Chee Kei: Comfort Food, Uncomfortable Restaurant Environment

To upgrade and modernise the dilapidated Mong Kok, the commercial skyscraper complex and shopping mall – Langham Place was built and opened in 2005. Meant to be a nucleus for renewal for the surrounding area, it is only apt that it is bursting with vitality and is often extremely busy. Restaurants in Langham Place are often thronged with people, making it tough to get some seat if you are hanging out with friends. Chee Kei (池記) is no different.

Famous for its wonton noodle, Chee Kei aims to keep Hong Kong tradition alive by providing an elevated authentic experience of Cantonese food. Its lasting popularity with the locals is matched with recognition from HK Michelin Guide. The bustle of the mall fuses with the reputation of the restaurant and it is no wonder that Chee Kei in Langham Place is always packed with diners seeking comfort in the familiar balance between a meaty, flavourful wonton filling delicately wrapped and served in a bowl of aromatic, warm broth.

Although food is quick to come and its quality satisfactory, the restaurant is noisy and its backless chairs uncomfortable. While Michelin bestowed recognition on its wonton noodle, Michelin food critics did not seem to have taken the acoustic environment and comfort into consideration. The din makes people eat faster, leave sooner and get the queue moving. It begs the question: would noise be one of the desirable factors that the restaurant want to retain? But when a fully occupied restaurant is steeped in noise of loud chatting and the sounds of china plates, spoons and chopsticks clicking each other, does comfort food offer you much comfort any more?

Festival Walk: Can Accessibility Backfire? 

Situated at Kowloon Tong, Festival Walk is highly accessible. Apart from being directly linked to Kowloon Tong Station, the mall has a direct rail connection to Mainland China and a pedestrian link to the City University of Hong Kong. For other means of transportation, it offers 830 car park spaces plus direct access to buses and taxis. Hence, Festival Walk plays the dual role of shopping paradise and transit hotspot. In view of the traffic and vehicle noise that may engender, two layers of glass door are in place to mitigate sound. Such enclosure methods are common and often seen, is there any novel means to achieve the same goal or to transform the unwanted sounds into sounds that are more appealing?

The popularity of Festival Walk owes much to its accessibility which facilitates or even maximizes customer flow. To tempt people to stay and linger, a variety of exhibitions take place regularly, topics ranging from car show, preview of the latest phone model, jewellery, cosmetics to even virtual reality by setting up a pop-up VR game station. No doubt such activities draw attention and enliven the sonic environment of the mall. Combining ease of access and regular exhibitions, the mall should be a constant stream of activities and movements. While accessibility brings customers and cash flow, the mall may be more prone to unwanted sound and indoor noise. Festival Walk is a high-end mall which houses many expensive brands. How will its role as a transit hotspot alter its soundscape which should represent its relatively lofty status?

Wang Jia Sha: Food Experience Compromised by a Noisy Environment

Being highly accessible, Festival Walk entertains great customer flow and a constant stream of activities and movements of shoppers. Vying with more than 20 eating places under the same roof, the Shanghainese restaurant Wang Jia Sha (王家沙) manages to have its fair share of customers.

Claiming to be “the master of Shanghainese dim sum” and serve “authentic Shanghainese dim sum”, the brand provides an array of Shanghainese cuisine with an extensive list of dim sum. Despite having made a lot of effort in appearance and décor and despite its fine quality of food, it is being in a food court-style section of the mall and it is unpleasantly loud. Children’s clamours are more than audible, coupled with the sounds of china plates, spoons and other utensils clicking each other. You can hear everyone else chattering and clattering. A private conversation may not be a good idea because while you can hear everything being said to you, you may not really hear and catch the words and form a meaningful sentence. Even when customers order, waiters and waitresses have to lean towards them to hear what is being said. Gestures are thus created for diners to express what they want, such as asking for more tea or to pay the bill, so as to rely on hearing less and on the visual more.

Given that it is loud like a wet market, it is difficult to imagine diners would want to take it slow and enjoy the delicacies with languish and relish. Do you think a restaurant’s food experience should marry its auditory experience?

Hsin Kwong Restaurant: Everything You Can Expect

Guangdong dim sum restaurant, Hsin Kwong Restaurant (新光酒樓), is one of the many Chinese restaurant brands in Hong Kong. Having been in business for more than three decades, it has evolved over time by diversifying its specialties from traditional Guangdong cuisine, Peking duck, hotpot, to seafood, while providing mahjong playing as well as birthday and wedding banquet services.

Hsin Kwong Restaurant in Kwai Chung offers traditional Guangdong cuisine including dim sum. Diners’ chatting, the sounds of china plates, spoons and chopsticks clicking each other reverberate in the busy restaurant which is everything you can expect from a standard Chinese restaurant. What is now missing from the soundscape is the sound of dim sum trolleys. Dim sum trolleys are carts filled with dishes of dim sum. “Dim Sum Jeje” (Dim Sum Auntie or in Chinese: 點心姐姐) wheels the trolley around and announces what dishes the trolley is carrying for diners to make the order when the cart whizzes by. Dim sum trolleys are rarely seen today because it costs more to have workers operating them and restaurateurs need to accommodate more space for trolleys to manoeuvre. Many Chinese establishments serving dim sum, including Hsin Kwong Restaurants, have replaced their trolleys with simpler ordering systems and dim sum trolleys are no longer in use. The sound of dim sum trolleys rolling past, Dim Sum Auntie sonorously announcing trolley dishes and diners crying out orders in response no longer enrich the lively soundscape of Hsin Kwong Restaurant.

Lee Theatre On Realising Sonic Unity

For everyone who wonders at where the name came from, Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay was once one of the premier performing venues in Hong Kong. Demolished in the 1990s, the Beaux-Art theatre was replaced with an office building and a shopping centre, becoming what we see today.

Apart from its history, what is special about Lee Theatre is perhaps its design of one floor one store. Each floor is occupied entirely by one shop, making spacious consumption experiences possible and allowing each brand to develop its individuality. Not only can they put a multitude of products on display and demonstrate amply what it can offer to customers, they can ensure customers are immersed in an environment completely tailored to their effort to urge purchase. Without the immediate presence of any other shops or rival brands, the store can create unity in the environment and a congruent, brand-specific setting for customers to linger. The sonic environment would likewise be in agreement across different areas on the same floor. Without coming into contact with a different background music, the store’s own music dominates and becomes more effective by having no offset from other prominent sources.

Do you think Lee Theatre’s one floor one store is a clever design to achieve what is mentioned in Harmonising Indoor Soundscape of Shopping Malls? Or do you want to see variety across a single floor?

Lan Fong Yuen: Speed over Peace

Popularity of Hong Kong-style diners, or cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) endures for decades in Hong Kong because they meet the locals’ relentless demand for fast service and an eclectic and affordable menu. Are cha chaan teng places you go to when you want to grab a quick lunch? If yes, you may probably have heard of Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). Opened since 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is one of oldest and most famous cha chaan teng in Hong Kong. It is said to be the inventor of the classic local beverage “silk stockings milk tea” (絲襪奶茶) and renowned for their delicious pork chop bun. As its business flourished, it expanded by having outlets, one of which is at Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan.

Shun Tak Centre plays two roles: it is a mall and a transportation hub with ferry services to and from Macau and China. Therefore, eateries at Shun Tak take in a lot traveller daily who either want a bite before departure or are hungry after arrival. It must be particularly so for Lan Fong Yuen which has become a symbol of Hong Kong culture and regarded as a must-eat for tourists. Given the fact that commuters make the majority of diners at Shun Tak and commuters desire speed, eateries at Shun Tak would inevitably be fast-paced. How would an environment being fast-paced affect its soundscape? In Lan Fong Yuen, it was noisy and the sonic environment is dominated by the voices of waiters taking order and customers chatting about gambling in casino or businessmen busy talking with his clients. The waiters’ tone might sound authoritative and rude to some customers, which may impart tension to the restaurant soundscape. Given the amount of sounds going on incessantly, you may not want to stay for a little longer after finishing your meal.

Cha chaan teng thrives on its high efficiency and it is the place to go for people who have a hectic day or lifestyle who want food fast and almost instant. Diners do not usually expect a pleasant environment where nice chats and some relaxing can take place. If the place is too noisy for you to want to stay longer, it is probably what they want because customers keep coming in and diners had better not loiter.

TamJai SamGor: Spice It Up!

Think of food heavily flavoured or fragrant with spice. What sound would you associate with spicy food? Specifically, what sound would you associate with the popular rice noodle chain TamJai SamGor (譚仔三哥).

TamJai’s dominantly red décor give us a hint about what it specializes at: spicy mixian. Mixian (米線) is a type of rice noodle from the Yunnan Province of China. Most noted for its “Hot & Numbing Soup Mixian”, the mixian specialist offers up to nine different degrees of spiciness to choose from for those who want to challenge their taste buds. A successful brand, TamJai SamGor in Citywalk 2 is moderately busy. Although the voices of waitresses taking orders are clearly audible, the eatery is not too noisy. Background music is not heard, probably eclipsed by human voices. However, the lack of it presents an opportunity for the brand to step up its spice game.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that certain types of music – those with fast beats, distorted notes and high-pitched sounds – can enhance the sensation of heat from chili peppers. Apart from setting the mood for diners, music can serve as what the researchers call “sonic seasoning”. Do you think it is a good idea for TamJai SamGor to play those types of music in its restaurants?

Reference: Music Makes Curries Taste 10pc Spicier, Scientists Find

 

The Century-Old Rattle of “Ding-Ding” Trams

There is one voice chiming along this city’s busy roads well over a hundred years. You may have taken it for granted because it has always been here ever since you were born. Listen hard and listen appreciatively for the “ding-ding” bell of trams.

In service since 1904, trams are one of the earliest forms of public transport in the metropolis. They run along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island, offering the cheapest mode of public transport on the island. Trams in Hong Kong have not only been a form of commuter transport for 113 years, but also a major tourist attraction and one of the most environmentally friendly ways of travelling in Hong Kong. They have been very much a part of the Hong Kong culture, landscape, and even soundscape. As a time-honoured tradition, tram drivers use a double bell to warn pedestrians of the vehicles’ approach. The constant noisy chiming along the way led the locals dub them “Ding Ding”, highlighting the distinctiveness of their auditory aspect. Compared with the car horn sound modern vehicles are using, trams’ ding ding sound, while performing the same function of warn pedestrians of the vehicle’s approach, is much less harsh and stressful to the ears. It gives rise to the question whether alternatives to car horns can be adopted to make the city sound more pleasant. In fact, researchers in Seoul have found that car horns resembling duck quacks was a better idea: they would still manage to alert people while being less irritating.

To you and many people, it must have seemed strange and incongruous to see the slow, clunky, old-fashioned tram “ding-ding” its way through the fast-paced, highly-urbanized Hong Kong. Its “ding-ding” sound alerts passers-by to the tram’s coming and tells a story of extraordinary survival through the development of modern public transport, including a vast MTR system, with a perseverance not unlike Hong Kong people.

Reference: If it quacks like a duck … will a car horn be less annoying?

What is Soundscape?

You may know the word landscape. A landscape includes the broad view of everything you can see around you (e.g. trees and rivers when you go hiking). You may also hear bird cries and rivers flowing. These elements make up a soundscape i.e. an auditory landscape. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines soundscape as acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context. In simpler terms, soundscape refers to the component sounds of an environment.

Since a soundscape may comprise a host of different sounds, they may not fit or even clash with each other, giving rise to disharmony, especially in cities where man-made sounds and noise dominate the scene. In view of this, soundscape design aims to make sounds or noise, which are perceived to be inevitable, more in harmony with the pertinent environment. For instance, water sounds from a fountain in a park may help mask the undesirable vehicle noise nearby. Regarding how to harmonize a soundscape, professionals engaged in the field have different opinions and focuses. For city planners, they may want to control noise and meet objective noise standards; for sonic artists, they may want to factor in an emotional dimension in their soundscape planning.

Does your neighbourhood have a harmonious soundscape?

ifc Mall: High-end Shopping Destination, First-rate Soundscape?

A prominent landmark on Hong Kong Island, the International Finance Centre (branded as “ifc”) stands proudly at the Central waterfront. The complex comprises some of the most exclusive office space in Hong Kong, the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel, as well as a leading destination for high-end shopping: ifc mall.

During busy hours when people hurry to arrive at offices and hurry back home after work, the sound of fast-paced walking and high heels clicking on floor are especially prominent. We may all hear classical music playing at a mall but seldom do we listen to it. Yet when we do listen, the background music at ifc is not constantly heard. It may get uneven when background music is heard louder at some spots while not at all perceivable at other locations. It may not matter much as reported by mall-goers of what they perceive within their awareness. However, little noticed as it may, it may sound glaring when the classical music at the background clashes with music of entirely different genres from some stores, such as the rock music played by a Hi-Fi store in the mall.

There may be other aspects of the sonic environment in neglect. The sound of trolleys clashing at Citysuper contrasts glaringly with the relative quiet of the cosmetic stores nearby. The passages in ifc are wider compared to a lot of shopping malls in Hong Kong, hence intensifying the reflection of sound. Pleasant sound magnified will contribute to the likeability of ifc’s sonic environment; unwanted sound amplified will reinforce its undesirability.

Do you think ifc’s soundscape lives up to its expectations of being a high-end mall?