Tag Archives: #expatlife

When Kung Fu Leads to Coffee

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Hon Kee Café – A Hidden Gem in Macau’s Coloane Village

Walk towards the ferry pier in Coloane Village, then turn right, and trek over the hill until you see a row of eerie, abandoned shipyards on your left. Keep walking until you reach a jumble of colorful, corrugated iron houses. This is Lai Chi Vun Village, where most of Coloane’s boat builders used to live. A little further ahead is Hon Kee Café… essentially a large open shed with just four wooden tables, ringed by tall trees, which provide additional shade and almost cause you to miss the unassuming place altogether.

I must have walked past this gem a hundred times, never giving it a second thought. Then, one day not too long ago, a local woman told me about Ah Hon, owner of Hon Kee Café. Both, man and café, turn out to be nothing less than local legends…

Many years ago, Ah Hon was one of the young boat builders working in the shipyards. In 1986, an accident with a rusty saw nearly severed his left arm just above the elbow. Two bones, muscles, and blood vessels were gone. Ah Hon almost lost his life that day due to severe blood loss. In the weeks that followed, his body fought against life-threatening infections. His doctors urged him to amputate the arm but, as our stubborn local hero let CNN know during an interview in 2013, “I told the surgeon I’d rather not live than live without my arm.”

Thankfully, Ah Hon’s body won the battle against the infections. However, many surgeries and experimental nerve transplants later, Ah Hon’s arm had shrunk to the circumference of a thin bamboo stick. It was clear, he would never be able to work as a boat builder again.

At a loss of how to earn a living and provide for his family, Ah Hon began thinking of transforming one of the abandoned buildings in his village into a café for the boat builders. His first application for a restaurant license was rejected by the government. Not willing to give up, Ah Hon wrote a letter to the Portuguese mayor of Macau, imploring him to interject on his behalf. The mayor did… and the government authorities relented.

Despite his weak left arm, or rather, as a self-made form of physiotherapy, Ah Hon began building his café all by himself. He fortified the structure of the abandoned shed. He built his own furniture. By the time he opened Hon Kee Café in 1991, Ah Hon’s mangled arm had regained a little of its functionality and strength. This was encouraging, but compared to its former brawniness, the arm still felt useless.

What else could Ah Hon do?

Kung Fu, a simple wood stove, and coffee provided the answer.

Ah Hon built himself a wooden dummy in a small alcove inside the café and began practicing Kung Fu on it. “I am no Kung Fu Master,” he says, “but practicing daily on the dummy certainly helped me regain my physical power.” To exercise even more, he bought the heaviest axe he could find and pushed himself to chop wood for his coffee stove on a daily basis.

During the café’s early days, a foreign couple stumbled upon it. They decided to escape the afternoon heat and have an iced coffee in the shade. Soon, they engaged in lively conversation with Ah Hon and suggested to him to hand-beat his coffee, to lend it a unique strong texture and taste. Ah Hon dismissed the idea at the time. Then, one day the famous Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat stopped by and ordered a coffee. Star struck and embarrassed to serve the great international movie star a regular cup, Ah Hon remembered what the couple had taught him and made his very first hand-beaten coffee.

He has been hand-beating his coffee ever since.

According to Ah Hon, he beats each cup 400 times. This, of course, also with his left hand, which, through the café owner’s many years of relentless exercising, is back to its former vigor. Ah Hon uses instant coffee powder for his one-of-a-kind brew. First, he stirs a spoonful of thick coffee mixture for a few hundred rounds at high speed until it thickens. The process takes a few minutes. When more hot water is added to the coffee, a thick layer of foam and cream rises to the top, creating an unusually viscous texture and an irresistibly aromatic scent.

As for food, Ah Hon’s is the simplest and most charming menu I have ever laid eyes on. You have your choice of either toast or instant noodles, with egg, pork, or canned sardines. To add additional spiciness, there is a small squeeze bottle of homemade chili sauce on each table, which I personally find irresistible.

Since 2005, all of Lai Chi Vun’s shipyards have been abandoned. However, even with his initial customer base gone, Ah Hon’s café keeps going strong. Local and international TV stations and newspapers still pay him the odd visit. Macanese as well as Mainland Chinese customers come for some instant noodles and the famous hand-beaten “Chow Yun Fat” coffee. Ah Hon’s story has inspired many. A visit to the humble and cozy Hon Kee Café reminds his customers that everything is possible if your heart is in the right place and you never give up.

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Hon Kee Café

Merendas de Lai Chi Vun Park, Coloane, Macau, +853 2888 2310

Open daily, except Wednesdays, from 7:00am to 6:00pm

 

I Often Fondly Remember…

fondue with dave

I often fondly remember working as a diving instructor in the Maldives. Four years of living and working on a small island with individuals from all corners of the globe, in closest quarters, with hardly any privacy.
Teaching students who are sometimes terrified of the element they are about to enter.
Learning a whole new level of social competence, acceptance, and problem solving amongst my colleagues and friends.
Finding moments of peace within my daily responsibilities.

The odd cheese fondue in front of my room was a rare highlight of relaxation… enveloping my staff accommodation neighbours in wave after wave of strong Appenzeller and Gruyere scents.

Now, as a stage manager, I have exchanged the magical deep blue sea with the also magical deep black backstage.
In many ways, it’s just another island.
And, thankfully, learning and growth always continue…

Simple Pleasures

village summer day liam

As I get older, I remind myself to not forget the simple pleasures which made my heart beat faster when I was a kid. Sweet, sticky ice cream dissolving on my tongue and brain freeze on a hot summer’s day… Sitting in the shade of a tree, day dreaming and escaping the sizzling afternoon heat… Balancing on that wall along the water’s edge, gazing out over the blue, sparkling water surface towards the horizon… Simple pleasures, but oh so satisfying!

The Value of Perspective

2012 one with the Wave

Here is a little artwork from a few years back. I had lots of water on my mind back then. Based largely on many years spent in the ocean in the Maldives, as well as working underwater at ‘The House of Dancing Water’ show in Macau. I didn’t like Macau much. I loved my work, but I didn’t fully understand where I belonged. When I left after four years, I thought I’d never come back. Then, five years later, I did come back and surprised myself with how comfortable I felt in this quirky little casino town the second time around.
Looking back, I can only guess that, when I first arrived, there was too much turbulence around and inside of me. It was hard to see the ocean for the waves. With time and distance came perspective and, amazingly, maturity.
So, here I am again, immersing myself once more in the unique expat life of Macau… and treasuring every minute of it. Backstage, I have found where I belong. I understand myself as well as the nature of the waves around me so much better now. I am glad and grateful I came back. I feel home.

Home By The Sea

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It’s always been my dream to live right next to the deep blue sea. There is something healing about gazing at the water’s surface, and something exciting about hearing the waves break when they arrive at the beach after their long journey across the sea… Currently at least part of my dream has come true. In this cozy little village, we’re indeed overlooking the ocean. Since it’s a river delta there is no surf and the water is muddy brown. But it’s a great start and I’m deeply grateful.

At Hong Kong University

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On 16th of November, I experienced a different kind of speaking engagement. A friend of mine invited me to be a guest lecturer during one of her classes at Hong Kong university. I was delighted to have the privilege to listen to her presentation on cross cultural communication in the event industry. Then even more delighted to be able to share some of my international experiences in a variety of different industries with her students. Everyone was highly engaged and curious. And, I was reminded of how much I love and miss teaching.
There is a special kind of satisfaction in sharing and helping others grow.

The Silver Box

little roundabout

Two weeks ago, Macau was hit by Typhoon Mangkhut. It was a turbulent day with wind speeds matching those of a decent, medium-sized car on a German highway. The village where we live was flooded and, consequently, things moved. Sofas, old chairs, trees, and various types of heavy debris meandered to and fro. The ocean took over the streets, creating surge and currents where usually tourists would amble along, brandishing selfie sticks and nibbling on Portugese egg tarts.

This year, the damage wasn’t as bad as had been expected. Soon all the debris and mud were cleaned away. Only a couple of broken trees remind of what happened.

And the big, shiny, silver box.

A recycling receptacle.

Standing askew in the middle of our romantic roundabout.

It was there before, but a few meters to the left, just in front of the bushes. I’ve been watching this box closely. Every other day, when I throw away the garbage, I wonder if I should just grab the thing and move it myself. Admittedly, I’ve even tried. But it’s too heavy to move for one person.

Sitting at my desk, writing, I catch myself staring out the window, eyeing the silver box.

Each time a city worker walks past I think, “Yes, yes, you must see this, right? This big silver recycling container, standing askew, crying out for you to move it?”

The workers are not even glancing at it as they walk past.

The front doors of the recycling box are busted now. Pet bottles, plastic, and glass have started to spill out. The silver garbage monster is regurgitating what it was forced to digest.

Each day, around 2pm, the garbage disposal truck arrives. A group of workers start picking up cardboard and garbage bags. There I am again, cheering them on in my mind, thinking, “Yes, yes, look right ahead of you. Yup, now a little bit to your right. The big silver thing you almost ran into.”

Nope… off they go, oblivious.

Two city workers came to clean up yesterday afternoon. They swiped a little around the Ying and Yang symbol on the floor, threw most of the garbage into the bushes, then sat down to rest. They leaned against the silver box, a couple of old pet bottles rolling around between their legs.

I looked out the window, more hopeful than ever, “Yes! you must notice those bottles between your legs. Maybe you’ll turn around and notice the doors to the box are busted. Then, maybe, it’ll click and you’ll realize the flood has pushed this ugly contraption away from its original position.”

But all my attempts at mind control failed yet again. The workers lit a cigarette, chatted for a while, then flicked their cigarette butts in a high arc over the silver box, got up, and walked away.

I still feel the urge to go down there and push with all my might.

Instead, I’ve now decided to exercise self-control and rather wager on how long it will take until someone moves or removes the silver box. Considering it’s been 14 days already… I’m thinking it’ll take at least 6 months. Great training for me to let things go. Ohhhhhmmmmmmmmm.