Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A rare Tsing Yi hike (Photo-essay)

Tsing Yi is a Hong Kong island which I pass over far more often than I visit; this not least because the MTR's Airport Express as well as Tung Chung lines go through it.  In fact, I could count on the fingers of one hand how many times I've actually been to Tsing Yi -- and on my first visit there, more than two years after moving to Hong Kong, I actually didn't venture outdoors even for a minute as I had gone there to hang out with Hello Kitty and co at the temporary Sanrio Village that had been installed in an area mall!  

Even after hearing of the existence of the Tsing Yi Nature Trails, I didn't think much about doing any hiking on the island since that official trail is just 4 kilometers long.  But one weekend after recovering from a cold, and my hiking buddy from problems with his knees, he and I figured we could go there for what would be a fairly easy excursion, even after we tacked on a stroll along the waterfront promenade from the MTR station to the official trailhead at Cheung Shue Tau... ;)

A view of Tsuen Wan (including its Nina and Teddy Towers)
from Tsing Yi's waterfront promenade
Signage that's more artistic than usual? ;b
This short hike gives a bit of a workout
since there are many stairs to climb along it!
One of the three pavilions in the area marks the 
northwestern end point of the trails

Not the usual sight one expects to see (or photo one expects
to take) while hiking on a designated nature trail ;)
Some day, I'll go back there to get a better view of
the Tsing Ma Bridge than we got that hazy afternoon :S
As things stood, conditions that afternoon made one of the oil depots 
on the island appear more visually attractive that day!
 Still, lest there be any doubt, there were indeed some
interesting natural sights (such as those thin-trunked trees)
on view in Tsing Yi that afternoon ;b

Monday, November 23, 2015

She Remembers, He Forgets -- and we dream? (Film review)

The iconic geological formation known as Lion Rock
is visible in the background of more than one scene in

She Remembers, He Forgets (Hong Kong, 2015)
- Adam Wong, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Saville Chan)
- Starring: Miriam Yeung, Jan Lam, Cecilio So, Ng Siu Hin, Neo Yau

Although I've checked out my share of Hong Kong movies in the past few months (especially if one includes Hong Kong-mainland China co-productions like Mabel Cheung's A Tale of Three Cities, Johnnie To's Office and John Woo's The Crossing II), it wasn't until I viewed this latest offering from Adam Wong (The Way We Dance) that I got to remembering how it feels to love a new Hong Kong film I just saw.

She Remembers, He Forgets opens with panoramic views of Hong Kong shot from above that are so breathtakingly beautiful that the viewer will find to take in the credits appearing atop of them.  Pretty much from the get go then, the signs are there that the makers of this film have a love for their native territory; this even when there are those who maintain that "Hong Kong is not a place for dreamers" and others want to leave the Fragrant Harbour, believing that better futures are to be had elsewhere in the world.

Part of this sentimental dramatic offering takes place in the present day, with the focus in those scenes being on a not particularly happily married middle-aged couple.  Travel agent Gigi (Miriam Yeung) has not gone on a holiday with her designer husband, Shing Wah (Jan Lamb), for five years now.  This wouldn't matter so much if they didn't spend so little time together at home that Gigi seems to talk more to her pet cockatoo than her spouse and often doesn't know what the latter is up to, and even where in mainland China he's been for business.

A high school reunion dinner gets Gigi thinking back to those days at school when she (played as a teenager by Cecilia So), the more fun-loving Shing Wah (played as a teenager by Neo Yau) and another student, the brainy Bok Man (Ng Siu Hin), were well nigh inseparable.  Inevitably, she gets to wondering what became of Bok Man, who had aspired to become an airline pilot, and whom both she and Shing Wah lost contact with years ago -- and whether she had made the right choice of man to live her life with.    

Considering what a superstar she actually is and how much of an entertainment industry veteran he is, Miriam Yeung and Jan Lamb are utterly convincing as an everyday Hong Kong couple, with unfulfilled (in Gigi's case) and seemingly plain forgotten (in Shing Wah's case) dreams and ambitions.  But She Remembers, He Forgets soars less because of their performances but due to the younger trio of Cecilia So, Neo Yau and Ng Siu Hin -- the latter two of whom were making their feature film debuts in this movie -- having so very able shouldered the responsibility of being the heart and soul of this admirably sincere offering.

Put another way: the main events in She Remembers, He Forgets are those set in the past and give a good sense of what it was like to grow up in the last few years before Hong Kong was handed back to China.  Beautifully shot in such a way that even those who didn't live in Hong Kong in 1992 will be swept by a wave of nostalgia, the scenes depicting the adolescent Gigi, Shing Wah and Bok Man's schooldays are filled with lots of interesting details, and imaginative inventions credited to the two boys.

But while there's much to look back with fondness, it also can be painful to see what was thought possible then but has turned out to not be, both personally but also politically.  I'd wager that the more you love Hong Kong, the more She Remembers, He Forgets will come across as a bittersweet work, albeit one whose makers remain hopeful that some childhood dreams can be rekindled in adulthood even while others have to be left as memories of what could and might have been. 

My rating for this film: 8.0

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Hong Kong Island hike with plenty of sea views

There were lots of people out in the water at Big Wave Bay
this unseasonably hot November afternoon!
Over at Tai Tau Chau, a woman and her two dogs enjoyed
the sea breeze and the sight of a boat sailing in the blue sea
This afternoon, a friend and I set off on a hike from Siu Sai Wan.  The original plan was to ascend from sea level there all the way up to 312-meter-high Pottinger Peak.  But after we got up to a view compass about 100 meters below the top of the hill that provided us with panoramic views of the sea, we decided to get closer to the water and proceeded to make our way to a couple of seaside locales over on the southeastern end of Hong Kong Island.

First up, down on the other side of Pottinger Peak, was Big Wave Bay.  Long before we got close to sea level, we could already see that there were lots of surfers and swimmers in the bay's waters as well as lots of sunbathers frolicking and sunning themselves on its sandy beach.  Close to the site at Big Wave Bay where prehistoric rock carvings can be found, we also got to noticing a few paragliders floating in the sky post their having jumped off Dragon's Back!      
At Big Wave Bay, we saw the temperature being posted as being 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) but honestly felt like it was even hotter than that!  Rather than call it a day as far as our hike was concerned however, we pressed on -- this time along a paved road to Shek O, then across a bridge over to the nearby island of Tai Tau Chau, where we spotted still more paragliders making their way down to Shek O's Rocky Bay Beach from Dragon's Back
Most of the time at Tai Tau Chau, however, our eyes were focused on the beautiful blue sea (and the bigger waves that splashed around the water's edge than over at Big Wave Bay), and also Tai Tau Chau's rugged and interestingly shaped rocks.  And while it was the surfers' antics that made for enthralling watching over at Big Wave Bay, over in this area, it was sailing boats and other watercraft passing seemingly tranquilly by that tended to catch the eye.
Unlike a previous occasion when I visited the area, the waters off Big Wave Bay actually didn't look polluted this afternoon.  Still, I was content not to venture into the water but, rather, just enjoy views of it, preferably from higher land.  If nothing else, today confirmed that I really do prefer the hills to the sea -- but definitely do appreciate views of the sea while out hiking. :) 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Surprises abound at King Yin Lei, the Chinese Renaissance style mansion in the Mid-Levels

I finally visited King Yin Lei earlier today :) 

Color and decorative features abound at King Yin Lei

Ornate decoration on the ceiling of one of its rooms

Did you know that there's a swimming pool
within the grounds of King Yin Lei? :O

Pretty much every time I take a bus up to Victoria Gap or Wan Chai Gap (almost invariably for a hike), I make sure to look out for the distinctive mansion known as King Yin Lei.  Built in what's known as the Chinese Renaissance style (like St Mary's Church in Causeway Bay) in 1937 and originally given the name Hei Lo, it was designed by a British architect (A. R. Fenton-Rayen) and became one of the first residences in the Mid-Levels to be home to an ethnic Chinese family (with a woman named Li Po Lun as its owner).

In September 2007, there was much public outcry when it looked like King Yin Lei was going to be demolished so the land it was on would be redeveloped.  By the Hong Kong government stepped in to prevent this happening, windows and doors had been smashed, the roof had been stripped of its glazed tiles and quite a bit of other destruction had been wreaked on the building.  Belatedly declared a monument in July 2008, restoration work on the mansion commenced in September of that year and finally completed in December 2010.  

A few years ago, King Yin Lei began being open to the public -- but only on a few designated days in the year.  A few weeks ago, I finally got a ticket for one of its Public Open Days and earlier today, paid my first ever visit to this mansion that's a prime example of Hong Kong-style "East meets West" architecture.

As I walked through King Yin Lei's main gate, almost the first thing that caught my eye was a swimming pool -- which I previously had no idea it had, since it's not visible from the bus!  Also not visible from the bus was King Yin Lei's subsidiary buildings, including a small pavilion and a subsidiary building whose ceiling decoration reminded both a friend I was with and myself of the Long Corridor of Beijing's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Summer Palace

The surprises continued after I entered King Yin Lei's main building.  Among the features that stood out as unusual was the modest size of the master bedroom (especially in the context of the large size of the mansion as a whole), the one bathroom we got to see having a disarmingly pink and lavender color scheme, and the antiseptic looking kitchen being placed on the middle floor of the building rather than the ground floor, as would seem more normal!

I'd love to have gotten explanations of what was behind those architectural decisions -- and whether what we saw conformed to the original interior arrangement of the mansion.  Sadly, although there were designated docents about, all of the queries -- including how many rooms were on the upper-most floor of the building that's completely off limits to the public --  that I and my friends asked got nothing more than "I don't know" responses.  And although there were a number of information panels in a few of the rooms of the main building and also what was King Yin Lei's garage, there was much less information about the history of the mansion and the people who had lived in it than there was about the restoration work that had been undertaken.    

Upon entering the grounds of King Yin Lei this afternoon, I had been given an information pamphlet and four souvenir postcards.  While I think this a nice gesture, I really would have welcomed getting more information about the place, particularly that which would have helped me to better imagine what life was like there when it was an actual residence.  

As it is, I have to just speculate as to whether the kitchen was located so close to the master bedroom because a head of one of the families that lived there had been an invalid for at least some of his or her years and thus bed-ridden.  I'd also like to know the story behind why there's a religious altar placed on a wall in the garage and another placed in a prominent in one of the central ground floor rooms of the mansion -- neither of them being the usual places to find religious altars in a Hong Kong home.  Heck, I wish I knew why the decision was made to have King Yin Lei built in the Chinese Renaissance rather than a more conventional Western or Chinese style.

Put another way: My visit to King Yin Lei made me more interested and curious about the place and its owners, particularly the original one who had commissioned its construction.  And I hope that now that the mansion's been physically restored and it's been made open -- on selected days -- to the public, efforts can be made to inform people more about this heritage site, and in an interesting way that makes history come alive. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

A hike from Shing Mun Reservoir to Tai Wai (Photo-essay)

Over the years, something that has surprised me is how many regular Hong Kong hikers, local and expat, are content to stick to just one part of the territory and/or just the major hiking trails like the 100-kilometer-long Maclehose Trail (which this year's Trailwalker participants are going along as I write this) or 50-kilometer-long Hong Kong Trail.  For, in contrast, I like trying out different trails that allow me to go along and view sections of the Big Lychee that I had never previously been to or seen; this not least because, often in the process, I discover alternative ways to connect one part of Hong Kong to another.  

So while it wasn't the most scenic of hikes that a friend and I went on one Sunday afternoon, I thought it pretty cool that, after a short detour to explore the ruins of the Shing Mun Redoubt, we went from Shing Mun Reservoir over to Tai Wai on a route that neither of us had previously been on before.  To judge from the small number of other hikers we saw along the way, few people seem to know about it -- something which, of course, made this particular exploratory excursion seem even more satisfying to us! ;b

Despite the warning signs, I've seen lots of people (including
what looked like a school party) venture into the tunnels 
and other sections of what's left of the Shing Mun Redoubt
As long as the ruins remain, there will always be a

The area around the Shing Mun Reservoir's 
East Dam looks pretty green
Not far away though lies the Shing Mun Tunnels 
connecting Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin, and these short sections 
of visible road between far lengthier sections of the tunnels  
If not for this hike, I'd not have known how scenic the area around 
Lower Shing Mun Reservoir is, and how popular it is 
among such as operators of remote controlled aircraft!
The view to the west of this reservoir's dam
Walking eastwards, we passed by a still rural section
On the outskirts of Tai Wai, people's washing hung on 
the railings of bridges going over a dry section of the
Shing Mun River -- a sign that we were back in "civilization"! ;b

Thursday, November 19, 2015

South Korea's The Whistleblower is inspired by real life events (film review)

Note: The Whistleblower's titular character
is not in the foreground of the movie's poster 

The Whistleblower (South Korea, 2014)
- Yim Soon Rye, director 
- Starring: Park Hae Il, Lee Gyeong Yeong, Yoo Yeon Seok, Song Ha Yun 

In the middle of viewing one of countless Hong Kong crime dramas whose characters include a police mole, my mother asked who in their right mind would ever accept such a role in real life.  As more than one film also has shown us, whistleblowers are another group of people who often end up having to sacrifice much as well as undergo major hardships -- which again begs the question of who'd be one, even though it's also the case that these individuals actually are doing the morally correct thing rather than doing something terribly wrong.   

Among the reasons why whistleblowers often find themselves in (professional, if not personal) less than ideal situations is that they frequently find themselves going up against powerful organizations, including their national government.  And in numerous cases, they find themselves with the dilemma of having to choose between the truth and national interest.  

In Yim Soon Rye's The Whistleblower, the titular character not only has to wrestle between telling the truth and keeping mum in order to not shame a nation but also carries the burden of helping destroy the hopes of many with incurable diseases (and those who love them) that a major medical breakthrough has been a made, and a life-saving treatment is within reach.  For Dr Shim Min Ho (Yoo Yeon Seok), matters additionally are personal because he has a chronically ill young daughter whom he had previously hoped could be cured by the scientific work being carried out under the aegis of Dr Lee Jang Hwan (Lee Gyeong Yeong), a scientist with a veterinary -- rather than medical -- degree dubbed "the Pride of Korea" after he claimed to have successfully cloned human stem cells.

After realizing that Dr Lee has fabricated the claims that have brought him so much acclaim from the government and the general public, Dr Shim left his post at Dr Lee's research institute.  Unable to get another job anywhere else, his household's bills acrrue even though his increasingly upset wife (Ryu Hyeong Geong) has continued working at the same institution that his conscience had forced him to quit being a part of.  

Probably because he felt he was already at a super low point in his life as well as because he wanted to prevent Dr Lee from continuing to spin his lies, Dr Shim made contact with television news program producer Yoo Min Cheol (Park Hae Il) and broke his silence.  An admirably dogged and thorough investigator, Yoo -- and the young but capable reporter (Song Ha Yun) he enlists to help with his research -- goes in search of evidence that Dr Shim is telling the truth rather than lies and, in the process, uncovers a story that shocks even hardened news people and, they discover, is capable of being so threatening that even the reactions to it can be very disturbing.

This dramatic offering by one of South Korea's few female directors benefits from strong performances by its lead trio of actors, of whom the one playing the titular character actually gets the least amount of screentime.  The Whistleblower also profits from Lee Chun Hyeong's intelligent script chronicling manipulative acts carried out in full view of the public -- and the public's response to them -- along with the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that involve senior executives and government officials attempting to influence editorial decisions and shape news coverage.

Inspired by true events, The Whistleblower will have particular resonance for those aware of the real-life scandal it clearly was based on and who are citizens of the country where it took place.  Regardless of their nationality though, I'm sure that viewers of this thought-provoking movie will come away wondering how many whistleblowers end up making enormous sacrifices that sadly go unappreciated, never mind get rewarded -- especially if they fail to find similarly courageous and ethical individuals to help them open people's eyes and ears.
My rating for this film: 8.0

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sampling some Tedorigawa junmai daiginjo post viewing The Birth of Sake :b

This junmai daiginjo was made by the brewers
featured in The Birth of Sake
Puppet Ponyo posed with a pair of sake-loving rabbits by
a picture of other sake imbibers at Izumo Taisha last year :)
A couple of weeks ago, I caught a screening of The Birth of Sake, a documentary film that gave me a renewed appreciation of the effort that goes into brewing the Japanese alcoholic drink known to much of the world as sake (the Japanese word for alcohol) but more specifically referred to as nihonshu (which translates as "Japanese liquor") in its native land.
Traditionally considered the drink of the gods in Japan, its connection to the Shinto gods remains clear from such as barrels of nihonshu being on prominent display at shrines such as Tokyo's Meiji Jingu.  And at Izumo Taisha in Shimane, where legend has it that the gods enjoy drinking sake when they gather there annually, there are sculptures and pictorial illustrations that show divine beings and other creatures partaking of the libation!  
When watching The Birth of Sake, the work that went into making the Tedorigawa range of sake produced by the Yoshida Sake Brewery made it seem like they'd most definitely be fit for the gods.  Consequently, when offered a chance to sample Tedorigawa's Honryu junmai daiginjo at Sake Bar Ginn last night, I of course jumped at the chance to do so -- and am glad to be able to report that it's indeed a lovely tasting drink, so smooth that it really does go down very easily, and possessing a delicate flavor that's really pretty pleasant!
So... I may not have had the pleasure (yet) of dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro after viewing Jiro Dreams of Sushi or eating at Taishoken post viewing The God of Ramen.  And I know that whatever chances I had to eat at El Bulli are long gone (since Ferran Adria's restaurant has permanently closed its doors a few years back).  But at least I got to have a few glasses of the Yoshida Sake Brewery's product -- and I didn't even have to go all the way to its premises in Ishikawa to do so! ;b