Blue planet

Local student Sammy Freeman opened her very first exhibition over the weekend. Here’s why you need to check it out…

Turtle bay
Turtle Bay was taken very early one morning near Sai Kung in Hong Kong’s New Territories. It’s Freeman’s favourite image to be exhibited – “this particular morning I felt the earth was dancing for me.”

Your images are stunning. What inspired the fascination with water?

I think I was supposed to be born a fish or something. I’ve found if I’m out of the water for too long I get anxious and a little bit insane. After finding surfer magazine I was so inspired by the works of Chris Burkard and Clark little, I knew I had to combine the two passions of water and photography. I find that shooting the ocean is so unpredictable and exciting, yet so comfortable and natural to me. You never know what you’re going to come out with, no matter how much you plan.

How tough is it shooting aerial images?

Aerial images are getting more popular as technology develops. I invested in drone just six months back and have managed to practice non-stop, it’s so much fun. The drones are very user friendly making it easy to direct and control. It took a while to learn and gain confidence and I have crashed it a couple of times but that’s all part of the fun.

You studied at ESF King George V School in Ho Man Tin, what sparked your interest in photography?

I have been a creative being for as long as I can remember. My interest for photography came a lot later in life, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and needed spinal surgery at the age of 14. I had to give up playing rugby which was the end of everything (or so I thought at the time) and my parents bought me a basic SLR as a get well soon gift. I spent my recovering days in the garden taking photos of my dogs and fell in love with it

Was there a teacher who inspired you?

Mr Baker! He was my drama teacher and although he wasn’t an art or photography teacher, he seemed to have a huge impact on my creative pursuits. I didn’t have the best attention span in school but I think he could tell I had it in me to be better, he gave me an ‘E’ and I remember crying so much and changing my attitude in an instant. Thanks Mr B!

How did you develop your interest in school?

My hobby started developing into something more when I finally took photography as an A-Level in boarding school. I seemed to get more encouragement from teachers who saw I had an eye and a passion for photography than I ever got before, my work was featured in the school gallery a couple of times and I decided to start working on it more, putting in time for volunteer photography work to build up my CV.

You’ve travelled all over the world for your work, what’s been favourite destination?

I’ve been so lucky and I have never once taken it for granted. My favourite place is a tough toss up between Iceland and South Africa. South Africa for the incredible surf and amazing people and Iceland for the landscapes that are out of this world, I just wish I could somehow combine the two!

What’s your favourites piece so far?

A photograph I took in Iceland of an Arctic fox. The journey I took getting that photo and the memories it brings back when I’m looking at it are what I love most about it. I think that’s so important when looking at photography, it shouldn’t just look pretty, it should hold some sort of emotion that captivates you at the same time. What you see may be completely different to what someone else might see or feel.

Can you tell us about Turtle Bay (pictured above)?

This is my favourite piece in the current exhibition. It’s a drone photograph that I had in mind for a while before capturing it. I got up really early that morning so that the tide would be out (and I am NOT a morning person) and I managed to capture exactly what I wanted, if not more.

And after this exhibition, what plans do you have?

I would love to be able to make a career as a photographer, all my efforts right now are aimed in that direction. There’s a lot of skepticism and negativity around the subject as it is a tough industry to break into, but I believe I have the motivation, skills and head start needed to do so. I am so happy to have my first solo exhibition at H Studio, it’s such a great opportunity to have as an emerging photographer.

Any advice for budding young photographers in Hong Kong?

For sure! I definitely think it’s important to not get too hung up on photography gear. Some of my best and favorite shots have been taken on my iPhone and I think starting out this way really teaches you the raw form of the craft rather being all caught up in specs. Another piece of advice is to keep on going. Keep practising, experimenting and don’t be afraid to fail, it’s all part of the learning process.

Jade Jungle, Crimson City runs until Nov 30, 12-4pm (closed Wednesday), H Studio, 1/1 Wan King Path, Sai Kung, www.sammyfreeman.com

French impressions

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Flo Traissac in her studio – “I’ve drawn since I was a kid; it’s the thing I love doing”.

Hong Kong has a fantastic burgeoning local art scene. Sai Ying Pun resident Flo Traissac will be exhibiting this week at the Visual Arts Centre on Kennedy Road. She tells Carolynne Dear why she’s inspired by her local neighbourhood, an area that was the site of the first landing by the British military in the 1840s (it literally translates as ‘western camps’) and is now one of the territory’s hippest suburbs

I arrived in Hong Kong just over five years ago. I originally came from Australia for personal reasons, but I ended up staying longer than intended. 

I live in Sai Ying Pun with my children Chloe and Noah and my Australian cat, Oscar. I love the area’s vibe, the mix of traditional and new and its proximity to great transport and things to do. There are so many little cafes and restaurants that I enjoy, the parks and public swimming pool – it’s so convenient. I love the juxtaposition of Hong Kong’s amenities, local markets backed up against big shopping malls. It’s changed a lot since I’ve been here and in a very short space of time.

I graduated in art, graphic design and advertising in Paris and worked as a graphic designer before moving into fashion. I studied at both the Ateliers Met de Peninghen and later the Ecole de Communication Visuelle. I’ve done a lot of different jobs but my passion has always been drawing. I’ve drawn since I was a kid and it was the thing I really loved doing. But I didn’t study in this area as I didn’t think it would realistically become a paying job for me. The hardest thing is to believe in yourself, but once I did it all worked out and now I draw and paint for a living.

It’s always stimulating arriving in a new place. After a while, you start to see things through different eyes. When I first arrived from Australia, the streets in Hong Kong spoke to me. There were so many stories to tell, it was like theatre for me, every corner held a little bit of magic.

Some of my favourite artists include Klimt, Egon Schiele, John Singer Sargent, Fernand Leger, Bonnard, as well as the drawings by Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso. At the moment I’m working on four separate client orders and also preparing for my next Hong Kong exhibition, which is being held this month at the Visual Art Centre. I have recently been contacted by a New York gallery which is incredibly exciting. Paris is also on the cards, so I have a busy year ahead in 2018. I will also be working on some new art wall projects around Hong Kong.

When I’m not painting, I enjoy going to the beach and just spending time with my children and friends. Deepwater Bay is the easiest for us to reach, but we also enjoy a day out at Clearwater Bay. One of the best things about Hong Kong is being in the city but also having the beach and nature on your doorstep – everything’s a reasonable distance.

Being Italian born and bred, coffee is a pretty important part of my life. If I’m after a caffeine hit, I love the coffee shops on Peel, Hazel and Hershey Streets. Particular favourites include Barista Jam in Sheung Wan, Winston’s near Sai Ying Pun MTR on Queens Road and The Cupping Room, also in Sheung Wan. My kids love eating at Pizzeria Italia on the High Street in Sai Ying Pun, it’s a small place but their pizza is one of the best in Hong Kong. But I also enjoy dining in the Tai Hang area – there are some charming restaurants and bars. Favourites include Kanamono and The Minimal. The Metropolitan in Sheung Wan does some great French food and I have also painted an art wall for them.

This summer I went back to my parents summer house in Antibes, France. I’ve spent nearly all my summer holidays here since I was a child. It’s nice to go back to your roots and appreciate both what you had and what you have now. I miss the clear blue skies and the beautiful architecture. When I’m in France I also try and spend some time in Paris visiting friends from when I studied there and immersing my kids in French culture. It’s one of my favourite cities.

 

Follow Traissac on Instagram @arteflodesign and arteflodesign.com

All boxed up

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Distributing boxes of hope to impoverished children in The Philippines

 

This month Hong Kong charity Box of Hope is getting stuck into the delivery of nearly 30,000 Christmas boxes of donated gifts to under-priveleged communities throughout Asia. Director Sian Trodd tells Carolynne Dear how a recycled shoebox can be a thing of joy

 

One minute you’re lazing happily on a junk with a sea-breeze in hand, the next there’s tinsel and mulled wine everywhere you turn.

Each year, Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier, and particularly so for Sian Trodd, the new director of Box of Hope. Now in its tenth year, the local charity has been beavering away since Easter to ensure its infamous gift boxes reach those most in need this festive season.

The charity distributes shoeboxes full of Christmas cheer to disadvantaged children throughout Hong Kong, Macau, China, Cambodia and the Philippines. What started as a mini-project at former director Nicole Woolhouse’s children’s school has now mushroomed into almost 30,000 boxes of hope being handed out to children via over 40 charities throughout Asia. Trodd and her team are effectively bringing Christmas to almost 28,000 poverty-stricken children every year.

“The boxes used to be packed in Nicole’s apartment,” explains Trodd, who took over as director in April after Woolhouse moved back to the UK. “It grew and they were offered space in the offices of lawyers Allen & Overy in Exchange Square. But when they started moving in on desk space it became evident that the project was really taking off and Allen & Overy kindly persuaded their landlord to offer a vacant space for a couple of weeks from which we could pack the boxes.”

The raison d’etre behind the project was for kids to help kids. Woolhouse’s own children, plus classmates from Kellett School, simply got some old shoeboxes together and filled them with small but useful gifts. The idea stemmed from similar projects Woolhouse had seen in action in the UK. In the first year they distributed 800 boxes to underprivileged children throughout Hong Kong.

Ten years on and the gift drive is one of the best-known events on Hong Kong’s charity calendar. Each year around 140 preschools and schools take part, along with corporate organisations, church groups and individuals. “There are a team of 12 of us,” explains Trodd. “We get together in April to talk dates and start planning, and then when everyone returns from the summer holidays it’s all systems go.”

Schools are sent stickers and instruction packs and children are invited to bring in their packed and wrapped shoeboxes full of gifts from the end of October. If schools have over 50 boxes to contribute, Trodd and the team will organise for a truck to pick up the donations – this year collections will take place between November 6 and 10. If there are under 50 boxes, the school is encouraged to partner with another school, or for a parent or teacher to volunteer to run the boxes into the packing space in Exchange Square.

Then, over the following three weeks, around 200 volunteers will open and check every single box in order for it to pass through customs.

“We say no to liquids, but yes to toothpaste,” says Trodd. “We recommend that every box contains a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush, some sort of stationery – something to write with and something to write on is a good starting point – and then a treat, such as a small toy, or some Lego, or a pack of playing cards.”

Memorable boxes include one filled entirely with the proceeds of a lemonade stall – four children organized the stand in their building so they had the funds to donate scores of filled boxes, each one lovingly packed and decorated.

Woolhouse recalls another little girl who saved up her pocket money for a year and packed it up along with a handwritten note. “She so wanted to share some happiness,” says Woolhouse. “Every year our volunteers were simply overwhelmed by the generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness of Hong Kong’s schoolchildren.”

“A huge amount of thought goes into some of these boxes,” admits Trodd. “We safeguard the integrity of the boxes as much as possible when we’re checking them, but sometimes we do have to step in. We get the odd box where someone has basically emptied the dregs of their stationery draw, stubs of pencils and so forth. We ask for everything to be new and unused, a proper Christmas present.”

Local charities Clean the World (cleantheworldasia.org) and Soap Cycling (soapcycling.org) donate thousands of bars of soap, which are also added to the boxes. “One year we ran out and one of the volunteers put the word about. Lush very kindly stepped forward and a huge parcel of goods was delivered the next day. You could certainly smell those boxes arriving in the Philippines! Hopefully we’ll be partnering with Lush again this year.”

While all the charities Box of Hope delivers to are in need, some are more in need of certain items than others. “The Hong Kong kids all need stationery, anything goes from notebooks and pens to rubbers and packets of coloured pencils. In places like Cambodia and the Philippines, they’re happy to receive anything. These children have absolutely nothing. It’s heartbreaking to see them treasuring even the cardboard box.”

The delivery trucks are provided free-of-charge by Red Box Storage and Crown Relocations for a certain number of days, after which a courier company jumps in at a discounted rate.

“The boxes destined for the Philippines and Cambodia are shipped and we are currently looking for a shipping company to offer discounted transportation,” says Trodd.

Once at the destination, local charities step in and take over.

“It’s humbling to see how excited the children are to receive these gifts,” admits Trodd. “They are living in such impoverished conditions yet all are smiling, all are so happy to see us each year.”

If you, your school or preschool would like to take part in this year’s Box of Hope campaign, contact boxofhope.org. Follow the charity on Facebook @Box of Hope and on Instagram @boxofhopehk.

 

Support sought for Lantau buffalo

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Lantau without buffalo is like Hong Kong without shopping malls – they’re a well-loved and integral part of island life, say opponents to their proposed removal

 

Lantau’s bovine population is again making headlines following new moves to banish the herd to the uninhabited Soko Islands.

Fed-up with cattle related issues on what is Hong Kong’s largest island, rural chiefs and the Islands District Committee are lobbying government to remove Lantau’s cattle and buffalo herds.

This is despite earlier this year the government issuing the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint which calls for the conservation of rural Lantau’s cultural heritage and more specifically for the protection of Pui O wetland, which is the home to the local water buffalo herd.

At a recent Islands District Council meeting it was argued that the cows pose a danger to the public and to traffic on Lantau’s permit-only roads. Some sectors of the community are also reportedly angered by the animals trashing farmland and gardens.

But according to opponents of the herds’ removal, accidents caused by speeding traffic is much more of a problem than cattle on the roads.

“Sure there has been the odd incident (in 2013 a tourist was gored on Silvermine beach by a buffalo),” said Merrin Pearse, chairman of Living Islands Movement (livingislands.org.hk). “But I would counter that by saying what about the other wildlife? There are attacks on people involving feral dogs practically every month. So I would say while these incidents are certainly considerations, they are not issues.”

There are currently around five cattle and three buffalo herds roaming freely on Lantau. Historically, attempts to manage the population have been partially successful.

But the removal of the herd to the Soko Islands, which lie approximately 12 kilometres south of Lantau, presents its own issues for the animals which can weigh up to a tonne.  “You’d need specially designed boats to carry them, regular monitoring by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which of course currently doesn’t exist out there,” said Pearse. “The islands are largely uninhabited, there’s limited water supply available and no wetland to support the cattle.”

In 2007, 16 buffalo and cattle died during transportation away from Lantau and in 2013 a cattle-swapping experiment between South Lantau and Sai Kung led to the death of two cows.

“We are opposed to any kind of forced removal of cattle,” said Lantau Buffalo Association in an online statement (facebook.com/LantauBuffalo). “It separates them from their traditional foraging trails and is psychologically stressful.”

A petition has now been set up. “With the government’s strong intentions to ‘develop’ Lantau Island, the cows and buffaloes to them are undoubtedly obstacles to be removed before any construction commence,” it states. “These cows and buffaloes are actually facing a grim future and disappearance from Lantau Island, unless appropriate conservation measures be taken.”

“It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again, with all that’s going on in Hong Kong, is a herd of cows really the biggest issue these people have to deal with?” said Pearse. “They are an important and much loved part of Lantau life. I would challenge any visitor who’s been up to see the Buddha and hasn’t come away with a picture of a cow.”

The online petition can be found at supporthk.org and is open for signatories until Dec 25.

 

When small plates mean big business

 

With eight restaurants under its belt, Enoteca Group is a Hong Kong success story. It  opened its latest venue, The Picture House, in Sai Kung this month. Carolynne Dear went up for a look

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Enoteca co-founder Kim Minards and Rob Cooper in The Conservatory, Sai Kung

When the sun’s shining, not much makes me smile more than a sunny terrace, a nice glass of something crisp and white and a sharing plate or two. And in an area of the world fraught with excessive rents, limited outdoor space and strict al fresco licensing, restaurant group Enoteca has done well to achieve this happy hat-trick in many of its venues.

And so on a sunny August morning I find myself in Sai Kung enjoying a flat white (it’s a little early for crisp whites, unfortunately) with Enoteca co-founder Kim Minards, chatting about the group’s latest acquisition.

A sociology graduate, she arrived in the territory as a backpacker 22 years ago but these days co-helms the expanding restaurant group as well as being mum to children Jack, eight, and Summer, six.   

“I’m British but moved to South Africa when I was seven, so I guess I enjoyed a sort of expat upbringing. After university I packed my rucksack, hit the road, and when I ran out of money, pitched up in Hong Kong.”

Pre-handover, there were no working visa restrictions for British passport holders and Minards found herself managing Stauntons in SoHo, which was where she met her husband and business partner, Rob Cooper, who was managing the (now-defunct) restaurant Bayou.

“SoHo was different then, in that there weren’t so many high street restaurants, it was more hotel dining,” she says. “When we opened our first restaurant, Enoteca, we wanted to serve good quality wine by the glass, as there seemed to be a bit of a gap in the market. We opened with 32 different wines and sharing plates of Spanish tapas-style food and it was an instant hit.”

Despite the success, Minards admits to several sleepless nights. “Oh my god, the rent! Back then we were being charged $68,000/month and we didn’t know if things would take off, so yes, I did lose sleep over it,” she laughs. Today, the rent has sky-rocketed to more than four times that amount, but despite this, she’s sleeping better.

“These days not much keeps me up at night. Fortunately the restaurants worked out” – Enoteca on Elgin was swiftly followed by The Phoenix, Bacau, Cicada, Iberico and an Enoteca in Quarry Bay – “But to be honest, I wouldn’t open another venue in SoHo now, I don’t think the rents are worth it. Even Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun don’t convince me.”

Instead, Minards’ attention has turned north to Sai Kung. Last summer the pair opened The Conservatory to great local acclaim, and have just announced they will be taking over local stalwart, Steamers.

“It’s a totally different market up here,” she admits. “The expat market is strong, and seems increasingly so with all the new schools opening.”

Locals themselves (they moved to Clearwater Bay five years ago) Minards says they are still viewed as ‘newbies’ by the local expat population. “There are a lot of old-timers up here,” she says. “We really wanted to respect the fact that they have been using Steamers for many years. Originally we wanted to re-open as The Botanist, as it sort of tied in with The Conservatory vibe, but we’ve since changed our minds. We don’t want this to become a hipster gastro-pub, it’s always been a down-to-earth ‘cold beer and pub grub’ kind of place, so we’re looking for a moniker that’s a bit more grounded and reflects this.”

It turns out the Yi Chun Street building used to be a theatre in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, but opened as Steamers in 2008 when the pub moved over the road from Sai Kung’s infamous ‘square’. Mid-twentieth century photos show the venue on the watersedge – subsequent reclamation projects now put it around 500m back from the Sai Kung waterfront.

“We were in Sri Lanka over the summer where we discovered a great place called The Old Lady By the Sea, so a name similar to that might fit the bill, but maybe something a bit shorter and snappier. It seems the building is a bit of a Sai Kung ‘grande dame’. Basically the jury’s still out, so answers on a postcard!”  

Minards explains they’re sticking with the British pub feel, but are completely gutting and updating the interior. On the day I meet with her, the builders have just gone in. The venue comes with an outdoor licence and a terrace area, adding an all-important pub garden.

“We’re keeping the pub theme, but lightening up the interiors,” she says. “We won’t be serving tapas or sharing plates, it will be proper pub food with a roast on weekends.”

The Conservatory, rented from the owners of Big Fish two doors away and previously operating as western-style bistro Grande Restaurant, was given a clean sweep of paint before it opened last summer. Portuguese-style tiles were laid on the floor and beautiful swathes of leaf-green wallpaper fixed to the far wall. It’s light and airy and also benefits from an outdoor seating licence.

“Yes, it’s worked really well,” Minards smiles. “Again, we’re the newbies up here, but I do think Sai Kung was ready for something a bit more grown up.” It does a roaring trade in Enoteca- style tapas sharing plates and platters and quality wines by the glass for lunch and dinner and the brunch trade has also been brisk. Of course all sittings are complemented by kids menus.
“Seriously, you’d be mad in a place like Sai Kung not to offer children’s food,” she says. The Conservatory is situated on Sai Kung’s ‘square’, enclosed on two sides by casual dining venues and with a children’s play area in the far corner.

Minards also admits to recently hiring somebody to manage their social media. “Facebook comments can be harsh,” she says. “We’ve seen neighbouring venues really suffer from negative comments on local groups” (Sai Kung is home to the notorious, no-holds-barred, Sai Kung Dirty Laundry Facebook group) “- frustratingly these experiences are often not followed up with diners actually approaching the management. If they did, we could do something to rectify the problem. When we first opened The Conservatory, we were fastidious about having either myself or Rob around all of the time to efficiently mop up any problems and receive customer feedback. We couldn’t afford to let the ball drop for a minute.”

Locals are faithful in their followings, as Minards has noted. Jaspas has been operating for over 20 years in the square and is seen as something of a benchmark.

“It can be intimidating, but I think we’ve proved ourselves with The Conservatory.

“We’ve also been lucky in that we’ve retained a lot of our staff over the years, which helps us with a continuous, quality service,” Minards continues. “The children have grown up with them. When Jack was tiny he used to come to work with me in SoHo all the time, and the girls used to whisk him out for lunch and dinner. I really enjoy staff training. In the old days it was all British backpackers, but now we hire more Filipinos, Nepalese and Chinese. I also work closely with the chefs. Do I have a favourite venue? I think The Conservatory, I love the decor, although I tend to move around a lot. Iberico recently opened in Yuen Long and sometimes I go up there for a buffet lunch. I also like the Asian vibe at Cicada – when we were forced to close a few years ago (the building on Cochrane Street was being renovated into apartments) locals asked us to bring it back, so we re-opened on Elgin Street. It’s funny, it turned out it was a real favourite locally, but people hadn’t made the connection that we also owned other venues.”

It seems Hong Kongers are a loyal lot. Here’s hoping the new ‘Steamers’ will make the grade.