Friday, May 10, 2019

From To Tei Wan to Tai Tam Reservoir Road on a high visibility day (Photo-essay)

Among the friends I've gone hiking with in Hong Kong is one whose nature makes it so that I often am unsure if she's actually enjoying our excursion.  To be fair, she's not the complaining type; but neither is she inclined to show much enthusiasm.  So when, at one point during the hike we went on along that took us from To Tei Wan to Tai Tam Reservoir Road (i.e., Hong Kong Trail Stage 7, only in reverse), she exclaimed out loud at what was actually quite the scenic panoramic view that unfolded in front of us, I knew she must have been exaggerating her reactions as a joke!

At the same time though, I did realize that she did indeed think that particular vista was quite something -- and that she did enjoy that afternoon's excursion (not least because she's happily gone hiking with me a few more times since that day): for which I credit the beautiful scenery and cool critter spottings to be found along this Hong Kong Island hiking trail, the company (which included a second friend), and the fact that while it was pretty hot humid out there that day, with some gray clouds looking on the threatening side, we actually didn't get rained on that afternoon and were treated to much greater visibility than expected. :) 

Looking out to the southern end of the Stanley Peninsula and beyond
from Tai Tam Bay on a high visibility, even if cloudy, day
Looking over to the Redhill Peninsula and the far greener 
areas around and beyond it, including where our hike would end

A part of Hong Kong Island far from the concrete jungle 
that many people think is all that it is

Clear day view that allows one to see Hong Kong's southernmost
islands (Beaufort and Po Toi) from Tai Tam Bay

Lookit the beautiful wings on that dragonfly... and the fact
that there's another dragonfly stuck to it! ;b

On a less salacious nature note: check out the 
different colors on the rocks at the edge of the bay :)

Obelisk near the water's edge at Red Hill

One more scenic photo before hike's end near the 
Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir's 60 feet tall and 800 feet wide dam wall

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Old school dinner at Sham Shui Po's Man Fat Seafood Restaurant

An old school eatery in Sham Shui Po
Delicious brown food on the table 
Ugly (but) delicious?
First off: apologies for the lack of blog posts in recent days -- and no, it wasn't because I was out of Hong Kong but, rather, because I've been feeling so sick that I not only lost my appetite but couldn't stand to think much about food for a time!  Although I'm still not fully recovered from my latest bout of cold (or is it flu, or -- perish the thought -- sinus infection?!), I'm at least able to stand looking at photos of food and fondly recalling a good meal once more.  So here's going ahead and sharing my memories of a dinner I had two Mondays ago at a very old school, local restaurant that was heaving with people on what's usually the least busy night of the week for restaurants.
Although my host referred to it as a dai pai dong, the Man Fat Seafood Restaurant is not an open-air establishment.  Rather, its kitchen is housed in what would usually be the space for an entire eatery or single store on the ground floor of a Sham Shui Po tong lau and it has dining areas in not one but three other locations on both sides of the street on which it's situated.  (Of interest too to diners will be the fact that smoking appears to be allowed at at least one of its dining areas, which is distinguished by its doorway being open rather than having a door in it and the space looking to be un-air-conditioned, unlike those sections of the restaurants where smoking is verbotem.) 
My party of seven was thankfully allocated a table in the non-smoking sction of the restaurant and were quickly served four of the five dishes we originally ordered, with the final dish following not far behind.  As one would expect at a place with "seafood" in its title, we made sure to include some seafood into our order -- and I most definitely have no complaints about the fish head we ordered (which was chopped up into chopstickable chunks and slathered with an unrecognizable but tasty brown sauce) nor the eel with black bean sauce that all of my party (who included a couple of Americans and one Briton along with three Hong Kong-born women and myself) proceeded to consume with relish.
As it turned out though, it was a beef and glazed potato dish that turned out to be the most popular of the night; with the potatoes being the surprise star of the show more so than the beef!  Also super satisfying to my mind was the generous serving of pork belly with pickled vegetables, a classic Cantonese dish that the traditionalists among us feel has to have decadently fatty pork belly like what we were served at Man Fat Seafood Restaurant for it to qualify as the real McCoy -- and goes so very well with white rice.
About the only sub-par dish of the night for me was Man Fat's version of a dish known at Tung Po as "wind sand chicken" -- but I think I only felt disappointed by it because I've tasted better elsewhere.  And so generally happy with what we had ordered that we decided to order one more dish -- only our mixed vegetables turned out to be two dishes: one in a pot of soup; the other stir-fried with chilli; and both with seafood added to them!

After having consumed what amounted to a veritable feast, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our total bill (which included three large bottles of beer and a couple of soft drinks) ended up being a bargain HK$903 (~US$115).  With that in mind, I really am happy to traipse to Sham Shui Po again for dinner in the not so distant future; only, next time, I hope the bus I'm on won't have a couple of heavily coughing and snuffling passengers who I look upon as the prime suspects for having infected me with whatever virus (hopefully, just that for the common cold) that they were infected with! ;(

Friday, May 3, 2019

Deliciousness and surprises galore at Uehara at each and every omakase dinner I've had there

The kind of creative dish served over the course of 
an omakase dinner at Uehara
A piece of sushi that looks really beautiful to me
Your eyes are not deceiving you -- there really are 
two slices of otoro in that one piece of sushi ;b
Around five years ago this month, I set foot for the very first time in a small sushi-ya with a discreet entryway situated in the border area between busy -- and sometimes super crowded -- Causeway Bay and quiet -- except when the Fire Dragon is out and about -- Tai Hang.  Since that first visit, I've returned to Uehara for omakase dinner more than twenty-five times now according to its owner-chef, Takahiro Uehara.
Over the years, I've had the pleasure of introducing a number of friends to the purveyor of the best sushi they've declared that they have ever eaten and celebrating the birthdays of more than one person with a slap-up meal there.  I've also had a number of celebrity encounters there -- as in I've found myself seated on occasion next to or just a few seats away from such as: a two Michelin star chef -- who vouchsafed that Uehara deserves two Michelin stars too -- and his wife -- who told me that she tries to dine there at least once a week; the owner of a gourmet yakitori chain whose branches in Hong Kong and Tokyo are included in the respective cities' Michelin guides; and a Cantopop singer-actor who will forever be associated with his Young and Dangerous character!
As lovely as many of these social experiences have been though, the truth of the matter is that the star of the show on each of my visits to Uehara has always been the food -- which can be so very good that certain choice morsels there can cause me to make moany noises.  More than incidentally, I also am not exaggerating when I report that, during my most recent dinner there, my consumption of one particular piece of sushi actually cause me to literally shiver eight times in a row!  And, for the record: no, it actually wasn't that which consisted of two melt-in-your-mouth slices of otoro -- one seared, one raw -- on a "just right" sized portion of rice but, instead, a more humble but somehow incredibly ecstacy-inducing piece of kinmedai (alfonsino)!
Since I had dined at the Hong Kong outpost of Sushi Saito a couple of months prior to my most recent visit to Uehara, I had been filled with some trepidation that the fare at my favorite sushi-ya would pale in comparison with what I had at my one meal (thus far) at the two Michelin star sushi-ya in the Four Seasons.  Honestly though, I really shouldn't have worried that dining at that more flashy establishment would have made it so that I would no longer be able to enjoy my meals at Uehara: For, if anything, my experience of having been to Sushi Saito made me all the more convinced that dinner at Uehara is extremely good value (compared to such as that more heralded -- and consequently, more expensive -- sushi-ya whose lunch price is about the same as Uehara's dinner).
Based on price alone then, I'd be more willing to return to Uehara for dinner than return to Sushi Saito for lunch -- and this not just because dinner at Uehara always leaves me feeling satisfyingly full whereas I came away from my lunch at Sushi Saito feeling less satiated than I would have liked!  (In addition, I have to admit that I still can't justify paying as much for a single meal anywhere as I would have to if I were to go for dinner at Sushi Saito -- or, indeed, a number of other sushi-ya that are listed in the Hong Kong edition of the Michelin Guide.) 
Something else that makes more willing to return again and again for omakase dinner at this unassuming, yet obviously high-end, sushi-ya whose talented chef-owner never ceases to surprise and amaze me with new dishes and tastes on each visit that I make to his establishment.  To be sure, there are certain staples that he regularly offers up because he knows they are customer favorites (such as the cream cheese with shark cartilage that goes really well with sake, and the uni gunkan that signals that the savory portion of the meal has come to an end).  But it also is the case that each time I've gone to Uehara for dinner, I've been presented with at least one dish or type of sushi that I hitherto had never had before -- at the restaurant or, sometimes, anywhere else previously. 
Right from my first meal at this sushi-ya, I could tell that Uehara-san takes great pride in including seasonal fare in the omakase meals he serves up.  And time and time again now, I've been introduced to a number of fish (e.g., sakuramasu (Japanese cherry salmon) and akakamasu (red barracuda)) and other seafood -- and also sections of fish (e.g., maguro no hohoniku (i.e., tuna cheek)) -- that I hadn't previously realized was edible as sushi, and have found to be amazingly delicious in many cases.   

But even when I know to expect the unexpected when dining at Uehara, I still have been surprised by at least one dish served at each and every dinner that I've had there.  A case in point: on this most recent visit, the very first dish of the night consisted of slices of... Japanese onion topped by bonito flakes and a salad dressing-like sauce!  And while this may sound rather underwhelming and even cheap, the onion turned out to be the sweetest I've ever tasted -- and yes, it really was served raw -- and turned out to be an ideal appetizer for the feast that was to come that evening! ;b

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Scenic views and critter spottings one clear air day in the Sai Kung Peninsula (Photo-essay)

If you were to ask hiking enthusiasts in Hong Kong which is their favorite part of the Big Lychee to be out in, chances are pretty high that they'd say the Sai Kung Peninsula that's home to not one but two country parks.  It's not just that the scenery can be pretty spectacular in this section of Hong Kong but, also, that, with a combined area of some 7,494 hectares to wander about, there are whole stretches of trail that one can go along without seeing any other person for a time. 

Because of this, the Sai Kung Peninsula is a part of Hong Kong that I'm loathe to hike in by myself.  Happily though, I've had several opportunities over the years to venture there with one friend or more -- and to the extent that I've come to have a number of favorite trails in the area, including the Tai Tan Country Trail which I've now been on at least five times, and with a different hiking buddy who had hitherto never previously been on this particular route on each of these occasions! 

The kind of camouflaged creature I probably would not 
have been able to spot in my first years hiking in Hong Kong ;)
Not a spider as it only has six -- rather than eight -- legs!
A damselfly which most obligingly posed for my camera! :)
The proximity of this trail to streams makes it so that it's one 
that I've decided should be avoided during the rainy season
On an isolated beach looking across Long Harbour 
A rugged section of trail that leads one up to 
higher ground, and more stunning views
The kind of clear day vista that shows how green --
and beautiful -- much of Hong Kong really is
Time near the end of the hike to look back and appreciate 
how very pleasant much of the scenery that the Tai Tan 
Country Trail takes one through is :)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A very large as well as peaceful protest in Hong Kong against a China extradition plan

The message is clear
Truly just a small section of the crowd that took 
to the streets to deliver it this afternoon
A crowd that still believes (for now) 
in the power of peaceful protest 
Earlier today, I took part in another protest march against that China extradition plan which puts far more people at risk than anyone should be comfortable with.  This one attracted a far greater number of participants than last month's -- thanks in no small part, I believe, to it having been far better publicized.  Another development that undoubtedly contributed to people feeling a greater impetus to join today's event involved the outcome of the trial of the Umbrella Nine.  In addition, I believe that the urgency and seriousness of this matter got further driven home by the decision of Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing Kee, who had taken part in last month's protest march, to seek refuge in Taiwan earlier this week.  
As has become the norm, there's a vast discrepancy in the size estimates of the crowd made by the police (of some 22,000) versus that of the organizers (over 130,000).  What I think can be safely agreed upon though is that far more people turned up to peacefully but determinedly be seen and make their voices heard than had been anticipated -- to the extent that the need was felt to get the protest march going some 20 minutes earlier ahead of the official start time of 4pm in order to prevent the area where the event began from being brought to a complete standstill.  
With more people (many of them bearing yellow umbrellas and protesting in other distinctively Hong Kong ways, including by humming aloud Les Misérables' "Do You Hear the People Sing?") filling the allocated spaces along the march route than expected, movement was on the slow side for the most part -- to the extent that, having arrived at the assembly point minutes before the march got going, it took me close to two hours to walk from East Point Road in Causeway Bay to the section of Hennessy Road by the Southorn Playground in Wan Chai.  And while I made it to the end of the route in front of the Legislative Council building in Admiralty at some two hours and forty minutes after I had set off on the route, a friend of mine further back in the long, snaking procession reported that he was still only at the section of the route near Southorn Playground!  
More than incidentally, I think it worth pointing out that that same friend -- who only reached the end point of today's protest march at around 7pm, more than four hours after he had arrived at its starting point -- lives in Tin Shui Wai, over in the northwestern New Territories, while another friend who managed to catch up with me about two thirds along the route hails from the other side of Hong Kong over in Tseung Kwan O.  Put another way: it wasn't just that there were a lot of protesters out on the streets of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty today but also that they look to have come from all over Hong Kong and thus could be said to constitute, in more ways than one, a good representation of the population of the territory. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Things I've gotten from taking part in a beach clean-up on Cheung Chau

The water is clear but there's always stuff to clean up 
Cleaning up's a tough job -- but there really are 
people who volunteer to do it!
 Yes, there are people who care out there!
The Hong Kong Observatory got its weather forecasts wrong again today.  Unlike last Saturday, when I got caught in a freak storm which blindsided much of Hong Kong (including its professional weather forecasters up until just a few minutes before it blew into the territory), however, I was happy for the incorrect prediction since it meant that, despite warnings of blustery thunderstorms for the day, we had nice weather conditions for the beach clean-up I organized earlier today.
More specifically: the skies were gray and overcast -- which meant there wasn't much sun to bake us and not much light reflecting off the sands to heat our faces as we worked -- but not a single drop of rain fell on those of us who turned up for yet another round of trash picking at Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Tsai (Coral Beach)In addition, today's temperatures were a few degrees cooler than yesterday and the day before (when I got very tempted to switch on the air-conditioning in my apartment for the first time this calendar year!) and there also were really welcome breezes blowing from time to time while we were at the beach as well as on our hikes to and from it. 
Speaking of hikes: I first set foot on Tung Wan Tsai some years back when two friends and I hiked around Cheung Chau.  Even now, I remember my shock upon discovering how much dirtier it was than the beaches on the island admininistered by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department over on the eastern side of town as well as thinking how beautiful it could be if it was bereft of the trash scattered all over it.     
I also can remember how horrified I was at how much trash there was at this Cheung Chau beach the very first time that I took part in a beach clean-up there close to four years ago now.  Indeed, I felt so devastated at the sight that I couldn't bring myself to take any photos of -- and at -- the beach that day and actually wondered if the efforts of the group I was with actually counted for anything in the face of the large amount of garbage that polluted that part of Hong Kong.
Even while part of me felt that it would be a Quixotic or Sisyphean endeavor, however, I felt inspired by the efforts of the other beach clean-up volunteers, especially those who had returned time and time again to voluntarily do something that many people just can't be bothered to (or think is too disgusting to do).  So the next month, I went again for another beach clean-up on Cheung Chau -- and, well, the rest is history. 

To cut a long story short: Not only have I been taking part in beach clean-ups in Hong Kong for some years now but I've also now organized a fair few.  Something that's warmed the cockles of my heart is that in the past year, there have been a good number of repeat participants for the latter.  Something else that I find really heartening is that those of us who have taken part in a number of beach clean-ups at Tung Wan Tsai actually can see the difference in terms of its overall level of cleanliness.  
Put another way: Even while much does remain to be done, I actually do think we've made some difference after all.  And this has inspired me to think and believe that, even when one is faced with great odds, it's better to go do something -- rather than moan and groan or, worse, give up and -- in so doing -- not just let the enemy win but also defeat yourself in the bargain.    

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Musings on the Sentencing of the Umbrella Nine

Sign spotted in Admiralty in October 2014
whose message is still valid today

Two weeks and a day after the pro-democracy activists now collectively known as the Umbrella Nine were found guilty of public nuisance charges by district court judge Johnny Chan, sentencing was carried out on eight of the nine.  Two of these individuals (Law professor Benny Tai and retired sociology professor Chan Kin Man) were given 16 month prison sentences; two others (League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong, social worker-lawmaker Shiu Ka Chun) got eight month jail terms; three others (Reverend Chu Yiu Ming, Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing Tat and former student leader Eason Chung) received suspended jail sentences of varying lengths; while the youngest of the group (former student leader Tommy Cheung) was given a community service order of 200 hours.  
As expected, opinion is divided along partisan lines as to whether the sentences meted out were too harsh or lenient. The blogger behind The Big Lychee summed it up as follows: "If you consider the fact that the accused hadn’t done anything wrong by Hong Kong’s old (pre-2014) ‘1 Country 2 Systems’ standards, the charges, trial and sentences are an outrage. But if you buy the story that the defendants caused citywide chaos and misery, the penalties could be described as ‘lenient’."
When the news of the Umbrella Nine's sentencing broke yesterday, I felt less sadness and shock on the whole than I had thought that I would.  On reflection one day on, I think this was partly because, in view of these individuals having faced a maximum of seven years behind bars (for the parts they (allegedly) played in inciting tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of people to Occupy Central and a number of other parts of Hong Kong), the sentences they received were actually not as terrible as I feared (even while, of course, wishing for far better).  In addition, my sense is that the whole thing is still not yet over; and this not least because sentencing for one of the group, lawmaker Tanya Chan, has been postponed for at least one and half months in the wake of the shocking revelation that she has a brain tumor that urgently requires surgery.  
On the legal front, there are options to appeal the sentences -- and it is looking like at least three of the convicted individuals will go ahead and take their battle to the higher courts.  And, more generally, if the sentencing judge thought that the sentences he meted out would serve to deter those seeking genuine universal suffrage, self-determination and other political freedoms for Hong Kongers from doing so in the future, I believe he's very much mistaken.  Actually, if anything, I think that he's added fuel to people's frustrations, anger and sense of injustice -- and I sincerely hope that he hasn't made them feel that the non-violent route that the Umbrella Nine had advocated and adhered to is a dead end.