As promised, here is Part 2 of 3 of a series of Chinese New Year related article. Just a little review to tingle your taste buds…
WHAT: Restaurant (Chinese)
ADDRESS: 6 Great George Street, Leeds, LS1 3DW
PHONE: 0113 242 9688
HOW MANY TOBIES WOULD EAT HERE (out of 5)
MY STORY: Apart from family and friends, the thing that I missed most when I left China was without a doubt the food. Those of you who have been or lived there would know how much joy there is to be found in each glistening bite. I had largely given up hope on being able to find any proper zhongguo cai (Chinese food) in Leeds when I first got here, seeing as the city’s Chinese population is not as prominent as that of London or Manchester, and my own cooking is by no means ‘proper’. I have tried a few places around the Vicar Lane area, which were passable but nothing special.
But Red Chilli belongs in an entire different league altogether. It is, out of all the Chinese restaurants I’ve tried in England, by far the most authentic in taste, and impressive in menu choices. I’m yet to find a place outside China that does better ‘poached belly pork with garlic and chilli sauce’ than here. Plus you know a place is really good when a lot of Chinese people go dine there. It’s the perfect place to go if you want to impress your date, your friend from out of town, or even – as in my case – your mother. (I may not be able to cook amazing Chinese food, Ma, but I do know where to find it. And that’s got to count for something.)
Specialising in Beijingese and Sichuanese food, their dishes are quite expensive if you were to compare it to the diddlysquat you’ll have to pay in Beijing or Sichuan, but of course, this is England. The portions are very generous, however, and everything is delicious. Expect to spend around £15 per person and walk out feeling like you need a few more pairs of legs to support your bloated stomach. Most of the waiters here speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin, which is a comfort when the occasional bout of homesickness attacks.
Do make sure you get there early though, as there is almost always a queue crowding round the door. Aside from that, it’s thumbs up all the way!
Happy Chinese New Year, Xin Nian Kuai Le (Mandarin), Sun Lin Fai Lok (Cantonese)! Welcome to the Year of the Fire-Breathing Dragon!
Having been born in Hong Kong and lived in Beijing for half of my life, this festival – the most important one of the year there and the only time when fireworks are legal in the Mainland – brings back a lot of childhood memories. The times I spent with my parents and relatives watching fireworks shoot up from barges and reflected in the South China Sea, for example, and all the sweets and tangerines and peach blossoms that were scattered around our apartment… And, of course, the hongbao (or laisi in Cantonese, or ‘red packet’s in English) I’d get. Ah, happy days.
So to bring a bit of the festivities to the scene, I’ve put together a variety of Chinesey things, which will come in three parts over the next week or two. Enjoy!
EVENT: Chinese New Year Celebrations
WHO: Leeds Chinese Community Association (LCCA)
WHEN: 22nd January, 2012
WHERE: Leeds Town Hall
MY STORY: The Leeds Town Hall, with its beautiful clock tower and semi-eroded stone lions, had always stood as a symbol of English grandeur in my mind. But last Sunday there was something else there: a giant red banner was stretched down one of the Grecian pillars outside, announcing ‘Chinese New Year Celebration.’
This is the first year that I have ever attended a proper Chinese New Year event in Leeds, which was organised by the Leeds Chinese Community Association (LCCA), and I was quite excited. Most of the rooms on the ground floor were transformed into various Chinese-themed displays and activities. Remnants of my childhood – paper dragons, Chinese windmills, lanterns – were spread out on a table in the ‘China Museum’ room, and it was lovely seeing other children play with them as happily as I used to. In fact, the kids must’ve had a field day with all the activities on offer, which included paper cutting and face painting.
There was one room dedicated to table tennis, China’s favourite sport, in anticipation of the upcoming Olympics. Another had workshops running throughout the day for Tai Chi and – somewhat bizarrely – Zumba. The highlight of the event, though, was clearly their programme of performances in the main hall, which was packed and showcased some fantastic music and dancing.
I was a bit disappointed with the limited variety of food on offer though, seeing as it’s such an essential part of our culture. The dumplings were delicious, but some dim sum or even noodles would’ve been nice. They could have done more with the space that they were given, and paying an extra bit of attention to details would have made a big difference – even if it’s just to throw tablecloths over the display tables.
Overall though, it made for a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and it was nice to see so many people turning up to celebrate the festival together. I look forward to seeing even bigger and better things as their presence becomes increasingly more well-established.
A FEW WORDS WITH JUDY PEASE, VICE-CHAIRMAN OF LCCA…
What are the core values of the LCCA?
We support the social welfare, recreational, educational and cultural interests of both the Chinese and local communities in and around Leeds.
How did you first get involved with the organisation, and how can others get involved should they wish to do so?
I first got involved as a volunteer back in 2006 because I wanted to be a part of the Chinese community in Leeds and help to develop its role and profile within the city. It’s easy to get involved so please get in touch. You can find our contact details on our website.
What other events has the LCCA got planned for 2012?
We will be welcoming the Chinese Olympic Team to Leeds in early July, prior to the London Games which begins later that month. We will also be organising an event to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in October, and be involved in other local events where a Chinese presence is welcomed.
What is it like for you, as a Chinese person, to be in Leeds/England in general? Are there any particular difficulties, and if so, how do you overcome them?
I don’t think it’s easy being Chinese in Leeds or anywhere else in England when your first language isn’t the same as the majority, but I’ve been trying to improve it. It also inspires me to show people how we are all essentially the same.
What is your favourite Chinese New Year greeting, and why?
My favourite New Year greeting is Kung Hei Fat Choy! (pronounced ‘Gung Hay Far Choy’) I like it because this is the one that non-Chinese people are most likely to know, and it’s a phrase that brings people together at this special time.
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* Fat Face & Me. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
What are the up- and downsides of you guys working together as identical twins?
The upside is that you always have another voice to sing with, but that voice can sometimes go out of tune and the song doesn’t sound as you hoped. It’s a mixture of strength, discussion and confusion and most importantly, excitement when we both feel an idea is working and agree on that. Being a twin means that we are perhaps closer than most collaborating artists. It’s like asking yourself a question in the mirror and getting multiple answers. It gets frustrating or unnerving sometimes, but on the whole it keeps us engaged and focused.
Growing up, have you always wanted to become artists? If so, is this how you imagined it to be like?
We see ourselves as artists and writers. We didn’t know how it would be, art college can’t really tell you how it’s going to be on the other side. Can anyone really imagine the darkside of the moon? We do know that we are enjoying making our work more than ever and have been getting a good response, which means that something is working.
Who is/are your biggest inspiration(s)?
They Are Here, Fischli and Weiss, Gilbert and George, Wood and Harrison, Smith and Stewart, June and Jennifer Gibbons, Marina Abramovic and Ulay (We want to feel like we could have an arrow pointed at our heart by someone we trust).
What is the most challenging thing about the ‘Their Wonderlands’ exhibition?
It’s demanding in a time sense in that we have now spent 6 weeks in a very small dark triangular shaped room, peeping out from a painting (Brown-eyed Girl, 2010-11), which has it’s eyes drilled out so we can look out through them and watch gallery visitors. We are by nature solitary people, who make work out of a desire to explore these types of subtle engagement with people. However, it makes a huge psychological demand to be in these kind of endurance situations, where all you can do is watch and respond through a journal in this case. We made a rule that we will never talk back, except with a blink of an eye. The responses to the work have also been challenging; most recently, we had to put up a piece of plastic to protect our eyes behind the painting as some people thought we weren’t real and were having fun trying to poke our eyes out!!
What are you trying to convey through your piece, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’?
We carefully chose a found portrait of a Caucasian women to question the pictorial representation (or absence) of women of colour historically – we are intrigued by how this affects our own sense of beauty. In doing so, we simultaneously foreground the act of watching, while remaining hidden. We are the ‘painting with eyes’ made real. The haunted house. The eyes follow you around the room. We like the idea that artists can make things that you always wanted to happen happen, in short we rate make-believe as a mode of existence, always allowing for the possibility of magic in the everyday.
Do you believe that it is more important for artists to explain the ‘real’ idea behind their works, or for the audience to interpret them as they wish?
Is there any ‘real’ idea behind anything? it’s all interpretation. We might think that we are doing something quite fixed and decisive and yet, when someone else with a different perspective comes, they see another thing altogether and maybe we realise that the ‘real idea’ behind the work is something unexpected. We are open to that. We enjoy that plurality.
You are keeping a diary of your observations from behind your painted doll’s eyes – what are the most interesting things or reactions you have seen so far?
Little screams are always a great reaction. It means the work has gone beyond the everyday safe art experience and actually impacted on someone’s pysche in a way they couldn’t control or articulate. That moment when your expectations are confounded and you realise the eyes aren’t a clever projection or hologram, but are real. Everyday we see alot; learn alot about people, how they move around the space, maybe the most interesting is how people look when they think no one is watching… except we are!
Did the arts cuts have any effect on you at all? If so, how?
We have been lucky enough to have been well supported through a number of publicly funded institutions, including South London Gallery, Chisenhale, Battersea Arts Centre and most recently mac Birmingham and Vivid. However, it’s always tough and you’ll always need a part-time job to keep making work.
What does ‘art’ mean to you if you were to sum it up in a nutshell?
Freedom to recreate your world anew.
What words of wisdom would you give to any aspiring artists out there?
Focus and don’t be afraid.
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Click here to read about Their Wonderlands, the art exhibition in which Brown Eyed Girl is displayed.
WHAT: Public art exhibition
WHO: They Are Here
WHEN: 26th Nov, 11 – 29th Jan, 12
WHERE: MAC Birmingham (map)
MY STORY: ‘Here, take a torch,’ said the lady standing outside the exhibition room. ‘You’ll need it.’ She then opened the door, swept the thick curtain back, and plunged me into darkness. I found myself in a very dimly lit room with the only sources of light coming from a few silently flickering TV screens. A mysterious glow illuminated certain exhibits but cast deep shadows in corners its fingers could not touch. An eerie, indecipherable sound brought the air to life. It was very unnerving.
The main idea behind ‘Their Wonderlands’, a show curated by They Are Here, is to explore the realm of the imagination. The darkness, inspired by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s 1993 essay In Praise of Shadows, awakens parts of the mind that can only become active when the eye reaches its physical limits. We are supposed to feel a bit intimidated and a bit unsure of the surroundings. Still, it took me a good while to get used to this strange environment – if I ever did at all. The layout of the exhibition didn’t help as it was set up to be deliberately confusing to navigate around, but gradually I relaxed and started to embrace the unknown. I even found something quite playful about it.
Although I was fascinated by the entire collection, a few works carved out particularly deep crevices in my memory. These include Alice Anderson’s Cocoon (a massive ball of synthetic hair), Emma Hart’s video Dice (in which she plays a game of throwing the dice with the ocean waves), and Ayo and Oni Oshodi’s Brown Eyed Girl (a painting of a girl with holes for eyes, through which one of the artists would look through and make observations of what they see).
My favourite piece of all, though, was Eloise Fornieles’s The Body is an Ocean. With a few dim light bulbs hanging above buckets of water and speakers pumping out heartbeats interspersed with a woman’s panting breaths, it was definitely one of the most haunting works on display. And yet there was something undeniably beautiful and mesmerizing about it. I was also relieved to have discovered that this was the origin of the strange glow and unearthly sound.
Their Wonderlands was no doubt one of the most interesting exhibitions I have visited recently. The experience was thought-provoking and liberating. It embodies Freud’s idea of the Uncanny to a certain extent, in the sense that it defamiliarises the familiar, and constantly challenged what I would normally have been comfortable with.
It’s definitely worth a visit, so do try and find time to pick up a torch and have a rummage round in the shadows before it vanishes at the end of this week.
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THOUGHT:
‘I like the eye.’ – May, aged 4
‘Scary but worth going in. Breathtaking. Noise is probably the most scary thing about it.’ – Imogen, aged 7
‘Beautiful works and a delightful through the rabbit hole experience.’ – Helen
‘Very strange experience. I like seeing things differently; it forced me to look in small areas instead of the bigger picture.’ – Anonymous
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Click here to read what Ayo and Oni Oshodi, the pair of identical twins who created Brown Eyed Girl, has to say about what art means to them.
My final post on Amsterdam will be a run down of all the other places we checked out during our trip. As I’ve mentioned before, we were only there for three days and so didn’t get to see everything the city had to offer. We didn’t, for example, explore the big museums, or see any tulips, or windmills (magnets don’t count, I suppose). However, here are a few places that we did visit, so if you have an hour or two to kill, some of these might be a good start. I’ve also included links at the bottom of this article for other famous touristy stuff you might want to have a look at. Have fun!
My Story: I have to admit that shopping isn’t really a large part of my itinerary when I go on holiday, seeing as I have enough shops back home to keep my wallet very fit. But that’s just a personal preference. If shopping is your thing, then Kalverstraat is where you want to be. It’s a very long street that has got all the shops that you could possibly want and more: international chains like H&M and Nike, music shops like Fame, as well as little tourist stores with postcards and fluffy clog-shaped slippers. Here’s to spending to your heart’s delight! There usually are a lot of people though, so be prepared to do a bit of jostling.
Noorderkerk Market (map)
My Story: Out of several markets in the area, Noorderkerk wins my very personal award for being the most boring one. It’s quite quaint I suppose, but it wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Because we went on a Saturday there was a food market there, but do I really need a carrot? Probably not. There were also stalls selling things like old stamps (my Dad would’ve loved that) or shaggy rags that were pretending to be coats (maybe my taste in fashion just isn’t up to par). I guess you could say it caters for a more specific and mature audience. No doubt an antique-junkie’s heaven.
Albert Cuyp Market (map)
My Story: The Albert Cuyp Market is much better than Noorderkerk, although it’s perhaps a bit unfair to say so as this is also the largest market in Amsterdam. Still, you can find practically everything here, from fresh sea food to shoes to old vinyls. Good waffles too – not as good as the ones at the Leidseplein Christmas Market, but a bit cheaper and they’ll be here all year round. It’s basically one very long street, but the walk was really quite pleasant as it wasn’t a particularly busy day. Worth a visit.
The Sex Museum
Address: Damrak 18 (map)
Phone: 020 622 8376
Website: www.sexmuseumamsterdam.nl/index2.html (English)
My Story: Before you say anything about what bright young things get up to these days, trawling round museums dedicated to the dirty act of coitus, let me explain. Not because I think it needs much of an explanation (come on guys, you know you’d have gone too), but just because the last time I came to Amsterdam, I was nine and my parents very deliberately shielded my eyes when we walked past the Sex Museum. And I was quite adamant that I should stand up for my belief of anti-censorship – so in we went.
The thing is, though, it really wasn’t that exciting or stimulating (ha!). It was more about ‘nude’ than ‘naked’, in the sense that many of the items on display were either historical or artistic. A bronze statue. A sword with a penis-shaped hilt. Some old black and white photographs that Verloc might have sold at his shop in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Sort of interesting I guess, but it was a bit out-dated, very cheesy, and completely non-erotic. I was hugely disappointed considering I had waited more than a decade for this, but never mind, we did have a giggle. Plus of course, it was the fact that I made my stand and pulled the wool from my eyes that mattered.
Canal Tour (with Tours and Ticket)
Phone: 020 420 4000
My Story: I know getting on a canal tour is just about as touristy as you can get, but hey, it had shelter and I wasn’t, at that point, confident enough to get on a bike (I have since improved drastically and had my first fall – so I’m invincible now!) But looking back, we shouldn’t have done it because it was actually quite a terrible way to waste our time. I do, however, have to point out that our experience was particularly marred by two main factors. Firstly, most of the boat was taken up by a huge group of Jews – all adults, mind – who spent the entire time running around, shouting, or shushing each other really loudly. Their tour guide also rudely insisted on talking over the English presentation, and so we learnt absolutely nothing about the city. I’m not being funny and I’m certainly not being racist, but it was extremely disturbing. And the second reason was that the woman in front of us insisted on having the window wide open despite the cold. She said she was going to take photos but her camera disappeared from view after one shot.
I therefore admit that my review of the tour is extremely biased, and it might be worth doing further research before you make your decision about whether to go or not. Other people have probably had much better experiences (like the Jews, perhaps?) but do, if you’re still keen on going, make sure that you go on a nice day, sit near the front where the speakers are located, and be prepared that it could potentially turn out to be the worst thing you’ve ever had to pay for.
That said, I did spot a boat named ‘Viagra’ along the way, which cheered me up for a good few minutes.
Red Light District (map)
My Story: Not much of a story to tell here really, although I’m sure others will have plenty. The thing that struck me most about this infamous district, incidentally, was how pretty it looked as the sun set and the windows’ lights were reflected in the canal. Of course, that’s not what most people go there for, but I just thought I should mention the other side that gets less attention. Yes there were red lights, yes there were skimpily dressed girls licking their lips seductively from behind glass windows, yes there were a lot of ads for various shows and more sex toys than you ever knew existed. And yet I just couldn’t help but feel like it was all for show. It was Amsterdam trying to flaunt how badass and liberal and hot a city it is, but the result just seemed a bit tacky and fake. It’s just another tourist attraction – albeit one with a bit more flesh on show. Aside from that, your needs will most probably still be satisfied if that’s the kind of fun you’re looking for – and you are willing to haggle for it.
It’s also worth pointing out that you’re not allowed to take photos of the girls or their shop windows under any circumstances, or else your camera may be confiscated, so don’t do it.
Alto Jazz Cafe
Address: Korte Leidsedwarsstraat 115 (map)
Phone: 020 626 3249
My Story: Having spent a good full day floating in various coffeeshops, I really wasn’t in the mood for a night out. I concluded, however, that I must see the city after dark if I were to truly experience it, and so grudgingly stepped out into the cold. I’m happy to report that it was definitely worth it.
A friend of mine recommended Alto as being the best and most authentic jazz club in the city, and it turns out that he was not alone in thinking that – I met a lovely hippy couple from Sweden who told me that they used to live in Amsterdam and have been coming to Alto for more than ten years. Plus it was packed on a Sunday night, which is always a good sign. It’s easy to see why everyone loves this snug little place though, as the lights were low, the bartenders were hot, and the small stage provided a very intimate setting for both the live band and the crowd. After a few drinks some people even got up to dance (or ‘dance’ in the case of one particularly jolly gentleman, who spent the evening waving his arms around like a very energetic imitation of Her Majesty). The atmosphere was perfect – fun, relaxed and sociable. I would therefore conclude that Alto was by far the most enjoyable part of our trip, and I’d love to visit again some day.
The live band performing that night consisted of local trumpeter extraordinaire Saskia Laroo and her fantastic boys Maarten (bass), Will (drums) and Daan (piano). My interview with them will be coming soon so watch this space!
Other Touristy Things You Might Fancy…
Van Gogh Museum: Home to the largest collection of the renowned artist’s works, including ‘Sunflower’ and ‘The Potato Eaters’.
Rijksmuseum: Apparently better than the Van Gogh Museum according to locals, the Dutch National Museum houses many great works by artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer.
Heineken Experience: An interactive way to learn about Heineken – free beer included, I hear.
Anne Frank House: The house in which Anne Frank and her family lived and hid until they were discovered by the Nazis.
Molen van Sloten: The only functioning windmill in Amsterdam that is fully open to the public.