Asia, China, Chinese, Chinese tea, Cong Caphe, Hanoi, Health, Hong Kong, Hongkong, Katz's Deli, Kowloon, Lin Heung Kui, Lin Heung Kui Dim Sum, Los Angeles, MIng Cha Tea, Phoenix Deli, Star Ferry
Trying to describe Hong Kong is like writing an encyclopedia – you’re going to need a lot of pages to cover all the subjects and possibilities. My marriage is a combination of Hollywood and Broadway: I’m from Los Angeles, California and my wife Jan is from Newark, New Jersey. Which means she spent all her teenage weekends in the Big Apple, as in attending the first Earth Day. Grandma took her to Radio City Music Hall with, of course, white gloves. She still has family in Brooklyn. I used to wait in the parking lot of 20th Century Fox with my uncle for my mom to get off work. Between the two of us, we know the two largest cities in the U.S. from childhood.
Each major city holds a lifetime of experience. I don’t think you’d get tired of any of them. Worn down by traffic and congestion, sure. But tired? Not me. Big cities equal endless opportunity. And just crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong on the Star Ferry is the single greatest commute on Planet Earth.
And when on the Star Ferry, I try to imagine the home of Harry Woo, the dishwasher from Hong Kong who worked for my parents. He’s long since passed away, but as I’ve gotten older I can’t shake the memory of staring wide eyed as a 6 year-old at Chinese characters for the first time. My Journey to the East began one day a long time ago.
Harry was writing a letter home while he was watching me on a Saturday afternoon in 1961 before the dinner rush hour. I saw him write the Chinese characters and was transfixed. It all made sense to him and still doesn’t to me (all right, I know the character for mountain, or shan, but that’s it).
And so when he saw I was not going to be distracted as one might expect from a 6 year-old kid, he looked at me and spoke softly. Harry sported a modest Fu Manchu moustache, which added the perfect touch for me. Because Harry was cool, and not an outsider to my parents or to me.
“I read for you?” asked Harry. I just nodded my head back and forth, hoping he’d make good on his promise. And he proceeded to read his letter to his parents and point to each character with his finger. It was a magical moment that I look back on with great fondness. Maybe we do travel to our karma. He certainly laughed happily as I unsuccessfully tried to pronounce Cantonese!
I have a real sense of being at home in Hong Kong, and it’s all because of Harry Woo watching me so many times as a kid so my parents could focus on their work. He smiled, to me it seemed he smiled all the time. He’s been my Lucky Buddha my whole life. By going to Hong Kong, I pay respects to Harry and his ancestors. He was a man who helped my parents with loyalty for the non-glamorous tasks needed to make a restaurant successful. Washing dishes, peeling vegetables, cooking over a griddle when it’s 105 outside in the summer. Harry was beyond slow to complain. Complaining about work never crossed his mind.
I still hear his voice, but never more loudly than when I’m in Hong Kong. I know now that my Journey to the East began with Harry Woo that Saturday afternoon.
Jan and I seek out the one of a kind when we travel. The internet truly is your friend, especially in a foreign language world. And Jan reads a map like most people read the newspaper. Our sense of exploration is just another side of the LA International New Music Festival coin.
Jan has a theory. Every great city has its version, or versions, of what Katz’s Deli is to the Lower East Side (by versions I mean Russ & Daughters close to Katz’s, another one of a one). To paraphrase Gershwin “It’s nice work if you can find it, and you can find it if you try!”
Jan found her Katz’s Deli of Hong Kong. Keep reading…
You want Old School? I’ll give you Old School. Find Lin Heung Kui on Des Voeux St West. They have the perfect combination of servers, food, and clientele. Tourists? Are you kidding me? The whole place was elderly parents and relatives being taken out for the weekend by family members. Answers the question if the food is going to be good.
I don’t know the name of the man in this photo at Lin Heung Kui. But I do know we didn’t need to order anything. First of all, everything was in Chinese. Second of all, he is not in business to bring us bad dim sum. He would just show up with more treats, take us to a station so we could point to what we would like. Gaining weight can be fun but look at this guy….would you turn him down?
This man is the best server in Hong Kong, hands down, bar none. I’ve got a lot of blog followers in Hong Kong. Fingers crossed someone there will take my blog to Lin Heung Kui and show this great person our photo!
Lin Heung Kui is west of Central. Ming Cha Tea is east of Central at 8 Shipyard Lane. Let’s go across town via Causeway Bay.
Trip Advisor puzzled us at first. The Number One Thing To Do in Hong Kong is, they say, to visit Ming Cha Tea. Really? It’s as east as Lin Heung Kui is west, but the metro drops you right where you need to be. Finding Ming Cha is easy, but leans toward the New Jersey side of our family. Gritty would be one way to describe their shop location.
That’s always a good sign!
And like my friend at Lin Heung Kui, Alan is someone else you just can’t turn down. He lead our tea tasting at Ming Cha. And Trip Advisor has this nailed. Ming Cha will be our first stop next time in Hong Kong!
Like Cong Caphe in Hanoi, Ming Cha Tea in Hong Kong is on a mission. And like Linh Dung in Hanoi, both shops are owned by women entrepreneurs. Integrity in a good sized business lead by a woman. It’s certainly good for coffee in Hanoi and tea in Hong Kong!
Owner Vivian Mak at Ming Cha is determined to lift Chinese tea into the 21st century and reach the global market. In many ways she already has, and being based in Hong Kong is the right city. The British knew a thing or two about tea, and well for the Chinese it’s DNA. Mr. Lipton, move over!
I know of one secret she has going for herself. She works with Japanese tea makers, so Ming Cha combines the expertise of Japan and China in one shop. The results at Ming Cha make the word ‘awesome’ come to mind.
My earlier posts about Ippodo in Kyoto and De Ye Cha Chi in Taipei now come into play. Bewteen Kyoto and Taipei Jan and I had learned a lot over the years. So when we found Ming Cha we were ready for the experience.
Maybe gaining weight is fun. Certainly Shakespeare’s Falstaff makes me ask that question! But tea is one certain way to zoom your concept of health AND taste forward into the fast lane. Nothing slows you down like taking time for tea. Alan at Ming Cha was aware of that. He was a tea sommelier, which should be a new profession. The tea world is as vast as wine. I describe my feelings about the two this way:
Wine is happiness but Tea is wisdom.
Need a Xmas present? Try http://www.mingcha.com!
We can only thank Vivian, Tomoko and Alan for a wonderful few hours spent at Ming Cha. Their building is gritty from the outside but heaven awaits you inside. Appearances in Asia are always deceiving. What is hidden winds up being the best. The longer the journey, the happier the arrival. Alan taught us to even eat a few tea leaves to taste the quality. Wow!
I’ll post soon about The Day Autumn Arrived in Hong Kong. The tropical heat abated, the humidity soaked clothes were no more. That day is always a magical one, and we’d experienced a few of those days in Hanoi already. But one fine Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong became the perfect day to wander through Hong Kong Park visiting its aviary (see below), Tai Chi garden (see above), the Flagstaff House, and the Lock Cha Tea House, cooled by autumn breezes all day long.
I have friends here in South Pasadena at a wonderful Hong Kong hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The Phoenix Deli chain here makes the aromas of Hong Kong close to home. So they were not only happy to tell me that the characters in gold on the rock in the photo below say “Lock Cha Tea House” they also had a fashion High Five for Jan.
“Your wife very lucky! She smart to wear red and go for tea in Hong Kong Park!”
So I’ll post again soon. And take you on a journey through the twelve flowers of the year. Complete with appropriate tea cups for each tea and month.
And be sure to wear red when in Hong Kong!
Best, best, best,
Sarah Stack said:
I discovered your blog while searching for information about two of my former Boston roommates, Alice Bodnar and Miko (Akino) Matsumoto. I would like to get in touch with Miko to let her know (if she does not already) that Alice passed away just before Thanksgiving. Also, I has been at least a dozen years since I have been in touch with Miko and I would love to reconnect. Do you have a mail address and an email address for Miko?
Palo Alto, CA.
Jeff von der Schmidt said:
Thanks for contacting me. This type of reconnecting is one of the great strengths of the internet. Please excuse a brief reply for now but we are out for the evening (we live in Pasadena CA), but my wife Jan was in a string quartet with Miko and Alice at BU and is quite sad to hear of Alice’s passing. I doubt Miko knows. My wife never lost touch with Miko since BU, as we have been in good communication with her since visiting Japan in 2002. We just saw her in May at her home meeting her granddaughter Hana, and they drove us to Kyoto for a wonderful visit and dinner. She returned to Boston for a memorial service for Mr. Totenberg. Tomorrow I will be able to easily provide you with Miko’s email address.
Why not send me a FB friend request and to my wife, Jan Karlin. You’ll see a few recent photos of us and Miko and her husband Ippei at dinner from Kyoto this May.
All the best and more soon,
Jeff von der Schmidt
Though your news is sad I am sure Miko will want to know and indirectly my wife is also very sad to hear this news, though since college she’d not been in touch with Alice.
Sarah Stack said:
Thanks, Jeff for your quick reply. Although I live at ground zero for social media I am not on Facebook (many reasons for that) so we will have to communicate via email.
Pasadena! I lived there for a dozen years and still feel the tug of nostalgia when I am there on business trips.
Looking forward to hearing from you. And I recognize Jan in the pictures so I am fairly sure she visited our apartment in Boston or maybe I met her at a concert?