Saturday, August 31, 2013

Model and Show some circles (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

When I visited Macau's Mandarin's House a few years back, I got pretty snap happy -- but when it came to blogging about it, I ended up writing quite a bit more than putting up pictures to share.  But thanks to Sandi's and Gattina's choices of Photo Hunts for this week, I can share a few more of the photos I took that day of the historic site that I consider a model of heritage conservation -- all of which feature a circle or more in them!

The top-most photo was taken through a fence in the grounds through whose circular, round holes one could get glimpses of sections of the property that was not (yet) open to the public -- presumably because they are still undergoing restoration or conservation.  The middle photo shows a moon gate in the main passage way of the Mandarin's House -- with some more of the complex being visible at the back along with some neighboring low-rise apartment buildings.

The last photo is of small-scale models of the Mandarin's House and its surroundings.  (Look closely -- it may help to click to enlarge the image -- and you'll see the moon gate!) Displayed inside a glass case, it was difficult -- nay, impossible! -- to take photos of them without the spotlights installed in the room getting reflected in the pictures.  So normally, I'd consider it a "failed" photo but did it come in handy this week since it allows me to show some circles -- and in a photo of models to boot! ;b

Thursday, August 29, 2013

In praise of liver (yes, really, as something to eat)!

What are people waiting for outside Wai Kee 
Noodle Cafe's three branches, including this one?

 Why, to feast on, among other things, its
pig liver noodle soup of course! :b

I know people who blanch at the thought of eating animal innards -- heck, I know people who blanch at the thought of eating any meat -- but I'm most certainly not one of them.  True I still am not a particular fan of (consuming) brains or intestines -- but for the longest time, I've really loved the taste of pig kidneys, particularly those at my favorite Perak Lane eatery in Penang, chicken gizzard and cow lung (especially when cooked by Malays or Malaysian Indian Muslims).

However, I didn't really appreciate the taste of liver until my Tanzanian sojourn when I was close to my 30th year.  In that East African country, meat is status food -- more expensive than vegetables, fruits and carbohydrate-rich wheat, corn, rice or sorghum.  And liver is more expensive -- and thus more prestigious -- than regular meat (and exceeded only by nundu, the fatty hump of the cow -- but that's a story for another day). 

Being an honored guest at many local tables, I often was presented with (cow's) liver to eat.  Fried and covered in an oily black sauce, it definitely was an acquired taste -- but acquire I eventually did after close to two years of Tanzanian living, and so much so that I found myself pining for liver cooked Tanzanian style after I moved back to the USA!

I've never come across liver cooked the Tanzanian way in the US or Asia.  But I've come close in Malaysia, and, in Hong Kong, I've found other liver preparations that are very much to my liking.  One of these is preserved (pig) liver sausage -- which has a far richer flavor than regular and sweeter Chinese sausage (lap cheong).  The other, I recently discovered, is that which is found at the Wai Kee Noodle Cafe in Sham Shui Po that's also famed for its Hong Kong-style French toast.

It may not look like much, and even look too down and dirty for many people -- but trust me when I say that it tastes so good that it's worth trekking all the way to Sham Shui Po for.  And while I opted for a classic unadorned pig liver rice noodle soup combination for my first taste, my plan next time is to order a fried egg to go atop the whole affair -- and also maybe either opt for macaroni or instant noodles instead of thin rice noodles!   

Something that few accounts of this particular dish have mentioned is that there's ginger in the soup -- and I think that's what helps to 'cut' the strong taste of the many slices of pig's liver that one gets in the dish.  And for those who're wondering, that large bowl of pig's liver noodle soup and an iced lemon tea drink that I had at lunch costs just HK$41 (~US$5.29) in total.  Not bad at all for a classic Hong Kong dish from a popular traditional eatery, right? :b

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A rainy day hike along Hong Kong Trail Sections 6 and 7 (Photo-essay)

Recently, a friend asked if I hike when it rains.  I told him that I draw my line at thunderstorms -- not least because I don't care to run the risk of being struck by lightning -- but I am okay hiking in a shower in the warmer months.  

One reason for this is because there are times when there's rain here in Hong Kong but next to zero chance of lightning accompanied a downpour.  Also, Hong Kong is one of those parts of the world that sees showers that last for just a few minutes at a time before stopping completely. There additionally have been too many times to count and remember where it's rained before a hike (even while we're on a bus heading to the hike start) and then become dry by the way we get to the hike start.  

Then there have been those days, like the one during which two other friends and I went along the Hong Kong Trail where we were soaked by the time we got to the end point of Section 6 (which, of course, also is the start of Section 7), we figured we might as well hike one other section -- only to make the bonus discovery that by the time we finished that second section, we were now so dry as to feel perfectly comfortable getting into an air-conditioned bus and then having dinner in an air-conditioned restaurant! ;b

The heavens opened soon after we began our hike,
leading to the (paved) trail being on the wet side

Raindrops on branches that remind me of the ice on branches
that I saw a lot during my time at college in Wisconsin

 The hiking purists would not think this but when 
faced with thickly muddy trails, I do sometimes 
wish I were hiking on a paved trail instead!

Either it stopped raining or we walked far enough away
from when it was raining, but it now was dry where we were!

A beautiful scene spotted while hiking along
Hong Kong Trail Section 7

Considering how much water can suddenly pour
downstream along Hong Kong's hill streams,
I definitely would take that warning sign seriously

The hike neared its end down by the water 

A view of that same beach from a few hundred feet up
(Note: one has to ascend 744 steps to reach 
the hike's end up by the side of Shek O Road! :O)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Etiquette and behavior in Japanese trains, buses and elsewhere

Unlike in Hong Kong, talking on the phone
is frowned upon in Japan

Puppet Ponyo is super happy that she's not 
banned from traveling in Japanese trains! ;D

 Some signs for visitors near the entrance of the Ainu Museum 

For my 19th and final blog post about my recent Hokkaido holiday series (that began back on July 28), I want to reiterate what a great time I had in Japan once again -- and also discuss certain aspects of the country and its people that I find interesting and also charming.

One of this is how public transportation etiquette in Japan can seem like the mirror image of that in Hong Kong. For example, whereas in Hong Kong, people are allowed to talk on the phone -- and just plain loudly -- but not eat or drink on trains, buses and such like, people are allowed to eat and drink but not talk on the phone -- though texting or silently surfing is considered okay -- on the equivalent Japanese modes of public transportation!

If truth be told, I really like that people on trains, buses and trams in Japan are on the quiet side -- and I have to say that it made for quite the culture shock to return to Hong Kong and be faced with what can seem like a veritable wall of sound on public transportation, particularly the MTR.  Also, while I can see how people in certain parts of the world would leave quite a bit of trash or spill drinks and such if allowed to eat and drink on public transportation, the Japanese also show that one can eat and drink carefully on moving vehicles in such a way as to not cause any mess.

Something else I like about traveling on public transportation in Japan is how many people are not glued to their mobile phones and, instead, are happy to do thing such as read actual hard copy books.  In addition, I have to admit to being amused to seeing how in Japan -- as in Hong Kong -- people feel so safe from crime and such that they can fall sound asleep in trains and other very public spaces!  

In general, I love Japan for being a culture and society where courtesy truly is a way of life.  To be sure, there are times when one does worry while in that country that one is breaking some etiquette rule without realizing it -- because there really do appear to be so many rules, and ones that don't apply in many other parts of the world too.  

But, honestly, I much prefer traveling in a country where I fear that I'm accidentally being rude much more than that the residents will be rude to me, and even be likely to cause me harm!  In addition, Japan being the super courteous society that it is, there also are signs thoughtfully posted telling visitors that it's okay not to do something as well as what they should be doing!

In the case of the "You don't have to take your shoes off (here)" sign I spotted at the Hokkaido University Botanic Garden's Ainu Museum, it's because there are some shoe lockers and indoor slippers near its entrance that -- after a while -- one will realize is actually there for its staff, as opposed to visitors.  And while you might think it ridiculous that anyone would think that one would have to remove their shoes to enter a museum, bear in mind that Japan is after all the part of the world where people are regularly required to remove their shoes and wear provided slippers when visiting such as historic buildings including castles, palaces and temples -- and certain restaurant's restrooms too! ;b

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Twins hike redux!

The view of Stanley and beyond from The Twins
on a beautiful, high visibility summer day :)

 Some goings-on I couldn't help but 
notice early on in the hike ;b

 More than one species were going at it
in open view this afternoon!! :O

Last Sunday, I cancelled my hiking excursion for fear of bad weather only for it to not rain all that afternoon.  Today, I set out for a hiking with a new hiking buddy despite there having been thunderstorms in the morning.  And while some might see that as taking a chance, past experience also taught me that the afternoon after a morning of thunderstorms can yield blue skies and high visibility -- and thus it was today.

So come around noon time, my hiking buddy and I set off for Wong Nai Chung Gap along a trail to Repulse Bay Gap (AKA Tsin Shui Wan Au) that hugged the edge of Violet Hill before going on the portion of the Wilson Trail which, when done in reverse, takes one up and over the Twins down towards Stanley.

When I began hiking in Hong Kong some six years ago now, I didn't think I'd ever "conquer" the Twins -- and not once but twice, and the second time in the summer to boot!  But it really does speak to my feeling (and -- touch wood -- being) quite a bit healthier now than when I was living in Malaysia that I can now do so!!

I also see it as a sign of my being fitter these days that even while hiking along a trail that could be to be said to on the demanding, even difficult, side, I can pay notice to my surroundings and do such as enjoy the beautiful vistas that unfold around me... and, yes, spot a variety of critters, including those that were busily coupling in broad daylight!

With regards to the tortoises: I know that those creatures like to get on top of one another, and not necessarily just for sex -- but in this case, I think that's what they were doing so for.  As for the butterflies: I've mentioned more than once that one reason why I'm so delighted to catch butterflies and dragonflies in the act is because they tend to stay in one place when doing so.  But this was not the case with this afternoon's pair -- because a couple of times, they actually were flying about while doing it. 

And funny (peculiar as well as haha) but true: upon seeing this, the Hong Kong movie geek part of me couldn't help but think: maybe that's where those behind A Chinese Torture Chamber Story and The Eternal Evil of Asia got their inspiration from... ;D 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Humble and Your morning (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Each morning in ethnic Chinese enclaves in various parts of the world, including Philadelphia, Penang or Hong Kong, some people are sitting down to have a morning meal of dim sum -- that can be humble or extravagant, depending on such as the dining establishment they've opted for and their choices of dishes.

Hong Kong being the 24-hour city that it is, there also are dim sum establishments that are open 24 hours and others that, even if they do close for a few hours in the 24-hour cycle, do serve dim sum at dinner as well as breakfast and lunch.  And it's true enough that I'm among the people who have happily eaten some dim sum dishes close to midnight and will fairly regularly do so for dinner -- with my neighborhood branch of Tim Ho Wan -- whose humbleness may be gleaned by meals there never having exceeded HK$60 (~US$7.74) per person -- having become a favorite eating place over the past year or so.

Of course it doesn't mean that I'm not partial to starting my morning with a dim sum breakfast.  But there also are days when the only 'breakfast' I have is a humble cup of instant coffee.  In addition, I've also been known to be happy with just one pineapple bun or egg tart to get me through the morning.

But while those options could fit Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts themes for this week, I figure this more open take on the theme makes for more interesting photos!  And for the record: yes, I would be happy indeed to begin my morning by chomping done on a humble dish of chicken feet -- that really are far more appetizing than they look!  ;b

Friday, August 23, 2013

At Sapporo's Mourenouma Park

beautifully reflects the blue sky and its white clouds

 View from the top of Play Mountain of its granite slope
with its rows of stone seats awaiting to be occupied

Before sunset view of the Tetra Mound and beyond 
from the top of the 30 meter high Play Mountain that is
one of Mourenuma Park's major landmarks

As my mother and I neared the end of our Hokkaido holiday, we decided to pay a visit to Mourenuma Park out in northeastern Sapporo. Designed and envisioned by Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi as one collective sculpture, I figured that the 189 hectare park constructed on what used to be waste treatment plant site would be conducive for strolling about.

So it was with some dismay that I noticed that it had begun to rain on the bus leg of our journey to Mourenama Park -- and imagine my relief when the drops stopped falling just before we reached our destination!  After getting off the bus, we made straight for the Glass Pyramid that was the first major landmark of Mourenama Park that we spotted.

Unfortunately, when we got to it, my mother and I were informed that it'd be closing early for the day -- because of the Moere Summer Festival that attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of people to the park.  However, some other attractions, like Play Mountain, remained open -- and so I made a beeline for its 30 meter high peak that looked a lot higher and more formidable to ascent than was in fact the case.

It was so nice and cool up there, if not a tad on the overly breezy side,  that I contemplated staying up there to photograph the sunset.  But my mother was waiting down below, so I got down after taking in the 360 degree sights -- and snapping a few photos to serve as reminders of that overall pretty pleasant time and visit. :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sapporo Botanic Garden musings, and more

Cute ducklings spotted at Sapporo's Botanic Gardens

Less cute but arguably more impressive was 
this stuffed bear in its old school Natural History Museum

Buildings including that which houses the Natural History 
Museum (on the right) and an outhouse that's 
considered a historical monument (over on the far left!)

Make of this what you will: each time that I visit Japan, I eat a lot -- and drink quite a bit.  And I figure this is to be expected since I love Japanese food even more than I love Malaysian, particularly Penang, food!  

To balance things out (since I don't want to return from my vacations weighing quite a bit more than prior to going on holiday), I try to do a good amount of walking about on my Japan trips.  So I do such as make sure to fit in visits to parks and gardens where I can stroll about to my heart's content -- and outdoor museums too

Thus it was that in between visiting the Hokkaido Former Government Building and  partaking of the crab feast at Hyousetsu-no-mon, I went for a stroll in the leafy environs of the Hokkaido University Botanic Gardens located just a few minutes' walk away from Sapporo Station (and the hotel that I stayed at).   

If truth be told, I've been to better gardens in Japan -- and better botanical gardens elsewhere in the world (including those at Kew and Edinburgh).  Nonetheless, I can see why some people consider it to be a pleasant urban oasis -- and for my part, I found its Natural History Museum intriguing like Oxford's Pitt-Rivers Museum in terms of being a historical artifact showing what museums used to be like, and its Ainu Museum to be quite telling in terms of there being so little in it, and so much of what's there helping to emphasize that the Ainu really were pretty different from other Japanese people(s).

On the subject of diversity among the Japanese: I know of at least one Honshu native who doesn't consider people who live in Hokkaido and Kyushu, never mind the residents of Okinawa, to be really Japanese. For my part, even while noticing some regional differences, what seems a bigger divide to me is that between those Japanese men who -- like many other East Asians -- aren't all that hairy, and those others who have incredibly hairy legs and some hair on their chest too!  (And for the record, one can't help but notice this in the summer when people are more likely to wear shorts and open-necked shirts! ;D)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A crab feast at Hyousetsu-no-mon (Photo-essay)

As reported earlier, the very first meal I had on my recent Hokkaido visit was at a crab restaurant -- and so good was it that my mother and I vowed that we'd have another crab feast before the end of the trip.  And while it was tempting to head back to Sapporo Kanihonke, I decided that we should try another kani-ya -- specifically, that which specializes in king crab and may well be the oldest crab restaurant in Sapporo.

At Hyousetsu-no-mon, my mother and I were seated in a private room -- as at Sapporo Kanihonke, and years ago, when we had tofu kaiseki at the Dazaifu branch of Umenohana.  This time around, both she and I ordered separate crab kaiseki for ourselves rather than opt for any a la carte options.  

At an average of around 8,000 Yen (~HK$636 or US$82) each, our multi-course meal was easily the most expensive of the ones we had on this Hokkaido trip.  But I really do feel this crab feast was worth it -- because so much what we had was imaginatively conceived, immaculately prepared, and exquisite in taste. And, coupled with the elegant surroundings, I really did come away thinking we had had a first class meal in more ways than one...

The kind of decorations that I've come to expect of

 Feast your eyes on these three beautiful crab dishes! :b

Crab legs on the grill right inside the room!

Crab dumplings that wouldn't have looked out of place
on a Cantonese dim sum table ;)

A crab dish that I don't think would look out of place
in a Western fine dining establishment

 A creamily rich crab croquette served 
with a tomato-y sauce and pickles

This noodle dish was the rare course that appeared 
crab-less -- and was pretty filling as well as tasty

The spotlessly clean corridor in the restaurant that 
looked to have no seating in other than private rooms 
(where, yes, one has to remove one's shoes before entering)!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A morning in Sapporo

My delicious bargain Japanese breakfast :)

Sapporo's Western-style red-bricked 

A jazz saxophonist performs in the grounds of the
Former Hokkaido Government Building

More traditionally clad dancers perform with much gusto
in the same grounds and for the same good cause

Finally, we get to my coverage of Day 5 of my Hokkaido trip that I took slightly less than a month ago now!  And Day 5 was when I discovered that I had wore out my travel companion  -- so that my mother decided to stay in our hotel room and rest a bit more in the morning while I went off and did a bit more exploring of Hokkaido's capital city.

First off, I went and looked around the area underneath Sapporo Station in search of breakfast -- and came across a good meal deal consisting of a bowl of rice, an onsen egg, natto, pickled vegetables, seaweed, a bowl of miso soup, and a cup of green tea for 380 Yen (~HK$30 or US$3.90).  (See?  Japan isn't all deathly expensive!  Truly!!)

Then I headed out for some sightseeing -- in particular, of the 19th century Hokkaido Former Government Building whose Western appearance can make for quite the surprise.  Known as Akarenga (Japanese for "Red Bricks"), its construction materials include 2.5 million red bricks laid out in French-style brickwork.  Designated a National Important Cultural Property in 1969, much of its interior is open to the public and home to various exhibits, including one room devoted to putting forth Japan's claims to the Kurii Islands currently administered by Russia.

In the grounds of the Hokkaido Former Government Building, I also came across some interesting goings-on.  From what I gather, that building's grounds had been where participants of the Stride for Hope charity walk to raise deadly cancer awareness had set off from that very morning.  But while the people taking part in the walk had long left, others remained to spread the word -- including a number of enthusiastic yukata-clad dancers and a be-suited jazz saxophonist who produced beautifully haunting tunes.

Upon reflecting on that morning in Sapporo, I was both bemused and amused by how western and eastern elements came together during it -- as in traditional Japanese style breakfast, Western style building, dancers who came across as quintessentially contemporary young Japanese, and a musician who, even while Japanese, favored instruments and tunes associated with the West! ;b

Monday, August 19, 2013

More scenes from the 2013 Otaru Ushio Festival :)

Young drummers lead the way at an evening procession
on the first night of this year's Otaru Ushio Festival
 More senior drummers followed on foot

Next up were traditionally garbed -- 
and often very game -- lines of dancers! :)

In any event, it's true that summer's been when I've come across more than one festival taking place in Japan -- and without planning to do so!  For example, back in 2006, on a visit to Kokura, I found the streets of the city to be alive with the sound of drumming one evening on account of a drumming matsuri being in session. And on my most recent Japan trip, I serendipitously visited Otaru on what turned out to be the first of the three-day Otaru Ushio Festival -- and only discovered this when we came across festive arts performances and rows of yatai near a pier.
Early in the evening, as my mother and I were strolling about the port city, we heard the sound of drumming and merry-making coming from near the end of a narrow street.  Our curiosity piqued, we went to investigate -- and came across the start of a procession that later would wend its way via a main street to the very pier area where we had checked out the yatai earlier in the day.

More cute than spectacular, the procession's front consisted of truck loads of young drummers -- all male in at least one instance, and all female in another.  Next up were more drummers -- this time a group consisting of adult females and men, with most of the latter appearing to be at least 10 or 20 years the former's senior! Irrespective of their age though, all seemed admirably intent on making loud noises on their instruments -- and looked to be having fun doing so. 

Bringing up the rear of the procession were lines of dancers -- and as I watched them performing their ritualized moves (some of which did look like they were peddling in boats), I wondered for how long -- both distance and time wise -- they'd have to go about doing what they were doing.  But again, irrespective of age and gender, they seemed very game -- all of which made the sight so much more endearing, especially since many of the men had enough about them to make it easy to imagine that they're salarymen in regular life, and many of the women matronly housewives and such! :b

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hello Kitty in 1960s Hong Kong at Langham Place

Your eyes are not deceiving you -- yes, that's Hello Kitty
and Dear Daniel in Chinese opera garb! :b

Hello Kitty dressed in 1960s clothing and posing
for a photo in a retro photo studio

The cute cat also could be found at the Hello Kitty-fied 
old time noodle stall in attired this time in amah garb! :o

Late last night, I watched my team of choice -- Arsenal Football Club -- lose its season opener for the first time in years.  Worse, even while some blame could be laid down at the feet of the match referee, the truth of the matter is that a better team could have overcome the bad refereeing to prevail against opponents who were relegation battlers last season.  
So suffice to say that I was not a happy camper when I turned in for the night last night.  

Thus it was that after I woke up this morning, I decided I needed to do some things to make me feel better -- so, first, I headed over to Sham Shui Po for a hearty brunch of pig liver noodles(!) at Wai Kee, then did some shopping for Hello Kitty items in Sham Shui Po and also Mongkok.  (And if you must know, I got myself a Hello Kitty camera case (to replace the one I lost recently) and water bottle this afternoon!)

Somewhere along the line, I remembered that a friend of mine had told me that there was a Hello Kitty in 1960s Hong Kong exhibition on at Langham Place -- and decided to go check it out.  Since the exhibition's been on since late July, I thought maybe it might not be so crowded any more -- this even though today's a Sunday -- but I really underestimated the Hello Kitty mania of Hong Kongers as there were a lot of people there, including many other shutterbugs happily clicking away on their cameras!

The organizers had obviously realized this would be the case, and prepared for this by having such as staff members there to work on crowd control.  In particular, they made sure that people queued up to take photos at the more popular sections of the exhibition -- which included the Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel Chinese opera display, the Hello Kitty-fied Hong Kong tram display and, most popular of all, a Dear Daniel plushie dressed as a rickshaw puller standing next to a rickshaw on which a continuous stream of people went and sat on to pose for photos taken by family members or friends.

It's not just that there were lots of people in the exhibition area that made photo-taking quite challenging.  Rather, it was that the vast majority of adults there as well as children seemed unable to resist posing with or just plain embracing and stroking the large Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel plushies about the place!  And okay, yes, I couldn't resist stroking a couple of those winsome plushies myself -- though I can safely say that I am not responsible for the dim sum bun server Hello Kitty having fur on its face that looks overdue for a wash already! ;O