Sunday, March 31, 2013

Three viewing highpoints of the 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival

Exhibition of film posters (including one for Tokyo Family
closest to the camera) that's part of the HKIFF offerings

This week, I've viewed a grand total of eight movies -- one of them close to 4 hours long! -- of which five were Hong Kong International Film Festival offerings. But my "Most recently viewed movies" widget hasn't been updated since four movies ago due to a technical glitch that appears to be affecting other blogs besides this one.  So it's just as well that I'm writing about the films I've viewed at the HKIFF -- including three in this entry alone:-

Tokyo Family (Japan, 2013)
- From the Master Class program
- Yoji Yamada, director
- Starring Isao Hashizume, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Masahiko Nishimura, Tomoko Nakajima, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yu Aoi

The director some consider to be Japan's greatest ever filmmaker, Yasujiro Ozu, was born on December 12, 1903, and died 60 years to that day. This year thus marks the 110th anniversary of his birth and the 50th of his death.  And it also happens to be the 60th anniversary of Tokyo Story, the cinematic masterpiece considered to be Ozu's best.

As a tribute to Ozu, the 81-year-old filmmaker who may well be Japan's best living director, Yoji Yamada, decided to make a film inspired by Tokyo Story and with a similar storyline involving an elderly couple from a rural part of southern Japan journeying to visit their grown up children in Tokyo, only to find that the children are too busy to spend much time with their parents, never mind show them around the Japanese capital city.  However, the resulting work, Tokyo Family, has not received the most positive of critical receptions -- with more than one critic comparing it unfavorably to not just Tokyo Story but also Yoji Yamada's other films.  

Perhaps it's because I went in to a viewing of the film with fairly low expectations because of what I had read about it.  Or maybe it's because I generally am a fan of all of Yoji Yamada's particular style and approach.  In any case, I did enjoy viewing this drama and consider it to have several touching moments -- notably those that saw the elderly parents (Isao Hashizume and Kaxuko Yoshiyuki) sensitively interacting with their youngest son's beloved (Yu Aoi).  In addition, this being a Yoji Yamada film, there also are some amusing touches -- and rather than consider them out of place in this film, I liked that within this one work could be found moments that alternately were loving, thought-provoking, sad and also laughter-inducing.

My rating for this film: 8

No (Chile-France-USA, 2012) 
- From the Gala Presentation program
- Pablo Larrain, director
- Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfred Castro, Luis Gnecco

Chilean director Pablo Larrain's latest cinematic offering is unusual in many ways.  For one thing, there are the grainy, dated looking visuals that stem from his choice of u-matic camera and 4:3 aspect ratio for the film.  For another, there's the subject matter: i.e., the story of how an advertising executive came up with a plan for a successfully 'sell' a political campaign.

Amazingly, this thriller's story is actually based on actual occurences: more specifically, it depicts how a confident young man by the name of Rene Saavedra (essayed in this film by Gael Garcia Bernal) managed to influence a majority of Chileans to vote "No" against then ruling dictator, Augusto Pinochet, staying in power by getting them to 'buy' into the idea and concept of a happier future without Pinochet in charge.

Like with another thriller that came out last year, Argo, this Chile-France-USA co-production has an ending that people already know (or would if they knew about the historical events in question).  So it's a film in which what we're concerned is the process and the journey to the known conclusion.  The fact that No still can thrill and involve despite people knowing the outcome of the 1988 referendum is consequently quite the achievement.  Ditto re Pablo Larrain having managed to create a "feel good" work with a protagonist who could be said to cynically make use of what he knows about not only advertising techniques but, also, human nature!

My rating for this film: 8

Lawrence of Arabia (Britain, 1962)
- From the Restored Classics program
- David Lean, director
- Starring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn

Two HKIFFs ago, I had the unforgettable experience of sitting through 5 1/2 hours of Olivier Assayas' masterful Carlos. This year around, the Hong Kong International Film Festival gave me the opportunity to view a 227 minute (close to 4 hour) long film that was first released in 1962 -- and I eagerly seized the opportunity to do just that.

The winner of seven Oscars (including Best Picture, Director, and so very deservingly Best Cinematography, Color (for Freddie Young) and Best Music, Score - Substantially Original (for Maurice Jarre)), Lawrence of Arabia is one of those cinematic works with a gigantic reputation -- and, after finally getting to view it (and so ideally on a super big screen t the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre), I can't but add myself to this amazing film's legion of admirers.

Truly an epic with what can look like a cast of thousands (or, at least, hundreds of extras), this historical drama centering on T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), the eccentric Englishman who united disparate Arab tribes and got them to do battle against the Ottoman Empire, is a grand cinematic work that is visually amazing, aurally mesmerizing and dramatically involving. Filmed on 70 mm, its incredible desert scenes absolutely astound -- and, to be honest, even while the film's cast is impressive, the real star of this work really has to be the desert itself, with David Lean's decision to film on location seeming like a no brainer in retrospect even while being quite the daring risk at the time.

My rating for this film: 10 (Yes, really! :b)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wind and Something Green (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

There's plenty of green -- and, for that matter, blue -- in the top-most photo of this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week "but where's the wind?" I can anticipate some of you asking. For that, I ask you to focus on the colored specks on the water -- for those are windsurfers out there practicing and enjoying the only sport for which Hong Kong has won a gold medal for at the Olympics!

One afternoon decades ago in Penang, I tried my hand at windsurfing and concluded that it wasn't for me.  But I do reckon that windsurfers at play often make for eye-catching sights -- and especially so since they often do so in photogenic locales (such as in the vicinity of Wong Shek Pier and in the Tolo Harbour off Tai Mei Tuk here in Hong Kong).

Even more spectacular than the windsurfers are the kite surfers, including those of I've seen speeding about in -- and even spending some time in the air above -- the waters of Cheung Chau, the charming island that I most associate with Riley Ip's lovely Just One Look but which many Hong Kongers most associate with Olympic windsurfing champion Lee Lai San.

Now that we've established that all three of these photos in this blog post fit the wind theme, here's also pointing out that in addition to there being colored green bits in all the images, they are of sports that are pretty environmentally friendly -- i.e., green.  After all, they don't require any motorised components to carry out -- only wind along with human power! :b

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two high points of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (Photo-essay)

In my photo-essay last week, I showed some of the cool critters and flora that can be seen in the Lower Area of the wonderful Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Still, the primary destinations for my two hiking buddies and I that day were two literally high points of the farm: i.e., the top of the 546 meter high Kwun Yam Shan (Goddess of Mercy Mountain), and the Kadoorie Brothers' Memorial Pavilion located on a 602 meter high spot with commanding views of the 148 hectare property.

Although the path up to these two high points were paved, it was steep enough that it was quite the slog up.  But almost needless to say, the views from those places were worth the exertion -- and so was the sense of accomplishment that came from having gone up them. :)

 Proof, if needed, that there are some farmed sections
of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden :)

 We did proceed slowly -- but also surely --
on our trek up to Kwun Yam Shan!

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden lies on
the northern slopes of Tai Mo Shan - whose summit 
is visible in the background of this photo

stands atop Kwun Yam Shan

 The view from the north of Kwun Yam Shan includes 
that of nearby hills, a plain, greenery and developed areas

The view to the northeast are dominated by the
Next up: the twin pavilion up there! :)

The same twin pavilion from closer up -- with 
Kwun Yam Shan now being the one in the distant!

To be continued... regardless of whether my Kadoorie Farm photo-essays attract comments or not! ;(

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Three more films viewed at the 2013 HKIFF

Yellow is the predominant color of 
the HKIFF (publicity materials) this year

Hmmm... thus far, my blog entry about five Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) offerings that I've viewed has attracted a grand total of zero comments.  Nonetheless, I'm going to go ahead and present my views on three more films viewed at this year's HKIFF -- if nothing else than because I find that blogging about such helps me to better remember them.  So onwards we go...

Hap Ki Do (Hong Kong, 1972)
- From The Cinematic Matrix of Golden Harvest program
- Huang Feng, director
- Starring Angela Mao, Carter Huang, Sammo Hung, Whang Ing Sik, Ji Han Jae

Before anything else, here's mentioning that when I checked this afternoon, not a single screening in The Cinematic Matrix of Golden Harvest has sold out thus far -- and yes, we're talking here about a program that includes movies starring Angela Mao, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, etc.  Based on what I saw of this, I find it a crying shame -- because, in all honesty, my viewing of this more than 40 years old film has been the highlight of my 2013 HKIFF thus far.  (And I am inclined to think there are some people who agree with me since applause broke out at the end of the film at the screening I was at -- something that doesn't happen as regularly at the Hong Kong International Film Festival as is the case at, say, the American film fests I've been to.)

Granted that this Huang Feng movie doesn't have the most original of stories -- seeing as it tells a tale of courageous people trying to endure before deciding to be more pro-active and rise up against hated oppressors.  But there's also no question for me that its fight scenes -- be they friendly sparring matches or fights fought in earnest -- are well enacted and really exhilarating to watch.  

Upon looking back with the help of this work, there's greater appreciation of 1970s Hong Kong cinema having female action stars like Angela Mao; this not least since the second decade of the 21st century sees this same territorial cinema having no emerging female star of her caliber as well as capable of evoking the kind of fatal fury that she did in this movie that also stands out for highlighting a Korean martial art rather than the more usual ones that were born in China.

My rating for this film: 9

Beautiful 2013 (Japan-Taiwan-Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2013)
- From the Galas program
- Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wu Nien Jen, Lu Yue and Mabel Cheung, directors
- Starring Mao Mita, Lo Pei An, Elaine Kam, etc.

The bad news: Not a single work among the fourth set of short films commissioned by the Hong Kong International Film Festival rises to the heights of the short film directed by Ann Hui that was part of last year's Beautiful.2012. On the plus side, neither does this four film anthology have a segment that is even half as frustrating to view as last year's short film by Tsai Min Liang or the section of 2011's Quattro Hong Kong 2 directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Continuing with the positives: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Beautiful New Bay Area Project has a kick ass heroine to savour; Wu Nien Jen's A New Year, The Same Days -- the best of this 2013 quartet -- offers up plenty of amusing moments; and cinematographer-director Lu Yue's 1 Dimension is visually beautiful and a real aesthetic standout. However, all of these works are not even enough to entirely satisfy.

Even more sadly, this year, they didn't save the best for last -- and it's also disappointing that a Hong Kong director's effort (i.e., Mabel Cheung's) was the weakest offering of the quartet, one that tried to get by one emotion and a love of Hong Kong but not working because its main characters just aren't likeable enough, and (consequently) hard to empathize with.

My rating for this film: 6.5 + 8 + 7 + 5 averages out to ~6.5

Museum Hours (USA-Austria, 2012)
- From the Global Vision program
- Jem Cohen, director
- Starring Bobby Sommer, Mary Margaret O'Hara

This docu-drama revolving around a sympathetic Kunsthistoriches Museum guard and a Canadian visitor to Vienna who he befriends is not the kind of film whose screening I expect to sell out at the HKIFF nor one that I'd expect to prompt a number of people walk out in the middle of.  Upon my witnessing both these things happened, I have to say that it's really hard indeed to predict (Hong Kong) film (fest) audiences. 

For my part, I found this admittedly slow paced effort to be generally interesting -- even if it ended up taking part less within the museum than I thought it would and actually showing more of an everyday, and often gray, Vienna than I thought it would.  And while I have to admit to having nodded off during the portion of the cinematic offering in which a woman spoke in detail about a particular Bruegel painting that hangs in the museum, this film also got my mind wandering in a good way -- and thinking back to my 1987 visit to the Austrian capital city and fondly recalling many details about it that I found more colorful than was shown in this work!

My rating for this film: 7

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Flow and What Makes You Happy (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

When looking at the Photo Hunt themes chosen by Sandi and Gattina for this week, I got to thinking of how there are times when I am happy to go with the flow and other times to go against it.  But rather than try to think up of ways to illustrate these abstract thoughts, I decided it'd be easier -- and, more to the point, make me happier! -- to go with a more straightforward approach today and offer up photos that concretely show flow(s)!

As an added bonus, all these photos of flowing water, including one that shows a beautiful place (i.e., Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan) where tides regularly ebb and flow, were taken when I was out hiking; one of my favorite pastimes here in Hong Kong (as a general glance of my blog will easily confirm) and an activity that often makes me happy as well as -- hopefully! -- healthy. :)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Five films viewed over the past five days

Belgian star Deborah Francois charmed at 
the post-screening Q&A of Populaire :)

For those who haven't yet noticed: I have a Most recently viewed movies section on this blog's sidebar that lists the five most recent movies I've viewed.  As I write this entry, all five films on the list are ones that I've viewed in the days since the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) got going this past Sunday -- and are indeed films that are part of the fest's program.

Since I'm planning to view another three movies this weekend (at least one of which will be a Hong Kong production!), some of those entries will soon be replaced by others.  So I figure I might as well note down the five films currently on the list, and add a few comments re them of my own for posterity's sake. So, here we go, without further ado...

The Berlin File (South Korea, 2013) 
- From the Gala Presentation program
- Ryoo Seung Wan, director
- Starring Ha Jung Woo, Han Suk Kyu, Jun Jyi Hun and Ryu Seung Beom
So many characters in this spy thriller that's set in Berlin -- but has mainly Korean (North as well as South) protagonists -- get introduced into the picture in the first 20 minutes or so of the film that it can feel well nigh overwhelming.  But once things settle down -- at least in terms of it getting more obvious who are the key personalities in the work -- the movie becomes one with a number of involving and intriguing stories and sub-plots.  

Well-acted, as might be expected from it boasting several star thespians (at least one of whom -- i.e., Jun Jyi Hun -- I actually failed to recognize because the character plays in this offering is significantly different from her My Sassy Girl (and The Thieves) personae), the film also benefits from being well paced.  And while it does get too overly melodramatic for its own good towards the end, I, for one, still am looking forward to a sequel that looks to have been planned right from the start! 

My rating for this film: 8

Linsanity (USA, 2013)
- From the Reality Bites program
- Evan Jackson Leong, director

For the record: this documentary about Jeremy Lin that its director (who was present at the screening I attended) described as "a legacy film" was actually the first work I viewed at this year's HKIFF (since I viewed The Berlin Files at Filmart), and I consider this offering that had its world premiere at Sundance and was given its international premiere at the HKIFF to be a solid enough work with which to begin my film festing this year.

If truth be told though, I was hoping for something more magical -- considering that the Jeremy Lin story can't help but be a great subject, and that this film's makers had had access to the basketball player who's currently the only Harvard University graduate as well as Asian-American playing in the NBA from before he turned pro as well as burst into the limelight and caused the term Linsanity to get coined.  Greater depth of coverage and analysis also would have been appreciated -- including in looking at the racism that Jeremy Lin has had to face.  Also, what was with the insertion of the Gangnam Style music into this documentary's mix?!

On a more positive note: it was cool to see the film footage of Jeremy Lin from before he went to college -- and of the young man who comes across as pretty likeable indeed outside of the basketball court.  And even though we've seen the highlights of Linsanity (many times) before, it still was pretty cool to watch again those incredible moments such as that shot in the game versus the Toronto Raptors (which probably still ranks as my favorite Jeremy Lin sporting moment thus far). :)

My rating for this film: 7
Populaire (France-Belgium, 2012)
- From the Galas program
- Regis Roinsard, director
- Starring Romain Duris, Deborah Francois, Berenice Bejo and Shaun Benson

A few weeks ago, I viewed another France-Belgium co-production in Rust and Bone that's as heavy as Populaire is light. A breezy period romantic comedy revolving around a young secretary with super fast typing abilities (and her boss who coaches and enters her for speed-typing competitions), this film that's set back in 1959 has a generally fun fantasy feel to it.

A work whose makers looked to have aimed for it to be loved (and, yes, popular), there's also no denying its nationalist (in particular, a "rah rah France") overtone.  When coupled with its overall picture being pretty white (despite the 1950s having seen waves of immigrant arrivals to France), it can feel like this was one of those movies that was intended to travel far from its homeland(s).

Still, it's easy to not think too much about such matters when viewing the film and be charmed instead by its charismatic lead actor and actress.  More than incidentally, Deborah Francois also proved to be quite the charmer when making an appearance at the screening I attended -- so much so that she made the post-screening Q&A quite enjoyable despite others who participated in it.

My rating for the film: 7.5

The Gardener (Iran, 2013)
- From the Master Class program
- Mohsen Makhmalbaf, director
- Starring Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Maysam Makhmalbaf and Eona Ririva

The kind of work that definitely falls into the art house film (and even "strictly (film) festival fare"), this Mohsen Makhmalbaf offering is a discussion of the pros and cons of religion that largely takes place in the garden of the Baha'i faith's Haifa headquarters.  In a novel development, the film's makers also are the main people on screen -- with their being filmed filming as well as debating, with the film's director looking at the positive side of religion and his son Maysam focusing on its negative side.

A rare Iranian film that was shot in Israel, it also is notable for the international quality of the people featured in the work -- with such as a Papua New Guinean man (Eona Ririva is the titular character, in fact), a woman with an African-American mother and a Namibian father, and a number of American accented individuals -- all of them Baha'is -- being profiled in it.  In addition, some mention is given to the historical leaders of this religion that was founded in Iran less than 200 years ago -- but even with that, the distinct sense one gets is that the filmmakers are actually less interested in making a film about Baha'is and more about religion in general (and its role(s) in the world). 

My rating for this film: 6.5

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (Bosnia and Herzogovina-France-Slovenia-Italy, 2013) 
- From the Global Vision program
- Danis Tanovic, director
- Starring Senada Alimanovic and Nazif Mujic 

Back when I was living in Philadelphia, I viewed -- and was blown away -- by a war drama called No Man's Land, so much so that the name of its director was etched in my memory. So when I saw that there was a film by Danis Tanovic screening at this year's HKIFF, I decided to check it out -- all the more so upon learning that this particular work had won some awards at this year's Berlin International Film Festival.

A documentary-like work with people playing themselves (and essentially re-enacting some events that had happened in their lives), it is a powerful depiction of impoverished, lower class life and plight in Bosnia and Herzogovina. Early on in the film, it's really noticeable how the adults in it still do so many things manually and so much of what the men do involves -- nay, requires -- sheer brute force.  All in all, the work serves as a valuable reminder of how terribly unequal the world is, and how (having or not having) a little money can be the difference between life and death for some.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Flora, fauna and a good view at Kadoorie Farm (Photo-essay)

One beautiful December day, two friends and I went hiking in Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden. Sounds like a breeze, doesn't it?  Except it wasn't since our hike included ascents up to the summit of 546 meter high Kwun Yam Sham and to the Kadoorie Brothers' Memorial Pavilion located at the same height above sea level as 603 meter high Kowloon Peak.  

For those who don't care for a hard slog up to its Upper Area, here's pointing out that there's plenty to see in the Lower Area of Kadoorie Farm -- especially in terms of fauna and flora.  However, one definitely would be missing out on cool views if one weren't to venture up into the upper reaches of this 148 hectare facility that is a real gem of a place as far as lovers of nature as well as conservationists are concerned...

A wild boar in Hong Kong!

...and colorful flamingos too!

This sign caused my hiking buddies to burst out laughing

An (injured -- but recuperating? --) eagle 
that now makes its home at Kadoorie Farm

Among the eagle's neighbors is this beautiful owl
that I got to realizing has only one wing... :S

Is that a flower or are those colorful bits just leaves? :O

These I know are flowers -- but, alas, 
I don't know their name :S

High enough to get good views -- but still a ways
from the summit of Kwun Yam Shan! ;b

To be continued... but of course! :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival's Opening Night

Yes, it's that time of the year again! 

This evening, the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) officially got underway with two screenings of the fest's opening film -- Herman Yau's Ip Man - The Final Fight.  Rather than attend one of those screenings, I'm at home recovering from an exhausting but enjoyable hike I went on in northeast Hong Kong earlier today.  

Before those of this blog's readers who are Hong Kong film buffs howl in frustration over my choice, here's pointing out that I already viewed this particular movie -- which has Anthony Wong Chau-sang portraying Ip Man, and very creditably too -- a few weeks back (and yes, I do like it a lot). 

And for the record, I've also viewed Ronny Yu's Saving General Yang (which, like with Herman Yau's film, is officially getting its world premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival), Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, and  Sean Baker's Starlet (which is having its Asian premiere at the Hong Kong film fest).  So theirs too are not among the 11 HKIFF screenings that I've got tickets for this year.

Something else that people might find unusual is the relatively paltry number of tickets to HKIFF screenings that I've bought this year.  (For a comparison, I bought 16 tickets to last year's HKIFF -- and 21 to the 2011 edition along with another six to the extended portion of that year's unusually lengthy festival that ended up running through to May).

One reason for my having purchased fewer tickets for this year's HKIFF is that since September, I've got a job that requires me to often work on weeknights as well as during the day -- so I don't want to buy too many tickets to screenings that I might end up not being able to attend.  Conversely, I also may end up getting to view certain movies in the HKIFF program even without purchasing tickets for the screenings -- so/but the 11 films that I've bought tickets for are the films I really am hoping that I catch at the fest.

Another reason is my current job involves watching a good share of movies as it is (I'm now averaging about five film screenings a week even without the HKIFF taking place).  So I am trying to pace myself and not get "movie-ed out" any time soon!

One other consequence of my current work situation is that I won't be able to write as lengthily and promptly as I've done in recent years about the films I view at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.  At the same time though, I do intend to write something about them at some point -- because I find that doing so helps me to better remember the films I view as well as reckon that there is an audience for this that I do appreciate, however small in number it may be! 

And should people wonder: the first screening on my HKIFF schedule this year is tomorrow evening's screening of Evan Leong's Linsanity, and the final HKIFF screening I am hoping to attend is of Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi's Closed Curtain (the fest's official closing film).  So I've indeed once again gone for a mixed bag of cinematic offerings -- though it also is the case that five (i.e., close to half) of my choices of movies to watch have Hong Kong directors at their helm, including a few from The Cinematic Matrix of Golden Harvest program that will continue after the HKIFF officially closes on April 2 and run through to June 30 at the Hong Kong Film Archive. :)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Footprints and Watch Sunsets or Sunrises (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

I came across an image long ago of a solitary set of footprints in the sand accompanied by a quote about how "I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again." 

For some reason, that particular combination of image and quote has stuck in my mind so strongly over the years that whenever I see a solitary set of footprints in the sand (like I did when turning to look back midway through a stroll one afternoon along Cheung Sha beach), I get to thinking of them.  Amazing re the deep impression and impact certain images and words can make on one, right?

On a less philosophical note, Gattina's choice of Photo Hunt theme for this week (as opposed to Sandi's) got me thinking about how I really am not an early riser. So even while I think sunrises are lovely, I hardly ever am awake when the sun and sky put on their early morning show!  (For the record, the sunrise shot that's the third photo from the top of this blog post was taken in Ludwigshafen, on the first morning of a German vacation I took back in 2010 -- and the reason I was up so early is because I was jetlagged!!) 

On the other hand, I've viewed my share of sunsets.  Often I do so when I'm on a vessel or in a vehicle (the middle photo at the top of this blog entry was taken from a bus, by the way) but I also have paused at a spot in order to enjoy the late sun and sky show that I think I've come to love even more since my shutterbug took hold in earnest! ;)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Down Memory Lane to a (short) vegan period of my life

A soupy Korean dish that mixes tofu 
with seafood and general spicy goodness
 A Cantonese dish whose main ingredients
are tofu stuffed with minced fish paste

As regular readers to this blog know, I'm a fan of various types of tofu. At the same time, I'm definitely not a vegetarian -- and it's also true enough that many of the dishes with tofu in it that I like combine tofu with non-vegetarian ingredients, including Yunnan ham or minced fish paste.  (More than incidentally, I'm writing this blog post just after having had a dinner made up of a delicious bowl of "cart noodles" whose ingredients consisted of oil noodles topped with water spinach, tofu cubes and cubes of -- the squeamish had better stop reading -- solidified pig's blood!)
While looking through my photo archive, I got to thinking about tofu often getting mixed together with seafood in many East Asian cuisines -- and remembering how my paternal grandmother didn't consider seafood to be meat, so, on the days when she would restrict herself to a diet she considered vegeterian, still would feel able to eat fish, prawns and other sea creatures!  

Because of my paternal grandmother, I grew up thinking that vegetarians could eat seafood.  And it was only after I left Malaysia that I encountered vegetarians who didn't eat seafood -- and, also, people who weren't only vegetarians who eschewed seafood but actual vegans!  
More specifically, the first vegan I ever knew was a Kenyan Indian schoolmate of mine at boarding school in England. Shivani was her name and the summer after we completed our A levels, my vegan friend invited me to go and spend a few weeks with her and her entirely vegan family in Nairobi.  
Suffice to say that I accepted and proceeded to have a great time visiting with Shivani and her family on my first ever trip to Africa.  More to the point for the purposes of this post, I got to thinking that Shivani's mother was one of the best cooks whose food I've ever had the privilege to eat.
I loved the chapatis this amazing woman made so much that I ended up eating -- no lie! -- 96 of them over the course of my approximately 3 week stay with Shivani's family.  And I had an incredible variety of dishes to eat all that chapati with.
How incredible can be seen by my not noticing and even forgetting that none of those dishes had any meat (and yes, that includes seafood!) in them; something that got underlined when, a couple of weeks into my stay, Shivani's family and I went on a day trip up the Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha.  
Upon stopping for lunch at a restaurant located on the banks of the lake, Shivani's family told me that the restaurant served barbecue (meat) and suggested that I order up some of it.  I said "okay" and asked if they wanted to have some too.  At which point they started laughing and Shivani said to me, "But we don't meat!"  And truly, only then did it dawn on me that since arriving in Kenya, I had not eaten a non-vegan meal up until that lunch (for yes, when given the opportunity, I did go ahead and have some meat to eat that day)!! ;b      

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Yuen Tun Country Trail hike sights (Photo-essay)

When many people talk about hiking in Hong Kong, they tend to talk about hiking on Hong Kong Island, Lantau or in the country park sections of the Sai Kung Peninsula.  Despite it being the second largest of Hong Kong's 24 country parks, rarely does Tai Lam Country Park rate a mention.

So it stands to reason that when my hiking companion and I went tramping one beautiful afternoon in late November along a route that consisted of the Yuen Tun Country Trail and another section of trail that took us from Kat Hing Bridge deep inside the country park to the village of Ho Pui outside of it, we didn't see a single other human being for a large part of our trek!  Still, it was a bit surprising since our hike did start really close to 'civilization' in the form of some nice looking apartment complexes and such arrayed on the side of a major highway that is Tuen Mun Road... and all the more so since it's a trail that, to my mind at least, offers up its share of interesting views and sights!

A view from early on in the hike that takes in
multi-storey buildings and the Tsing Ma Bridge
(and -- in the far distance -- a part of Hong Kong Island)
 A little bit further along the hike, the Ting Kau Bridge
looms closer -- and Tsuen Wan is visible in the distance

 Soon though, buildings and bridges
vanish from one's sight

I still remember the incredible silence to be found
at this juncture of the hike

View with Tai Lam Chung Reservoir in the distance 
--  and a wooden trail sign in the foreground
 I don't know about you but I find the surface 
of this portion of the trail visually interesting :)

Strange bugs stuck behind the glass of an 
information board located near Kat Hing Bridge! :O

What some people might find a more unexpected
sight than the bugs: farm land and farmers in Hong Kong! ;b

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring day hike up and over Kai Kung Shan :)

View of the final hill to go over in order to get to
the end of Stage 3 of the Maclehose Trail

 Strange but true: I've noticed this particular species of butterfly

Also out this afternoon -- though harder to spot on account 
of its camouflage -- was this mud colored grasshopper! :b

Another Sunday, another hike -- and another Hong Kong peak conquered!  Whereas last week, it was 465 meter high Lo Fu Tau on Lantau Island, this week, it was 399 meter high Kai Kung Shan (Cantonese for Rooster Hill) in Sai Kung West Country Park.  And whereas the maximum temperature last week was around 21 degrees Celsius, today's high has been reported on the Weather Underground of Hong Kong website as a considerably warmer 29.3 degrees Celsius!

Although there's no denying that last week's hike from Discovery Bay to Mui Wo via Lo Fu Tau was more challenging than today's (on account of it involving a steep climb up the 465 meter high hill from sea level Discovery Bay), this afternoon's hike also was no picnic -- this despite our trail having begun in the vicinity of Lady Maclehose Holiday Village rather than further away at the official starting point of Maclehose Trail Stage 3.  One big reason for this was that it's warmed up considerably this week compared to previous weeks -- though, thankfully, it's not become super humid yet. 

Many hikers rue the onset of warm weather and some even stop hiking completely during the hotter months in Hong Kong.  I can understand why they think this way but, at the same time, I've also noticed (as has Hidden Hong Kong (and Macau)'s Phil) that it's when Hong Kong has warmer weather that the sky tends to be noticeably bluer and the air discernibly less polluted.  And for the record: it was indeed the case that this afternoon was considerably brighter as well as warmer than last Sunday's.

Something else to look forward to while out hiking during the warmer months is that the hills and the rest of the countryside once again come alive with all manners of critters.  And this afternoon, I lucked out in that my hiking buddy and I didn't come across any snakes on our trek (and didn't come away with any mosquito bites) but we spotted quite a few butterflies out and about, and I also spotted -- and managed to take photos -- of at least one grasshopper and several spiders that were considerably smaller than the Golden Orb Weaver but whose webs appear to be made out of more reams of spider silk.

I also appreciated that today's hike was generally more colorful than last week's -- and not just because of the different species of beautiful butterflies that were flitting about this afternoon.  For one thing, the sky was so bright blue in places that it seemed as it was sparkling.  For another, the bright sunshine and clear air helped accentuate the green of the leaves and other fauna that covered much of the countryside we passed through today.  For a third, a number of flowers have bloomed in the area.  Add the sightings of birds as well as the sounds of them singing away -- and I have proof and am happy that spring's indeed here! :)