out among other tourist attractions in the busy city, they turned to penguins. Visitors using the Penguin Navi app on their wireless device just follow the little digital birds through the city, which leads them to the aquarium.
The idea taps the world of augmented reality and has been a hit with tourists. Without changing any exhibits, Sunshine has increased its attendance by more than 150%.
Hong Kong‘s $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal is open and processing cruise travelers as anticipated. Located at the site of the former Kai Tak International airport runway, the terminal will eventually source passengers from a pool of 50 million potential middle-class passengers in China. This week though, it’s all about the Americans.
Passengers disembarking Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas this week found a bit of a different experience than that of other cruise ports around the world. Showcasing some of what China has to offer cruise travelers, Mariner of the Seas offered passengers a kung fu demonstration, a lion dance at Mikiki mall in San Po Kong, shopping, dining and more on planned tours.
Adventure cruise travelers with a desire to go it on their own had a bit different experience, finding transportation options limited. “The terminal is fine, the building is fine but there is no good connection to the city,” passenger Fred Lutjens said in a Standard report that notes a queue of 100 people waiting for a taxi.Kai Tak airport, which closed in 1998 after 70 years of service, was replaced by the current Chek Lap Kok International Airport. Using that valuable and available land efficiently, the $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal has the ability to handle passenger vessels as large as two of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships, the largest in the world.
From the 17th to 19th century, Grand Tourists (usually from England) would set out on a journey of discovery. This excursion had a near-cemented itinerary, a list of places a young man (it was almost always a man) would have to visit to have a well-rounded education. Paris, Geneva, Venice, Bologna Rome, Vienna were all must-sees. The travelers weren’t really traveling to eat or try new foods but we could guess they probably ate well.
If there was a grand tour of eating in the 21st century and we had to corner it to one continent only, it probably wouldn’t be Europe. It would most likely be Asia, which has a tremendous diversity of flavors and ingredients and seems more and more clear that 21st-century eating habits are adopting Asian cuisine as its own.
There was no better place to explore this idea than at the annual Lucky Rice Festival. At the Grand Feast, housed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, I asked a slew of well-known chefs what the best country in Asia is for eating.
Here’s what they had to say:DANIELLE CHANG Founder and organizer of the Lucky Rice Festival
Taipei. There are so many great places to go. I’ve actually had better Japanese food in Taipei than in Japan. Just as I’ve had better Szechuan food there than in China.
CHRIS CHEUNG Chef at Cherrywood Kitchen, New York City
Taishan, China. It’s where the first wave of immigrants in New York came from. There’s a fish and pork sausage there that is really great. My grandma made it especially well.
BRAD FARMERIE Chef at Public, New York City
Singapore or Vietnam. I’ve been to both places and they’re both the highlights of any trip to Asia, in terms of eating. Singapore does all Asian cuisine very well. Vietnam is especially great for freshness and seaside deliciousness.
HUNG HUYNH Chef at Catch and The General, New York City
Vietnam. Specifically, Saigon. We have the finest and freshest flavors there. It’s not too sour, not too sweet. Just right.
SUSUR LEE Chef at Lee, Toronto
Chengdu. I ate so well there. The food is robust. The people are robust. The best thing I ate there was this hot and sour glass noodle dish. The balance of sweet and sour was so good. I just couldn’t stop eating it. I also ate an entire rack of lamb. It was six years ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
JEHANGIR MEHTA Chef at Mehtaphor, New York City
Bombay. I know it well because I grew up there. But also have to say Tokyo is great, too. My sister worked there for a long time and I would often visit and eat everything I saw.
MASAHARU MORIMOTO Chef at Morimoto, New York City and Philadelphia
I don’t know.
HONG THAIMEE Chef at Ngam, New York City
Chiang Mai. It’s my heart and soul. I often crave kanom jeen from the Warorot Market at night. It’s a fermented rice noodle with gravy on top. The sauces are variations on curry.
DORON WONG Chef at Toy, New York City
Singapore. It’s so diverse. You’ve got Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Indian. Plus, the local cuisine. And the weather is so great there, too.
CEDRIC VONGERICHTEN Chef at Perry St., New York City
Tokyo. I was there four years ago and was blown away by the high quality of everything I ate. The flavor combinations of the food are amazing there. If I get the chance, I really want to go to Singapore, as well.
ANDY YANG Chef at Rhong-Tiam, New York City
Hong Kong. I really love the Asian flavors blended with a French and English influence. There are such exotic ingredients there. I’d specifically eat a lot of street food there.
On May 17, a good chunk of East Asia had a day off to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday (Southeast Asia will celebrate it next week). It happens that in Hong Kong the Enlightened One’s birthday coincides each year with a Taoist celebration called the Bun Festival. The culmination of the Bun Festival occurs at midnight of the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, when “bun snatchers” climb a 60-foot tower of buns and collect as many buns as will fit in their bun sack.
Yes, buns. Those doughy things you eat.
The Bun Festival has roots in the Taoist “Jiao” festivals, where communities pay homage to deities in order to foster peace in the coming year. The origins of the Bun Festival itself are vague. The common and possibly apocryphal story is that offerings were made to Pak Tai, the God of the Sea, in order to protect island villagers from pirates. Another history says it began during the days of Hong Kong’s bubonic plague epidemic, when Pak Tai again was asked for relief from the disease.
These Taoist Jiao festivals were apparently widespread before Mao-era suppression brought most religious activities to a screeching halt on the mainland. But the Bun Festival carried on unabated in Hong Kong – that is, until the late ’70s, when tragedy struck.
The new bun towers (lit. translation: “bun mountains”) are steel-reinforced and authorities only allow harnessed, elite bun snatchers to climb them. The old bun towers, pictured above, are traditionally made with a bamboo frame. And in the ’70s and before, there were no harnesses – and no limits on the climbers. A mass of men would swarm at the towers, sometimes shimmying up the inside and bursting through the top, all trying to retrieve the top bun: the bun that conferred the most honor on the bun snatcher’s family; the luckiest bun.
(In case you’re wondering, the buns are blessed. The big red character on each of them means “peace,” which, as you’ll remember, is the reason the gods are being indulged.)
In 1978, one of the towers collapsed. One hundred people were injured and bureaucrats went into action, canceling the festival. It was only revived 27 years later, in 2005, with strict safety measures in place including limiting the number of climbers to 12. Locals complain that the festival has lost its authenticity because the towers are not a death trap and therefore less thrilling. Personally, I agree with this assessment – things are naturally edgier and more exciting when life is on the line. But I would contend, and I think Competitor #2 (in the pink shirt) in the following video will surely agree, that not all changes have been for the worse.
(You’ll forgive my videography, I was mesmerized by #3’s blistering pace.)
A note on geography: Cheng Chau, where the BF is held, is one of Hong Kong’s Outlying Islands, which generally see far fewer tourists than Victoria Harbour and her famous skyline of hill-scrambling skyscrapers. So when a festival like this comes along, with its quirky competition and photo-op whimsy, it’s almost bound to be exploited to full effect, which it is.
A friend and I arrived with half of Hong Kong on a 30-minute fast ferry from Pier 5 in Central, but the other half of Hong Kong was already there. Spectators were stacked 20+ deep beside the cramped main street for the 2 o’clock start of the Parade-In-The-Air, arguably the most entertaining part of the festival. With a bit of a squeeze, we managed to get within tiptoe viewing distance of the procession, and at that moment it began to rain, so we only saw umbrellas for the next quarter hour. When the sun returned, so did our view, and the first thing that paraded into sight was a small child hovering above the heads of the onlookers, being borne precariously down the street atop a vertical column of bowls and plates.
The poor kid looked pretty miserable. After the rain stopped and the sun came out, the temperature soared. You’d be miserable, too – the parade lasts two hours and they’re heavily costumed as figures from Chinese history and mythology and perched (or rather hung up by wire frames) atop a sculpture of some sort. One child was dressed in a finely tailored suit, standing on a sword. I have to wonder about the symbolism of that. On the other hand, a few kids looked genuinely thrilled, as below.
Overall, the effect is quite enjoyable. The little human statues are interspersed with loud drums and dancing dragons and lions and flag bearers. The crowd is as photographically enthusiastic as anywhere else in China, with generous and effusive “ooos” and “ahhs” for the suffering children.
Again, I have to wonder what famous figure this was.
As night fell, the elderly locals assembled at a stage between the towers and the Pak Tai temple to watch a Cantonese opera. However, unlike the spectators at the parade, the opera performers’ pentatonic dissonance was appreciated more contemplatively than vocally.
Meanwhile the other side of the island is all day a far quieter place, well enough away from the crowd control barriers and bun sellers. There are several sand beaches, and the eastern cove is actually a great windsurfing venue (it’s home to Hong Kong’s only Olympic gold medalist – a windsurfer).
A stone path takes you out beyond the beaches to some rock formations on the self-described “Mini Great Wall,” which is actually no more than the stone path you’re walking on. The views are terrific, though, overlooking the cargo ship-spotted West Lamma Channel to Hong Kong, Lamma and Lantau Islands. It’s all quite peaceful by the rocky shore, the surf swishing gently over the stones and little scuttling crabs fleeing every which way. So much so that despite the sunset being on the opposite side, we – and many other crowd refugees – chose to linger a little longer before diving back into the madness of the bun tower crowds, who had already staked a place in the ticket queue for a viewing spot beneath the tower.