Sunday, June 29, 2014

Interesting critter spottings on today's Northeast Hong Kong hike

It's that time of the year...! ;b

One of the stranger looking spiders I've seen in Hong Kong!

And should anyone wonder, yes, it was pretty beautiful
out there weather-wise this afternoon :)

About 10 minutes into the hike I went on with two friends this afternoon, I felt like I already got my picture of the day -- and this despite my knowing that we'd be passing through some scenic parts of Hong Kong on this trek from Lau Shui Heung Irrigation Reservoir down to Fung Yuen via Hok Tau Reservoir and Sha Lo Tung.
And should there be any doubt: yes, I'm indeed referring to my photo of the two beetles going at it to add to my critter sex collection that also includes such as butterflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, stink bugs and tortoises going at it!  For not only do I now have a shot of one more species for that, um, fascinating collection but the image I captured is so very clear and detailed!
But about an hour into the hike, another photo of the day candidate emerged -- and with this one, I feel a need to point out that I really did see a spider that looks like it's got a human face on it!  And even if it could be argued that the face looks more like something that a child or cartoonist would draw rather than one that exists on a real human, you've got to admit that it's still pretty startling to see on a spider!
More than by the way, if anyone can identify what type of spider this is, I'd appreciate it -- because, as I'm sure many people would agree, a sighting of it as memorable in its own way as that of the super large Golden Orb Weaver spiders! (And for the record: I've seen this spider species at least twice before -- both previously on Lantau Island -- but the one spotted this afternoon was the largest of this type that I've seen -- hence it being easier to take a good, clear photo of it.)

And should anyone wonder: unlike certain hikes when I've focused on bug spotting and such because the air was not clear and I couldn't see as far as I liked, today actually turned out to be pretty good weather-wise: hot but not too humid, with bright blue skies and nice fluffy white clouds providing some welcome cover, and great visibility for miles (so much so, in fact, that from Sha Lo Tung, one could see a tower located on the other side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border!).  Also, I've been on hikes with far more bug spottings than today, including my recent Lai Chi Chong excursion.
To help balance things out then, here's also offering up a non-bug photo also taken today which I trust will give a good idea of how beautiful this afternoon was.  In view of this, it's actually pretty surprising how few other hikers we saw today -- though, of course, I'm not complaining since not seeing and hearing many other people while on the trail helped make for an even better overall hiking experience to my mind! :)     

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Skies and Portrait (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Portrait and landscape orientations of rectangular paper are well named.  Think about it: how many landscape shots do you take that are vertical (i.e., portrait) oriented rather than horizontal (i.e., landscape) or, alternatively, landscape (as opposed to portrait)-oriented photos with one specific person in them?

This is something I definitely noticed when looking for portrait-oriented shots where the skies prominently features for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week. Still, I think I've found three nice as well as very different photos where beautiful skies are visible: the first, through a canyon of Hong Kong's concrete jungle; the second a more serene -- or, at least, calmer and less cluttered -- looking shot that takes in the three elements of land and sea along as well as sky; and the third taken in a part of Hong Kong which can seem more like tropical idyll than "Asia's World City".

Looking some more at the skies in the photos: I often get happiest at the sight of bright blue skies because I associate them with days of high visibility and less air pollution.  But it's also true enough that other bits of color in the skies can make me happier too -- so long as those colors are not dirty grey! ;b 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Five things I learnt about Hong Kong from watching Transformers: The Age of Extinction

My ticket for a special screening of 
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Last night, I attended a special screening of a Hollywood blockbuster that's hotly anticipated by Hong Kong filmgoers -- not least because part of it was filmed here in the Big Lychee. I'll leave it to many, more illustrious others to tender their more detailed reviews of Transformers: Age of Extinction (which will be released in cinemas in Hong Kong on June 26th, the US a day later and the UK  and Ireland only on July 5th).

For my part, I'll just say that I found it dumb but entertaining -- or should it be entertaining but dumb?  In any case, what I want to share more are five things I "learnt" about Hong Kong through viewing this Michael Bay movie:-

1) It takes only a few hours -- or is just minutes? -- to drive from Beijing to Hong Kong!  And this in an ordinary car rather than a Transformer.  (In real life though, Beijing is a whopping 1,226 miles or 1,973 kilometers from Hong Kong!)

2) Locations in Quarry Bay, To Kwa Wan, Sham Shui Po and Central are interchangeable -- I write this because the way they are presented in the film, they all seem to be so close to one another that people in, say, To Kwa Wan can come across those in Quarry Bay in a matter of minutes.

3) There's not only countryside immediately to the south of Quarry Bay (true) but the natural landscape there strongly resembles that of Wulong Karst National Park over near Chongqing (so not true)!

4) The real Hong Kong just does not look "Chinese" enough for filmmakers like Michael Bay.  So scenes had to be shot in a fake Hong Kong that actually was located in Detroit, Michigan -- one in which moon gates, Chinese arches and restaurants with birds in cages can be found.

5) In Hong Kong, kungfu masters are so prevalent that the one other person you find yourself in an elevator with is likely to be one... (Note: while more than one person I know seems bothered by this stereotype, I personally find it pretty cool that Hollywood -- and by extension those who watch their films who are not from here -- thinks this! ;b)

Monday, June 23, 2014

From Tung Chung to Mui Wo via Pak Mong Wan and village (Photo-essay)

On more than one occasion now, I've had to help out people who had got lost after venturing into the Hong Kong countryside without a countryside map.  Suffice to say that I'm a great believer in having maps about one when out in the countryside, or even urban parts of the Big Lychee.

However good I generally find the countryside maps to be though, there have been a few times now when I've reckoned that trails that are dotted (meaning that they're "difficult/indistinct or seasonally overgrown) should be classified instead as "major/easy walking".  In addition, there also have been times when trails marked as being easy and/or distinct turn out to be anything but that!

The worst case I've encountered thus far has got to be the badly overgrown trail leading up Tung Lung Chau's highest hill.  And while the trail marked as solid between Tung Chung and Tai Ho Wan wasn't even half as difficult, parts of it also were rather undistinct -- leading the two friends I was hiking with and I to do such as walk across dry river beds to stay on course on our way to the well-marked Olympic Trail that finally got us down to Mui Wo via the Silvermine Cave and waterfall areas!

Maybe because I went on this hike on November 11
these structures called up gravestones to my mind :S

On a lighter note, the debris flow on the sign
got me thinking of a flattened squirrel! :O

I wonder how many residents of Tung Chung, never mind
the rest of Hong Kong, know about this trail's existence?

Proof that I'm not the only one with a vivid imagination: Pak Mong 
village's Sword Testing Stone is so called because it's thought to 
look like it's been cut into two parts by a super sharp sword :)
 A mighty fine pair of door gods at Pak Mong village

As a general rule: where there are graves in Hong Kong,
there will be fine views to be had!
 The Silvermine Bay waterfall had a decent 
flow of water that afternoon 

I got my best bug pic of the day close to the end of a hike that had 
yielded far more views of graves and shrines than wildlife! ;b

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tasty KFC - Korean Fried Chicken, that is!

Korean fried chicken - dry and with sweet chili sauce
- and some potato chips too
 They're so crazy about chicken at Fairyland that
even the mixed salad comes with chunks of chicken
(along with lots of mixed greens)!
For much of my life, KFC has meant Kentucky Fried Chicken and nothing else to me. As a child, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken was one of the treats I looked forward to on visits to Singapore (since back then, no American fast food chain dared to set up shop in Penang -- apparently because they feared that residents of the food capital of Malaysia would be unwilling to pay to eat American fast food when they could eat tasty Penang hawker food at cheaper prices -- even while having established branches in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur).  
Almost needless to say, I've also eaten Kentucky Fried Chicken in various parts of the US (though not in Kentucky itself!).  However, I've not eaten any Kentucky Fried Chicken since moving to Hong Kong -- this not least because the branches of that fast food chain here don't serve the sides (of coleslaw, and American-style biscuits) that I had grown to love more than the chicken itself. 
Also, as improbable as it may seem to some people, in recent years, KFC truly has come to mean Korean fried chicken to me.  Still, it was only earlier this week that I went and ate at an eatery whose specialty dish it is.  
I had originally intended to eat at the Hong Kong branch of South Korea's Fairyland chain some months back but when a friend and I got there at around 7.15pm one Friday, we were informed that the estimated waiting time to get into the restaurant was 1 hour and 45 minutes!  This Wednesday, when another friend, my mother and I got to the area around 6.45pm, we "only" had to wait around half an hour -- hardly ideal but still a lot shorter than the wait would have been at the even more popular Chicken Hof and Soju (AKA Lee's Family Chicken) located a few minutes down the road from Fairyland!!
Although my mother and I were not particularly hungry when we got to the restaurant, we -- together with my friend -- were definitely ready to eat by the time the food we ordered arrived on our table... which was a pretty good thing as the portions we were served were on the mammoth side.  Strange as it may seem, the fried chicken and salad offerings at Fairyland come in only one size: very large -- as in, I can't imagine being able to do them justice if our party had just consisted of two people rather than three.  
Happily however, we were allowed to split our order of fried chicken into two different styles -- since my friend had wanted to try the dry fried chicken whereas I was more keen on the chicken slathered with sweet chili sauce.  (And since my mother was okay with both, we all were happy -- and also told her that she could be the judge and tell us whether she preferred the dry fried chicken or one with sweet chili sauce.)  Also, we were given a choice of chicken served with or without bone.  (We opted for the chicken with bone as we were afraid of getting served too much breast meat otherwise.)
When the mega large plate of the Korean fried chicken arrived, it all looked so appetizing that my friend and I decided to try both the dry and wet styles.  As it turned out, all three of us decided that we preferred the sweet chili sauce version as the dry version was, well, on the dry side.  But we liked both styles of the chicken enough to finish off all the pieces that we had been served -- and, as it turned out, also managed to clean up the salad plate too!
But while all three of us enjoyed the food at Fairyland (though much less its service), we agreed that it wasn't worth waiting half an hour for.  On the other hand, I'm now curious to try out the Korean fried chicken on offer at Chicken Hof and Soju -- because, to judge by the lines for it, it must be at least three times yummier than the already pretty tasty chicken on offer at Fairyland! ;b

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Selfie and Room (This week's Photo Hunt themes)


I'm going to be honest here: I groaned out loud and grimaced when I looked through Sandi's Photo Hunt themes and saw selfie in the list -- for as I think many of this blog's visitors know, I'm someone who much prefers to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.  And while I didn't react as negatively to Gattina's choice of Photo Hunt theme for this week, I wasn't all that enamored by it either -- as I tend to do my photographing outdoors rather than inside a room.

But thanks to a visit last month to Kanazawa's 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (which happened to be devoting several of its rooms to displaying works by Leandro Erlich) , I actually have a photo that can be used to combine both these themes!

Firstly though, here's presenting the kind of photo I'm more inclined to take on my travels: i.e., of Puppet Ponyo -- as opposed to myself -- in the aqua (or it is azure? ;b) colored underground room that's part of Leandro Erlich's famous Swimming Pool installation.  And next up is a view of the artist's Invisible Garden in which those peeking into it don't have their images reflected in the windows or are visible through it.

While that may not strike people as unusual, consider this: that from certain angles, one's reflection does become visible -- thus enabling people, like yours truly, to take a selfie from a distance!  Also, thanks to the clever placements of mirrors and such, sometimes the plants inside the garden at the center of the room -- and is an installation that does take up a whole large room on its own -- look the same throughout while from other angles, one can see two different sets of floral arrangements within it!! ;b

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rainbow in the clouds

It took me a few seconds to realize what I was 
actually seeing in the clouds one afternoon

Please click on the image to view an enlarged version of it
(and truly, there was no Photo Shopping involved here!)

Today was one of those days during which I alternately was outdoors and then indoors a few times.  It also was one of those days that each time I was outdoors, I encountered short spells of showers along with dry periods with some sunshine.
You'd think that the conditions would be ideal for me to spot at least one rainbow in the sky but even though I did make a point to look, I didn't see any making an appearance today.  In contrast, the previous two times I've spotted a rainbow, they were on occasions and in places that I was not expecting to encounter any.
The earlier of these rainbow spottings occured on my visit to Kanazawa's Kenroku-en -- seemingly improbably in the waters being spouted by an artificial fountain!  Then, a few weeks after returning to Hong Kong, I glimpsed a rainbow-like band of colors in the clouds floating in the sky!!

My first reaction upon noticing that particular sight was to wonder if there was something wrong with my eyes.  But after blinking a few times and still seeing that amazing phenomenon, I quickly fished my camera out of my bag and started snapping a few photos.

Seeing me do so, a few passersby turned to see what was attracting my attention and started taking pictures of their own too!  Considering the amount of attention that the rainbow in the clouds suddenly was generating, I'm somewhat surprised that a photo of it didn't make it into the next day's newspapers -- and this especially as I spotted this phenomenon pretty close to a major newspaper's main office.
Perhaps, I figured upon further reflection, this phenomenon occurs more commonly than I realized -- only I just hadn't noticed it before -- and it's true enough that there are a pretty large number of photos of colorful bands on clouds floating about on the internet. So... have you seen them in the sky too?  (And if so, how many times?)
In addition, I've come to realize that the band of colors aren't actually in the violet-indigo-blue-green-yellow-orange-red order of your average rainbow.  So maybe it's not strictly correct to call what I saw up in the clouds to be a rainbow -- but for simplicity's sake, I'm doing so in this post!  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Edible bird talk

I like roast pigeon...
 ...but I have to admit to drawing the line at pigeon head!

Over a tasty Korean fried chicken dinner this evening, my mother, a friend and I were talking about how different cultures like different parts of the chicken.  More specifically, it's been our observation that whereas Westerners prefer the breast, Asians tend to prefer either the wing or the drumstick, feeling that the meat that's closer to the bone is juicier than the meat that's not.  And of course, we all have noticed that, whereas the Chinese tend to love eating chicken feet, Westerners often freak out at the idea of eating that part of the bird.

Thinking some more about what people like to eat, I got the impression while living in the US that chicken are Americans' favorite bird to eat by a long chalk, with turkey tending to be favored only on Thanksgiving Day -- or by those looking to consume a healthier meat.  On the other hand, even while chicken wings are a popular snack in Hong Kong, I'm not so sure that chicken tops many -- never mind most -- Hong Kongers list of favorite bird to eat. 

For my part, even before moving to Hong Kong, I had never been that big a fan of chicken generally -- though it's true enough that I way prefer it to turkey, which I find to be on the tasteless side.  Also, while I do enjoy eating chicken yakitori, I think it says quite a bit about my tastes that my favorite eats at Yardbird are the corn tempura and Korean fried cauliflower!

Nowadays, if I were asked what's my favorite bird to eat: I'd say that I prefer duck to chicken, and goose to duck, and like pigeon best of all.  As to how I like it cooked: I'm equally happy with roasted pigeon, fried pigeon and braised pigeon.   

Suffice to say that I've eaten a number of pigeons since moving to Hong Kong, including at the very traditional Luk Yu Tea House in Central and Tai Wai's also old school Fung Lam Restaurant and Shui Wah Restaurant (but not (yet) at the Lung Wah Hotel in Sha Tin which may well be the most famous pigeon restaurant in Hong Kong but has received a number of negative reviews by various foodies in recent years).

Something that I've noticed everywhere I've eaten pigeon in Hong Kong is that the head of the bird always is served with the rest of it.  As far as I can remember though, I've never ever seen anyone eat a pigeon's head.  So... is it a case of it being included for show -- or are there people out there who actually eat -- and enjoy eating -- what I imagine to be a not particularly meaty section of the bird?!  (And while I'm asking, why is it that roast pigeon seems to always be served with prawn crackers in Hong Kong??!!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tai Long Wan (Sai Kung) hike (photo-essay)

As one becomes familiar with Hong Kong, one gets to realizing that there are many places with the same (Chinese) name.  For example, Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island is known as Tung Long Wan (Copper Gong Bay in Cantonese) but there's also a Tung Lo Wan in Sha Tin District!

Then there's Tai Long Wan: or, rather the Tai Long Wan on Hong Kong Island, the Tai Long Wan out on the Sai Kung Peninsula, and two over on Lantau Island -- one near Shek Pik and the other over on the Chi Ma Wan Peninsular!

Still, when people say Big Wave Bay (the English translation of Tai Long Wan), I'd wager that most Hong Kongers think of the one over on the southeastern side of Hong Kong Island. By the same token, Tai Long Wan to many Hong Kongers is the one over on the Sai Kung Peninsula -- one that may not be the easiest to get to but nonetheless is one that I've felt motivated to hike to not once but thrice now! :)

Long before one arrives in Tai Long Wan, one is treated to
beautiful scenery on this hike -- including, in this instance.
the waters and surroundings of the High Island Reservoir

 Sai Wan beach is a beautiful sight but on this hike,
it's just an appetiser for the main sights to come! ;b

Considering how far away from central Hong Kong this place is,
it was actually more crowded than I expected it to be!

 This was the third time I went along this trail but
I still couldn't help admiring this amazing beach 
and wanting to take some photos of it :)

 Not the usual sight over at Tai Long Wan -- a helicopter, and 
one with its door open ready for people to jump out of too! :O

As beautiful to my mind in its own way as Tai Long Wan

Is it just me or does this look like a turtle rock to you too?

 With twilight approaching, my hiking friend and I opted to share 
a boat  with three others to where we'd catch a bus to Sai Kung town
for HK$20 each rather than wait for the kaido to come along!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hong Kong panda-monium!

1,600 (papier mache) pandas posed on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront
near the Clock Tower and Hong Kong Cultural Centre yesterday
 Seen up close, it's obvious that not all 
those 1,600 pandas are alike!
 This view gives a good sense of the large crowd that
turned up to see the pandas, and also how much space
the pandas took up on the waterfront promenade!

From June 25 to July 17, the 1,600 pandas will take up residence at the former Police Married Headquarters in Central that's become home to a creative design hub known as PMQ.  Before then, the 1,600 pandas will be temporarily installed in the vicinity of a number of Hong Kong landmarks, including, as was the case on Saturday afternoon, the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower

Although I didn't have a great urge to go see the giant rubber duck up close in Victoria Harbour last year, I was drawn to check out the 1,600 pandas this past weekend.  Post seeing them up close as well as in photos, I have to say that I do think that they're very cute indeed -- and even while I'm not sure that seeing them makes me all that more actively interested in working to make sure that pandas don't go extinct, it does make me realize that 1,600 actually isn't that large a number when it's the number of members of an entire species left in the world...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dusk and Round (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Over the years, there have been certain Hong Kong landmarks that I find myself photographing over and over again, from different angles, under different weather conditions and at different times of the day.  Among these is Devil's Peak, which may stand at only 222 meters in height but still can look a pretty formidable sight, guarding the eastern entrance into Lei Yue Mun, a short but important passage between Tseung Kwan O (AKA Junk Bay) and Victoria Harbour, and separating Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon Peninsula.

One reason why I enjoy taking photos of Devil's Peak is because of the "I've been up there" (and more than once, in fact!) factor. Another is that the sky above it and the waters around it can be so visually changeable.  

For the most part, however, my shots of Devil's Peak are taking during the day -- and about the only reason why I took a dusk-time snap of it was to show the friend I was with the capabilities of my then new Sony Cybershot DSC HX-50V, in particular its 30X zoom, by first taking the second photo from the top of this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts, then zooming in to take a shot of the small but bright round object in that photo and not only revealing it to be the moon but also being to show the dark craters on it! :)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Studio Ghibli creations on show at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum :)

Guess what was the subject of the special exhibition
I went to see at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum today :) 

Puppet Ponyo photobombed my photo of Chibi-Totoro 
delivering a message via speech bubble!

Puppet Ponyo wanted to go to Ponyo's Beach and pose on O-Totoro's 
tummy but couldn't deal with the required 1 hour wait to do so! ;(

After a dim sum lunch this afternoon, my mother (who arrived in Hong Kong yesterday), Puppet Ponyo and I went over to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum to check out the Bruce Lee: Kung Fu-Art-Life special exhibition (which runs through to July 2018) and another one on Studio Ghibli Layout Designs: Understanding the Secrets of Takahata and Miyazaki Animation.

Because the Studio Ghibli-themed exhibition opened only less than a month ago and also because of the popularity of the film company's creations in Hong Kong (particularly the characters known in Cantonese as Lung Mao (Dragon Cat) and Poh-yee), I decided to take a day off and go on a week day to try to beat the crowd.  So imagine my shock and horror when, upon getting to the museum, I was sent outdoors to join a long queue consisting of other people who also wanted to purchase exhibition tickets for that day!

Worse was to come when after getting the tickets, I saw that there was a projected one hour long wait to take photos on Ponyo's Beach and Totoro's tummy!  But while my initial sight of -- and experience inside -- the exhibition area also was not promising at all, I did eventually discover that the crowd in there actually did move about fairly quickly and also that the exhibit area also wasn't uniformly overly-crowded -- as had been the case with the first room of the Picasso special exhibition that also was held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

Although the art work on display could have been displayed in a better, more imaginative way (and, as my mother pointed out, it really would have been nice to have piped music from the films to enhance the overall sensory experience in the exhibition areas), there's no hiding their beauty as well as great amount of work that was put into creating them.  And to be fair, there also were nice touches in the form of video interviews with both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and a couple of creatively designed spaces including a Spirited Away-themed "Hallway of Infinity".

Something else I also appreciated is that while photography was not allowed in the actual exhibition spaces, the outside corridors near them were lined with images from Studio Ghibli films and consequently effectively functioned as photography spaces for visiting Studio Ghibli fans. 

Especially considering that admission to the Studio Ghibli special exhibition along with the Bruce Lee special exhibition as well as the permanent exhibition galleries of the museums cost just HK$20 (~US$2.58), it's really hard to seriously complain -- and not consider it to be a real bargain of an experience to boot!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Famous sights, and less well known nooks and crannies in Osaka's Dotonbori area (Photo-essay)

I tried.  Really I did -- to take advantage of being in Osaka and eat until I dropped, if not outright kuidaore, that is. But although I was famished after my train ride from Kanazawa -- and did have two good meals while in Japan's third largest city (both of which involved fried foods too!) -- I have to admit to not feeling like I took advantage of as this major foodie city as much as I should have.

I blame it partly on the final full day of my most recent Japan trip being the hottest of the trip, and also in part due to my having eaten (and drank) so well at every meal time during my vacation.  I even tried to work up a pre-dinner appetite by first going and visiting the unusual -- and sobering -- Osaka Human Rights Museum (AKA Liberty Osaka), located in a part of the city few visitors go to despite it being not that far away from Namba, including Dotonbori, and then strolling about for a time in the Dotonbori area.

Still, I'm not going to complain -- since my dinner was at the Osaka restaurant I did most want to eat at: Daruma, the kushiage (AKA kushikatsu) place which, among other things, I had seen Anthony Bourdain feasting at in the Osaka episode of No Reservations!  Also, on this second visit to Dotonbori, I liked very much that I managed to see more as a I wandered into the little alleys as well as the main streets -- in the process, coming across some sections that got me realizing that the area is a very interesting mix of serious religion and foodie hedonism!! :b

Puppet Ponyo literally looks up to the famous mechanical 
drum-playing clown known as Kuidaore Taro!

Welcome to Dotonbori -- and when you see the main branch of 
Kani Doraku's big mechanical crab, you know you're (t)here! :b

Many restaurants go for big, eye-catching advertising!

Even on Dotonbori, one can come across eateries
with old school, conservative fronts though

And just a stone's throw away from Dotonbori's main drag is
the Hozenji Temple that's home to this moss-covered Buddha statue

One has to wait in line outside for a while 
before being able to get into Daruma

These babies compare really well -- visually and in taste -- with the 
already pretty delicious kushiage I had on my first night in Kanazawa
(and yes, I had more than five sticks of kushiage at Daruma ;b)

Puppet Ponyo poses in Dotonbori -- and says 
"That's all from this trip, folks!" :)