Tag Archives: #nevergiveup

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

 

De-limbo-ing Myself

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The wait continues… I’m really not a big fan of being in limbo. So, while looking for job opportunities, I keep doing my best to de-limbo myself by getting productive and continuing to write my 2nd book (as well as tackling smaller projects)… including passing out in between and recharging my batteries for whatever may come…

Being Grateful

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Lately, life has run away with me a bit. Too many things happening all at once… some of them rather surprising and turbulent. Yet again, I was reminded to never be sure of anything. Everything can change in a heartbeat. We can lose and gain all we hold dear from one second to the next. I guess, the universe felt it had to shake me awake a bit, “Hey little bi-ped, don’t get too self-assured, don’t take things for granted. I’m am lending you some moments of happiness. Enjoy them while they last.” So I am trying to do just that. A friend of mine said a while ago, he copes with life by being grateful for everything. He is grateful for all the good that comes to him. But he is also grateful for all the blows life deals out, because they, too, teach him, and shape him into a unique, continuously growing human being… and he uses whatever cards life has in store for him to nurture his creativity and be productive.
I am indeed grateful for many things. I’m grateful for all the love and friendship I’ve been lucky to experience so far. I’m grateful for comical moments like these, when our little boy Nacho stubbornly stares me down at breakfast in hopes of getting that little piece of croissant. I am grateful and I am hopeful.

No Limits

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25 years ago, when I had my gender reassignment surgeries, I vowed to never let this important decision of aligning my soul with my body hamper or limit me in any way. I was going to continue going after my dreams. And I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Part of this meant to be able to retain my flexibility and spontaneity. In order to be able to live abroad and travel over longer periods of time, I overcame my fear of needles and learned how to inject myself. Since then, no matter which cultures or corners of the planet I go to, needles and vials are always part of my luggage…

“Sitting on an airplane bound for the Indian Ocean, with all relevant possessions in one bag and no return ticket in my pocket, I felt like an explorer about to make his greatest discovery. When would I take to the skies again? And where would I fly if I did? I had no idea, but anything seemed possible now.
Before leaving Switzerland, I had asked my doctor to write me a special prescription: thirty-six ampoules of testosterone. Not being able to produce enough of the male hormones on its own, my body needed a little help on a regular basis. My checked luggage now contained a two-year supply of testosterone injections, vials, and needles. My doctor had written a letter, attesting to the fact that my bodily functions would be severely disrupted without the medication I carried. Nevertheless, I was nervous. What if my stash was confiscated at Maldives customs? What would I  do?
Maldives immigration was easy. I presented papers from my employer and within five minutes, my passport sported a big, new ‘work visa’ stamp.
Then came the hard part. Already sweating with apprehension, I collected my luggage and headed for customs. There, my heart skipped more than a few beats when my luggage was singled out for inspection. Vials and needles were easy to see on the bag scanner’s screen. Even I could spot them, as I nervously snuck a peek over the customs officer’s shoulder. Surprisingly, he waved me through. Just like that, maintaining my manhood was ensured for the immediate future.”
(Excerpt from Paralian, Chapter 6 “Indian Ocean”)

A Friday Night

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One moment I was having a beer with a friend, enjoying a good conversation. The next moment I felt my heart racing. The small shoulder bag, which I had placed carefully between my knees and the bar wall, was gone.
You know that question, “What would you take with you on an island if you had to leave right now and could only take one item?” Well, the one material thing I would currently take with me was in this bag: my Moleskine notebook… in which I had been scribbling the first draft of my new book over the last eight months.
I am only at chapter seven so far, mind you. But, carving out writing time for these seven chapters next to my day job and private turbulences had been incredibly hard. Most days, I would write during my morning commute to work, or on my lunch breaks…

After the initial shock and after making quick phone calls to block bank and credits cards came the moment when I hurried outside into the park right next to the bar. Phone in hand, I tried to open the flashlight app. But I was so upset that, instead, I took about thirty photographs of my feet and the ground before I managed to hit the right button.

I searched for hours. Checked in dark alleys, in garbage bins and bushes, under benches, in public bathrooms, and under containers… but there was nothing…

To be fair, I experienced a lot of kindness that night as well. I came back to the bar five times, making my rounds, re-checking all the convenient spots where a burglar might discard unwanted items. Each time, the bar staff insisted to give me yet another beer free of charge. Some guests inside the bar were genuinely concerned. People kept asking if I had found anything. Some of them even came outside for a while to help searching. My friend and I had planned to go to a concert. I spontaneously gave my ticket to a homeless guy who had sat on a bench in the park across the venue. He was over the moon and ran over to the entrance, waving the ticket over his head like a magic wand as he slipped inside to enjoy the rare treat. My friend went to the concert as well. Meanwhile, the bar security guard lent me his heavy-duty flashlight, and my friend came back after the concert to help me search further into the night.

Now, the weekend has passed. My initial depression as well. There is nothing left to do but to order new cards and IDs, buy a new bag and wallet, and otherwise hope for a miracle. Maybe the thieves DID discard my – for them – useless items in an accessible spot after all. Maybe someone who cares WILL stumble over them and will either ring me or bring my stuff to the lost and found.

I really don’t care about anything but the notebook. While writing, I had felt frequent moments of magic, when I had gotten the words just right to paint a strong mental image for my readers. There is no way I can re-write this first draft exactly as it was.
So keep fingers crossed for that miracle my friends!!!
If it comes down to it and I have to, I’ll try to write it even better. But, if I can actually manage to do THAT is in the stars…

You’re Becoming You

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A little while back, on June 2nd, 2017, I read the following text underneath one of Brandon Stanton’s photographs for Humans of New York (thanks for your inspiring work Brandon. I hope you don’t mind if I share this here):

“I don’t think I’m going to miss eighth grade. It’s been a tough year. A lot of my friends are struggling with depression and self-harm, and it’s hard for me to watch. I just care about them so much. Growing up is so hard for some people. It’s such a big thing. It’s your foundation, I guess. You’re becoming you. It’s such a big thing and we’re going through it right now. Some of my friends are struggling with loving themselves and loving life. I think they forget that we’re still learning. They think that they’re already who they’re going to be. They think they know the future. And it’s going to be horrible. And they’ll never be able to fix it. But that’s not true because we’re still changing. And we’ll always be changing. Even when we’re old, we’ll be changing.”

As I read the musings of this insightful teenager, what she said struck me as such a profound truth. She talked about herself and her teenage friends, most likely never realizing that, by doing so, she described the human condition in general. Most, if not all of us, face similar existential questions and troubles no matter our background or age. Many of us are struggling with loving ourselves and loving life. And yes, we’re all continuously changing. Life and change are one. Irrevocably. We spend our entire lives becoming who we really are… learning, un-learning, growing, evolving with each experience we make throughout our turbulent life journey. There is nothing to do but to face those waves as they crash over our heads. Some breakers will pummel the crap out of us. They’ll push us down like a bully in a kid’s swimming pool until we can barely catch our breath. Other rollers will lift us up and carry us further than we ever imagined.

A Story of Hope

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Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance #TODR. https://tdor.info
Everyone on this list has lost their lives simply for being themselves, for longing to live their lives as who they truly were.
In honor of those who have been taken from us so violently, let me share a positive story with you of how it could be. A story of hope:

“Even though it was still the early days – I’d had only four months of hormone therapy – it was time to announce to the people in my life what had been happening. I couldn’t pretend forever that my voice sounded deeper because of a cold, and I didn’t want to shave off the rapidly growing amount of body hair. It was time to jump into the bottomless ocean and reveal myself.

In the months following my decision to come out, my faith in humanity was restored many times over. Almost all reactions to my revelations were entirely, and sometimes surprisingly, positive. Many of my friends and acquaintances simply smiled a knowing smile when I told them, and confessed they had always taken me for either a hardcore butch or a transgender person. My behavior seemed to have given me away for years. People had known who I was, long before I myself had re-awakened to my identity.

Some reactions towards my disclosure about my real gender and my new name were outright comical. My team at the movie theater consisted of an elderly, conservative Swiss projectionist, as well as elderly Swiss ladies, stout-looking workers from Serbia, and other unique characters. One evening, I asked them all to gather in our small office because I had an important announcement to make. I was sure they would be outraged. I was sweating buckets and my heart raced.

In short, I told them I was actually a man and was going to change my body accordingly. Forthwith, my name would be Liam. Erich, the projectionist, just emitted a deep, rumbling “Hmmm?!” The elderly ladies exclaimed, “You will be such a handsome young man!” and the Serbians unanimously stated, “You are part of our gang. We’ll always have your back”. I was dumbfounded. Half an hour later, Erich passed by my popcorn stand. He stared at me very seriously and after a lengthy pause grumbled, “Couldn’t you have picked an easier name? How am I supposed to remember an odd one like Liam?” He stared at me for a moment longer, then turned abruptly, and walked away with a big grin on his face.

Only three days later, my company informed me of my appointment with the tailor who would change my work uniform into pants, blazer, and tie as soon as possible. I was in heaven.”

(The picture shows me only a few weeks after my tailor appointment.)