Sunday, February 21, 2016

Poznan Old Square


"Calm down." my inner voice said.

But it has already been 3 years since I left Poland and I'd have to say I really missed this country, especially, Poznan - the city I stayed for 2 years and enjoyed very much.

Quick throwback to 2012 summer, while I was working for the EURO 2012 - 

Nice view from the stage

People went crazy when the grannies started to sing

Jarzębina! Backstage crews got excited when meeting the lovely granny group who sang the official Polish anthem for EURO 2012

Late June in Poznan can still be cold and rainy - what a moody city! Tymon picked me up from the airport and I felt asleep throughout the drive back to our previously shared flat. Kinda surprise to see everything in the flat looked exactly the same as I left in 2012 (even the expired cooking spices I brought in long time before, WTF?!) except the cat passed away a year ago...T^T

After a short nap, Tymon was off to work again and I went straight to the market trying to hunt for some foods. I could so tell it was the strawberry season in Poland because there were little pop-up stalls or hawkers selling strawberry at every corner of the city! The smell was just AWESOME!

5zl per 1kg, that's roughly 1EUR! I could live like a happy kid there eating strawberry all day long!

Some pop-up flea markets in the old square

Flower market - Polish granny's favourite!

Practicing my broken Polish in local market

Can't believe the tram is now having real-time GPS map! OMG!

Cheap ham from Biedronka - my guilty comfort food <3

Missed this nice neighborhood 

Helping Tymon's mum to prepare a simple birthday dinner for his dad

There was a night I met up some ex-colleagues in a bar. It was no surprise to know that most of them already left the company after the acquisition. I don't really miss the time I had to literally keep asking customers "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" but it was just great to catch up with all these lovingly geeky colleagues again!

Checking out new restaurant in town with ex-colleagues

Time flies. 7 days in Poland passed really quickly. I started to miss all those lovely people when I was in the transit area at Warsaw International Airport. I could still recall the hard feeling when I made the decision to leave Poland, that was probably the hardest and saddest choice I have made in my life...seriously, I feel like I miss Poland too much that I should just consider to relocate there again.

Nothing - just a travel cliche shot

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Back in July, I had a random idea to travel but hadn't done any planning until the very last moment my 2-week leave was about to kick off. Time flies. I realised that I had to make a decision anyway.

"Paris seems to be a nice destination for city break, maybe." I talked to myself one night while surfing Instagram and spotted photos of some random French pastries. I instantly booked a one-way ticket from Hong Kong to Paris on the same night. The rest of the trip...hmmm...will see....

Anyway, there I go, Europe!

A Must-Do: Checking-in on Facebook with a snapshot of the most touristic place in Paris

I rushed to Hong Kong International Airport on the Friday evening and was in the glare of Paris sunshine on the next morning. Nice start of my very first solo city break experience.

The concept of city break is still pretty new to me, guess probably because I am too used to travel with assignment/specific goal and always got trapped in unusual situations, like, being dumped by driver in nowhere of the remote Caucasus Mountain area and had to hitchhike all the way from Georgia to Russia. Simply going to a foreign country and to do nothing but enjoy city life is something I would consider as completely SPECIAL (also abnormal)!

Note: My backpack weighted 7.2 kg only, probably because there was no DSLR this time, just iPhone and a Praktica SLR + 55mm f/1.8. Achievement unlocked!

Room is tastefully decorated with pastel colours

The sitting area

Hotel Balzac is a pretty boutique hotel located right in the heart of Paris, literally just off the Champs-Elysées and very close to the Arc de Triomphe. The deluxe room was spacious and its comfy king-size bed quickly healed my jet lag.

The hotel itself has an antique look&feel that any vintage-loving hipster (like me) would fall in love with at first sight, not to mention if you are also a foodie, the Pierre Gagnaire’s eponymous, and highly regarded, 3 Michelin stars restaurant can be found just downstairs. The only "downside" of this hotel could probably be their tight availability. Having only 69 rooms out from the whole building meaning their rooms can go really quick during peak season. There is a chance to get a nice discount like 20% off if you pre-book the room 20 days in advance. Also, better to secure the number of night needed for the room upon arrival/during the booking.

Just 2 mins walking from the hotel

I visited most of the touristy places in Paris when I first travelled to Paris with my sister years ago (missed the sweet young backpacking time though...) so this time, I decided just to relax, wandering around the streets and markets, spent a whole day in the Paris weekend flea market and I wasn't disappointed after all.

Those touristy places...all checked last time

Before I head to my next destination, Poland, I went up to the Sacre Coeur on Montmartre in the early morning and it was filled with tourists already. Hmm...

Less crowded way uphill but have to walk all the concrete steps

Sacre Coeur, checked!

This city view though!

My so-called Paris city break experience was nothing special or fancy, pretty much just loads of eating out, some sightseeing, a bit of shopping along Champs-Elysées and eating some more french fries while watching telly on bed at night....

I am not too sure if I like this kind of travel but it is always good to experience something new.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Paris Flea Market in the Porte de Clignancourt area (officially called "Les Puces de Saint-Ouen" and has been referred as "Puces de Clignancourt" commonly) is a flea market area located in the Saint-Ouen area, northern suburb of Paris. It may sound far away from the Paris city centre but it is instead well connected with the Paris Metro system and within a reasonable walking distance (~30 minutes) from Montmartre/18th arrondissement.

Vintage style accessories can be found easily in the flea markets

Paris Flea Market Actually Hosts 14 Markets

Don't be surprised to learn that the Paris Flea Market itself is actually hosting 14 different flea markets across the Clignancourt area. Detailed descriptions of each market can be found here. (Also see map below)

I've spent a whole day in the area and had only visited 6 markets. The whole market can surely take up a full day or even more. (There is a swap meet/open area bazaar called Le Plateau near Boulevard Peripherique, people tends to skip that at all but I walked through it...nothing special there indeed.)

The open area bazaar, Le Plateau, where cheap garments are available

Inside Le Plateau

Getting There

By Paris Metro: Porte de Clignancourt(Line 4) or Garibaldi(Line 13)

Take the métro to Porte de Clignancourt on Line 4 (personally suggested this way because it is the closest metro station to the market area) and follow the crowds after the exit. Yes, just follow the crowds. I am not kidding because on the Saturday morning I was there, there was a sea of people flowing in the same direction after exiting the metro. So I was thinking "Hmm...this can't be wrong." Yep, I was right.

If you happen to arrive on a quiet day when there is no crowd for you to follow, look for sign of “Les Puces” (means Fleas in French) after you exit Porte de Clignancourt. You can also easily spot the freeway overpass along Boulevard Peripherique. The flea market area starts just across the Boulevard Peripherique.

On my way to Market Vernaison and spotted some sweet corns fresh off the trolley 

Before you plan your visit to the markets, I'd suggest to get yourself familiar with the location and description of each market with the help of this pdf leaflet.

Here is the map exact from the leaflet.

Pink/Magenta: Antique shops/stalls, open only on weekends (+ some stalls on Monday)
Purple: Antique markets for professionals, open on weekdays, some are by appointment only
That Brownish Colour: Markets for new clothes (Try to avoid Le Plateau unless you are interested in those cheaply-made clothes/ill-fitted iPhone cases/counterfeit Adidas trainers/Eiffel Tower keychains)

Opening Hour

Saturday 0900 - 1800
Sunday 1000 - 1800
Monday 1100 - 1700 (Note: Not all shops/stalls open on Monday!)

What To Expect There

Varieties of goods, from sky-high expensive vintage furniture, toys from early 1900s to cheaply made retro style necklaces and some poorly pixelated pin up girl reprints that would cost you 2. It really takes time to find the nice stuffs.

 Creepy bathing dolls from early 1900s (equivalent to the modern age yellow rubber ducks...)

 A small selection of letterpress lead type characters

Not working anymore, I assume

 Narrow alleys in Market Vernaison

 Vintage hand bind hardcover books

 Letters from the 1940s-60s

Pricey furniture just placed on the street causally

Monday, May 11, 2015

 Portland Street in Mong Kok © Wikipedia Commons

Get on a double-deck bus along Nathan Road and take the seat from the first roll upstairs, you will then feel like you own the whole world. Yes, sounds cliche-ish, because I am a big fan of 'Chungking Express', or more particularly speaking, the colours shown there really got me.

For me, the scene of Hong Kong filling up with neon signs at night means more than a cliche photo one can find on a postcard. That ambient light matters in creating the whole Hong Kong night scene.

I was given a 'Chungking Express' VCD from a teacher in my first year of secondary school, that was also the year I started to learn about video shooting and editing... That film means everything about cinematography to the teenage me. Those Chungking Mansion and neon signage scenes have been left in my mind ever since then. And its companion piece, 'Fallen Angels', also had me at first sight. 

Christopher Doyle: Filming in the Neon World

Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer of 'Chungking Express', talked about the relationship between neon lights and his filming works for a M+ video. A truly amazing piece to have his thoughts about the street scenes in 80s/90s Hong Kong shared.

Neon Starry Night on Nathan Road

'八珍甜醋' signage shot in Oct 2014, just a couple of street corners away from Nathan Road, where the 'Occupy Mong Kok' happened during umbrella movement

Just like another other big cities on this planet, Hong Kong is suffering from light pollution. I can so tell that lying on Nathan Road and staring at the sky from there in midnight would not give you any starry night view, because, I tried. But I've got some unique experience in viewing all those neon signs, Nathan Road and my city.

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

The lyric simply summed up my thought. Imagine walking along Nathan Road in midnight, the environment is pretty much dead silent when compares to its daytime, then you will find the colourful ambient light from surrounding neon signs the warmest colour you've ever seen.

Another cliche time. The City Never Sleeps.

Neon Sign Making: Just Another Vanishing Art

The ultimate neon signage scene is one of Hong Kong's signatures, and unfortunately, this craftsmanship is now considered as a vanishing art. Sign makers and calligraphers shared their insights of this dying industry. A beautiful but sad piece to watch.

**Graphic Design Geek Moment** I feel like I am going to write another blog piece about the Chinese calligraphy methods and types used for neon signage design.

Check Out the NEONSIGNS.HK by Mobile M+ for more amazing neon light artworks. You can even contribute the location of neon sign onto their interactive map. And yay, the part for Nathan Road is basically filled up with loads of contributions.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cabinet storing the lead types

Chinese letterpress printing with movable type is a dying art, especially in a fast-paced city, like Hong Kong. Back in 2012, the closure of Wai Che Printing Company in Wing Lee Street was probably one of the saddest moments for all letterpress enthusiasts in Hong Kong.

Although there are still quite a few small print shops around Central and Sheung Wan districts that use movable types, the industry is counting down its final days.

Happy Printing Co., one of the last remaining Chinese letterpress print shops in Hong Kong that still use movable types. 

Reason calling the shop Happy? Yes, there is one. 

“Because the working environment in letterpress printing industry is very bad and there are very little ways to change this, so why not just make it sounds a bit more positive? Happiness is good!” Mr Kwan told me. Owners, Mr and Mrs Kwan, started the business in late 1970s right after they married and moved to the current address in 1980s.

Most of the lead types are worn out now

Characters are organised by radical or common combination of terms/expressions. The cabinet was once filled up with at least 4,000 commonly-used Chinese characters, available in different sizes. And now? Only less than half of them left.

Since the last Chinese type making shop of Hong Kong closed in early 2000s, it is now very hard for local letterpress print shops to find replacements for their types. Repairing a broken type doesn't seem to be an option as most of the type makers in Hong Kong are retired and can only help very little.

That basically means, once a type is too worn-out, it will be long gone. Print shops in Taiwan are a bit luckier, because there is still a type maker who insists to preserve this artistic craftsmanship. RESPECT!

 Holding a lead type character, 號, literally means number in Chinese

Geek Talk: Chinese type is using its own size measuring system. Unlike the popular point system using in western desktop publishing industry, in Chinese type sizing system, the larger the size number, the smaller the type. Its measuring unit is called 號. The one shown above is a size 7, which is an equivalent to 5.5 pt (also called ruby in UK or agate in US).

Quick fact: 5.5pt is also one of the most popular font sizes for Terms and Conditions or any mouseprint in DTP, because this size is good for saving space and still reasonably readable but no one would actually pay attention to read it. Lovely.
Print shop owner, Mr Kwan, demonstrating how the machine works

Mr Kwan bought a second-hand Heidelberg Platen in late 1970s and since then has been using it for thirty-something years. However, business demand of letterpress printing is decreasing since late 1980s. The extensive application of offset and digital printing nowadays is something nobody could tell in the past.

Colour is fading

Mrs Kwan can still recall the price of this machine was about $30000HKD, which could buy a family a decent 500 sq. ft. apartment back in the 70s.

Custom-made mould on plate

The shop still keeps the previously custom-made moulds. Those are mainly company letterhead and shop receipt templates.

“You will never know when the customers will come back.” Mr Kwan said. He also added, custom making a plate mould would usually take him 1-2 hours. From layout design to typesetting, including proof-reading the whole plate set.

Interested To Learn More About Chinese Letterpress?

If you happen to be in Hong Kong, here is the info for you to participate in a Chinese letterpress workshop!

- Printing Art Gallery of Youth Square

Mr Lee, owner of the former Wai Che Printing Company, holds monthly letterpress workshop and guided tour at Youth Square. There is also a regular exhibition of Chinese movable letterpress printing history there. You will have a chance to take a closer look at the old printing machine and metal Chinese types.

Address: 5/F, Youth Square, 238 Chai Wan Road, Chai Wan, Hong Kong
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 08:00-23:00

- 活字寶手作坊

A group of letterpress enthusiasts in Hong Kong organises Chinese letterpress workshop with Kwong Wah Printing Company in Sheung Wan occasionally. Check out their facebook page for update of the next workshop. Cantonese session available only but may be worth asking if they can conduct an exclusive English session ;)

Valuing Traditional Arts And History Of Our Community

The visit to Happy Printing Co. gave me a flashback of the good old school days studying desktop publishing. I am never a letter-spacing or kerning police (even though I do always critique/BS fonts on menu when going to a restaurant), it's refreshing to see how people do letter-spacing on letterpress plate using metal straps. That's something I could only find on textbook before!

Redevelopment plan carried by Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority has arrived in Tai Kok Tsui. I hope Happy Printing Company and its neighborhood can be saved from the wrecking ball.

I have a feeling, sooner or later, Hong Kong will become a complete concrete jungle, or even worse, a human zoo run by our own government. I am not quite sure if having more high-rise buildings filled up with even more luxury residential units is the thing I would be happy to see in Hong Kong. I found Hong Kong a charming and unique place because it used to have a balance between the good old and new bits.
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