Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Assam laksa and Hokkien mee

This is the Penang assam laksa stall whose laksa
Anthony Bourdain raved about in No Reservations! :b
 And this is what I had to eat from that stall... ;b

What if I told you that this bowl of Hokkien mee
has that bowl of assam laksa beat? ;D

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a long time fan of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.  In particular, I think he's been spot on with many of his Hong Kong food recommendations -- including with regards to Tung Po and Yat Lok -- and I remember him raving about Sukiyabashi Jiro long before its proprietor became the subject of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe took Barack Obama to dine there.

And despite his missing out with regards to certain Penang eats that I'd consider must eats (including for myself whenever I return to visit my home state), I do reckon that Mr Bourdain did showcase some pretty tasty morsels in the Penang episode of No Reservations -- so much so that he made me want to go to some of the featured places that I actually had never eaten at previously.
Among these was the (Chinese style) assam laksa store at the Air Itam market that I did know about before seeing Tony eat there... but which doesn't have the best reputation among Penangites.  More specifically, some years back, there were rumors that the stall used shredded paper to help make its vaunted fish stock as thick as it is.  And while I think there's little truth to those rumors (otherwise, why would it have so many long-time fans over the years?), that was one of the reasons that my family chose not to eat there.

On my recent visit back though, my mother and I decided to go ahead and finally give the assam laksa at that stall a try.  Our verdict?  It looked fantastic and smelt pretty good... but it can't beat my favorite (Malay style) assam laksa stall over at Shamrock Beach.  And while it may seem like comparing apples and oranges, I also love my favorite Hokkien mee from Kwai Lock Coffee Shop more -- as can be attested to by the fact that I had the Hokkien mee three times on this recent trip while I was satisfied with eating the Air Itam assam laksa just once!

Speaking of apples and oranges: Growing up as I did in Penang, Hokkien mee for me has always been a prawn curry noodle soup dish.  So imagine the shock I had when, shortly after I moved to Kuala Lumpur (where I lived for a couple of years), I ordered Hokkien mee there and was given a not particularly appetizing looking -- as far as I was concerned -- dark fried noodles!  For, as I subsequently learnt, in other parts of Malaysia besides Penang, Hokkien mee denotes Hokkien char (i.e., fried) mee -- and what we in Penang call Hokkien mee is known as curry mee in thee rest of Malaysia!!:O

Monday, April 28, 2014

From Shing Mun Reservoir to Yuen Tun Ha -- and then on to dinner at Tai Po (Photo-essay)

At the risk of sounding anal, I actually keep a hike diary in which I record details about the hikes I've gone on in Hong Kong such as the date, place, who went on the hike with me and various other bits of information.  In addition, I'm one of those people who owns a pedometer -- and while I don't wear it on weekdays, I do so on weekends, and do get some satisfaction out of seeing that pretty much all the days when I hike, I take over 15,000 steps and even have been known to go past the 25,000 step mark on hike days!

Thus it is that I can tell you that on the day that I trekked with two friends from Shing Mun Reservoir to Yuen Tun Ha via Lead Mine Pass (i.e., along the southern section of the Shung Mun Reservoir Walk and all of the Wilson Trail's Section 7), the visibility was only around 8 kilometers but my friends and I nonetheless hda a pleasant time -- and I satisfyingly clocked up over 27,000 steps on my pedometer by the end of that day! ;b

I didn't make a note of it in my hike diary but from 
the above photo, one can see that the water level was 
on the low side at Shing Mun Reservoir that day

On hazy, low visibility days, anything that's
brightly colored stands out and is pretty eye-catching...

...including this leaf that had fallen onto the ground!

The Common Five Ring butterfly may not be rare nor even 
particularly colorful -- but I like spotting it all the same!

Fire water? Fighting tanks?  Actually, the sign is
meant to read: Fire-fighting Water Tanks! ;D

 Steps -- and there are many of them! -- that
I rather go down than up on... 

Tai Po town, our destination that day, 
is (just about) visible in the hazy distance!

Lest any wonder, yup, we ended up at
Yat Lok for a tasty roast goose dinner! ;b

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yung Shue Au hike sights, sounds and other experiences

Today's hike took my friends and I to Yung Shue Au -- 
yet another abandoned village in Hong Kong's New Territories

By the village's breakwater, we spotted what turned out
to be an over seven foot long piece of snake skin! :O

The view from Yung Shue Au's breakwater looks out across 
the water to Shenzhen and -- this afternoon -- a police boat 
patrolling the waters separating Hong Kong and Mainland China
A little more than a year ago, two friends -- one a regular hiking buddy, another a solitary hiker we met along the way who asked if he could join up with us -- and I paid a visit to So Lo Pun, an abandoned village in the Northeast New Territories with a reputation for being haunted.  Along the way, we passed through the less (in)famous abandoned village of Yung Shue Au (whose Cantonese name translates into English as "Banyan Pass"), and I made a mental note that I'd like to make it the destination for another hike somewhere down the road.

After reading that the trail from Luk Keng to this area may be in danger of getting cut off for hiking purposes a couple of weeks or so ago, I decided to head out there earlier today -- again, with one of my friends from before along with one who I've now been regularly hiking with for a while but who I hadn't met this time last year.  For both the latter, who had never been in this part of Hong Kong prior to today, and my other hiking friend and myself, today's excursion proved to be a really interesting one -- in terms of the experiences to be had along the way to Yung Shue Au and out of it, and also in the village itself and its surrounding area. 

Probably the most memorable thing about the overall hike was actually audio rather than visual: specifically, we heard an incredible amount of loud frogs that were making noises that sounded more like dogs' barks than the "ribbit"s they supposedly emit (at least as far as English speakers are concerned), particularly near the (largely?) abandoned village of Kuk Po and the (barely) still inhabited village of Fung Hang.

At Yung Shue Au, our getting swarmed soon after arriving in the area by insects that looked too big to be mosquitoes but buzzed around like them threatened to be the most memorable experience there -- and also threatened to cut short our visit to the area!  Fortunately, however, we found a path that led to the breakwater and were very pleased to find lovely breezes there that were not only refreshing but drove those scary as well as irritating bugs away.
For those reasons alone, we were happy to linger for a time on the breakwater.  But the views to be had from it also were pretty attractive.  And, when we looked closer to where we were, we also spotted interesting things -- including fish actively swimming about in the waters on both sides of the breakwater, and what I initially thought was a piece of rope but turned out to be an over seven foot long piece of shed snake skin!
As it so happens, it's been months since I've seen a snake while out hiking.  The sight of the snake skin served as a reminder that there are snakes in Hong Kong, and some pretty long and big ones at that -- and, also, that since it's warming up, it's the time of the year again when all manner of critters are back in action, including reptiles along with amphibians (which one sees much rarely than one hears) and insects (some of which -- among them, pretty butterflies and dragonflies -- I like encountering, others of which -- including mosquitoes -- much less so)!  ;b

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ink and Traces (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Despite being not all that religious, I've been to and in more than my fair share of religious establishments.  Especially during my childhood, I would be brought there by relatives.  Other times, it's been on the invitation of friends -- who do so not to try to convert me but, rather, to share something they hold dear with me. More often than not in my adulthood, it's been because I realize that many of these places are steeped in culture, and contain -- as well as in themselves are -- veritable works of art. 

Over the course of my visits to Japan (which already have supplied photos more than one entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts ;b), I've been to parts of the country whose primary attractions are temples and shrines.  These include Dazaifu, Nikko, Kamakura and the granddaddy of them all, Kyoto -- home to literally thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, including Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji, Ryoanji and -- my personal favorite -- Fushimi Inari.

I have to confess that early on I had difficulties distinguishing between Japan's Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines (this not least because a number of Buddhist temples house Shinto shrines within their grounds or nearby -- as is the case with Kyoto's (Buddhist) Kiyomizudera and (Shinto) Jishu Shrine). But I've come to realize that, among other things, it's the Shinto shrines that have the photogenic torii gates and ema (wooden plates on which people ink down their wishes, in the hope that the kami (Shinto gods) will make them come true, and leave out in the open -- thereby leaving traces of themselves within the shrine grounds long after they've taken their leave from them).

Still, while ema aren't offered up in Buddhist temples, there nonetheless appear to exist outlets for making wishes and offering up in similar ways.  For example, at the Ryozen Kannon Temple in Kyoto, I came across rows of colorful objects that resemble toy windmills with little tags with inked writing on them.  I hope I'm not being blasphemous in suggesting this -- but I see traces of Shintoism in this practice!  At the very least, it shows that making wishes in this way is something that has seeped deep into Japanese culture and consequently crosses religious lines!! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Street art additions to the material cultural heritage of Penang's George Town

Penang-based Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic

Judging by the number of people photographing it, 
Little Children on a Bicycle looked to be  the most 
popular of Zacharevic's George Town murals

Jim Oo Chun Hee and John Cheng

that's the title of this mural by ASA

A few months ago, I happened across a travel blog called Twenty Years Hence that features beautiful photographs and captivating writing by Stephenie Harrison and Tony Kuehn.  In late February, they posted about their Penang experiences, and I found myself being intrigued not only by their impressions of familiar sights (and foods) but also by their having highlighted street art that I hadn't previously come across.

Having told myself that I wanted to check them out the next time I returned to Penang, I was amused when, on my recent visit back to the island of my birth, an old friend told me -- without my asking her -- that there were some interesting murals in the heritage sections of George Town that she wanted to show me.  Thus it was that one morning, the two of us went for a lookaround cum stroll in the city (that culminated with a visit to the E&O Gallery).  

Starting in Armenian Street, I found the area to be bursting with more activity than on my previous visits.  While some might complain that it's become more touristy than before, my feeling is that it also seems less seedy and down at heel than before.  In other words, the noticeable change seems more for the good than bad.  

As for the street art itself: I really liked what I saw -- be they works by foreign-born or native Penang artists.  Much of them have an attractive creativity and humor to them -- and, to my mind, add color and interest to the urban landscape. Best of all, I like how so much of them possess culturally appropriate subject matter and are so much more than just spray painted initials or, worst of all, angry graffiti.  All in all, the works reflect well on those who created them, and also the culture, society, city and state that look to have inspired them.   

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

From Pak Kung Au down to Mui Wo (Photo-essay)

No lie: for the third hike in a row, my hiking friend and I spotted a snake while out in the wilds of Hong Kong!  But unlike with the previous two hikes (whose photo-essays (complete with snake pics) can be seen here and here), the slithery critter we encountered slithered away before I could take a photo of it, so you're going to have to take my word for it with regards to our having come across it.

Happily however, other critters were more inclined to pose for my camera -- and even if they didn't, this trek along the eastern section of the South Lantau Country Trail that's become one of my favorite Hong Kong hiking trails to go along still did yield some scenic sights were savouring and, I reckon, sharing with others:-

At Pak Kung Au (aka Tung Chung Au), I worried that 
the trail'd be crowded with competitive hikers that afternoon

 ...but as it turned out, we saw more grasshoppers 
on the trail that day than we did other people -- truly! ;b

I know this colorful critter is a common Hong Kong butterfly
but I still am happy to see and take photos of it all the same! :)

Proof that I wasn't the only hiker out on the trail that day
who was into taking photos along the way ;)

This trail is criss-crossed with mountain streams,
some of which produce waterfalls during the rainy season

On a good visibility day, one can get splendid views that 
take in Pui O (village and beach), and the Chi Ma Wan peninsula

At Nam Shan, we decided to press on along down
the old village footpath to Mui Wo via Luk Tei Tong

Village houses are the most common architectural sights
in the greater Mui Wo area but also still standing are a few 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday on Tap Mun

It took a while -- and waiting in a long line early on 
-- to get to today's hike destination

 After my hiking friend and I made it to Tap Mun,
we found that plenty of other people also had decided
to spend the afternoon on the northeastern Hong Kong island 

Upon getting to the northern end of the island, however,
we found to our satisfaction that few people had thought
to venture out to this consequently quiet as well as 
green and scenic portion of Tap Mun :)

While waiting to take the green minibus to Sai Kung from Hang Hau MTR station this afternoon, I found myself having to join a queue that was considerably longer than any I've ever seen at that locale.  'Why was this so?', I wondered.  After all, it wasn't a particularly beautiful weather day today.  Midway along my journey on the minibus, however, I got to realizing that it's Easter Sunday -- and that a whole bunch of people had decided that the area known as Hong Kong's backyard would be a great place to head out to for the day!

After meeting up with my friend in Sai Kung town, we decided to head over to one of the more distant parts of Hong Kong Island: namely, the small, sparsely populated island of Tap Mun (aka Grass Island) which I've only visited once before several winters ago.  One bus and then a kaido ride later, we were at our destination -- only to find that sections of it were crawling with way more people than on my previous visit!

Something else that I discovered is how much more developed Tap Mun has become. 
Among other things, there are more eateries on the island.  Also, the trail on the southern side of the island has been paved.  Furthermore, an unpaved, hilly trail which previously had defeated the person I had made my first visit to the island with all those years ago had now been turned into a (long) flight of steps and that hilltop crowned with an impressive pavillion.

Still, it's not as though Tap Mun is home to a thriving town, nevermind mega metropolis, and after going just a few meters north of the pavilion, the path becomes unpaved and the crowds accordingly peter out -- a state of affairs that pleased my hiking friend and myself quite a bit.  Consequently, we ended up spending more time on the quiet -- that is, when the cicadas that were out in force today weren't buzzing loudly! -- northern section of the island, happy to be far from the madding crowd at last!

Although I wish I could report otherwise, we ended up not making a complete circuit of the island because it didn't look like there was a trail that allowed us to do so.  Instead, we had to backtrack a bit shortly after taking in the view seen in the third photo from the top of this blog post.  Happily though, we didn't have to do so all the way to the Pavilion and nearby steps as we found another trail midway that took us back along a more western route.

From where the trails met up, we headed southwest this time and ended up getting to Tap Mun's main (only?) village from the back of its impressive Tin Hau Temple which dates back to the 18th century.  Seeing it reminded me that it'll be Tin Hau's birthday just two days from now -- and got me thinking I'd like to visit Tap Mun on that day, only I'll have to be at work then, alas! ;(

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Indigo and Still Life (This week's Photo Hunt themes)


There's a certain irony in my not having taken part in Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts last week when the chosen themes (of 'ginormous' and 'rocks') would have been far easier for me to find suitable photos for than this week!  Actually, Gattina's choice this week of still life isn't too difficult on its own but Sandi's choice of indigo required me to really put on my thinking cap, especially when thinking of it in combination with still life!

In all honesty, about the only time I use the word indigo is when talking about the specific colors of the rainbow.  In fact, I talk more about 'indiglo': that is, the electroluminescence display feature of my old Timex watch that makes me love it so -- and had to look up which shades on the color spectrum make up indigo on Wikipedia!

After doing so, I found a photo I took while out hiking of beautifully indigo-colored sections of a plant (which, bad naturalist that I am, I have to admit to not knowing are fruits or seeds!) that I'd like to suggest to artists as candidates for incorporating into still life paintings. Perhaps the one who painted the colorful floral still life I saw while visiting his studio during the 2012 Fotanian Open Studios may be one of them? ;b

The Eastern and Oriental Hotel's E&O Gallery

At the E&O Gallery in Penang,
music can be heard as well as sights seen

Located in the Eastern & Oriental (E&O) Hotel's 
Victory Annexe, the social history gallery is open to 
the public and doesn't charge for admission 

 It contains information about the hotel's owners,
guests and staff over the years -- and how much a part
of Penang's socio-cultural heritage the hotel is...

 ...and it's no small amount of pride that I can say that
I had a part in its coming into being, and am grateful
that my name can be seen at the gallery :)

This time last week, I was in Penang.  This recent short visit (of just five days) was the first time I had been back on the island of my birth for about one and half years -- and the first one in a while that saw me go back for an actual holiday rather than for work.  

While Hong Kong has been my primary workplace for close to seven years now, the period between May 2011 and October 2012 saw me also assuming a consulting position on a museological project in Penang.  In the time between then and this recent Penang trip, the E&O Gallery opened its doors at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel which occupies a geographical location close to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed sections of George Town (Penang's capital city) and also a place in the hearts of many Penangites and visitors to it.  

As might be expected, I decided that a visit to the social history gallery was a "must do" on this trip -- this not least because I wanted to see how many of my recommendations would be put into effect!  So one morning, I headed over to the E&O -- as it turned out, after revisiting some nearby areas to see new and interesting sights that had come into being there as well as appreciate some old haunts.  (More on that in a future blog entry, I promise!)

Should anyone wonder, I was well pleased with what I found at the E&O Gallery, and ended up spending close to an hour there marvelling at how wonderfully it all ultimately came together.  About the one regret I have is that the place looks so good that it actually might intimidate potential visitors and get them thinking that there's a high admission fee (when, in fact, there actually is none)!

So here's doing my bit to try to get the word out that entry to this air-conditioned oasis of a gallery that offers a multimedia experience really won't cost visitors a cent -- for I'd love more people to behold something that I am proud to have had a hand in creating, and that I actually think they might enjoy checking out! :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From Shek Kong to Ho Pui - reservoir and village (Photo-essay)

Serious hikers will scoff but some days, I prefer to go on a paved trail that's on the flat side to boot.  This is so after days of rain gets me worried that many unpaved trails in Hong Kong will have turned super muddy and slippery -- and sometimes also have further obstacles in the form of broken tree branches falling to the ground. 

At the same time, I want to scratch that itch to be out and about in the countryside.  And on such days, I opt to go along trails such as that which begins in Shek Kong that I previously took to Ma On Kong.  This time around though, I didn't go all the way along that 11 kilometer route.  Instead, my hiking buddy on that hot and humid day and I elected to end our excursion at Ho Pui

From that Pat Heung area village, we took a green minibus to Yuen Long, where we first headed to a noodle shop and then shared a massive B Chai Grass Jelly dish at Kai Kee Dessert shop -- one of my favorite specialist dessert eateries in the whole of the Big Lychee!  Put another way: it was yet another Sunday where we enjoyed both the time spent hiking and also the post-hike repast! :b

It was a gray and cloudy day but, fortunately,
the rain that threatened to fall didn't!

 Whereas the previous week, I saw a snake near hike's end,
this time around, the snake spotting came early on in the hike, 
and was made even more notable by the critter appearing 
to be comfortable in water as well as on land!

 On clear air days like this, one can see clear across 
the water and border to mainland China

 Lest anyone feel inclined to go into the waters of any of
the reservoirs found along the way... 

 Yes, I do so love it when colorful butterflies
obligingly pose for my camera! :)

Yes, Virginia, there are organic farms in Hong Kong! ;b

we got a lovely view of the top of Tai Mo Shan

On occasions like this, I love that my camera's equiped with 
a zoom lens -- though for the record, this photo was taken with