Thursday, August 25, 2016

Taking the last train out of Central MTR station on Saturday night/Sunday morning

The scene at Central MTR station just before I boarded
the last train out of it for the night last Saturday

The electronic sign that greeted me on my arrival
at the MTR stop closest to my home!
Last Saturday night (or maybe I should say very early on Sunday morning?), I took the last train out of Central MTR station of the night for the very first time.  Unlike in Tokyo, it wasn't at all a crowded affair.  And despite Central MTR station being the closest MTR station to Lan Kwai Fong, Wyndham Street and other nightlife areas, I actually didn't notice anyone behaving badly (drunk or otherwise) at that late hour. 
Instead, the scenes at both Central MTR station and the one closest to my home from which I exited were actually on the quieter and more peaceful side than is regularly the case earlier in the day (and night).  In addition, not only was the train that I took so not packed that I easily found a seat to sit on for the entire journey but I didn't see anyone looking like they were in a particular hurry to get on it.  
All in all, it seemed like everyone who got into Central MTR station before the entrances were closed for the night were utterly confident that they would make it on to that last train before it left.  Also, that those folks who found that the MTR station entrances already closed knew that they would plenty of alternative transportation options to get home; what with their including taxis but also cheaper night buses and red minibuses
Something else that seems like a matter of course for people in Hong Kong is how there will be women as well as men out by themselves late at night, and that both females along with males will feel perfectly comfortable and safe in these situations.  After years of being told and feeling that it's dangerous for women to be out at night by themselves when living in places like the US (where it takes real effort to take back the night), this is something I really love about being in Hong Kong -- and don't think that I'll ever take for granted.       

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On Po Toi, including Nam Kok Tsui and the Rugged Trail (Photo-essay)

Ever since my first visit to Po Toi back in September 2009, Hong Kong's southern-most island has been one that I've very much enjoyed visiting.  If only the kaito service were more frequent -- with there still been just four departures from Stanley to that rugged, rocky island on Sundays, one on Saturdays and none at all on weekdays (and just one from Aberdeen on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays along with a whopping two on Saturdays) -- I'd go more often.

Because the kaito service is limited and there's no overnight accomodation available on Po Toi, I've always tried to make sure to catch the second last kaito departing from the island (rather than the last kaito of the day because I worry about it getting too full).  Nonetheless, each time that I've been on Po Toi, I've managed to venture onto "new" ground; with my going on its Rugged Trail (which I previously couldn't visually make out!) on my second visit, and "off trail" to the island's southern tip on my third visit... ;b 
Looking northwards and upwards to Po Toi's lighthouse
from the island's Nam Kok Tsui (South Point)
Looking back at Po Toi's rocky southernmost tip 
from the hill on which the lighthouse is located
Even with people perched on it, Po Toi's Turtle Rock probably still 
is my favorite rock formation to photograph in Hong Kong :b
Some of its sign posts and railings are not in the greatest 
of conditions but I still enjoy hiking on this scenic island :)
Follow the Rugged Trail if you can, and you'll be rewarded
with cool scenery and a feeling that you're in a part of 
Hong Kong where not too many other people have ventured :)
Looking across the water to nearby Beaufort Island and
Hong Kong Island's Cape d'Aguilar over in the distance
 Viewing Po Toi's pier and Nam Kok Tsui to the east from 
this side of the island and elevation should give a good sense 
of how far I had hiked (already) that afternoon ;b
 A section of the Rugged Trail that threatened to turn my legs
to jelly, and which I was happy to be able to look back on later :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Funa Funa Funassyi to the Nippon Budokan Hall!

Funassyi appearing cute and adorable 
in a very clean-looking Pear Suit #4 :b

As I write this blog post, a certain Pear Fairy who only descended to Earth in the wake of the March 11, 2011 Great Japan Earthquake to cheer up humans should have just finished headlining a concert at the iconic Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo which began at 7pm Japan time today, and will follow this up with another concert at Osaka's 16,000 capacity Osaka-Jo Hall on August 29th.  Collectively known as Nassyi Fes, these two musical events mark the first time that a yuru-chara -- anime-style mascot character -- has ever headlined a concert at these famous venues.    

A Japanese friend of mine who's lived outside of her home country for the past two decades or so reacted with shock as well as incredulity at the very idea that the super popular unofficial mascot from Funabashi called Funassyi (whose Twitter followers currently number 1.44 million) will be performing in concert at the Nippon Budokan Hall, never mind headlining it.  For, as she pointed out to me, this is the very venue where such legendary acts as the Beatles and Rolling Stones had previously graced.

For the record: I love Funassyi's theme song and first CD single, Funa Funa Funassyi (whose official music video can be viewed here); and this before I came across the English translation as well as Romaji rendition of its inspirational and upbeat lyrics (which came courtesy of fellow Nashitomo (Pear Friend) chef01ish):- 

Funa-funa-funa-funa hyaha
Minna genkini hyaha

Mageraretattemo keraretattemo matatachiagareba iinashi darenimo
Aitenisarenakuttemo jibunno michio susumunashi
Donnani yogoreteshimatattemo kimisae waraeba iinashi
Kimiga kanashindeirutokiwa suguegaonisaserunashi

Fu-fu-fu-fu funassyi
Itsudemo genkini nashijiru busha
Fu-fu-fu-fu funassyi
Hajikete tanoshiku odoruyo

Funa-funa fu funa-funa fu fu
Funa-funa fu funa-funa fu fu
Funa-funa fu funa-funa fu fu
Funa-funa-funa-funa hyaha

Minna genkini hyahha
Keiki kaihuku hyaha
Minna janpude hyaha
Iyanakoto wasurete hyaha

Funa-funa-funa-funa hyaha
Everyone, "hyaha" cheerfully

Even when I'm thrown or kicked, it'll be all right if I stand up again
Even when nobody takes notice of me, it'll be alright if I go my own way
Even when I get dirty, I'll be happy if only you [were to] smile
When you feel sad, I'll make you smile soon

Fu-fu-fu-fu funassyi
Pear juice splashes always cheerfully
Fu-fu-fu-fu funassyi
I jump and dance happily

Funa-funa fu funa-funa fu fu
Funa-funa fu funa-funa fu fu
Funa-funa fu funa-funa fu fu
Funa-funa-funa-funa hyaha

Everyone, "hyaha" cheerfully
Economic recovery hyaha
Everyone, jump and "hyaha"
Forget bad things hyaha

(Incidentally, I find that what gets written out in Romaji as "hyaha" sounds more like "yappo" to my foreign ears! ;b)

Also, believe it or not, it's really thanks to this music-loving yuru-chara that I've come to know and adore a number of songs such as Mr Big's To Be With You as well as AKB 48's Koi Suru Fortune Cookie (the latter courtesy of this kawaii music videofeaturing the mischievous Pear and assorted friends)! :b

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wan Chai's Bread Tree has possibly my favorite "Western" lunch deal in the whole of Hong Kong!

How much do you reckon that this dish 
and accompanying drink cost?
The Wan Chai eatery that I've been going to
for more than nine years now! ;b
If you were to ask many -- possibly even most -- Hong Kongers what their favorite Western cuisine is, chances are that they'll tell you that it's Italian.  But the probability is pretty high too that much of what Hong Kongers look upon as Italian food will not be recognized as such by denizens of that boot-shaped Mediterranean country; what with pizzas found in Hong Kong likely to feature sweet corn and canned tuna toppings and such!
In addition, there's the irony that my favorite "Italian" restaurants in Hong Kong include branches of Pizza Express (a restaurant chain with British origins that's now owned by a Beijing-based company), New York Italian joint Carbone and Sagrantino, a Japanese-owned restaurant offering Tokyo-style Italian cuisine.  And then there's Bread Tree, a distinctly Hong Kong-style budget eatery which was a favorite of pretty much everyone at the company I first worked for in the Big Lychee -- and has remained a favorite of mine long after I stopped working in a part of Hong Kong where Bread Tree makes deliveries to.  
When I mentioned to an ex-colleague turned friend a couple of evenings ago that I had gone to Bread Tree for lunch earlier in the day, she laughed and asked me whether I had ordered the dish marked L8 on its menu, and laughed some more when I confirmed that I had indeed done so.  She proceeded to remind me that she and our then boss also would regularly order that dish: which features what's described as a herb tomato meat sauce on the menu but tastes like an addictive bolognese sauce that's sweeter than usual and a choice of pasta (spaghetti, linguine, fusili, etc.), rice or mashed potato, and a second choice of pumpkin, eggplant (aubergine in British English), zucchini (or courgettes in British English) or a fried egg for the topping!
Whereas my friend pretty much always went for the eggplant topping, I tend to opt for either the pumpkin or zucchini -- and also have been known to go for the fried egg every once in a while.  But both of us tend to stick to the spaghetti pasta option -- and agree that that meat sauce is something really special.  To judge by her laughter though, she probably hasn't thought to go there since she left the company.  I, on the other hand, have continued to go there -- and in fact, I often expressly go to Wan Chai to lunch at Bread Tree since I still fairly regularly have cravings for this particular dish!
Its exterior may not look like much; especially as these days, some letters have fallen off from the sign above its entrance.  Actually, its interior doesn't look like much either; being on the cramped and spartan side.  But I find the furnishings comfortable enough, particularly when you go during off-peak hours when you can get a table to yourself (rather than have to daap toi (share a table with people you don't know)).     
And then there's the price, which is hard to beat.  Even with (incremental) increases over the years, that dish plus a cold drink (like a glass of iced lemon tea) still costs just HK$41 (~US$5.29); making Bread Tree's L8 option possibly my favorite "Western" lunch deal in the whole of Hong Kong! :b

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sweating buckets while going along thousands of steps on a high humidity day

It takes many steps to get this far above the city!

A section of the 599 step Jacob's Ladder

Although today (with maximum temperatures of "only" around 33 degrees Celsius (~91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was not the hottest day that I've been out hiking, it may well be among the most humid.  The air felt thick and muggy this afternoon, and it was so very easy to get drenched with sweat.  More than incidentally, I'm one of those people who sweats so much that I'd be a great test subject for sunscreen that doesn't get washed off easily by one's own perspiration.  So on days like this, I end up feeling like it's no use putting any of that stuff on me!   

Some 30 minutes into today's hike, my palms were wet with sweat as well as my limbs and other parts of me that normally get covered with perspiration whenever I'm having a good exercise.  And about two thirds into this afternoon's outing, large swathes of my olive green-colored shorts had the kind of stains that got me worried that people might think that I had the kind of "accident" that comes from not having been able to make it to a toilet in time!

By the time I got home some four hours later, I felt really drained of energy.  And my pedometer registering 18,365 steps only told part of the story since the great bulk of the steps I took today were on stairs leading uphill -- first to 424-meter-high Siu Ma Shan and then 435-meter-high Mount Butler.  Also, after getting to the top of Mount Butler, there came a nervy descent down the Jacob's Ladder on Hong Kong Island that I think is quite a bit steeper than the section of trail bearing the same name over on the Sai Kung Peninsula -- and potentially more slippery than usual this afternoon because its steps were on the wet side and covered with lots of fallen leaves.

But even though today's excursion was on the exhausting side, it actually was pretty fun to be outdoors this afternoon with a couple of hiking buddies and on a trail which offered up a number of interesting sights and view bonanzasSo I'd definitely much rather be out there than, say, getting a similar exercise on a Stairmaster in a gym!   

And while it's true enough that this particular hiking trail (which began and ended pretty much at sea level but saw us scaling a couple of hills in between) would be significantly easier to go along in cooler and drier conditions, the chances also are high that the visibility just wouldn't be as good as it is on a summer day like today.  Also, masochist that I am, I figure that I should reserve cooler days for even more challenging hikes than this one! ;b       

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nagasaki: Memories of My Son is a rare Yoji Yamada misstep (film review)

A World War II memorial to the unknown soldier located 
in the grounds of Kyoto's Ryozen Kannon Temple

- Yoji Yamada, director
- Starring: Sayuri Yoshinaga, Kazunari Ninomiya, Haru Kuroki, Kenichi Kato

Back in 1982, I visited Japan for the very first time.  Among the places I went to on that trip are ones that I've re-visited, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka and the Aso Caldera.  But I've yet to return to the Japanese city which may well have left the deepest impression of the trip on me: Nagasaki, one of the two cities in the country which will forever be associated with the atom bomb.

A decade after my maiden visit to Japan, I viewed a film whose female protagonist was an elderly resident of Nagasaki who had been in the area when the atom bomb nicknamed 'Fat Man' was dropped over the city.  Akira Kurosawa's Rhapsody in August is considered to be a minor work of the late Japanese cinema giant but I was very moved by it all the same.  And I expected to be similarly affected when viewing another drama centering on a Nagasaki woman who managed to survive the Second World War; this one made by an octogenarian filmmaker -- many of whose other works (including What a Wonderful Family!, The Yellow Handkerchief (1977) and installments of the Tora-san series) I love -- and released in its native Japan 70 years after World War II came to a close.  

Set closer to the end of the Second World War then Akira Kurosawa's 1991 film, Yoji Yamada's Nagasaki: Memories of My Son takes place in a Japan now at peace but still struggling to rebuild shattered lives (along with physically devastated cities), and facing hard economic times.  Living in a house in the hilly outskirts of the city, Nobuko Fukuhara (Sayuri Yoshinaga) works as a midwife and is able to come by hard-to-get items courtesy of a friendly black marketer (Kenichi Kato).  But she remains badly hurt psychologically by having lost close family members, particularly her younger son Koji (Kazunari Ninomiya) -- who effectively vanished into thin air, having been one of the thousands incinerated by the blast of the atom bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

The apple of Nobuko's eye, Koji was studying to be a doctor and in love with Machiko (Haru Kuroki) when tragedy struck.  On the third anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, Nobuko tells the also still grieving younger woman -- who treats Nobuko like she's her beloved mother-in-law, regularly visiting her home and trying to make her life more pleasant in various ways -- that it's time for them to let go of Koji.  That evening, Koji's ghost returns to visit his mother from "the other side"; an event which Nobuko reacts to with far more happiness than shock -- and definitely minus any horror! 

From then on, much of Nagasaki: Memories of My Son plays out like a two-handed theatrical work featuring lots of dialogue and reminiscing.  Koji comes and goes from the house (including once to go watch a movie in a cinema!), and Nobuko continues responding to requests for help to deliver babies into this post-atom bomb explosion world.  But the two get to spending a not significant amount of time catching up as well as looking back; over the course of which strong emotions get divulged, expressed and need to be wrestled with.

Still, while much emotion is on show in the film -- and also a number of scenes that look to be geared at getting viewers to reach for tissues or handkerchiefs -- I actually ended up feeling more emotionally distanced from what unfolded on screen than I had expected to be.  Perhaps it didn't help that there was a "stagey" quality to the proceedings.  Actually though, I reckon that the biggest problem I had with the film was how much it took place in a veritable vacumn which not only privileged the interactions between mother and son above all others but also opted to exclude mention of any bloodshed and atrocities wreaked by Japanese people in the days, months and years leading up to the bombing of Nagasaki (and Hiroshima three days earlier).  

Put another way: Yes, the damage and devastation caused by the atom bombs was absolutely awful, and it can seem rather ironic that one of the targeted cities was Nagasaki -- with its significant Japanese Christian population and history, never mind people (like Koji) who loved Western classical music and such.  But those weapons of mass destruction didn't just drop out of the sky for no reason!  And Yoji Yamada (born in 1931, and consequently one of the few active filmmakers today who lived through the Second World War) really would have done more of a service to the film's audience -- local Japanese or otherwise -- and probably also made the movie better by acknowledging that. 

My rating for this film: 6.0

Friday, August 19, 2016

Not your usual photos taken while riding on the Star Ferry

Water and light combined can make a pretty picture
even without a rainbow in sight ;)

I really do love how the water can look like
it's glittering when light reflects off it :)

Pretty much wherever I go these days, I tend to have a camera in my backpack or an outer pocket of the cargo shorts I like to wear in the summer (rather than the cargo pants I prefer when the temperatures drop).  Believe it or not, this wasn't always so.  In fact, there have been periods of my life -- which I now really do regret -- where there are scant photographic records because I didn't like as well as think to have a camera around. 

Thinking back, I reckon things changed quite a bit with the advent of digital cameras.  And my coming to have a blog also made me more inclined to take more photographs, including of everyday scenes which -- sometimes, upon looking back -- actually are pretty interesting; this because I feel that the likelihood has increased of someone out there enjoying seeing my snaps besides just myself!

Along the way, I've found myself not only taking more photos but also experimenting with such as taking pictures from different and unusual angles as well as a variety of subjects.  Thus it was that, while taking the Star Ferry from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui, I once again couldn't resist snapping some photos during the short but pretty much always enjoyable ride but decided to opt for shots that were less conventional than usual.

For one thing, rather than focus on the views of skyscrapers on the sections of land to the north or south of Victoria Harbour, I opted for shots where the sky met the water instead.  And rather than have the horizon be near the center in the photos, I had it either super high or super low in the picture instead.  And if I may say so myself, I reckon the resulting pictures are pretty cool -- and consequently worth sharing on what I had intended to be a text-light blog post but actually has turned out to still be rather wordy...! ;b