Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Hong Kong's rocky, rugged Po Toi (photo-essay)

Considering how much I've enjoyed the two visits I've made to Po Toi (the first of which is chronicled in the form of photo-essays here, here, here and here), it can seem strange that I've only been to Hong Kong's southernmost island twice -- until you consider the following: firstly, it's not the easiest of destinations to get to, what with kaito services being on the infrequent side; and secondly, there not being that many different trekking trails on the island.

So imagine my surprise and horror when on my most recent trip there, my hiking buddy and I saw scores of other people on the path leading southeast from the Po Toi ferry pier -- presumably ferried over to the island on private charter tours!  Fortunately, the further we ventured uphill, the more the crowds melted away.  And it was downright peaceful and blissy on the final part of the hike when we found ourselves alone for much of our trek along what's officially known -- and for good reason too -- as Po Toi's Rugged Trail!

There's little question that Po Toi is one of 
Hong Kong's rugged and rockiest islands

if truth be told, I don't find all that visually impressive ;S

Imagine the shock I had when I first caught sight of
all those people on the coastal path!

 Fortunately, we found that Po Toi most certainly was big enough 
so that we could soon be away from the madding crowd

Naturally, a crowd gathered at Turtle Rock to ooh and aah
at how a natural rock formation could so resemble an animal ;)

 A view from near the top of the formidable looking hill 
in the previous photo :)

 On this visit to Po Toi at a cooler time of the year, the views
were less clear but the (previously overgrown) Rugged Trail was!

 It sure was a good thing that was the case as 
many of the signs on Po Toi had been rendered 
downright unreadable by Hong Kong's hot sun! :O

To be continued... but of course! ;b

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Creepy snake and spider spottings on today's Hong Kong Island hike!

Green snake -- and no, I don't mean the character
Maggie Cheung played in Tsui Hark's Green Snake (1993)! :O

A Golden Orb Weaver spider and its poor dragonfly prey

 Spider cannibalism -- another Golden Orb Weaver
opted for a fellow spider to be its food! :O

Earlier today, I went on a hike with with three friends that took us from Wong Nai Chung up to Violet Hill's two highest peaks, then down to Tsin Shui Wan Au to connect with the portion of the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path that led around the Twins down towards Stanley.  

While hiking along Violet Hill, I mentioned to one of my friends that this particularly excursion had been rather thin on the ground in terms of critter spottings.  Little did we know then the veritable critter spotting explosion we'd experience in the latter section of the hike, pretty much once we passed Tsin Shui Wan Au!

On most other days, spotting a green snake -- regardless of whether it was a Greater Green Snake (as I'm inclined to think based on descriptions of its behavior), considerably more venomous Bamboo Snake (based on how it looked to me) or something else altogether -- would normally constitute the high point of the critter spotting portion of the hike for me.

But whereas we saw one live snake on our hike this afternoon (along with a partially decaying dead one that was giving off a distinctly strong smell), we must have seen as many as 50 spiders -- the vast majority of them Golden Orb Weavers -- over the course of less than two hours!  And adding to the experience was many of them having built their webs so close to the path that the tallest among us (who's around 6 feet 4 inches tall) had to hunch to avoid a number of them while another of our number ended up accidentally getting a large section of spiderweb stuck on her backpack courtesy of having veered a little too close to the path's edge at one point!

In addition, it was interesting to notice that a surprisingly high number of the spiders had caught themselves something to eat in their admittedly often pretty large webs.  On a Lantau Island hike a few years back, I had seen a Golden Orb Weaver with the remnants of a butterfly in its web. Today, I saw Golden Orb Weavers which had caught bees, dragonflies -- and most shockingly of all -- another Golden Orb Weaver in their webs and definitely looked like they were preparing these other creatures to be eaten!

Despite their venom being potent (but not lethal to humans) and their being capable of biting people, I have to admit to generally enjoying the presence of Golden Orb Weavers rather than being freaked out by them.  For one thing, I tell myself that they help keep the mosquito population down.  For another, I find them very beautiful and easy photography subjects (since they don't run away when I try to take snaps of them).

But I have to admit that I'll never quite look at them in the same light again after seeing today that they're capable of cannibalism!  Indeed, I might go so far as to say that I found the sight of the Golden Orb Weaver with another -- and definitely dead -- Golden Orb Weaver in its web to be creepier than that of the green snake spotted today; though it's true enough that if that snake hadn't decided to stay on the far side of the catchwater from us, that might have been an entirely different matter! ;b

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Engage and Umbrellas (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

The past few months have seen many treats for Hong Kong-based fans of Totoro and other Studio Ghibli creations (including a certain Ponyo).   Among other things, last month saw the arrival of Isao Takahata's sublime The Tale of Princess Kaguya into cinemas, and it was followed this month by Mami Sunada's wonderful Studio Ghibli documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

In addition, MCL Telford has been hosting a -- still ongoing, as I write this -- Studio Ghibli Animation Retrospective Programme while the Hong Kong Heritage Museum's highlight exhibition this summer has been the one on Studio Ghibli Layout Designs: Understanding the Secrets of Takahata and Miyazaki Animation.

At both MCL Telford and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, provisions have been made for those who wish to engage with Totoro (particularly O-Totoro) in ways that go beyond merely looking at illustrations of it.  Specifically, the cinema has a large Totoro plush in its lobby area which fans can take photos with (but, it's specifically noted, not touch) while the museum has set up specific themed photography areas (such as Totoro's Wonderland and Ponyo's Beach) and organised workshops on the art of Studio Ghibli.

On a related note: when Donguri Republic (Studio Ghibli's character shop) opened its first branch outside of Japan here in Hong Kong last summer, a photo area featuring O-Totoro waiting for a bus (with an umbrella at the ready to be used in case rain started falling) was set up in the shopping mall that the store's located. 

Participants in Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts wondering what's the connection between umbrellas and Totoro, go check out the absolutely fantastic My Neighbor Totoro post haste!  For now, suffice to say that umbrellas play a part in a part in a lovely scene in the movie that takes place one rainy evening, and which many people consider it one of the best animation film scenes of all time. :)

Friday, August 22, 2014

The eating of cucumber in various countries, particularly in summer

Never mind the ducks' tongues and other edibles on the table
-- instead, please focus on the slices of crunchy cucumber! ;b
 Two other delicious ways to serve up cucumber :)

On my only visit (thus far) to Mainland China some years ago, a Bejing-born friend and her relatives took my mother and I on a day trip to the Great Wall of China and nearby environs.  While taking a break from walking along the ancient fortification, my friend's elder sister started handing out drinks and snacks meant to reinvigorate us -- and I was intrigued to find that plain sticks of cucumber are considered to be a refreshing, thirst-quenching treat.
My friend got to explaining that cucumbers are considered a good "cooling" food to eat in hot weather by the Chinese.  This appears to be a sentiment shared by the Japanese, with raw sticks of cucumbers a popular enough snack that I've seen them on sale stuck on actual sticks a la corn dogs in that other East Asian country! And in view of cucumber sandwiches being a favored summer snack in England (at least among certain segments of that country's society), I'm thinking that at least some English think the same way too!  
Back on this side of planet Earth, there's the Koreans, a bowl of whose mul nyaeng  (cold buckwheat noodles, served with -- among other things -- cucumbers, Asian pear, pickled radish and a hardboiled egg) I had for lunch today.  Sometimes the cucumbers served as part of this dish are fresh, other times they are pickled.  Either way, they appear to be a "must have" in this traditional Korean summer food.     
Speaking of pickles: I do like dill pickles, especially with my deli sandwiches and chips.  But  I like spicy cucumbers better -- so much so that I find it next to impossible to resist ordering the dish whenever I dine at the likes of a branch of popular Taiwanese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung
These days, I'm often quite happy to eat cucumbers raw and plain.  But when I was a child in Malaysia, I often found cucumbers too bitter to enjoy that way.  Looking back, it's true enough that it wasn't until I moved away from there that I discovered that cucumbers don't necessarily have to taste that way though -- and, as can be shown when Mei bites into one with much relish in Hayao Miyazaki's sublime My Neighbor Totoro, they can be healthy foods that children, not just adults, enjoy! :b 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A hike in Hong Kong's second largest country park (Photo-essay)

In my first year of hiking in Hong Kong, I went on an excursion with Roz's Group to Tai Lam Country Park on a high pollution -- and consequently low visibility -- day.  That hike is one that I fondly remember for two things: firstly, it was the occasion on which I first met my German friend (who subsequently moved back to her home country after spending seven years in Hong Kong, and who I went on to have a great visit in Germany with); and secondly, it was the hike on which I discovered the macro function on my digital camera! 

Several hikes (and hundreds of critter spotting photos) later, I found myself trekking in Hong Kong's second largest country park on another low visibility day. This time though, I knew to focus on checking out sights close to where I was as well as gazing out into the distance.  And thanks to doing so, I managed to spot a snake in the brush nearby at one point in this enjoyable but otherwise not particularly exciting Tai Lam Country Park hike! ;b

I know it's not the intention but the sign gets me thinking
of villagers as exotic creatures akin to feral cows and buffalo!

 While out hiking, particular in winter, one will come across
patches of red that turn out to be that of young leaves
rather than beautiful blooming flowers! ;)

Pretty much every year in Hong Kong, one reads of
people who got food poisoning from eating wild fungi :O

At Tsing Fai Tong, there's a scenic area which is tempting to
linger at, especially in winter when there's little fear of 
mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water!

The water there is on the stagnant side but also oh so clear!

Can that hill's squarish tip be natural?! :O

Definitely artificial -- and also dry: one of the
Sham Tseng Settlement Basin's run off waterways

I'm going to presume that the "Danger - No Entry" sign 
is for the nearby body of water -- otherwise, 
it doesn't make much sense at all! ;O

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cool critter sightings up on Mount Parker

Arachnophobes, look away -- but to others, 
isn't this spider a beauty as well as unusual looking?!
 Is that a grasshopper or cricket -- or something else 
altogether (e.g., an alien creature) -- in the photo? :O

The wireless signal station atop Mount Parker -- and the promise 
of beautiful views from its vicinity -- called to me this afternoon

The plan for this hot summer afternoon was to go on a short hike -- one that would take a friend visiting from Singapore and I partially up Mount Parker Road and then along the Hong Pak Country Trail that goes around the valley at the northwestern slope of Mount Parker.  But as we ascended the lower section of Mount Parker Road, the wireless signal station atop the 532-meter-high hill looked so inviting that I couldn't resist the siren call -- and fortunately was able to persuade my friend that it'd be cool to head up there instead.
One of the attractions today of heading up to that high ground was that the high visibility conditions would mean that we'd be able to see far from up there -- and so it proved, with our being able to see many kilometers further into the distance this afternoon when I previously visited (with a different friend), on a cloudy day.  It's not often that one can see Ma On Shan, the Ninepins and the islands south of Po Toi that belong to China from Hong Kong Island -- but such was the case this afternoon from atop Mount Parker!

I have to be honest though and say that what I liked even more about the section of today's hike that saw us go beyond Quarry Gap (aka Tai Fung Au) was how much more bereft of other people -- and therefore more peaceful and idylic -- the upper section of the trail was.  And I don't think it coincidental that we made way more critter spottings on the section of trail between Quarry Gap and the top of Mount Parker than the lower section of Mount Parker Road that led us from sea level (or thereabouts) King's Road up to Quarry Gap.
Among the cool critter spottings made this afternoon were of four different blue-tailed skinks -- two adults and two babies, all wandering about separately.  Then there was the beautiful gold-colored dragonfly that obligingly perched for several minutes for us to take its photo!  
Rather than put their photos on this blog entry though, I've opted instead to showcase a couple of critters that I had never seen before -- or, rather, with the particular coloring and patterning that I saw this afternoon.  The first of these I am pretty certain is a type of spider.  However, I'm not sure whether the other is a cricket, grasshopper or something else altogether -- and in both cases, I reckon they'd be the kind of creatures that could well serve as pretty good inspirations for film aliens! ;b

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Curse and People at Work (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Every so often, I look at certain people at work and think "what a hell of a job they have".  That was the case the night that I went to a horror movie premiere and saw "ghosts" wandering about in the theater -- and got to wondering if those young women assigned those roles looked upon it as a curse (this particularly since I find Hong Kong to be a very superstitious society)!

More usually, however, the jobs that get me thanking the heavens that it's not been my lot in life to undertake them tend to be of a more menial nature, and often involve literally heavy burdens.  As an example: see the middle photo in this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts -- of one of a number of men whose work involves transporting heavy cylinders of liqufied gas on bicycles from their stores to the many homes in Hong Kong -- some of them on upper floors of elevator-less buildings -- which use them.

Then there was the elderly woman I spotted manning her open-air stand at the pier on a windy winter's day the last time I visited Po Toi, Hong Kong's southern-most island.  She may not look like she's doing much in the photo but she definitely is one of those people whose work I would not wish to have, especially on the day that I saw her at her job.

At the same time though, I got the feeling that she actually didn't consider her lot in life as one that was the result of a curse -- since she was surprisingly cheery when I went and bought some pickled scallions to snack on while waiting for the ferry to arrive.  In addition, seeing her also got me musing that while there are some folks who are envious of those who can opt for early retirement, there also are  people who are happy to be at work -- and not just because they feel forced to either - way past what many of us consider to be retirement age!