Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aberdeen Country Park hike (Photo-essay)


Looking at the main page of the blog today, I find that my recent HKIFF reports have made it way too text filled for my liking. So even though I have seen four more movies at the fest than I have thus far written about, I'm going to temporarily switch gears and return to playing catch up with regards to putting up photo-essays of hikes I've gone on here in Hong Kong.

A little bit more than a month after going on the Tai Lam Country Park hike that gave my hiking companion heat exhaustion, the temperature tended towards the uncomfortably hot. So another hiking friend and I decided to go on a short (i.e., just a couple of hours) hike that would take us from Wan Chai Gap down through Aberdeen Country Park to Aberdeen town via a route that would pass by the two Aberdeen Reservoirs (Upper and Lower) that have turned out to be the last water storage areas built on Hong Kong Island.

If truth be told, we weren't expecting much in terms of sights but, rather, just wanted to be out amidst some greenery and away from the madding crowd. Still, we saw enough to add to our experience to make it worthwhile to not only go out into the countryside that day but also -- as regularly is our wont -- bring our cameras along with us... :)

Just a few minutes after getting off the bus at Wan Chai Gap,
one finds oneself in countryside where one can enjoy some quiet
and the sight of such as these white flowers coming into bloom

On that hot day, we found the hill streams
reduced to not much more than a trickle
but the reservoirs still filled with water

At Aberdeen Upper Reservoir looking
north-eastwards and upwards to Mount Cameron
and the large white mansions on its slopes

Look south-eastwards from around the same spot
and you'll see this run off area that
leads into Aberdeen Lower Reservoir

Butterflies really add nice splashes of color
to a predominantly green landscape

View of Aberdeen town from within the country park

Another view (this from Aberdeen Lower Reservoir)
that shows how nearby is the town

Ending like I began -- with flowers,
albeit yellow ones growing in greater abundance!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Four HKIFF films viewed in the space of a little more than 40 hours


How my HKIFF ticket stash
looked back on the first day of the fest

This year, the Hong Kong International Film Festival started off relatively slowly for me -- in that I "only" viewed four films on the first five days of the fest. Over the weekend, however, the screenings came pretty quick and thick. And today, I did something that non film fanatics would consider weird: i.e., I took the day off from work to watch a couple more HKIFF offerings.

Still, lest people think that all I've been watching movies, rest assured that I've also been doing my fair share of socialising. Put another way, this really is a festive time of the year for me -- and in addition to having viewed some good films, fest highlights thus far include reunions with old friends, some of them who have traveled thousands of miles to partake in the joys of the HKIFF.

But now on with the HKIFF film reviewing -- this time of the following four films I viewed in the space of a little more than 40 hours...

Gallants (Hong Kong, 2010)
- From the Hong Kong Panorama 2009-2010 programme
- Derek Kwok and Clement Cheung, co-directors

- Starring Leung Siu Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Teddy Robin Kwan, Wong Yue Nam, Shaw Yin Yin, Chan Wai Man, MC Jin, JJ Jia, etc.


It's not often that the stars of a movie are decades older than its directors. But this is the way with this veritable homage to old kungfu movies and stars who first had a taste of fame back in the latter part of the 20th century co-helmed by the youthful Derek Kwok and first-time director Clement Cheung.

Starring a couple of old time action stars, a multi-talented individual with a known flair for comedy as well as music composing and a former sex bomb who has proved that she has formidable acting chops, this film -- which, for some reason, reportedly will only get a general release a few months down the road -- also includes younger talent in the mix by way of weaving a tale in which an asthmatic young employee is sent by his bullying boss to a New Territories village to help settle a property dispute, only to get involved in the affairs of -- and seek to learn kungfu from -- an old martial artist who only recently awoke from a multi-year coma (and while in it, had been cared for by two loyal disciples and a doctor who had nursed her love for him all those years).

As its plot description shows, Gallants is also a throwback to a previous era of Hong Kong cinema in being utterly happy to mix genres -- notably action and comedy but also romance and drama. In terms of the first element: although Chen Kuan Tai was the more well known name in their heyday, Leung Siu Lung turns out to be one whose moves are truly eye-catching in this film that benefits enormously from wonderful choreography courtesy of action director Yuen Tak. And while there's little doubt that Teddy Robin Kwan is tops in this category, such as the two laap ngaps (genuine and fake) also contribute to making the film possessing a enjoyably high humor quotient.

As can be seen from the very enthusiastic reaction to the film (and its stars and helmers at the post-screening Q&A, during which a member of the audience shouted to Teddy Robin that he was "ho cool!" and was rewarded with a big smile and thumbs up from the veteran Renaissance man), this movie really has the makings of a wonderful crowd-pleaser. For my part, I really want to applaud not just the old stars but also Derek Kwok -- one of those Hong Kong movie personalities I had the privilege of interviewing a couple of years back and emerged from the encounter wanting to wish all the best to because I reckon that he has good ideas, great intentions and is one of the film industry's genuinely good guys.

My rating for this film: 8

The Orphan (Hong Kong, 1960)
- From the
Bruce Lee 7010 programme
- Lee Sun Fung, director

- Starring Ng Cho Fan, Bruce Lee, Pak Yin, Fung Fung


For many people, Bruce Lee and kungfu films are synonymous -- and so much so that they don't realize that he actually acted as a child actor in movies with no kungfu in them such as this 1960 effort which was the last film that the American born (to Hong Konger parents) individual appeared in before he moved back to the USA to attend university, among other things, is a super preachy melodrama whose protagonist (played by Ng Cho Fan) is the do-gooder headmaster of a school for orphans and (other) troubled youth.

Viewed half a century after it was originally released, this movie comes across as out-dated -- and in a way that makes it beyond quaint. And matters are not helped by its characters being drawn too broadly -- and being played very broadly too; with the young Bruce over-acting like crazy in some scenes even while showing his charisma in others. (By far the most affecting scene for me -- and one which actually brought tears to my eyes -- is the nicely understated as well as quiet one that he shares with a veteran actress playing a maidservant who also acts as his foster mother.)

Still, the sheer historical value of the film makes it worth watching -- and, in the process, some amusement will be had as well in seeing how the movie inadvertently anticipates Bruce Lee's later development (notably in scenes which has the young Bruce shouting that he wants revenge and menacingly brandishing a weapon). Additionally, fans of the Tai Hang fire dragon will enjoy its appearance in this film --perhaps the first ever on celluloid for this eye-catching festive creature that also makes an appearance in this year's Fire of Conscience.

My rating for the film: 6.5

A Wedding in the Dream (Mainland China, 1948)
- From the
Fei Mu, Film Poet programme
- Fei Mu, director
- Starring Mei Lanfang, Jiang Miaoxiang

Old is not necessarily gold -- alas! This is what I found myself thinking after watching this 1948 film from a Chinese director with an exalted reputation and starring a Peking opera luminary from that performing art's golden era and feeling like it would have sent me to Dreamland if not for the fact that it is only 60 minutes long.

The first color film in Chinese history is not so much a conventional feature film as a film version of a Peking opera adapted from a Ming Dynasty story and refined by Mei Lanfang himself. No surprise then that he plays its main character: a woman taken prisoner after her country is invaded and then made to marry a fellow prisoner.

Although she was wed against her will and her husband has his weaknesses, she somehow falls in love with him -- and he of course returns her affection. But rather than be able to live happily together, they soon get separated.

Years pass and he's become an important man while she has been adopted by an older woman who lost her family in the same upheavals. Then one day, he reveals his continued love for his wife to a general who then sets about looking for her on his behalf and... I'm sure you can guess the outcome!

In fairness, I'm sure a lot was lost in making this work as short as it is (since Chinese operas tend to be longer than Bollywood movies!). Also, the version of the film I saw was in far less than optimal condition -- with the visuals being on the scratchy side and the sound being on the muted side. But until I get to see a better condition version of it...

My generous rating of the film: 5

Spring in a Small Town (Mainland China, 1948)
- From the Fei Mu, Film Poet programme
- Fei Mu, director
- Starring Wei Wei, Shi Yu, Li Wei

This Fei Mu film (that was remade by Tian Zhuangzhuang as Springtime in a Small Town in 2002) is regularly included in lists of such as the 100 greatest Chinese films of the 20th century, and often even tops them. However, my two previous bad experiences of viewing Fei Mu's movies (I also had seen and been disappointed by his Confucius at last year's HKIFF) allowed me to go in to a screening of it with less than sky high expectations for it being able to live up to its hype -- and so much so that I was thinking that if this psychological drama revolving around a woman, her invalid husband and his doctor friend who turns out to be her childhood sweetheart didn't impress, I was going to give up on checking out any more Fei Mu works.

Well, for starters, let's say that I am definitely more open post viewing this film to checking out more Fei Mu works in the future! For even though I already knew its story (not least because I had seen Tian Zhuangzhuang's color remake of the film), this effort really does have so much to offer in comparison as well as in and of itself.

In some ways, knowing the plot prior to viewing the film allowed to me to pay attention to other aspects of the work and really appreciate such as the masterful framing of many of its shots, the interesting design of its main set (the partially destroyed -- by Japanese bombs -- home of a previously prosperous family), the allure of a walk along the old city walls (which got me thinking of those of Suwon's restored Hwaseong Fortress) and the impressively naturalistic acting style and charisma of its thespians. And while Tian Zhuangzhuang's film benefited from being in color, Fei Mu shows in this beautifully nuanced work that he is very adept at working in and with black and white and the various gray shades in between.

And lest it be thought otherwise, here's explicitly asserting that this perfectly pitched work is not just to be admired for its style alone. Indeed, when watching it, I got to thinking how much and ably it emotionally draws the viewer into the story -- and more so than Tian's more distanced work (which notably dispenses with the female protagonist's voice-over narration which the Fei Mu film uses to good effect to share her view of proceedings and other characters).


My rating for this film: 9

(Addendum: At the end of the screening, actress Wei Wei appeared to share her thoughts about the film. Unfortunately, this whole affair was conducted sans English interpretation -- as, alas, is the norm at the Hong Kong Film Archive. And while my Cantonese is good enough to understand moderator Sam Ho's story of how she opted to take the MTR over, it is not good enough to thoroughly comprehend technical film talk or detailed historical reminiscences. Otherwise, I would have stayed to listen for sure. In any event though, it was amazing to catch sight of the 1948 film's leading lady and looking quite healthy, even if somewhat on the understandably frail side.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sorta 2010 HKIFF report


A reminder that many of the HKIFF
film screenings
are Hong Kong,
often also Asian and even world, premieres


In response to popular -- okay, some -- demand, here's going ahead and sharing my thoughts on two films that officially had their world premieres at the Hong Kong International Film Festival but which I got to view some days before the fest's official start, and a third Hong Kong movie -- one that's part of a Hong Kong Film Archive programme that's connected with the HKIFF but actually began one day before the HKIFF and is scheduled to run through to May:-

Love in a Puff (Hong Kong, 2010)
- From the Galas programme
- Pang Ho Cheung, director
- Starring Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Cheung Tat Ming, Roy Szeto, etc.

Pang Ho Cheung is one of those Hong Kong filmmakers who seems to blow hot and cold. He started his career with a wonderful bang with You Shoot, I Shoot! (2001) and I also highly rate Trivial Matters (2007), his last film before this romantic comedy about two smokers who meet while having a smoking break one work day. But some other efforts have not impressed as much, even while possessing interesting premises.

For the first fifteen minutes or so of the film, I thought that Pang had another winner. But, as it so happens, what was supposed to be the stage-setting comedy prelude turned out to be the very best part of the movie.

Ironically, once the male lead appears in the movie, things start to go downhill. Or, rather, things became less than great once the movie turns its focus from fun banter among relative strangers brought together by a shared addiction to trying to convince that Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung's characters have reason to be mutually attracted to each other for reasons other than their being played by those two stars.

Call me unromantic but sorry, I just can't buy why Miriam Yeung's character could and would so easily walk out of a five year live-in relationship (and shared space in a very nice Mid-Levels apartment, to boot!) to spend time with an unhappy guy who had just been two-timed by his girlfriend. Even if he looks like Shawn Yue (since he's played by that actor!). Hang out with him casually or be a friend: yes. But definitely no re love blossoming -- and so quickly to boot. In short: too much puff and not enough huff made for a sadly disappointing film that could go up in smoke for all I care.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Crossing Hennessy (Hong Kong, 2010)
- From the Opening Films programme
- Ivy Ho, director
- Starring Jacky Cheung, Tang Wei, Paw Hee Ching, Maggie Cheung Ho Yee, Andy On, Danny Lee, Mimi Chu

Its director-scriptwriter wrote the scripts for such as Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Its two main stars are a Cantopop Heavenly King and the woman who caused a sensation with a scintillating performance in Lust, Caution. The supporting cast includes such as last year's Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress winner. Its two producers (Bill Kong and Nansun Shi)'s previous productions include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Peking Opera Blues.

So small wonder then that this romantic comedy about a man and a woman who live and work on opposite sides of Hennessy Road, a well known thoroughfare that cuts through Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, was (is) an eagerly awaited movie for many people, including myself. And this even more so post viewing the trailer -- which has been playing in Hong Kong cinemas for some time and is unusually well made by Hong Kong movie trailer standards. All this despite Ivy Ho's maiden directorial effort (Claustrophobia) being one of those works that disgruntled some movie goers enough to cause them to openly grumble while exiting the cinema after a screening of it.

Watching this sophomore directorial effort from Ivy Ho, the distinct impression one gets is that she's still a work in progress as far as being a helmer is concerned. On the negative side of the equation, it seems like Ho thinks more in terms of words than visuals -- with the result being that her film is not as visually interesting as it ought to be. Far worse is her choice of music. (In one scene, the music was so inappropriate that I actually thought I was hearing sounds that were coming in from the theater next door!) And while I like that the film is set in Hong Kong and contains many locations I can recognize, it compares less than favorably to such as the also set-in-Wan Chai -- and often criminally under-rated -- Crazy 'n' the City with regards to conveying a real sense of place and community.

On a more positive note, she definitely manages to assemble a good cast and provide them with interesting dialogue as well as place them in intriguing set-ups She also knows how to create colorful supporting as well as main characters -- and although it definitely would have added to the movie if those played by Paw Hee Ching and Andy On had been more likeable and less one dimensional, this meant that the likes of Maggie Cheung Ho Yee and Mimi Chu had their best film roles in years (and took the opportunity to make a nice impact).

My rating for the film: 7

Prince of Broadcasters (Hong Kong, 1966)
- From the Hong Kong Auteur, Lung Kong programme
- Patrick Lung Kong, director
- Starring Patrick Tse Yin, Chan Tsai Chun, Wong Wai, Ha Wa, Lydia Shum, etc.

It's been over 30 years since Patrick Lung Kong directed a film. And there's no doubt that his first directorial effort, which was made close to four and a half decade ago, shows its age in certain ways -- including melodrama being laid so thickly that it threatened to get me giggling inappropriately at certain points in the movie.

But watching this romantic drama about a playboy media personality who falls for a nice schoolgirl from a powerful and wealthy family, only to have his sincerity doubted by his lady love's father, I generally found myself charmed by much of the proceedings. And wondering -- and lamenting -- why oh why contemporary Hong Kong filmmakers don't have the kind of great opening, establishing shots like those found in this work. (If nothing else, many of the outdoor shots act as valuable historical records some years down the road of what Hong Kong used to look like.)

Something else that I appreciated quite a bit about the film is how nicely drawn were the scenes of Patrick Tse Yin's character at work recording the radio plays in which he starred and those scenes that fleshed out Chan Tsai Chun's school-going millieu -- the latter of which allowed supporting actress Lydia Shum to shine by infusing the movie with some fun comic relief.

On a more serious note, I also think it commendable how quite a bit of social commentary, politics and contextualizing was added to the mix to make the overall story less simplistic and more meaningful, even while staying entertaining. As such, the film makes for an interesting socio-cultural document several decades on as well as a movie that remains watchable after all these years.

My rating for the film: 8

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fresh (This week's Photo Hunt theme)



Fresh hauls from the sea being hawked from boats moored near Sai Kung town's main pier (in the upper photo) and fresh fruit on sale from a vendor in Central.

(Apologies for this week's Photo Hunt entry being less informative than usual; but the 2010 Hong Kong International Film Festival has gotten underway and I've got tickets to five screenings this weekend alone. So if there's a time to let photos largely speak for themselves...)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The HKIFF 2010 gets underway!


Star Daniel Wu, producer Eddie Fong and director Clara Law
at the HKIFF screening (and Hong Kong premiere)
of Like a Dream

The 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) officially began on Sunday, March 21st but it unofficially began for me the day before -- when I ran into the lift that was due to take me to a screening of Patrick Lung Kong's Prince of Broadcasters (Hong Kong, 1966) at the Hong Kong Film Archive and belatedly realised that among the people in that tight space with me were a colleague and his wife but also two fellow film fans-international visitors in David Bordwell and Colin Geddes (aka the man behind Kung Fu Fridays, among other things). Additionally, thanks less to my own press credentials and more to my having a generous film critic friend, I also had been able to view two films (Love in a Puff and Crossing Hennessy) that officially had their world premieres some days later at the HKIFF.

So, rather than start my HKIFF reportage with coverage of any or all of those three above mentioned films, I'm going to just go ahead and write about the first four films I've officially viewed at the festival proper; ones that I've watched on four consecutive evenings -- with this Thursday evening being the first non-HKIFF screening evening for me this week!

Like a Dream (Taiwan-Mainland China-Australia, 2009)
- From the Opening Films programme
- Clara Law, director
- Starring Daniel Wu, Yolanda Yuan

I admit it: I had high expectations for this cross-continental romantic drama in which Chinese American actor Daniel Wu plays a Chinese American man whose dreams of a Chinese woman traumatized by her boyfriend's untimely death prompts him to head to Mainland China. This not only because Clara Law's first feature film since 2000 had garnered nine Golden Horse Award nominations but also because the work of hers that I had most recently viewed, Floating Life (1996), really had been so very good.

But while some aspects of the film are indeed commendable (in particular, the performance of actress Yolanda Yuan -- which, if truth be told, puts the film's lead actor's in the shade), the truth of the matter is that I also came away from the screening feeling that the work deserved to come away with zero Golden Horse Awards (like actually happened).

Put another way: the effort was one that clearly was not without ambition but, for some reason or another, it actually felt like it would have worked better in another medium -- maybe theater (here I'm thinking of the acting style) or as novel (because then, there would be have been opportunity to explore in greater depth the main characters' backgrounds and inner thoughts). Consequently, even if it wasn't an outright nightmare of a work, it still turned out to be one that fell quite a bit below expectations -- not least for an effort that was selected to be a major film festival's one of two official opening offerings.

My rating for the film (on the brns.com scale): 6

Police, Adjective (Romania, 2009)
- From the Global Visions programme
- Corneliu Porumboiu, director
- Starring Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Ion Stoica

Wherever I've lived in the world, I've only ever been able to watch Eastern European films by way of film festivals (or similarly "fringe" screening situations). But while it seems true enough that the works from that part of the world are generally pretty far removed in style as well as content from mainstream Hollywood movies, more than a few have impressed me enough to make me think that they definitely deserve a wider audience than they seem to get.

This is most definitely the case with this 2009 Romanian film whose protagonist is a plainclothes policeman but is a work that is by no means a conventional police actioner, drama or even procedural offering. For while its main plot-line may seem ordinary enough -- a plainclothes detective is assigned to follow a school kid and see if there's enough evidence to bust him for dealing as well as using drugs (specifically, marijuana) -- what transpires is an intriguing cultural and character study that has an authentic ethnographic feel to it and characters that feel more like real people than cultural types, let alone fictional figures than only exist within a certain cinematic realm.

On a perhaps related side-note: I haven't seen so much walking (and so many extended walking scenes) in a film since viewing another Eastern European film -- Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's challenging The Werckmeister Harmonies (2000). On another, unrelated note: The character of the policeman's wife really added to the movie for me -- while small, her conversations with her husband added quite a bit of humor to the proceedings but it also seemed notable how intelligent she -- who may have been said to have existed principally as a device to contextualize a later, more serious exchange between the cop and his superior -- was made to be.

My rating for this film: 8.

Ice Kacang Puppy Love (Malaysia, 2010)
- From the I See It My Way programme
- Ah Niu, director
- Starring Ah Niu, Lee Sinje, Gary Chaw, Fish Leong, Victor Wong, etc.

On many levels, this charming film sees like a modest effort. For one thing, it has a first-time director at its helm. For another, the film also happens to be based on the filmmaker's not particularly dramatic memories of growing up -- or, rather, considering that its main character is a young adult, coming of age in small town Malaysia.

But the filmmaker -- who also happens to be the film's star -- actually is a singer-songwriter who is famous not just in his home country. (Indeed, Ah Niu might well be more famous and popular outside his home country -- to judge by the reaction of many of those at the Tuesday evening sold-out screening -- the one truly sold-out screening I've been at thus far this HKIFF.) And among his cast are award-winning actress-singer Lee Sinje (who no longer likes to use the name Angelica by which she is known by many fans of such as The Eye and Princess-d) and Taiwan-based Malaysian singers Gary Chaw, Fish Leong and Victor Wong.

Lee Sinje is expectedly convincing in her role as the tough cookie that Ah Niu's affable character secretly adores -- and fun to watch too, particularly when going up against another guy who decides that he has fallen in love with her. Still, it is Ah Niu's character (as well as the man himself) that really lies at the heart of a movie with many nice touches -- including a pleasant soundtrack and often surprisingly beautifully lensed shots in a film that doesn't shy away from depicting small town ugliness even while viewing some aspects of days gone with lenses that are more rose-tinted than clear.

My rating for this film: 8.

Eastern Plays (Bulgaria, 2009)
- From the Global Visions programme
- Kamen Kalev, director
- Starring Christo Christov, Ovanes Torosian, Saadet Isil Aksoy

If my records are anything to go by, this Kamen Kalev offering is the first film from Bulgaria that I've ever seen. But while its origins are exotic, much of this cinematic offering's proceedings didn't strike me as all that foreign -- and, frankly, that is something I find more disappointing than reassuring.

A struggling artist protagonist? Not new. His coming across a group of racists in the midst of assaulting a foreign man? Sadly, not something all that new. Ditto his discovering that he has a personal connection to one of the young men who committed the act of violence. And when he falls in love with the daughter of the man he goes to the rescue of, my reaction tended towards boredom rather than anything else.

For all this though, I couldn't help but be intrigued by the performance of Christo Christov, the charismatic actor playing the lead character, who made what would be a stock character feel like a real person; most notably in the scene which has him looking straight at the camera and talking about his struggle to conquer his personal demons and just go about leading life. And this even without knowing until after reading a review post-screening that some of the film is based on his life -- and, sadly, that he died after the making of the film, aged just 40 years of age.

My rating for the film: 6.5

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Disappearing Hong Kong


On January 16th of this year, Hong Kong's Legislative Council approved the funding applications of the controversial Hong Kong section of the planned Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. This despite high profile public protests against it because of how super expensive the HK$67 billion line is and its construction requiring the forced destruction of farming village of more than 150 households and the relocation of its community.

Tsoi Yuen (AKA Choi Yuen) village is one of many agricultural villages established by mainland immigrants to Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s. If things go as planned, it will cease to exist before the end of this year.

Some months back, local activist Chu Hoi-dick took a group of people, including two friends and myself, on a tour through the Tsoi Yuen area to give us some idea of what is due to go and, also tellingly, what will not under the government's plan. The following are some photos taken from that day of yet another section of disappearing Hong Kong -- disappearing not from neglect but, rather, because the powers-that-be want it to be so:-

Unlike in many other parts of Hong Kong,
many of the area's residents live in
houses,
not high rise apartments
, and amidst much greenery

Various other living things (besides humans)
have their habitat in the area too


Threatened farmland in the foreground,
unthreatened industrial space along with
green hills
in the background

A farmer at work in the fields,
tending to one of his banana plants

View of the PLA's Shek Kong barracks
close to Tsoi Yuen village
that will be spared under the plan


Government notices (in English and Chinese)
pertaining to the proposed rail link

erected in the affected area

Among the gripes of those against the proposed rail link
is how it spares polluted "storage areas" like this

but not farm land and farmers' homes


A place so remote and rural that
the postman drops off the post at these boxes
rather actual residences

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Three (This week's Photo Hunt theme)




Earlier this month, I noted in a hiking photo-essay that I'm someone with a tendency to err on the side of caution. And one of the things that I appreciate when hiking in Hong Kong is the efforts of the authorities to ensure this activity be carried out safely -- though, it has to be said, they sometimes have gone too far in this direction.

Still, of the three pictured safety measures in this Photo Hunt entry, I do appreciate at least two of them: namely, the directional and fire danger level signs that abound within and near the entrances, respectively, of Hong Kong's country parks.

Alternatively, I really could have done without those little wall-kerb things along one stretch of Mount Parker Road within the Quarry Bay Extension section of Tai Tam Country Park -- which presumably are meant to prevent people admiring the view from accidentally walking over a hill's edge but I'd be apt to use, if ever at all, as a temporary seat while I pause for a bit to take in the sights on offer! ;b

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Would you eat this?


Tasty but... definitely not for everyone!

Until I watched The Soong Sisters, I didn't know about the Chinese delicacy known as hairy or Shanghai crab. But after learning that it's my all-time favorite actress-heroine Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia's favorite food, my curiosity was really piqued to try this gourmet delight.

So imagine my delight when a family friend here in Hong Kong served it to my mother and me at her house one day. And when she urged us to "Eat the male eggs. It's the best", we duly did so -- only to puzzle as to how the males could have eggs. Were those male hairy/Shanghai crabs hermaphrodites of some sort, my mother and I wondered? Only to belatedly find out that the family friend had felt too shy to tell us that those "eggs" we had eaten actually were... sperm.

If truth be told, animal sperm would not top my list of things to want to eat. But... after watching Departures, more specifically the scene in which the senior undertaker grills something and proceeds to eat it with great relish, I found myself really wanting to try whatever he had been eating... even after discovering that it was... blowfish sperm.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), a fellow foodie friend had also seen the Japanese film and had a similar reaction to that scene as me. And so strongly positive had been her reaction that she then had proceeded to try to track down a restaurant in Hong Kong which served this delicacy. Then, after she had successfully did so, she invited me to dinner to partake of it with her.

Having duly accepted her invitation, she and I and two other people (including my mother) went last Friday to the Japanese restaurant -- only to be informed by the chef that, alas, the unfarmed version of that particular delicacy was now out of season. :S

Consequently, we had to "just" "content" ourselves with a fabulous omakase dinner at Sushi Kuu -- that included an absolutely sublime onsen egg, ikura (salmon roe) and uni (sea urchin) combo dish, slices of incredible melt-in-your-mouth toro (fatty tuna)... and the dish pictured at the top of this blog entry: shirako -- i.e., cod fish sperm! (Yes, really!!) ;DDD

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tai Lam Country Park hike part II (Photo-essay)


Before anything else: a friend wrote to me a few days ago, worried because my blog hadn't been updated as regularly as usual in the past week or so and I hadn't answered her e-mails as promptly as usual. To those others who have noticed this: it's okay... it's "just" that my mother has been visiting me in Hong Kong for the first time since her triple bypass surgery and I've been busy helping her experience what the Big Lychee has to offer. (But no hiking for her though!)

Post having done such as had a lot of good meals and taken in in one tango concert, a play, two movies and one short film programme though, she departed Hong Kong earlier today. So, as a Leslie Cheung CD plays in the background, here's returning to my goal of sharing some of the photos taken on my hike back on a hot Hong Kong day -- one that will be remembered for yielding plenty of great views and other sights... and causing my hike companion to come down with heat exhaustion due, among other things, to her having used her cloth hat to fan herself rather to protect her head from the hot sun! ;S

Spotted along our Lin Fa Shan to Yuen Tsuen
Ancient Trail hike -- one of the many types

of purple flowers that are to be found in Hong Kong

Surely it's not just me who thinks
this little-leaved Indian mulberry seed/fruit
resembles a monkey's face?!

Far from the madding crowd
yet not that far away from civilization


Paved path no longer

Ruins of Lin Fa Shan School located in
what now is the middle of
Tai Lam Country Park

Shek Lung Kong -- a prime spot to linger
and take in amazingly scenic views


The natural rock formation appropriately known as
The Monkey on a hill overlooking Tsuen Wan


The kind of view worth risking (and getting)
heat exhaustion for? ;b

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spiral (This week's Photo Hunt theme)



For years, slowly-burning spiral coils of incense were among those sights -- and smells -- that, through tourist brochures, I got to associating with traditional Hong Kong. But a friend from a Cantonese-majority part of Malaysia told me that spiral -- as opposed to, say, the Hokkiens' straight sticks of incense -- are to be found in Chinese Taoist temples wherever the worshippers' are Cantonese.

And I did indeed encounter such sights on visits to another Cantonese-majority territory in the form of neighboring Macau. (As an example, this Photo Hunt's second photo was taken at the Lin Fung Temple in Macau.)

At the same time, spiral coils of incense can seem particular beloved in Hong Kong. Or maybe their high density inside of such as the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road may just be symptomatic of Hong Kongers' tendency -- propensity even? -- for high density everything (rather than just housing)! ;b

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Jackie Chan's Waterloo


Once upon a time, this large tyre thing marked
the part of Kowloon Tong which was home
to Jackie Chan's professional headquarters

...but no more -- as can be seen by
the building that used to house the JC Group's offices
looking like it's on the way to being fully demolished

For many people (particularly in the West), Hong Kong cinema's most -- or only -- recognisable face and name belongs to Jackie Chan. And in recognition of this, the Hong Kong Tourism Board appointed him the Big Lychee's tourism ambassador for some years.

But, should you ever come to Hong Kong and talk to the locals, you'll find that the man better known to Cantonese speakers as Sing Lung is more hated than loved by many Hong Kongers. And this even before he shocked people last year with some controversial political statements about Hong Kong, Taiwan and Chinese people in general. (I think I first became aware of people's enmity towards the guy I previously had thought was viewed first and foremost as an Asian action hero around the time of the "Little Dragon Girl" scandal.)

Recently, there has come more confirmation of this with such as Jackie Chan coming dead last out of 80 candidates in a poll of most versus least trusted people in Hong Kong, and his latest film, Little Big Soldier, doing so badly at the box office that in just the second week of its release, I can hardly find any cinemas screening it. In view of this, I wonder whether Jackie saw the writing on the wall some time back and thus decided to move the headquarters of his JC Group from 145 Waterloo Road, Kowloon Tong, to Beijing (as I saw reported over at Hidden Hong Kong (and Macau))?

In any event, it seems that one more familiar landmark -- and building that I think it cool to be able to say that I have been inside -- is no longer. And even though the JC Group will continue to have some presence in Hong Kong (with a local office in Clear Water Bay), it seems like Jackie Chan has decided that his future may well lie outside of the Fragrant Harbour -- and in Mainland China more than the US of A (as he may well have previously hoped).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Foreign (This week's Photo Hunt theme)





Fact, not boast: The majority of the time that I've been on earth, and definitely most of my adult years, have been spent living outside of my home country. And/but because I've spent a minimum of a couple of years in those foreign lands, they actually start feeling like home -- or, at least, not so foreign -- after a time.

As an example, it's been a while since I've truly experienced "the shock of the new" in Hong Kong -- a place I had visited several times, then moved here to work and live in back in May 2007. So, for this Photo Hunt, I've turned to South Korea -- where I visited last fall and took hundreds of photographs of such as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hwaseong Fortress and the environmental regeneration miracle that is the Cheong Gye Cheon stream.

How foreign is the Land of the Morning Calm to me? Suffice to say that this recent visit was only my second ever to that country -- and the only one thus far in the 21st century. Also, that I don't know more than five words of Korean -- and so far know its culture mostly only by way of its movies and food.

Even so, when visiting a place like the 18th century Hwaseong Haenggung built in the reign of the visionary -- and famously filial -- King Jeongjo, there was no way that I could not appreciate the palace's spartan (by royal standards!) beauty and feel privileged to have been able to get time to wander around its grounds -- and, in the process, get some sense of what life was like and meant for those who spent time within it in centuries gone by.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tai Lam Country Park hike (Photo-essay)


"Were you ever a scout?" a professor of mine once asked. As I puzzled over why he was asking me this question from seemingly out of the blue, he followed up with, "You know, "Be prepared!""; whereupon I realized that he was teasing me over my tendency to observe the Scout motto and sometimes over-prepare for things.

But while I realize that there have indeed been times when my over-cautiousness has not been ideal, I also do reckon that it often has served me well -- including when out hiking in Hong Kong. More specifically, especially when I'm the hike leader, I never go on a hike without a guidebook and/or the appropriate Countryside series map of the area as well as such as a torchlight, plenty of bottled water, a towel to wipe the copious amounts of sweat I shed on any hike away, sunscreen, insect repellant, and -- of course! -- my trusty camera. And I often take pains to ensure that that's the case with my hike companion(s).

So... before this hike (which was undertaken on a hot July day -- i.e., the middle of summer -- last year) even got started, I found myself turning away a friend of a friend who had come equipped with just a small bottle of water and wearing not the most comfortable of shoes. At the same time, I considered that her friend (and mine) passed muster... So off we went on a hike in Tai Lam Country Park (out in the western New Territories) that began on a paved path that was very well shaded but soon segued onto a trail that was much less so -- but also more scenic for our pains... ;b

The Tai Lam Forest Track is the kind of trail
(one with plenty of tree cover) that's good to go on
on a hot summer's day

Early on in the hike, we got evidence that it was one where
we would be seeing quite a lot of non-humanoid creatures...


I think the heat that day made animals --
not just people! -- just feel lethargic and lazy


Wood-coloured insect on the road

Less easy to spot (but, trust me, it's there!) --
a grasshopper that blends well with the greenery


It may not seem to be so in this photo
but trust me when I tell you that this spider's
on the huge side by spider standards!


The kind of scenic vista that unfolded before us
once we got past the densely forested section of the hike


The country park authorities conveniently erected
benches in scenic spots (including this one --
from where
Tai Mo Shan's usually mist-shrouded peak
is visible in the background)

To be continued... but of course! ;b