Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Kid from the Big Apple actually is far more Malaysian than American! (film review)

Does this look like a Malaysian movie to you?

The Kid from the Big Apple (Malaysia-Hong Kong, 2016)
- Jess Teong, director-scriptwriter
- Starring: Tommy Tam (aka Ti Lung), Sarah Tan Qin Lin, Jason Tan, Jessica Hester Hsuan

When I was a kid growing up in Malaysia, I never ever imagined that one of my screen heroes, Hong Kong movie superstar Ti Lung, would ever appear in a Malaysian film, much less one that I'd view at a Hong Kong multiplex.  Among other things, Malaysia doesn't possess a particularly renowned -- or, for that matter, prolific -- national cinema, and the majority of films produced by this country have the national language, Bahasa Malaysia, as their main language rather than one which a Hong Konger like Ti Lung would be fluent in.  Also, it's more usually the case that Malaysians (including Michelle Yeoh, Lee Sinje and Angie Cheung) go to Hong Kong to make movies rather than vice versa.

As it turns out though, the Malaysian-Hong Kong co-production in which Ti Lung (credited in the film as Tommy Tam) and another Hong Kong thespian, Jessica Hester Hsuan, appear in principally makes use of Mandarin and also contains far more English than Bahasa Malaysia dialogue; this even though The Kid from the Big Apple is largely set in Kuala Lumpur (rather than New York City or, say, Hong Kong), and I personally have found Malaysia's largest city to be a part of the world where one is far more likely to hear Cantonese as well as Bahasa Malaysia and English being spoken than Mandarin.
A cross-cultural family drama which revolves around an Asian American pre-teen who gets parked for a time with her Kuala Lumpur-resident grandfather while her Malaysian-born single mother goes off to do some work in China, The Kid from the Big Apple starts off with Sarah (Sarah Tan Qin Lin) and her mom, Sophia (Jessica Hester Hsuen), arguing in English, then has Sophia speaking with her father (Ti Lung) in Mandarin, and the old man -- somewhat understandably, given the circumstances -- not realizing for a time that his granddaughter is actually bilingual.

Early on in the film, some comedy ensues from such as Sarah's grandfather regularly mispronouncing her name as salah (the Bahasa Malaysia word for "wrong") and a young neighbor enlisted by the old man to be his interpreter when talking to his grandchild turning out to be able to only speak "Manglish" rather than the more conventional form of English that Sarah is used to.  But The Kid from the Big Apple really only becomes fun and enjoyable to watch after its titular character morphs from sulky child to one who shows that she's got a nicer and more caring side.  (Also, I much prefer to hear Sarah Tan speaking Mandarin -- like she does more and more the further along into the film one goes -- as her English is too Malaysian-sounding for her to truly convince as an Asian American.)       

Largely taking place within a low-rise residential complex in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Cheras that appears to be almost entirely populated by ethnic Chinese families, this movie -- which shows culture clashes between the traditional and modern as well as Western and Asian -- benefits enormously from strong performances by veteran actor Ti Lung and 11-year-old Sarah Tan, and there being a definite chemistry between the two of them.  If truth be told though, I actually think that 14-year-old Jason Tan -- whose first film appearance this is (as also was the case for Sarah Tan) -- pretty much steals the show as Jia Bao, a big-hearted boy who proves to be the bridge between the traditional Chinese grandfather (a  pillar of his community and professional bonesetter who's regularly addressed as sifu (master)) and his thoroughly modern, social media-adapt grandchild.  

A film offering up plenty of heart and soul that manages to overcome its technical flaws, The Kid from the Big Apple is remarkably watchable, especially when one considers that this is the first directorial effort of Jess Teong (who also scripted the work).  And even while I have to admit to feeling somewhat uneasy about how the sincere offering seems angled to be more culturally Chinese than Malaysian (despite the movie largely taking place in Malaysia), I do appreciate its messages about how smartphones can -- and should -- never replace face-to-face interaction, and that certain traditional ways do -- and should -- endure in this (post-)modern age; and really like that Jess Teong was largely able to get her points across in a way that is often entertaining and sometimes even downright moving. 

My rating for the film: 7.5     

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hiking to Stanley along a creepy critter-filled portion of the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path (Photo-essay)

While hiking with three friends one beautiful afternoon from Wong Nai Chung Gap to Stanley via Violet Hill, the focus during the first part of our outing was on the many scenic views to be had, and which I considered fair compensation for trekking up to two -- rather than one -- of Violet Hill's three peaks.  

Actually, even after we were done with the most difficult part of the hike once we got to Tsin Shui Wai Au and opted to go along the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path to Stanley (rather than the route that would have taken us up and down the Twins), a fair few view bonanzas still awaited us.  But truly, the most memorable sights while walking along a trail that borders a catchwater for much of the way involved a number of critter spottings, a number of which were considerably creepier than others... ;b

Arachnophobes, look away ASAP!
Those with a fear of snakes also may want to give this
photo-essay a wide berth... ;S
The creepiest sight of all in my eyes: a spider that considers 
other members of its own species to (also) be fair game! :O
The nest of insects that instinct told me that I absolutely 
shouldn't be near and/or disturb... :S 
What can happen when one walks too close
to a spider's super sticky web!
A scenic view, with a spider and parts of a web in the picture

No creepy creatures in the photo for a change ;)
Will the creepiness never end?  A long dead snake
whose decaying sight still can make one shiver...
A panoramic view bonus (do click on the image to enlarge it)
for those of you who've made it thus far down the page! :)

Monday, May 2, 2016

From Aberdeen to Admiralty via a route that took us along Dutch Lane

The name of a nature trail in Hong Kong that I went on
for the first time ever this afternoon :)

It may have been a gray day but good views
still could be had from the path

My favorite one of the bug pics I snapped on today's hike

Up until today, I've only ended hikes in Aberdeen rather than begun hiking from the town that gave its Cantonese name to the whole of Hong Kong.  But after a friend who lives -- but had hitherto not hiked -- in the area asked me to show him how to get to Aberdeen Country Park from the town below, I decided that I might as well take him along an outing that began at one of that country park's southern entryways, then went all the way up to Wan Chai Gap before going down the other side of the hill to Admiralty.

I knew my friend was going to enjoy the excursion when he pulled out his smartphone to take a photo soon after we entered Aberdeen Country Park and caught sight of the lower of its two reservoirs.  And considering how he kept on telling me beforehand that he was not in shape, he proved remarkably willing to keep on going and seeing more and more of the natural side of Hong Kong that often is just meters away from its urban sections!

On the way down from Wan Chai Gap, I saw the sign for Dutch Lane that was put up in April 2012 after some campaigning by the likes of Designing Hong Kong CEO Paul Zimmerman, and decided that the time had come to explore this path that's so named because, for many years, the Dutch employees of the Royal Interocean Lines had regularly walked along it from their company residences to their shipping line's office.  Another friend had previously told me that this path could be accessed from the mini park on Bowen Road.  So the aim today was to connect to Bowen Road via Dutch Lane rather than all the way down via the far steeper Wan Chai Gap Road.     

Although the initial section of Dutch Lane that veers off from Wan Chai Gap Road is paved, things soon got considerably wilder along what apparently (also) is part of the 700 feet contour line of the old city of Victoria.  With certain of the unpaved sections of this trail also being on the narrow side, I often found myself focusing my attention on the ground.  Still, every once in a while, scenic views of the city below would get me stopping to enjoy the sight of some of Hong Kong's skyscrapers down below

During our trek along the approximately 1.5 km trail, we only saw two other people about.  So it seems that Dutch Lane still isn't all that well known to hikers.  Either that or, as I remarked to my friend, the mosquitoes that we encountered along the way had scared off some folks.  But while I would have preferred for this (part of the) hike to have been pesky insect free, I nonetheless did enjoy checking out yet another trail on Hong Kong Island that shows how nature really is never all that far away in "Asia's World City". :)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Nine developments/changes that I've noticed have taken place in Hong Kong in the last nine years

A photo taken during my first year in Hong Kong, featuring

 A photo taken a few months ago, with the ICC dominating 
the landscape, as is to be expected of Hong Kong's tallest building ;b

Back on April 29th, 2007, I announced on this blog that I'd be moving to Hong Kong.  Two days later, I arrived in the Big Lychee.  And for those who're calculating: yes, this means that today sees me celebrating my ninth anniversary of living in Hong Kong!  In honor of reaching that milestone, here's looking back and reflecting on nine changes and/or developments that I've noticed have taken place in "Asia's World City" since May 1st, 2007 (in no particular order, and for better or worse):-

1) Changes to the skyline on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour: The International Finance Center (IFC)'s 88-storey-high Tower 2 over in Central was Hong Kong's tallest building when I arrived in the Big Lychee nine years ago but it's now been surpassed in height by the International Commerce Centre (ICC) over in West Kowloon.  Interestingly, while I've yet to be on an upper floor of the IFC (or, for that matter, Bank of China Building -- another past "Hong Kong's tallest building" title holder), I've been able to do so -- and consequently enjoyed some stellar views -- at the ICC courtesy of fine dining establishments such as the Hong Kong branch of Ryugin and Tin Lung Heen being located there!   

2) Changes to the skyline on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbour: Construction sites continue to surround the area around the ICC while over the past nine years, we've seen such as the demolition of the building in Central which used to house the Ritz Carlton Hotel and the relocation of the Wan Chai ferry pier on the other side of Victoria Harbour.  By far the most notable change to the waterfront area as far as most people are concerned though is erection on the Tamar site of the Hong Kong Central Government Complex.  First occupied in 2011, its buildings' shapes became very familiar to many people, including me, as a result of a certain Occupy initiative and Umbrella Movement, even though many of us "only" spent significant amounts of time on the streets nearby rather than were admitted into them...      

3) A more politicized Hong Kong: I've long thought it was a fallacy (especially in light of there being annual commemorations on June 4th and rallies on July 1st) but before the Umbrella Movement came into being, I did hear various people opine on more than one occasion that Hong Kong people are only interested in making money.  While I would agree that money is important to many Hong Kongers, I think that lots of people here have come to realize that the economy is affected by politics (and vice versa).  More importantly, they also have come to realize that political awareness is not necessarily a bad thing -- and that political activism is needed to help safeguard the kind of way of life, and Hong Kong, that one wants to have (and/or remain).

4) One country, two systems -- more so than ever psychologically: Even as there are fears that Hong Kong's society and political culture will become more and more like totalitarian, Communist-ruled Mainland China, I am increasingly seeing people determined -- or, at the very least, wishing -- that Hong Kong will never become just another Chinese city.  Actually, around the time of the 2008 Olympics (which largely took place in Beijing but also saw a segment taking place in Hong Kong), I did feel that many Hong Kongers considered themselves to (also) be Chinese.  But that time -- and opportunity for the administration over in Beijing to build on -- appears to have truly come and gone. 

5) Putonghua/Mandarin more than English but Cantonese above all: Early on after my move to Hong Kong, the general impression I had was that many Hong Kong residents were more comfortable speaking English than Putonghua/Mandarin.  These days, however, I feel that many more Hong Kong residents feel more able to converse in Putonghua/Mandarin than English -- and this especially so among the younger generation.  At the same time, given a choice, pretty much every native Hong Konger would speak Cantonese -- and, in some cases, only Cantonese; this even among those who're actually ethnically Chiu Chow/Teochew, Hakka and so forth!   

6) Goodbye KCR, hello MTR's East and West Rail Lines: On a less political note: I have a friend who'd give people an idea of how long he has been in Hong Kong by telling them that he moved here before the Cross-Harbour Tunnel existed.  I wonder whether in years to come, people will similarly gasp when I tell them that when I moved to Hong Kong, what is now known as the MTR's East Rail Line used to be known as the Kowloon-Canton Railway (popularly abbreviated to "KCR").  And should anyone wonder: that change took place in December 2007; and that same day, the KCR West Rail line also came to be known as the MTR's West Rail Line!  

7) Further MTR expansions: In addition to gobbling up KCR lines, the MTR also has extended its services by building and connecting to more MTR stations.  Among the MTR stations that have come into being in the past nine years have been that for Lohas Park, Austin, Sai Ying Pun, HKU and Kennedy Town.  And while I've not yet set foot for that which services the mass residential development over in Tseung Kwan O, I've been happily making use of those MTR stations west of Sheung Wan to get to know northwestern Hong Kong Island better!

8) Photography now allowed(!): The first time that I visited a number of visually interesting looking Chinese temples in different parts of Hong Kong, I was shocked to find that no photography was allowed in them.  This was something that I found rather strange -- since photography was allowed in equivalent temples in Malaysia, Taipei and even close by in Macau -- and ascribed to some particularly localized superstition or belief here in Hong Kong.  But for whatever reason, somewhere along the line, the no photography ban has been lifted by the Chinese Temples Committee that operates and manages the likes of Tai Hang's Lin Fa Kung and Joss House Bay's Tai Miu -- and I, for one, am ever so delighted (and feel liberated) by this action!  

9) A city of where smartphones abound: As amazing as it may seem to some, I didn't have a mobile phone until I moved back to Asia in 2003 -- and to this day, I still do not own a smartphone and actually still do not feel a need to have one.  I realize that this puts me in a distinct minority of people here in Hong Kong, where much of the populace has embraced the smartphone revolution, and there are people with more than one smartphone who think nothing of changing their phones every other year, if not annually.  But truly, I want to say this to people: in this city where smartphones abound, one really still can get by without a smartphone -- and fairly easily too! ;)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Animal deaths and survival on Lantau

It's bad enough to see trash on the beach but it feels 
worse to spy lots of dead fish in the mix as well
In contrast, the sight of this very much alive butterfly -- 
which kindly stopped and posed for snaps! -- gladdened my heart :)
It also generally felt good to be out in 
Hong Kong style buffalo country today! ;b
Early this morning, I took part in a beach cleanup for the eighth time in less than a year.  For some reason, and irregardless of whether the beach cleanups have taken place in Cheung Chau or -- as has been the case the last two times -- Chi Ma Wan Peninsula, there always seems to be something new that one sees among the rubbish on the beaches.  
On one of the first beach cleanups that I went on, I spotted an uncommon amount of test tubes and other items that looked like they belonged in a medical lab lying on the sand.  On another occasion, there appeared to be an unusual amount of toothbrushes strewn about the beach.  Last month, it was little blue square tiles of plastic whose use, never mind origins, none of us could figure out.  And today, there came possibly the saddest sight thus far for me: lots of dead fish, mostly small but a couple around a meter long each, washed up by the  tide. 
My first reaction when seeing all the dead fish washed ashore along with human-created garbage, much of it made out of plastic or styrofoam, was that the sea creatures had been poisoned after ingesting too much plastic into their systems.  And even after a few Lantau Island resident friends suggested that the fish deaths may have been caused by the red tides that have been sighted around Lantau (along with other sections of Hong Kong) in recent weeks, that didn't make me feel better as the (increased) abundance in the occurence of red tides is unnatural even while it's true enough that they're formed naturally by natural organisms.   

Put another way: we humans have a lot to answer for and sure do create a lot of damage to the environment.  And yet... amidst it all, nature often shows that it can be far more resilient than we imagine -- as well as beautiful too. 

Whenever you go to Pui O, you'd pretty much guaranteed at least one water buffalo sighting.  This afternoon though, I also saw a rather large number of these feral animals in the fields around Shap Long Kau Tsuen, about 30 minutes walk away from the Hong Kong water buffalo central that's Pui O.  
In view of quite a few new village houses looking to be in the process of being completed in the area, there must be some doubt as to how much longer the horned creatures that call this particular corner of Lantau Island home can do so.  But, then, I've also seen quite a bit of development in Pui O over the past few years -- and yet, seemingly against the odds, its water buffalo herd still very much exists (along with the birds that like to be around them and the humans, some of whom turn out to actually appreciate their being around too)!  Consequently, I remain hopeful that water buffalo -- and cattle -- herds will be able to survive for some time to come in other parts of Lantau too. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

A fun ferry ride and afternoon out on Tin Hau's Birthday

 On the ferry ride to Joss House Bay on Tin Hau's Birthday
joss paper is scattered into the sea by devotees of the Chinese goddess
Upon arriving at Joss House Bay, we found the oldest and largest
Tin Hau temple in Hong Kong festooned with colorful flags

At the front of the temple, lion dancers danced
while drummers beat out the rhythm for them

Shiny good luck windmill charms added decorative color 
and festive spirit to the place and day :)

On just two days each year, a ferry service runs between the North Point Ferry Pier and Joss House Bay Public Pier.  Six years after I first made that trip on Tin Hau's Birthday, I went on the ferry again to take in the festivities at the Tin Hau temple popularly referred to Tai Miu ("big temple") -- this time with two friends in tow.

Despite my expecting it to be otherwise, the ferries we got on at both North Point and Joss House Bay weren't all that full.  So my friends and I were able to easily snag some of what we considered the best seats on the boat: in the open air section of the upper deck, with clear views of the scenery we passed by on the approximately 35-minute-long ferry ride (which I already reckoned was a bargain at HK$60 for the roundtrip fare even before finding out that tickets for the half day Tin Hau Festival excursion offered by the Aqua Luna cost HK$428 a pop!).

As I confessed to my friends, I actually think the best part of the Tin Hau birthday celebrations may well be our getting to go on this ferry ride which affords us views from the water of many parts of Hong Kong that one doesn't regularly get to sail by.  And although the visibility today was not as high as I'd like it to be, the air was still clear enough for it to be enjoyable out -- and the breeze and cooler temperatures than we've had for days added to this being a really pleasant outing. 

In addition, it's not every day that one smells incense burning when one's on the boat, or sees joss paper flying into the water during a boat ride -- or, for that matter, spies many other boats festooned with festive flags sailing in Victoria Harbour.  Put another way: it may be on the low key side but there were sure signs -- even on the ferry ride itself -- that today's actually a special day in the Chinese calendar.      

Considering that we were at what must be considered the premier Tin Hau temple of the over 100 that exist in Hong Kong, it actually was somewhat surprising to find that the festivities at Joss House Bay are not even one twentieth as intense as Cheung Chau during its annual Bun Festival (the Piu Sik portion of which I attended last year).  Not that I'm complaining: since for my physical comfort, I do like that the Tin Hau Birthday celebrations don't attract huge crowds even at this location.  In addition, there is a certain cultural satisfaction in seeing that this festival remains pretty uncommercialized and geared for the local community.    

For the record: the main activities at Tai Miu today appeared to revolve around making offerings (of food, drink and joss paper) to the Goddess of the Sea/Mother-Goddess and/or bidding to fumble under the quilt of the Dragon Bed in Tin Hau's bedroom for good luck items (such as lotus seeds, for fertility, or "lucky money").  Oh, and there were to lion dances to watch, including one that involved a seemingly half-drunk "lion" that seemed to enjoy sporadically spraying people with beer! ;D  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Some visual clues that show why Violet Hill is one of my favorite hiking spots on Hong Kong Island (photo-essay)

On what was only my fourth hike after moving to Hong Kong (back in 2007), a friend took another friend and me up Violet Hill from Wong Nai Chung Gap along Section 1 of the Wilson Trail.  While this Hong Kong Island hill has remained a favorite hiking spot, these days, I prefer to go up it along an alternative route that goes up two -- rather than just one -- of its three peaks, including the highest (by a few meters) which stands at 436 meters above sea level.

Then when one gets to the mountain pass known as Tsin Shui Wan Au, one is presented with a number of route options -- many of them pretty scenic.  While hiking with three friends one sunny afternoon, we decided to head down to Stanley from there via the southern section of the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path -- but the photos from this latter section of the excursion will have to wait to be shared in another photo-essay as I've already got eight nice snaps to share taken during the earlier part of the trek! ;b

Yes, one can see Ocean Park from Violet Hill (though not,
if my memory serves me right, from the Wilson Trail)

 In any case, I reckon the sight of The Twins thrills and
stirs the heart of most hikers more than that of Ocean Park ;b

Yes, we're still close to the city but already in
an area that is green and can feel pretty wild!

 If you look carefully, you'll catch sight of critters like this 
brown grasshopper peeking out from the surrounding greenery :)

Here's offering up visual proof that not all 
Hong Kong hiking trails are paved paths :b
 I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing the Tai Tam Reservoirs
and Tai Tam Harbour from Violet Hill, 
especially on days when their waters are this blue

Zoomed-in view of a masonry bridge, dam and valve house
that feature on the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail 

From viewpoints like this, Hong Kong can look really idyllic :)

 To be continued soon...!