Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lion Rock Country Park hike -- and Amah Rock views (Photo-essay)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I think that Hong Kong rocks. Funnily enough, among the things I like about the Big Lychee are its rocks -- and so much so that I actually penned a feature article on them called Hong Kong Rocks a few years back!

More specifically, I've been blown away by the rock formations I've seen in places like Po Toi (see also here, here and here) and the geology of Ma Shi Chau. At the same time, it's undoubtedly the case that the two most famous of Hong Kong's rocks and/or rock formations are not on those islands but, rather, located in the hilly range that is seen as the divide between Kowloon and The New Territories.

Although I would like to some day, I have yet to hike up to the iconic Lion Rock. But last November, a friend and I went on a hike in Lion Rock Country Park that allowed me to get close to -- and actually touch! -- the legendary Amah Rock. And even though going there involved a detour along the official trail we were going along that day, it most definitely was worth it for the "I was there" factor alone but, also, the view from up there... :b

As a sign near the start of the hike warned,
we would be hiking through monkey territory

What -- you thought I was kidding?!

From this angle, Amah Rock looks less like a woman
carrying a child than an Easter Island type statue to me!

Speaking of mysterious objects -- doesn't it seem
like the photo above is of a ghostly insect?!

On the way up to Amah Rock, we passed through
this quiet and atmospheric area

Close-up view of Amah Rock and signs
designed to protect people but also it

The view from up there

Amah Rock viewed from a distance
later on the same hike :b

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In praise of yummy roe! :)

Ha jie lo mien (shrimp roe egg noodles) -- the specialty
of Yuen Long's Ho To Tai Noodle Shop

The culinary holy trinity of -- from left to right --
herring, sea urchin and salmon roe at Sushi Shin
(with the sea urchin sushi being so good I had to have two)

Uncooked mentaiko (spicy pollock roe) is great but
grilled mentaiko cooked right is downright heavenly! :b

Earlier this evening, my regular hiking companion and I dined at Ho To Tai Noodle Shop. A Yuen Long institution established in 1948 (pretty old by Hong Kong standards!), it's famed for its shrimp roe egg noodles and wonton soup. So, of course, that's what we had to have there!

Considering that it was awarded a Michelin star earlier this year, our total bill for two -- that also included a plate of cooked lettuce drenched with oyster sauce and a bottle of Coke -- of HK$126 (a little more than US$16) wasn't bad at all. And while I have to say that I've had better ha jie lo mien at Ping Kee in Tai Po, what we had at Ho To Tai Noodle Shop was pretty good too -- and was just the ticket after an over 10 kilometer hike that left us craving salty foods as well as liquids.

However, as I found myself reflecting on the long bus ride out of Yuen Long back to my neck of the Hong Kong "woods", the truth of the matter is that I love eating roe so much that it doesn't need a long hike to whet my appetite for it! Also, while shrimp roe noodles can be just the carbohydrate plus salty flavor ticket on evenings like this, my taste for roe actually encompasses a whole range of roe: including that to be found in Japanese and Korean as well as Chinese cuisine.

As an example, my favorite sushi is actually not toro (fatty tuna) but ikura (salmon roe) -- and the only reason why I don't consider uni (sea urchin) my absolute favorite is because it really has to be really fresh and of high quality to be seriously sublime tasting. Furthermore, I become a majorly happy camper when a sushi restaurant I go to also offers herring roe, tarako (salted pollock roe) and -- especially -- mentaiko sushi.

As befitting its Korean origins, I first encountered spicy pollock roe in a Korean restaurant (though, funnily enough, I can't actually remember whether that maiden encounter was in South Korea or a Korean restaurant in London -- on Poland Street, just off Oxford Street, near one of the Marks and Spencers branches there, to be more precise -- that I used to frequent back when I was a teenager!). And I felt like jumping for joy when I re-encountered that which known to Koreans as myeongran years later at a Korean grocery store in my Philadelphia neighborhood!

After returning to Asia, I re-encountered mentaiko on a visit to Kyushu, Japan's southern-most main island. A prized local delicacy there, it is sold in gift packets not just in food stores but also at railway stations and even the regional airport. And just imagine my delight upon discovering the daily buffet breakfast at my hotel included offerings of mentaiko as well as rice, miso soup, grilled fish, natto and more "international" (read "Western") offerings like cereal, breads and such!

Over here in Hong Kong, my "go to" place for mentaiko is Yi Pai Ya, an izakaya in Causeway Bay that specializes in ox tongue but actually has a lot of delicious offerings on its menu. At this dining establishment that I am equally comfortable going to alone or with friends, the mentaiko is served grilled by itself or as the filling for onigiri (rice balls). And although I do like onigiri, I cannot bear to have the mentaiko taste "diluted" by being mixed with rice and seaweed -- so it's mentaiko on its own every time for me! :b

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hand-written (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

The longer one lives in Hong Kong, the more it becomes evident that for all of its official posturing about being Asia's World City, the Fragrant Harbour actually is a place where Chinese -- in particular, Cantonese -- predominates. Among the facts are these: 92% of Hong Kong's population is ethnically Chinese; and 89.2% of the population are Cantonese speakers.

At the same time, however, it also is the case that English is an official language in Hong Kong along with Chinese (with Traditional Chinese characters and Cantonese being the favored options in the Big Lychee rather than the Simplified Chinese script and Mandarin/Putonghua that are preferred in Mainland China). And it's true enough as well that the vast majority of the 3.2 percent of (native) English speakers that make up Hong Kong's population have never learnt much more than a smidgen of Cantonese, if any at all.

Still, it's not like the twain shall never meet as well as Chinese and English speakers -- and, more to the point with regards to my Photo Hunt entry this week, Chinese and English readers -- are concerned in terms of common interests and needs. So, as an example, what looked to have been originally envisioned as a very local -- and, yes, traditional looking (see the middle picture at the top of this blog entry!)-- kaito route between Sai Wan Ho (on Hong Kong Island) and Tung Lung Chau, with information about it posted only in Chinese, has had relevant bits of English hand-written on it for the benefit of potential customers who can't read Chinese (but can read English).

For more on Tung Lung Chau, please feel free to check out two of my photo-essays here and here of this island located off the tip of the Clear Water Bay Peninsula that is home to the ruins of a Qing Dynasty fort, prehistoric rock carvings and visually impressive geology, including sea cliffs that are rock climbers' delights. (And yes, if anyone wondered, it's one of those places in Hong Kong I've "discovered" via hiking... ;b)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hong Kong birdwatching

Egret spotted this fall
at Hong Kong Wetland Park

Egrets and ducks spotted milling on a pond bank
from one of the Hong Kong Wetland Park's hides

Yes, the chances of spotting birds are higher when
talking is kept to a minimum and the area is quiet!

At lunch today, I was talking to a colleague about why I enjoy hiking so very much in Hong Kong. One reason is that it helps me get away from the madding crowd. Another is that it is a good way to help me keep fit. A third is that it allows me to get outdoors and be among/in nature. One other reason is that it's one of those activities that forces me to be more sociable than I'm often inclined -- in that hiking really is something that is better (as in safer, etc.) done with others rather than on one's own.

Perhaps most of all though is that hiking helps me to find out and discover more about Hong Kong. One outcome is in terms of my hiking activities getting me to learn more about the territory's geography. I also find when encountering such as ruins of military installations (such as the Shing Mun Redoubt) and/or schools (e.g., at Lin Fa Shan) or abandoned villages (e.g., in the northeast New Territories) that this often motivates and/or inspires me to try to find out more about Hong Kong's history.

In addition, I have come to learn more about -- and, in the process, appreciate more -- Hong Kong's flora and fauna. And while it's true enough that I often fixate on colorful flowers and cool insects (in particular eye-catching butterflies), it's also true enough that I really enjoy many of the glimpses I get of many a bird in Hong Kong, be they soaring kites or smaller avian creatures perched on tree branches and such.

Often times, however, it's true enough that one is likely to hear birds more than see them when out on a hike. Indeed, it is the case on many a hike that one is far more likely to spot a number of birdwatchers -- the dedicated kind easily identified by their willingness to lug heavy as well as impressive cameras with super long lens on paths that sometimes are difficult enough already without carrying those extra pounds on them -- than large numbers of large avian life!

This is hardly to say that these Hong Kong birdwatchers are chasing a lost cause however. After all, around 500 species of birds have been spotted in the territory, including migratory birds that come from as far away as Siberia!

A particularly prime place to go for easy birdwatching is the oft maligned but actually not completely unattractive Hong Kong Wetland Park where over 235 bird species have been recorded as spotted -- and that actually is currently playing host to a Bird Watching Festival to coincide with prime birdwatching time in Hong Kong. And while there are times when loud children (and their often loud parents) abound, there also are times (particularly in the last hour or so before the park closes) and days when these disturbers of the peace are not about so much -- and on these occasions, bird sightings surely increase as does the enjoyment of the activity known as birdwatching itself! ;b

P.S. To my American visitors: Happy Turkey Day to you! :D

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Along Stage 7 of the Wilson Trail (Photo-essay)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I like to hike in Hong Kong -- and so much so that, unlike many people who don't do so, will continue to hike in the hot and humid weather. Still, I do find myself looking forward to when the seasons change and the days get cooler and less humid -- so that on Sundays, I can go out longer and/or more challenging hikes than I would be comfortable with in the height of summer.

As an example: The Wilson Trail's Stage 7 may be officially rated as an easy walk and also actually be a fairly shady trail but my regular hiking companion and I opted to only go on the 10.2 kilometer hike from Shing Mun Reservoir to Yuen Tun Ha after summer had come to an end. Still, this is not to say that our outdoor excursion took place in the height of winter -- with the consequence that the welcome sights over the course of our hike included a good number of pretty flowers and beautiful butterflies as well as pleasant scenery, all of which we of course did take time and care to stop and admire, and photograph... ;)

Looking southeastwards from Shing Mun Reservoir
all the way to Lion Rock in the far distance

A melastoma in bloom adds color to the countryside

Funny but true: I didn't realize that there were
green flowers until after I started hiking in Hong Kong!

The bends and waters of Shing Mun Reservoir
make for pretty pictures to my mind

Two different but lovely butterflies spotted lying on
the ground along the hiking path (but very much alive)

Lead Mine Pass, where the Wilson and Maclehose Trails
intersect, is one of those places in Hong Kong
that only hikers ever go to (and pass through) :)

The path from Lead Mine Pass to Yuen Tun Ha
is largely downhill but on the steep side and
paved with rough stone, so one needs
to be careful when going along it

Before too long though, those going along this trail
will find themselves back in civilization -- with Tai Po
viewable even when one still is some distance away! :b

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Funny food signs

Tempting? Husbands for sale for only HK$18 each!

Not so enticing - a menu that includes
XO sauce fried pork bacteria and
mushroom soup cuirongnagin! :O

Earlier this week, two friends and I went to Sun Chui Wah, an eatery located on the same floor of Java Road Market as the more famous -- and larger and more crowded -- Tung Po. Since it's a claypot rice specialist, we ordered two claypot dishes to share among us along with soup and vegetable selections. All of the food we had for dinner that evening was delicious -- something I'd not be so sure of with regards to other options listed in English on the menu as XO sauce fried pork bacteria and mushroom cuirongnagin.

One of my friends -- both of whom are local Hong Kongers who can read the Chinese as well as English parts of the menu -- told me that what got translated into bacteria in English actually is a kind of edible fungus. However, neither of my dinner companions that evening were able to tell me what cuirongnagin is (supposed to be) -- and I can't find explanations or definitions of it via Google!

In any case, I don't think that I'll be in the mood any time soon to try either of those dishes on Sun Chui Wah's menu. Alternatively, if not for the fact that my two hiking companions and I had just completed a 15 kilometer long hike and wanted to have a sit down dinner (rather than a snack that we'd have to eat while standing out in or walking along the street), I would have to have bought myself a husband this evening at Tai O -- or, more precisely, a "husband" pastry/biscuit with prawn paste inside of it on sale at a stall being manned by what looks to be a husband and wife pair.

At just HK$18 for one, it'd seem that husbands are really available on the cheap in that fishing village in western Lantau! Joking aside, I'm wondering if there's any connection between the husband pastry on sale in Tai O and the more widely available in Hong Kong loh poh peng (a wintermelon pastry whose name gets translated to English as either wife or sweetheart cake that I do like to eat every once in a while)? If so, then if one were to judge by their fillings, it'd seem that the husband "cake" is the savory companion of the sweet wife/sweetheart cake -- and probably more of an acquired taste than the other in the bargain! :b

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wet/rain (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Hong Kong is a place where one regularly sees a lot of water about -- in harbours (such as iconic Victoria Harbour), surrounding islands (including Hong Kong Island and Lantau but also myriad smaller islands such as Cheung Chau and Po Toi), rivers and streams But as can be witnessed as recently as this week, it also is a lot of place where a lot of water regularly falls from the sky.

Put another way: it rains so much here that the Hong Kong authorities not only have rain warnings but three levels of them (coded in various colors) and special thunderstorm and -- we're getting serious here -- tropical cyclone (think typhoon) warning bulletins, tracking systems and dedicated pages on the Hong Kong Observatory's website.

Indeed, it rains so much in Hong Kong that there's money to be made in installing umbrella vending machines in heavily trafficked spaces such as MTR stations! In addition, I think it says something that my blog statistics show that my entry on things to do in Hong Kong when it rains is one of the most popular (so much so that I decided to follow up entry with more suggestions as to what to do in Hong Kong on rain days to help those looking for such ideas)!

Lest there be any doubt: yes, storms in the Fragrant Harbour can make for spectacular sights -- though the problem with trying to take photographs when it is raining is that it's hard to do so without getting thoroughly wet. (Also, there's the matter of trying to avoid being poked in the eye by the umbrella tips of people passing by -- something which is hard to avoid even when one isn't standing still in the crowd!).

From experience, however, I've found that buses are good dry vantage points from which to take rain day photos. And, as I think the top-most image on this Photo Hunt entry shows, cool pics can also be captured before the rain starts pouring but when the dark storm clouds already clearly are a-gathering! :b

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A "glad to be here" (touch wood!) post

Victoria Harbour sunset scene

Sunset is one of those times when the
light on the water fascinates me as much
as the Hong Kong island urbanscape

In the past month or so, I've had two friends visit Hong Kong. One of them used to live and work here but shortly after getting her Hong Kong permanent residency, she was recalled to Germany by her company. The second is someone I knew from my time in the U.S.A. who was visiting Hong Kong for the first time in his life. These two individuals possess, to say the least, pretty different cultural backgrounds, interests and personalities. But both of them have made me feel -- realize? -- how very lucky I am to be living here in Asia's World City.

To be sure, I know full well after having lived here for more than four and a half years now that Hong Kong is not perfect. (Among other things, I dislike how wide the rich-poor gap in this society is and that there are too many days when the air quality is not as good as I'd like for it to be.)

At the same time though, I really also do take great delight in residing in what most definitely is one of the world's greatest cities (and for those who have not yet seen the Hong Kong episode of the greatest cities TV series hosted by Griff Rhys Jones, I'd highly recommend that they check out the sections available to be viewed starting from here) -- and a place that makes me feel so very (glad to be) alive, and often energizes as well as compels me to go out and about and make the most of my being here.

As those of you who know me well -- and/or regularly check out this blog -- know, I am liable to have this sense of being very happy to be here come over me when I'm out hiking in Hong Kong's often surprisingly beautiful countryside. And the Hong Kong film fan(atic) part of me also still often gets a thrill that comes from feeling as though I'm living as well as moving about in a giant movie set.

But it might surprise many people to find out that I actually get this "I'm glad I'm living here in Hong Kong" feeling most regularly when I'm on board the Star Ferry -- and particularly when I'm taking one home after having taken in a show or concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (or, less frequently, the nearby Hong Kong Space Museum whose lecture hall is the venue during such as the Hong Kong International Film Festival for film screenings).

Upon reflection though, I think it will make sense -- as I usually take the Star Ferry when I've got time to spare (since when I'm in a hurry, I'd opt instead for the faster MTR trains) and thus am at ease. Also, chances are high that the performing arts or film program I've taken in earlier that day is one that I would be satisfied by. In addition, the ferry ride itself tends to be plenty pleasant -- with refreshing breezes blowing onto the non-air-conditioned sections of the upper deck where I almost always plonk myself and views that I don't think that I ever will truly tire of drinking in (even though to affect a more blase attitude would mark one off more as a genuine Hong Konger!).

And yes, although I must have taken the Star Ferry more than a hundred times now, I still often find myself reaching for my camera when on board it and snapping a few shots of Victoria Harbour and the land and sky that make up the views that are often breathtaking in real life and not so bad when captured by the camera too (as I trust you will agree upon checking out the photos at the top of this blog entry)! ;b

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hok Tau-Sha Lo Tung circular hike (Photo-essay)

"Focus on the journey, not the destination", advised a wellness expert named Greg Anderson. And although I would not always agree with another quote by him to the effect that "Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it", I do reckon that it can often pay dividends to try to enjoy the time one spends getting to a place rather than just fixate only on what's at a journey's end.

At the very least, focusing on the journey is what makes it so that one can go on a circular hike and not feel like one ends up going nowhere! And this especially so when, as was the case more than a year ago, a friend and I went on an excursion in Hong Kong's north that not only began and ended in the same vicinity (i.e., Hok Tau (Irrigation) Reservoir) but also involved our spending less than half an hour in the area where we were geographically the furthest away from the hike's starting cum end point (Sha Lo Tung) due in large part to a number of large black ants in that neck of the woods having become greatly attracted to my friend!!

Even on that day itself, I had felt that the time we had spent hiking was time well spent. (This not least because we got to spend a few hours outdoors getting some needed exercise on a day in which the weather was actually pretty pleasant.) But looking at the photos I took that day really confirm to me -- and hopefully those of you checking them out as well -- the beauty of the surroundings in which my friend and I were during the hike (see here (for a photo-essay that has thus far remained comment-less... *sob!*) and now also this blog entry too):-

Small and delicate yet growing well in the wild

I wonder when was the last time these doors
in Sha Lo Tung were opened and
the interior space behind it inhabited

This rickety wooden bridge's presence helpfully
prevents people passing through this area
from getting their feet wet

An insect so small and camouflaged that it's not at all
easy to spot -- and yes, it feels like quite the achievement to
have done so (and be able to successfully photograph it)! :b

Photographing my friend photographing the kind
of scenic landscape that can take one's breath away
when one comes across it on a hike :)

Reflected bits of bright blue sky light up
the waters of a stream we passed by

A more close up view of the formidable Ping Fung Shan
range that links to the more famous Pat Sin Leng

Near hike's end: Green vegetation on
the eastern banks of the reservoir at Hok Tau

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Great day out in the Sai Kung Peninsula

Looking down at Tai Long Wan's Sai Wan
and beyond from some 200 meters above sea level

View of part of the trail showing that one has to put in
some effort in other to be privy to the scenic views
on offer in this part of the Sai Kung Peninsula

But when a hike takes in vistas like this and a
visit to the beach in the picture (Long Ke Wan), all
that effort
really can feel very worth it indeed! :)

Earlier today, three friends and I went on a 14 kilometer hike in Sai Kung East Country Park that took us six and a half hours to complete (in part because we stopped at various times to stop and gawk at the scenery and take photographs, and also for about half hour to hang out on the paradiasical beach at Long Ke Wan).

As might be expected, I feel pretty tired after the day's exertions. But I also feel exhilarated by the experience that involved a lot of physical effort, to be sure, but also had us being out in beautiful surroundings on a day with fine weather (complete with bright blue skies and not too high temperatures and humidity levels).

So before I call it a day, here's putting up this entry -- at whose top are three photos taken while out hiking Stage 1 and part of Stage 2 of the Maclehose Trail in reverse today (i.e., we ended our hike-- rather than began it -- at Pak Tam Chung and began it at the Sai Wan Pavilion that is the terminus for the useful-to-know-exists -- at least as far as hikers are concerned -- village bus NR29).

All in all, I actually would go so far as to state that today's hike was one of the best (in terms of being most satisfying, etc.) I've gone on in Hong Kong. At the same time, based on observing the state of some other people we passed by while out hiking today, I would definitely caution those thinking of going on this trail that they do need to be fairly fit to attempt this hike -- and make sure that they're properly attired and bring plenty of water with them should they decide to do so.

Put another way: quite a few people out there today looked like they were struggling badly to deal with the hike's demands and one woman in particular was in such a bad way -- to the extent that she was gripping on a tree as if for dear life mid way through her ascent up a hill -- that my party agreed that she seemed in danger of passing out mid hike! So, please, people, be prepared and know yourself (including your abilities and limitations) -- and this way, you too can have a great day out in the Hong Kong countryside like my friends and I most certainly had today!! :)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Two (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

For those who're wondering why I didn't put up my Photo Hunt entry only now rather than earlier today: I goofed by preparing an entry for next week's theme and only realized that this week's theme was two rather than wet/rain after I had finished writing up what will appear on this blog next Saturday! In any event, for my regular Photo Hunt visitors, I hope that this entry will be one you'll consider worth waiting a few extra hours for.

At the very least, I hope you won't be offended by the two photos I've chosen for this entry -- which, incidentally, was written while listening to The Butterfly Lovers music ;) -- both of which show butterflies literally coupling! And for the record: this sight is one I have become pretty familiar with over the course of hiking in Hong Kong -- not having just seen this happen one or two but, in fact, multiple times!!

The first time I witnessed such an occurrence, I was out on a hike with my mother. And as I previously recounted, the two butterflies spotted in the act were so still that I wondered if they were dead and it was my dear mother who had to tell me it was not so -- and also tell me what the critters were actually doing!

In the years since, I've also been witness to other insects (including grasshoppers and stink bugs) doing "it"; with the most memorable sights coming courtesy of dragonflies who really do assume the most... interesting positions (see here and here)! However, I will always have a soft spot for the butterflies because, whatever they may be doing, it's hard to lose sight of it being so that they really are very colorful and beautiful creatures indeed!! :b

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

From Hok Tau Irrigation Reservoir towards Sha Lo Tung (photo-essay)

For those of you who haven't yet realized, I wrote
my final entry about my Japan vacation this past Tuesday -- some 20 entries after the one announcing a temporary change in focus on this blog from Hong Kong to Japan. And upon looking at my blog records, I discovered that the last hike I wrote up in photo-essay form on this blog was that which took me from the greater Mui Wo area northwards and upwards to Silvermine Cave all the way to Tai Ho Wan.

Looking ahead in chronological order, the next hike I went on was a circular one that took a hiker friend and I from Hok Tau Irrigation Reservoir down south to Sha Lo Tung and then back again to Hok Tau. Some months ago, a couple of friends and I had gone along much the same route. But having gone along this trail twice now in different seasons, I can vouch for the experience being quite different according to the seasons and some months on...

Along the concrete road leading to
Hok Tau Reservoir
from the nearest minibus
stop to it
on a beautiful blue sky day

An old style marker stating that Sha Lo Tung
is just 2 kilometers
from Hok Tau Reservoir
grossly underestimates the time to get there
(especially if you stop often to snap photos! ;b )

The kind of flower spotted growing in the
Hong Kong countryside whose sight
I marvel
at but I, alas, cannot name

Beautiful scenery on view at Hok Tau Reservoir

A nice shaded path to walk along and through

The kind of natural sight that many people walk by
without so much at a glance

but which I consider worthy of a photograph!

Yes, this is (in) Hong Kong!

...and so is this -- and yes, this most definitely
is part of the beauty of Hong Kong! ;b

To be continued... :)