29 September 2008

Ritz Ballroom

This is the Ritz Ballroom from the cover of the booklet that gave us the Coca Cola ad in the last post. The Ritz Ballroom opened on 5 September 1947 on an empty lot next to the docks in North Point. It was the brainchild of one Mr C.F. Lee who arrived in Hong Kong in 1946 and found the nightlife sedate by comparison with the city where "the nights were so well taken care of by diverse amusements that people never realised night actually exists". The decor was opulent with red plush sofas, oil-paintings and air-conditioning and guests could choose between Chinese and French cuisine with fine wines. Musical entertainment was provided by Eddie Guzman And His Orchestra and singer Cora Ballecer. Eddie Guzman came over from Manila in 1948 and was among the first generation of Filipino musicians, who revolutionised the music scene in 1950s Hong Kong, just as they had in 1930s Shanghai.

Next to the Ritz Ballroom was the Ritz Garden, with Chinese gardens, restaurants, two swimming pools and miniature golf. We don't know when the Ritz closed (we are working on that), but Alice found out that her dad went to the ballroom in the late fifties when it was, he said, past its prime.

25 September 2008

Globalization 1951-style

This is my find for today from Hong Kong University library. I found it in an anniversary booklet for The Ritz Ballroom, a nightclub in North Point. It is the kind of image that is often used to show how transnational corporations use images of globalization to further their commercial designs by implying that consuming their products promotes global peace. Remember 'I'd like to buy the world a Coke'? This advertisement was published in 1951. A reminder that there is nothing new in the world?

24 September 2008

My Intimate Partner

According to local mythology, Cantonese pop started with Sam Hui in the early seventies. Before that it was either English or Mandarin. There is some truth in that, although there was a fair amount of Cantonese pop in the fifties and sixties in movies and released on small independent labels. It is just that it is hard to track down, partly because it was, and still is, held in such low esteem. So this CD compilation of sixties movie songs released by Fung Hang in 1997 was a good find for me.

For some reason, a lot of Cantonese movies had English titles in those days, even though they didn't have English subtitles. So we can translate the title of this CD as My Intimate Partner, the English title of a black and white Cantonese movie starring Patrick Tse (left). Patrick Tse, who is the father of Cantopop star Nicholas Tse doesn't actually sing on this compilation. The others do. They are Connie Chan, Liu Kee and Josephine Siao.

Here is the tracklisting, lovingly translated into English by Alice (if you appreciate it, please visit Hedgehog Adventures and leave a friendly comment!).

1. Eighteen Year-old Girls Are As Beautiful As Flowers - Connie Chan & Liu Kee
2. Love Flower Blossoms - Rowena
3. Fragrant Durian - Lee Po Yin & Man Chin Shiu
4. Trouble-free Youth - Josephine Siao
5. A Young Girl's Loving Heart - Josephine Siao
6. Dreaming of Chao - Connie Chan & Cheung Ching
7. China Brother - Cheung Kam Cheong
8. Ladykiller - Connie Chan
9. My Loving Child - Connie Chan
10. Can't Forget You - Connie Chan & Liu Kee
11. It's Hard To Be A Daughter-in-law - Connie Chan & Cheung Ching
12. The Joy Of Study - Connie Chan & Nancy Sit
13. My Lover Is You - Josephine Siao, Fan Lee & Au Kei Wei
14. Keep The Mountain Green - Josephine Siao, Fan Lee & Au Kei Wei
15. Two Flying Swallows - Josephine Siao, Fan Lee & Au Kei Wei

Tracks 1, 10 & 12 are from one of the classic sixties youth movies, Girls Are Flowers. And, yes, track 12 really is about the joy of study. It's also a kind of variation on Do-Re-Mi from The Sound Of Music, which is often used to teach basic music in western schools. This song was was playing in the car the other day while I was giving a friend a ride to work. She turned up the volume and said it was a song she remembered from her childhood. As she put it, the song "urges the youth to be diligent in their studies".

22 September 2008

The Underground Compilation #1

This blog is loosely linked to a book I am writing with Alice Chik on Hong Kong English popular music. I want to mention The Underground Compilation #1 here because The Underground is more or less, where we began the book. The Underground #29 in June 2006 at the Edge, to be exact. That's where we first saw Hard Candy, who have a habit of having their picture printed whenever the SCMP writes about us, and later Chris B, the organizer of The Underground nights, who was our first interviewee and gave us the priceless gift of two Sisters of Sharon CDs.

I haven't heard The Underground Compilation #1 yet (seems like you have to go to a gig to get one), but it has got to be good. Two CDs with tracks by 22Cats, Born To Hula, Chochukmo, F.B.I., Forgot, Lazy Susans, Sea Monsters, Tai Tai Alibi, The Sinister Left, Velvette Vendetta & Violent Jokes. Apart from 22 Cats, one of my favourite bands (so are Hard Candy, by the way), I haven't seen or heard the others, but Alice listens to bands on MySpace and says that Born To Hula, Chochukmo and Lazy Susans are good. There have been 67 Underground nights with 200+ bands (they don't repeeat too often) over the last few years. I guess a lot of those bands have disappeared already. The Edge has gone as well. So the fact that The Underground has survived is something in itself. It goes a long way towards explaining why we have such a healthy alternative scene in Hong Kong right now.

19 September 2008

Why Time Out Hong Kong?

The arrival of Time Out Hong Kong a few months ago was the first major post-hippie-capitalist event to hit Hong Kong since the coming of Virgin Atlantic and The Body Shop. So I was intrigued by a reader's letter in issue 11, thanking Time Out for 'finally' coming to Hong Kong, but then bemoaning the wine correspondent's lack of knowledge of wine and the city. I have no opinion on the second part of this. I mainly read the music section and I find that it is well-informed on the local music scene - much more so than it's free English-language counterparts. But I was interested in the idea that we have somehow been waiting all these years for Time Out to arrive.

The first time I came across TOHK (as it would like us to call it), I had a flashback to the days of punk 1978 when a bunch of us would meet up on a Friday night at the Marlborough Arms near London University Students Union. One of us would have a copy of Time Out (only one, mind you) and we'd look through the listings and end up at the Hope and Anchor watching X-Ray Spex, or maybe at The Vortex for Wayne County and the Electric Chairs. Then I moved away from London and forgot all about Time Out. I've been in Hong Kong since 1991. Have I really been waiting all this time?

Tony Elliott, who founded the magazine in 1968, had some interesting things to say about why we have been graced with the Time Out presence in an interview with the London Evening Standard. Basically, competition from freebies is cutting into circulation figures, so a diversification-globalization strategy is in order. This means that there are now 2o something Time Outs around the world. There is also a 'glocalization' strategy at work here - global format / local content. I think they are doing a good job on the local bit and I'll continue to read. But the reason we have a Time Out in the first place is not because we need it, but more because they need us.

Oh, and another thing I found out is that Tony Elliott says he was never a hippie, after all! Another illusion shattered...

17 September 2008


One of my favourite Sino Centre shops right now is directly opposite the escalator going down into the basement. It sells mostly Japanese CDs and DVDs and has a big display of anime and video game soundtracks, all at super cheap prices. Evangelion - The Birthday of Rei Ayanami is a CD I picked up there a few weeks ago and can't stop playing. I should say that I am not an anime fan, so it was news to me that this was actually the twelfth soundtrack album from the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series (where have I been?). Since I have an interest in Asian artists who do English songs, the highlights for me are the two versions of Fly Me To The Moon. One has a cheesy Japanese English vocal by Rei's seiyu, Megumi Hayshibara, the other a cool jazz piano version by Kuriya Makoto. They have most of the other eleven albums too - one with five versions of Fly Me To The Moon!

15 September 2008

Check the price first!

This is something I bought for Kaz at Sino Centre on Sunday. It's a 'Slim Airfoam Game Pouch' designed to stop the screen of his PSP from cracking when he throws his backpack on the ground at school. As the logo on the top left shows, it is (not) an official PSP product. But never mind, it works. There is basically no bargaining in Sino Centre. You either pay or you leave. So I paid my HK$78. A few shops down (which means around 10 steps away), it was on sale for HK$45. A few shops down from that, it was HK$38. Kaz says we were double-scammed. We also bought a copy of Every Extend Extra for HK$200 (not bad for a newish PSP game). Then he goes a few floors up and digs out a copy selling for HK$60.

14 September 2008

Sino Centre

This is a blog about Hong Kong popular culture, so I'll start with my favourite mall for all things Hong Kong pop. This is Sino Centre, on Nathan Road between Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok, where we spent an hour or two earlier this Sunday lunchtime. Note that the photo is taken from outside on the opposite side of the road. If you take photos inside you are likely to come out without your camera, or maybe the hand that was holding it as well. It's that kind of mall. This is not a computer mall, by the way. There are six floors of tiny shops selling DVDs, CD's, figurines, video games, model cars, Japanese comics, and so on. I go for the specialist CD shops mostly - there are more than ten of them. I'll post up a few photos of things I have bought there, but for a taster, here is the blurb from the back of a HK$25 DVD of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening on sale now...

"Everything happened very suddenly, without warning, without symptoms, spreading speed of more people is no way to beware of, almost suddenly, around the major cities in the United States every corner, everywhere filled with strange and frightening atmosphere of deaths. This is a staggering destructive power, and no signs of any reason to follow..... in the end result is what all this happened so rapidly? Complete destruction of human behaviour in the capacity-controlled? Humanity no longer has to avoid danger and harm of instinct, is no longer able to be aware of knife stabbed himself, the fire will be burned to death themselves, water and drown themselves. No ago, and no consequences , so happened, some people say that this is a terrorist attack, some people say is a failure caused by biological experiments, and some may say that this is a terrible than the devil also the weapons, or a kind of lost control of the virus. But even human Cai Butou its route of transmission - water? Or air?"