Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gather and Drinks (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

For those participants in Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts (as well as general visitors to this blog) who have yet to do so, meet Ponyo -- specifically, my Stress Ponyo and Puppet Ponyo! :)

Unlike the somewhat shy third Ponyo plush I have (who is known as either Pirate Ponyo (because she's actually a not officially authorized plushie bought for just HK$20 here in Hong Kong) or Muse Ponyo (because she helps me to write long articles)), Stress Ponyo and Puppet Ponyo are social personalities who enjoy going out and doing such as making appearances at gatherings, including those where people have their share of drinks.

Since Stress Ponyo usually attends these gatherings after a day at the office, she tends to favor Vodka Martinis (although she has checked out her share of beers in her time too). Puppet Ponyo, on the other hand, usually sticks to beer as she appears more in vacation situations. (For example, the hair-raising middle photo of her -- maybe she was shocked by how big were the size of the mugs of beer we were served... -- was taken on our Japanese vacation this year. Also check out Puppet Ponyo sampling some kolsch when she, a German friend and I visited Cologne last year!)

And while I usually avoid showing close-up photos of my friends, the two in the third photo with Puppet Ponyo are well known in Asian film circles, so don't think they'll mind having their faces shown on this blog. For the record: the photo of Puppet Ponyo with Fredric Ambroisine and King Wei Chu was taken at a fun evening out during this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival -- and helps provide evidence of what I often tell disbelieving people: that the fest -- at least for the likes of me -- doesn't just involve sitting in the dark viewing films but, also, meeting up with fellow film fan(atic)s, including quite a few who have flown into Hong Kong from other continents as well as other parts of Asia. :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My alternative 100 "must see" Hong Kong movies list

The Hong Kong movie that is my favorite movie
in the whole wide world

Last week, after I posted the Hong Kong Film Archive's 100 "must-see" Hong Kong movies list, I was encouraged by a number of friends and readers to write up my own 100 "must see" Hong Kong movies list. Although I am no where claiming to have the kind of authority that the six experts behind the Hong Kong Film Archive's list, I figure it won't hurt -- and might get (more) discussion going about the movies that many of us love -- to do just that.

In compiling the list on this entry, I was helped by my having kept records through the years of the more than 1,000 Hong Kong movies I've now seen. For the record, the oldest Hong Kong movie I've viewed to date is 1941's Roar of the People. However, I've not yet checked out a single Hong Kong film made in the years 1942 to 1947 -- and for those who are wondering, Sorrows of the Forbidden City (i.e., the first film on my list which is ordered by year and then, if one year has more than one entry, sub-ordered alphabetically) is indeed the second oldest Hong Kong cinematic work that I've viewed thus far.

Something else I think worth pointing out is that just 28 out of the slightly more than 60 films on the Hong Kong Film Archive's list that I've viewed have made it to the list I've made. For the interest of this blog's readers, I've bolded those 28 titles that appear on both the Hong Kong Film Archive's and my lists.

With regards to the remaining 72 titles that appear on my list but not the Hong Kong Film Archive's: I think that they cover a wider range of genres than the Hong Kong Film Archive's 100 choices put together -- and include a larger number of Category III rated films! Also noticeable is that while those responsible for the other list appear to consider the 1950s to be the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, my favorite decade of Hong Kong cinema really was the 1990s (with the 1980s also pretty high up there in my estimation).

Perhaps the biggest difference is that whereas the Hong Kong Film Archive's list stopped in 1999, my list goes up to 2010 -- and no, it's actually not that 2011 has not seen any worthy films but because I am planning to come up with a 2011-specific list in the first month of 2012! In the meantime, please check out the list below and feel free to let me know what you think, how many of these films you've viewed and what your own list of 101 "must see" Hong Kong movies would look like! :b

Sorrows of the Forbidden City (1948)
Festival Moon (1953)
Our Sister Hedy (1957)
Let's Be Happy (1959)
The Wild, Wild Rose (1960)
Lady General Hua Mulan (1963)
Sister Long Legs (1966)
Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967)
The Arch (1970)
A Touch of Zen (1971)

The Big Boss (1971)
14 Amazons (1972)
The Valiant Ones (1975)
Mud Child (1976)
The Magic Blade (1976)
The Private Eyes (1976)
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
Heroes of the East (AKA Shaolin vs Ninja) (1979)
Raining in the Mountain (1979)
Dangerous Encounter: First Kind (1980)

Nomad (1982)
Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
Long Arm of the Law (1984)
Shanghai Blues (1984)
Mr Vampire (1985)
Police Story (1985)
A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Peking Opera Blues (1986)
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
City on Fire (1987)

Project A 2 (1987)
Royal Warriors (1987)
Chicken and Duck Talk (1988)
Her Vengeance (1988)
On the Run (1988)
Painted Faces (1988)
Pedicab Driver (1988)
School on Fire (1988)
Women's Prison (1988)
Bullet in the Head (1990)

Queen of Temple Street (1990)

Red Dust (1990)
Once Upon a Time in China I (1991)
To Be Number One (1991)
Dragon Inn (1992)
Girls without Tomorrow (1992)
Naked Killer (1992)
Police Story III: Supercop (1992)
Swordsman II (1992)
The Story of Ricky (1992)

C'est la Vie, Mon Cherie
Fong Sai Yuk (1993)
He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father (1993)
The Bride with White Hair (1993)
Ashes of Time (1994)
Chungking Express (1994)
Drunken Master II (1994)
He's a Woman, She's a Man (1994)
The Lovers (1994)
Wing Chun (1994)

A Chinese Odyssey Part 2: Cinderella (1995)
Fist of Legend (1995)
The Blade (1995)
The Chinese Feast (1995)
Comrades, Almost a Love Story (1996)
Forbidden City Cop (1996)
Hu-Du-Men (1996)
Lost and Found (1996)
Young and Dangerous 3 (1996)
Happy Together (1997)

Full Alert (1997)
Made in Hong Kong (1997)
Too Many Ways to Be Number One (1997)
A Hero Never Dies (1998)
Hold You Tight (1998)
The Mission (1999)
The Mistress (1999)
Tempting Heart (1999)
Where a Good Man Goes (1999)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Needing You... (2000)
From the Queen to the Chief Executive (2001)
My Life as McDull (2001)
Infernal Affairs (2002)
July Rhapsody (2002)
Just One Look (2002)
Running on Karma (2003)
Dumplings: Three... Extremes (2004)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Crazy 'n the City (2005)

Election (2005)
Exiled (2006)
Hooked On You (2007)
Lust, Caution (2007)
Beast Stalker (2008)
The Way We Are (2008)
Ip Man (2008)
Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)
KJ (2009)
The Stool Pigeon (2010)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A hike in the western New Territories (photo-essay)

As promised, I'm going ahead and continuing after a week's pause with documenting the hike in Hong Kong's second largest country park that my regular hiking companion and I went on one nice November day. More than incidentally, our trek from the Twist Management Centre to Tai Tong took on a trail that was paved from start to finish. So even though this 12 kilometer route had its inclines as well as downhill and relatively flat sections (and included the formidable sounding Maclehose Trail Stage (or Section) 9), our afternoon's exercise actually felt more akin to a leisurely stroll than a really challenging hike.

Rather than feel disappointed by this state of affairs, however, my regular hiking companion and I took advantage of the situation by allowing ourselves to linger to our heart's content in the more scenic and interesting sections of the countryside we found ourselves in. Actually, we lingered so much in so many places that it was close to sunset by the time we finished the hike! Fortunately, however, it didn't get dark until after we boarded a mini-bus to get us back to "civilization" (in the form of Yuen Long). So, all in all, it did turn out pretty well that day! :)

Still looking scene at the northeastern end
Tai Lam Chung Reservoir

This photo was taken near the same time
and place
as the first photo -- only I used
my camera's sunset setting when taking it!

This section of Tai Lam Country Park
where lots of trails intersect!

An autumnal scene appreciated by
more than one photographer ;b

A bench well placed for people to enjoy a splendid view :)

One of the reasons autumn (AKA fall) is
one of my favorite seasons is because of
the natural colors and light associated with it

Minutes after exiting Tai Lam Country Park,
one gets visual proof that great swathes of

humanity really don't live that far away

To conclude: here's a sunset silhouette shot
that I quite like :)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Boa Vista on Christmas Day 2011

View while standing atop Boa Vista hill
(in Tai Lam Country Park on Hong Kong Island)

View from later along the same hike that includes
Boa Vista (i.e., the hill
on the right in the background
of the photo),
from a bridge over Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir

In my final years in the US, I would regularly fly over to Los Angeles to spend the Christmas holidays with a good friend -- whom I got to know through our mutual admiration of Michelle Yeoh -- and her family. As might be expected when one's hostess is the webmaster of the Michelle Yeoh Web Theatre, we'd spend a number of hours of our vacation time re-watching movies starring Michelle Yeoh together. At the same time, it became like a yearly ritual for her, her family and I to go on at least one hike together each time I visited.

The first year, we hiked in the mountains east of Santa Barbara. Another year, we did a hike in the Mojave Desert. Another time, we trekked around the memorably named Devil's Punchbowl. In addition, there was the year that we hiked up so high up the mountains overlooking Los Angeles that we were wading through snow several inches deep for part of the way! So you could say that, for a time there, I was getting boa vista aplenty during the Christmas period.

Although I've gone on my share of hikes since moving to Hong Kong, today was actually the first time since moving to the Big Lychee that I went hiking on Christmas day. For much of the week, I was thinking this would not happen -- since I've been nursing a nasty cold. Fortunately, I started feeling good enough to contemplate hiking yesterday -- so made plans with three friends to go on a hike through Tai Tam Country Park on what turned out to be a pretty pleasant day weather-wise (i.e., not as cold as had been forecasted but with air that felt fresh as well as crisp).

I had actually gone on the route I chose for today before with my regular hiking companion -- but it really is a pleasant enough one that I really didn't mind going along it again. Also, I had rued that we missed a turn off the previous time to the top of Boa Vista hill where, as promised in Alicia M. Kershaw and Ginger Thrash's Above the City: Hiking Hong Kong Island book, "a trigonometric station and a view bonanza" were to be found. So this time around, we looked more carefully for that turn off and, after finding stairs that went down (rather than up as expected) and led to an overgrown trail leading up to the top of the hill, were rewarded with truly good vistas up on Boa Vista.

I have to say that being up on Boa Vista represented the highlight of the day's hike for me. At the same time, I also feel that the whole hike in general was a really enjoyable one -- and a pretty good way to spend the bulk of Christmas day -- not least because of the company on it. (And for those who wonder, I truly am not sure which is better: hanging out with friends over a meal or by going on a nice hike in scenic countryside -- and yes, I feel lucky indeed that I get to do both here regularly in Hong Kong! :b)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Surprise and Lights (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

To those Photo Hunters (be you taking part in Sandi's or Gattina's memes): surprise, I have indeed taken up the challenge of putting up a two-in-one entry that fits both the memes' themes for this week! In order to do so, I had to go back almost a year in my photo archive -- and with that, here's what may come as another surprise: in that these not particularly festive-looking photographs actually were taken on Christmas Day last year!

This time last year, my mother was here visiting. Now I'm not sure that I've mentioned it before but my mother likes going on long bus rides when she's here in Hong Kong. (The way she puts it, it's akin to touring Hong Kong -- only at a much more bargain price, especially since she's entitled to senior citizen discounts on buses, among other things, here!) Thus it was that on Christmas Day last year, my present to her involved taking her on buses from where I live all the way to the Chek Lap Kok Airport area, then from there on another route across the territory to Tseung Kwan O, from where we caught another bus that took us to Sai Kung town.

Upon reaching Sai Kung, we decided to go for a wander around town and then have dinner. Considering it was a public holiday, we were surprised to find the place relatively uncrowded and unadorned by festive lights. This is not to say that our mood was dimmed by this state of affairs though -- in fact, it was actually nice to not have to wade through crowds, especially when it came time to sit down for a meal!

At the waterfront, my mother and I had enjoyed looking at the variety of sea creatures -- displayed in tanks in front of the seafood restaurants lining the waterfront promenade and, also, in shallow plastic containers on boats floating in the water near the pier --being offered up as food options. Not surprisingly, the shutterbug part of me also couldn't resist taking photos that I reckon turn out pretty cool when the lights (and their reflections) combine with the water along with the creatures themselves to form interesting patterns!

Rather than follow this up by eating some of these creatures, however, my mother and I ended up going for vegetarian options that evening! Some people may be surprised but we found ourselves more attracted to the wares being hawked on the promenade by a seller of chestnuts. (There's something about the smell as well as taste of chestnuts outdoors on a cold day...) Then, to top of the evening, we went over to the original branch of Honeymoon Dessert (now an international chain with outlets in Singapore and Indonesia as well as Mainland China and other parts of Hong Kong) to have some of the fruit and nut concoctions that these dessert specialists are famous for.

And yes, although it may not have been a conventional way to spend Christmas... but I think I can safely say that we both had a good time that day. And the fact that I remember the day so clearly one year on bears testimony that it actually was a pretty memorable one even though it may seem like we did nothing absolutely special at any point throughout! :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

100 Must-See Hong Kong Movies - How many have you seen?

One of the 100 "Must See" Hong Kong Movies
according to the Hong Kong Film Archive experts
(and, for what it's worth, me too! ;b)

A few months ago, the Hong Kong Film Archive announced a screening program of 100 Must See Hong Kong Movies (that will go on through 2014 according to an official spokeswoman). Upon looking at the list compiled by six people (Hong Kong cinema experts, for sure, but still just six of them!), this Hong Kong film fan could not help but be shocked to discover that certain movies she considers great are missing as well as raise her eyebrows upon noticing the inclusion of other movies she doesn't consider all that wonderful.

Granted that it turns out that this list actually specifically only covers the years 1916 to 1999 (hence the exclusion of such cinematic gems as Toe Yuen's My Life as McDull (2001), Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs (2002), and Ann Hui's The Way We Are (2008)). But two of my favorite films of all time -- in the form of Peking Opera Blues (1986) and Peter Chan's He's a Woman, She's a Man (1994) -- are missing as well as a number of other movies I would put in my Hong Kong cinema pantheon!

Rather than quibble and gripe some more about it all, however, I'm going to invite the (Hong Kong) film fans among this blog's readers to consider doing -- on their own blogs or in this entry's comments thread -- what I've done on this entry: i.e., bold the titles of the films that you've seen on the Hong Kong Film Archive's list. (And no, I'm not challenging for bragging rights. Rather, I just thought it'd be interesting to see what one has seen -- and not -- to date of the works that acknowledged experts consider "must see" films originating from my favorite cinematic territory!)

1916 A Trip Through China
1939 Orphan Island Paradise
1941 Scenes of Yan'an (aka On The Northwest Front Line)
1941 Roar of the People
1941 A Page of History
1948 Sorrows of the Forbidden City
1949 Blood Will Tell
1949 Wong Fei Hung's Whip That Smacks The Candle
1949 Wong Fei Hung Burns The Tyrants' Lair
1950 Dawn Must Come
1950 The Kid
1950 Awful Truth
1950 The Misarranged Love Trap
1951 Blood-stained Azaleas
1951 Should They Marry?
1951 Mysterious Murderer Part 1
1951 Mysterious Murderer Part 2
1952 The Prodigal Son
1953/1954 Family/Spring/Autumn
1953 Festival Moon
1953 In The Face of Demolition
1954 Story of Father and Son
1954 Mutual Understanding
1955 It Was A Cold Winter Night (aka Cold Night)
1955 Parents' Hearts
1955 Eternal Love
1955 Anna
1956 Blood In Snow
1956 The Wall
1956 The Seventh Heaven
1957 Golden Lotus
1957 Love Lingers On
1957 The Sorrowful Lute
1957 Our Sister Hedy
1959 Money
1959 Butterfly and Red Pear Blossom
1959 The Chair
1960 Laugh, Clown, Laugh
1960 Forever Yours
1960 Motherhood
1960 The Wild, Wild Rose
1960 The Eternal Love
1961 Father Is Back
1961 How To Get A Wife
1963 Empress Wu Tse Tien
1963 Father Takes A Bride
1965 Ungratefulness (aka Remorse)
1966 Come Drink With Me
1967 Story of a Discharged Prisoner
1967 Paragon of Sword & Knife Part 1
1968 Paragon of Sword & Knife Part 2
1968 The Golden Swallow
1968 The Pregnant Maiden

1970 The Arch
1970 Yesterday Today Tomorrow
1971 A Touch of Zen
1972 Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan
1972 The Way of the Dragon
1973 The Blood Brothers
1974 China Behind
1976 The Magic Blade
1976 The Private Eyes
1978 Drunken Master
1979 Dirty Ho
1979 Raining In The Mountain
1979 The Butterfly Murders
1979 The Secret
1980 The Spooky Bunch
1980 Dangerous Encounter - First Kind
1981 Man On The Brink
1981 Martial Club
1981 The Prodigal Son
1982 Boat People
1982 Nomad
1983 Reign Behind a Curtain
1983 Ah Ying
1984 Long Arm of the Law
1984 Homecoming
1984 Shanghai Blues
1985 Mr. Vampire
1985 Police Story
1986 A Better Tomorrow
1986 Just Like Weather
1987 City on Fire
1987 An Autumn's Tale
1987 A Chinese Ghost Story
1987 Wonder Women
1987 The Romance of Book and Sword
1988 Rouge
1989 The Killer
1989 God of Gamblers
1990 Days of Being Wild
1991 Once Upon A Time In China
1992 Swordsman II
1992 The Legendary La Rose Noire
1992 Autumn Moon
1993 Fong Sai Yuk
1993 Fong Sai Yuk II
1993 C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri
1994 Ashes Of Time
1995 A Chinese Odyssey - Part 1: Pandora's Box
1995 A Chinese Odyssey - Part 2: Cinderella
1996 Comrades, Almost a Love Story
1997 Made in Hong Kong
1999 The Mission

And if anyone's counting, the total's a rather respectable -- I reckon -- 60 1/3 (since Family is counted as merely one third on account of it being one part of a film trilogy) for me! ;b

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A hike in Hong Kong's second largest country park (photo-essay)

For many people, the words "hike" and "Hong Kong" tend to conjure up images and thoughts of hiking either on Lantau Island or in Sai Kung. This is understandable on account of there being many trails through often quite breathtakingly splendid countryside in those two parts of the Big Lychee.

At the same time, Hong Kong does have many other country parks besides the four that, taken together, cover large swathes of Lantau and Sai Kung. And contrary to what many people tend to assume, the second largest of Hong Kong's 24 country parks actually is not a Lantau or Sai Kung one but, instead, Tai Lam Country Park out in the western New Territories.

As it so happens, I was introduced to Tai Lam Country Park on what was only my third hike after moving to Asia's World City back in 2007. Since then, I've been back a number of times -- the most recent being four Sundays ago -- and have to say that each hike in that area has yielded its own rewards -- be it in cool insect sightings, scenic vistas, interesting traces of an older way of life or some other noteworthy sights that help make the hiking experience be a memorable one...

This hike to Tai Tong started after my regular hiking companion
and I got off the bus at Hong Kong's highest bus stop --
i.e., the one along Route Twisk marked "Country Park"
 Intricate, dense webs spun by spiders that I've subsequently
discovered live in holes and are no where as large as
As this view of Tai Mo Shan shows (including
with just a week previously),
it was a
pretty clear day that day :)

This shady all-paved path hike may be shunned as
"too civilized"
and easy by some people but I reckon
that its 12 kilometer
length shouldn't be sniffed at

One Sunday after passing by the abandoned school
at Lin Fa Shan, we came across the site of
the now
also abandoned Tin Fu Tsuen School

I wonder when learning last took place in this space
that now is slowly but surely being reclaimed by nature?

 Alternatively, the nearby Outdoor Adventurous Training Centre
that caters to
war gamers sounded as well as looked like
one Tin Fu Tsai area establishment that
was still thriving

The rest area at the Kat Hing Bridge end of Tai Lam
Chung Reservoir makes for a nice place to pause
and idle a bit at midway through a hike

To be continued after a pause... :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A tale of two Pat Sin Leng Country Park pavilions

The Sir Edward Youde Memorial Pavilion located
near the northern edge of Pat Sin Leng Country Park

The more architecturally modest Spring Breeze Pavilion
located near the more popularly traversed south-eastern
corner of the same Hong Kong country park

Earlier today, a friend and I went hiking in Pat Sin Leng Country Park along a route that took us from near Bride's Pool to Luk Keng (located near Starling Inlet and the Frontier Closed Area that borders Mainland China) that had us traipsing along the end part of the Pat Sin Leng Country Trail in reverse, sections of the final stage of the Wilson Trail and another well marked but unnamed hiking path.

Among the highlights of today's excursion was our passing through several abandoned villages whose ruins we found prettily picturesque as well as interesting -- and the stunning views we got of Nam Chung, Luk Keng, the Starling Inlet, Shenzhen and more from the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Pavilion erected in memory of the only governor of Hong Kong to die in office -- and whose official opening, according to a plaque at the site, was presided over by his widow, Lady Pamela.

One of the things I've found (and like) about hiking in Hong Kong is how this activity can get one learning more about Hong Kong's history along with natural and cultural heritage. One way that this happens is by way of one's curiosity getting piqued as to who hiking trails and landmarks such as the Wilson and Maclehose Trails as well as this Pat Sin Leng Country Park pavilion are named after. (For those who are wondering, while David Wilson was the hiking enthusiast governor of Hong Kong after Edward Youde while Murray Maclehose was the governor during whose rule the first Hong Kong country parks as well as Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) were established.)

Additionally, one often finds that it's not just the sites and locales named after people that have stories of their own to tell. In the case of the Spring Breeze Pavilion, the tale is a sad one that can act as a cautionary note to many a hiker -- since this rain shelter erected on the southern slope of Hsien Ku Fung, the eastern most of Pat Sin Leng's eight peaks, was built in memory of two teachers who died while bidding to save their students from a hill fire on Pat Sin Leng in 1996 that was the worst wildfire in Hong Kong history. (For the record, 47 of the 50 students in that hiking party were saved but three perished along with the two teachers.)

In a way, it can seem ironic that two pavilions in such beautiful parts of Hong Kong are associated with death. Given that a hike through the Hong Kong countryside often also involves one passing by graves (see examples here and here) and along routes whose views include those of cemeteries (see here for instance) though, one can't help but come to accept this as part of the Hong Kong hiking landscape.

In addition, there's something to be said about both the pavilions being located amidst, and looking out to, scenes that full of (natural) life -- especially in the case of the Spring Breeze Pavilion as the area near it may once have been burnt and charred but its present appearance only goes to show how quickly nature can regenerate and, indeed, that life really can go on even after a terrible disaster that can feel like the end of the world at the time for some of the people involved.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Joy (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Funny but true: When I'm feeling good, I often describe myself as feeling happy, elated, exhilarated and even ecstatic but I don't usually talk about feeling joyful, joyeous or just being imbued with a sense of joy. Of course this is not to say that the word is not alien to me. After all, I'm familiar with the Joy to the World phrase and hymn.

Still, the plain fact of the matter is that I tend to associate the word less with a certain feeling and more with a particular person. For Joy happens to be the name of a good friend I made at college (and who I know -- from e-mails she sends me from time to time -- does occasionally (or is it regularly?) check out my blog! ;b).

Although we've remained in touch (thanks largely to the wonders of the internet), I've actually not seen Joy for years, decades even. I've not given up hope though of our meeting up again some time in the future. This especially with it being so that since moving to Hong Kong, a number of friends from the American phases of my life have come visiting -- including, one November day last year, a mutual friend of Joy and myself from our Beloit days.

Kathleen Adams may now be a Loyola University of Chicago professor but I -- and, I'm sure Joy too -- tend to think of her still as one of my favorite Beloit profs... and also a professor who actually became a good and fun friend. (Among other things, even when I was an undergraduate, Kathleen and I would do stuff like be part of an informal anchovy pizza eating cabal, go drinking together -- and also played for the same intramural indoor soccer team one year! (And for those who are wondering, this kind of student-professor relationship wasn't that unusual... Beloit was/is that kind of place!))

So I was really happy to play host to Kathleen and her family for a day when they came sailing into Victoria Harbour on what looked like a very nice cruise ship-turned-floating college courtesy of the Semester at Sea. Since they were conveniently docked next to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier, one of the first things we did was to take the Star Ferry over to Central. After arriving in Central, we caught a bus up to The Peak -- where we lunched at a Tsui Wah, then did one round of the Victoria Peak Circuit (whose northern side offers up particularly splendid views of Hong Kong).

All in all, I think a good time was had by all. So Joy, if you're reading this, here's offering to take you on the same -- or similar -- excursion should you come over to Hong Kong for a visit, okay? And in the meantime, here's offering up some photos to you (and other visitors to this blog) from that day to enjoy -- courtesy of this Photo Hunt entry. (And on the subject of Photo Hunt, I am glad that it is being continued after all, albeit with a new host(ess) and, consequently, meme button! :b )

Friday, December 16, 2011

Old and new in Penang

View in George Town that takes in a clan house as well as
a newer (i.e., dating back only to 1960) building

View from above of the ground floor at the China House
established in the heart of George Town by
Australian developers Narelle McMurtrie and Alison Fraser

View that takes in part of the marina at Straits Quay
out in the Sri Tanjung Pinang section of Penang

This time last week, I was back in my nominal home state of Penang. Over the course of my flying visit (which totaled just five days even if one were to count the days that I flew into and out of the place), I revisited old haunts but also checked out parts of the territory that I had hitherto not ventured into -- not least because at least one of them had not yet opened when I last visited in September and the other also had not existed the last time I actually lived in that part of the world.

When I was a child, we had family friends visit from Singapore annually. On each of their visits, at least one of them would remark that it seemed like Penang never changed even while Singapore was rapidly changing (and -- it went unspoken but nonetheless was clearly implied -- getting more and more developed).

In the years and decades that have passed since then, there is no doubt that Penang too has changed and developed. Among other things, where previously we would pass by paddy fields on the way to and from the airport, there now is a not so new satellite town and free trade zone that is home to miles and miles of factories and whereas in my youth, trishaws often had schoolchildren (including myself) as passengers, these days one is far more likely to find tourists seated in their carriages.

Ironically, in recent years, it seems that a lot of change has actually come in the wake -- and, indeed, as a result -- of George Town having been inscribed (together with Malacca) onto UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2008 (i.e., one year after I moved to Hong Kong). And it really is the case that each time I've gone back to Penang this year, I feel like I'm seeing more and more signs and indicators that Penang -- particularly the historic inner city area of George Town -- is attracting more tourists and also having an increased number of facilities that cater to tourists but are reaping cultural as well as economic dividends for the locals too.

As an example, the China House cafe, restaurant and art gallery may have been established by non-native Penangites with an eye to attractive international visitors but when a Penangite friend and I went there for breakfast last Sunday, it seemed like all of the clientele present at the time were locals. And while Straits Quay had a vibe that made it feel --as I remarked to the person who took me there and whom I hung out in an Irish(!) bar with there for a couple of hours -- like I wasn't actually in Penang, its clientele also consisted of locals as well as (obvious) foreigners.

In any event, these two places look like nice and cool additions to the Penang landscape. Still, I definitely do hope that much of Penang's older sections will escape the wrecker's ball for a time to come and also not get renovated beyond recognition -- something that, touch wood, George Town's UNESCO world heritage listing will help ensure, together with a greater general appreciation by local people and the government of its cultural and historical attractions and attributes.