Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Along Stage 10 of the Lantau Trail (Photo-essay)

Early on in my hiking exploration of Hong Kong, I looked upon the
Lantau Trail with a degree of awe and fear; and this even though I knew that its 70 kilometers are divided into 12 stages (and thus aren't usually completed over the course of a single hike). This was in no small part due to my knowing that the Lantau Trail includes treks up to near the top of 869-meter-high Sunset Peak and up to the summit of 934-meter-high Lantau Peak, the third and second highest mountains in Hong Kong respectively.

However, after I got more familiar with Hong Kong's country trails, I discovered that certain stages of the Lantau Trail (including Stages 7, 8 and 9 between Shui Hau and Tai O -- which I've completed (see sample photo-essays here, here and here), albeit in reverse) aren't all that daunting. Thus it was, that one day last summer, I set out with a friend to hike Lantau Trail Stage 10 and the few extra kilometers more that would get us from the end point of that stage down to the beach(es) at Cheung Sha:-

Not the kind of sight one would expect to see
near the beginning of an official hiking trail but thus
it was at the Shui Hau end of Lantau Trail Stage 10

Also spotted early on in our hike: the kind of urns that
one associates with human remains in Hong Kong

Fortunately, a few minutes later into the hike,
views like this opened up to occupy our attention

When hiking along a trail, it pays to pause and
turn back every once in a while to check out
the views that can be pretty scenic (as well as
helps you gauge how far you've already gone)

An interesting looking wild flower
whose name I don't know (but wish I did!) ;S

One of the large number of large spiders
my friend and I came across on this hike

Another of the big spiders spotted on this hike
-- and which I actually find pretty eye-catching

And should you wonder: yes, it was a
beautifully bright blue sky day that day :)

To be continued in one more photo-essay at least... :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hello again, Kitty-chan!

Kawaii-neh! A particularly cute Hello Kitty (I can't help
but want to make awww sounds when looking at those paws)
on a t-shirt sold to raise funds for Japan disaster relief

Hello Kitty-filled scene at the store where I put in my
Hello Kitty Prays for Japan t-shirt order

Last night, I watched a film at the InDBear Film Festival directed by Singaporean filmmaker Han Yew Khang (who also was responsible for When Hainan Meets Teochew, which I enjoyed viewing at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival). Love in a Cab is a more conventional romantic comedy -- not least in terms of it having two good-looking leads in Joanne Peh and Julian Hee and its story having a development arc that recalls many other romantic movie, including Turn Left, Turn Right (which director Han openly acknowledged to have been a major influence on him at the post-screening Q&A session last night).

To their credit, Love in a Cab's main actress and actor possess good on-screen chemistry and manage to make the characters they play appear very likeable and endearing. And while it was clear from the screening and at least one question asked during the Q&A that Joanne Peh has her fans, Julian Hee it was who stole the show for me -- and indeed, those who know me will realize how smitten I was by the film's male star and the character he plays in the movie when I state that I found him/them almost as cute and lovable as Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel!

On the subject of Kitty Chan and her tuff-haired beau: I have to admit that I also thoroughly enjoyed their showing up and having not insignificant roles in the work. (And for those who think this is a weird segue/development, here's serving a reminder/bringing to attention that Singapore was the country whose people temporarily went crazy in their bid to get Hello Kitty plushies being offered for a limited time by McDonald's back in 2000 -- and that the film specifically references that event!)

In any case, seeing Hello Kitty (and Dear Daniel) on a big screen last night also got me thinking that it's been a while since the furry feline made an appearance on this blog. (In fact, a scan through my records shows that Kitty Chan has only made one appearance thus far this year on this blog!) So I figured that I'd help remedy this situation by reporting my glee at finally becoming the owner last week of a Hello Kitty Prays for Japan t-shirt -- close to two months after I put in an order and paid for it back in April.

Why the delay? Because these t-shirts were so popular that the organizers of this particular Japan disaster relief effort ran out of their supply of these pieces of clothing with Hello Kitty's visage on them being sold for a good cause -- and way sooner than anticipated!

Thus it was that one evening in April, I found myself wandering about the Hello Kitty-fied section of a new department store in a daze and state of disbelief... that there simultaneously was so many Hello Kitty items on sale in that store but the one thing I really, really wanted and had gone out of my way to the store to get was something I would have to wait around two months to get my hands on!

Fortunately, when I communicated my agony (via phone text messages and calls) to more than one friend that evening, there were some who were sympathetic as well as others who just found the situation laughter inducing. But that's Hong Kong for you -- in that the land that shares its initials with the cute cat really does have a significant number of adult fans of Kitty Chan. And should you doubt my assertion, just take a look at the second photo at the top of this blog entry... and consider that the Hello Kitty T-shirts that became out of stock so fast were all adult-sized ones! :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Card(s) (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

What would a museum be without label cards? A not very informative one is my feeling. So imagine my frustration when I visited the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences some years back before I moved to Asia's World City based on a Frommer's guide recommendation, only to find its prized display of a traditional Chinese herbalist's shop (see the second photo from the top in this Photo Hunt entry) to be sans English language information on its label cards.

Happily, when I returned to make only my second visit to the museum last Saturday, I found the situation to have been remedied. Something else that I was happy to discover is that there are much easier ways to get to this Mid-Levels museum than up the multi-stepped Ladder Street from Hollywood Road (the approach this then tourist thought looked easiest when looking at the tourist maps she relied upon at the time).

On a more purely museological note: the actual museological institution itself looks to have only permanent exhibitions rather than any rotating/temporary/special exhibitions. However, part of its premises (which lies within the building that previously housed the Old Bacteriological Institute that was the first purpose-built medical laboratory in Hong Kong and later renamed as the Pathological Institute) have been used in recent years as venues for temporary exhibitions by Big Lychee-based artists including American Charles LaBelle and Briton Simon Birch.

I hope that this practice will continue because it gives people (like me) a reason to make return visits to the museum -- or want to go to it at all. And what's a museum without visitors? A pretty dead place, I'd imagine!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Seasonal repasts

A colorful dish for the summer

Hot food available throughout the year in Hong Kong
but best enjoyed during cold weather

In no small part due to Le French May's gem-filled Noir film program, I have been frequenting the Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei quite a bit this past month. And as it so happens, my usual route between the cinema and the public transportation stop (be it the MTR or bus) takes me through the area where the Four Seasons claypot rice eatery is located.

But despite the eatery's name and it being my favorite place in the whole of Hong Kong to partake of claypot rice, I haven't felt seriously tempted even once to stop there on the way to or back from the cinema -- because I've come to think of this substantial dish as one that's best consumed in the winter months rather than after summer has most arrived in the Big Lychee. (And to judge from the relatively low number of customers it has been having lately, this is a feeling that's shared by many other Hong Kong residents.)

Instead, during this hot and humid season, I'm more wont to crave another dish that I also first got to know in Hong Kong: hiyashi chuka, a cold noodle dish that the Japanese think is Chinese -- indeed, its name apparently translates into "chilled Chinese"! -- but is actually a Japanese invention (or, at least, innovation). (Adding to the cross-cultural mix is the fact that I was introduced to this very refreshing concoction at Ajisen Ramen, a ramen noodle chain that was established in Kyushu but whose Fragrant Harbour franchise is China-owned!)

Often when I order this particular noodle dish, it's because the heat has made me not have as big an appetite as would be the case in the cooler months. Yet, it usually only takes mere minutes for me to polish off the portion of hiyashi chuka that I get served! For while it's true that I sometimes actually find myself thinking for a second or two that, with its colorful variety of garnishes (that include green cucumber, yellow egg and pink ham) it's almost too pretty for me to dig into, the fact of the matter is that I have such strong memories of how delicious it is that physical craving easily overwhelms aesthetic considerations and appreciation as far as this dish is concerned!! :b

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My favorite hike of the past year (photo-essay)

As promised, here's continuing, without further ado (not least because we're already midway into a different year!), with my photo-documentation of my favorite hike of 2010: that which involved a trek to and then along the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail on a beautiful, bright blue sky day:-

One of the photos taken in Hong Kong that many people
are likely to find hard to believe
actually is the case! :)

On the northern slope of Nei Lak Shan,
my regular hiking companion and my shadow
are the only human figures to be seen!

Scenic view that includes a couple of Ngong Ping 360
cable car cabins
, Chek Lap Kok airport in the background
and Castle Peak further in the distance

I wonder how many cable car riders
noticed the hikers near this part of their ride?

A part of Hong Kong that few people evidently venture
-- great for those of us who go there!

As we rounded the circuit that is the
Nei Lak Shan Country Trail, we caught sight
once more of the Big Buddha of Ngong Ping

Looking back, it is a rather scary to realize
how scarred by landslides Nei Lak Shan is -- and
how part of the re-opened Nei Lak Shan Country Trail
actually cuts across a landslide area

But when one is hiking at least part of the way
within sight of the Big Buddha, it's hard to not feel
that one has one step in heaven -- not least since this
part of Hong Kong really is so pleasant and beautiful! :)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hiking one Sunday in summer

View from Siu Ma Shan that includes Central and
the International Finance Centre to the left and
Kowloon and the International Commerce Center to the right

View of the southern section of Hong Kong Island
that includes Tai Tam (bay, a couple of the reservoirs
and the surrounding area) and -- far in the distance
-- a Chinese island south of Hong Kong

Last Sunday, I was unable to go hiking because it poured with rain for most of the weekend. Today, however, my regular hiking companion and I made up for it with a vengeance because even though the very hot weather warning had gone up, we not only went hiking but went on a hike that involved our ascending two peaks -- namely that of 424-meter-high Siu Ma Shan and 436-meter-high Mount Butler.

Some Hong Kong hikers stop hiking in the summer because they are put off by that season's high heat and humidity. My regular hiking companion and I, on the other hand, are among those who go hiking all year round -- because we feel that there are compensations/positives to hiking every season of the year.

More specifically, while the fall, winter and spring are markedly cooler and also frequently less humid than the summer, summertime is often when the Hong Kong skies are bluest and visibility is at its peak in terms of how far one is able to see, including from mountain tops. In addition, summertime is when the flowers are in bloom and all manner of bugs reveal themselves (to go do such as a-courting).

At the same time, I have to admit to worrying that summertime is also when the snakes are prone to be out and about too. And, indeed, one of the first notable sights of today's hike was a big snake out on Mount Parker Road (For those who're looking: sorry, but I was too shocked upon catching sight of the second largest snake I've seen in the wild to take a photo before it slithered into the greenery on the edge of that road! And for those who are wondering: Mount Parker Road is a paved road located inside of Tai Tam Country Park which leads from Quarry Bay up to Mount Parker's observatory.)

But when I look at the photos above and recall the beautiful panoramic views that the camera just can't do justice that I was witnessed to this Sunday, I can't help but be prepared to brave the heat and humidity, and look forward to hiking again next weekend... and the next and next through this hot season (just as I went hiking a lot last summer and the summer before)! Just -- touch wood -- so long as it doesn't pour or, worse, a typhoon decides to visit Hong Kong on the day of a planned hike...! ;b

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Informative (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

When out hiking in Hong Kong, I like to have a relevant Hong Kong countryside map on me. For although there are people who seem content to just rely on the many informative signposts and signs erected by the country park authorities, I find that some signposts -- such as the distance posts for such as the four main long trails (i.e., the Hong Kong, Maclehose, Wilson and Lantau Trails) and various official Country Trails -- are more informative when used with a countryside map (which contains markings for them).

More than by the way, for those wondering where the photos above were taking: the top most shot was taken about two thirds into a trek leading from Shek Kong to Ma On Kong; the middle one was taken at the end of Hong Kong Trail Stage 8 (an earlier part of which takes one along the famously scenic Dragon's Back); while the bottom photo is at Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan, where one can rest for a bit before continuing along Stage 1 of the Maclehose Trail.

More re the last photograph: Here's recommending -- like with many other photos I offer up on my Photo Hunt entries (and, actually, my non-Photo Hunt entries too!) -- that you click on it to view an enlarged form of it. For then, you'll not only be able to appreciate the view but also see that one of the informative signs in them say "Warning: Do not cross stream when water covers bridge/stepping stones or the flow is rapid)" while the other contains a graphic illustration featuring what I come to call "the cute little men" of this particular area's big waves and their people tossing strengths! :b

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nei Lak Shan Country Trail hike (photo-essay)

Before I continue with my photo documentation of the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail hike that my regular hiking companion and I went on last summer, let me first set the scene by detailing how the temperature at sea level was around 35 degrees Celsius that day but a very pleasing 10 degrees cooler up on the Ngong Ping Plateau.

Also, as those who have visited in recent years can readily attest, we got off the bus up there in an area full of people -- but just a few minutes into our hike, we had left the madding crowd behind... so much so that over the course of our hike, we only spied a handful of other hikers -- in fact, other their our own voices, the only other human voices we heard for much of that afternoon actually belonged to those on board the cable cars passing overhead at certain points in our route!

Thus it was that our Ngong Ping experience differed markedly from that of most people up there to view the Big Buddha from a closer distance than we sought to do that day. And now, with those images in mind, behold and savor the sights offered up by the following photographs:-

One last view of the Big Buddha before we
went around
to the other side of the mountain

Two slithery creatures encountered along the trail
that my regular hiking companion insisted were big worms

but I thought were snakes (but might allow were
Bogadek's burrowing lizard if only they weren't so rare)

Panoramic view that includes Tung Chung (to the right),
the airport (to its left) and Castle Peak in the far distance

Another scenic view -- this one of Tung Chung,
the green surrounding area
and also the main road
across from it to southern Lantau

Cute graffiti along the trail

Looking back, we found that the mist
was enveloping a lot of the landscape

In contrast, the view ahead was clear and bright
-- and often jaw-droppingly scenic

Is it just me or do you also see the outlines of a
turbaned woman
lying down amidst the greenery too? :b

To be continued -- for yes, I have no small amount of remaining photos of this wonderful hike to put up still! :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bug identification help sought!

Tiny insect spotted while hiking last Sunday
in Sai Kung East Country Park

A furry looking bug spotted hanging from
the back side of a bench on the same hike

A little more than a month ago, I put up an interesting looking bugs encountered while hiking blog entry. At the risk of coming across as bug obsessed, here's posting another such entry -- this time with photos of bugs my regular hiking companion and I set eyes upon for the first time ever on our traipses through and in the Hong Kong countryside last Sunday.

We encountered the first bug -- an insect which I first spotted after it leaped like a cricket onto the path we were on -- early on in our hike. A shy thing, it proceeded to play hide and seek with us as it tried to elude our attempts to capture its image with our cameras before apparently going off and summoning a whole bunch of its friends -- because even though it was the first bug of its kind that we had ever seen, in the next hour or so, we ended up catching sight of many other examples of this species (a few of which we also witnessed flying short distances -- or maybe their jumps are so high and long that they it makes them look like they're flying when they're actually not!).

Not long after our first "new" bug species encounter of the day, my regular hiking companion and I came across a furry looking creepy crawly literally hanging from a thread in the middle of the same path and blowing in the wind. Although we devoted some time to trying to take good photos of that particular bug, none turned out to be all that great due to it being on the small side and moving about too much for our cameras' comfort.

As luck would have it, after giving up on that shutter bug attempt, we would come across two more examples of the same species that were easier to photograph: one because it was dead and thus still; and the other (the bug in the second photo above) because it was larger in size than the other two of its species we saw that day and actually stayed so still for a time that we wondered if it too were dead, only for it to move away and hide a minute or so later after it had stayed put long enough for us to take majorly close-up shots of it!

So... can anyone ID either or both of the bugs in the photo? If so, please do so on the comments thread of this entry -- and you'll earn the gratitude of my regular hiking companion and I who are truly curious as to what we saw (as well as puzzled as to how come in all our years of hiking, last Sunday was the first time we encountered -- or at least noticed -- these creepy crawlies!).

More than by the way, for those who didn't know already, if you click on this blog's photos, you'll get to see enlarged versions of the images. So feel free to do so and enjoy?! :b

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Triangle (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Tnchick sure does like triangles! That was my reaction after seeing this week's theme -- for I've put up Photo Hunt entries on this theme not once but twice before (on April 11th, 2009 and July 7th, 2010) !! So it was a triple more difficult challenge than usual to come up with a fresh addition to her meme... which triply increases the sense of accomplishment upon actually being able to do so. :)

In keeping with the triple triangle theme, I'm offering up three photos in this week's entry. This time around, I've gone with a blend of nature and culture -- in terms of human activity (specifically leisure boating) amidst a scenic natural backdrop in one case and a mix of buildings and greenery in two others, but all of them featuring distinctly shaped hilly peaks.

The first shot features the aptly-named Sharp Peak in the background along with a small boat with triangular sails. And although the photo in the middle (with the benign side of famously treachorous High Junk Peak viewable in the distance) might seem at first glance like it was taken on the same body of water bordering the northern portion of the Sai Kung Peninsula as the top most snap, it actually shows a boat sailing in Victoria Harbour just like in the third photo (whose skyline is dominated by Kowloon Peak) -- only in a much less busy part of the natural deep harbor that is a major jewel in Hong Kong's crown (and one that's bordered by less built up areas of land)! :b

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind and post-screening Tsui Hark Q&A

Tsui Hark listens and waits to reply while
Broadway Cinematheque's Gary Mak asks a question

Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind (Hong Kong, 1980)
- Tsui Hark, director
- Starring Lin Chen Chi, Lo Lieh, Albert Au, Lung Tin Sang and Paul Che

Say Le French May and one generally thinks of a French performing arts show (like The Anamoly Company's Anatomy-Anomaly "new circus" production) or art exhibition (such as Hong Kong-based French photographer Matthieu Paley's An Ethereal World) taking place in the month of May. But this year, the cultural festival includes a gem-filled film noir retrospective program of Hong Kong as well as French films that has been partly curated by Johnnie To; the absolutely "must see" of which for me undoubtedly is the director's cut version of Tsui Hark's still officially-banned-from-commercial-screening-in-Hong Kong's third movie.

In a Q&A session after the screening I attended late last Saturday, Tsui Hark talked of his shock upon being told by the authorities that his admittedly ultra violent film revolving around four angry, anarchic youth had been banned on the grounds that it might encourage copycat behavior; and this particularly because his work had been inspired by a then contemporary news report of angry, anarchic youth having made and let off bombs.

More than 30 years on, it strikes me as rather absurd to think that this nihilistic offering would encourage people to emulate its anti-heroes; this not least since (*spoiler warning*) the majority of them meet such violent ends (*end spoiler*). At the same time, however, there is no hiding the intensity of the disconnect with the larger society felt by the three schoolboys (Albert Au, Lung Tin Sang and Paul Che) and recently fired female blue collar worker (Lin Chen Chi) who doesn't look that much different in age from them who are the focus of this emotional -- and yes, political -- effort that begins with a fairly harmless prank but quickly and maniacally (d)evolves into so much more.

Three schoolmates -- two living in cramped public housing, one the scion of a well-to-do family -- get together to create a small bomb and set it off inside a cinema seemingly just for the hell of it. Their exultant celebration of the success of their scheme is prematurely cut short by the realization that a young woman can ID them as the responsible parties for the incident, and that she wants to effectively blackmail them into carrying out acts even they might think is beyond the pale.

But trouble truly only comes after they have a violent encounter with an American mercenary and get their hands on a rich stash of Japanese bank drafts that he had with him -- and that the American mercenary's merciless boss badly wants back. And lest it not be clear: nothing, not even the fact that the young woman's brother (Lo Lieh) is a tough police detective, is going to stand in their way in their bid to retrieve their valuables...

At the conclusion of the film's screening, an enthusiastic round of applause broke out in the cinema hall. And if the work's director hadn't been clear that Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind had won many fans in that screening's audience, I'm sure he was left with little doubt of this fact by the end of the one hour Q&A he generously stayed to do -- a session that was filled with more than one voice telling him in no uncertain terms how they preferred this very sincerely-felt Hong Kong movie to his more recent works (including multiple Hong Kong Film Awards winner Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame which, incidentally, did not make my top ten Hong Kong films of 2010 list).


For the record: the Q&A session was conducted mainly in Cantonese, with Gary Mak translating both questions and answers into English. However, two people, including myself, asked questions in English -- and Tsui Hark directly responded to them in English that is far more perfect than one might expect of the maker of a film with such infamously fractured English subtitles as Peking Opera Blues.

Re the two questions I asked: the first was whether he would ever make a Hong Kong movie again (like Dangerous Encounter: First Kind clearly is and such as Detective Dee... and All About Women patently are not). Like he did all evening, Tsui Hark didn't decline to answer or anything of the sort. Instead, after telling me "That's a very good question!", he confessed that he has asked himself precisely that -- and proceeded to explain in some detail that this was due to "the market" having changed and funding for films being far harder to come by these days in Hong Kong than Mainland China.

The second query I had for the auteur, I told him, came from his mention of Shanghai Blues earlier in the Q&A (as a work in which he tried to be more optimistic in reaction to similar things and situations as those had inspired him to make Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind). More specifically, I wanted to know if a third Blues movie had ever been planned (to complete what would then have been a Blues trilogy) -- and if so, might this third Blues movie be Hong Kong Blues?

Tsui Hark openly confirmed that there indeed had been a third Blues movie planned. But around the time that he had started to think in earnest of making it, "the market" had changed. Consequently, he had had to put this plan on the backburner... And while he seemed left unsaid that some day, he might like to return to this project and bring it to fruition, in another part of the Q&A, he did talk about how he was trying to not only work in the current system and condition but, also, see what and how else he could do in down the road.

All in all, it was very interesting to hear Tsui Hark talk at such length -- and to find that he seems to have that mix of idealism (still) and pragmatism with regards to film making that I first encountered in conversations with Peter Chan Ho San. Almost needless to say, I came away from this experience with a renewed sense of respect for him -- and in no small part because he never condescended to the audience and, instead, treated them very much as people with a fellow deep love and care for Hong Kong cinema.

My rating for the film: 9

My rating for that evening's film experience: suffice to say that I consider it to be among the highlights of my more than four years in Hong Kong thus far! :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A scenic Lantau Island hike (photo-essay)

At long last, I get to putting up a photo-essay of that which got my vote for best hike of 2010: one that saw my regular hiking companion and I going along the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail which had been closed for a time due to landslide damage -- and, to judge from our having only encountered one other hiker along the way, few folks seem to have realized has been re-opened.

A circular route that goes around Nei Lak Shan (which, at 751 meters (or 2,464 feet) is Hong Kong's sixth highest hill), it offers up scenic views of Ngong Ping (including the Ngong Ping 360 cable car route and the Big Buddha), Lantau Peak, Tung Chung town and more. So yes, I took plenty of photos on this hike -- of which the following are just a choice eight of them:-

Unlike just the week before, the day we hiked
the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail in its entirety
was one that was bright and clear

It looked as if the Big Buddha had blessed
the surrounding land and made it fertile and green

They may be known as common melastoma
but I still think they're worth pausing to admire
whenever I encounter these flowers

Heading towards Nei Lak Shan along the part of
the rerouted Lantau Trail Stage 4 that
lies between Ngong Ping Village and the high hill

On Nei Lak Shan Country Trail looking back
at the trail that had brought us there
(and the Big Buddha in the far distance)

Looking down at an area of landslide damage
and ahead to part of the cable car route

A view that had been entirely obscured
by mist one week earlier

A little further along the trail, one's view is dominated
by Lantau Peak, Hong Kong's second highest
mountain with a peak 934 meters above sea level

To be continued -- for sure! :)