Sunday, August 31, 2014

Still more photo-worthy sights at Nam Sang Wai

A scene few people would expect to see in Hong Kong

This butterfly looks like it's got just one eye --
but it's really just the camera angle that makes it so!

Is that a frog or toad that I manage to take a photo of? 
One very hot but beautiful summer's day last year, I took a sampan ride across the Kam Tin River to Nam Sang Wai. Having found the wetland area to be a photographer's (as well as filmmakers') delight, I resolved to visit there again -- and did so earlier today with my mother (who's visiting once again from Penang) in tow.
Unfortunately, this time around, Mother Nature was not so cooperative as we got caught in a downpour -- which wasn't too heavy nor long but still not all that welcome, considering that this nature spot is pretty exposed to the elements for the most part.  In addition, my mother found the temperature too hot for her liking -- this despite it actually having been a few degrees cooler this late August day than it had been when I visited last June.

Consequently, we didn't stay too long in this wetland area.  But even then, I found myself enjoying the sights once more of such as women in long white wedding gowns posing with their husbands-to-be for wedding photos among the Eucalyptus trees that are plentiful in this section of Hong Kong, the remote-controlled aircraft (with helicopters being favored today) flying about in the air and people generally having a good time being out among nature.
Still, as is usually the case for me when I am in natural surroundings, it was the non-human creatures that were responsible for the most eye-catching thrills.  Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough to snap a photo of the mongoose that ran across my path shortly after the downpour began.  On the other hand, a couple of different dragonflies deigned to pose for me -- as did the small colorful butterfly I reckon is a Lesser Band Dart (and if so, would be very cool, since it's been assessed as a rare butterfly species) and, best of all, an amphibian critter which I can't decide is a frog or toad, not least because I was unable to take a good look at its eyes before it quickly vanished from my sight! ;S

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Youth and Joy (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Youth really is wasted on the young.  When I was of a youthful age myself, I of course would never have thought that -- and this especially in those joy-filled years when I was attending college with, among others, a friend named Joy (whom I wrote about the last time joy was a Photo Hunt theme!).

So I do realize that it's a sign of my having aged quite a bit -- and at times into a curmudgeon -- that I find myself having thought that more than once in recent months; this especially when confronted by brash younger folks whose confidence far exceed their actual abilities in a work capacity! 

Therefore, I do thank Sandi and Gattina for having chosen Photo Hunt themes this week that, when combined, inspire me to more positively consider that youthful folks are capable of acts that can bring people joy.  

And I figure I can't have become a complete curmudgeon just yet since that I did get some joy myself from re-viewing the photos I took of the joyous, festive show that was put on for the community -- by a combination of youth and older folk -- in Shau Kei Wan in honor of the Taoist deity Tam Kung's birthday a few years back along with a smaller festive occasion I just happened to come across while visiting Cheung Chau -- the island home of one of Hong Kong's major festive celebrations -- one day! ;b

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tung Chung Fort - not torn down but nonetheless disrespected?

Who would put a children's playground so close 
to a close to a centuries old historic monument?!

 Even more unexpected is the existence of a basketball court
in the interior space of the Qing Dynasty complex!!
Perhaps some consolation can be drawn from Tung Chung Fort
still having six intact, old muzzle-loading cannons on site

Earlier today, I viewed an excellent Hong Kong movie entitled Dot 2 Dot that contained a scene in which an urban explorer unexpectedly discovers that a trash can has been placed next to one of the old City of Victoria's boundary stones.  While this would seem like an incongruous, never mind inappropriate, juxtapositioning to many people who have lived elsewhere besides "Asia's World City", I must say that I've come to look at this kind of casual treatment of historic artifacts and cultural heritage as par for the course in Hong Kong.

Take, as another example, the treatment that's been meted out to Tung Chung Fort. A Qing Dynasty fortification erected on the site of a fort built during the Southern Song Dynasty, it has been used after its abandonment by the Qing Government as a police station, occupied by a college and a primary school as well as the Japanese army (the last during the Second World War), and also served as the base for the Rural Committee Office.

Although it was officially declared a monument in 1979 by the relevant Hong Kong authorities, this hasn't saved the 19th century structure from the ignominy of having a basketball court inside of its walls and a children's playground and Indian restaurant as its super close-by neighbors!  And while there's supposed to be an exhibitions center run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department detailing its history, that didn't seem to be open when I visited the site on Sunday afternoon this summer.

This being Hong Kong, I suppose heritage conservationists should take some comfort in this old -- by Hong Kong standards! -- monument not having been torn down (yet).  Nonetheless, I can't help but rue that (more) steps haven't been taken to present this historic structure in a better way and light -- this especially since, unlike the likes of the forts at Fan Lau and Tung Lung Chau, the one at Tung Chung is pretty accessible by public transport (or even by foot from Tung Chung town centre).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hello Kitty in the news!

Guess who's been attracting a lot of attention lately...

 The furry creature hugging a teddy bear in this photo, that's who!

Earlier this week, I spotted a news brief about Hello Kitty sending messages back to Earth from her satellite up in space and pointed it out to a friend.  Today, I've received emails and other messages from a number of friends about news reports of Hello Kitty not being a cat.

In all honesty, neither of these pieces of news faze me all that much.  Re the former: I long ago stopped thinking that there are limits as to what Kitty Chan can do and get up to.  Re the latter: despite my proclivity for referring to Hello Kitty as the cute cat and furry feline, I do realize that she's about as far from being an ordinary cat as Ponyo is an ordinary fish.

Think about it: what kind of cat walks about on two legs, favors wearing bows on the top left side of her head, has friends from a variety of species, has her own pet cat (Charmmy Kitty) and a Teddy Bear (named Tiny Chum), etc., etc.?  So, far better -- and more appropriate -- to think of Hello Kitty as a an animated character, cultural force, etc.

Actually, I've long seen Hello Kitty referred to as a girl (rather than cat -- though this doesn't preclude that she's a girl-cat) on sites such as Sanriotown. It's also pretty much the case that she is a bundle of contradictions.  If one wanted to phrase it more nicely, I guess one could say that Kitty Chan sure is versatile -- as are those responsible for her back story.

For example, there have been at least two different answers from Kitty Chan's parent company, Sanrio, with regards to the query of "Why doesn't Hello Kitty have a mouth?" The first, which I heard some years back, is that she does have a mouth -- it's just not often visible because it's usually hidden under her fur. (And, indeed, pictures and videos can be found on the internet that clearly show Hello Kitty -- and, for that matter, her twin sister Mimi too -- with a mouth!)  

In recent years, however, the official line has become that she doesn't need a mouth because "Hello Kitty speaks from her heart. She’s Sanrio's ambassador to the world and isn't bound to any particular language." 

Returning to the Hello Kitty cat issue: I guess it's true enough that she's not a cat in the Sanrio universe whereas Charmmy Kitty is, much in the way that Goofy is not a dog in the Disney Universe but Pluto is.  Still, I'm going to exercise my right to occasionally refer to her as the cute cat and furry feline as well as Kitty Chan because, well, those designations seem pretty kawaii to me and if nothing else, I'm sure that Hello Kitty's cool with being associated with matters kawaii! ;)

*Update: a cool article has appeared over on entitled "Don't Be Silly, Hello Kitty is a Cat" that makes for helpful and interesting reading! :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Hong Kong's rocky, rugged Po Toi (photo-essay)

Considering how much I've enjoyed the two visits I've made to Po Toi (the first of which is chronicled in the form of photo-essays here, here, here and here), it can seem strange that I've only been to Hong Kong's southernmost island twice -- until you consider the following: firstly, it's not the easiest of destinations to get to, what with kaito services being on the infrequent side; and secondly, there not being that many different trekking trails on the island.

So imagine my surprise and horror when on my most recent trip there, my hiking buddy and I saw scores of other people on the path leading southeast from the Po Toi ferry pier -- presumably ferried over to the island on private charter tours!  Fortunately, the further we ventured uphill, the more the crowds melted away.  And it was downright peaceful and blissy on the final part of the hike when we found ourselves alone for much of our trek along what's officially known -- and for good reason too -- as Po Toi's Rugged Trail!

There's little question that Po Toi is one of 
Hong Kong's rugged and rockiest islands

if truth be told, I don't find all that visually impressive ;S

Imagine the shock I had when I first caught sight of
all those people on the coastal path!

 Fortunately, we found that Po Toi most certainly was big enough 
so that we could soon be away from the madding crowd

Naturally, a crowd gathered at Turtle Rock to ooh and aah
at how a natural rock formation could so resemble an animal ;)

 A view from near the top of the formidable looking hill 
in the previous photo :)

 On this visit to Po Toi at a cooler time of the year, the views
were less clear but the (previously overgrown) Rugged Trail was!

 It sure was a good thing that was the case as 
many of the signs on Po Toi had been rendered 
downright unreadable by Hong Kong's hot sun! :O

To be continued... but of course! ;b

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Creepy snake and spider spottings on today's Hong Kong Island hike!

Green snake -- and no, I don't mean the character
Maggie Cheung played in Tsui Hark's Green Snake (1993)! :O

A Golden Orb Weaver spider and its poor dragonfly prey

 Spider cannibalism -- another Golden Orb Weaver
opted for a fellow spider to be its food! :O

Earlier today, I went on a hike with with three friends that took us from Wong Nai Chung up to Violet Hill's two highest peaks, then down to Tsin Shui Wan Au to connect with the portion of the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path that led around the Twins down towards Stanley.  

While hiking along Violet Hill, I mentioned to one of my friends that this particularly excursion had been rather thin on the ground in terms of critter spottings.  Little did we know then the veritable critter spotting explosion we'd experience in the latter section of the hike, pretty much once we passed Tsin Shui Wan Au!

On most other days, spotting a green snake -- regardless of whether it was a Greater Green Snake (as I'm inclined to think based on descriptions of its behavior), considerably more venomous Bamboo Snake (based on how it looked to me) or something else altogether -- would normally constitute the high point of the critter spotting portion of the hike for me.

But whereas we saw one live snake on our hike this afternoon (along with a partially decaying dead one that was giving off a distinctly strong smell), we must have seen as many as 50 spiders -- the vast majority of them Golden Orb Weavers -- over the course of less than two hours!  And adding to the experience was many of them having built their webs so close to the path that the tallest among us (who's around 6 feet 4 inches tall) had to hunch to avoid a number of them while another of our number ended up accidentally getting a large section of spiderweb stuck on her backpack courtesy of having veered a little too close to the path's edge at one point!

In addition, it was interesting to notice that a surprisingly high number of the spiders had caught themselves something to eat in their admittedly often pretty large webs.  On a Lantau Island hike a few years back, I had seen a Golden Orb Weaver with the remnants of a butterfly in its web. Today, I saw Golden Orb Weavers which had caught bees, dragonflies -- and most shockingly of all -- another Golden Orb Weaver in their webs and definitely looked like they were preparing these other creatures to be eaten!

Despite their venom being potent (but not lethal to humans) and their being capable of biting people, I have to admit to generally enjoying the presence of Golden Orb Weavers rather than being freaked out by them.  For one thing, I tell myself that they help keep the mosquito population down.  For another, I find them very beautiful and easy photography subjects (since they don't run away when I try to take snaps of them).

But I have to admit that I'll never quite look at them in the same light again after seeing today that they're capable of cannibalism!  Indeed, I might go so far as to say that I found the sight of the Golden Orb Weaver with another -- and definitely dead -- Golden Orb Weaver in its web to be creepier than that of the green snake spotted today; though it's true enough that if that snake hadn't decided to stay on the far side of the catchwater from us, that might have been an entirely different matter! ;b

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Engage and Umbrellas (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

The past few months have seen many treats for Hong Kong-based fans of Totoro and other Studio Ghibli creations (including a certain Ponyo).   Among other things, last month saw the arrival of Isao Takahata's sublime The Tale of Princess Kaguya into cinemas, and it was followed this month by Mami Sunada's wonderful Studio Ghibli documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

In addition, MCL Telford has been hosting a -- still ongoing, as I write this -- Studio Ghibli Animation Retrospective Programme while the Hong Kong Heritage Museum's highlight exhibition this summer has been the one on Studio Ghibli Layout Designs: Understanding the Secrets of Takahata and Miyazaki Animation.

At both MCL Telford and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, provisions have been made for those who wish to engage with Totoro (particularly O-Totoro) in ways that go beyond merely looking at illustrations of it.  Specifically, the cinema has a large Totoro plush in its lobby area which fans can take photos with (but, it's specifically noted, not touch) while the museum has set up specific themed photography areas (such as Totoro's Wonderland and Ponyo's Beach) and organised workshops on the art of Studio Ghibli.

On a related note: when Donguri Republic (Studio Ghibli's character shop) opened its first branch outside of Japan here in Hong Kong last summer, a photo area featuring O-Totoro waiting for a bus (with an umbrella at the ready to be used in case rain started falling) was set up in the shopping mall that the store's located. 

Participants in Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts wondering what's the connection between umbrellas and Totoro, go check out the absolutely fantastic My Neighbor Totoro post haste!  For now, suffice to say that umbrellas play a part in a part in a lovely scene in the movie that takes place one rainy evening, and which many people consider it one of the best animation film scenes of all time. :)

Friday, August 22, 2014

The eating of cucumber in various countries, particularly in summer

Never mind the ducks' tongues and other edibles on the table
-- instead, please focus on the slices of crunchy cucumber! ;b
 Two other delicious ways to serve up cucumber :)

On my only visit (thus far) to Mainland China some years ago, a Bejing-born friend and her relatives took my mother and I on a day trip to the Great Wall of China and nearby environs.  While taking a break from walking along the ancient fortification, my friend's elder sister started handing out drinks and snacks meant to reinvigorate us -- and I was intrigued to find that plain sticks of cucumber are considered to be a refreshing, thirst-quenching treat.
My friend got to explaining that cucumbers are considered a good "cooling" food to eat in hot weather by the Chinese.  This appears to be a sentiment shared by the Japanese, with raw sticks of cucumbers a popular enough snack that I've seen them on sale stuck on actual sticks a la corn dogs in that other East Asian country! And in view of cucumber sandwiches being a favored summer snack in England (at least among certain segments of that country's society), I'm thinking that at least some English think the same way too!  
Back on this side of planet Earth, there's the Koreans, a bowl of whose mul nyaeng  (cold buckwheat noodles, served with -- among other things -- cucumbers, Asian pear, pickled radish and a hardboiled egg) I had for lunch today.  Sometimes the cucumbers served as part of this dish are fresh, other times they are pickled.  Either way, they appear to be a "must have" in this traditional Korean summer food.     
Speaking of pickles: I do like dill pickles, especially with my deli sandwiches and chips.  But  I like spicy cucumbers better -- so much so that I find it next to impossible to resist ordering the dish whenever I dine at the likes of a branch of popular Taiwanese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung
These days, I'm often quite happy to eat cucumbers raw and plain.  But when I was a child in Malaysia, I often found cucumbers too bitter to enjoy that way.  Looking back, it's true enough that it wasn't until I moved away from there that I discovered that cucumbers don't necessarily have to taste that way though -- and, as can be shown when Mei bites into one with much relish in Hayao Miyazaki's sublime My Neighbor Totoro, they can be healthy foods that children, not just adults, enjoy! :b 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A hike in Hong Kong's second largest country park (Photo-essay)

In my first year of hiking in Hong Kong, I went on an excursion with Roz's Group to Tai Lam Country Park on a high pollution -- and consequently low visibility -- day.  That hike is one that I fondly remember for two things: firstly, it was the occasion on which I first met my German friend (who subsequently moved back to her home country after spending seven years in Hong Kong, and who I went on to have a great visit in Germany with); and secondly, it was the hike on which I discovered the macro function on my digital camera! 

Several hikes (and hundreds of critter spotting photos) later, I found myself trekking in Hong Kong's second largest country park on another low visibility day. This time though, I knew to focus on checking out sights close to where I was as well as gazing out into the distance.  And thanks to doing so, I managed to spot a snake in the brush nearby at one point in this enjoyable but otherwise not particularly exciting Tai Lam Country Park hike! ;b

I know it's not the intention but the sign gets me thinking
of villagers as exotic creatures akin to feral cows and buffalo!

 While out hiking, particular in winter, one will come across
patches of red that turn out to be that of young leaves
rather than beautiful blooming flowers! ;)

Pretty much every year in Hong Kong, one reads of
people who got food poisoning from eating wild fungi :O

In a quiet spot in Tai Lam Country Park, there's a scenic area 
which is tempting to linger at, especially in winter when 
there's little fear of mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water!

The water there is on the stagnant side but also oh so clear!

Can that hill's squarish tip be natural?! :O

Definitely artificial -- and also dry: one of the
Sham Tseng Settlement Basin's run off waterways

I'm going to presume that the "Danger - No Entry" sign 
is for the nearby body of water -- otherwise, 
it doesn't make much sense at all! ;O

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cool critter sightings up on Mount Parker

Arachnophobes, look away -- but to others, 
isn't this spider a beauty as well as unusual looking?!
 Is that a grasshopper or cricket -- or something else 
altogether (e.g., an alien creature) -- in the photo? :O

The wireless signal station atop Mount Parker -- and the promise 
of beautiful views from its vicinity -- called to me this afternoon

The plan for this hot summer afternoon was to go on a short hike -- one that would take a friend visiting from Singapore and I partially up Mount Parker Road and then along the Hong Pak Country Trail that goes around the valley at the northwestern slope of Mount Parker.  But as we ascended the lower section of Mount Parker Road, the wireless signal station atop the 532-meter-high hill looked so inviting that I couldn't resist the siren call -- and fortunately was able to persuade my friend that it'd be cool to head up there instead.
One of the attractions today of heading up to that high ground was that the high visibility conditions would mean that we'd be able to see far from up there -- and so it proved, with our being able to see many kilometers further into the distance this afternoon when I previously visited (with a different friend), on a cloudy day.  It's not often that one can see Ma On Shan, the Ninepins and the islands south of Po Toi that belong to China from Hong Kong Island -- but such was the case this afternoon from atop Mount Parker!

I have to be honest though and say that what I liked even more about the section of today's hike that saw us go beyond Quarry Gap (aka Tai Fung Au) was how much more bereft of other people -- and therefore more peaceful and idylic -- the upper section of the trail was.  And I don't think it coincidental that we made way more critter spottings on the section of trail between Quarry Gap and the top of Mount Parker than the lower section of Mount Parker Road that led us from sea level (or thereabouts) King's Road up to Quarry Gap.
Among the cool critter spottings made this afternoon were of four different blue-tailed skinks -- two adults and two babies, all wandering about separately.  Then there was the beautiful gold-colored dragonfly that obligingly perched for several minutes for us to take its photo!  
Rather than put their photos on this blog entry though, I've opted instead to showcase a couple of critters that I had never seen before -- or, rather, with the particular coloring and patterning that I saw this afternoon.  The first of these I am pretty certain is a type of spider.  However, I'm not sure whether the other is a cricket, grasshopper or something else altogether -- and in both cases, I reckon they'd be the kind of creatures that could well serve as pretty good inspirations for film aliens! ;b

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Curse and People at Work (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Every so often, I look at certain people at work and think "what a hell of a job they have".  That was the case the night that I went to a horror movie premiere and saw "ghosts" wandering about in the theater -- and got to wondering if those young women assigned those roles looked upon it as a curse (this particularly since I find Hong Kong to be a very superstitious society)!

More usually, however, the jobs that get me thanking the heavens that it's not been my lot in life to undertake them tend to be of a more menial nature, and often involve literally heavy burdens.  As an example: see the middle photo in this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts -- of one of a number of men whose work involves transporting heavy cylinders of liqufied gas on bicycles from their stores to the many homes in Hong Kong -- some of them on upper floors of elevator-less buildings -- which use them.

Then there was the elderly woman I spotted manning her open-air stand at the pier on a windy winter's day the last time I visited Po Toi, Hong Kong's southern-most island.  She may not look like she's doing much in the photo but she definitely is one of those people whose work I would not wish to have, especially on the day that I saw her at her job.

At the same time though, I got the feeling that she actually didn't consider her lot in life as one that was the result of a curse -- since she was surprisingly cheery when I went and bought some pickled scallions to snack on while waiting for the ferry to arrive.  In addition, seeing her also got me musing that while there are some folks who are envious of those who can opt for early retirement, there also are  people who are happy to be at work -- and not just because they feel forced to either - way past what many of us consider to be retirement age!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In the company of others at Luk Wu Plateau (Photo-essay)

From the first time that I set foot on the Luk Wu Plateau, I decided that it's one of my favorite parts of Hong Kong -- and this all the more after my spotting a really big lizard on a tree on one of my hikes up to that part of Sai Kung East Country Park.

Because it's not the easiest part of Hong Kong to reach, the trails on it aren't the best maintained.  At the same time though, the Luk Wu Plateau appears to be an area favored by local hikers who like to go about in large groups -- as on three occasions now, I've felt like sections of the Luk Wu Country Trail had turned into a log-jammed highway for a few minutes!

Rather than get all upset about this, however, the thing to do is to either pause for a bit to establish some distance between your (small) party and the large group or, if it seems that you're going to be faster moving than them, power ahead and leave them in the dust!  In any case, it's super rare to encounter more than one of these large groups per hike. So you and your friends should be able to get back to enjoying the natural sights and sounds about you soon enough... :)

It can make me laugh to think that there are many people -- 
including some who've lived in Hong Kong for many years -- 
who don't realize that Hong Kong can be so green

See the paths in the distance?  They are indeed part of
the relatively short but taxing Luk Wu Country Trail  :b

One of those waterfalls that's far more impressive
in the wetter months of the year but still is nice 
to catch sight of in the drier months

 Parts of the trail have eroded but fortunately 
those sections have done are on the wide side,
and thus not a problem to go along

Even during the cooler times of the year, 
the ascent up to the higher reaches of 
the plateau can be on the challenging side

It doesn't help that the some of the steep 
steps up have crumbled away! :O

 Nonetheless, as this photo clearly shows, this trail
appears to be pretty popular!

 I'm sure sights to be had along the way like this
contribute to this particular trail's popularity :)