Around the corner from the chaotic Fu Shin street market in Tai Po is a tranquil block of shops devoted to herbal medicines, haircare, and hardware. Surrounded by his equipment, the owner of this tool repair shop practices his Pipa, a traditional Chinese string instrument. He plays with complete absorption and concentration, never looks up, and seems oblivious to the two or three people like me who stand on the sidewalk to enjoy his music. He plays very well as if he has played for years. (Is the framed print on the wall his first Pipa? Or a lost love?) I never clap or make my appreciation known to him since I think such gestures would ruin the magic. His music creates an oasis for me in this bustling Hong Kong neighborhood.
It's hard to believe that our year here in Hong Kong is winding down as we prepare for our return to the USA in July. I feel pressure to draw and paint as much as I can before we leave. Frequent thunder and lightning storms and temperatures in the 90's herald the onset of summer in the sub-tropics:
A butcher in Sheung Shui, a town with thriving street markets in the northern New Territories, and the last stop before the border with mainland China. This butcher has used imaginative lighting in his stall to display the meat to its best advantage.
Shoe repairman, Mong Kok. This man sets up his shop on a busy public sidewalk sandwiched between entrances to an elevated pedestrian walkway, a store that sells holiday decorations, and the art store which I frequent. I've walked past this location many times and have never seen him absent. There's an understanding that this location belongs to this man, for the store that sells holiday decorations that spill out onto the sidewalk never usurps his space.
Waffle and juice stand at Fa Yuen and Bute streets, Mong Kok. I'm a great fan of this neon sign that gracefully wraps around the corner. The appetizing scent of fresh waffles and curried fish balls mingle with the putrid odor emanating from the stinky tofu stand a few doors down. (Stinky tofu: Is there any cooked food on earth that smells so different from the way that it tastes?) No other neighborhood in Hong Kong has inspired me to sketch as much as Mong Kok East with its carnival-like atmosphere, profusion of neon signs, hotels that rent rooms by the hour, and lively street markets that sell everything from goldfish to knock-off designer jeans and durian fruit. The combination of competing smells and tropical heat turn these streets into a veritable olfactory Olympics.
Kite flyer at the Plover Cove Dam. Kite flying is a serious hobby in Hong Kong. On weekends both novices and passionate flyers congregate at the Plover Cove Dam and in nearby Tai Po Waterfront Park to fly kites of all shapes and sizes. This skillful flyer seems to be in a league of his own. At the entrance to the dam are several large trees festooned with dozens of kites that once belonged to less skillful flyers
The engine room on the Star Ferry. This door is always open when the ferries are in service crisscrossing Hong Kong harbor. I'm always tempted to step inside and take a closer look at all the vintage machinery. To me, this sailor's body language says: "You can look, but you can't come in."
Here are some recent sketches from Hong Kong and China:
Rugby fans under the grandstand at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament in March. This 3-day tournament hosts an audience of 40,000 rugby fans at Hong Kong stadium and has the atmosphere of a rock concert (The Beach Boys performed this year) and a Mardi Gras festival. Fans dress up in outrageous costumes, consume vast amounts of beer, and watch outstanding rugby teams from Wales, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Samoa, and over 20 other countries. We've become rugby fans, too.
Seen in a Hong Kong subway car, one of many advertisements for luxury and fashion products. I'm struck by how sexually provocative these ads can be. Most people such as the passengers on this train respond to them as just another example of visual noise, and ignore them.
A parallel trader waiting for the train to mainland China. These traders are Hong Kong and mainland Chinese citizens who shuttle across the nearby border with products purchased in Hong Kong such as infant milk formula that are scarce or whose quality is not trusted on the mainland. They sell these products on the mainland for a profit. Such activities have caused a shortage of these products in Hong Kong which has angered local citizens and the government, and resulted in a recent crackdown on parallel trading. To some this man is an object of derision, but to me he looks noble and dignified. I empathize with him. This may not be his chosen profession, but in all likelihood he is just trying to provide for his family as best he can.
Seen at the entrance to the Mong Kok MTR station, Kowloon.
Sketches of people on the MTR subway.
Two o'clock in the morning in the corridor of a hard sleeper train between Changsha and rural Anhui province.
Back in Hong Kong, at my son's soccer practice.
Fisherman repairing net, Sai Kung. I was attracted to the tranquility of this solitary man working diligently on a pier across the harbor from the crowded waterfront restaurants.
These drawings were completed in January as we enter the seventh month of our year-long adventure in Hong Kong. It feels like time is passing very quickly for us here. Lately I've been exploring areas in the New Territories near where we live, a world apart from the teeming harbor districts of Kowloon and Central:
Waiter at a waterfront restaurant in Sai Kung, 5:30 PM. By 6:30 all the tables will be filled, a throng of customers will be waiting on the sidewalk, and this waiter will have no time to stand still.
Butcher at Tai Po market, Hong Kong. This reminds me of growing up in Boston and visiting the Italian neighborhood in the North End where butchers hung fly-riddled rabbits and skinned cow's heads with bulging eyes from hooks in their storefronts. I was both horrified and fascinated by these sights and their accompanying smells, so brutally different from the antiseptic, cellophane-wrapped meat products at our local Star market.
Sai Kung harbor. The boats are packed so tightly together that I could use them as stepping stones to cross the harbor without getting my feet wet.
Players at my son's rugby tournament. The two boys in the foreground show the reluctance that I'd feel if I had to go head to head with this beefy challenger.
I've admired the facade of this restaurant in Tai Po Market for a while, especially the art-deco quality of the rounded corner, and the vintage neon sign with the steaming cup.
Laos had never been on my list of places to visit. Yet there we were, my wife, our three children, and my parents-in-law, flying from Hong Kong to Luang Prabang via Bangkok.
Luang Prabang sits high up on the banks at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in the midst of the jungle in northern Laos. The Mekong river is wide and full of activity. The long stairs that led down the river bank to the boat launches provided me with all the things that I love to sketch.
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an important center of Buddhist worship with many active monasteries, and has an old town with restored French colonial homes.
The old town was distinctly southeast-Asian, and also felt to me like a sleepy French village with elements of Berkeley, California mixed in. The Lao and French food were terrific. I didn't expect this!
Monks ferrying across the river after receiving their morning alms.
View of a monastery from the French bakery.
Some of our favorite things in Luang Prabang:
- The smell of woodsmoke from cooking fires.
- Watching the processions of monks receiving their morning alms.
- Riding elephants.
- Taking a cooking class and eating fresh spring rolls.
- Walking through the night market.
- The tarte aux pommes, crepes and coffee at the French bakery.
- Riding a boat on the Mekong river.
Above are three sketches of the river in the morning, at midday, and at sunset.
The sun was very bright at midday with temperatures near 80 degrees.
Sunset on the Mekong river on our last evening in Luang Prabang. We all had a wonderfully memorable vacation, and I hope we'll return someday.
Shoppers from mainland China at swanky Shatin mall in the New Territories. Many Hong Kong people seem to view these day visitors from across the border with a mixture of delight and dismay. They add a lot of money to the local economy, and are an easy target for the anti-mainland China sentiment that is prevalent in Hong Kong.
The Star Ferry, Central pier. Crossing the harbor on the ferry elevates my spirit. I go out of my way to ride on it whenever I can.
Rubber stamp shop, Kowloon.
Scene from an alley in Sai Kung. Hong Kong is such a vertical city to me, reflected in the vertical format of this sketch.
I'm inspired to sketch horizontally down by the harbor where there is more open space.
Here are some street scenes from Hong Kong sketched this month. The weather is great, about 80 degrees and not too humid, very agreeable for sketching and exploring outdoors. I'm really enjoying working in vertical panoramic views which feel very appropriate to this city:
Over 8,000 students from Hong Kong and their supporters came together yesterday on the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus in sweltering heat to protest a national education curriculum imposed by the government. The protest occured just a few minutes walk from where we live. Here are some sketches I did:
My family and I are settling into our new life here in Hong Kong, our home for the next year, and my illustration studio is up and running. So far we've experienced two typhoons, made some new friends, explored some new neighborhoods, and eaten extraordinary food. Here are some selections from my sketchbook made since our arrival last month:
Man in saffron, Kowloon.
The world's smallest locksmith store? Seen at a Mong Kok street market.
A fishmonger in her boat in Sai Kung harbor.
Some random thoughts:
I'm becoming more comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road.
I love the exciting thunder and lightning storms. How can I capture them in a sketch?
I've been listening to a lot of jazz while I work: Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Monk. As always, music is providing an important anchor to my life.
I miss hearing my daughter practice her piano.
I'm glad that I bought that inexpensive classical guitar that I saw at the local music store.
I'm proud of our children who are adapting so well to life here and to their new schools.
That spider is as big as my hand!
I saw a monkey that lives in the woods near our apartment.
I will miss playing music with Joe, Barry, Chris and Kenny at the Society of Illustrators.
There will be flowers blooming in the middle of winter. Will we miss the cold and the snow?
Woman on the East Rail Line.
Vintage neon sign in Sai Kung.
Hong Kong Disneyland. The heat and crowds made even the most intrepid mouseketeer tired and cranky.
Tai Po market has become the place here in Hong Kong where we like to shop. It's a bustling neighborhood with pedestrian streets of outdoor markets that sell everything. The main streets are very hot and crowded with stalls and shoppers shuffling slowly in a herd with their purchases in tow. I like to walk down the side alleys which are quieter, shady, and often reveal great things to sketch:
The watch repair man.
Women playing cards in an alley.
Restaurant customers watching the Olympics on tv.
I did this sketch outside of Times Square in Hong Kong, a big complex of indoor malls.