Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eating crab and kani miso in Sapporo

Two sure, visible signs hang from the walls 
of this restaurant specializing in crab dishes!
 The view of the central part of the restaurant
from inside the private room in which we were seated
 The creamy crab gratin I ordered was served
in an appropriately crab-shaped dish ;)

My mother grabbed and ate one of the pieces of
kani miso before I could snap a shot of this dish! :O

I've said it many times and I'll say it again now: I've never had a bad meal in Japan.  And this even though I often go and eat in a dining establishment based on how it looks from the outside -- i.e., without done any advanced research about the place!
Take as an example the crab restaurant that my mother and I had our first meal of our vacation in -- one that we went to after arriving in Sapporo and checking into our hotel, and deciding that on we'd settle at whichever place we passed along the way that caught our eye and fancy as we strolled towards Odori Park and its summer beer gardens.

Sapporo Kanihonke, I've subsequently found out, is part of a chain of crab restaurants that has its origins in land-locked Nagoya. The particular branch where we had our late lunch is situated just a few blocks from Sapporo (railway) Station, in a large multi-storey building that's filled with crab-themed items (statues, dishes, utensils, etc.) but also could be said to be decorated in a pretty tasteful, traditional way.

Ushered into a private room, my mother and I decided to share one set meal and two a la carte dishes.  The way it turned out, my mother ate the bulk of the set meal while I ate the bulk of the a la carte dishes that consisted of on order of wonderfully creamy rich crab gratin and another of eight absolutely delicious pieces of crab miso gunkan sushi.
For those who think that crab miso has miso (i.e., fermented soybean paste), like that found in miso soup, in it, think again.  Because while crab miso may look like miso in terms of its color and texture, it's an altogether kettle of fish (or should I say crab?)! 
Actually, I've read and heard two different things about what crab miso actually is -- both of which may sound off putting to some readers.  The first is that it's crab guts, the second that it's crab... sperm.  Re the second possibility: well, this would not the first kind of sperm I've decided I like eating -- or even the first kind of crab sperm for that matter!

And to those who remember my love of Shanghai crab sperm and now are really curious to know which I prefer: I have to admit that I prefer Japanese crab sperm -- to eat -- even while also being of the opinion that the orange Shanghai crab sperm is visually more pleasing than the mud-colored Japanese kani miso. ;b

Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer festival beer fun at Sapporo's Odori Park!

Odori Park can be a mellow place 

It also is a place where people have fun that generally
looks pretty good and clean (and, yes, kawaii!)

 Let's not kid ourselves though about the main event 
being the beer drinking -- and lest there be 
any doubt, check out those Kirin beer towers!

My favorite libations at the fest were the Asahi "Super Dry" 
Extra Cold beers I had on consecutive nights at Odori Park! :b

In yesterday's blog entry, I mentioned how happy I had been to find out that the beery Sapporo Summer Festival would be on during my Hokkaido trip.  I didn't mention though that I went to Hokkaido with my mother -- and that this would be the first vacation we'd be on together since our 2009 South Korea trip.  Also that, unlike me, she most emphatically is not a lover of beer.

Prior to our heading over to Hokkaido, I had warned her that I planned to spend some time drinking beer in Odori Park.  Her response then was, "It's okay, I'll order soft drinks there", but when we got to Odori Park on the first evening of our vacation, she proceeded to tell me that she planned to sit in the non-beer garden area of the park while I spent time in the beer gardens, and only relented because I told her that I planned to be there for at leas a couple of hours and effectively made her walk through the beer gardens section to see: a) how vast it was; and b) how much fun one could have from people watching there.

Although I had not been to a Japanese beer garden prior to this recent Japan trip, the time I spent at German biergartens in Speyer and Berlin got me inclined to suspect that it'd be a pretty enjoyable place to spend some time in.  And so it proved -- with an added bonus being how family friendly the beer gardens set up in Odori Park are.

Admittedly, there's nicotine smoking allowed -- and no separate non-smoking versus smoking areas.  Also, I definitely saw signs stating that people under 20 years of age are not allowed to drink alcohol in Japan.  But, truly, there were many family groups about, with some of the kids present being of an age where they still were pushed around in strollers!  In addition, I honestly didn't see a single person among what what must have been thousands present who had descended from being post-work mellow or happily buzzed to unpleasantly drunk.

To be sure, certain beer gardens were quieter -- particularly the one serving non-Japanese beers -- and others -- notably those belonging to the Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo Breweries -- more lively.  But I uniformly saw females and males of various ages having a good time with friends and/or family while sipping their drinks and also snacking quite a bit (on such as edamame and takoyaki).

All in all, I have to say that I really love how nama biru (draft beer) is so readily available in Japan -- and also how fresh and smooth so much of the beer I've drank in Japan has tasted.  But on this visit, it only was at Odori Park that I had the added pleasure of drinking super cold -- with a frozen foam head even in one instance (Kirin), and served at a temperature around freezing in another (Asahi) -- beer.  

And I am sincere when I use the word "pleasure" because, even though I tend to prefer my ales served at room temperature, I do enjoy very cold lagers, especially during the summer... and lest one needs reminding, the Sapporo beer festival does happen to officially be known as the Sapporo Summer Festival after all! ;b

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The first of many planned Hokkaido vacation blog posts :)

One of the many beautiful spots I visited on my 
most recent trip to the wonderful land that is Japan

Among the highlights of visiting the Land of
the Rising Sun are encounters with its people and 
coming across a fun festive occasion (or more) :)

Puppet Ponyo posing with plastic versions of 
some of the delicious food I ate on this trip :b

For those of you who wondered what was behind the recent blog hiatus: I was away on the longest vacation -- just six days! -- I've been on since my visit to Japan last August.  This time around, I headed over to the Land of the Rising Sun once more -- but to the northern island of Hokkaido rather than the Kanto area or Okinawa like on my three most recent visits to the country that I've grown to love visiting before it.

This was not my first visit to Hokkaido -- or its largest city, Sapporo.  But this was the first time I went beyond Hokkaido's capital city and its airport at New Chitose -- with my being based in Sapporo but taking day trips out to the nearby port city of Otaru, and further afield to the flower fields of Furano as well as further exploring Sapporo.

In addition, as those of you who know my love of Japanese food can guess, I ate a lot of fantastic food on this recent vacation.  All this I plan to chronicle in upcoming blog entries -- along with my attending a number of festivals, a couple of which I hadn't known about prior to the Hokkaido trip but one of which (the Sapporo Summer Festival, AKA the Sapporo beer festival!) I was pretty happy indeed to learn beforehand would be taking place during my visit there! ;b

Monday, July 22, 2013

To Pak Sha O and a satisfying hike's end (Photo-essay)

After the Sham Chung surprise, one could surmise that the rest of the approximately 13 kilometer hike that began at Sai Sha Road and passed through Yung Shue O before we made our way northwards and then eastwards into the interior of the Sai Kung Peninsula was on the anti-climactic side.

But while it'd be hard not to deny this, the fact of the matter is that certain sights along the last third of the trail would normally be hike high points.  To see what I mean, check out this third and final photo-essay of one of my favorite hikes gone on thus far in Hong Kong!

First, a recap in the form of a photo taken from
earlier in the misty day hike near Yung Shue O

And because I think lantern bugs are so amazing looking,
here's a second photo of the one I spotted at Sham Chung! :b

Back to the trail -- and yes, it seemed funny at the time to find 
a trail to the right and left of this rock -- with scant thought 
apparently having been given to removing it from its central location!

 Before hike's end, my friends and I come across yet 
another interesting village -- this one called Pak Sha O

Formerly a Hakka village, Pak Sha O's residents
these days include expats as well as locals

Although quieter than Yung Shue O, it definitely has
more signs of permanent habitation than Sham Chung

This being said, there are a few structures in the village
that look to be in a state of picturesque disrepair

 The village letter box gives a good idea
of how many households are living at Pak Sha O! :b

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A festive bamboo theatre in Tai O

Colorful banners and posters help to advertise
a Cantonese opera performance in Tai O

Inside the bamboo theater, Cantonese opera 
artistes entertain the audience of 
youngsters as well as old folks
 The bamboo theater may be a temporary structure
but that doesn't make it less of a work of art itself

For a variety of reasons (including my mother being in town), I didn't go hiking this weekend.  So I'm putting up photos from last Sunday's excursion rather than any this week.  More specifically, the photos at the top of this blog entry were taken at hike's end in the northwestern Lantau fishing village of Tai O and are of a bamboo theater housing Cantonese opera performances to commemorate the Hau Wong Festival.

Appropriately, the bamboo theater had been erected just a stone's throw away from the Hau Wong Temple in Tai O that's dedicated to Hau Wong (trans Prince Marquis) Yang Liang Jie, a loyal Song Dynasty (960-1279) general who sacrificed himself to try to protect the last Song emperor, the child emperor Bing.
On a Hong Kong movie note: I find it really cool to see that Cantonese opera performances in temporary bamboo theaters like those seen in Ann Hui's The Spooky Bunch (1980) and Derek Yee's C'est la Vie, Mon Cheri (1993) continue to this day in the Big Lychee.  And on a culture heritage note: Hong Kongers may not be all that good at preserving old, historical structures but I do get the feeling time and time again that many forms of intangible cultural heritage -- performing arts but also traditional beliefs and practices -- remain very much alive and even pertinent to contemporary lives.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Really and What is your favorite household appliance? (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

At first glance, the three photos at the top of this week's entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts may not look like they have that much in common.  But look closer and you'll notice the multiple appearances in all of them of what may well be my favorite household appliance -- especially during Hong Kong's hot and super humid summer months.  Really.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm referring to air conditioning units!  But while there are very few Hong Kong households without at least one of them in their homes, I've really got to realizing while searching through my photo archive that they are in fact hidden from (obvious) view in quite a few residential buildings!  That and my really not having that many photos of residential structures -- my own included.

Actually, what it amounts to is that I have greater difficulty dealing with those Photo Hunt themes that work on the assumption that people spend a lot of their waking hours in their homes -- because, in all honesty, I really don't.  On a more general note: those folks who look in horror at photos of Hong Kong residences and liken them to rabbit hutches need to bear in mind that many Hong Kongers really often don't spend that much time in their homes!

One reason is that Hong Kongers look to have longer working hours than people living in other parts of the world.  On a happier note, it's also that there is so much to do in public spaces here -- not least because, as I've long maintained, Hong Kong really is not a cultural desert in addition to also having a lot more country and, for that matter, urban and marine -- parks than many people realize!

Heck, there are plenty of things to do even when it rains -- and I don't just mean hiking in the rain either!  In point of fact, some years back, I was inspired to blog about what to do in Hong Kong when it rains and that post proved so popular (to judge by the number of hits it (still) gets) that I subsequently wrote -- yes, really! -- another post with additional suggestions re what to do in Hong Kong when it rains! ;b

Friday, July 19, 2013

Delectable delights at Kai Kee Dessert, Yuen Long

The (in)famous B Chai Grass Jelly dish at Kai Kee Dessert

A smaller -- but no less delectable -- offering 
at the same Yuen Long dessert shop! :)

For all of it sometimes seeming like I hike everywhere in Hong Kong, there are certain parts of the Big Lychee that my hiking companions and I regularly end up at hike's end, particularly after a bus or mini-bus ride to a transport hub from where we can make our way back to our respective parts of Hong Kong.  One of these is Sai Kung town, another Tsuen Wan.  Another increasingly favored hike destination -- not least part it's got really good eating options -- is the northwestern New Territories town of Yuen Long.

Early on, my then regular hiking companion and I favored a Japanese restaurant which offered large portions for a low price.  On subsequent visits, however, I began seeking out more local fare -- and  got to enjoying the shrimp roe noodles at Ho To Tai Noodle Shop and also the best chicken -- and maybe also claypot rice -- in the world at Tai Wing Wah.

On one occasion, a hiking buddy and I also went for the B Chai Grass Jelly dish that is Kai Kee's Dessert most famous and also largest by far.  Some reports have it that it can only be eaten by a minimum of four people but my friend and I managed to polish a whole dish of it off by ourselves that evening!

Still, when I was in Yuen Long by myself recently, I didn't dare to order that particular dish even while being drawn to sample the delectable fare at Kai Kee Dessert.  Because it was a hot day, I longed for something cold and refreshing -- and opted this time around for dessert that consisted of cut fruits, whipped cream and scoops of chocolate and mango ice cream.
Suffice to say that this dish was just the ticket -- and also helped revive me in the heat and humidity that still was palpable come early evening.  And for what it's worth, I also liked that I could sit outdoors and take in the street scene and local atmosphere. :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sham Chung and the trail out of it into the interior (Photo-essay)

On one of my early hikes in Hong Kong some years back, I was trekking along a trail in Lantau far from the nearest village when I suddenly heard the sound of Cantonese opera music.  I have to confess that my first thought was "Ghost!", so it was a real relief to find out that the music was coming from a portable radio that a lone local hiker whose path soon crossed with us had on him!  

And for those who wonder: yes, there really are hikers in Hong Kong who like to play music loudly on their portable radios, etc.  More often than not, such a person tends to be male and older -- but I've seen and heard the odd female with this habit, and younger male too.

So when I heard music as my two friends and I approached what turned out to be the unexpectedly charming village of Sham Chung on our Sai Kung Peninsula hike, I assumed was that it was piped music of some form or other.  As it turns out though, it actually was live music courtesy of a couple of guitarists sitting on a lawn-like area with their friends -- one of a number of lovely surprises encountered at Sham Chung in particular, and on the hike in general, that afternoon... :)

    My two friends went ahead while I tarried a bit
to take photos like this one :)

In this isolated village is an establishment offering food 

The building that houses Sham Chung Manor dates back 
to 1936 -- pretty old by Hong Kong standards!

 While my friends chowed down mid hike at Sham Chung Manor,
I strolled about the area and took photos like this one...

 ...and also this one of one of the picturesque 
abandoned buildings in the vicinity

Too soon, however, it was time for us to head out from 
a place that got me thinking of Shangri-La ;)

The trail out of Sham Chung had a stretch 
covered by unusually black and coarse gravel

It was also on the steep side -- but we made 
good progress and soon were quite a distance 
away from Sham Chung and the coast

And yes, the chronicling will continue in a further photo-essay! :)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sights between Tung Chung and Tai O

A cow grazes on the edge of Sham Wat Wan, oblivious to 
the construction work on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau 
Bridge which will radically change the landscape

One of the many damselflies of the same species
spotted while out hiking in Lantau earlier today

The village shrine looks old but that trio of figurines of 
the Gods of Longevity, Wealth and Good Fortune weren't there 
when I previously hiked along from Tung Chung to Tai O!

Earlier today, I hiked for the third time from Tung Chung to Tai O.  (Photo-essays chronicling the first time I did so -- back in 2007! -- can be found here, here and here!)  The two previous hikes along this circa 16 kilometer trail were undertaken during autumn months rather than in high summer as was the case today.  Yet I found the going much less difficult and tiring this time around -- and am going to credit this to my increased fitness over the years due to my walking and hiking more and more regularly.

When one's not so tired, one's ability to observe and appreciate more of one's surroundings increases significantly.  And while the friend I was with and I didn't stop to smell the roses (or any of the wild flowers spotted along the way), we definitely did stop every once in a while to take photos of the surrounding landscape and other interesting sights including cool critters that deigned to pose for me!

I wish other creatures such as the blue-tailed skink and butterflies of various colors and sizes I also spotted on the hike had been as willing to pose for me as the damselflies and many giant golden orb weaver spiders whose (particular) patch this part of Hong Kong is.  But if truth be told, even without them, there were ample choice of photographic subjects along this hike.

More specifically, since the trail from Tung Chung to Tai O is largely located outside any of Hong Kong's country parks, there are a number of cultural sights along the way.  For example, close to the start of the hike can be found the largest Hau Wong Temple on Lantau -- one which also happens to be home to a bell that dates back to the 30th year of Qing dynasty emperor Chien Lung's reign (i.e., 1765 AD).  Also, on sections of the path that go by villages (a number of which are still inhabited rather than (largely) abandoned, as is the case in such as northeastern Hong Kong), there also can be spotted a number of earth god shrines.

About midway along the hike, I additionally came across figurines of the Gods of Longevity, Wealth and Good Fortune by the side of the path. While I acknowledge that I was more fatigued and may have been less observant when hiking through this area of Hong Kong previously, I really can't recall having passed by these particular Fu Lu Shou on my previous Tung Chung to Tai O excursions.  So I have to conclude that they've been installed there only fairly recently -- a feeling that's made all the more stronger by the porcelain figurines still looking very clean as well as being in very good condition.

I wish I knew the why as well as when of this particular occurrence.  At the same time, it's also true enough that I've also seen many other porcelain figurines of gods (and goddesses) having been erected in what may seem to be unlikely places in Hong Kong -- including inside Tai Tam Country Park and at Waterfall Bay Park. So, if nothing else, I know that it does seem like a Hong Kong thing!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Flamboyant and Your workplace (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

I have to admit it: I let out a groan when I saw Gattina's selected Photo Hunt theme -- and this even without thinking how to combine it with the one that Sandi had chosen. Put another way: I really don't like thinking about my workplace and work on weekends -- and am so very glad that, unlike with some previous jobs, I usually don't have to go to work on Saturdays anymore!

But then I got to thinking of the fun, quirky side of my workplace -- including that which stems from it being the first and only place I worked at where people were actually encouraged to communicate via Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger (as opposed to, say, over email or the phone, or -- you know -- face to face!).  For somewhere along the line, some bright spark decided that this mode of communication would benefit immensely from having emoticons along with the more usual words on screen... and before you knew it, quite a number of us got to accumulating a pretty impressive of fun, colorful -- and yes, sometimes also flamboyant! -- emoticons!

So attached did I become to my emoticons that earlier this year, when it was announced that Windows Live Messenger would be discontinued and we'd be switching to Skype instead, I just had to snap a couple of photos of my collection of them for posterity.  And yes, Skype has emoticons but it doesn't allow for personalized ones like Windows Live Messenger -- and dammit, I really miss my Hello Kitty, Tuzki and ones!!!

With regards to the third photo from the top: that's a view taken from one of the balcony areas of my workplace where the views really sometimes can be quite beautiful.  For the most part, there's not much time for lingering while I'm in the office -- but I couldn't resist going out to take a few photos that particular afternoon to remind myself once again that Hong Kong, even the views of it from my office, really can be beautiful! :)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hong Kong's last river sampan at Nam Sang Wai

How does one get across this quiet stretch 
of the Kam Tin River?

Why, by sampan of course! :b

The ride across the river is short but still 
makes for quite the memorable experience :)

But a couple of weeks ago, I visited Nam Sang Wai out in northwestern Hong Kong -- and found not only a quiet part of Asia's World City with various movie associations (including, I've recently been told, Soi Cheang's frequently overlooked Love Battlefield) but, also, one that offers an atmospherically 'retro' ferry ride on a small rickety wooden boat!

And just like the ride on Tokyo's last remaining human-powered riverboat with the lyrical sounding name of Yagiri no Watashi, the one on Hong Kong's last river sampan with the more common name of the Nam Sang Wai ferry is indeed one of the highlights of a visit to the area.  To be sure, the trip is indeed on the short side -- but because rides on a sampan are now so rare in this part of the world, it can make for quite the memorable experience.

Maybe it's my imagination going into overdrive but even without the ride taking place in a location that has featured in movies, I found that there's a movie-esque feel to the experience.  If truth be told though, my sense is that few, if any, of the ferry passengers (many of them bicyclists) would view the boat ride as an end in and of itself the way that it can feel like it's the case with Yagiri no Watashi.  Instead, their main reason for being in the area really is to get to the scenic parcel of wetland that is Nam Sang Wai.

On another note: I've also belatedly realized that another association that Nam Sang Wai has is with Pui Pui, the crocodile that now resides at the Hong Kong Wetland Park, was found there back in 2003!  So quiet Nam Sang Wai may be -- but famous, at least locally, it actually also is! ;b 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From Sai Sha Road to Sham Chung (Photo-essay)

On a misty day some time back, two friends and I went on a circa 13 kilometer (give or take!) hike that took us to sections of the Sai Kung Peninsula none of us had previously set foot in. We were on familiar ground at the start along Sai Sha Road near Shui Long Wo and all the way along the paved path to Yung Shue O village but after that, some really nice surprises awaited, as we found out!

Some days, it really pays off to take a chance and follow a trail one previously only knew about by seeing it on a countryside map.  Of course, this is not something I'd do by myself though.  So I have to express my gratitude that my two friends trusted me enough to go with this particular hike suggestion! :b

Egrets spotted in the shallows of 
Three Fathoms Cove (aka Kei Ling Ha Hoi)

The traditional and modern next to each other in Yung Shue O

 A raised concrete path took us through swampy land

 Misty day swampy country scene -- and yes, this is Hong Kong! ;b

 North of Yung Shue O, the waters turned clearer and bluer

The trail took us northwards along the water's edge for a bit
and yielded some splendidly scenic sights

Other than by ferry, one can only get to the isolated 
but lovely village of Sham Chung on foot 
or by bicycle along the same trail

To be continued... surprise, surprise -- not! :b