Thursday, December 31, 2009

Farewell -- and good riddance! -- to 2009

I'm not religious but figure it can't do any harm to
bid goodbye to 2009 with three religous-themed photos:
i.e., one of Penang's Reclining Buddha...

...a roadside Hindu temple (also to be found in Penang)

At some point in the not too distant future, I will write up a 2009 equivalent of my highlights of 2008, 2007 and 2006 posts. This evening, however, I just want to bid farewell -- and good riddance -- to this year that has had many high points, to be sure, but is ending on a not so great note.

To wit: Not only can't I go out this evening and ring in the new year with a vengeance because I have to work tomorrow but I just spent a good deal of my first day back at work from my recent vacation (i.e., today) worriedly wondering whether I'd be told that I would be without a job come 2010. This because on the first day of my return to Hong Kong from my vacation, I had a friend and colleague phone and tell me that some 30 of my colleagues had been laid off that very day.

Then, the next day afterwards (i.e., yesterday), I found out that the woman who was the first friend I made at my current work place -- and who truly was a gem of a colleague -- had been among those who had been let go.
So, to say the least, it's been a rather rough return. And all this when my mother was in hospital in Penang -- having been admitted the evening before I was due to fly back to Hong Kong.

On a more positive note: my mother is back at home now -- and reportedly back in good health once more after having given those who love her another scare. Also, I still have my job... at least for now. (Touch wood!) But, to say the least, it's been a harrowing past few days. So here's hoping 2010 will be better for me... and the rest of you -- since 2009 really doesn't seem to have been a banner year, for one reason or other, for many of us. :S

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eating pig in Malaysia

Roast whole suckling pig, Chinese style

Before I left Hong Kong for Penang, a colleague asked me what I'd be doing back on holiday at home. "Mainly just eat and sleep", I told her. "Sounds good to me!" was the reply from the frequently sleep-deprived Australian mother of three who has become a fan of Malaysian and a lot of other Asian foods after living for years in the Big Lychee!

And I can see that she'd love much of what I've been eating on this current visit -- some meals of which have come courtesy of favorite eateries, others of which (including an ethnic Indian meal of chapati, goat mutton curry, curried fish roe and curried bhindi (AKA ladies' fingers or okra)) have emanated from the kitchens of newly discovered purveyors of delicious food.

Alternatively, I know quite a few people for whom the centerpiece of a family dinner my second evening back this time would not appeal -- and even be downright taboo. More specifically, it is one of those positive peculiarities of Malaysia that even while Islam is the official and majority religion of the country, roast whole suckling pig is a prized delicacy for a sizable minority of its population.

And for the record: I consider the crispy skin of suckling pig roasted Chinese style to be a truly tasty treat -- especially when eaten with the sweet sauce, rolls and spring onion that also go well with Peking Duck. So it is indeed a source of delight to me that this particular dish is available for consumption by the likes of me in Hong Kong as well as Penang. :b

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twelve (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Seeing as tnchick, the woman behind the Photo Hunt, is a Christian living in a predominantly Christian land, I don't think it purely coincidental that the inspired meme's theme this week is one that brings to mind the twelve days of Christmas (the song as well as festive period), Jesus' twelve apostles and such like.

As far as I am concerned though, this time of the year is less imbued with religious significance per se and more notable for it being spent with the family as well as on holiday -- and this is what my choice of photo for this blog entry is about. More specifically, the twelve pieces of footwear on view belong to my parents, my two siblings, one of my siblings' long time (more than twelve years, in fact!) significant other and myself.

Usually, the wearers of these six pairs of footwear are to be found in four different territories on three different continents. But for this festive period (and the first time in about four years), we're spending some -- though, actually, fewer than twelve -- nights under the same roof as well as a single part of the world. And hoping to have a generally good time while doing so! ;b

Friday, December 25, 2009

Seasonal cheer (with a Hello Kitty twist)

Yesterday, a Jewish-American friend wished me, an agnostic Malaysian, "Merry Christmas" without any irony. "Only in Malaysia!" (where I currently am back on holiday) was my first reaction.

Except, after living in Hong Kong, I could see this kind of exchange happening there too! And this especially after recalling a recent conversation with a friend in Hong Kong (another Jewish-American, as it so happens; albeit one who has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years!) about how it can seem to be that for many people in both Hong Kong and Malaysia, "Christmas" is more about holidays, Santa Claus, presents and shopping than anything else -- with snow and Christmas trees (but little Christianity) often thrown into the decorative equation.

With that in mind, here's a seasonal mini-photo (cum comments) essay below to mark this time of the year (with -- look away now, Hello Kittyphobes -- a distinctly Hello Kitty theme!):-

The regular season for Hong Kong to get Hello Kitty-fied
is summer but this year, the 35th of the cute cat's existence,

Hello Kitty mania has come to the fore in winter too
with, among other things, Japan's official tourism ambassador
leading the winter installment of the Visit Japan campaign

Smiling Sanrio faces at the Maritime Square mall
that is playing host for 50 days (including
Christmas day itself)
to Sanrio Village

In the area of Tsing Yi MTR station leading
to Maritime Square (note the Christmas stockings
in the picture though, for me, what matters more
is the abundance of family members in the equation)

Objects of adoration - past, perennial
and once but no longer?*

*This time of the year also is one during which I tend to reflect on what I am grateful for. And that last photo allows me to confirm in one single photograph how Hong Kong really is a place
where I can indulge in my love of Hong Kong movies (that's the Seven Little Fortunes -- the subject of a recent Hong Kong Film Archive programme retrospective -- in the poster on the left) as well as Hello Kitty.

Lastly, for those Hong Kong filmophiles who continue to nurse some affection for the fallen angel that's Gillian Chung, here's a present of sorts by way of an image of the now definitely lesser Twin in an ad for... Botox in the poster on the right. Not particularly ideal for any occasion, I'd think, but Brian, you did ask for pictures of "the real Twins" a while back... ;b

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra's animation music foray

Proof positive that classical music concerts
in Hong Kong are often much more family friendly
than their equivalents in the West... ;b

What kind of music do you expect a musical ensemble called the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra to play? If you're anything like me, the answer would be something akin to the music that I'm currently listening to: i.e., the original soundtrack CD of Tsui Hark's The Lovers, a sublime cinematic imagining of an old Chinese romantic legend that could be described as Romeo and Juliet with a cross-dressing twist. (More than incidentally, The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto pre-dates Tsui's 1994 film and really is a thing of beauty in its own right.)

But in keeping with it being more innovative than its name might suggest (and its concerts being attendantly more fun than many are wont to expect), this weekend, the HKCO elected to enter The Music World of Animation and play songs like those from -- no, I truly I kid you not! -- The Pink Panther and Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle; the former with audience participation included in the bargain (in terms of the audience being asked to snap their fingers at particular times indicated by conductor Chew Hee Chiat)!

Although I wish it were otherwise, no music from My Neighbor Totoro or Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea was included in the programme. But as consolation, the orchestra did also play music from another Hayao Miyazaki classic, Laputa: The Castle in the Sky, as well the -- to my mind -- cinematic as well as musically lesser Howl's Moving Castle.

Interestingly, and the playing of such as The Pink Panther theme and a Disney Fantasies medley notwithstanding, the programme was very strongly slanted towards Japanese anime -- TV series as well as feature films. As a further example, my favorite piece of the concert was the theme from Chibi Maruko-chan. Still, to judge from the audience reaction, the overwhelming favorite of most of the concert-goers was the Doraemon theme that many of the audience actually sang along to as well reserved the loudest applause of the evening for! ;b

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fast (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

When I was a child, I regularly spend some time each year in England with my parents. During those periods of my life that I remember with great fondness as being filled with fun and adventure, we lived in Beckenham, a Kentish town that's effectively a London suburb -- and just a short train ride from central London, as I came to realize on account of my mother frequently taking me on train rides into central London (and from there on other trains that took me as far north as York or around London via the Underground).

In all likelihood, that's where my fondness for trains -- be they slow or fast -- stem. And I count myself fortunate indeed to over the years have had the experience of being on trains in countries such as Wales, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Austria, the US, Canada and Tanzania as well as England and my native Malaysia -- many of which have been really wonderful and memorable.

Still, if I had to single out the train that I've been the most thrilled to travel on, there really isn't much contest; hence my choice of which to have photographs of in this week's Photo Hunt entry. For even while I do treasure having been on the historic narrow-gauge steam train that goes along the Portmadog-Blaenau Ffestiniog rail route in Wales, I really like the shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) -- that move at a fast-pace but also provide surprisingly smooth rides while doing so -- for providing positive proof that trains have a genuinely practical part to play in the modern world.

And doesn't the shinkansen look so sleek as well? So much so that even when one actually is slowly approaching their stop at a designated railway station, they still look like they're travelling oh so very fast indeed... ;b

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cheung Chau hike (Photo-essay I)

For many people, Cheung Chau = bun festival. But even though the Cheung Chau bun festival fairly prominently figures in at least one other Hong Kong movie (i.e. the sublime, My Life as McDull (2001)), the cinematic work that the dumb-bell shaped island is most associated with for many Hong Kong film fans is Riley Ip's even more bitter-sweet Just One Look.

The first time I visited Cheung Chau a few years back, it was in the company of a fellow Hong Kong film fanatic and her daughter. But my most recent visit to this one of Hong Kong's Outer Islands was to go for an easy summer hike -- one which this photo-essay partially chronicles:-

While waiting in the vicinity of the island's Kwun Yam Beach
for a few other humans to join our hiking party,

a creature that looked far more alien than human
decided to temporarily hang out with our group!

Shortly after our hike got underway, this vista --
of Kwun Yam Beach in the foreground,
Tung Wan Beach further in the background --

presented itself to us

Delicate butterfly and delicate wild flowers
(or are those mere shrubs?)

During our hike, it was Cheung Chau's rocks
that tended to most attract our attentions

Cheung Chau's vase rock has unfortunately attracted
the attention of at least one graffiti 'artist'

So has this rock that gets me thinking
resembles the side profile of a screaming human!

And is that an elephant I see before me?!

On the other hand, for the life of me,
I can't quite see why this is called
the human face rock!!! ;(

To be continued... for sure! ;b

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shanghai Blues, Hong Kong Cheer

Close to a decade ago, I met a fellow Hong Kong film fan while visiting Hong Kong who I had previously only known through his writings on such as the Mobius Home Video Forum's then very active and often very fun Asian Cinema discussion board. Over the years, he has grown to be a good friend as well as an absolute font of knowledge on Hong Kong matters as diverse as movie locations, hiking books, cultural heritage and where to get great tau fu fah (soybean custard) in the Big Lychee.

Early on during our acquaintance, he also introduced me to the woman who also has become a friend of mine -- and finally legally became his wife today. In memory of this lovely couple's wedding day (and to commemorate my having attended my first ever wedding dinner in Hong Kong -- which was preceded by my first experience of playing mahjong in Hong Kong (I love how their wedding invitation card stated that dinner would begin at 8pm, and the mahjong at 5pm!)), here's sharing a video clip from one of the first Hong Kong movies I watched in a theater with them -- Tsui Hark's sublime Shanghai Blues -- during which Sally Yeh, one of the film's stars, sings the movie's signature song:-

And for the record, yes, this is the same Shanghai Blues that Brian recently blogged about over at his Asian Cinema -- While On the Road. (Also, for those who have not seen it, this Film Workshop masterpiece actually is much more happy, romantic and comedic than its title seems to suggest!) And oh my, what I'd give for Tsui Hark to return to making great movies, full of heart, soul and cinematic magic, like it...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Undesirable (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

At first glance and without knowing the complex's history, the upper-most photo of this Photo Hunt entry may seem somewhat innocuous and not have much about it that is undesirable. After all, the pictured place seems to be in a nicely quiet section of Seoul and the solid constructions in it that could be -- and were -- filled with hundreds of people at a time look like they may have been factory buildings dating back to the early 20th century.

But a tour of that which now is a museum shows that Seodaemun was built in 1908, at a time when Korea was under Japanese rule, as a prison and served as such through the period of Japanese colonialisation (to house captured Korean freedom fighters and other patriots, male and female -- something that is emphasized in the official literature) but also after through to 1987 (something that it much less noted by the official history of Seodaemun Prison).

If one were to read the linked pieces above, one will learn about a lot of undesirable activities taking place at Seodaemun Prison (and also with regards to the way its history is presented). And while the people incarcerated at this complex were seen as undesirables by the ruling powers of the day, the strong feeling I get after reading what I've read about the place as well as visiting it is that the more undesirable elements of society actually were those who often unjustly condemned women as well as men to miserable fates within the prison's walls and those officials who carried out some incredibly awful tortures and related acts in the name of the then prevailing law.

And for those who think this is all too abstract, look at the middle and bottom photos in this entry and realise that: the former gives one a look right into the dark tunnel officially known as the Corpse Removal Exit -- located next to the execution building and used to secretly remove bodies to the public cemetery outside the prison to conceal the existence and number of executions that took place at Seodaemun; while the latter is of underground solitary cells specially constructed to house some of Seodaemun's female prisoners and in such a way that part of the terrible torture treatment they received there was that they never could get any natural sun light -- and also in the case of the taller ones, could never stand up straight -- in them.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Something about Hong Kong that should be better

Partial view of Two IFC in Central from
the Mid-Levels on a bad air day

The same part of the world
on a far more beautiful, blue sky day

This morning, I woke up to bright sunshine and gazed at beautifully blue skies on the company shuttle bus portion of my commute to work. Although I may once have considered these sights to be the expected norm, I have come to treasure them as not-as-common-as-one-would like visions post moving to Hong Kong.

And this particularly after a recent couple of weeks in which we had five consecutive days of recorded air pollution index levels that were over 100 points (i.e., very high) and, more recently, a couple of rainy gray days where there was not enough sunlight to give my solar-powered Hello Kitty toy the requisite energy to sway its head! :S

So... in answer to the question I've been asked quite often of what I like least about the Big Lychee, it'd definitely have to be: the air pollution that is all too discernible visually and in other ways for too many days of the year and my time in Hong Kong. Though -- and yes, here's going back into Pollyanna mode -- it's generally quite a bit better now than when I visited a few years back and found air pollution so bad that I wondered whether I'd ever be able to live here without an oxygen tank and mask near me at all times.

What made things worse then was that smoking was allowed in restaurants and bars -- with the result that certain eating and drinking establishments had even worse air inside than outside of them. (Indeed, I remember one evening when I had to bow out mid-way through dinner with a family friend because the nicotine clouds in that restaurant were literally making me gag!) Now if only fewer -- never mind zero -- people smoked in the streets of Hong Kong... something that actually seems to be happening if these statistics are to be believed! :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

From Hoi Ha to the Wan Tsai Peninsula and back (Photo-essay)

Life can be full of surprises. And I'm not just talking about such as my encountering butterflies going at it while out on hiking along the Wan Tsai Nature Trail and other parts of -- and leading to -- the Wan Tsai peninsula out in northeastern Hong Kong. Rather, I'm alluding here to the fact that this May hike turned out to be the last one I went on with my mother before she discovered that she had to go for triple heart-bypass surgery.

So secure did we feel about her health back then, in fact, that we thought nothing of venturing into a section of Hong Kong where there is no mobile phone reception (or the mobile phone signals captured are from Mainland China rather than the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong); and this on top of it being sparsely populated and where stray cows feel free to roam to their hearts' content since there aren't that many humans about, even on a Sunday afternoon like the one during which we visited... ;S

Close to the present day village of Hoi Ha
are remnants of lime kilns that once were used to
refine lime for oyster shells and coral skeletons

These days, however, Hoi Ha's main claim to fame is
as the place where one can do such as rent canoes

to float on the waters of scenic
Hoi Ha Wan

The trail from Hoi Ha to the Wan Tsai Peninsula
is concrete and largely flat but this still doesn't mean

that it doesn't offer up pretty views along the way

A view from further east of the same Hoi Ha Wan
that has been designated as a marine park

View looking eastwards towards the Wan Tsai Peninsula
and the Sai Kung Peninsula proper (including

the well-named
Sharp Peak) in the far distance

Before I end this photo-essay: here's a mysterious sight
... of a white substance that I originally mistook for

discarded tissue paper before realising is natural in nature!

A hiking guidebook noted that many stray cows
are to be found in this part of Hong Kong

-- and boy, is it right about this! ;O

Pretty flowers whose names --
you guessed it! ;( -- I don't know but
whose beauty I nonetheless can appreciate!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hello Kitty and Co at Sanrio Village

Dear Daniel reading a book -- with a quill in
his other paw! -- on the verandah of a coffee shop

...serenely above the tumult below as fans of
Helly Kitty and Co check out the rest of Sanrio Village

Sanrio Village -- as seen in a publicity photo
(courtesy of MTR Malls)

Back in August, Hong Kong was home for two and a half weeks to Hello Kitty's Kitty Lab. While I had fun at the exhibition, I do regret that it was considered a "no-no" to to take photos of the super Hello Kitty-fied realm within. So it was with no small amount of joy that I found out about the Legendary 50th Sanrio Village (to give it its formal name) which has been set up for 50 days at Maritime Square mall over in Tsing Yi to celebrate the coming year's going to be Sanrio's 50th anniversary year -- and that the area will be one in which visitors can take photographs galore.

Admittedly, upon visiting it yesterday afternoon, I was a bit disappointed to find that the village is about 1/20th the size of Kitty Lab and no where as Hello Kitty-fied in its details. But since it's there for a good cause (in that entrance is by donation to the Community Chest Hong Kong charity), I went ahead and immersed myself in the full Sanrio Village experience. And, in the process, got reminded once again that there's something wonderfully positive about being among fellow fans of the cute cat, her friends and family for a time.

For one thing, their enthusiasm is seriously infectious -- and here we're talking about the enthusiasm of people who are willing to patiently queue up for about to two hours to spend about 15 minutes photographing Kitty Chan and other members of the Sanrio family in the environs of Sanrio Village. For another, there's something enchanting -- I find -- about people taking Hello Kitty so seriously as to do such as bring along some seriously professional quality cameras and related equipment to photograph her or bring along their favorite kawaii plushies to be photographed at that locale!

In addition, there is something about the cute cat that is able to bring out not only the wide-eyed child in people but also a sense of innocent fun. And yes, I really am stating this in an ironic, uncynical way -- two other things about Hello Kitty and what she evokes in many of her fans -- particularly in territories like Hong Kong and Japan -- that I really do very much appreciate. :)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Curved (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This week's Photo Hunt is one that I could easily submit several entries for -- such is the abundance of photos of curved objects that I have in my photo archive! So, to help narrow things down, I set extra limitations for myself -- making it so that all three of this week's photos were taken within the past year in urban parts of Hong Kong Island (i.e., just 7% of the territory of Hong Kong as a whole!).

As it so happens, the bottom two photos -- of a rainbow sculpture in Hong Kong Park and the curved Mid-Levels building known as The Gladdon (that now houses luxury residences but which I suspect was a coach house in colonial days) -- were both taken on a single day in December last year -- while on a hike from The Peak down to Admiralty. But rather than just put them up on their own, I couldn't resist also including a photo I took last weekend from the Museum of Coastal Defence in Shau Kei Wan in this entry because I actually find the sight of that curved portion of the highway to be uncommonly aesthetically pleasing! ;)

Friday, December 4, 2009

From Hok Tau Road to Sha Lo Tung (Photo-essay)

Continuing from the previous hiking photo-essay: Rather than follow the Hok Tau Country Trail's circuit to its conclusion, on reaching Hok Tau Road for the second time, my two hiking companions and I turned east- rather than west-wards towards Hok Tau Reservoir along the hiking trail that bears its name. That decision was part intentional.

Later on, however, we effectively went "off trail" accidentally. More specifically, our plan to follow the Hok Tau Reservoir trail to its conclusion got derailed about two-thirds along the way through our not being able to find any of the mapped -- but seemingly over-grown -- trails that would take us westwards and back to our starting point.

Although this state was initially a bit stress-inducing, our "in the field' decision to alternatively follow at least one fairly well-trodden path due south ultimately paid dividends. For not only did we end up near a place before dark where we rather fortuitously found an available taxi to take us to the nearest MTR station but we also ended up going to Sha Lo Tung, a close to completely abandoned village in an area almost completely bordered by Pat Sin Leng Country Park that has been latterly designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its rich biodiversity and historical value.

Indeed, once back to civilisation and over dinner, we decided that it actually had been a pretty good hike all in all; one that was interesting to walk and also yielded quite a number of interesting sights -- some of which I can share with you courtesy of the following photos:-

Not only is Hong Kong a land without postcodes but
it seems that this is as far as the postman will
as far as the northern New Territories village
of Tung Shan Ha is concerned!

A bank and the calm waters of Hok Tau Reservoir

If truth be told, I consider Hok Tau Reservoir
to be the least scenic of the reservoirs
I've been to
thus far in Hong Kong...

In contrast, I think Sha Lo Tung actually is one of
the more photogenic
of Hong Kong's abandoned villages

Once -- maybe not that long ago, in fact --
these buildings housed shops and people

These days, though, fellow hikers (like my
camera-toting hike companions) are the people
one is most likely to encounter in the vicinity

Or maybe not -- as at least one house in
the largely ruined village still seems to be occupied

And perhaps it's not overly romantic to think that
that the reason whoever has chosen to remain
living in this thus not completely forsaken place
is to take care of the village -- and ancestral? -- templ