Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We interrupt normal programming...

View from inside Chek Lap Kok Airport

View of the airport and far beyond
while hiking
two Sundays ago go on holiday/vacation but I hope to be back
in the blogosphere before too long (and, in the meantime, would appreciate it if visitors could continue to check out existing entries, and leave comments, on this blog!)! :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

From The Twins towards Stanley (photo-essay)

I started my series of photo-essays of my November 2009 hike involving the conquest of The Twins three Tuesdays ago. So I think it's about time I concluded this three part series. But before I get close to where I left off the last time around, I'm unable to resist the impulse to backtrack a bit and putting up one more photo of some of the over 1,000 steps that need to be overcome as part of the hike...

Thank goodness for small mercies --
i.e., hard and concrete they may be but
these steps actually are very well spaced out

For better or worse, the trail
actually is not concrete all the way

Knowing that the worst part was over,
my hiking companion and I relaxed and
found time to look around and, if not smell,
then at least appreciate the flowers!

Hong Kong Gordonia (I think!)
growing in a scenic location on The Twins

As my regular hiking companion shows in this shot,
I'm not alone in being unable to resist snapping
photos of flowers and such along the way! ;)

Going down, we found the going quite steep
-- and also offering up memorable views

...vistas like this dreamy one of the Stanley Peninsula
and beyond to Po Toi

Concluding with alternative views of
the Po Toi ferry, Blake's Pier and Murray House from
those found in this earlier Po Toi photo-essay

Monday, July 19, 2010

La Comedie Humaine (film review)

An image (taken on a 2008 Lantau hike) that
has nothing to do with the movie but
gets me thinking fits the phrase "human(e) comedy"

La Comedie Humaine (Hong Kong, 2010)
- Starring Chapman To, Wong Cho Lam, Fiona Sit, Hui Siu Hung, Kama Lo, Lee Lik Chi, etc.
- Chan Hing Ka and Janet Chun, directors

The proverbial "they" say that you wait a long time for a bus, then several will come along one after the other. That's how I sometimes feel about good, entertaining movies: cf. my having viewed three movies that I rate at 8.5 on the scale since last Wednesday (i.e., less than a week ago)!

But while He Ain't Heavy He's My Father (1993) and Project A II (1987) are older movies that I had seen before (the former of which I appreciate so much more on a big screen and some years on), that refreshingly is not the case with La Comedie Humaine, the latest offering from director-producer Chan Hing Ka (whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing couple of years back), co-producer Amy Chin (ditto re the meeting and pleasure of doing so!) and co-director Janet Chun, that obviously was made by people who are film fans as well as professionals.

Fundamentally a buddy comedy about a Mainland hitman (essayed by Chapman To) who circumstances cause to end up in the Hong Kong home and care of a geeky scriptwriter (portrayed by current Hong Kong comedy favorite Wong Cho Lam), the movie -- which takes its name from 19th century French writer Honore de Balzac's stories (and yes, I think this is a measure of Chan Hing Ka and Co.'s cultural knowledge and sophistication) -- also ends up having enough existentialist elements to get one thinking and also being emotionally moved. (In particular, I found myself blinking away tears over certain scenes involving a pregnant teenager who hires Chapman To's character to kill the father of her child, then -- after the schoolboy is revealed to be too pathetic to truly deserve death -- to end her life.)

Lest it be thought otherwise though, La Comedie Humaine never really completely take itself seriously as well as also most definitely does boast guffaw- -- heck, even hysterical laughter -- inducing moments. Furthermore, one can quibble that certain scenes and set-ups go on for longer than necessary but the extra moments and minutes generously allow the film's two main stars and other thespians (including Fiona Sit as the object of Wong Cho Lam's character's affection and Hui Siu Hung as Chapman To's partner-in-crime) to show what they can do when given the limelight and ample time as well as cinematic space.

Additionally, while the movie obviously benefits from having the stars that it does, it also does not depend solely on their hi-jinks and charisma to win film fans' affections. More specifically, I think the script is a real winner -- not least because of it making the offering one that really rewards the film fans among its viewers yet also being enjoyable even if one doesn't pick up the copious film references scattered throughout the work (including in a scene parodying A Better Tomorrow which is made even funnier upon realizing that Chan Hing Ka was that John Woo film's scriptwriter and another in which Chapman To pronounces that his Infernal Affairs co-star Andy Lau's style is forever!) -- and/or recognize the many cameo-making filmmakers (including Lee Lik Chi as a film director in search of a script and Derek Kwok as a TV weatherman!)!

Also, Hong Kong movie fans who are English subtitle-reliant should take note that La Comedie Humaine is one of the Hong Kong rare movies that not only shows out- and NG ("No Good") takes a la Jackie Chan's offerings at the end of the movie but also provides English subtitles for them. And while it doesn't directly translate an exchange between Chapman To and Wong Cho Lam that is one of its comedic high points, it does an amazingly good job indeed finding relevant equivalents to allow the conversation to flow both in the English subtitles as well as in Cantonese between its two stars who have -- time and again now -- shown that they may excel at comedy but also actually are able to perform very respectably indeed in moments that call for them to convey pathos and emotionally move.

My rating for this film (as previously stated): 8.5

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Triangle (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Hmm... what have we here? For one thing, another repeat Photo Hunt theme! But no matter... for as my fellow Photo Hunters regularly show, there definitely is more than one way to illustrate a theme. And for even more variation, whereas last time around I went for natural options, this time, I'm going for the cultural.

More specifically, I've opted for triangles in the form of triangular flags that are flown during festive occasions (in the case of the upper photo, that would be the very local and communal Tai Kok Tsui Temple Fair) and other times of the year (like in the lower photo (taken over in Cheung Chau), where it and the nearby phoenix boat look like it's waiting for more festive times!) -- and add color to photos taken on gray sky days and general lives.

Adding to the gray day note: looking at my blog one day, a Hong Konger friend of mine asked "why are the skies always blue in your photos when they are not in Hong Kong?!" As I told him, I think he exaggerated on both counts. But to balance things out, here on this entry are indeed photos taken on days without bright blue skies -- indeed, it rained for much of the time that I was attending the Tai Kok Tsui Temple Fair. (Still all credit to the organizers for managing to make the event one that still was able to add color and cheer to people's lives for at least a few hours that day!)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Up the Twins and on towards Stanley (photo-essay)

And so it goes... the documenting via photo-essays of the memorable day last November that I finally "conquered" The Twins, that is. (And yes, I realize that I'm far behind with my hiking photo-essays but since I've been trying to ensure some variety in my blog entries... ;S) Looking back some more, I realize that this particular batch of photos aren't as beautiful or interesting in and of themselves as some of the others -- but I really value them because they bear testimony to my having completed a hike that I had worried for some time before that I might not be up to doing...

The reason why the same distance takes such different
amounts of time to complete is because
one way is over
rather flat terrain
while the other most definitely is not!

Some of the over one thousand steps
leading up and over The Twins

View of Violet Hill and beyond from The Twins

View of Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir
(and its green surroundings) from the northern Twin

Atop one Twin but a quick glance ahead confirms that
there's still quite a bit more
hiking to come

The path in between the twin peaks is wooded
and dry -- with the latter making things
the slippery and hairy side

The Wilson Trail marker situated
to the southern Twin's peak

Down a few hundred more steps -- and looking
like a mirage -- lies Stanley (town and peninsula)!

To be continued (as I have enough from this hike for one more photo-essay)!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What a difference a week makes!

On the afternoon of July 4th, 2010, heavy mist
obscured the promised vista from the view compass
along the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail

To my regular hiking companion's and my delight,
that certainly was not the case this afternoon!

"What a difference a day makes", sang Dinah Washington, including in the magical Chungking Express (1994). And as far as views to be had during my regular hiking companion's and my hike this week versus last week in the same part of Hong Kong (i.e., Lantau Island's Ngong Ping Plateau and the slopes of Nei Lak Shan (the Big Lychee's sixth highest mountain)) are concerned, what a difference just one week can make!

Lured to Ngong Ping two Sundays in a row by the prospect of the temperature up there being in the low 20s degrees Celsius (and thus more than 10 degrees lower than in other parts of Hong Kong), last week saw us enjoying a walk in the clouds and this week, a hike undertaken under amazingly blue skies and in clear air that offered up views that stretched for whole kilometers and miles.

And while a walk in misty conditions is not without its charms, suffice to say that today's hike really made us two shutterbugs extremely happy -- in fact, I'd go so far as to say that at times, we were quite giddy with delight! And this especially since I had mentioned to my regular hiking companion that after we got the clear view from the view compass, everything else would be a bonus... whereupon we got rewarded further along the hike with incredible views of Lantau Peak, Tung Chung and Chek Lap Kok Airport -- and so much beyond as well as surrounding them all -- along with those of Ngong Ping 360 and the Big Buddha!!

So, yes, truly another day to remember -- even though this time I forewent the beach... in favor of getting back in time to clean up and then head to a chamber music concert at Hong Kong City Hall. (Yes, really -- great experiences in nature, and then involving culture in one single Sunday in Hong Kong! Or as a previous Hong Kong Tourism Board campaign slogan went: "Hong Kong. Live it! Love it!!")

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Free (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Three weekends ago, I proclaimed on this blog that beach weather's here! And this time last week saw me at Chung Hom Kok Beach (where I took the top-most photo in this week's Photo Hunt entry) down in the southwestern section of Hong Kong Island. One of Hong Kong's 41 gazetted public beaches, its free facilities include a life guard service, changing rooms, showers, toilets and barbecue pits. In addition, for those who are not content with all that plus sun, blue skies, sand and sea, there is a free children's playground and garden (where lots of butterflies as well as greenery abound) situated nearby.

The next day, after a nice hike up in the clouds, I couldn't resist taking further advantage of the beautiful -- albeit hot -- weather and heading to the beach. Together with Upper Cheung Sha Beach, Lower Cheung Sha Beach (see the second photo from the top) stretches out for some say two -- others close to three -- kilometers. What visitors to it surely will not dispute though is that it's located in a beautiful setting -- which makes it all the more puzzling that, given that entrance to this Lantau Island beach is (as with the other public beaches) free of charge, it's really not too crowded at all!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ponyo and the over-zealous Hong Kong laundry

Ponyo... by the sea at Cheung Chau

It all began with a visit to the laundry... Close to two months ago, something calamitous occurred to the Ponyo plush I variously call Stress Ponyo (because I bring her to the office on days that I know will be stressful) and Brunhilde (in honor of my German friend who gave it to me) that almost caused me to burst into tears. For after deciding that she was getting on the dirty side, I took her to be washed... only to discover upon collecting my beloved plush on the stipulated day that the laundry had washed her black pupils off!

Horrified, I pointed this out to the folks at the laundry; the owner of which panicked and kept on saying "sei-lah, sei-lah, sei-lah" (die, die, die!), before agreeing to make her a new pair of eyes. Returning to the laundry a few days to collect my cleaned-up plushie, I was delighted to find that her eyes looked pretty good once again.

That same day, my mother -- who was then visiting -- and I went to Cheung Chau for the day. Having picked up Stress Ponyo before heading off to the ferry, she ended up accompanying us on our excursion. For the most part of the day, I kept her safely stored in my backpack.

But as we strolled about in the latter part of the day, I couldn't resist taking her out and taking a photo of her by the sea... only, as the camera clicked, to almost drop her into the water in shock. Because -- as I'm sure the more observant among you will have noticed -- it turns out that the laundry had also managed to wash off her little red circle of a mouth!!!!!!

Rather than return her to the offending establishment for more repair work, however, I turned to my mother to make Stress Ponyo a new mouth. Which she duly did before she returned to Penang. And yes, it is something for which I'm really grateful... although if truth be told, the red thread my mother used has started to unravel a bit already, with the result that sometimes Stress Ponyo looks like it also can these days be called Snakey Ponyo... ;(

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A day to remember

Walking on misty Ngong Ping
-- including close to the path of
the Ngong Ping 360 cable car

A little while (and bus ride) later, there we were
gazing out to sea at Cheung Sha Beach!

As Americans celebrate their country's independence day, I find myself looking back to one of the best days I've had in Hong Kong thus far -- one that took in both a hike in the clouds and a walk along a beach under beautiful blue skies.

On a day when the temperature rose above 35 degrees Celsius in parts of the Big Lychee, the Ngong Ping plateau that's home to The Big Buddha was experiencing temperature in the low 20s Celsius. So I figured that it'd be an okay area to hike -- only my regular hike companion and I got a bit more than we bargained for as we encountered quite a bit of mist on our hike this afternoon so that at times, it got rather eerie even while other times we happily decided that it all added to the sense of atmosphere and made things cool (in more ways than one).

Still, when coupled with some superb views and welcome glimpses of startingly blue skies, we were happy enough with that part of our day out. But then the icing on the cake came when we decided to proceed with our plan to cap things by heading down to Lower Cheung Sha Beach for a seaside stroll, followed by early dinner at The Stoep, a South African restaurant whose back opens right onto the beach.

Suffice to say that it really was beautiful out there -- so much that the photos in this entry can't really do either portions of my day today justice even while giving people a nice idea as to how amazing Hong Kong, and a single day in this part of the world, can be. :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Open (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As I contemplated what to do for this week's Photo Hunt, I found myself almost not quite knowing what to do or where to start... for, as I'm sure you all will agree, the possibilities as to what photos one can put up for an open-themed entry are pretty... well... open! After some thought (and hunting through my photo archive), however, I've decided to limit myself to just the two photos above.

The first is one of thousands of open air shots I've taken since moving to Hong Kong -- and gives a sense of how openly the authorities invite people to go and enjoy the great outdoors here: what with their not only having established 24 country parks (and these do not include a designated "special (nature) area" at Tai Po Kau and the marine parks and reserves) and a bunch of hiking trails through them but, also, put up barbecue pits and areas, and general picnic tables and benches in often very scenic areas (like, in the pictured case, at Tai Hang Tun (inside Clear Water Bay Country Park) which offers up a view of a few outlying islands and the open sea).

The second is an interior shot of the Tin Hau Temple at Stanley that was founded in 1767 by a famous local pirate called Cheung Po Tsai. Unfortunately for shutter bugs, it also happens to be one of a number of Taoist temples in Hong Kong administered by the frustratingly photographer-unfriendly Chinese Temples Committee (which forbids photography inside the temples it administers). So I was reduced to just taking photos of its exteriors -- and interior only through its open main doors. (On a less negative note, what I also like about this shot is that it shows how there's a courtyard inside the temple whose sense of open-ness is enhanced by its central area being roofless.)

Together, they offer up views of the natural and cultural sides of Hong Kong. And I also like that they appear to balance each other out in terms of colors; what with one being mainly calming blues and greens, and the other containing copious splashes of energetic reds! :b