Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bags (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

If I didn't know it before, I really realize it now after a search through my photo archives for this week's Photo Hunt: I have bags of photos of scenery (natural -- through hiking -- but also urban) but not that many of bags per se or even just photos where bags of some sort prominently feature. So much so that I had to go all the way back to last year to find photos to share for this week!

In the end though, not one but three suitable photos have struck my fancy. The first has a bag that caught my eye because it's got a certain cute cat -- who is 35 years old this Sunday! -- on it. The second shows a pair of bag-laden photographers in action at the Tam Kung Birthday Parade (that I myself have bags of photos of!).

And the third photo features, of course, the (in)famous, cheap but colorful amah bags that are actually pretty durable -- and can withstand long-distance plane journeys despite their fairly flimsy appearance. (In this case, these bags look bound for the Philippines laden with goodies that hardworking Filipino maids -- who abound in Hong Kong -- are sending home to their families, even while not necessarily homeward bound themselves.)

My Failing Eyesight

More than three months ago now, Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad prematurely passed away at the age of 51 years. At the recently concluded Tokyo International Film Festival, Yasmin was posthumously given a special award. Here in 'Asia's World City', the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival also had a tribute to Yasmin -- albeit one that was much more low-key.

For one thing, the In Memory of Yasmin Ahmad programme consisted of just two films; with one of them, Talentime, having previously had its Hong Kong premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. For another, from what I observed and otherwise gathered, the screenings of both those selections were disappointingly sparsely attended.

To some extent, however, all this didn't matter so much to me as that I finally got the chance two evenings ago by way of the film festival to view Yasmin's first film. A made-for-television work, Rabun (AKA My Failing Eyesight) was made on a low budget and in just seven days. At the same time, it's pretty obvious that it was made with love and care. (On a technical note, Yasmin insisted on shooting on film even when it had been commissioned for television.)

Ho Yuhang served as its assistant director for -- and also has a significant on screen role in -- the work. Before the screening of Rabun that I attended, he shared some information about the movie -- including the loving post-retirement couple at the heart of it being very much modelled on Yasmin's own parents. (Among other things, like them, the couple in the movie have a daughter named Orked, often act very playful as well as lovey-dovey with each other -- and have a multi-cultural ethos, outlook and ways that many people find ever so hard to emulate or even deal with.)

Rabun derives its name from the lead male character having failing eyesight (but otherwise being healthy). Rather than this being treated as a tragedy, however, it becomes an opportunity to show how his wife is happy to be with him -- in sickness as well as in health -- along with how the couple possess an upbeat "life goes on and should be led happily" approach and very much retain a sense of fun as they age.

As might be expected of a debut movie, Rabun is not technically perfect. (In particular, I thought the cinematography could have been better -- and Keong Low did go on to do much better in later Yasmin Ahmad films.) But wonder of wonders: so much that made that made Yasmin Ahmad's films so distinctive and special turned out to already be there right from the start...

In particular, I think of the humane qualities along with the humour, colorful characters and daring -- by Malaysian standards, and in a Malaysian context -- socio-cultural commentary along with inversion of all manner of stereotypes. And of course the ability to emotionally touch, affect and impact... much so that post viewing the movie, it took quite a great effort on my part to refrain from breaking down and bawling on the MTR home from the cinema upon recalling certain voiced sentiments in Rabun that got me thinking that Yasmin might well have had some inkling that she would die earlier in life than many might expect and, also, when thinking of the great loss for Malaysia and Malaysian cinema that has resulted from her passing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress (photo-essay #2)

Before anything else: thanks to those who let me know in the comments thread on my previous Hwaseong Fortress photo-essay entry that they'd be interested in seeing more of the photographs that I took while walking along the walls of that magnificent edifice. And, of course, I'm happy to oblige.

So, without further ado, here is one more series of shots of the restored 18th century fortress built by King Jeongjo to help honor and protect the remains of his ill-fated father, a prince effectively murdered by being condemned to spend the rest of his days in a rice chest by his paranoid father...

Remember the Seojangdae (West Command Post)
in the previous photo-essay? To get a sense of
the distance covered,
there it is up on a hill
near where we begin this second photo-essay...

Pigeons rest on the rooftop of
Hwaseong Fortress' Hwaseomun (west gate)

Looking from part of the fortress
to the most physically impressive of its
41 remaining (out of original 48) structures

That would be the Janganmun --
Hwaseong Fortress' northern gate
the largest gate of its kind in the whole of Korea)

Those who want to see Hwaseong Fortress
but not by foot can make use of
"dragon train"sightseeing trolley ;)

Bright blue skies along with impressive historic structures
made for a seriously beautiful sight to my mind

The Hwahongmun water gate
is built over
the Suwoncheon stream

At one point during my Hwaseong Fortress wall walk,
I crossed paths with a large group
Korean school students who looked very happy
to have been let out for the day ;)

And for those keeping tabs: I'm concluding this photo-essay with about one-third of my walk along Hwaseong Fortress' walls to go... ;)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Do you see them too?

Found in the grounds of Seoul's Changdeokgung

Spotted near my family home in Penang
back in August

Now for something different...

Credit it to my over-active imagination but I can't help but see certain animal shapes in the clumps of leave and associated greenery in the photos above. And maybe it runs in the family -- for when I asked my mother, she confirmed that she too could see what I saw.

So... do you see them too? If so, care to name what those animals are in this post's comments thread? ;b

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Seoul night sights

The 236.7 meter N Seoul Tower on Namsan
(South Hill) in its night-time glory

A more traditional structure in central Seoul
is well-lit to show off its beauty too

As those who have seen my latest blog posts know full well, I recently was on vacation in South Korea. The more eagle eyed visitors also will have noticed that this recent visit was not my first to the Land of the Morning Calm.

For the record, I first visited Seoul back in the winter of 1982. Things were so different then -- not only was I a good deal younger but Korea was still under a nation-wide curfew originally imposed by American occupation troops at the end of the Second World War.

Somewhat understandably given the circumstances, my prevailing memories of the place involved it being super cold and with a feel and look that was more gray than colorful. Indeed, even now, I remember how when the group I was with ventured out from the hotel on our first evening in Korea, we saw few people out and about and more commercial establishments already closed for the night than open.

Fast forward to October 2009 and what a different picture gets presented! Though even on this recent visit, I noticed that not all is completely well yet in the Korean nation... (For one thing, there's all that military stuff in the DMZ. For another, my mother and I saw and encountered a shockingly large number of homeless men in central Seoul, including in an underpass right next to the Seoul Metropolitan Council building.)

On a more positive note: these days, there seem to be real efforts to encourage people to go out and enjoy Seoul at night -- with such as lots of excellent lighting about and outdoor evening events and activities taking place (including at least two concerts -- at least one of which was free to the public -- within walking distance of our hotel). And I definitely can bear witness to Sunday evenings up on Namsan serving up fun for family groups, some of them tri-generational, along with wonderfully cool air and pleasant fall sights. :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tied (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This time last week, I was on holiday and approximately 1,305 miles (or 2,100 kilometers) away from my computer. Hence my not taking part in a Photo Hunt for the first time in months, if not years.

Since returning from my Korean vacation, I've been sharing some of the tons of photos I took over the course of the trip. And for this week's Photo Hunt, what I've chosen to show are a trio of snaps taken at the Korean Folk Village in Yong-in City of a reenactment of a traditional Korean marriage.

In the top most photo, the bride (the woman being helped about by two others) and groom (the man in the maroon outfit) are shown in the process of tying the knot inside the compound of a large landowner's house. Knot tied, the groom proceeds to ride a horse at the head of a post-wedding entourage that includes a party that includes -- as can be seen in the middle photo -- men bearing large items tied to their backs.

And if you think that those items look heavy, what about what the poor men in the final picture -- whose head decorations (including white cloth tied around their heads) I found very novel -- have to carry? And although I can't speak Korean, I got the distinct feeling that as they passed by, at least one of them was joking aloud as to how very heavy the bride and her palanquin were! :D

Friday, October 23, 2009

Suwon's Hwaseong Fortress (photo-essay)

I decided to spend the first full day of my Korean vacation in Suwon. The UNESCO world heritage-listed Hwaseong Fortress was one of three places I most wanted to visit in Korea, never mind Gyeonggi-do's provincial capital. The thing though is that I knew that what has been described as like a mini Korean version of the Great Wall of China wouldn't be a place that my mother -- who was meeting up with me in Seoul -- would be able to deal with.

So, instead of missing out on checking out the formidable fortress or endangering my mother's health while on holiday, I went for the third option of scaling the walls of Hwaseong Fortress when she was still not in the country. And boy, was I ever so glad I did -- because the experience of walking on those walls is really excellent; both for the sense of history that it gives one and, also, for the scenic views that are to be had along most, if not all, of the way.

All told, I ended up taking more than 60 photographs of and while walking along the late 18th century edifice's walls. The following are the first eight of them that I wish to share. I hope that they -- and at least one other set of eight to come -- can give a sense of the diversity of landscapes around the walls along with their general beauty:-

This was the first stretch of Hwaseong Fortress wall
that I walked on -- see why I didn't think this
would do for my mom (especially post heart surgery)?!

If you make it up those steps though,
you'll be met by such as the
Seonam Ammun (the Southwest Secret Gate)

A view from an opening
near the Seonam Ammun

Earlier in the day, while visiting Hwageong Palace,
I had seen an intriguing structure
nestled high up on a nearby hill

Here it is up close -- and for the record,
it's Hwaseong Fortress' Seojangdae
(The West Command Post)!

The walls of Hwaseong Fortress used to
encircle Suwon town but no longer (as can be seen
by many buildings, including high rise ones,
now being located beyond it)

An example of the care being taken to ensure
Hwaseong Fortress' continued preservation

Get to the Hwaseomun (west gate of the fortress)
from the Paldamun (south gate) and it means
that your journey along the walls of the fortress
is one third completed :)

So... should I keep on going with my photo sharing? Hope your thinking is along the lines of "yes, please!" :b

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meat, glorious Korean barbecued meat!

Fatty but oh so good!

Meat in center, rice cakes and enoki mushrooms
on the left of the picture, and kimchi --

which, yes, tastes good barbecued! -- on the right

Should there be any doubt... yes, we ate well in Korea -- and did so by eating lots of meat! :)

Oh, and did I mention that Suwon -- which I visited twice in the space of a week (and where the above photos were taken) -- is (also) famous for its galbi? ;b

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Alien or not?

Alien, football (AKA soccer) creature,
over-sized flower pot or
all of the above in Suwon town?!

Many moons ago, I mentioned in a meme entry on this blog that my ethnicity and/or nationality often has been mis-identified in many parts of the world. Well, now one can add South Korea to the list -- in that during my recent visit, I found that I apparently look Korean to Koreans! Indeed, so much of a native did I look there that people would come up to my mother -- who met up with me in Seoul a day into my Korean vacation -- and I to ask us for what appeared to be directions as well as just plain assume that we could speak Korean pretty much wherever we went in the country!

What accounted for this state of affairs? Is it, I wonder, because we often walked around without maps or guidebooks in our hands, yet seem to know where we are going? (A "trick" I learned from travelling and living in parts of the world where obviously being foreign or unsure of where one is (going) might expose one to crime.)

If so, why is it that in Beijing, my mother and I stuck out like sore, foreign thumbs even when we weren't speaking? (For the record, we were often mistaken there for Japanese, Taiwanese or Americans!) And then there was the assumption by most Taiwanese we encountered in Taipei that we were not only foreign but specifically Japanese! (And should anyone wonder, in Japan, I often get assumed to be Japanese -- or a Japanese-speaker at the very least...)

Actually, I do have a couple of theories as to why my mother and I obviously don't look like Beijingers: the first being that the ethnic Chinese parts of us are southern rather than northern Chinese; and secondly, that our clothing styles just aren't very Beijing or Mainland Chinese. But whither, then, the Korean and Japanese mistaken identities as, from what I can observe, I definitely tend to dress more casually and less smartly -- especially when on vacation -- than your average Korean or Japanese?

Whatever the reason, I have to say that there often are advantages to being mistaken for a native. Now if only I could be more polyglot and be able to speak the (dominant) language of more of the countries where I've been... and while I'm doing a bit of wishing, being able to read non-Roman alphabetic scripts would be cool too! ;b

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Korean sights (photo-essay)

I'm baack! To be precise, I've returned from an all too short Korean vacation that, among other things, saw me actually on the North Korean side of the border for a few seconds as well as visiting three UNESCO world heritage sites in two days and going on a stroll along the banks of the restored Cheonggyecheon stream.

Over the course of just a few days, I came across many beautiful, interesting and downright amazing sights -- so much so that I ended up literally taking hundreds of photos. The following eight will hopefully give you a taste of what I've seen and where I've been this past week -- and also whet your appetite to view more of my Korean shots (because, ready or not, I do plan to put up quite a few more on this blog before too long!):-

I got the feeling that this vacation would be
a good one
after I serendipitously came across
this newly built statue of King Sejong
while out strolling on my first evening in Korea!

View from inside a courtyard in Suwon's
Hwaseong Haenggung on a beautiful fall day

As impressive as Hwaseong Haenggung may be,
it actually isn't Suwon's major attraction --
rather, that honor goes to the Hwaseong Fortress
on whose close-to-6 kilometers long walls I walked

I'm not sure if I was particularly lucky but
I witnessed plenty of ceremonies being enacted

on my Korean visit -- including this one at the
Jongmyo royal shrine in Seoul

Close up of some of the architectural detail on view
Changdeokgung -- one of Seoul's five royal palaces
(but the only one to be UNESCO world heritage listed)

Colorfully costumed sentries at Daehanmun,
the main gate of
Deoksugung (a palace
whose walls I regularly passed by on such as
walks from my hotel to a nearby subway station!)

Real life guard on the North Korean side of
Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Ducks swim in Cheonggyecheon,
Seoul's wonderfully rejuvenated inner city stream

Monday, October 12, 2009

Travelling woman

Apropos re travel talk in the blog entry below (including its comments thread), an upcoming vacation and also a friend's impending travel abroad...

visited 23 states (10.2%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Things are really relative. Compared to many people, I'm pretty well-traveled. (Wanna let me know how you compare? If so, give this meme a spin on your blog!) But looking at the world map indicating where I've been in red above, I realize how much of the world I've actually not set foot in.

Worse, the picture above is actually quite deceptive. This not least since while the United States is completely red in the above map, it's less so in the one down below... :S

visited 28 states (56%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A friend in Hong Kong and Hello Kitty

The summer 2009 edition of the Hello Kitty-themed
Visit Japan campaign tram

One of its predecessors from earlier still this year

A good part of this weekend which is fast coming to an end has been spent culture-vulturing as per usual. Quite a bit of time also has been spent resting from exertions at work this past week (where I've been working longer hours than usual to prepare for an upcoming vacation) and preparing for that holiday away from Hong Kong.

Amidst it all, I've additionally spent some quality time with a good friend who, after slightly over seven years spent working and living in the territory, has been recalled to company headquarters back in her and her company's European homeland. An uncommon expatriate who has come to love Hong Kong, one of the things she takes as consolation from having to leave the place is that she will have gained permanent residency status in her adopted home by the time she heads back to her native land.

A table-tennis enthusiast before she came to the Big Lychee, she also now leaves it with a distinct fondness for Chinese desserts and certificates attesting to her having reached instructor level in a couple of tai chi disciplines! Still, the moment which may well have confirmed to her and others that she had really become a Hong Konger was when she experienced sudden urges during this summer's McDonalds' Hello Kitty promotion to get herself a couple of Hello Kitty plushes!!

Speaking of summer and Kitty Chan... the long, super hot summer here in Hong Kong may finally be coming to an end. (Talk about it being long overdue: the Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated last weekend, after all!) In celebration of that (and in honor of my good friend who *sob* also will soon be going away), here's sharing a summer (holiday)-themed Hello Kitty photo -- and throwing in another cute cat visual from last winter for good measure! ;b

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mid-autumn festival lanterns in Hong Kong (photo-essay)

When I was a young girl in Penang, I used to enjoy celebrating that which I used to think of as the lantern festival -- Malaysia being a place where it's perennially summer (and there thus being no autumn, never mind mid-autumn). So the mid-autumn festival's small portable lanterns that kids like to carry about at night are familiar enough to me (even while I have to say that in my time, one never saw any lanterns in the shape of Hello Kitty or CJ7 (the latter of which was the rage last year)).

On the other hand, extravagant public displays are another matter altogether. Consequently, they are something that I do really enjoy seeing around this time of the year in Hong Kong in each of the three falls and counting that I've now been a resident of the Big Lychee... ;)

From Victoria Park, 2007:
something very Chinese and red!

From 2007 too, but looking ahead to
the 2008 Olympics (whose equestrian portion,

lest we forget, Hong Kong hosted!)

For some reason, the 2008 lantern display at the
Hong Kong Cultural Centre piazza in Tsim Sha Tsui

was partly oceanic in theme and nature

Other parts of that 2008 lantern display
also had a biology emphasis

Tsim Sha Tsui, 2009: lantern dragon,
lantern 2
009 East Asian Games mascots
and real Clock Tower, among other things

Victoria Park 2009: Cute panda lantern display...
and a toilet banner right down below!

Wide-angle view of this year's very well attended
Lantern Carnival in Victoria Park

The female half of the phoenix display that complemented
the dragon display, a picture of which I put up
-- yin and yang times two, it might be said! :)