Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spotted (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

What do the two photos in this entry have in common? Nothing really -- apart from their both: a) having been taken in Hong Kong; and b) conforming, at least in my eyes, to this week's Photo Hunt theme.

More specifically, the first photo is of an unusual-looking spotted sea creature (that I spotted while on a visit Ocean Park, the Big Lychee's largely aquatic-themed amusement park that's also famous for being home to two Giant Pandas) while the second photo shows the kind of urban scene that has become very familiar to me -- seeing as I snapped that shot while commuting to work; only the view on offer is more spotted than it otherwise could have been because it was taken on one of Hong Kong's many rainy days and rain drops had splattered on the window through which I was taking the photo! ;)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail (Photo-essay III)

Finally, to the final photo-essay for the second official Heritage Trail I walked along in Hong Kong -- and, if truth be told, one I actually found less interesting than the first I went on (i.e., the Ping Shan Heritage Trail out in northwest Hong Kong), yet have retrospectively realized has nonetheless yielded its share of nice photos.

And while the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall is the area's undoubted architectural jewel, I also cherish such un-photographed experiences as an encounter and conversation with a friendly gentleman who, like many of his neighbors, has Tang as his surname and proudly talked about being something like the 10th generation of his family to live in that same village.

On the subject of residents of the area, I think it worth repeating the following lines in the free Heritage Trail booklet found at the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall as well as Hong Kong Tourism Board offices: "The Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail is opened with the cooperation and support of the local residents. Please therefore respect them and keep disturbance to the minimum..."

Next to -- and inevitably physically overshadowed by --
the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall is a Tin Hau Temple
that may be the temple devoted to that goddess
of the sea that's the furthest inland
I've ever seen

When viewed on its own, I reckon that the temple building
is imbued with its own simple grace and elegance

Among the temple's most treasured items
are a cast iron bell dating back to 1695
and another
that dates back to 1700

The walled village of Lo Wai looks like it'd have a really
interesting interior but, alas,
it looks to be
closed to the public -- and
even has what appear
to be guard dogs at its entrance
to deter visitors! :(

Consequently, we had to content ourselves with
a visit to the more modest looking walled village
Ma Wat Wai -- entry into which also necessitated
passing by a dog, albeit one that friendlier than
those observed at the entrance of Lo Wai!

Ma Wat Wai's surprisingly narrow main thoroughfare
is bounded by surprisingly modern houses

At the end of the main alley, deep inside the village,
is the partially desintegrated communal altar
nonetheless, remains in use by at least some people

Near the final attraction of the Heritage Trail
a historic church-- albeit one that only dates back
to 1926 ), and what I'll end this photo-essay with, is
an interesting -- some might think incongruously --
mixed view of farm land and high rise apartments

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tofu talk and more

Sweet mango chunks and sauce on a bed of tofu
from a Temple Street dessert shop

Mixed fruits and wonderfully smooth tofu served in a bowl
ringed by another filled with dry ice at Sweet Dynasty!

Is seafood meat? If, like my late paternal grandmother (who was one of those Buddhists who regularly observed a vegetarian diet during certain times of the year but would eat seafood during those periods), you don't reckon it to be so, then it can be said that I somehow have, without consciously trying to, eaten nothing but vegetarian foods the past two days.

As those who know me will realize, I'm regularly happily omnivorous and do eat my share of meat along with carbohydrates, seafood, fruit and vegetables. But as much as I am a fan of such as prosciutto, wagyu and roast suckling pig, it's true that I can get pretty happy partaking of supposedly humbler -- and healthier -- fare like tofu too. (Though it's true enough that I tend to like my tofu garnished with fruits (if eaten as a dessert) or tuna sashimi, spring onions, grated ginger and yam paste (if eaten as a cold savory dish like at my favorite izakaya here in Hong Kong) rather than plain).

Incidentally, one of the two articles I wrote for bc magazine that attracted the most attention and praise was that on tofu. (The other was -- I kid you not -- the one about Hello Kitty.) And truly, I mention this not so much to boast as to contrast this state of affairs with my never having received a single e-mail from other than friends about the many film reviews, other movie-themed articles and even interviews with such film luminaries as Peter Chan, Lisa Lu and Chapman To that I wrote up for that same publication! ;b

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Movies and the imagination

This post is for my fellow Hong Kong film fan(atic)s... those for whom being in parts of Hong Kong can feel like one has stumbled into a movie set or even been catapulted right into an actual movie...

While out hiking along the Shing Mun Valley trail this afternoon, I came across the following sight:-

To non-film fanatics, what's on view is just two men enjoying a bit of fishing. If you're like me though, that vision can't help but get one recalling the dramatic scene towards the end of Johnnie To's Election (2005) involving the Triad leader characters played by Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka Fai, right?

And this especially since creatures like the demonic looking one below abound in the area -- as they did in that Milkyway Image movie's memorable scene...

If so, then I think you'd also agree that yes, sometimes, it really just takes a little imagination to feel once again that one is living in Hong Kong movieland... ;b

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Balanced (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

In honor of its theme for this week, I wanted to make it so that my Photo Hunt entry's balanced in presentation as well as filled with photos illustrating the concept of balanced -- hence my going with an even-numbered four (rather than, say, one or three); two on either side of the Photo Hunt banner. Even better, after selecting the photos, I realize that, taken together, they appear to be balanced in subject matter between man and nature (as well as are balanced between photos I took in Hong Kong and elsewhere).

For those who like to get more details for each photo:-

- The top most photo in this week's entry is of a pair of gargoyle-type fish sculptures on the main street of Himeji, a Japanese town that is home to a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage listed castle. Known as shashi, they can also be seen balanced on the roof tips of Himeji-jo (the castle) as they're talismans whose presence were believed to be able to help prevent fires.

- The second photo from the top is of a striking-looking bird I spotted balanced atop the line dividing up where it's safe versus less safe to swim out in Repulse Bay when I went to that southern part of Hong Kong Island for the Sculpture on Hong Kong Sea project one Sunday a couple of months ago.

- The third photo from the top is of a turtle (terrapin?) I saw balanced on a narrow part of a structure jutting into the waters of Wong Nai Chung Gap Reservoir while passing by Wong Nai Chung Gap Reservoir Park on the way to start a hike. (Wong Nai Chung Gap is where many wonderful hikes -- including ones leading to the Tai Tam reservoirs and Stanley -- can be accessed)

- And finally, the photo at the bottom is of two horsemen doing all manner of tricks while staying balanced on their steads at the same Korean Folk Village (in Yongin) whose colorful traditional marriage "re-enactors" I also featured in a previous Photo Hunt entry a few months back. :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail (Photo-essay II)

The last photo in the previous Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage photo-essay was taken in Wing Ning Tsuen, four villages and more than half way in geographic distance from the northern end of the Heritage Trail where my friend, two friends of her (who hitherto had never ventured into the New Territories and had never seen a green taxi, never mind ride a green minibus like the ones that took us to and, a few hours later, away from the Heritage Trail to the nearest MTR station to it. Walking in a southwards direction, the heritage sights captured in the following photos are some of what one gets to see further along the walk that often can seem like it's a stroll back in time as well just a few kilometers.

More than incidentally, although the Hong Kong Tourism Board website page devoted to this particular trail seems to make it sound as though it goes through eleven villages, that is not the case. But even though, if truth be told, the older Ping Shan Heritage Trail between Tin Shui Wai and Yuen Long out in northwestern Hong Kong actually yields more sights, this northern New Territories trail still is a cool way to venture out into a part of the Big Lychee that most people would otherwise not check out and visit places that most definitely are not without their own beauty, charm and attraction...

Old village with a new playground!

The main entrance of Tung Kok Wai
(trans. Eastern Walled Village), a settlement that
has been continuously inhabited for over 500 years

Scene inside the New Territories walled village

Compared to everything previously seen on the trail,
the Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall
is super impressive
as well as wonderfully photogenic (and no,
that romantic couple
didn't know they were posing for this camera! ;b)

View from inside the courtyard where the couple above
were standing out through the main entrance
of the Tang Clan of Lung Yeuk Tau's main ancestral hall

Pride of place in the ancestral hall goes to the soul tablets
of a Song princess and the Tang man she married

I don't know about you but even the rafters
of the ancestral hall were visually fascinating to me

Ditto re the colors of the bricks that made up
the buildings' walls (along with the patterned borders
and animals atop their upper sections)!

To be continued (since the more I see of the photos, the more I think this trail merits not one or two but three photo-essays!)...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hong Kong daredevils

Daredevils getting ready on the Dragon's Back
to do what they had gone up that ridge to do

As a parachute unfurls, you realize that
hiking up hills and amidst beautiful scenery
just isn't enough for some folks

Instead, they get their real thrills from
jumping off the hill and paragliding down it! :O

One of the first hikes I went on in Hong Kong after moving here was along the Dragon's Back. That first hike along that scenic eastern Hong Kong Island trail definitely gave me a taste for hiking in Hong Kong. But if truth be told, the visibility that day had been less than optimal and I had vowed to return again to that trail -- albeit only a guaranteed clear day.

Today, not only was it a gorgeous day when the air was clear and sky bright blue for the most part but the weather this afternoon was a perfect 18 degrees Celsius with bright sunshine but also a cool breeze (shirt-sleeves weather with sunscreen required, yet not blazing hot). So it wasn't too surprising, then, that people turned up in droves to hike on the trail -- and, my hiking companion and I also found at trail's end in Big Wave Bay, surfers over one of the Big Lychee's favorite surfing spots.

About one third into our hike, close to the 284 meter high Shek O Peak, we additionally spotted a group of people preparing to embark on an activity that strikes me as awesomely daredevillish, if not borderline insane: paraglide off the high hill (or is it high enough to be called a mountain?)! And while we weren't lucky -- or patient enough -- to see people take off, we were fortunate enough to catch sight of one paraglider in awe-inspiring action after we were back close to sea level at the end of our very enjoyable 8.5 kilometer hike! :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jiggly (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Before anything else: no, your eyes are not deceiving you. For yes, my choice of subject for this week's Photo Hunt entry consists of one of my Hello Kittys -- in particular, one that is solar powered and, depending on the strength of the light that falls on it, will either stay immobile or become variously jiggly (i.e., move with quick little jerks or in oscillation motions, as defined by Merriam-Webster Online) -- and, because I can't resist sharing a joke, the ransom note that its Kitty-napper left behind one dark December evening.

Telling the story from the beginning: A few days before this dastardly deed was committed, a very sweet colleague of mine -- for yes, this all happened at the office! -- arrived one morning at work with a new Hello Kitty gift for me. A fellow fan of kawaii things, he and I got quite a bit of fun in finding out which areas in our section of the office that this jiggly, swaying Hello Kitty "likes" best. (We know it's not alive but it reminds us of a tamagotchi in that it seems to need to be cared for -- otherwise, it will start moving in little jerks rather than smoothly and sometimes even outright stop depending on where it gets moved and such!)

Unfortunately, this swaying head Hello Kitty also attracted the attentions -- though I'll note that she wasn't attentive enough to realize that this particular incarnation of the cute cat sways from side to side rather than just bobs its head... -- of a less kawaii-loving colleague... who somehow succeeded in swiping it when I wasn't looking. Fortunately, however, she hadn't counted on my love of crime fiction having taught me to do such as track down a Kitty-napper by way of the handwriting on the ransom note...

So, to cut what could be a longer story short: yes, I got my swaying Hello Kitty back -- and the last time I looked (before I left work yesterday evening), it was safe and sound! One last bit of the story for those who've read this far: apparently, the Kitty-napper had been contemplating buying a copy of my swaying Hello Kitty, chopping that into little bits and sending me those little bits bit by bit to freak me out... So not only did I save my Hello Kitty from her clutches but my swift uncovering of her identity saved another Hello Kitty from shocking violence!!!!! :D

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail (Photo-essay)

As I write this blog post, it's winter -- and optimal hiking season -- in Hong Kong. But back in June, it was so hot and humid that I didn't go on a single hike in the countryside all month. Indeed, the closest thing to a hike that I went on over that entire summer month was a leisurely walk one afternoon along the approximately 2.25 kilometer (1.4 miles) Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail over in the northern New Territories -- one that I took with a German friend who I met while out hiking back in September 2007 and two German friends of hers...

We started our walk at the northern end of the trail --
at the village of Siu Hang Tsuen whose archway
at its eastern entrance was built to obtain better fung shui
(and specifically to get more male offspring!)

Situated nearby is the Fok Tak Tsz -- the village's
modest temple dedicated to the God of Earth

The communal alter inside the nearby walled village
of San Wai is modest in scale and decoration too

Sometimes, beauty can be found in what is mundane
to many -- in this case, it comes in the form of
the metal work that's part of the village gate

A roadside shrine that we passed
as we walked along the heritage trail

Entrance to the village of Wing Ning Wai
that is said to be over 400 years old --
and looks to have seen livelier and better days

Few traditional Chinese houses remain in the village
but this does not mean that tradition and religion
have completely fallen by the wayside

Many Hong Kongers consider buildings
that are over 15 years old to be really old --
so what price traditional abodes like this one
in Wing Ning Tsuen that look like
they've been lived in for generations?

And with that question, I'll leave you... for now. To be continued (and I have to truthfully state that without realizing that we were doing so, we turned out to have saved the best sights for close to last along this trail! ;b)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A by-the-numbers look at my 2009 movie viewing year

Waiting for a movie to start one evening in 2009...
in this case, at the Hong Kong premiere of The Message

From left to right: director Dante Lam and
stars Richie Ren and Huang Xiaoming at
the Hong Kong premiere of The Sniper

In the tradition of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 by-the-numbers blog posts...

1 -- The number of films starring Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia that I viewed in a cinema in 2009

2 -- The number of movies starring Leslie Cheung that I viewed in a cinema last year

3 -- The number of Yasmin Ahmad films I viewed for the first time in 2009

4 -- The total number of Malaysian movies I viewed last year

4 also-- The number of silent films I viewed in 2009 (Secrets of a Soul (Germany, 1926), La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (France, 1928), Pharoah's Wife (Germany, 1922) and Wings (USA, 1927))

4 too -- The total number of movies I viewed on a small screen last year (three on DVD, one on board a plane)

9 -- The number of Hong Kong movies viewed last year that I'd give a rating of 9 or above to (And for the record, they are Ah Ying (1983), Ashes of Time Redux (2008 (1994)), Bodyguards and Assassins (2009), Dancing Bull (1990), Floating Life (1996 -- and technically from Australia but directed by Clara Law and containing a fair bit of Cantonese dialogue scenes) It's Always Spring (1962), KJ (2009), Red Cliff 2 (2009), The Valiant Ones (1975))

11 -- The number of films from Mainland China I viewed in 2009

12 -- The number of non-Hong Kong movies viewed in 2009 that I'd give a rating of 9 or above to (with these being Chung Kuo -- Cina (Italy, 1972), Departures (Japan, 2008), Milk (USA, 2008), On the Waterfront (USA, 1954), Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (Japan, 2008), Secrets of a Soul (Germany, 1926), Still Walking (Japan, 2008), The Ceremony (Japan, 1971), Tora San's Sunrise and Sunset (Japan, 1976), Tampopo (Japan, 1985), The Lives of Others (Germany, 2006) and Up (USA, 2009))

13 -- The total number of American movies I viewed in 2009

17 -- The number of black-and-white movies I viewed in 2009

18 -- The total number of films from Japan I viewed last year

24 -- The number of different countries whose movies I saw last year (For the record, they are: Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines and the USA)

26 -- The total number of 2009 Hong Kong films viewed in 2009

42 -- The number of Hong Kong movies I saw for the first time in 2009 (that is, if one were to count Ashes of Time Redux as a new movie...)

78 -- The number of non-Hong Kong films I viewed in 2009 for the first time

118 -- The number of films I viewed on a big screen in 2009 (N.B. These included two rewatches in the form of Hou Hsiao Hsien's bravura City of Sadness (Taiwan, 1989) which I'd now rate as a 10 out of 10, and Peter Chan's He's A Woman, She's A Man (Hong Kong, 1994) which also has been a perfect 10 to my mind.)

120 -- The number of films I viewed for the first time last year

1922 -- The oldest movie I viewed last year (German filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch's Pharoah's Wife)

1954 -- The original date of release of the oldest Hong Kong film I saw last year (The Beauty and the Dumb is a charming dramedy directed by Tang Huang, scripted by Evan Yang and starring the legendary Li Lihua)

(N.B. The above stats apply only to feature length films. Thing is that I have to admit to having kept neither a list nor a tally of the short films I watch in any year!)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A full Sunday

I've had a full day of fun and activity today. So this post will be pretty brief. Basically, I just want to state once again that one of the great things about Hong Kong is that there's so much to do and that another great thing about this place is that its great public transportation as well as overall small physical size allows me to do such as cram the following into a single 12 hour period:-

A hike (along the High Junk Peak Country Trail
in Clear Water Bay Country Park) that offered up
scenic views like these and ended up near...

...Joss House Bay and the Tin Hau Temple that is Hong Kong's
oldest (but has been recently renovated)
(More than by the way, I took this blog entry's top-most photo
near the top of the hill in the background!)

The Pancakes' 10th anniversary concert
(For the record, The Pancakes is a one-woman band --
but she performed with a bunch of musician friends at this show)

To sum it all up, here's some more proof then that Hong Kong rocks -- culturally and also for nature-loving hiking enthusiasts! :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bulky (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

At the Tam Kung Birthday Parade held annually in Shau Kei Wan, many colorful but also undeniably large and unwieldy (the Oxford Dictionary's definition of bulky) objects are on view in their beautiful -- and at times downright spectacular -- glory. As an example, look at the giant decorative item that tops this Photo Hunt entry temporarily mounted in honor of one of the more locally prominent Chinese patron saint of seafarers in that part of Hong Kong Island that day!

Although lions, unicorns, large flags, costumed Taoist priests and other interesting sights abound at this festival with a wonderfully genuine local community feel about it, it's the long-bodied dragons that often are the most eye-catching of the festival participants. And although they are pretty visually impressive when mounted on a parade float (like in the middle photo), I have say that I'm particularly in awe of those dragons that get guided by teams of dragon dancers on foot along the parade route (as in the bottom photo).

Among other things, who knew before watching them in action that such bulky creatures could actually look so graceful when in motion? I, for one, sure didn't! And yes, here's highly recommending that you make a beeline for Shau Kei Wan should you ever be lucky enough to be in Hong Kong at Tam Kung Festival time... :b