Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cheers to Halloween?! :)

 What will they think of next? Kirin Ichiban beer

Halloween decorations that I managed to stop being put
on my glasses of Kirin Ichiban frozen draft beer last night ;D

Shortly after the then teenaged tennis player Michael Chang triumphed at the French Open in the summer of 1989, I saw an ad in a magazine that had a line that I remember to this day: "You know the world is getting smaller when an American named Chang wins the French Open". And last night, I got to thinking of that line again when, in an izakaya in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay, the waitress tried to get me in the Halloween spirit by attempting to stick some Halloween-themed decorations into my beer!  

Put another way: surely it's not all that expected for Halloween to be a big deal in Hong Kong, right?  And yet it is -- with there Halloween-themed parties and events taking place in many bars and other locales, Halloween-themed haunted houses and other attractions set up at both Ocean Park as well as Hong Kong Disneyland, and a number of folks taking to dressing up as hopping vampires (gyongsi) a la those seen in the Mr Vampire movies as well as other eye-catching costumes.

As a child in Penang, I was introduced to Halloween by way of comics such as those featuring Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. (Around the same time, I was introduced to Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night -- which, frankly, sounded more fun when I was a kid! -- by Enid Blyton books).  Believe it or not, there are lines from one of those comics that I remember to this day and think of on October 31: "Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat on Halloween, where ghosts and goblins by the score, ring the bell on your front door..."  Truly, the mind is a strange -- and sometimes scary -- thing, isn't it? ;b

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Along Lantau Trail Stage 12 on a beautiful, high visibility day (Photo-essay)

On many hikes undertaken on days with a lower level of visibility than I would have liked, I've found myself resolving to return to the area on a clearer day.  This was the case on the hike from Mui Wo to Pui O -- along Lantau Trail Stage 12, but done in reverse -- that I went on one winter's day.  

On the beautiful afternoon that I decided on to repeat this hike, the plan was to meet with two friends outside the Central pier for the ferry to Mui Wo.  But after one friend and I boarded the ferry, we discovered that the other friend had mistakenly caught the ferry to Peng Chau instead!  Thus it was that it was once more a hiking party of two that went along this trail, rather than the intended three this time around.  (And yes, thereafter, the two of us who had caught the correct ferry would always tease the other friend about her having forsaken us for Peng Chau that day! ;b)

According to official estimates, it takes 3 hours to hike
along this 9 km route from Mui Wo to Pui O...

...however the official time estimates don't allow for
hikers getting distracted by pretty sights along the way
and reaching out for their cameras to record them!

This little butterfly (or is it a moth?) is among the 
(many) critters that I am willing to spend 
a few minutes trying to take a nice photo of! :)

Hei Ling Chau - once home to a leper colony, and now 
home to three prisons and an addiction treatment center

 I sometimes think that grasshoppers are the insects
I see most while hiking in Hong Kong (and yes, 
I do take some pride in being able to spot them! ;b)

Looking across Chi Ma Wan to the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula
(that's home to yet another Hong Kong prison!)

 No, I did not Photoshop this photo -- the sky really did
look like this that afternoon! :b

 Trigonometrical station -- a sign that we're 
literally at the high point of the day's hike!

Yup, to be continued... :)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dragonflies going at it, and frogs behaving not so naturally!

I thought this was going to be my picture of the day...

...until I spotted and managed to snap a shot of this frog!

And what of this fella who looks like he's sitting 
casually on a rock, only he's underwater  -- and 
is a frog in a pose I tend to associate with humans?!

Before anything else: yes, I saw and took more photos of dragonflies going at it on my hike this afternoon!  And for the record: this was only the third time I've witnessed this phenomenon and photographed it in my six years or so of hiking in Hong Kong now!!  (So, despite what at least one friend thinks, I do not have enough critter procreation photos to devote a whole entire blog to them! :D)

Just about as rare a sight for me have been that of any frogs or toads -- let alone the spectacle of these amphibians in... um... interesting positions -- in the wild. And this even while I've heard them croaking -- often very loudly at that -- on a number of hikes in various parts of the Big Lychee.

So imagine my excitement upon catching sight of four different frogs in one single spot at Ho Pui Reservoir this afternoon!  The strange thing though is that the first of these creatures that caught my eye was one that was underwater looking like he was casually seated on a rock (in a manner that seemed more human than typically amphibian).  Even weirder was the fact that it never moved in all the time that I looked at it -- and ditto with another frog that I spotted near it but closer to the edge of the water -- and never made a sound either!
Were both of these frogs dead or alive?  Considering that the frog on the water's edge (see the second photo from the top of this blog entry) had its eyes wide open, I tend to the opinion that it was indeed alive -- but I have to say that I'm far less sure about the status of the frog that was underwater (and in the third photo from the top of this blog entry).  In fact, part of me wonders whether it was a fake (rubber?) frog -- only then, surely it'd be floating on the surface of the water rather than positioned where it was, right? 
In contrast, the two other frogs I spotted in the area behaved more naturally -- with one trying to stay as hidden as possible from my eyes and camera, and another doing the same before opting to jump into the water and swim further away from where I was.  And as weird as it may sound to some people, I have to admit that I did get a thrill from seeing a frog swimming -- as I've never observed that before, and it did so in a manner that I'd almost go as far as to say was pretty stylish looking! :b

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Stir and Figurines (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Context is key.  That's what I realized while looking at photos I've taken of figurines in various locales in Hong Kong and recalling which ones caused a stir upon their being sighted versus those that didn't.  

Since there's no other participant in Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts who currently resides in the same part of the world as myself, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd be most fascinated by the figurines in the third photo from the top of all of those that are featured in this week's Photo Hunt entry.  But because that photo was taken in a Taoist temple and figurines abound in those places of worship, they more or less meld into the expected background for most locals -- and the particular Peng Chau temple where I took that photo doesn't get all that many visitors. 

In contrast, although I have to admit to no longer being able to remember the name of the artwork or its artist, that which featured a figurine shaped like a soldier in a maze that one had to peek through a small hole in a box in order to see attracted quite a bit of attention at Art HK 12.  Still, that attention was nothing like the stir that the presence of an Arrietty figurine caused when spotted by the more eagle-eyed among us Studio Ghibli fans in the Donguri Republic store that opened in Hong Kong earlier this year! ;b

(A reminder: click on the images to see enlarged versions of them!)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kamo River heron and Pontocho geisha

Even if it's not a real life geisha, it's still nice to spot 
a geisha in a picture along Kyoto's Pontocho

Twenty-one blog entries after my first one on Kyoto, it's finally time to bring my Kyoto chronicling to a close.  I know there are regular readers of this blog who reckon it's high time I did so.  (After all, I was there for just a few days.) In response, I'll say that my days there were remarkably full and my blog entries really are a good way for me to record my thoughts about various aspects of this wonderful Japanese city -- for myself, if not general posterity.

What with my final day in Kyoto being very short due to my flight out of Kansai Airport being in the morning, my fifth day in the city (during which I visited Fushimi Inari shrine, walked along the Philosopher's Walk, and dined at Honke Owariya and drank at the Asahi Super Dry Super Cold bar) actually was effectively the last day of my holiday.  Hence my trying to make the most of it, and also trying to make it last longer than my normal day in the city.

In between my first drink of the evening and dinner, I went and walked along the shores of the Kamo River, whose flood waters from a week or so back had fortunately receded.  It was a lovely scene in the early evening -- one that was laid-back and relaxing.  And it was interesting to hear and see African drums being played by an assorted group of individuals even while romantic couples were out and about in the same area.

Some people may think that at times like this, this avowed single might start feeling a tad lonely.  But the truth of the matter was that I truly was happy to just step back, hang out and take in the overall scene.  And for those who're wondering: Puppet Ponyo didn't feel obliged to pop up of my backpack.  Hence my having no photos of Ponyo on Pontacho -- something which, in retrospect, I really should have tried to go for! ;b

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Seasonal food and drink this summer in Kyoto

When Asahi Super Dry is "Extra Cold", it means 
the beer's served at -2 degrees Celsius or colder! :O

unassuming entrance
 A delicious serving of seiro soba 
with seasonal Kyoto-area vegetables

Every full day of my recent Kyoto vacation, I walked over 20,000 steps.  (Yes, I brought my trusty pedometer with me to Japan!)  On my final full day in the city that I came to like even more with each passing day that I was there, my step total approached the 30,000 mark -- what with my having trekked up and down Mount Inari on my visit to Fushimi Inari shrine in the morning and then traipsed along the Philosopher's Path in the afternoon.

So I felt no qualms or guilt about indulging myself with food and drink that evening -- and made straight for a bar I had seen a few evenings back that served nothing but Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold beer!  Having tasted both the regular lager and dark versions of this beer at the Sapporo beer festival back in July, I ordered a glass of the dark beer at the dedicated Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold beer bar in Kyoto -- and found it as refreshing as I had fondly remembered.

But while the beer at the bar was to my liking, the bar snacks were less inviting.  So I left after just one beer to go for dinner at Honke Owariya, a soba restaurant that has been in operation since 1465!  While purists may insist dining at the original location, I settled for the more centrally located younger branch. 
Located in the basement of a building along busy Shijyo Dori, this Honke Owariya Shijyo-Ten does not have the most conspicuous of entrances -- and this may help explain why it doesn't seem to attract as many customers as one might expect of a venerable dining establishment. To be precise, in the time that I was at the restaurant, there were only four other customers -- all of whom weren't only Japanese but appeared to be regulars as they didn't spend much time looking at the menu before ordering. 

If I lived in Kyoto, I could see myself becoming a regular patron of Honke Owariya too.  For, yes, I really did very much enjoy the soba meal I ordered that considered of cold soba and seasonal Kyoto-area vegetables with a nice crunch to them despite being bathed in liquid that was a cross between a sauce, dressing and soup!
Afterwards, I decided that the night was still young -- and that I wanted to return to the Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold beer bar for another tall glass of extra cold dark beer.  To my surprise, when I walked back in there, the waitress who had served me before recognized me and proceeded to greet me like an old friend!  
This time around, I drank my beer most slowly, taking time to look around the bar more and enjoying observing some interesting goings-on there, including at an area where customers could learn how to properly pour themselves a glass of draft beer.  Something else that I found interesting was that the Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold beer -- and the bars dedicated to them -- were only around until the end of September.  Thus it was that I discovered that I had not only eaten seasonal vegetables that evening but also drank seasonal beer too! :b

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A relaxing stroll along Kyoto's Philosopher's Path

A whimsically kawaii sighting along
I don't know this colorful flower's name but can tell you 
that I spotted it growing in many temple and 
shrine grounds as well as along the Philosopher's Path
Real life kitties dozed happily in the sun on 
comfortable perches along the Philosopher's Path

After clambering up and then down 233 meter high Mount Inari as part of my visit to the Fushimi Inari shrine, I found that I had worked up quite the appetite.  While there are some eateries located near that shrine, none of them looked like they'd be all that great.  So I headed out of that area to Kyoto station, where I knew a whole bunch of restaurants could be found.

After having a thoroughly satisfying meal at the Kyoto Station branch of Kushinobo (where I met a charming Japanese couple who helped me figure out what to do with various items I found myself presented with, and who asked to take a photo with me on account of my being the first Malaysian they had ever met!), I felt refreshed enough to traipse about some more -- this time along the famed Philosopher's Path that stretches from near Ginkakuji southwards down to near Otoyo Jinja.

If truth be told, I found the Philosopher's Path to be a trail along which one could have a pleasantly relaxing walk -- but not much more than that.  But while I realize that it'd be a much more scenic space during cherry blossom season, I also could imagine it being far more crowded and noisy -- so I'm glad that I went strolling there when I did, even while not considering this famous urban walking trail to be a major highlight of my Kyoto trip.
Although the Philosopher's Path does skirt a number of a small shrines and other attractions, I have to admit to being too tired to want to go and thoroughly check most of them out (though I did make an exception with Otoyo Jinja since it's pretty difficult to resist a shrine with a thousand year history and a number of rat statues and figurines!).  Instead, I was content to enjoy what might be deemed to be more trivial sights -- like a number of sleeping cats that really did seem untroubled by the people who passed by, and -- in many cases -- stopped to take photos of them! 

Still, for me, that was part of the charm of the Kyoto I found on this visit: i.e., a city with many historic sites and treasures but also one that was living, and in a way where it seemed like there was a greater value placed on making sure that people had a high quality of life than in many other faster moving and more workaholic parts of Japan.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Far more than just torii at Kyoto's Fushimi Inari shrine (Photo-essay)

There's no doubt about it -- my first Fushimi Inari shrine photo-essay was heavy on the images of torii, as might be expected of my having visited a shrine with thousands of torii.  But that which may well have been my favorite of all the Kyoto attractions I checked out really does have a lot of other eye-catching structures and other sights.

Something else that I think should definitely be pointed out is that, as Judith Clancy wrote in Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital, "Without making the trek to the top of 233-meter [high] Mt. Inari, you really cannot claim to have seen the shrine."  And yes, for the record, I did trek up and down hill, and on a downhill path that crossed paths with the one I took uphill a couple of times, yet offered up a whole host of interesting -- and often also unexpected -- sights nonetheless.

And while I can see how this trek would not be everyone (including the not so fit), one really doesn't see even one tenth of this shrine's sights without venturing past its famous -- and much photographed -- double row of torii -- as I hope that this photo-essay (and the previous one) helps to show:-

   The red headgear on this dragon at one of the shrine's
water ablution troughs doesn't make it look less fearsome!

 At another water ablution spot is an animal
that I know is supposed to be a fox but whose visage 
looks like a great big mouse/rat's to me!!

Upon getting up to the not very structurally impressive 
highest point of the shrine, the saying that
"It's the journey, not the destination" leaps to mind... ;b

 Mt Inari is a sacred Shinto site -- but it 
also is home to a few Buddhist shrines

Still, there's no where near as many Buddha figures on Mt Inari
as torii and also fox head figurines and fox statues!

A praying mantis visited the shrine while I was there! 

I didn't spot any real-life frogs while there -- instead,
I spotted big frog statues placed in positions where 
one would usually expect to see statues of guardian lions! :O 

 And can you see a pig and snake in this photo 
along with foxes, guardian lions and what I'd 
presume is a divine being, even if its form is 
human, and yet more torii?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Feral water buffalo aplenty on Lantau!

Water buffalo are a common sight in Pui O

Feral but placid, a group of them were content to
just lay about in the shade of a tree this hot afternoon
(N.B. those who don't want to see X-rated parts on 
animals -- please don't click to enlarge this photo! :b)

Another way to stay cool today: hang out in the water
as well as under some shade! :)

After a week of no hiking due to my having accidentally -- but of course! -- injured a foot after stepping on a small sliver of broken glass, I was back in the metaphorical saddle again this afternoon; this despite the temperature having climbed back up a few degrees from earlier this week, to the extent that some circa 30 degrees Celsius high temperatures were recorded this mid October day!
My hiking friend's and my route of choice this afternoon took us from Pui O to Mui Wo  -- but instead of going on Lantau Trail Stage 12 the entire way, we took a detour at Shap Long Kau Tsuen along a more or less coastal trail that initially took us down Chi Ma Wan Road and then by and past the villages of Shap Long Chung Hau, Shap Long San Tsuen, Wang Tong and Shui Tseng Wan before joining back again with the Lantau Trail near Mui Wo (which, in comparison to these other communities, felt like quite the lively metropolis!).
On the journey to our hike start, my friend had asked me whether we would be seeing any feral cows or (water) buffalo this afternoon.  My answer was "yes, for sure", since we were headed to Pui O, home to many feral water buffalo.  Even so, I didn't expect to see as many water buffalo as we did this afternoon -- not only near the hike start but further along the trail.

By far the most memorable sighting today came as we were crossing a bridge over a stream. My hiking friend noticed something in the water a few meters away from us that was way bigger than any stream resident we had previously seen but because it was partially obscured from view, it took us a while to figure out what it was. 

As he told me later, my friend's initial reaction was that he was seeing either a large turtle or the Lantau Island equivalent of the Loch Ness monster whereas my own imagination ran more along the lines of a crocodile like Pui Pui!  But as you probably can guess, the mysterious creature turned out to be no more than the water buffalo living up to the water part of its name in the third photo from the top of this blog!!  ;D

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Zip and A Vehicle (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Think of a concrete jungle and images of heavy traffic probably will be conjured up along with veritable walls of high rise buildings.  In other words: something not too far away from the photo at the very top of my entry this week for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts!

To escape traffic jams in which few, if any, vehicles can zip around, many Hong Kongers go underground to use the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) that regularly maintains a schedule whereby there are trains for people to catch every two or three minutes.  (Around midnight, one sometimes sees the message that the next train will come in eight minutes -- something that can get quite a few locals here complaining about having to wait so long!)

Another way to escape traffic jams is to go out into the surrounding countryside -- something which is easy enough to do, given that there's hardly any suburban area in Hong Kong, making it so that the countryside often can be found just mere meters away from super high density urban spaces!  And it was at a scenic nature spot with the strange name of Ma Shi Chau (which translates from Cantonese as Horse Excrement Island) that I got on a vehicle -- specifically, a speedboat operated by an older woman wearing the kind of hat seen worn by the folks in this blog post's middle photo -- on which I had what felt like the zippiest ride I ever had in Hong Kong!

Having got on Ma Shi Chau by foot and then tramped about quite a bit along the island that boasts some amazing geological sites and sights, my hiking companion and I were feeling a bit tired.  So when offered a ride back to Civilization (or, at least, where we could catch a minibus back to the nearest town for dinner!) at a price that seemed reasonable enough by the boatwoman, we readily agreed to go on her vehicle.  

As it turned out, the ride really was a lot of fun -- being, as you can tell from the spray generated by the boat (as seen in the bottom photo), on the zippy side. Another bonus was that it gave us alternative views of Tolo Harbour and some of the islands in it from those to be had from on land at, say, the Tai Po Waterfront Park or the Tolo Highway.  So should you ever find yourself in Ma Shi Chau, I'd recommend taking that speedboat ride -- though I wouldn't pay more than HK$20 for it since it sadly is on the short side (and yes, you have to negotiate the price of the ride with the woman before getting on board her boat!)  :b     

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fushimi Inari - the shrine with many, many torii (Photo-essay)

When I was young, I used to love reading comic books at bed-time.  Often, I'd make up a stack of comics to read that night and start of with what I thought would be the least interesting, saving what I thought was the best for last.  If truth be told, I often would fall asleep before I went completely through my stack -- and yet I kept on persisting with this arrangement because, well, it really can be very pleasant for things to get better and better!

Many years later, I still find myself wanting to save the best for last -- or at least later.  In the case of my recent Kyoto trip, I opted to not go to the Fushimi Inari shrine -- which actually was at the top of my "Kyoto temples and shrines I want(ed) to visit" list -- until my final full day in that city.  Suffice to say here that I most certainly was not disappointed by it -- something that can be discerned by my having spent the longest time (around 3 hours!) in any Kyoto shrine at that particular Shinto place of worship! :)

The first of many torii that I passed through/under at 
Fushimi Inari, a shrine dedicated to Inari
the Shinto god of rice, foxes, sake, fertility and more!

A similar but different large torii stands in front 
of the shrine's main building

In the shrine grounds can be seen thousands of
origami cranes as well as torii!

 In case you thought I was just kidding about 
there being thousands of torii at Fushimi Inari shrine...

The view inside a "tunnel" of torii

In addition to the torii so large that one can walk under 
them are miniature torii placed at what I assumed to be 
especially sacred sections of the shrine grounds

Mixed in with the more usual orange painted 
wooden torii are stone torii -- both of which are 
inscribed on one side with the names of their donors

Of course you expected to see this:
Puppet Ponyo posing with some of the torii :)

And yes, because I was snap-crazy at Fushimi Inari shrine, there will have to be a second photo-essay of images of this amazing Kyoto shrine! :b