Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hanging food -- and other food musings

An octopus hung out to dry

Lots more squid (or are they cuttlefish?) 
also hanging out in the sun

Real -- not rubber! -- chicken hanging in a row

A few years ago, a good friend -- and fellow Hong Kong film fanatic -- from Brooklyn came over to Hong Kong for a holiday. While looking about for a place to eat in my neighborhood, we passed by an eatery specializing in siu mei (various roast meats including char siu and siu yuk) that, like others of its ilk, hung its offerings near the window for all to see.  For me, the sight was very appetizing -- and it was only when my friend reacted with horror to that same sight that I realized that not everyone has the same positive reaction to it as me!

A couple of Sundays ago, I caught sight of of a large octopus and several smaller sea creatures (that were either squid or cuttlefish) hanging on lines at Po Toi's inhabited area, near the famous Ming Kee restaurant.  I found the presented vision to be fun(ny) and cool, and couldn't resist going up closer and taking photographs of the drying critters -- but I have a feeling my Brooklyn buddy would have wanted to steer clear of them. Ditto re the row of chicken I saw on a visit to Cheung Chau -- chicken which, more than incidentally, look remarkably like the joke rubber chicken that squeak when you press them that I've seen being sold in novelty stores at the upper end of Mongkok's Fa Yuen Street!

On a more serious note: I am one of those people who is happily an omnivore.  And I am okay with knowing full well that the meat I eat comes from actual animals that used to be alive before they were caught and killed for human consumption.  Also, the more time I spend living in Hong Kong, the more I've come to have a culinary preference for particular animal parts as well as particular animals. For example, I find that not only do I like pork, beef and mutton (be it the meat of lambs or goats) more than chicken and turkey but I also really love pork neck, pork belly and pig's ears more than other cuts of pork -- and oh, I do like duck's tongue and chicken feet too (and yes, I do reckon it's a cultural thing)! ;b

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Central and southern Cheung Chau hike sights (Photo-essay)

One fall day some time back, two friends and I spent a day hiking around Cheung Chau.  We started off by heading up from the ferry pier to the northen section of the dumbbell shaped island.  Then, moving clockwise, we tramped down to and through the central, built up part of Cheung Chau, down to its southeast before heading over to the southwest and then back up again to near the hike start -- where we rewarded ourselves with a delicious and filling dinner.

And yes, there are those for whom a traipse around Cheung Chau doesn't quite qualify as a hike -- and I can see their point of view re this.  At the same time, I will say that the round island trek was quite the exercise -- not least since upon my return to my apartment, my pedometer told me that I had taken more than 30,000 steps that day! :O

The trail we followed took us past Cheung Chau's historic
Pak Tai Temple -- in front of which Shawn Yue and
Anthony Wong Chau San dueled in Just One Look :b

Another photogenic traditional structure 
located in the central section of Cheung Chau

A windsurfer making like the island's most famous daughter,
Olympic gold medallist Lee Lai San

A view from the southeast of the eastern side of Cheung Chau

A view of Vase Rock, one of many southeastern Cheung Chau
rock formations that have been given fanciful names
Southeastern Cheung Chau is rocky -- and also has many
scenic spots where one is tempted to linger and look out to sea

Shortly after passing by the Reclining Rock
we came across this danger sign

Rather than backtrack along quite a distance, we opted to 
scramble along the rocks -- and yes, that included the section 
that was underwater in the foreground of this photo...! ;S

Monday, January 28, 2013

My top ten 2012 Hong Kong movies list

My favorite 2012 Hong Kong movie 
that I viewed for the first time in 2012

For those wondering how come A Simple Life does not top my 2012 Hong Kong movies list: one reason is because officially, the Ann Hui On Wah drama is a 2011 film (as can be seen in its having qualified for the 2011 Golden Horse awards as well as having had its world premiere at the 2011 Venice Film Festival); and another being that I first viewed it back in December 2011 at a special screening at UA iSquare on the day of the Golden Horse Awards.

This is not to say that I didn't view that gem of a movie again during its commercial run in Hong Kong in 2012.  (And for the record, I was brought to tears many times again during my second viewing of the film!)  But I simply don't think I should include the film that topped my 2011 Hong Kong movies list in my equivalent 2012 list!

At the same time, here's also serving notice that I've included in this list a movie that's officially a 2012 work -- and screened at the 2012 Hong Kong International Film Festival -- but was only released into Hong Kong cinemas in January 2013.  So while I viewed 22 2012 Hong Kong movies last year, I had 23 movies to choose from when compiling the following list:-

Hong Kong's The Avenue of Stars may not have the status and prestige of The Hollywood Walk of Fame that it has been modeled after but a place on the film star-themed tourist trap still does count for something in the eyes of some people.  So I can imagine quite a few individuals -- Jackie Chan, say! -- feeling somewhat discomfited by the second statue erected in that Tsim Sha Tsui location after one of Bruce Lee being that of Mcdull rather than themselves.

Still, I'm pretty sure that more Hong Kongers like the animated piglet more than the veteran action star -- and see the former as being a much better representative of Hong Kong and Hong Kongers to boot.  And both Mcdull's likeability and his Hong Kong-ness are very much on display in Mcdull: The Pork of Music, the piglet's fifth cinematic foray.

Filled with lovely music and visually interesting illustrations, this film directed by Brian Tse (Mcdull's co-creator along with his colleague turned wife, illustrator Alice Mak) also has a characteristically sad but uplifting moral and story arc that takes Mcdull and his friends to Shenzhen and Macau but is deeply rooted in his home territory of Hong Kong. A drama at heart even while also having comic moments that will make the viewer laugh and musical ones that make this animated work a real audio as well as visual treat, it made my heart swell as well as put tears in my eyes -- not least with its touching end dedication.

Sad but true: these days, one can't take for granted any more that Hong Kong movies will be set in Hong Kong and have distinctively Hong Kong subjects.  So it's a bit ironic that a Hong Kong filmmaker who looked to China more and earlier than his peers came up with a very Hong Kong film in 2012 -- and one of the best too, to my mind.

Yim Ho's Floating City is a drama based on the true story of a man born out of a wedlock, whose father was a British sailor, and whose mother gave him away to a Tanka fisher family. Almost improbably, this man rose to become a corporate high flyer but, as the film shows, his road in life was one hardly easy and has enough dramatic elements to make for one emotionally involving movie.

Nowadays, Yim Ho is better known as a healthcare guru than filmmaker.  One can hope that working on Floating City made the director of such as Homecoming (1984) and Red Dust (1990) want to make some more movies as I get the feeling that he still has many interesting tales to (help) tell. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the films of Pang Ho Cheung.  Some of his movies I really adore -- including his debut work You Shoot, I Shoot and Men Suddenly in BlackBut others -- notably Love in a Puff, the first film that featured the protagonists of Love in the Buff -- have left me cold.  So it wasn't until after a friend told me she hadn't cared for Love in a Puff too but really liked Love in the Buff that I decided to go and check out the second Pang Ho Cheung comedy that starred Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung.  

Thankfully, I agree with my friend in reckoning that Love in the Buff is considerably more enjoyable than Love in a Puff -- not least because in the second film, plausible reasons were furnished as to why Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung's characters could be attracted -- as opposed to there inevitably being attracted to each other just because they were played by the stars they were.

On another note: I also did like how this movie by a Hong Kong director that had two Hong Kong leads did not suffer much at all quality-wise from being largely set on the mainland (as opposed to Hong Kong).  One reason is because Pang Ho Cheung still managed to include a lot of Hong Kong references in the film.  But the mainland elements in this offering also worked really well -- with Xu Zheng and Huang Xiaoming's appearances in the film being as enjoyable as Hong Kong stars like Shawn Yue, Miriam Yeung, and also Ekin Cheng! 

A message for those who complained that there aren't enough guillotines in this movie: I think you didn't get that The Guillotines referred to the team of assassins whose weapon of choice of flying guillotines, as opposed to those deadly steel weapons!  Put another way: I believe that much of the criticism I've heard of this Andrew Lau directed, Peter Chan Ho Sun produced Qing dynasty period action-drama is as misguided/misdirected as that which complained that the Teddy Chan directed, Peter Chan Ho Sun produced Bodyguards and Assassins did not have enough action.

Put yet another way: I found The Guillotines to be a complex and emotionally affecting work that successfully wove together elements of brotherhood and betrayal a la Peter Chan's The Warlords (another movie inspired by -- rather than directly adapted from -- a Shaw Brothers classic)  -- elements that also prominently feature in Andrew Lau's Young and Dangerous movies. And while it sometimes could be difficult viewing (not least because it contains some really violent scenes), I also genuinely did sense that passion was involved in the film's creation and also found its intensity to be both powerful and admirable.

Prior to my viewing Angie Chen's latest documentary, all I knew about Hualing Nieh Engle was that she was an elderly female writer whose works have largely been in Chinese. And based on this, I imagined that the film would be one of those that would be on the respectable but dry side, with little appeal to those not of a literary bent -- especially those who are not familiar with the writer's works.

I should have known better -- since Angie Chen is, after all, the helmer of the interesting (as well as idiosyncratic) This Darling Life as well as made her directorial debut back in 1985 with the Shaw Brothers prostitute drama My Name Ain't Suzie

The classmate of one of Hualing Nieh Engle's daughters and consequently a family friend who has known the subject of this documentary for some four decades, Chen has presented a lovely introduction as well as tribute to a charismatic woman who has led a seriously interesting life, the love of her life (the late Paul Engels) and the Iowa Writer's Workshop they co-founded (and whose participants have included Orhan Pamuk, Mo Yan, Susan Sontage and so many more). (And should anyone wonder, the film's title comes from Nieh Engle describing herself as "a tree with roots in China, a trunk in Taiwan and the leaves in Iowa" because she was born in China, lived for a time in Taiwan, and has made her home in Iowa City since 1964.)

In recent years, the one time of the year that one can be assured that there will be Hong Kong movies in cinemas is Chinese New Year -- thanks especially to Raymond Wong Pak Min and his All's Well, Ends Well series of movies, and Eric Tsang and his I Love Hong Kong works. Both in 2010 and 2011, I preferred the entries from Eric Tsang's stable over Raymond Wong's.  

But in 2012, it was Raymond Wong's production that I enjoyed more -- with Sandra Ng once again turning in a performance that's a testament to her being a great (as well as enthusiastic) comic actress and Donnie Yen once more proving to be endearingly game in a comic role that one previously would not have thought that the star of Ip Man would be able to pull off. As an added bonus: English translations were provided for the lyrics of the wonderful Sam Hui songs that feature in this movie.  Now if only they had released an original soundtrack CD for this movie (complete with liner notes featuring those English translations)...!

Chapman To and Fiona Sit appeared together in more than one comedy in 2012. And while Pang Ho Cheung's Vulgaria undoubtedly has more fans, I have to honestly say that I preferred Wong Jing's Mrs and Mrs Gambler in which To and Sit played a couple of gambling addicts who are married to each other.  

Despite To appearing older than his 40 years and Sit frequently appearing younger (more childish?) than her 31 years, they actually make a surprisingly believable screen couple and also are pretty good at playing off each other. Something else that I appreciated in this work was how they both can be funny when speaking English as well as Cantonese -- something that, come to think of it, should be expected of an Island School graduate (Sit) and a DBS (Diocesan Boys' School) alumnus (like To is). :)

The top grossing local movie of 2012 (and the only Hong Kong movie among the top ten performers at the Hong Kong box office last year), this crime drama-actioner that starts off revolving around two senior policemen in the running for the top post definitely came across as ambitious as well as super star-studded. And the first hour or so of the film ranks among the most gripping cinema I experienced in 2012.

So it's a pity that it wasn't able to sustain that level of quality and intensity -- due in no small part to the entry of Aarif Rahman into the picture. For the fact of the matter is that the movie's first time helmers may have acquitted themselves pretty well on the whole -- but, if nothing else, this work shows not only that the likes of Tony Leung Kar Fai appear to be getting better with age but, also, that the younger generation of Hong Kong actors have a very long way to go before they can achieve the gravitas and heft of their elders.

Over the years, I've seen a number of films whose makers' ambitions prove to be higher than their abilities.  (And yes, one could say this was the case with Cold War...) In some instances, you want to applaud them for at least having tried to come up with something special or just plain different.  In others, you want to curse them for creating a mess that could have been avoided if they had just been modest in their goals and stuck to what they (knew they) were capable of achieving.

At those times when you find yourself upset with those filmmakers who didn't know their limitations, you find yourself appreciating movies like Motorway -- whose makers appear modest in their ambitions but also were able to deliver what they set out to do: in this case, a professional looking and feeling crime drama-actioner featuring good dramatic acting and car chase scenes that got the adrenaline pumping. And this all the more so upon realizing that its director, Soi Cheang, may well have matured as well as learnt some valuable lessons after having previously helmed cinematic disasters such as Shamo!

10) CZ12

There have been many a time when I've been lured to watch a movie by a great looking trailer, only to be disappointed by the movie itself.  I had the opposite experience with Jackie Chan's 2012 offering which I only decided to see after my curiosity was piqued by news that it had done incredibly well in Malaysia and Singapore, not just Mainland China, and getting reports from two trusted film friends that it actually was a pretty decent effort.

CZ12 may not be completely like the Jackie Chan movies of old -- not least because its star is several years older now, and the film's dominant language is Mandarin and it features more English dialogue than Cantonese. But Jackie Chan seems less tired and more willing to have fun in this film than he has of late, and the result is an entertaining transnational action-comedy romp that I was able to enjoy for the most part, even given that I had the unfortunate experience of being only a few seats away from a super annoying brat of a child at the screening I was at! ;(

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Knitted and Architecture You Like or Which is Special (This week's Photo Hunt entry)

A few days ago, my good friend sbk put up an entry over at Pictures, Thoughts and Comments of one of the many temples of Kamakura I've not yet visited that made me add Engakuji to my ever-growing list of places I want to go to in the Kyoto of Eastern Japan in particular and Japan in general.  

It also gave me an idea of how I'd be able to weave together the two very different themes for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week. More specifically, on my own visits to Kamakura in 2011 and 2012, I had come across -- and taken photos -- of a statue in the grounds of Hokokuji that had been adorned with a knitted hat along with clothed bib as well as architecture I like and/or which I consider special in various parts of the town.

I've already got a number of posts up showing many of the buildings I've visited in Kamakura (such as the main buildings of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine and those in the main temple complex at Kenchoji)  and also its famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha).  But this week's Photo Hunt gives me the opportunity to point out other Japanese religious architectural elements that I like.

One of these are torii -- the traditional gates found at Shinto shrines that symbolically mark the transition from profane to sacred spaces. And yes, some of them -- like those found showing the way to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine -- can be really big indeed.

Over on the western Hase section of Kamakura is Hasadera, a temple famed for its statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) and also its numerous Jizo figurines representing unborn, still-born, miscarried and aborted babies. At its front is not a torii -- because it's not a Shinto shrine but, instead, a Buddhist temple -- but, instead the wooden Sammon (main gate) from which hangs a large red paper lantern.  Granted that it's not as big as that to be found at Sensoji in Asakusa, Japan, but I liked this architectural element all the same -- and considered it worth a close-up photo that I'm finally sharing on my blog today! :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Northern Cheung Chau hike sights (photo-essays)

Not counting Lantau Island, Cheung Chau is the Hong Kong Outlying Island that I have most frequently visited. More than once, it's been my place of a choice for a day excursion that can include spending a restful time hanging out at one of its beaches as well as wandering about the island.  I've also been known to head out there for a seafood lunch at Hong Kee "Respaurant".  

And twice now, I've gone to Cheung Chau to hike.  The first time around was one warm and humid summer's day some years back with Roz's Group (see here and here for photo-essays of that day's outing).  The more recent time was on a fall day with two hiking buddies -- and I have to say that it really was more enjoyable the second time around, not least because the weather was -- and companions were -- more pleasant and we covered more ground by venturing to the northern as well as southern sections of the dumbbell shaped island... 

 Not the usual hike sight encountered early on!

 One of many unusual shaped rocks encountered
that day out on Cheung Chau

We followed the path down to the beach

...even though we knew it meant that we would
then have to follow several other steps up later on!

 We'd occasionally pause and look back at sights 
like this on the climb back up

Looking eastwards yielded sights like this one
that included the main built up sections of the island

On one of Cheung Chau's northern-most hills is 
this structure that resembles a beached UFO to my mind!

Look back at the fifth photo from the top
to get a sense of how far we had come from there...

To be continued -- with photos of central and southern Cheung Chau to come in the next photo-essay! :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Along Po Toi's Rugged Trail

On my previous visit to Po Toi, the steps in this photo
were not visible to view due to the path being overgrown!

This time around, my hiking buddy and I had few problems
spotting the trail -- and the metal poles and signs that 
were placed along every 100 meters or so of it

And how glad we were to be able to follow this 
officially designated "Rugged Trail" as it offered up 
splendid views like this one :)

It did not, however, include a trek along the rocky island's Route No. 3 (Rugged Trail) because although we saw a sign pointing to it at one stage during our hike, we had problems making out the trail because its path was so overgrown that day. So imagine my surprise when my current hiking buddy and I reached that same point during our hike earlier today to find that we could easily see the path -- and even steps along it -- in that previously overgrown spot!

Maybe some trail maintenance work has been done between my first and second visits to Po Toi.  Or maybe it's a case of vegetation being way thicker on the ground in winter versus early fall. In any case, I welcomed the opportunity to try out a different hiking route and so off along the Rugged Trail my hiking buddy and I promptly went!

Prior to embarking on the Rugged Trail, I did know beforehand that it'd end up near the island's Tin Hau temple.  But little did I realize how nice a trek it would be along this trail.
For one thing, it did lead us to some scenic spots from where we got great views of the southwestern section of Po Toi and the surrounding area. 

For another, unlike the paved trail further south that led up to a lighthouse and along which one passed by turtle, monk's and Buddha's palm rocks, it was not crawling with other trampers this afternoon.  In fact, from when we veered onto the Rugged Trail all the way until we got to the Tin Hau temple, we didn't see even one other person -- and when one is seeking quiet as well as scenic beauty when out hiking, that really was a wonderful thing indeed! :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Haven and Show Something Yellow (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

In what can feel like another lifetime ago, I spent several months living and working in an East African city whose name translates from Arabic into Haven of Peace.  Although Dar es Salaam and Hong Kong can seem like they have nothing in common -- not least on account of their being located on different continents and thousands of miles away from each other -- it's worth noting that, at the very least, they both are home to beautiful and historically useful harbors, natural havens for ships and boats, and also have some pretty beaches!

In addition, there's a place in Hong Kong that also has the word 'haven' in its name. Also known as Pak Sha Wan (trans.White Sand Bay) in Cantonese, Hebe Haven is a harbor in the southern part of the Sai Kung Peninsula that's home to the exclusive Hebe Haven Yacht Club and the also Shelter Cove section of the prestigious Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club that's one of the few Hong Kong institutions to keep the "Royal" prefix after Hong Kong's return to China in 1997.

One day last fall, I went sailing with three friends in Hebe Haven. Two of us were obvious landlubbers but the two others were folks who had grown up sailing boats and obviously enjoyed doing so.  Fortunately, the latter didn't mind doing the bulk of the work on board.  So aside from occasionally taking the till, I had plenty of opportunity to sit back, look around and take photos!

Even so, I have to admit that what with the boat bobbing and tilting about and such, sailing's not quite my cup of tea.  Instead, I feel much more at peace while doing such as strolling about one of Hong Kong's many beaches -- even while higher land are even more natural havens for me (as can be witnessed by my hiking preferences)!

Getting back to the subject of Dar es Salaam: the most beach I most often frequented there was Oyster Beach.  I have photos of the place -- but pre-digital ones, so won't be sharing them on this blog.  But rest assured that if I did, they undoubtedly would have something yellow in them just like all three photos at the top of this entry.  So even without trying all that hard, it really was easy to combine Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunt themes this week! :b

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail, with a detour up to Hsien Ku Fung (Photo-essay)

On one of my first hikes in Hong Kong, I caught sight of The Twins over on Hong Kong Island and vowed that one day, I'd climb them. I did not have a similar reaction when I first caught sight of Pat Sin Leng (AKA the Ridge of the Eight Immortals). Instead, my reaction was more along the lines of "Hell, no!"

On the other hand, I've not been adverse to going along the Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail that's located inside Pat Sin Leng Country Park but doesn't actually involve a climb up the eight peaked ridge that the trail and country park are named after. In fact, I've been on it twice thus far. 

The first time was on a misty, humid but nonetheless non-rainy day a few years back (see here and here). The second time was on a cooler, less humid day with different hiking buddies.  And instead of just going along the nature trail, we decided to detour up to 511 meter high Hsien Ku Fung, Pat Sin Leng's eastern-most peak and the only one named after a female deity, before going back "on track" again...

 A view of the peak that we'd be climbing up 
from near the hike's starting point

 Just a few of the many, many steps 
that one needs to climb up to get to the top
of Hsien Ku Fung

Concrete proof that we did indeed make it
up to that particular summit! :)

 Two other signs warn against trying to get too close
to that particular edge of the peak

Some people hear the siren call of the other hills
that make up Pat Sin Leng

...but my hiking buddies and I elected to head back
down Hsien Ku Fung to continue our trek
along the Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail

Pretty scenery abounded along this hike

Adding to the attraction of this particular hike
is how bereft of people and quiet this trail can be :)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Snake in winter - spotting, not eating!* :O

How now, big-eyed cow! ;b

And how come a snake's about and so wide-eyed 
despite it still being winter?! :O

Okay, so I think I'm going to have to revise my idea about there being few critters to be seen while hiking in the winter months in Hong Kong.  This since one week after spotting a couple of cool grasshoppers while hiking in the Luk Wu Plateau area and two weeks after coming across a skink as well as a grasshopper while venturing along Stage 4 of the Wilson Trail, the two friends I was out hiking with earlier today and I caught sight of butterflies, cows and a snake over the course of our trek from Tsuen Kam Au to Tsing Lung Tau.

As you may have guessed, it was another warmish winter day today -- so warm that for much of the hike, I was hiking in shirtsleeves (and short ones at that), though I did have long trousers on instead of the below-the-knee shorts that I favor in the hotter months.  (In temperature terms: Weather Underground recorded a maximum temperature of 23.9 degrees Celsius (in Wong Tai Sin) for today -- but I'd say that it was a few degrees cooler than that in Tai Lam Country Park thanks to it being at a higher elevation and also there being many shady areas within Hong Kong's second largest country park.)

For all of it being unseasonably warm though, I really didn't expect to see a snake on our hike today!  But upon hearing a rustling on the ground and looking about to see the cause of the noise, we discovered a red-necked keelback lying just a meter -- or less! -- away from the left side of the trail that we were on!!

But maybe because it is so colorful and pretty -- for a snake! -- I couldn't help but want to take photos of it! I think I was emboldened by this red-necked keelback electing to stay very still after it realized it had been spotted by three people.  Maybe it was because, as one of my hiking friends suggested, it was still feeling lethargic since it must have only fairly recently woken up from its hibernation.  In any event, I also felt less freaked out due to it not doing the usual snakey thing of sticking out its tongue or, way scarier, hissing and making like it was going to strike.       

All in all, this was the closest I've been to a snake -- and in the wild to boot! -- for a long time.  And should anyone wonder about my closest snake encounter: it was when I was doing archaeology in the American southwest decades ago and I literally crossed paths with a rattlesnake -- only very fortunately, instead of my stepping on it (and causing it to strike me), it went over my right foot (with very little harm done to me -- except that my heart beat plenty hard when I later saw what it was that had temporarily put some weight atop my fortunately thick hiking booted foot!)! ;O  

*And for those who didn't know: Hong Kong people like eating snake in the winter because they believe that eating snake warms one up!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Celebrate and A Picture of the City Where You Live (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Last month, Jackie Chan labelled Hong Kong a "city of protest", decrying the city where he was born -- and where I currently live -- as a place where "we scold China and its leaders, we scold anything we want and protest against everything".  He was quickly and widely condemned for his utterances -- with one Chinese netizen responding on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) by stating that "Hong Kong has freedom of speech, you [Chan] enjoy the right yet you are blaming it, you are like a guy with plenty of food who doesn't understand the hunger of others."

Lest it not be clear: I find much to admire about Jackie Chan as an action actor and director but I'm also with the above quoted Chinese netizen and tend towards the thinking that Hong Kong being a part of China -- albeit one that is a Special Administrative Region rather than a "regular" part -- where protests are allowed and take place is something to be celebrated.  

Sure, in a perfect world, there wouldn't be protests because everything would be wonderful and peachy keen.  But since it's an imperfect world, it's good for dissent to be allowed -- and especially when it's voiced in an orderly non-violent fashion as is regularly the case in Hong Kong. (Something else that I find really heartening about such as the Fragrant Harbour's annual June 4 commemorations and July 1 protest marches is how the participants do seem to come from all walks of life and include young and old, male and female, etc.)

For those who find all this political talk too heavy, feel free to focus your attention more on the photos of urban Hong Kong -- in particular the one with a beautiful rainbow in it!  In any event, I've decided today that it wouldn't be enough to put up just one picture of the city where I live.  So here's three to help celebrate Hong Kong being Hong Kong for this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts. :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

10 highlights of my 2012

A cheeky sculpture on display 
at the Hakone Open Air Museum

Two of my favorite types of sushi -- on offer
at my favorite new restaurant of 2012

Strange but true: 10 days into 2013, last year feels so very... yesterday.  So before my memory dims or outright fails me, here's recalling for the record -- like I've done in previous years (including for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011) -- 10 "bests" of my 2012...

Best aquatic experience: In February last year, I enjoyed an Okinawa rendez-vous with two friends: one of whom is based in Tokyo, the other of whom resides in Vermont  Although we didn't go swimming in the beautiful waters of Okinawa, we spent a lot of time on, near and plain gazing at the magnificent ocean.  While I enjoyed every day of my all too short Okinawan vacation, my favorite by far was the day that we spent time inside an underground observatory and went on a glass bottom boat ride at Busena Marine Park. Together, those two attractions make up the best aquatic experience I had in 2012 -- though if I had to decide which one I'd most want to check out again, it has to be the underground observatory, in large part because one could stay and linger there as long as one wanted to! :b 

Best book: At last year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, Peter Chan Ho Sun -- whose works include He's a Woman, She's a Man, one of my five favorite films of all time -- was the filmmaker in focus. In his honor, there was a programme of his works, an exhibition that was the largest display of his works to date, and the publication of Peter Ho-Sun Chan: My Way. Edited by Li Cheuk To, this thick tome contains informative interviews with Peter Chan and collaborators including Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang, Joho Hui and Takeshi Kaneshiro, essays on his work, and various film notes. It's not only the best book I read in 2012 but the most interesting film book I've read in years!

Best garden: One very hot day last August, I went to the Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. I must have sweated buckets over the course of the few hours that I spent strolling about and checking out the attractions (that included many interesting old buildings) within its environs.  But I really didn't mind for the most part because there was so much beauty to behold there.  Oh, and it helped that there were places there where one could stop to get some lovely ice cream as well as refreshing drinks. ;)

Best hike: According to the hiking diary that I keep, I went on 38 hikes in 2012 -- the most hikes I've gone on thus far in a single year.  A number of the entries have asterisks next to them -- denoting that I had got much out of going on the hikes in question.  But there's no question in my mind that the best hike I went on last year was the southwest Lantau one took me up three different hills and offered up unusual sights including a flying dragon and a beautiful -- even if decaying -- Chinese garden and retreat. (And yes, I'd definitely not rule out going on this trail again -- though as my hiking buddy, it has to be in cool weather as it's quite an exhausting trek...)

Best musician heard live: Back at a HK Sinfonietta concert in 2010, I heard Chinese violinist Ning Feng play for the first time. In 2012, I had the privilege of hearing this amazing musician live in concert not just once but twice -- at a Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival concert in January and at a Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert in September that had the violinist as the featured soloist for Chen Gang and He Zhanhao's sublime The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto. And I really do hope that I'll be able to hear him playing live once more in 2013 and in the other years to come...

Best museum: When I visited Hakone last year on a day trip from Tokyo, I knew that I'd have to hurry about in order to make sure that I'd make it out to Lake Ashi before sunset. Having said that, I couldn't help but want to linger at the Hakone Open Air Museum that displays more than 100 sculptures at any one time in a truly beautiful setting. Japan's first open air art museum (it was established in 1969), I can easily imagine that it remains the country's most magnificent. Oh, and I can imagine that it's the one of the few museums in the world whose facilities include a relaxing footbath that makes use of hot spring waters that bubble from under the site! ;b

Best museum exhibition: By far the most expensive exhibition I went to -- at 2,700 yen for admission -- also is the best exhibition I went to in 2012 by quite a long chalk.  It was pure luck and coincidence that the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs exhibition was being held at Ueno Royal Museum when I visited Tokyo last August. But once I discovered that this was so, I simply had to check it out; this even though it cost more than many sushi dinners I had in Tokyo, and involved my having to wait several hours to get into the exhibition space. As it turned out, it's one of those shows that exceeded, not just met, expectations -- and I'm really very happy and grateful that this was indeed the case. :)

Best performing arts show: When I was a child growing up in Penang, my mother took me to see a film showing Chinese acrobats performing amazing feats that I had a hard time believing that humans were capable of. On one July evening last year, I got to see the China National Acrobatic Troupe perform their Splendid show that included bicycle balancing involving an unbelievable number of performers, contortionist acts, tumbling and much, much more. I know that acrobatics is considered too low brow to truly be art by some people.  But I truly admired -- and sometimes was downright in awe of -- the talent and skill on display at this super entertaining show.  (The costume designers for this show, on the other hand, could do some improvement as some of the outfits were so awful that they really did cause me to laugh out loud... ;D)

Best regular restaurant: How much do I love the Hysan Place branch of Senryo?  So much that I try to go there once a week -- and I'll also readily admit that it's my "go to" eating cum dining establishment to de-stress at. The sushi is regularly good and fresh, the menu includes interesting seasonal specials, I can get junmai sake there and the service is first class -- thanks in large part to Amanda, its multi-lingual (Cantonese, Putonghua, Hokkien, English and Japanese-speaking) Hong Konger manager whose knowledge of Japanese food is aided by her being married to a Japanese sushi chef! :)

Best single sushi order: One evening some months back, I was in a bit of a funk and wanted to cancel a dinner date with my uber foodie friend. But after she successfully persuaded me to believe that some good food would be able to make me feel better, we went and dined that evening at a then newly opened sushi-ya that turned out to have food that was beyond good. Indeed, both my friend and I consider the Hokkaido uni (sea urchin) we had at Kiyoshi Sushi to have been the most delicious we've ever had -- and in all honesty, that's saying something because uni's my friend's favorite sushi and she's eaten a lot of it over the years, as have I.  Even more amazingly, I've since returned several times to that which I consider to my favorite new restaurant of 2012 -- and each time I've ordered the Hokkaido uni, it's never failed to disappoint! :b