Quiet Sanctuary in Hong Kong – Chi Lin Nunnery

An island of calm in the frenzied world of Hong Kong – Chi Lin Nunnery

 If you think that Hong Kong is only a concrete jungle filled with skyscrapers and shopping malls, there is a place you can escape to for a little peace. This quiet sanctuary away from the madding crowd is a relaxing respite from bustling Hong Kong.

 Tucked away just a short walk from Diamond Hill MTR (subway) station, Chi Lin Nunnery exudes Zen-like calmness. It has undergone many reincarnations since its inception a hundred years ago – from a wealthy merchant’s villa in the earlier century to a free community school, to a Buddhist school to a home for the elderly and finally, to the present day temple. Chen Qi, the original owner, was a devout Buddhist who had sold his mansion at a budget to 2 monks for the spread of Buddhism. This building certainly bears witness to the development history of Buddhism in Hong Kong.

 Modelled after China’s Tang Dynasty style architecture, its clean cut lines and neutral colours are unlike the usual Chinese temples’ often garish colours and outlandish designs. Built without using a single nail, this whole structure comprising 228,000 pieces of timber is held together using a complex interlocking system involving wooden dowels and brackets – a technique dating back to the ancient Tang Dynasty. This architecture wonder has soaring ceilings held up by 28 columns, measuring 18 feet each. The ceilings support roofs with traditionally-made clay tiles that weigh 176 tonnes.

 Besides artistic aspirations, the nunnery also had to meet stringent structural and safety requirements that include fire safety (especially given its wooden structure), the ability to withstand severe typhoon as well as protection against termites and insects. A perfect marriage of ancient technique and modern technology, this gem of Chinese monastic architecture also manifest the unity of structure and art.

 The overall layout is based on the Chinese philosophy of harmony between Heaven and Earth with an emphasis on nature. The spirit of Buddhism is reflected in its many structures – the seven-storey pagoda representing Buddhist teachings on moral values and the importance of repaying gratitude while the grand main hall and sutra room reminds one of Buddhist wisdom and practice.

 If you think that its touch of Zen reminds you of those temples in Japan, well you are not far off the mark. Buddhism reached the height of its influence in China during the Tang dynasty so it probably spread to Japan then along with its architectural design.

 The nunnery also incorporates classic Chinese courtyard-style influence into its design. Winding corridors and lotus ponds bear testaments to this. Naturally, no Chinese building is complete without the ancient art of ‘wind and water’ – the ubiquitous Feng Shui or geomancy. 

 In accordance to the principle of Feng Shui, the building faces south towards the sea with its back to the mountain. The facing is said to bring abundance and strong mountain backing ensures having a provider of strength and good energy. Besides having auspicious facing, the nunnery is also flanked by the Mountain of Compassionate Clouds on the left and the Lion Rock on the right.

 Covering a space of 30,000 square meters, it took 11 painstaking years and multi-million dollars to reconstruct the building which reopened in 2000. Yellow cedar wood was imported from Canada and carved in China by skilled artisans. They were then reconstructed in Hong Kong like a giant piece of jigsaw puzzle. The main hall was modeled after the Foguang Monastery in Shanxi Province, China while the double-eave Hall of Celestial Kings is designed after the 11-century Phoenix Hall outside Kyoto, Japan.

 Housing 16 Buddhist halls, Zen-style rock gardens and lotus ponds, landmarks include the magnificent Ten Thousand Buddhas pagoda as well as the pair of symmetrical Bell and Drum Tower at the entrance. Statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism some 2,500 years ago is suitably housed in the main hall. Statues of the Goddess of Mercy or Guanyin and the God of Medicine as well as other bodhisattvas are also present in the nunnery. They are beautifully crafted from gold, clay, wood and stone. Besides statues, the Patriarch Hall features many tablets with imprinted wisdom of many Chinese sages.

 This gem of a temple woos one with simple pleasures – wood exuding a hint of fragrance all round, pretty little bonsai trees, artful rockeries in landscaped gardens with manicured shrubs. Besides, its lotus ponds in full bloom are truly magnificent sights to behold.

 So the next time you are in Hong Kong and wish for a spot of peace, don’t forget to head to this charming little oasis. Best of all, admission is free.

Note: First published on buzzle.com on 12 August 2008

Link: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/quiet-sanctuary-in-hong-kong-chi-lin-nunnery.html

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7 Easy Tips to Be an Effective Speaker

Proven Tips for Public-speaking and effective presentation skills

 What do people fear most? Nope, it’s not ghosts or the dark. It’s public-speaking. Some people would rather jump out of a building than to speak in front of a crowd. They just freeze at the lectern.

 Public-speaking need not be the death knell you imagine it to be. I would like to share some tips on effective public-speaking that I’ve gathered from my Toastmasters days. They would not turn you into a charismatic orator overnight but they would make you a more confident and effective communicator.

 1. Make eye contact

Look at someone in the front, left, right, centre and back of the room. Do a sweeping glance at the whole audience from time to time too. And I mean really look them in the eye. Yes, making eye contact with your audience sitting in different parts of the room is crucial. You could really connect with your listeners, this way.

2. P.E.P

How do you make your audience register what you say better? Always state your point first followed by elaboration before re-iterating your point for emphasis – P.E.P.

 3. Appeal to the Heart, not the mind

Yes, this applies even to fact-based presentations. Don’t just dish out the numbers, the statistics and the facts. The truth is; compelling case studies, persuasive storytelling and stories with a human angle; speaks to the audience and unlocks the key to their heart. In short, arouse their emotions.

 Show how it relates to them. If your audience can identify with what you are saying, chances are they would more likely be convinced.

 4.         Conviction

Honest emotions shows – if you don’t believe in what you are saying, chances are your audience won’t either. You need to put in emotional investment before you can convince your audience.

 Be sincere and earnest – speak about something that you feel strongly about.

 5. Vocal Variety

You don’t want to put your audience to sleep, don’t you? Do not drone on in a monotone. Vary your vocal variety – change the tone, volume, speed and pitch of your voice.

 Specifically, this is how to make it work for you:

  •  Tone – As we know, the same sentence expressed in different tones could convey vastly different meanings. Do you wish to show anger, disappointment, sarcasm, happiness or excitement?
  • Volume – Speak louder when you wish to emphasize something or for dramatic effect. Drop your voice to a whisper when you wish to sound secretive.
  • Speed – Speak faster to convey different emotions like excitement; speak slower to build up climax. Don’t forget the power of dramatic pauses. Silence is a powerful tool.  Stressing on different words conveys different shades of meanings.
  • Pitch – High pitch generally denotes excitement or anger while a lower pitch indicates sadness or poignancy.

 These are magical keys that unlock the door to an impactful speech.

 6. Body Language

Use gestures to help your audience understand you better but careful not to let them distract from your speech. Be natural, do not exaggerate. Make your gesture just large enough to be seen by everyone in your audience but not draw attention to itself.

 So when do you use gestures?

  •  To express size, weight, shape, direction, location – These physical characteristics call for the shaping of hands or pointing.
  • To emphasize importance or urgency – Punch your fist into open air to punctuate your point. You could also pounce on the lectern (but done with care so as not to seem affected)
  • To show comparison and contrast – Move both your hands in unison to show similarities, move them in opposition to show differences.

 7. Mind Your Language

Use simple words, bombastic words put people off. Leave out jargons – they only serve to alienate your audience. Run through your speech to ensure that it is free from grammatical errors – they are not only jarring on the ears but distract from your message.

Keep these few tips in mind and see the difference it makes, the next time you’re called upon to speak. Be sure to nail that presentation in front of your boss too!

Note: First published on buzzle.com on : 19 July 2008.

Link: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/easy-tips-to-be-an-effective-speaker.html

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Would the Real Wong Fei Hong please stand up?

Wong Fei Hong, the martial arts folk hero most famously portrayed by Jet Li in popular movies, “Once Upon A Time In China”, has become a larger than life character. In earlier decades, Kwan Tak Hing acted as Wong in over 100 of movies. How much of this legendary figure is myth and how much of it is fact?

 So who exactly is the real Wong Fei Hong? Martial arts expert and skilled physician no less, but did you know that he was rumoured to be a curse on his wives? All his three wives had died on him, the first one having died within months of tying the knot.  Superstition or not, it prompted him to address his fourth wife as “concubine” even though she was his full-fledged wife.

 Wong’s Wives

 His fourth wife, Mok Kwai Lan, was his partner in martial arts as well as in life. Having inherited the Mok’s Family Fists, her martial arts improved by leaps and bound under Wong’s coaching. Legend has it that he met his wife in a rather amusing encounter. According to the account, Wong was performing the Yiu’s Family Trident when his shoe flew off and hit Mok in the face. Incensed, she jumped up the stage and slapped Wong. She reprimanded him, “Do you know you could kill someone like this? What if the next time it’s your weapon that flew off and not your shoe? For someone of your skill, something like this should never have happened!” Though Wong’s disciple was infuriated at this young lady’s audacity, Wong fell in love immediately. Apparently he just smiled and said, “You’re right. I was careless.” Then Mok disappeared into the crowd. After that, Wong made enquiries, eventually found and married her. Now one wonders why no movie had ever depicted this feisty lady instead of the fictional Thriteen Aunt in “Once Upon A Time In China”.

 Wong’s Martial Arts

 If you were wondering about his actual prowess, he is indeed as formidable as he is made out to be. And yes, the famed, “Shadowless Kick” (无影脚), is one of his signature style. Perhaps what it less known is his mastery of all the Tiger style strokes, earning him the nickname of “Tiger Crazed”. Having learnt martial arts from his father at the tender age of 5, he started off life as a street performer at 12 before moving on to be martial arts instructor at various places including the army. When he was made the instructor at the Guangdong’s infantry regiment succeeding his father, he was the youngest instructor in the Southern Style kung-fu then. He was recruited by Jiming Provincial Commander-in-Chief, Wu Quanmei to be the medical officer and martial arts drill instructor of the local militia of Guangdong. He was also made the chief instructor at the Fujian province army by the Commander-in-Chief, Liu Yong Fu. Wong had even fought alongside Liu in Taiwan against the Japanese.

 The Hong Family Fist (also known as “Hong Gar” of “Hong Kuen”) which Wong learnt from his, father, Wong Kei Ying, was founded by Hung Hei Kwun. It was said to be originated from a group of deposed monks of South Shaolin Temple when the Qing dynasty government sacked the temple. From his father, he inherited the Single Bow Fist (單弓拳), Double Bow Fist (雙弓拳), Tiger Taming Fist (伏虎拳), Tiger Fist (.虎拳), Black Tiger Fist (黑虎拳), Mother & Son Butterfly Swords (子母雙刀) and Fifth Brother Eight Trigram Pole (五郎八卦棍). He was also known for his Yiu Family Trident (瑤家大扒)

 Although his father was one of the “Ten Tigers of Guangdong” – a group comprising of the top ten martial arts exponent of Southern China – Wong had taken lessons from various masters. He acquired the much celebrated “Shadowless Kick” (无影脚) from Song Fai Tong and the Iron Wire Fist (铁线拳) as well as the Flying Sling (双飞砣)from Tit Kiu Sam’s disciple, Lam Fuk Sing.

 Wong was often credited to be the Father of Modern Hung Fist as he systematized the form and rearranged certain aspects of the techniques. He choreographed his version of the acclaimed “Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist” (虎鹤双形拳), which incorporates his “Ten Special Fist” (十绝手). He is said to have added the bridge hand techniques and horse stance of master Tit Kiu Saam as well as long arm techniques, attributed variously to the Fat Ga, Lo Hon, and Lama styles. The “Tiger Crane” combined the prowess of the Tiger and the gracefulness of the crane; marrying strength and fluidity.

 He developed the “Five Animal Fist” (五形拳) which serve as a bridge between the external force of “Tiger Crane” and the internal focus of “Iron Wire”.  “Five Animals” refers to the characteristic of the Five Animals of Southern Chinese martial arts, namely the Dragon, Snake, Tiger, Leopard, and Crane. Together with “工character Tiger Taming Fist” (工字伏虎拳), “Tiger Crane” and “Iron Wire”; these formed the four pillars of Wong’s branch of the Hung Fist.

 Wong’s Sons

 Though Mok was a young bride of 19, she did not produce any offspring probably due to Wong’s considerable age when they got married. His other three wives bore him four sons before they passed on. Of his four sons, Hon Sum, his second son, was Wong’s favourite and inherited the most of Wong’s martial arts. He had worked as a bodyguard in a security firm. One of his colleagues had challenged him to a duel but lost badly. Harbouring resentment, he made Hon Sum drunk on Mid-Autumn Festival and shot him dead. He later convinced the authorities that it was Hon Sum who first shot him in his drunken stupor and in self-defence, had opened fire and killed Hon accidentally. Heartbroken over the death of his beloved son, Wong swore never to impart his skills to his other sons. That is why, his youngest son, who looked the most like him, does not possess any martial arts skills.

 Wong the Physician

 Besides being an accomplished martial arts master, Wong was also a skilled physician, especially in the art of ‘Tie Da’ or Chinese bone-setting. He set up “Po Chi Lam” (宝芝林), his clinic and medical shop, producing his own ‘Tie Da’ ointment. He soon became known as one of the top 4 Chinese physicians in Guangdong at that time.

 Wong’s Last Years

 An upright man of great virtue, sadly Wong died a poor and broken man. A riot broke out in 1924 and his medical shop fell victim to the fire set by the rioters. It was rumoured that it destroyed his only surviving photo. (Though some have disputed this.) Devastated from the blow of his massive losses, he took ill and died soon after. Having lost all his money, his disciple, Dang Sau Keng took care of Wong’s funeral arrangements. With the help of his disciples, the acclaimed Lam Sai Wing and Dang; Mok immigrated to Hong Kong with Wong’s two sons. She set up a martial arts school and continued Wong’s legacy.

 Wong’s Legacy

 A righteous man with a strong sense of justice and one who is always willing to lend a hand, especially to the weak and serve society, Wong was also a visionary who was ahead of his time. He believed that anyone who was capable could be a master and was against the establishment of sects in the world of martial arts. Besides milestones in martial arts, not many knew that Wong condemned the practice of matching one’s social status in marriage and was against the age-old Chinese custom of favouring males over female. He was one of the first to accept female disciples and formed the first female lion dance troupe. Well-known female disciples include Mok Kwai Lan and Dang Sau Keng. His other accomplished disciples include Lam Sai Wing, Leung Fun, ….

Arguably the most famous son of Nanhai County (now a District), Foshan City, Guangdong province; Wong has left an indelible mark on many around the world as his Wong branch of Hung Family Fist spread as far as the United States and Mexico, South East Asia, Hong Kong and Macao.

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Roaring Away Mosqui

As we usher in the Year of the Tiger, one is reminded of the humble, traditional rub, Tiger Balm. Yes, I know it sounds like something that your parents or grandparents uses and I hate the smell of it but I swear it relieves the itch of mosquito bites like magic. Other creams or ointments that I’ve tried don’t work as well.

 Some of you may remember the old, Haw Par Villa in Pasir Panjang Road we used to visit as kids. An old mansion of the founders of Tiger Balm, it became a free park open to the public. Memories of the park’s illustration of Chinese mythology come to mind, especially for its graphic depiction of the 18 Levels of Hell in Buddhist belief. Come to think of it one wonders why parents allow their children to be subjected to such gore and violence. Obviously for the internet savvy kids of this generation, long jaded by the violence found in numerous video games, this is nothing to bat an eyelid at all. But for the more innocent kids from a much tamer generation, portrayals of people being fried in oil or having their eyes gouged out or body sawed into half or having their intestines dismembered or of being skinned alive were pretty potent stuff. These were supposed punishments meted out by the different chambers of court in the 18 Levels of Hell for crimes committed in one’s life. The park later underwent many transformations, morphing into a theme park with water rides among them but could not appeal to today’s sophisticated consumers.

 A Tale of Two Brothers

 So how did it all begin?  Its story can be traced all the way back to the ancient imperial court of China and the exotic Rangoon in Myanmar.

 Aw Chu Kin, descended from an imperial court herbalist, dreamt of seeking his fortune in a faraway land and set sail for Myanmar from his native Fujian province, China. He set up a medical shop, Eng Aun Tong or Hall of Everlasting Peace, in 1870 and started developing an ancient formula from the imperial court of China for relieving aches and pains. It never occurred to him that this little remedy would outlive him and his sons for generations to come.

 Aw had two sons, the aggressive ‘tiger’ and the quiet ‘leopard’ – Boon Haw and Boon Par. Ironically both their names have the character which means “civil” or “gentle” but only the younger ‘leopard’ seems to take on that characteristic. The second characters in their names mean “tiger” and “leopard” respectively.

 Tiger was a hyperactive boy who seemed to have channelled all his energy into street fights. The last straw came when he beat up his teacher. Aw had had enough of his son’s errant ways by then and sent him back to his hometown in China. Little would the old man know that Tiger would turn out to be a superb salesman and astute businessman.

 On his deathbed, Aw asked that his age-old formula for aches be perfected and passed the medical shop practice to Leopard. Leopard soon found the running of the business a strain and invited his elder brother, Tiger, back.

 Their English education served them in good stead in business, Leopard envisioned a East meets West medical practice where they could capture both markets. He implored, “ I will learn all I can about Western medicine, and you can prescribe Chinese medicine. Together we won’t lose a single patient. He can choose between East and West and the money will remain in our territory. ” 

 It proved to be a perfect partnership; with the more reserved Leopard experimenting in the kitchen, perfecting the formula passed down by their father and the outgoing Tiger running the business side of it. They name the final product, “Ban Kim Ewe”, literally “Ten Thousand Golden Oil”. A bold and unforgettable trademark was chosen – the Tiger. Apparently way before branding became a buzzword, this shrewd entrepreneur knew how to create a strong brand name.

 They made sure that no customer ever leaves the medical shop without this little jar of ‘magic potion’ – touted as the cure-all for ailments. Tiger worked on all the Chinese shops in Rangoon and convinced them to carry his balm.

 Tiger soon became the richest man in Rangoon – all these before he hit 40.

 The Next Chapter: Singapore and beyond

 The bustling port of Singapore and the potential he saw in the Malayan towns beckoned the keen alertness of Tiger’s.  Legend has it that when he saw the image of a tiger in the watermark of then Singapore’s currency, he was certain that Singapore was the place to be.

 Tiger moved his base to Singapore in 1926 and built a huge factory at Neil Road, with 10 times the production capacity of Rangoon’s. He had a custom-made car fitted with a tiger’s head and plied the small towns of Malaya, giving out samples of Tiger Balm. Now isn’t that the hallmark of a born marketer and a branding guru?

 He did a roaring trade, establishing factories and distributorship around the region from Malaya, Batavia, Thailand to Hong Kong and China.

 What’s in that yellow paste?

 Have you ever wondered what is in that yellow paste? A topical herbal rub developed from the finest blend of essential oils; it contains mainly camphor, menthol, cajuput oil, mint oil and clove oil. The rest of it is made up of petroleum jelly and paraffin base. Contrary to misconception, the rub does not contain any tiger parts. In fact, the earlier version of Tiger Balm contains 25% of camphor. A new product, Tiger Balm White HR, uses Eucalyptus oil instead of cajuput oil.

What can it do?

 Although I have used it only for mosquito bites, it is known to be able to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, muscular and joint pains, neck and back pain, muscular aches caused by stress, sprains and even tired feet.

 Other products

 Over the years the company had diversified its range and developed many other products. Among which are pain-relieving patch and even a refresher that comes in a snazzy little bottle with a spray. Its latest product, the Tiger Balm Joint Rub is supposedly greaseless and contains no alcohol. Admittedly, if not for the purpose of researching this article, I would not have known about the other products or the extensive nature of them. I may have chanced upon some of them at the pharmacy but may not have registered in my over-loaded mind :p

 The end of an era

 So how did this modern day fairy tale end? After Tiger made his mark in the healthcare industry, he ventured into banking and publishing establishing Chung Khiaw Bank and the Sin Chew Jit Poh.

 Even during the Japanese Occupation, Tiger continued with business operations from Hong Kong while younger Leopard closed the factory in Singapore and returned to Myanmar where he passed away in 1944. When the war ended, Tiger returned to Singapore and rejuvenated his businesses here. He reopened the factory and started his newspaper again. He also repaired his home and gardens. The mighty Tiger eventually fell victim to a heart attack and departed in 1954. He was on his way to Hong Kong then following a major operation in Boston.

 His nephew, Aw Cheng Chye, took over control of the family business and became Chairman of Haw Par Brothers (Private) Limited and Sin Poh (Star News) Amalgameted (Private) Limited. He also assumed the leadership of Chung Khiaw Bank, taking over from his brother-in-law, Lee Chee Shan. The family business was consolidated into a company that was listed on the stock exchanges of Singapore and Malaya as Haw Par Brothers International Limited (later renamed Haw Par Corporation Limited.)

 Keen to expand his business empire, Cheng Chye got British investment group Slater Walker Securities Limited to take a stake in Haw Par. Sadly, that proved to be the downfall of the company. Unknown to Cheng Chye, Slater had been conducting secret negotiations and eventually wrested control of Haw Par from him. What followed was five years of whirlwind expansion with a frenzy of corporate takeovers that made Haw Par the fifth largest company on the local stock exchange.

 Unfortunately, all these were achieved through underhanded means. Irregularities were soon uncovered bringing down the empire in one fell swoop. The former chairman, Richard Tarling was imprisoned. Witnessing the shattered shape the company was in, the government decided to bring in Michael Fam to get the company back on its feet.

 During the Slater years, Tiger Balm was franchised to Jack Chia Limited for 20 years for the main Asian territories. The company had also acquired Scott and English, Drug Houses of Australia and Kwan Loong but divested itself of major operating businesses like the Chinese newspaper, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Chung Khiaw Bank.

 Next came a tussle for control among the three corporate giants. Hong Leong group had a 7% stake while Jack Chia had 16% and United Overseas Bank (UOB) held 17%. Amidst rumours of a pact between Hong Leong and Jack Chia for a joint control, UOB eventually trumped them all with a total of 30% stake in 1981. Their stake has since grown to 43% over the years.

 The company today

Haw Par is today a company with two core operating businesses – healthcare and leisure – as well as strategic investments with property among one of them.

 With a healthy balance sheet, the company has gone on to take the lead in manufacturing and supplying generic drugs in Singapore. Haw Par Healthcare Limited was privatized in 2003 after years of robust growth since its listing in the stock market.

 Awards

 With its unique branding, Tiger Balm won the Heritage Brand Award in 2005. It was jointly organized by Association of Small and Medium Enterprise (ASME) and Lianhe Zaobao. Among the other accolades was the Singapore Brand Award in 2002, organized by International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore). It goes to show that Tiger Balm’s branding has withstood the test of time.

 My wish list

 Now if only Tiger Balm could come up with a non-sticky, non smelly version that would be perfect! I’m waiting…is anyone listening out there?

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These rings are my Thing

Like many women, I love my bling blings. So naturally I was instantly attracted to today’s (15 Jan 2010) article on iconic rings in The Straits Times, Urban supplement. Some find it strange that I am actually more of a design person. Yes, the design is more important to me than that bling, really. I have been known to eschew real jewellery for costume ones all because the accessories happen to have better design. Crazy? That’s just me, I guess 😛

 Perhaps it is embedded in my DNA, somehow even as a kid, I’ve always like only clean-cut lines, sleek and preferably unique designs. I seem to be ‘allergic’ to frilly, complicated, ornate or so-called ‘traditional’ designs. So I guess there’re no prizes for guessing which ring is my thing 😉

 

 If we’re talking about bling, then The Tiffany Setting Ring with its classic round cut diamond and discreet 6-prong setting is my all-time favourite. No wonder it is lauded as the world’s favourite engagement ring . Engagement ring or not, to me, that is distilled simplicity.

Tiffany’s Somerset Ring, is my top choice for everyday wear. This may look more like costume jewellery than the real thing but I fell in love with it ever since I set on eyes on it a while back. From Tiffany’s Mesh Collection, these micro knit mesh rings in either yellow, white or rose gold or sterling silver, are unique and sleek with a slightly edgy appeal.

If I have to wear gold, then Bulgari’s B.Zero 1 Ring is the ring. The spiral design has a hint of masculine feel to it. But it is the clean-cut lines which appeal to me the most.  I wish the Bulgari logo was not engraved onto the 2 lateral rims, though. Guess I’m not one for displaying logos 😛 So you would never find me with a Louis Vuitton bag. Haha.

I like the three different gold colours and smooth curves which intertwine so effortlessly in Cartier’s Trinity Ring. It is said that White symbolizes friendship, pink, love and yellow, fidelity. The intertwining reflects the ties that can’t be broken. And if I’m bored, it gives me something to fiddle with 😛

And for a fun and funky feel, I would definitely love to don Chopard’s Happy Spirit Ring. Perhaps my unexplained penchant for geometric shapes over flowers and frills explains my fondness for these concentric circles. These concentric circles spiral with a playful touch. The diamond in the centre designed to move with the wearer’s hand adds sparkle and lifts one’s spirit instantly. No wonder is it known as the Happy Spirit Ring J It comes with other motifs like round, square, oval and heart-shaped as well.

Ideal for the Friday night out, Chanel’s The Ultra Ring with its monochromatic, minimalist look is effortless chic at its best. Said to be inspired by Coco Chanel’s passion for pairing black and white, it comes in black and white ceramic in white gold. For those who love their bling, fret not, diamonds accented ones are available.

Chopard’s The Ice Cube Ring – This cool as ice, ice cube inspired ring has the bling without flaunting it. A ring that inspires confidence immediately, this is definitely what you would want to wear to that important meeting. It goes well with a cocktail dress too, slipping smoothly from day to night.  

For understated elegance, I would go for Chopard’s La Strada Ring. Inspired by Fellini’s film and 1950’s aesthetics, these sensual curves are simply sensuous. Alternating bands of gold and diamond, contrasts gracefully, perfect for everyday wear.

If I’m feeling sexy, The Trouble Ring by Boucheron is the ring.  A seductive serpent slithering on one’s finger is enough to put one in a sexy mood. This assertive yellow gold creation is for the cougar in you too 😉

For reasons unknown, Boucheron’s Quatre Ring seems a little ornate for my taste though it is relatively sleek in structure. Perhaps it is the diamond point and gopher motifs which I find a little too fussy for my liking. While I love the combination of 4 different types of gold – white, yellow, rose and chocolate – which makes it look like a luscious, four-layered cake, the different texture was welcoming too but maybe not in the way I would have liked it. Fused together by pressure rather than the traditional soldering used, it is truly unique in design. And chocolate gold is intriguing indeed. Hell, the ring is even hip so I’ve no idea why it seems a little ‘iffy’ to me.

Inspired by the ancient city of Rome, this simple modular pattern of interlocking graphic symbols is based on bracket shapes or parentesi (parenthesis) – a typical, Roman architectural pattern. Hence, it’s moniker, Parentesi Ring (By Bulgari) Again, I find it a little on the opulent side, though the plain ones in yellow or white gold, unadorned by diamonds seems more palatable. Probably this shape does not appeal to me. Somehow, the ring reminds one of the excesses of the 80’s.

What is definitely a no-no for me is Cartier’s Lust, Caution Ring. This 6.1 carat pink diamond stunner was specially commissioned by Director Ang Lee for the movie, “Lust, Caution”. Hugged by 2 circles of smaller sparklers, this ring was set in the glamorous style of the 1930’s. As vintage design is not my cup of tea, I would definitely re-set this huge bauble (in fact it was nicknamed the “Ostrich Egg” in the movie, due to its size :p) into something bold and chunky. Obviously, it wouldn’t be in my possession anytime soon as the ring is not for sale and is displayed at Cartier’s museum in Paris.

Another ring on my dislike list would have to be Louis Vuitton’s Cut Ring from the Les Ardentes Collection which features a flower cut and a star cut diamond. Created and patented by Louis Vuitton as these four petals Lily cut diamonds mirror the shape of the brand’s iconic monogram pattern, they are simply too feminine and frilly to appeal to me.

Now I just wish I could get my hands on my fave rings…one day, perhaps…one fine day.

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Infernal “Cha Chan Ting”

I remember this café in Hong Kong which was frequented by renovation contractors. And another which was overrun by gangster-looking men. One half expected to see a Tony Leung lookalike mole ala Infernal Affairs to walk in.

 Initially, I had thought they were construction workers – burly men in work clothes covered in cement, dragging their sand-dusted boots. Then, I realized most had the contractible tape measure clipped onto their waist, giving their trade away. Nowhere were we near any blue-collar area but smacked right in the middle of the swanky tourist district of Tsimshatsui. Imagine my surprise when these brawny men began descending in droves into this humble café, known affectionately as “Cha Chan Teng” in Hong Kong. (“Café” in the Cantonese dialect.) This little enclave appears to be a hub of sorts for construction workers, at least in this area.

 Having worked their butts off for the morning, they fervently tucked into hearty meals of mainly rice dishes and other Cha Chan Teng staples. Many with mobile phones clinging onto their ears, busy returning calls to potential and existing clients – giving updates of work done or firing away quotations. Taking a much needed breather, most took a drag on their cigarettes while sipping hot, Hong Kong style milk tea – a thick brew of Ceylon tea with generous amount of evaporated milk and sugar.

 Brute they were not, with impeccable manners; they were careful not to encroach upon your personal space when you share a table with them. (It is common for customers at a “cha chan teng” to share a table during the packed, peak-hours.) Beneath the rough surface, these guys have a charm of their own. Some were even roguishly handsome exuding a dangerous air about them. No wonder some were seen to be whispering sweet nothings into their mobile phones – I’m sure these guys are not short of girl friends.

 The camaraderie among them were obvious, greeting each other with a slap on the back, bantering away and trading the latest prices of tiles, water pipes and other materials. Exchanging trade tips among them, they sneak in an occasional gossip here and there – yes, men do gossip. Seeing these men at play allows one to get a glimpse of another side of these oft misunderstood workers.

 On another fine afternoon, I walked into a café in search of Hong Kong’s famed egg custard tart and milk tea only to find myself walking straight into what seemed like a den for gangsters and informers.  Perhaps plainclothes policemen were among them too.

 Tough looking guys in …huddled together speaking in undertones while throwing occasional sidelong glances at anyone passing by. Exchanging knowing nods at alliances, they sit down to place their regular orders. The air of conspiracy is unmistakable. 

This may look like any Hong Kong café that you and I patronize but lurking among them could be a mole planted by both sides – the police and the triads. As it is, it wasn’t easy to tell the cops from the triads. Is the guy with the flashy tattoo always the bad guy?

 “Yao mo liu do ah?”

 The line between the two worlds seemingly blur as a plainclothes policeman asked his usual informant for news in colloquial Cantonese.  It is akin to the arms of law dipping into the murky waters of crime in an attempt to bring justice to those who deserve it.

 The practice is often seen as a necessary evil in the industry. After all relying on solid investigation is only half the battle. What better way to get information than from the fringes of society?  

 Unfortunately, I did not hear any other more intriguing conversation. Either that or they were all speaking in codes. Besides the air of conspiracy, the café looks surprisingly ‘normal’, unlike the smoke-filled rooms that one often sees in movies.

 Would I return to that café? You bet! I have yet to witness a shoot-out or even a police chase. But first I must be able to locate the café on my next visit for I had stumbled upon it by chance and couldn’t quite recall its exact location. Pray do let me find it again 😛

 It makes one wonder what would happen to policemen should their informers disappear overnight? And do cops need crooks for their existence? If there were no crooks do we still need laws? Is it a demand and supply question? Or one of prevention?

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