The Virtuous Villain Hitters of Causeway Bay

Villain_Hitters002     Under the flyover at Canal road and Russell street, below the towering skyscrapers of Causeway Bay, five old ladies slam slippers against bricks, beating small papers back to the pulp they once were. They are performing a quintessential Hong Kong ritual that translates to “villain hitting” where people come to repel the figures of bad luck and wrongdoing in their lives. Vengeful mistresses, “jealous wives”, and employees looking to expel a rotten superior from the office are some of their most common clients.Villain_Hitters003     Two of the older ladies performing the rituals, Leung and Aunt Yan, have set up their shrines solo. They seem to have a bit of a grudge against the other three ladies who sit together in the center of the platform. Leung and Aunt Yan independently tell me that the ladies in the center just want to get rich and that it is“no good”. “Those ladies convince people that they need all kinds of services, up to $500hkd” warns Yan, “I only ask $50hkd to hit and $50hkd to ask the Kwun Yam for good fortune, that is all that is necessary most of the time.”Villain_Hitters005     Leung, who is 82, will not tell me her full name. “If I do that, my competitors”, she says, motioning towards the three ladies in a row, “may find out, and that way they can use my name to demon-hit and negatively affect my business.”

“So you really believe in the rituals?” I ask.

Leung does not directly answer me, she says that people come back to her over and over, happy with their results, so that is what matters to her. “You know, I am famous all over China for my hitting” says Leung from behind a nearly toothless smile.Villain_Hitters015     Dr. Joseph Bosco, an expert on religion in Hong Kong and South China, says that Leung’s and Yan’s analysis of their work is typical of Hong Kong spirituality. “Even Hong Kong residents who consult other types of fortune tellers often go to such diviners with a mixture of skepticism and credulity and curiosity. So it is hard to talk about it as a matter of “faith.” Only Christianity and Islam focus on “belief” and “faith” as markers of belonging. Chinese and other popular religions tend to focus on efficacy, and tradition.”

According to Bosco, old ladies have been villain hitting under the flyover since the 80’s, and it wasn’t new then. This modern variation of the service has humble beginnings, “In the past, when people lived in more densely networked communities and neighborhoods, there would be people who were known to offer such services in the neighborhood, and took only donations, with no set price” says Bosco. The ladies at Canal Street serve strangers, old friends, and tourists alike.Villain_Hitters014     These women clearly have a conscience about their work, and hitting for strangers complicates this. Leung has a special pair of dice that she rolls to determine whether the individual in question is actually a ‘bad person’. If they are not, and if there are no inauspicious spirits to repel, Leung will suggest a ritual to promote good luck.

While chief executive Donald Tsang was in office, it became extremely popular to ‘hit’ the chief executive. Tsang now sits in a cell in Stanley prison, serving a 20 month sentence for corruption..  Leung says she no longer will oblige requests to hit politicians, “They are public officers with important roles, I think it is not good to hit them”.Villain_Hitters013Villain_Hitters001     Aunt Yan exercises her conscience in a somewhat motherly way. A woman in her twenties came to Yan to ask that her manager who had ‘scolded her many times without reason’ be fired. After the second visit, he was indeed fired. The young woman returned to thank Yan near the end of the lunar year. “It is not good to be fired just before the lunar holidays, he may have a family to support” says Yan. “So I asked the young lady to light incense for Kwun Yam – one to secure her own good fortune, and one for the manager to make sure he and his family will be okay.”Villain_Hitters008     Leung, who has been hitting and blessing for a decade, has her own stroke of grandmotherly wisdom. When I ask if she would use the service herself, she replies, “I have the Kwun Yam to bless my soul, I don’t need to hit bad people. The main thing is that you are kind-hearted, that way you don’t need to pay attention to the bad people in your life. Just be kind-hearted.”Villain_Hitters010















BRAIDS_01     BRAIDS, a Montreal based Art Rock band, reminded the independent music community of Hong Kong to show support for local music – especially in the face of opposition. As vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston sound checked her guitar, a bevy of Police entered the foyer of the industrial building housing the quite literally Hidden Agenda, an Indie music venue facing legal scrutiny over it’s atypical location. The police momentarily held up the show, requesting to enter, and demanding permits, or the ID of the owner – neither of which were provided. A throng of attendees gathered around the exchange, cell phones and cameras in hand to document the episode. Unable to enter the premises without a permit to do so, the police disbanded and the show resumed.                                                                                                                    As the audience re-assembled, Standell-Preston spoke a few words about the importance of local venues in her own life, and asked the crowd to stand with Hidden Agenda in their fight for legality.  Hidden Agenda’s itinerancy has come with rising rents and strict zoning regulations that disallow performances in industrial spaces. Local musicians and touring Indie artists would be hard-pressed to ask the ticket prices that allow mainstream venues touting famed headliners to exist in the authorized venues abounding in Central.  As a city with a high price on live music, venues like Hidden Agenda  are vital to the emergence of local music and the propulsion of Indie artists in Hong Kong. Though the Industrial Building Revitalization Act, which makes such venues illegal, threatens the venue’s existence, fortunately, it has been unable to eliminate the welcomed cultural safe space.                                        BRAIDS_02BRAIDS_03BRAIDS_04BRAIDS_05BRAIDS_06BRAIDS_07BRAIDS_08BRAIDS_09BRAIDS_10BRAIDS_11BRAIDS_12BRAIDS_13BRAIDS_14BRAIDS_15BRAIDS_16BRAIDS_17BRAIDS_18BRAIDS_19

Mapopo: A farm amid Skyscrapers

mapopo_farm_01      Mapopo Community farm sits unassumingly beside a busy road in Fan Ling, a town in the New Territories of Hong Kong. At the entrance to the farm is a small stand selling fresh vegetables, locally made body products, a number of imported organic dry goods, and a few varieties of craft beer.

     If you follow the blue line on the paved path, it will take you through the village, called Ma Shi Po, to a wide cloudy river where young men fish from a 100 meter bridge. The village is comprised of small farms where elderly women hoe new roes in the dirt and elderly men ride past on bicycles stocked with seeding flats. I met a number of friendly dogs and goats beside the path who roamed together in a grassy field. At the end of the blue line I watched two young men catch fish in a net beside a sign that stated “no fishing” then headed back the way I came to buy some Choi Sum and Bak Choi at the Farmstand. There are a number of farms like this in Fan Ling that I intend to stop at next time I have a day to spend in the ‘countryside’ where there are still 14 story in plain sight.

     Mapopo is engaged in a fight with Hong developers who have forcefully removed villagers in the past, and intend to do so again. The plots where forced evictions occurred are overgrown and vacant. Mapopo hopes to preserve the 3rd generation farming village of Ma Shi Po despite developers plans to build more standard housing on the ground they have made rich with years of composting and sustainable farming practices. Only 7 square kilometers of land in Hong Kong are made up of actively farmed land, Mapopo says they simply want to keep their small part of that to preserve the lifestyle they have worked hard to keep.


Nan Lian


     Nan Lian in Diamond Hill is an ideal traditional Chinese garden with immaculately kept grounds, golden roofed temples, and a tea house that sits over a quaint pond adorned in Lilly pads. I went to the garden just before sunset, as the light was streaming in perfectly, lightly dusting every surface with gold. I haven’t taken photographs  of anything other than people in a while, and this was the perfect place to stray from that and go back to the way I shot when I was younger, with a simple sense of wonder towards my surroundings, not exactly looking for a moment but rather for a composition that was interesting to me all on its own.


Brunch with Ayalet


Now and then on Sundays on Lamma Island, a very special aroma of cardamom and pomegranate fills the air of the overgrown patio of Ayalet and Jack’s home. I was recently fortunate enough to experience the richness and flavor of Ayalet’s Israeli home cooking in a multi-course family style brunch.

My other half and I met a few other guests on the way to Ayalet’s, winding down a narrow path along Lamma’s less visited North coast. When we arrived we were greeted with iced tea served in small intricately painted cups and a ragged soccer ball being nudged at our feet by Ayalet’s enthusiast pup. Dishes of fresh hummus, labneh, and onion bread still warm from the oven began to fill the table as Jack poured kava for the guests.

When the shakshuka came to the table, Ayalet and Jack joined us. The nine of us sat around the table enjoying one another’s company, the exquisite fare and strong Turkish coffee. Before we knew it, five hours had gone by and it was time to take the ferry back to Central. I grabbed a second ma’amoul (a small cookie filled with dried fruit) and began the walk back to Yung Shue Wan with the rest of the guests. It was an authentic, relaxing, and delicious experience, and I look forward to the next time.


MLK – Seattle – 2016


    In Seattle, Martin Luther King Day bands people together in a manner that I rarely see in our self-proclaimed “introverted” city. The group vigor of the marches surpasses the enthusiasm I have observed in Seattle in any other context. This year I asked a number of attendees what they would like to see tangibly change by this day next year.


     Dan Chicoli –  “If one thing were to substantially change by next Martin Luther King Day, I think we should implement very strong citizen oversight over the police force. This killing with impunity, with absolutely no consequences, it seems to be getting worse, although it’s always been back. It’s outrageous. When people think of black violence, there are a lot of issues that pertains to but police brutality is just out of control in this country and I think most people seem to agree.”

MLK_2016_0003MLK_2016_0004MLK_2016_0005MLK_2016_0006MLK_2016_0007     “Monica Washington – I would say more accountability all around. Law makers, schools, the way we teach, the way we structure our systems, there is no accountability. It’s like the people who set it all up have an agenda and no one holds them accountable for their agenda, but they package it all up to look like it’s something that it’s not. To see this happening in the justice system is unfortunate because it is supposed to be a sort of moral center and we see that it isn’t and people around the world see it that we don’t practice what we preach in this country.”

           “Aramis Hamer – I would like to see more accountability, especially in our justice system. If you obviously have things on camera that show that black boys are being murdered and policemen are walking free, that’s a major issue. And what’s sad is that it’s been going on for years, before iphones and cameras put it in our faces and made it more obvious, but not it’s just a slap in the face the way that people don’t seem to care. So, whatever law structure and literature is letting murderers walk free, that needs to be changed.”


Aquea Harris – “If I could see one thing really change it would be how the media views black women



     Jeff Chrisman – “I think the most significant thing that could happen would be electing Bernie Sanders. He is directly in line with Martin Luther King’s philosophy, and what we’re lacking in our recognition of Dr. King has to do with economic justice and I think electing someone like Sanders would be huge for Black Lives Matter, and for every movement you can think of that’s current, he’s on top of it.”


“Blin Mohamed – I want there to be an end to racism in sight and for us all to stop Islamaphobia.”

   ” Win – I hope that people begin to treat each other more equally no matter what race they are.”


Goldfish Street

Goldfish__01      In Mong Kok, on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, there is a street called Goldfish street. On Goldfish street vendors have been selling tropical fish, aquatic plants, and aquarium supplies to Hong Konger and foreigners alike since the 1970’s. The dealings started as a makeshift market a few blocks from what is now Goldfish central, then evolved into a more permanent collection of shops that have clearly established themselves. The 2007 and 2008 Grand Champions of the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest both have storefronts on Goldfish Street. In the 80’s and 90’s Hong Kong was in the top five exporters of tropical fish.

In Chinese culture goldfish are believed to bring good luck. The resulting tradition of keeping them in the home has brought substantial success to the goldfish trade. Another factor is the limited amount of space Hong Kong residents usually have in their homes. In apartments where a cat or dog would be a spacial hindrance, an attractive fish is a popular alternative. Some Hong Kong residents are concerned regarding the future of Goldfish Street. There was once a “Bird Street” but it vanished in the wake of modernizing changes to the Mongkok neighborhood, and some believe Goldfish Street is next. The business of the market today does not lend itself to such worries.


Work | Kowloon

     In Hong Kong I frequently noticed that the many outdoor markets and makeshift mechanical shops were overwhelmingly run by elderly people while the most strikingly affluent parts of the city were crawling with young people donning business suits and briefcases. I started to wonder if the old world trades such as running outdoor markets and makeshift metal shops are up for a generational turnover, who would be filling those shoes, and whether or not familial trades are still as sturdy as they once were. I spent 2 days in neighborhoods Mongkok and Tai Kok Tsui where I interviewed a number Hong Kongers including metal workers, market vendors, and a Chinese Doctor. Here is what they had to say.


Mr. Chu

“We repair engines here and work with spare parts. My father taught me to do this when I was around 20 years old.

My daughter works here. My son in law does as well, and I treat him like a son. We are a family here and I think we’re all happy to work together.

I like the challenge my work gives me. I have to keep learning.”

Work_M__02Work_M__03Coco – 22

     I help my father here because he’s getting older and he’s been working since he was 17 years old so I want to make things easier for him. I think he will retire in 10 years or so, and maybe then I will continue to work with my husband and we’ll take over the business.


Timmy – 22

      I’ve been working here for only about 3 months. My father in law taught me how to repair engines. I was a chef before. It’s okay here. It is my wife’s family business and I want to help out and keep an eye on her because as you can see, she is very pregnant.

     My parents run a business in Mexico, and they recently migrated back to Hong Kong. I think I will be here for 10 years or so. We might take over the business but I’m not sure, we’ll see about that.

     It’s kind of neat the work that we do, I like the welding part. It really takes time for you to learn every single piece of the the job, and to get each thing right. My father in law is an expert. He’s been doing this for over 35 years.


Mr. Hang

I’ve been doing this for 60-some odd years, I started when I was 13. It was a job I found as a kid and then I kept doing it. I wouldn’t say I am passionate about it but working at the market has been a good profession. I should be retired, but it’s just what I’ve always done so I’m still here. When I first started it was tough because I was just learning but now it’s easy for me. I do not think my children are not interested in doing what I do, they have other professions and they seem to like where they are.

This market has been here for 27 years. There was another market in it’s place before that and they tore it down and built a new one, but they gave the old shop owners a space in the new building. Most of my customers live around here so I see them all the time and we know each other well. I like it that way.


Chinese Doctor – Mr. Wong

I have been a Chinese Doctor for almost 40 years. I do consultations and make medicines. My grandfather and my father were Chinese doctors so I didn’t really do it because it was my passion but more so because it is a profession I respect. Usually the people I treat are people I know so it feels good to be of service to my community. Nothing too crazy happens here. I treat my patients and go about my day.

When you treat somebody and you are able to cure the symptom they came to you for, it feels gratifying. When my last patient first came to me he was coughing a lot and now the cough is gone so this is a good day. Unfortunately, sometimes people come to me with a very complicated problem that I cannot treat so I have to send them to the hospital so they can receive Western medicine.

[He insisted he comb his hair before the picture was taken.]


Mr. Ng

I do metal work for machinery. I followed in my fathers footsteps, he taught me how to do metal work. I have 3 sons and 1 daughter, and my oldest son works with me but the others have entered other professions. My eldest and I, we get along. I think because he does this with me our lives are more relatable.


Tsukiji Fish Market

Fish_Market_01                                                                                                                                                                          Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest fish and seafood market in the world. The bustling starts at 3am with the unloading of trucks and unpacking of extremely fresh seafood. The live auction begins at 5:20am and ends around 8. Only 120 visitors per day are allowed to observe the auctions. At various times visitors have been banned altogether. Gigantic frozen pieces of tuna are cut with band saws while fresh fish are sliced with sword-like knives over a meter long. Walking along the narrow paths from stall to stall between people prepping, marking, packing, and inspecting, my attention was completely absorbed in the excitement of it all.




      Tokyo is a place of wonder. Never in my life have I been to a city where the words respect and order came to mind so often in a day. My admiration of the beauty and kindness of the city was stoked as I watched a man bow in gratitude to the barista upon receiving his coffee. From quaint flower shops to book stores purely devoted to vintage photography to delicious espresso carefully poured into porcelain, I was in a constant state of pleasure. Then there were the stranger sides of Tokyo, Akihabara with its video game dens, cat cafés and multi-level sex shops, one of which did not allow women past the second floor. It was pure stimulation.

       In Piss Alley we ate at an Eel stand that has been there since 1948.  We went on a ramen bender that led us to chains with private dining stalls where the servers never see you and your ramen is passed through a bamboo curtain. It is a city of  tastes, sights and smells. The streets were remarkably quiet at night for being in the largest metropolitan area in the world. On our last day in the city we encountered a very orderly demonstration themed: No War! Only Peace! Our 7 days in Tokyo fixed Japan in my mind as a country that I intend to spend a significant amount of time in throughout my life.