Thursday, September 3, 2015

A boat tour that included visits to Check Chau, Ap Chau and Kat O

I don't know why Port Island is so called in English but
the reason for its Cantonese name of Chek Chau
(i.e., Red Island) should be clear from this photo of it!

Ap Chau (Duck Island in Cantonese)'s famous sea arch is 
the "eye" of the duck that the island is thought to be shaped like :)

Kat O (aka Crooked Island)'s buildings attest to it once being 
home to a thriving community -- but a walk around 
it this afternoon shows how quiet it now is

Upon getting back into my apartment this evening, my pedometer showed that I had walked over 17,000 steps today.  But although these are the kind of the numbers I rack up on a day when I go hiking, I actually spent a good bulk of today on a boat as well as dry land!  

More specifically, I went on a boat tour to some of the less accessible parts of Hong Kong, including the islands known in Cantonese as Chek Chau, Ap Chau and Kat O.  And while the term "boat tour" may have one thinking that all we did was view sights from a boat, we actually got off at the seven places that the boat we were on stopped at before returning to Wong Shek Pier to walk about, including up to a hilly ridge on Port Island, to view the Devil's Fist from up close at Wong Chuk Kok Tsui, for lunch at Sam A Tsuen, and to visit the 18th century Tin Hau Temple at Kat O.   

Of the places visited today, I had only previously been to Sam A Tsuen and Lai Chi Wo -- both via long-ish treks that started off at Wu Kau Tang.  But although they're picturesque places that I was happy to make repeat visits to, today's highlights really involved finally stepping onto sections of Hong Kong that I had long liked to but hadn't seriously aspired to do so because they are islands that there are no regularly scheduled ferry or kaito services to.

Prior to today, the closest I had ever got to Chek Chau (AKA Port Island) was from nearby Tap Mun and the kaito a friend and I took from Sham Chung to Wong Shek Pier earlier this year.  With its pier having fallen into disrepair, it was quite an adventure to get on to this uninhabited island which sits at the mouth of Tolo Harbour as well as to tramp several meters uphill to get scenic views of the island and beyond (including Tung Ping Chau and the sections of Mainland China closest to Hong Kong's easternmost outlying island), with the scramble downhill scaring me into "butting it" at some points.

Several sighs of relief could be heard after our tour guide assured us that Chek Chau was the most difficult of the places we'd be visiting to get around.  And I can confirm that Ap Chau and Kat O -- both of them inhabited and boasting intact piers (and, in the case of Kat O, a surprisingly large one for an island with no longer that many residents!) -- were a good deal easier to get onto as well as move about on.

Geologically of interest for being the only two places in Hong Kong where breccia is found, Ap Chau and Kat O also are interesting culturally, including for reasons related to the main religion practiced on the two islands.  More specifically, the 0.04 square kilometer sized (i.e., pretty small!) island of Ap Chau was uninhabited until the 1950s, when a village was set up by members of the True Jesus Church, while Kat O's Tin Hau Temple is home to not just the usual one but two Tin Hau figurines -- one of which, legend has it, floated over the water from Lai Chi Wo some 4 kilometers away!

At first glance, both Ap Chau and Kat O look to have significant populations.  But I'd believe what I've since read -- that Ap Chau only has fewer than 10 residents these days -- since I saw a total of 5 inhabitants in the around half an hour that we were on the island.  And while Kat O was by far the most built-up of the places we visited today, the fact that there's no longer a school on the island says volumes about the age and diminished size of its population. 

The sense I have, particularly with Kat O and Lai Chi Wo of the places we visited today, is that if they were more accessible (e.g., had regular ferry or kaito services to them), they'd be able to attract more visitors and interest, and maybe also more people willing to live there.  Looking at the broader picture: it can seem rather strange how it is that so many people in Hong Kong have problems finding affordable accomodation on the one hand and how there also really are whole, large swathes of the Big Lychee that are not occupied by humans and/or cannot attract people to stay there.   

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The distinctively contemporary Japanese Hero 2015 (movie review)

Advertising for one of many movies -- 
this one Japanese -- with Hero in its title!

Hero 2015 (Japan, 2015) 
- Masayuki Suzuki, director
- Starring: Takuya Kimura, Takako Matsu, Keiko Kitagawa, etc.

On January 8, 2001, a legal drama debuted on Fuji TV that not only would achieve the highest series ratings on Japanese TV in 25 years but also go on to spawn a mini-series in 2006, a second series beginning in 2014 and two movies.  Starring singer-actor Takuya Kimura (of J-pop boy band SMAP) as the titular hero, the film versions at least operate more as ensemble works than one might have expect, given their lead actor's superstar status and the works' titles singular (rather than plural) emphasis. 

Without having watched any of the episodes of the original Hero or any its made-for-TV follow-ups, I still managed to enjoy the first film version of Hero when I saw it in a Hong Kong cinema back in October 2007.  So when I learnt that there was a new Hero film out (known as Hero The Movie in some territories and given the title Hero 2015 here in Hong Kong), I looked forward to checking it out -- even while realizing that I actually couldn't remember all that much about the first Hero film that I had seen eight years ago! 

But although its makers obviously do assume that viewers of Hero 2015 have some prior knowledge of the Hero universe, I found it fairly easy to mentally slip into the world inhabited by the film (and TV phonemena)'s characters.  Among other things, its makers' vision of a contemporary Japan which tries hard to be humane and tolerate (even welcome) individual idiosyncracies, even while showing how people work best when they are part of a team -- and backed by their teammates -- will be familiar to those who've watched a number of other contemporary Japanese films (including ones as diverse as feel good comedy Wood Job!, and the Umizaru coastguard action series that's also produced by Fuji TV).

It also helps that Hero 2015 sees the return of a former member of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office to the Jozai Branch along with her assistant from the Osaka office that she now belongs to.  This way, her successor, Chika Asagi (Keiko Kitagawa), needs to be brought up to speed -- and the film's audience can be along with her -- as to the part that the now Osaka-based Maiko Amemiya (Takako Matsu) played in both the personal as well as professional life of Asagi's current boss, ace public prosecutor Kohei Kuryu (Takuya Kimura); and Asagi's current assistant, Takashi Ichonose (Koji Ookura), needs to be introduced -- and the film's viewers can be along with him -- to the other colorful characters working at the Jozai Branch!

The reason for Amemiya and Ichonose hurrying to Tokyo is that they learnt of the death in Tokyo of an Osaka-based hostess there.  Kuryu and Asagi were assigned to investigate the car crash that resulted in the woman's death.  After arriving at her former office, Amemiya informs the public prosecutors there that the deceased was a key witness in a bribery case involving the yakuza, after which it's realized that the circumstances of her death may not be as cut and dried as they had initially appeared.

Further complications ensue when it is discovered that the woman's death took place on a street situated next to the embassy of Neustria (a country one of the characters describes as being young at just 600 years; something which this Malaysian found pretty amusing given her country's really tender age!).  Because foreign diplomats have extraterritoriality, the Japanese officials can't go about investigating the case(s) in a conventional way.  

But given how unconventional acting Kuryu is prone to be, it could be described as fortuitous that he's one of the officials involved!  And so it turns out, with interesting -- and at times also pretty amusing -- results that take in such as musings on what's capable of crossing borders, the discoveries that Neustrians love sausages and petanque, and -- but of course! -- various members of the Josai Branch doing their bit to bring the investigations to a success, and the Osaka public prosecutors too! 

Hero 2015 isn't for everyone -- not least those who will want their movie heroes to be, well, more conventionally heroic!  It's also a work that has a noticeable TV show style (particularly with regards to its lensing) as well as links; one which the less generous may describe as not very sophisticated, and even downright hokey.  Despite it hardly being a perfect film though, I still found it to be an enjoyable watch on a big screen: thanks in no small part to it being the kind of film where the good not only triumph but the generous spirited are likely to find kindred spirits, including in seemingly unlikely -- and foreign -- places. 

My rating for this film: 7.0    

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Views from and of Peng Chau (Photo-essay)

Before I moved to Hong Kong more than eight years ago now, I already had been on a few of the Big Lychee's Outer Islands.  Being on Lantau was a given on account of it being home to Hong Kong's main airport as well as the Big Buddha, more than one guidebook made a trip to Lamma seem like a "must do" and each repeat viewing of Riley Ip's Just One Look made me yearn all the more to visit Cheung Chau.  

But I only learnt about Peng Chau's charms after moving to Hong Kong.  Funnily enough, the two people who heaped praise on that which at least one website has billed as "Hong Kong's underdog island" were not locals.  And both the French banker I got to talking with a pub and Taiwanese theater director-playwright Stan Lai (whose one Hong Kong-based play, Writing in Water, includes scenes set on Peng Chau) did enough to make me want to visit the island -- and on more than one occasion too, actually! ;b 

Photographic proof that one can indeed spot the 

On super clear days, things can look closer than they actually
are -- and make Peng Chau and Lantau seem connected!
 The island's not known for its beaches but this doesn't 
mean that people can't have fun on one there ;)
Not the usual vantage point from which people view and photograph
Kowloon, Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island! ;b
I didn't get to the quiet eastern side of Peng Chau on my first visit, 
and I'd wager that many visitors to the island don't check out
I had fun watching this man playing with his remote 
control boat out on Peng Chau's Tung Wan :)
Some people may deem it unattractive but I actually think that
there's a charm to that house by the sea -- and figure
that, at the very least, it's got nice views! 
From the ferry, it's easy to see why locals
have nicknamed Peng Chau Flat Island :b

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflections on Malaysia and Malaysians, on Merdeka Day

The Malaysia Building on Gloucester Road is home to
such as the Consulate General of Malaysia

This past Saturday afternoon, a crowd of yellow T-shirt 
wearers congregated over on the other side of the road
and made their "Bersih" demands 

Fifty-eight years ago today, a Kedah prince popularly known as Tunku Abdul Rahman shouted the word "Merdeka" ("Freedom" in his native language) in a speech delivered at midnight that heralded the birth of the new nation of Malaya.  But it actually wasn't until September 16th, 1963, when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (which was expelled just two years later) joined with the Federation of Malaya, that Malaysia actually came into being.

Regardless of whether one considers August 31st, 1957, or September 16th, 1963, as Malaysia's birthday, it's a young country by many people's estimation -- including my parents who, more than once, have noted that they're older than the country that they're citizens of.  And although a number of decades have passed since I read an article entitled "Malaysia: Youthful Nation with Growing Pains" in a 1977 volume of National Geographic magazine, I reckon that it's true enough that Malaysia still has a ways to go towards becoming the kind of mature and developed nation-state that many of its citizens want it to be.

When I first came across that National Geographic article all those years ago, I was a little patriot who bristled at the portrait painted of the country of my birth being one that wasn't entirely positive.  But I jettisoned the rose-tinted glasses through which I viewed Malaysia long ago, and these days definitely do see the flaws in such as its political structure (particularly its electoral system) and administration.  Furthermore, I've never hidden my preference of Hong Kong (over Malaysia along with the rest of the world) as my chosen home -- and happiness at having achieved permanent residency status here in the Big Lychee.

For all this though, I still do identify myself as Malaysian when people enquire about my nationality.  (And for the record: I do not see a need to qualify my Malaysian-ness by including my ethnic grouping before or after "Malaysian".)  And while there's much about Malaysia that I do criticize, I also definitely have done my share of defending and praising of those aspects of the country that I feel justified in being proud of.

This Merdeka Day, there are reasons to worry about and bemoan Malaysia's current situation, but also reasons to take heart.  On the negative side: Last week, the Malaysian ringgit sank to a 17-year low and not completely unrelatedly, Malaysia has been embroiled in a political crisis for some months now, due in no small part to its present prime minister, who has been dogged by scandal even before he assumed this top post.  

On a more positive note: this past weekend, an unprecedented number of Malaysians took part in Bersih rallies in Kuala Lumpur and scores of cities in various parts of the world (including Hong Kong) to demand such as clean (as in fair and free) elections and a clean (as in transparent and uncorrupt) government ("bersih" means "clean" in Bahasa Malaysia).  And in the 34 hours that Malaysians were protesting out on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, it was actually peaceful; thanks in no small part to the police not firing tear gas and water cannons at the demonstrators unlike, say, at the smaller 2011 and 2012 Bersih rallies.

To be sure, it shows how angry, frustrated -- and maybe even desperate -- many Malaysians have become about their country's current political and economic situation that they are willing to take part in mass protests which resulted in images that bring to mind the Umbrella Movement for many Hong Kongers.  But it's worth noting that these kinds of actions also take courage.  In addition, I'd argue that people must still feel hopeful that they can make a difference and the situation can be changed.  Otherwise they just wouldn't bother to do anything, especially that which puts them at personal -- and professional -- risk.  

So on this day, I feel sad for Malaysia but also retain some hope for it -- along with some pride in, and gratefulness to, those of my fellow citizens who have shown the world and one another that they actually do care for their country, and much more than those like the pathetic fellow who called the Bersih protesters shallow and unpatriotic will ever know and understand.   

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Tai Tam Country Park hike's highlights

Tai Tam Country Park panoramic view that takes in the likes of
(Please click on the photo to get an enlarged view)

One of the many winged creatures I caught sight of 
on the hike -- and it is a beauty, right? :b

The last few days have been rainy for at least parts of them.  And with thunderstorms included in today's weather prediction, even I -- who has gone out hiking in the rain on occasion -- elected to busy myself doing other things this Sunday.

One reason why I didn't mind not hiking so much today though was that I had actually ventured out into the wilds of Hong Kong earlier in the week.  The late afternoon excursion that took me from Wong Nai Chung Gap to Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir actually was on the short side and within the familiar environs of Tai Tam Country Park.  But it nonetheless managed to exhilarate and reinvigorate, as I encountered literally as well as metaphorically refreshing breezes during the trek!

Early on during this hike, I told myself that I'd like to venture up to a particular point in the country park which I remembered having a view compass and lovely panoramic views.  I had been there on one of my first hikes in the area but never since, and knew that it wasn't on the main trail leading from Wong Nai Chung Gap to the Tai Tam Reservoirs.  Instead, as I re-discovered on this hike, that panoramic point's located along the 1.6-kilometer-long Tai Tam Family Walk which I incorporated into that afternoon's hike route, and actually isn't all that scenic until the last 100 meters or so!   

If truth be told, I actually prefer the view from a bit higher up the hill than where the view compass has been placed -- and that's where I elected to snap the photo at the top of this blog entry.  Funnily enough, this blog post's other photo also was taken close to that point.  And speaking of funny: Maybe it's just my imagination but it sometimes seems to me that butterflies (and moths) tend to flit more slowly and less on cooler days than super hot ones.  In any case, this particular little critter stayed still enough for me to get a much clearer shot of it than I thought I'd be able to -- and of course I'm very glad that this was so! :)   

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Taking part in a beach cleanup on Cheung Chau

Some people clean the beach while others enjoy themselves
earlier today on Cheung Chau

A sample view of the kind of trash found on a Hong Kong beach

The fruits of a morning's worth of labor 

Today has been one of the busiest Saturdays I've had in a while.  I just got back from watching  the English association football team I've supported since 1978(!) triumph in a match telecast "live" from England into such as the big screen of a bar in Hong Kong.  And in the afternoon, I put on a yellow T-shirt and went to Wan Chai to hang out for a time with my fellow Malaysians in aid of Bersih (the movement to demand for clean -- bersih in Bahasa Malaysia -- and fair elections (and government) in Malaysia).

While important in their own way to me, both of those events actually weren't the main event of the day as far as I was concerned.  Instead, that "honor" goes to a morning beach cleanup session over on Cheung Chau organized through Green Sustainable Living HK, a local group founded by a Madagascar-born Hong Kong resident.  One reason for thinking this is that it was the event of the day where I felt most actively a participant.  For another, I really appreciate that there was physical evidence that people's efforts actually counted and made a difference.

Whereas my first beach cleanup had seen the group head over to Coral Beach (AKA Tung Wan Tsai) over on the northeast of the island, this time around, we headed in the opposite direction -- over to Pak Tso Wan (AKA Italian Beach) over in southwest Cheung Chau.  Partly because this smaller area of the island didn't seem half as full of garbage as Coral Beach and in part because there were more volunteers around this time out, I really could see that the beach was quite a bit cleaner after we had labored for a few hours in hot sun and also under clouds as well as were showered upon on a couple of occasions -- and boy, did this make me feel good!

Over on Coral Beach last month, I had been shocked to not only find lots of glass shards on the beach but also whole test tubes and bottles that looked like they were meant to contain medication.  This time around, I found less glass about but, equally -- if not more -- alarmingly, lots more plastic materials and styrofoam, both of which easily break into little bits after baking for a time in the sun.

Sometime back, I read about how the tiny bits of plastic found in the ocean are liable to be swallowed by various sea creatures, including those that we consume -- leading to the pollutant ending up in our bodies.  When seeing the garbage found on the beach, I also get to thinking of the early scenes in Ponyo, on the Cliff by the Sea showing the horrific mess that trawlers tend to dredge up from the seabeads -- and how it is that pretty much all of it is the creation of us humans.

To this end, I make it a point to get as much plastic and styrofoam off the beach as I can while carrying out beachcleaning exercises.  Something else that I target are the broken pieces of glass that dot the ground, since there have been too many times when I've been barefoot on a beach in Hong Kong and found myself worrying that my feet'd get cut by the shards I can't help but spot every few meters that I walk on what on the surface can appear to be truly beautiful beach locales.

At the same time, there's no denying that one can get a disproportionate sense of achievement from getting larger, more clearly visible items off the beach and into the garbage bag.  Some of these objects are on the mundane side and come in the form of such as whole plastic and glass bottles.  More unexpected "finds" on Italian Beach this afternoon included footwear, ranging from an adult-sized sneaker to a child-sized plastic sandal!  Then there's what strikes me as really disturbing to find on a beach in Hong Kong: items such as syringes, which get me thinking less of drug users and more of medical waste that should have been disposed of in a much more responsible way than it has been.

But when the pollution I see threatens to make me despair about humankind, I get to thinking of the people who volunteer to help clean up the beaches.  As one beach cleanup participant remarked to me last month: "Isn't it amazing to think that people are willing to do this kind of labor for free?"  Alternatively put: humans really aren't all bad, there's hope for this world -- and long may that be this way! ;b

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tung Chung to Tai O hike sights on a festive summer's day (Photo-essay)

The first time I traipsed from Tung Chung to Tai O, the 16 kilometer hike was the longest I had ever gone on, and I was pretty tired by the time I got to the so-called "Venice of Hong Kong"On my third trek along that route, however, it was my hiking companion who was the exhausted one -- and I consider that a good gauge of my health and hiking prowess having increased!

One reason why my friend felt so drained was because it was pretty hot out there that summer afternoon -- and while I had opted for shorts and a cap to cover my head, he chose to wear long trousers and no head gear.  I'm glad to report that he didn't come down with heatstroke though -- thanks, I believe, to his at least having brought ample water to drink along the way; though when we got to Tai O, he ran to a store to get at another bottle of water to empty over his head to really cool down!  

Still, any fear I had that he was actually in a bad state disappeared when, rather than hurry to our hike's end, he got all excited when we spied a bamboo theater erected on the outskirts of the village and he rushed to snap photos of the temporary structure and the Cantonese opera performance taking place inside it! ;b
Early on in the hike, one of the most visible area landmarks
Wires galore up above! :O

Less than an hour into the hike, one can get drinks, snacks
and a bit of rest if one so wishes at this cafe
Other signs of one not having left civilization behind at all include
that of the busy airport across the water and a waterskier on said water!
Still, this is not to say that this was a hike bereft of 
cool critter spottings, like this brightly colored beetle!
 On my second hike along this trail, my heart sank at the sight
of these steps but this time around, I took heart in knowing
that seeing them meant that we were more than two thirds done already ;)

When you get to this point of the hike, 
you're more or less at the home stretch! :b
And on this hike, there was the bonus sight of the festive
bamboo theatre, and colorful flags fluttering in the wind :)