Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Loving Hong Kong on China's National Day (Photo-essay)

I spent time today -- day four of Occupy Central Hong Kong (which also happens to be China's National Day) -- in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Admiralty, Central, Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tsui -- all areas, together with Sheung Shui, that currently are home to pro-democracy and anti-government protests by Hong Kongers.  

Early in the afternoon, I met a friend in Causeway Bay who asked me, "can you smell something in the air?" -- and before I could answer, proceeded to tell me, "It's the smell of freedom!"  

Other things that were discernible out there today: the goodwill, fellow feeling and largesse of protestors -- members of whom variously offered me yellow ribbons, bottles of water, towels, packets of biscuits and candy; the quiet determination of people who were there to be counted (upon); and the resolve to ensure that the protests would stay civil and good natured in a way that is characteristic of Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations.  

As I trust the following photos will help show, I also saw Hong Kong as I had never seen it before -- with some sections of roads full of people and other stretches of roads (access to which have been blocked) eerily empty, of people along with vehicles.  In any case, what is clear is this: people power is being enacted -- and it's an absolutely beautiful thing to see.

Lots of people were out in Causeway Bay in front of Sogo 
-- and not many of them were there to shop!

 This was a day when one could walk without fear
of being struck down by a vehicle along long stretches
of normally majorly trafficked streets

  Wan Chai as few people have ever seen it before!

A sign erected near the Central Government Complex in Tamar
that expresses what (hundreds of) thousands of Hong Kongers feel

 Umbrellas are -- of course -- among the items being
proferred to whoever wants them at supply stations
set up at various points in the protest areas

In Mongkok, anyone who wants to have a say gets 
two minutes to do so -- and an audience that politely listens

Outlets exist too for those who wish to express their feelings
by way of writing -- and in whatever language they wish 

Barricade in Tsim Sha Tsui -- but people (mainly mainlanders
from what I could observe) were free to shop in the stores on 
either side of the road if they so pleased

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hong Kong is NOT just another Chinese city!

A message sent out this past July 1st

May dreams expressed on July 1, 2013 continue 
to be cherished today, tomorrow and a long time to come

Things that show Hong Kong's distinct character... and long may Hong Kongers stay this way!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hong Kong in turmoil

Occupy Central has begun

The surreal and already tense calm before the storm --
with police and fire services vehicles parked in Admiralty, and

For much of this week, I've been having the time of my life travelling around Japan once more, enjoying hikes and a circa 17 kilometer bicycle ride as well as paying visits to such as a castle on a hill, an art museum and a number of old temples, and -- of course -- consuming great food and eminently quaffable drinks.  Truly, this most recent Japan vacation (which I do intend to write about at some point in the near future, if only to help me recapture some of that bliss) was one that was super wonderfully destressing.

And then I flew back to Hong Kong -- only it's a Hong Kong which reportedly one in five people would like to leave, and one that is more violent and troubled than it's been in a long while, with the police having not only used pepper spray but also tear gas on unarmed protestors in the past 12 hours or so.

Believe it or not, on the bus from the airport back to my apartment earlier today, I didn't see much that looked all that disturbing.  In fact, like I told a couple of friends, I saw more Filipina maids as well as police out in Central on that bus ride than I saw protestors!

But at Admiralty (particularly in the vicinity of Tamar) later in the afternoon, it was clear that there was a sizable number of people - and not just of student age either -- there to show their disatisfaction with the turn of events that have led many Hong Kongers to worry that Hong Kong is well on its way to being made into just another Chinese city.  And my sense was that the general mood was palpably angrier and likely to end in violence, tears and/or worse than when I've been in the crowd at Victoria Park on June 4 or out on the streets on July 1.

At the same time though, there was some strains amidst the turmoil of that almost festive air that sometimes can be discerned on July 1.  And if that was not weird enough, this was further mixed with a sense of the surreal and farcical that comes from there seeming to be so many other people nearby who didn't know what was going on, didn't care, or both -- people doing stuff such as going about shopping at the nearby high end Pacific Place mall, drinking in a bar located inside it, heading into the cinema there to catch a movie, etc.!

Perhaps the strangest -- and definitely the most upsetting -- thing for me is to see how the Hong Kong police have over-reacted to the assembled protestors.  The force that likes to think it's Asia's finest has tarnished its reputation and lost a huge amount of goodwill on this day.  Please don't let them follow the example of the PLA in the summer of 1989 -- because, then, hope as well as innocent people surely will die.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Visiting yet another UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in South Korea

The Worship Road (divided into one for spirits and another 
for the king) leading up to King Jungjong's tomb

Stone figures of a military official and horse are among 
those standing guard at the tomb of Queen Jeonghyeon
 Puppet Ponyo at the tomb of King Seongjong,
father of King Jungjong and husband of Queen Jeonghyeon

For the final full day of my recent Korean vacation, my plan involved going to Ganghwado to, among other things, visit its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Dolmen site.  In what turned out to be a fortuituos occurence though, I belatedly discovered that the Seoul bus station that I had planned to take a bus to Ganghwado to had been relocated!  And the result was a new itinerary that ended up including the colorful artistic jewel that's Bongeunsa, the fun COEX Aquarium, and another of South Korea's 11 UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites: the royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.

More specifically, with my mother (and Puppet Ponyo) in tow, I ended up having one more South Korean UNESCO World Heritage-listed site to add to the list of those I previously visited (i.e., Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress, and Seoul's Jongmyo Shrine and Changdeokgung palace) by way of our paying a visit to the Royal Tombs of Kings Seongjong and Jungjong, and Queen Jeyonghyeon that are located in a lovely wooded park-like section the Gangnam area of southern Seoul.

At the Royal Tombs History Centre, we met a man who beamed with pride and pleasure to discover that foreigners had come to visit the royal tombs.  While I've met many of his friendly equivalents in Japan, I have to say that he was the first Korean man my mother and I encountered who honestly appeared to be full of enthusiasm about his country's cultural heritage, and the fact that we wanted to know more about it.

In contrast, most of the other people my mother and I saw in the area seemed to treasure this UNESCO World Heritage site more for its being a green oasis in the middle of super built-up Seoul -- with a number of people there looking to be there do some exercise (by way of walking or jogging mixed with stretching) or for romance (with quite a few pairs of lovers seated on benches whispering sweet nothings to each other)!

For my part, I did find the tombs to be interesting -- if less accessible than I would like, with the tomb of King Jungjong, in particular, being only viewable from a distance.  Still, it's not just the green mounds and the stone figures that were erected near them that make up the tomb complex but also the surrounding woodland -- and the Worship Roads, with their fascinating division into sections designed for spirits (which humans continue to be discouraged from walking along) and royalty (which now are accessible to commoners)!
From the free pamphlet provided, it was interesting to learn that none of the 42 Joseon royal tombs -- two of which are located in what's now North Korea -- have been damaged or destroyed in the years since they were built -- years that included the Korean War years that saw fierce fighting in much of the Korean Peninsula.  Beyond luck, it appears to be a sign of the respect accorded royal members of the Joseon Dynasty, one that ruled over the Korea Peninsula for an impressive 519 years.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yummy and Contrasts (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

The contrasts are clear - between the street food experiences my mother and I had on my recent South Korea vacation and the one before (in 2009), and also between that on this recent trip and what we had in Vietnam last year.  

For a start, while we saw some interesting food being sold on the streets of Hanoi, we ended up feasting on them only with our eyes.  It wasn't that the food didn't look yummy -- but, rather, that the dining conditions didn't come across as all that ideal to us. 

Specifically, Vietnamese street food tends to be consumed while seated on low stools (as opposed to chairs) and using other stools like tables; and thereby resulting in both the food and the diner being much closer to the frequently super dusty ground than I'd like. Also, consider this as a quirk of mine but I like to drink (not necessarily something alcoholic but definitely cool and liquid!) when I eat while the Vietnamese seem to look upon eating and drinking as separate affairs!

On the Korean front: for some reason, my mother and I didn't spot as many street food stalls on our previous visit to the country as we did this time around!  So whereas I can only recall buying and eating street food on one occasion in 2009, it pretty much became an evening ritual on this recent vacation to wander around the streets near our hotel and sample some of the wide variety of food being hawked on the streets!

As I think the photos at the top of this week's entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts show, Koreans sure do love their fried food, seafood (especially squid and octopus) and Tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) -- and after finding out for myself how yummy these street snacks are, I definitely understand why that's so!

Among the offerings I tried from the stall in the top-most photo was that which consisted of a large Western-style sausage with a fish cake and dark green-colored nori (seaweed) wrapping!  While I've eaten all three of those things before, I never had them in the same bite before -- and while the taste contrasts in my mouth were initially quite disconcerting, once I got used to it, I decided that this was one yummy savory snack and would not be averse to having it again! ;b

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pupper Ponyo and friends at the COEX Aquarium!

It's amazing what one can come across in

Do you get the impression too that the fish in the picture
wanted to befriend Puppet Ponyo?

 I wonder ... are they related?! ;b

I get the feeling reactions to this fish will be split 
between those who think it's super ugly and 
others who think its lips would be great to eat! ;D

More than once on my recent South Korean vacation, I found myself in an underground shopping mall.  But while the Myeongdong undergound mall near the hotel my mother and I stayed at, and the Incheon underground mall that linked to the closest subway station to Sinpo International Market (where we had had the awesome Korean fried chicken) came across as unattractively low end, the COEX Mall located a stone's throw away from the impressive Bongeunsa was an entirely different proposition.

Not that my mother and I did any shopping there, mind!  Instead, we headed there after our Bongeunsa for lunch -- at a restaurant serving Korean food (my mother had more naengmyun while I had a plate of spicy squid and rice) where we were mistaken for Japanese and thus had the server speaking Japanese to us, thereby giving me the surreal experience of hearing naengmyun referred to as soba and my dish referred as as ikadon!

After our satisfying lunch, my mother and I decided we might as well check out the mall's aquarium since we were already in the complex.  If truth be told, we didn't have particularly high expectations for the COEX Aquarium -- and our first impressions of the facility was that it was on the amateurish side.

The deeper we ventured into the aquarium though, the more we (and Puppet Ponyo, who popped out every once from my backpack, too!) liked it -- finding some of the designs of the displays to be pretty innovative.  (I especially liked the part where they made it look like fish were swimming in such as a telephone box and drinks vending machine, and the section where one could have one's hands cleaned by "doctor fish".)

Also of interest was the aquatic life on display -- with some scary creatures, other fascinating ones, and still others that I frankly found super cute!  The usual suspects, such as crocodiles, whales and penguins were there -- but so too were such as manatees, a greater variety of eels than I knew existed, and a whole bunch of fish which eyes I found beautiful and also disconcertingly human-like!

And yes, I have to admit it: whereas I used to laugh at those Japanese I heard uttering "oishii!" (delicious) exclamations in aquariums (like those in Osaka and Okinawa), I go to thinking that too about certain of the creatures I caught sight of at this Seoul facility!  In particular, I was moved to imagine how tasty the thick lips of certain fish would be and how fantastic a meal certain Japanese crabs' super long legs would have made and, when looking at the eels, wonder how something that was so delicous could look so horrifying! ;D

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Artistic beauty abounds at Bongeunsa! (Photo-essay)

According to statistics on religion in South Korea that I've seen: close to half the population of the country don't adhere to any religion; there are more Christians than Buddhists in the country; and Seoul is the part of South Korea that has the most people who formally belong to a religious group.  

Interestingly, this fits with my impressions of the country in that: a) it wasn't until my third visit to South Korea that I thought to think of visiting a religious establishment there; b) I spotted more Christian churches about than Buddhist temples; and c) when I did finally visit a couple of religious establishments in Seoul, I found them frequented by more devout devotees than I had expected would be the case.

And while I found Myeongdeong Cathedral pretty visually impressive, especially inside, I have to say that the Buddhist templex complex of Bongeunsa was far more picturesque to my mind -- with the result that I took far more photos in its grounds that at the Roman Catholic cathedral and it's with the greatest difficulty that I narrowed my choices down to just eight photos to share in this photo-essay:-

Two of the four door Guardians that are part of
the 1,200-year-old temple's Jinyeo-mun (Gate of Suchness)

Within Bongeunsa's halls can be found religious art like this

The Seonbul-dang (Building for Selecting Buddhas) 
must be one of the most elaborately decorated buildings 
used to host examaminations that I've ever seen!

I was surprised to see the Taoist god of longevity pictured 
up in the clouds with others, and being brought a giant peach 
at this Buddhist temple 

 There were times at Bongeunsa where I felt like I was
at a large art museum complex! :O

Of course Puppet Ponyo had to be pictured 
amidst these beautiful surroundings :)

A close-up view of the central upper section of the building
behind Puppet Ponyo in the previous photo

Badly damaged during the Korean War, the great bulk of 
what's to be seen at Bongeunsa was built or refurbished after it
-- but some older, more faded but still precious sections also exist