Sunday, January 22, 2017

Critter spotting highlights while hiking in a (now very) familiar part of Hong Kong

Not the usual perching pose one expects to see of a butterfly!
Earlier today, I saw a butterfly flit by while I was walking in Hong Kong.  While this is to be expected when hiking in the countryside on a summer afternoon (or even in the spring or sometimes even fall), it's not my usual experience when strolling about in a decidedly urban part of the Big Lyche on a winter's day, as was the case today!
And while we're talking about unusual: even though it's located on Hong Kong Island and one of the access points to it is within walking distance of not just one but two different MTR stations, Tai Tam Country Park (including its Quarry Bay Extension) actually is home to a number of wild creatures: some of which one simply doesn't expect to see so close to the city, and others of which are of the kind whose subspecies I didn't know existed -- period! -- until I cast my eyes upon them within this particular country park's borders!

As improbable as it may sound, I once saw -- but was unable to photograph, before it moved away -- a pretty large lizard (like the one I saw up on a tree over in Sai Kung East Country Park some time later) basking in the sun on the banks of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir.  Then there were the pair of copulating stink bugs (whose female member seemed intent on eating at the same time as making whoopie!), the crabs that I initially thought must have been dropped so far uphill by birds or some such creatures (but found out via a blog visitor actually have the woodlands as their natural habitat!), and such as the brightly colored, long-tailed lizards that I got to learn are called skinks

All in all, because the landscape of Tai Tam Country Park has become pretty familiar to me over the years, it's frequently the case that this or that cool critter spotting ends up being the highlight of my hike in this part of Hong Kong.  Of course, this is not to say that I have become immune to the scenic beauty of such as the Tai Tam Reservoirs or the views to be had from Violet Hill or Siu Ma Shan and Mount Butler.  But when you do such as cast your eyes for the first time on a type of creature you previously had not known existed, or even see a critter you're familiar with doing something you didn't expect, it really can feel pretty special and particularly cool! ;) 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Rising Above in Hong Kong

Rising Above in Hong Kong!
Inside the first ever exhibition of African American
history and culture in Asia 
In his acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for Best Original Song (along with John Legend) back in January 2015 for Selma's Glory, the artiste best known as Common (but named at the Academy Awards ceremony as Lonnie Lynn) gave a shout out to "the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy".  Maybe therein lies the reason why the Big Lychee also was given the honor of hosting the first ever exhibition of African American history and culture on the Asian continent. 
On since December 9th, 2016, Rising Above: The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection runs through February 26th of this year at the University of Hong Kong's University Museum and Art Gallery and features more than 120 items collected by philanthropist-entrepeneur Bernard W. Kinsey and his educator wife Shirley Pooler Kinsey that document and tell of African American struggles, tragedies, triumphs and contributions from 1604 through to the present.  
Among this special exhibition's artifacts that chilled me to the bone were a pair of iron shackles that had actually been worn by female slaves.  Also painful to behold was a letter from a slave owner who about a young female slave he was selling -- and, in the process, separating from her family -- in order to have money to build stables for his horses almost broke my heart; this especially when he disclosed that he had not told her what had happened, and also had asked her to carry and deliver it to her new owner.  
In addition, it's surely well nigh impossible for those who's viewed 12 Years a Slave to not recall heart-wrenching scenes from that fact-based film upon casting their eyes on an old, battered copy of Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir in the Kinsey Collection.  And powerful too -- and empowering as well? -- was the sight of Ava Cosey's Ancestor's Torch, which beautifully documents the many, many inventions by African Americans, which include the carbon filament for the light bulb (Lewis Latimer), the modern-day fireproof safe (Henry Brown), the modern-day gas mask (Garrett Morgan), mobile refrigeration (Frederick M. Jones) and potato chips (George Crum).
Rising Above: The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection is to be applauded for shedding light on the African American experience.  Admirably, those behind it also look to make connections with other communities.  As the museum's director, Florian Knothe, outlined in his foreword to this special exhibition: "rising above adversity is not a localised historic phenomenon but one as much known in Asia as in America."  
And while it was left officially unsaid, it surely is not entirely coincidental that the University of Hong Kong happens to be where the likes of Benny Tai are employed, and Yvonne Leung -- and further back in the past, no less a personage than the man who led a revolution that succeeded in overthrowing an imperial dynasty, Dr Sun Yat Sen -- studied! 

Friday, January 20, 2017

A message to my American friends on Donald Trump's inauguration day

This steep, granite stone-paved street in Central used to be 
the boundary between the parts of Hong Kong where white people 
were allowed to venture and Chinese people could live...

 Not so long ago, large swathes of the land one now is
able to look out at from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Building Observatories would have been bombed out and ruined...

Nothing is forever and this too shall eventually pass... In the meantime, fight the good fight, help to save our planet, and tell yourself that at some point, that man who's improbably become the 45th president of the United States of America -- and consequently also a man who holds the fate of thousands, if not millions, of people, Americans and non-Americans alike, in his hands -- will be unseated, and hopefully before too long!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Caught in anthropological webs of significance to this day ;)

A bunch of old posted ads caught my eye while
walking on a quiet Macau street one evening
The arrangement looked so photogenic I got to wondering
if it was an artificially crafted photo spot for tourists
But after looking up and seeing the state
of the building that it fronts, I think not! ;b
In what can seem like another lifetime, I studied anthropology and even thought for a time that I'd be a professional participant-observer for pretty much my whole life.  But while I've long left the groves of academe and feel obliged to confess to not having read -- or even re-read -- a serious anthropology tome for quite a few years now, I actually do believe that quite a bit of what I previously learnt from, and of, that humanistic social science has continued to stay with me.
For one thing, anthropology has made me see that race is not a biological fact but, instead, a socio-cultural construct, and this idea has very much affected the way I see the world and humanity in general, and interact with my fellow humans.  For another, it's given me the tools to feel at home in societies and cultures in which I wasn't born, and also ones to help me more deeply -- and sometimes also dispassionately -- analyze them as well as those into which I grew up in.  In so doing, I sometimes am able to see problems where others may not, but also appreciate -- and sometimes, even plain notice, and see interesting things in -- a lot of sociocultural elements that others don't.
For better or worse, this sometimes can make me feel different from people around me.  On a lighter note: my anthropological knowledge also can bring about moments, like earlier this evening, when I was watching Arrival, the cerebral sci-fi movie in which actress Amy Adams portrays a linguistics professor tasked with finding out how to communicate with mysterious aliens who have arrived on Earth, and her character and another discuss the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis -- and I got to getting the distinct feeling that I was the only person in the cinema who was familiar with it and even knew the full names of the two linguistic anthropologists it's named after!
And although I did blog about it years ago (and now belatedly realize that my blog's more than 10 years old after seeing how old that blog post now is!), I think it worth pointing out again that this very blog's title actually also has an anthropological connection: in that, it's inspired by a quote by the great cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz that "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun..." which I very much believe to be true. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Old Hong Kong post boxes and their continued use

A colonial era post box still in use in Hong Kong today
An even older colonial era post box; this one bearing the 
cypher of King George VI, not Queen Elizabeth II!
Back in October 2015, the Hong Kong postal authorities announced plans to cover the British insignia on post boxes erected during colonial times that remained in use years after Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain.  Apparently it just wasn't enough to repaint them green after 1997 as opposed to their original pillar box red.  (More than incidentally, post boxes in Malaysia also underwent a color change from pillar box red -- this time to yellow -- in the post-colonial era.)
The reasons given by the Hong Kong authorities for wanting to remove the British insignias included some people being uncertain and confused as to whether the old post boxes are actually still in use. But irate conservationists and heritage activists look to have managed to cause an about face by the powers that be, or at least a delay in their actions, since it's now 2017 and I still see a number of these post boxes -- which date back not only to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II but also her father, King George VI, and his father, King George V -- with their royal insignia intact in various parts of the Big Lychee!
More than incidentally, I wonder how much mail actually does get collected from Hong Kong's post boxes each day these days.  Put another way: are there people out there still who send that much "snail mail" any more in an era when such as gas, electricity and water bills can be paid online, via ATMs and such rather than just with a check through the mail? 
On a related note: last month, I sent off two postcards by "snail mail" -- one to a friend who likes sending and getting them, and another to a certain Pear (fairy) who hails from Funabashi!  When writing out those postcards, I found that my writing hand cramping midway through -- a sure sign that I am so out of practice in terms of actually writing paragraphs worth of words rather than typing them out on my computer keyboard, as has become the norm as well as very much my preference for many years now! ;O

Monday, January 16, 2017

Eateries whose food I've been happy to wait a long time in line for

It's normal to find crowds of people waiting to get into 
Shau Kei Wan's 50-year-old On Lee Noodle Shop
The wait is usually even longer at the Four Seasons 
claypot rice eatery in Yau Ma Tei! :O
On my most recent visit to Tokyo's Tsukiji market back in May of last year, I took one look at the line outside my favorite sushi restaurant there -- the very one were I had had an absolutely revelatory omakase meal back in 2006 -- and decided that I just wasn't willing to stand in line for the hours I estimated I'd need to do so in order to get through its door to get what I knew would be an extremely good value as well as quality sushi breakfast.  Here's the thing: the most recent time that I had eaten at Sushi Dai (back in 2012), I had waited approximately two and a half hours to get into that tiny Tsukiji sushi-ya; but four years later, the lines to get into it were the longest yet that I had ever seen!

Until I moved to Hong Kong close to 10 years ago now, there had only been one place I remember being happy to stand in line for its food.  This was Koch's Deli in West Philadelphia, whose generously sized sandwiches -- which I actually usually could get two meals out -- had far more inches of meat than bread and where the staff would hand out free slices of meat and cheese to people who they had been waiting a while to place their orders, and also habitually also offered up a joke per order.  (More than incidentally, Sushi Dai's own thoughtful gestures involved handing out free cups of green tea to people waiting in line and even giving them umbrellas to use if it was raining!)

What with the Big Lychee having lots of super popular but physically small eateries where reservations are not entertained and sometimes just plain unheard of, waiting outside to get into a place for lunch or dinner has become a pretty common part of my life here.  Still, it must be said that I've never waited more than one and a half hours -- one hour less than it took me to get into Sushi Dai on my third and my most recent visit there -- to get into a place here in Hong Kong.

As it so happens, the restaurants where I've probably spent the most time waiting to get into in Hong Kong also are sushi-ya: specifically, branches of the Sen-ryo kaiten sushi chain whose parent shop is located in Japan's Tochigi Prefecture (and is several levels above other kaiten sushi restaurants here in Hong Kong, including its Genki Sushi budget affiliate).  About the only time when I could regularly walk into a branch of Sen-ryo was in the first few months after the Fukushima disaster of March 2011  and fears of radiation and such caused Hong Kongers to stay away in droves from their favorite Japanese restaurants.

I actually have friends (including one local Hong Konger) who refuse to wait to get into a restaurant, reasoning that there are so many restaurants in Hong Kong that one might as well go off in search of a good one without a line rather than waste time waiting in line to get into a particular dining establishment.  My problem though is that every once so often, I get specific cravings for the food made at a particular place -- and it's at these select eateries that I am willing to stand in line to get into, and often go do so equipped with a magazine or book to read while I'm waiting!

Among the handful of places outside whose doors I've been willing to wait for an hour (or even a little more!) are: For Kee, whose pork chops are marinated in a sauce that's absolutely heavenly and go ever so well with rice; Sing Heung Yuen, whose wickedly good tomato broth I invariably drink every last drop of; the Four Seasons claypot rice eatery whose standards have dropped somewhat in the last few years but whose extremely competitively-priced offerings still can hit the spot, especially on a cold night; and Yokozuna Ramen Restaurant in Yau Ma Tei, which was in existence long before the ramen wave hit Hong Kong and big name Japanese ramen chains like Ippudo and Ichiran set up branches on these shores.  

And yes, I'm usually by myself when I wait in line since my particular food cravings don't tend to be shared by my friends -- or at least not to that strong a degree at the particular time that I have them!  But, to be honest, I don't mind so much as this means that when my plate or bowl of goodies finally arrives, I can devour them at a speed and in a manner I would feel embarassed to do so in front of (better mannered) people I know!! ;)   

Sunday, January 15, 2017

See You Tomorrow promises more than it delivers (film review)

Eye-catching advertisement for a star-studded movie!
See You Tomorrow (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2016)
- Zhang Jiajia director and co-scriptwriter (with Wong Kar Wai)
- Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Eason Chan, Angelababy, Sandrine Pinna, Du Juan
Right after I emerged from the theatre where I had viewed See You Tomorrow, I made for a nearby video cum music store to look for a CD of the film's music -- and was surprised as well as disappointed to find that there doesn't appear to be such a thing (yet).  As you might have gathered from my actions, I thought this romantic movie's music was absolutely fantastic -- something I've come to expect of movies bearing Wong Kar Wai's imprint.  (And for the record: I own CDs of music from Ashes of Time, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, In the Mood for Love, 2046 and even My Blueberry Nights!)        
If only I felt so unequivocably positive about the rest of debutant director Zhang Jiajia's adaptation of his short story about three men who are charming in their own ways and their three very different romantic relationships with three very different women.  Billed as a comedy, See You Tomorrow's humor is so broad and general style is so over-the-top that I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that its source material was a comic book.  And while not as out-and-out wacky as another Wong Kar Wai produced-comedy, Jeff Lau's The Eagle Shooting Heroes, Zhang's 2016 offering and Lau's 1993 work do share some elements, including one main actor (in Tony Leung Chiu Wai), a photogenic, star-studded cast and also one funny-as-ever "sausage lips" gag!
Wong Kar Wai's hand -- or, at least, influence -- also is evident in this movie having visual flair and color aplenty, there being copious use of voiceover narration in the film, and a disinclination for story details to unfold in chronological order.  Furthermore, there's the choice of Wong Kar Wai favorite, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, to play the lead character: Chen Mo, the debonair owner of the See You Tomorrow bar who happens to be remarkably adept as a "ferryman" showing sad souls who've been ditched by their lovers the way back to an even keel, even if not always back on the path to true love; this despite or perhaps because he's lost in love himself, with the woman of his dreams (Du Juan seemingly channelling Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia) long gone from his life.
Another veteran of Wong Kar Wai movies, Takeshi Kaneshiro, has the role of Guan Chun, Chen Mo's eccentric landlord who lost his heart years ago to Mao Mao (Sandrine Pinna), a tomboyish pancake maker with a massive case of amnesia, and consequently no memory of Guan Chun and their romantic relationship.  To the Taiwanese pair (who, more than incidentally, have a 14 year age difference) falls the bulk of the responsibility to elicit laughs through physical comedy -- that sometimes works but other times ends up feeling far too lame -- even though their story also does have sad strands to it.
Probably the least Wong Kar Wai feeling story in this film is that involving radio deejay Xiao Yu (Angelababy), who lives next door to the See You Tomorrow bar, and fiercely independent rock singer Ma Li (Cantopop megastar Eason Chan), whose first visit to the bar proves to be pretty disastrous.  After he is dumped by the woman he loved (Lynn Hung), Xiao Yu -- who has idolized Ma Li from way back when he was way more boyish and handsome (and played in the movie by baby-faced K-pop idol Lu Han!) -- decides to learn ferryman techniques from Chen Mo in order to help Ma Li to heal and be happy again.
In view of its protagonist being a bar owner and much of the movie's action taking place in bars, it is only to be expected that See You Tomorrow will have lots of scenes featuring people drinking, sometimes in order to drown their romantic sorrows.  Nonetheless, the amount of alcohol shown being (supposedly) consumed in this film really is too much: to the extent that it truly borders on the ridiculously irresponsible as well as just looks -- yes, this is from someone who likes to taste her drinks! -- so terribly wasteful!  It might be a strange criticism, I know, but I honestly feel that the "bar golf" drinking scenes, in particular, went on for way too long and were so generally over-excessive that they consequently were unentertaining.

A more conventional slam is that See You Tomorrow misuses the talents of its main cast, with some seemingly tasked with over-acting like crazy while others had characters so low-key that they often didn't have much room at all to make use of their dramatic abilities.  Perhaps Zhang Jiajia needed to spend more time padding his short story into an over two hour length movie.  In fairness though, the first time director also looked to have put in quite a bit of effort to make the film look and sound good; and on these technical levels, he (and his team, who include cinematographers Peter Pao and Cao Wu) generally did succeed (although I, for one, could have done without such as the romantic shadowplay which worked so much better -- because it felt innovatively original then -- in 1991's Once Upon a Time in China!).  
My rating for this film: 6.5