Sunday, July 27, 2014

A hike that took in construction sites and signs of village protests along with the more usual hike sights!

Not the usual hike sight

Neither is this detailed account of the grievances that
Pak Mong's villagers have against the Hong Kong government!

That's more like it -- a panoramic vista looking from
Wong Kung Tin southeastwards down to Mui Wo
and beyond as far as Hong Kong Island :b

A friend and I walked all the way from Tung Chung to Mui Wo earlier today, with the Tung Chung to Pak Mong sector involving a route closer to the body of the water between northern Lantau and the southern edge of the northwestern New Territories than the more inland trail I had gone on with two other friends some time back.
Unlike the route I had gone on previously, this one was not along a designated hiking trail.  Rather, after we belatedly discovered that the New Lantao Bus Company's number 36 bus ran really infrequently (less frequently even than according to the schedule listed on its website), we decided to follow a bike path that took us beyond the Tung Chung New Development Ferry Pier to Tung Chung Waterfront Road and, we hoped, as far as Yan O Wan and Luk Keng Tsuen along the waterfront.

A few hundred meters east of the ferry pier, however, we found construction sites impeding our planned coastal route.  Rather than give up after encountering a large construction site in our way, we opted to go inland a bit and picked up the bike path once more before it led us to yet another large construction site. 
Seeing signs for "pedestrians", we elected to follow a route we could make out, even if the route sometimes involved walking on top of rotting pieces of wood, through a field with thorny seed things that easily attached to hiking boots and the inner edges of the shorts I regularly wear on my hikes!  But upon going through a hole in a wire fence that wasn't our making, we ended up walking on a paved path that I had seen many times while taking the train between Central and Tung Chung or Chek Lap Kok Airport -- and were filled with glee that we'd be able to stroll along near the waterfront for some time.
But near Pak Mong Ferry, we found our path blocked by truly mega construction works for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge that are estimated as blocking the path at least until 2018.  So, thanks to what we were coming to think of as Tung Chung Construction Hell,  back we went to our original plan of hiking from Pak Mong to Mui Wo -- even though it had already been quite a hike to get to Pak Mong from Tung Chung!

I had previously read about there being villager unrest at Pak Mong and for a time, the Nature Touch website's trail closure, etc. notices page had alerted me to disgruntled villagers having barred entry to sections of hiking trail that passed through the village.  When I checked the website this morning though, the trail closure notice for Pak Mong had gone.  So I knew to ignore the many signs and banners erected in the area announcing that certain sections of the trail we were planning to go on hda been closed off.
Still, it was somewhat disconcerting to walk by many signs and banners (some of them impressive in their sheer detail) announcing the villagers' anger at such as the government having shrunk the village's boundary -- this even though it did reassure us somewhat that the few villagers we passed by along our way didn't seem all that hostile, at least to us!
So it was with a mental sigh of relief when I saw signs that we had entered Lantau North Country Park and continued to feel like things had gone back to normal as we descended into the greater Mui Wo area.  Seeing all the beautifully green areas around us also had a calming effect (and the beautiful, clear vistas got our spirits soaring).  And the only reason why we hurried a bit on the way down to Mui Wo was because we were looking forward to celebrating our hike's completion with dinner at the China Beach Club! ;)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wet and Modern Architecture (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Back when Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world (rather than number 6, like it is now), my mother and I went on a vacation to Taiwan's capital city.  In some ways, late December 2007 was a good time to visit: among other things, Taiwan's one of those countries where December 25 is not a public holiday, so museums and many other attractions were open as usual rather than closed for the holidays.  

Despite it being ultra-wet when we visited, I still got much out of our visits to both those Taipei landmarks, including some cool photos. (Incidentally, yes, I could have used just photos from my Taipei trip for this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts but decided to go for a bit more geographic variety!) 

This was particularly so at atmospheric Lungshan Temple, which I would happily have spent more time photographing if my mother had not been champing at the bit to go somewhere else!  But while my mother and I enjoyed going up to the observation floor of Taipei 101 in its super fast elevator and then walking around and viewing the rest of city from up on high, doing so only got us thinking that as far as tall buildings and other examples of modern architecture go, Hong Kong actually impresses way more.

Sure, "Asia's World City" has never had a building that held the title of world's tallest but Hong Kong easily tops the list of cities with the most skyscrapers.  And although there are people who like to criticize its modern architecture as being on the visually boring or uninspired side, I reckon that some of them, including that which is its currently Hong Kong's tallest building, actually don't look all that bad, be it during the day or at night.

At the very least, I do like that the International Commerce Centre is part of a complex with other tall buildings near it. To my way of thinking, this makes it look less ridiculous and an "ego-product", the way that buildings built to tower over everything and look like they're standing in isolation are -- like *cough, cough* my home state's 60-storey-high Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (KOMTAR), which sticks out like a sore thumb on the cultural heritage-rich George Town landscape even now, close to 40 years after it was first built! :S

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A commemorative Hello Kitty blog post :)

My favorite Hello Kitty plush gazes at the images on the only 
T-shirt I have with Dear Daniel as well as Kitty Chan on it! :)

Puppet Ponyo is inspired to try to fly like the 
Ninja Hello Kitty on the T-shirt I got in Kyoto last year ;b
Earlier today, the Hong Kong branch of Madame Tussauds unveiled its Hello Kitty waxwork figure.  Even more amazingly, a few days ago, I received an email from representatives of the PR company behind the event inviting me to the unveiling ceremony because "We are a huge fan [sic] of your blog, and couldn't help but notice that you are also a fan of Hello Kitty"!
To commemorate this event, here's sharing two photos of two of my favorite plushie and puppet interacting with two of my four Hello Kitty-themed T-shirts.  And should anyone wonder (and a few friends of mine have indeed asked): yes, of course, I wear the T-shirts rather than just have them on display somewhere in my apartment!! :D

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Along the High Junk Peak Country Trail down to Joss House Bay (Photo-essay)

Some day, I'll gather up enough courage to actually get to the top of the formidable looking High Junk Peak, long considered to be one of Hong Kong's most treacherous peaks.  For now though, I'll just content myself with having gone along the High Junk Peak Country Trail on two different occasions.

The first time around, I was perfectly content to stick to the High Junk Peak Country Trail in Clear Water Bay Country Park.  On my second time on the trail, I did seriously consider diverting off trail to scale the peak -- but while I could see myself getting up to the top without too much difficulty, I worried about getting down without any sprained ankles or tumbles.  (For the record: going down steep inclines scare me a lot more than going up them.)

Even without going up to the top of High Junk Peak, I'm still glad that I hiked in that area that day -- because, the way I saw it, visibility was noticeably better this time around than previously.  And while they don't have the glamor of High Junk Peak, I do very much like the plateau area around Tin Ha Shan and also the Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay close to this particular hike's end! :)

The High Junk Peak Country Trail has distinct sections
for hikers and mountain bikers

This is one of those Hong Kong trails on one side of which
are high rise buildings and on the other, beautiful beaches!

The formidable High Junk Peak

This photo gives some idea of how high up I got 
before I decided to turn back and head down the hill... :S

A view of beautiful Clear Water Bay, with the 
Ninepin Group of islands far away in the distance 

Do the people behind this emergency helpline
know something that we don't?! :O

I'm not sure which is the more surreal sight -- 
my hiking buddy posing atop an interesting rock formation
or the golf course perched at the end of this scenic peninsula! ;b

One steep descent along hard stone steps later, we're down 
at sea level enjoying beautiful sights like at Joss House Bay :)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An afternoon visit to the Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve

A species of brown butterfly I had never seen before prior
 to my visit to the Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve earlier today

 A much smaller winged creature (check out its size 
relative to the black ant above it in the photo!) that 
I also spotted at Fung Yuen this afternoon

 Closer to the ground, I spotted such as 
this grasshopper and its long antennae :)

Earlier this week, Super Typhoon Rammasun came close enough to Hong Kong to warrant the raising of Typhoon Signal Number 3.  Unlike with sections of the Philippines and mainland China, it spared us from disaster, with only some strong gusts of wind and changeable weather providing evidence of its being our neighborhood.  

Because the weather was so unchangeable the past few days, my hiking friends and I opted against meeting up this Sunday -- and when it poured with rain for some time this morning, I felt that we had made the right decision.  But when the afternoon came and bright sunshine with it, I just had to head outdoors to someplace green and (relatively) wild!

I had passed by the Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve a few times on hikes but it wasn't until this afternoon that I paid a visit to this famous (in hiking and naturalist circles) butterfly haven where more than 200 species of butterflies have been spotted.  Managed by the Tai Po Environmental Association, its admission fee is an entirely reasonable HK$20.    

In recent years, this area that's been designated as a "Site of Special Scientific Interest" has come under threat as a result of housing developments in the area, notably the controversial Mont Vert that the Hong Kong government has issued an official advisory about and which has apartments whose small size has shocked quite a few folks.  And seeing the crowd of real estate sales agents and prospective flat buyers milling about when I got off the mini bus I took to Fung Yuen got me worried that enough damage had already been done to drive lots of butterflies away.

But even while I visited outside of the optimal hours for butterfly watching (i.e., 9am-11am or before sunset in the summer months), I still did spot a good amount of butterflies and other critters (notably dragonflies, Golden Orb Weaver spiders and grasshoppers) at Fung Yuen this afternoon.  

If truth be told though, I feel like I've been on hikes where I've seen more butterflies than I did in the one and a half that I spent within Fung Yuen's approximately 42 hectares this afternoon.  Where today's experience can't be beat though is in the diversity of butterfly species I spotted in such a short space of time, with the bonus coming from there being a number of butterfly species that I saw for the first time this afternoon!

I'm not sure how rare these butterflies are but they don't seem to be represented in the Hong Kong Lepidopterists' Society' extensive butterfly index as well as the LCSD's Butterflies in Hong Kong's Urban Parks' pages and Green Power's Butterfly Gallery.  In the case of the butterfly in the top most photograph in this entry, its design resembles a chocolate pansy but the edges of its wings don't.  And in all honesty, I'm not 100% sure that the critter in the photo is actually a butterfly -- since I've never seen one with such see-through wings before!

As with the strange spider I saw while out hiking a few weeks back, I'd be grateful if someone could identify them.  So here's thanking in advance whoever is able and willing to do so! :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sheer and Nails (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Call it sheer stubbornness or sheer stupidity -- but even while I could have opted to take both the Photo Hunt themes chosen this week by Sandi and Gattina, I got it into my head to hunt through my photo archive for images featuring actual nails.  Perhaps if I had known how few photos with nails -- as opposed to screws, bolts and other fasteners! -- I wouldn't have done so... but, ultimately, I think the three that I've found are actually pretty neat.

The first photo is of a wooden walkway at the Hong Kong Wetland Park -- in terms of sheer numbers, it's the image with the most nails (or, at the very least, their tops) in them! And seeing that wooden construction got me thinking of a far more rickety one on which I've also been on, with greater misgivings as to its sheer durability.

The bridge at Tai Long Wan is one that a number of people hesitate to go on, even if they're super hungry and thirsty and know that there are a couple of cafes waiting invitingly for them on the other side of the stream!  It doesn't look too bad in the photo I've included of it in this entry that was taken while resting at one of those nice beachside cafes -- but you can go here or here to get a better sense of how its very sight can cause people to hesitate to go on it!

Finally, there's a photo that I think has the others beat for its sheer evocativeness. Taken at one of rural Hong Kong's many abandoned villages, it's of photo collections that remain nailed to the wall in what I'm assuming must have been the home of at least some of the people in the pictures.  

When seeing sights like this, I get to thinking that the residents of these homes must have left in a major hurry -- or were moving to a place where they weren't allowed to take much at all with them. Otherwise, I find it inexplicable that they'd leave such items behind -- ones that would help them call to mind moments and people in their lives whose memories they had considered worth capturing in now faded photos. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Reacting to a man-made disaster (and thoughts on the Malaysian Airlines tragedies)

In this picture's foreground are planes from the two airlines
I've been most likely to fly with these past few years

Late last night, I got home from a film screening to news about a Malaysian Airlines plane having crashed in the Ukraine, the second plane from my country's national airline to have met with disaster in just five months.  Shock turned to horror and disbelief upon finding out that MH17 had been shot down despite being a civilian plane from a nation not involved in the conflict in the area over which it had been flying more than 30,000 feet above.

And then came the personal fears and worries that comes from my being one of those people who lives thousands of miles apart from family members, making flying about the most convenient way for us to meet up every once in a while.  In addition, there's the fact of my parents being among those who travel in planes a lot more than most others -- in part because they have a child each in Australia, England and Hong Kong.

My favorite footballer of all time -- Arsenal and Holland's Dennis Bergkamp -- was nicknamed The Non-flying Dutchman (as well as The Iceman, Bergie or just plain God) because he was afraid of flying on planes.  While his teammates flew to play Champions League and international matches in far away locales, he stayed at home.  When Arsenal played clubs within driving distance of London, such as Paris or Amsterdam, he'd be chauffeured there while, again, his teammates flew over.

In contrast, I can't imagine a life without flying on a plane -- not because I particularly love this form of transportation but, rather, due to flying having been something I've done ever since I was a very young child.  And being Malaysian and living in Malaysia for the early part of my life, I naturally tended to fly on Malaysia Airlines (and its precursor, Malaysia-Singapore Airlines).

Soon after the MH370 disaster, I returned to my home state of Penang for a short visit.  Before I left Hong Kong, a friend asked me which airline I'd be taking there, and expressed his relief when he heard that I was going on Cathay Pacific (which operates daily direct flights between Hong Kong and Penang) rather than Malaysian Airlines.

Although I didn't take Malaysian Airlines that time, I actually hadn't thought of deliberately avoiding flying on its planes in the wake of what happened to MH370.  And even while I have to admit to having thoughts post the MH17 disaster that the airlines may be jinxed, I still am not going to point fingers at the airline and say that these two tragedies are its fault.

The thing is: until this year, Malaysian Airlines had had a very good safety record -- and I've definitely felt much safer on its planes than on quite a few other airlines' (including Air India, where on one flight, I couldn't get the seatbelt buckle to work, Air Tanzania Corporation (i.e., Air Total Chaos), and some American airlines' whose planes looked considerably older and less well maintained than Malaysian Airlines').

Leaving aside national pride and family concerns, there's also the matter of the victims of MH17 (and MH370) and their loved ones.  Truly they have suffered in ways that I do not wish on anyone, and my thoughts and condolences go to them.  And I sincerely hope that no more disasters and tragedies of this sort will befall anyone else for some time, if not ever.