Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Tai Tam Country Park winter hike

In sub-tropical Hong Kong, flowers continue to bloom in winter
Winter is prime birdwatching season in Hong Kong
When the reservoir waters are low and calm, 
cool reflections abound!
This afternoon, I went on yet one more hike in Tai Tam Country Park.  The most convenient of Hong Kong's country parks to get to (since its northern boundary is within walking distance of not just one but actually two MTR stations!), it also has a number of scenic sections along with hills from which one can get splendid views such as Violet Hill (with its three peaks), The Twins, Jardine's Lookout, Mount Butler and Siu Ma Shan.   
One of my favorite of Hong Kong's country parks, each hike there yields what I have come to look upon as comfortingly familiar sights but also something new, or at least different -- be it a new critter or flower spotting, or yet one more section of trail to go on for the first time.  For example, this afternoon, I finally made my way to a pavilion up on a ridge that I had seen many times before but had taken a while to figure out how to get to!
Unlike the previous time that I had ventured into the largest country park on Hong Kong Island, I didn't spot any truly interesting critters -- which is to be expected now that winter's finally arrived in the Big Lychee this year.  But as an American friend who moved to Hong Kong only a few months ago has happily observed, one can see flowers blooming here in fall and winter rather than just spring and summer!  
What with it being on the rainy side when I began today's hike, I opted against going up any of Tai Tam Country Park's higher hills.  Instead, after getting up to Quarry Gap (AKA Tai Fung Au, which means "Big Wind Gap" in Cantonese) from King's Road via Mount Parker Road, I walked down to the Tai Tam Reservoirs, which are pretty much guaranteed to offer up gorgeous scenery at just about any time of the year.   
And so it proved, with the bonus of their low waters allowing more sections of such as the masonry bridges that are among the featured structures of the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail to show than usual, and the reservoirs' calm surfaces able to reflect quite a bit of the surrounding scenery. :)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Antony Gormley's sculptures of naked men don't get the reaction he hoped for in Hong Kong

Thanks to Antony Gormley, Statue Square is home to more 
than just one statue again -- at least until May 18th, 2016
An iPhone seller positions his wares and himself
For over a month now, Hong Kong has played to host to Antony Gormley's Event Horizon, a public art installion consisting of 31 sculptures of naked, anatomically correct men erected (no pun intended!) on top of buildings and at street level across a one kilometer stretch in the heart of Hong Kong's Central District.
In the first few weeks after the art works were installed in Hong Kong, the police received several phone calls from members of the public who had mistaken the statues they had seen atop buildings as people contemplating suicide by jumping to their deaths.  But while there are some who may dismiss these reactions as a sign that Hong Kongers lack cultural sophistication, I actually sympathize with those individuals who mistook the statues for suicidal people -- and, if anything, question the cultural sensitivity of those who went ahead and brought this foreign art installation, probably at great financial expense, over to this part of the world.
In addition, for all of Antony Gormley's lofty views with regards to this particular art installation, I am inclined to think that his representations of naked men have not had the impact here in Hong Kong that he had sought.  For one thing, despite it being his stated intention being "to get the sculptures as visible as possible against the sky", I actually don't think that they're all that immediately visible.  In fact, despite my knowing of their existence, I still have failed to spot a single one of those statues located on the roofs of buildings!
And while I have noticed those of his statues installed at street level, I also have noticed that many of  the people passing by them haven't exactly been moved to "re-assess our own position in the world".  Rather, they've become something to merely gawk at or photograph, and provoke discussions like -- and, I swear, I really did hear this earlier today -- "That looks like a circumcised penis to me", "Are you sure?",  "Yes, absolutely"!" at best; or end up blending into the landscape and get plain ignored at best.
Even while I appreciate the efforts of those intent on bringing art to Hong Kong, I wonder whether they would do better -- and Hong Kong be better served -- if they were to work to encourage, cultivate and nurture the local artistic talent that does exist.  Either that or bring art that connects more and better with Hong Kongers rather than be so foreign that they actually alarm or, maybe worse, are met with apathy.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A good section of Sai Kung West Country Park to hike in the company of others

 The kind of place where and time of the year when it'd be 
good to know that there's a manned fire lookout in the area

Signposted but not accessible to the public, it seems :(

On the sunny winter day that two friends and I went up the Sai Kung Peninsula's highest spur, we also had intended to go to the fire lookout at the top of nearby Lo Fu Kei Shek.  On paper, it shouldn't have been a problem.  For one thing, 255-meter-high Lo Fu Kei Shek is 226 meters lower than 481-meter-high Shek Uk Shan.  And in fact, we were approaching the lower hill from the higher one as we made our way down to Hoi Ha Road. 

But as our party of three made our way through thick underbrush from Shek Uk Shan towards Lo Fu Kei Shek and beyond on one of those trails designated difficult, indistinct or seasonally overgrown on Hong Kong Countryside Maps, we got rather worn out from fighting our way through tall foliage and also making sure to tread carefully down an at times steeply descending path.  And after making it to Lo Fu Kei Shek, we found "road closed" signs indicating that the trail to the fire lookout on the map was no longer open to the public/considered safe to go along.    

I must admit that part of me did want to go up to the fire lookout as, from experience, I know that the hilltops where these facilities are located offer up grand, panoramic vistas.  At the same time though, that knowledge was not enough to make me want to go along a road that had been declared closed for, I figured, a good reason.  Also, the road looked to be leading uphill quite a bit -- and at that point in the hike, I preferred to make for the nearest green minibus stop and, from there, a place where I could get something to eat and drink!

While having dinner an hour or so later, my friends and I reflected on our hike and decided it was a pretty good one, even if there had been a few hairy moments and we all had some scratches to show for it.  Thinking back to the grand views that we had on Shek Uk Shan and quite a few other points along the hike, we pronounced ourselves surprised that we hadn't seen any other hikers after we went past Cheung Sheung Plateau.     

After getting home, I decided to research Shek Uk Shan and Lo Fu Kei Shek some more, and found a blog post telling of a young policeman's disappearance in the area (that's possibly related to this archived story) and a news story of a different hiker having died near Lo Fu Kei Shek.  It's possible that these incidents have warned off those hikers with long memories, superstitious inclinations or both from this part of Sai Kung West Country Park.  If so, I have to say that it's quite a pity as it's really a visually stunning area; one that's worth hiking through, in the company of others, along those sections of trail that are marked on the map and still accessible to the public.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Vanished Murderer is an unnecessary film sequel (Film review)

How many prisoners obsessed over going over, through 
The Vanished Murderer (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2015)
- Lo Chi Leung, director and co-scriptwriter (with Yeung Sin Ling)
- Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Guo Xiaodong, Jiang Yiyan, Li Xiaolu, Rhydian Vaughan
Director Lo Chi Leung's filmography includes a children's fantasy romantic comedy in 2005's Bug Me Not! but I think it safe to say that crime-suspense dramas are his first love.  And as the Hong Kong filmmaker openly expressed in an interview around the time that his set-in-1930s-Shanghai crime thriller, The Bullet Vanishes, opened in Hong Kong cinemas, "It's my intention to create a detective series for the Chinese audience." 
Three years on, Lo's got his wish and has that movie's cerebral detective protagonist, Song Donglu (Lau Ching Wan) once more investigating a case involving Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), the remarkably intelligent woman convicted for the murder of her husband.  A candidate to be the titular vanished murderer, she effects a seemingly miraculous escape from a northern Chinese prison.  Assigned to capture her and return to captivity, Song tracks Fu Yuan to a city where deadlier criminals lurk, including a powerful tycoon Gao Minxiang (Guo Xiaodong) whose cruelty appears to be causing a number of his workers to commit suicide.   
The Vanished Murderer starts off on a jaunty, even humorous, note but turn considerably darker soon after we enter Gao's realm.  The first time a gun is fired in the film, the action is played for laughs in a scene introducing a woman he jilted but who's intent on changing his mind (Li Xiaolu).  The second time a gun is fired, it interrupts a potentially romantic scene -- but also results in a man's death.  And several more deaths take place -- some off-screen, others off-screen, a few of which were genuinely unexpected -- before the film's conclusion.
Visually stylish and complexly -- actually, over-convolutedly -- plotted, The Vanished Murderer is one of those films that can be easily seen as containing many socio-political subtexts as well as red herring-filled sub-plots.  It also possesses its share of intriguing supporting characters who aren't quite all that they initially appear.  
For example, what is one to make of Gao's insistence that the suicides are actually murders being carried by a mysterious serial killer, and his hiring Song to track down that individual?  And while Gao may be the most obviously powerful person in the city, two of the people under his employ -- a local police officer (Taiwanese-British actor Rhydian Vaughan) and a philosophy professor (Hong Kong's Gordon Lam Ka Tung) whose students include Gao's callow son -- appear to know quite a bit more than him about what's going on in his supposed sphere of influence.   
Three years after viewing The Bullet Vanishes, I remember having been initially impressed by the film but then feeling sorely let down by its ending.  Not having been left wanting more, I neither expected nor looked forward to seeing a sequel -- and after having viewed The Vanished Murderer, my sense is that it really wouldn't have been much of a loss if there hadn't been one.  For once again, Lo Chi Leung's made a movie that began promisingly but ended up leaving me not truly satisfied. 

My rating for this film: 6.0

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hiking up to Shek Uk Shan via the Cheung Sheung Plateau and down via Lo Fu Kei Shek (Photo-essay)

If most people were asked to name one peak on the Sai Kung Peninsula, chances are that they'd most likely say Sharp PeakA very distinctive landmark which dominates much of the northern section of the Sai Kung Peninsula, this 468-meter-high presents quite the climbing challenge -- but it's actually not the highest hill in this section of Hong Kong!

Instead, the 481-meter-high Shek Uk Shan it is that has the honor of being the Sai Kung Peninsula's highest hill.  And Shek Uk Shan it was that two friends and I went up one sunny winter's day -- with the ascent from the Cheung Sheung plateau being fairly easy but the descent down to Hoi Ha Road via 235-meter-high Lo Fu Kei Shek being less so... ;S  

Presented with a diversity of choice's at the trail head,
we opted to head uphill to the Cheung Sheung Plateau

 At Cheung Sheung Plateau, we had the option of camping,
getting some refreshments at the store operated by a local resident, 
and/or hanging out with some friendly feral cattle

We, however, opted to press ahead and get scenic views 
like this one of mountains, and blue waters and skies

The landscape to the northwest of Cheung Sheung plateau
is on the rocky and rugged-looking side

The well-defined trail passed through scenic territory

A trignometrical station and signal station 
(as well as helicopter pad) lies atop Shek Uk Shan

A rare bird's eye view view of Pak Sha O village and 
agricultural fields from near the top of Shek Uk Shan

 You'd think it'd be easier to go down the hill than up -- 
but you'd have reckoned without the thick underbrush! :S

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On the anniversary of the end of the "street occupation" phase of the Umbrella Movement

Protest and art at Causeway Bay last year

Visual evidence that the Umbrella Movement
had/has a lot of participants and supporters

One year on, the message remains clear: I -- along with 

One year ago today, I returned from a trip to Germany and Luxembourg on what turned out to be the final day of the street occupation phase of the Umbrella Movement which began in earnest, ironically, on the day that I had returned from a Japan trip a few months earlier.  

In the wee hours of September 28th, 2014, law professor Benny Tai announced the commencement of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign.  In truth though, many of us think that the political protests would not have escalated and got as much support as it did without the Hong Kong polic firing 87 cannisters of tear gas at people whose scariest weapons were words, who resorted to using umbrellas to protest themselves from police truncheons and other weapons.

On China's National Day, I, together with hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, people, proceeded to spend time out on the streets of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Admiralty, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong showing our love of Hong Kong.  I know many people who ended up spending nights on the streets and still more who spent many daytime hours over the 79 days and 78 nights during which Hong Kong was "Occupied", determined to be seen, heard and counted, and to make a difference.       

One year on, there are times when it can feel like the Umbrella Movement didn't happen, like all of that had been just an illusion and dream (or, as some would see it, nightmare).  After all, Hong Kongers still don't have genuine universal suffrage.  Leung Chun Ying remains Chief Executive of the HKSAR.  Mainlanders are still coming to Hong Kong and buying things.   

On the other hand, there do appear to be fewer mainlanders visiting Hong Kong these days.  The Hong Kong government's proposed political reform resolution that sparked the Occupy/Umbrella Movement, etc. protests was voted down by Legislative Councilors in June.  And the Hong Kong District Council Elections last month saw a huge rise in voter registration and turnout, and wins by a number of "Umbrella Soldiers", idealistic, pro-democracy individuals running for polical office for the first time in what amounted to the first polls post the Umbrella Movement.     

On a personal note: I definitely have been changed by the Umbrella Movement.  Among other things, the Umbrella Movement made me care more about what happens to and in Hong Kong politically, made me see Hong Kongers in a different light, and made me love Hong Kong more than ever.  Oh, and watching videos like this keeps alive my hopes for and faith in the people of, and the place where I want to make my home.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Critter spotting at Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve: the non-butterfly edition!

A tiny spider and its beautifully spun web

A long-tailed lizard I'm happy that I managed to spot!

 A green grasshopper balances precariously 
on a green plant that also is its food

On the same day earlier this month that I spotted a large number and variety of butterflies at Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, I also caught sight of some other interesting-looking critters at the 42-hectare-sized "Site of Special Scientific Interest".  

Because of their size and coloration, these creatures could be considered to be more difficult to spot than the often more colorful -- and larger in some instances -- butterflies that the conservation area is more famous for.  But those that one catches sight of often tend to be easier to photograph than butterflies (and their moth relations), particularly those species famous for their hardly ever stopping to flap their wings such as the white dragontail that is one of two butterflies considered the star attractions at Fung Yuen

When talking to friends, I often get the feeling that these other critters tend to be considered less visually attractive than those insects in the order Lepidoptera; with spiders (large or small) and lizards (be they skinks or otherwise) particularly being more likely to revulse than fascinate.  For me, they are at least equally cool to spot in nature -- though it's true enough that I'm not too keen for them (and, for that matter, any other living thing!) to make their home in my abode, like is occasionally the case!

Speaking of abodes: I really was glad to see such a diversity of creatures at Fung Yuen on my most recent visit there.  I've already mentioned that in the past year or so, the building of the Mont Vert high-rise residences close to the butterfly reserve had affected the butterfly population.  In addition, since my visit to the conservation area, I've learnt of goings on at nearby Sha Lo Tung causing ecological concern

It would be a great thing indeed if it turns out that nature is far more resilient than we often realize.  Of course this is not to say that humans should feel free to do all kinds of bad things to the environment.  Indeed, we really ought to care far more for and about it than we often do; this not least since it's generally way too easy to callously destroy something precious that has/had existed for eons, including the ecologically rich area at Fung Yuen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Country Parks Appreciation Day #saveourcountryparks

A popular sentiment etched on a country park sign!
A panoramic view that shows how beautiful 

This tiny country park denizen tried to
hitch a ride on my glasses this afternoon! :O
Over the last few months, I've seen quite a few "CY 下台" slogans emblazoned on various surfaces in a number of Hong Kong country parks.  So numerous are these written demands for Leung Chun Ying (AKA CY Leung, and 689) to ha toi ("step down" in Cantonese) they must be the work of more than person.  And the number of hikers and other users of Hong Kong's country parks who aren't fans of the politician also known as "the wolf" surely has increased in the wake of his suggesting that some sections of Hong Kong's country parks be redesignated for other uses
While pretty much everyone who lives in Hong Kong would like to see more (affordable) housing come into being in the territory, I know of few people who think that what effectively are Hong Kong's green lungs should be sacrificed; this especially since many "brownfield" areas exist in the Big Lychee, as do old industrial buildings that could be re-zoned for residential use and sizable facilities that are not useful for the vast majority of Hong Kongers such as the Chief Executive's official country residence and a private golf course on government land which covers the same area as the town of Tsuen Wan!
To protest what many people see as a planned act of vandalism on the part of the government, an umbrella alliance calling itself Save Our Country Parks called for people to especially go out into the country parks today, take photos there and upload them onto social media.  In lieu of my not having an account on Facebook (yes, really, still!), Twitter or Instagram, this #saveourcountryparks blog post represents my particular contribution to the environmental alliance's inaugural "Country Parks Appreciation Day".
For the record: a friend and I were out in Tai Lam Country Park this afternoon and saw plenty of other people enjoying the green scenery and fresh air on offer at Hong Kong's second largest country park.  Although I normally prefer not to see too many people while out hiking, today was an exception -- and I also liked that those out appreciating what was on offer at Tai Lam Country Park this afternoon included children as well as adults of various ages, bicyclists and anglers as well as hikers, couples, family groups, groups of friends and solitary souls.   

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Independent and indigenous Hong Kong street art

Guerilla knitwork seen in Wan Chai earlier this week
Protest art spotted in Causeway Bay a few months back

Early on in my time in Hong Kong, the company I worked for then had a couple of summer interns from New York.  For some reason, I remember one of them marvelling out loud one day how bereft of graffiti Hong Kong was.  At the time, I took it as praise that the Big Lychee was much more free of vandalism than the Big Apple.  Later on though, I got to wondering whether she had meant that Hong Kong seemed bereft of artistic creativity and the willingness to color outside the lines, not just within them.      

I'm not sure if it's because of my changed perspectives or whether it's really the case -- but I've noticed more graffiti and/or bona fide street art of Hong Kong in the years since.  Initially, the more eye-catching ones either looked to have official approval (be it by the government or commercial enterprise) or were created by foreign artists (like the anonymous French street artist dubbed  "Invader").  But especially during and since the "street occupation" phase of the Umbrella Movement, I've come across more and more examples of independent and indigenous public art, including of the political protest variety, out on the streets of Hong Kong.   

Take, as an example, the colorful mural I spotted on a wall in Causeway Bay a few months back.  Located just a few streets away from what had been the Occupy Causeway Bay space this time last year, its political message of a young, defenceless Hong Kong being threatened by a red, wolfish menace came across loud and clear.  So I shouldn't be too surprised to find, when I passed by the area again a few weeks ago, that the wall which it once adorned has been literally whitewashed. 

I wonder how long the cool piece of guerilla knitting by a yarn bomber I came across after lunch one afternoon with a friend in Wan Chai earlier this week will stay in place.  I don't see it inherently political but its "illegal" nature still may offend the local authorities.  Really though, I think efforts like this should be welcome rather than condemned and/or dissuaded from taking place -- because how can't they get one smiling upon beholding their existence and admiring their makers' generous creativity? :)      

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Tai Lam Country Park hike that ended at a roast goose restaurant (photo-essay)

More often than not, when I go hiking in Tai Lam Country Park, I enter Hong Kong's second largest country park at Tsuen Kam Au, where the convenient bus stop called "Country Park" is located.  Where the hike ends can vary quite a bit, however; and often is dictated by what I feel like eating post-hike -- with choice options including rustic "village cuisine" at Tai Wing Wah in Yuen Long, refreshing dessert at Kai Kee (also in Yuen Long), and goose in Sham Tseng!

One winter's day, a friend and I made our way from Tsuen Kam Au to Sham Tseng along a route I first went on in 2007 but which he was going on for the very first time.  Arguably the most spectacular part of the day's excursion was our roast goose post-hike dinner!  But it's not like we didn't also enjoy the afternoon's ramble, which did offer up some sights and views that I thought worth recording with my camera... ;b

I do appreciate that some brightly colored flowers
remain in bloom during the winter in Hong Kong :)

A scenic section of Tai Lam Country Park that I've always
felt compelled to linger at whenever I've passed through it

I also like walking through bamboo thickets, especially
when a wind is blowing through them

An on-site photo showing how the village enclave 
of Tsing Fai Tong looked in 1953

How Tsing Fai Tong looked when we  passed through 
the area on our hike that winter's day (with just 
one farm left and the landscape dominated by a large grave) 

 When you catch sight of the Garden bakery building,
you know that you're close to Sham Tseng -- and hike's end :b

This temple's tiled mural catches the eye but I found the 
small figures on its roof, particularly those depicting men 
riding what look big birds, more mind-blowing! :O

Yue Kee, our pick of the Sham Tseng restaurants
to have our roast goose dinner at! :b

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A delicious taste of South Africa in Hong Kong!

A beer I first drank some 20 years ago and the chocolate 
infused version I tried for the first time earlier this week! 

Anyone for some biltong? :b

 Droëwors, the tastiest hard sticks I've ever eaten! ;b

I have to admit it: there's been more than one occasion over the past few years when I've thought that Hong Kong's Asia World City claim was more of a joke than reality; this particularly since with each passing year, it seems like one encounters fewer and fewer Hong Kongers who seem all that comfortable and open to speaking a language that's not Chinese, and is more and more likely to find oneself in a part of Hong Kong with no English signage in sight (despite English (still) being one of the official languages of the HKSAR).    

At other times though, there are things and events that prompt me to marvel and exult over how international and multicultural life in Hong Kong can be.  Take, as an example, the fact that not only do Japanese sake and cocktail bars exist here in the Big Lychee but that my most regular drinking buddy at them is a South African gentleman who spent time living and working in Germany and South Korea in between leaving his home country and moving to Hong Kong!   

Early on in our friendship, I told him about how I had spent a couple of years in Africa (Tanzania, to be more precise) and that when I lived in Dar es Salaam, my favorite beer was South Africa's Castle Milk Stout.  So guess what my South African friend made the effort to get me on his most recent visit back home?  Why, a big bottle of the classic Castle Milk Stout, of course, but also a few extras besides!      

A few evenings ago, we met up to share some of that fondly remembered South African beer.  Before he opened the bottle of Castle Milk Stout that had traveled several thousand miles over to Hong Kong, my friend expressed his fear that the beer wouldn't be as good as I remembered it being.  I told him I actually was prepared for this to be the case -- this not least since I first had sampled this milk stout before I had been introduced to the incredible world of imperial stouts -- but that I'd be happy and satisfied if it turned out to be half as good tasting as I had felt it was when I had first tried it!

Happily, my verdict after trying it again after all these years is that Castle Milk Stout really is a very tasty stout that's smooth, richly malty, and noticeably more complex and definitely superior to the much more famous stout brewed by Guiness.  And, as it so happens, it's great to drink when eating biltong and droëwors, traditional South African meat snacks which represent a beloved taste of home for my friend!

Far less traditional but no less great tasting was the chocolate infused Castle Milk Stout which my friend also brought over from South Africa.  Containing cocoa as well as the more usual ingredients (water, hops, yeast and malt) found in beers, it really does smell of chocolate and, perhaps even more amazingly, does have a chocolatey aftertaste that's surprising the first time around and entirely pleasant!  

Not only was it a big hit with my South African friend (who actually had never had Castle Milk Stout before that evening as he's more of a wine, cocktail and sake than beer drinker!) and I but it went down well too with our Hong Kong and Japanese friends who also tried it that evening!  And I think I now won't be the only one hoping that he'll bring back some bottles of Castle Milk Stout -- both the original and chocolate-infused versions -- after his next visit home... ;b

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Sunset Peak hike on a beautiful blue sky day (Photo-essay)

When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Mallory famously answered "Because it's there". No offence to that famous mountaineer and others like him -- but that's just not good enough for me!  Instead, I am primarily compelled to hike up hills because I think that I will be able to get stupendous views from up them!

Thus it was that after I was prevented from seeing all that much the first time that I went up Sunset Peak by misty conditions (though I did at least manage to spot some Chinese New Year flowers -- pretty appropriately as that hike took place over the first day of Chinese New Year), I resolved to go up the 869-meter-high mountain once more, and in better weather.  Approximately one year later, and with a different friend in tow, I was back on Sunset Peak -- and this time, we lucked out in terms of it being a beautiful sunny day with yielded up splendid views of what was up there as well as far away down below... :)

Show most people this photo and I'm willing to bet that
few will be able to tell you that it was taken in Hong Kong ;b
A rocky path leads one higher and higher up the mountain
A beautiful butterfly spotted along the way up
How different that butterfly looks with its wings closed! :O
Vividly blue skies over Sunset Peak's rocky top
Section 2 of the Lantau Trail passes through a section of 
the mountain that's home to a number of stone rental huts 
 I know of one person who's spent a night in one of these huts but, 
to my mind, they're way too spartan to be all that attractive -- and 
there's the hard climb up (especially with provisions) to get there besides!
So, having finally got to clearly see what's up there,
I was happy to make my way down -- to Mui Wo

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Speaking out for my Muslim friends

The beautiful ceiling of Schloss Schwetzingen's mosque
A quiet section of Kuala Kangsar's Ubudiah Mosque
On this day 74 years ago, the Japanese attacked Hong Kong and a whole lot of other places, including Pearl Harbor (over on the other side of the International Date Line; hence it still being December 7 over in the US when the attacks occured).  Unlike my grandparents and parents (one of whom was born in Japanese-occupied Penang), however, I've never personally lived in times when Japan was at war -- and feel blessed that this is the case.
Although I've never personally experienced living when a world war was taking place (and sincerely hope that I never will), I've lived in one country that has been at war when I was resident there.  The country in question is the USA -- and it's notable that each time they waged a war when I was there, the enemy was identified as Muslim.
Despite not being a Muslim myself, I found myself being called upon to explain -- and felt compelled to defend -- Islam and people of the Muslim faith on several occasions when living in the US, especially after September 11, 2001.  This was on account of my hailing from a country whose official religion is Islam (as well as where religious freedom is enshrined in the constitution), about the only thing some Americans I met seemed to know about Malaysia (and frankly, I'm amazed that they even knew that!).   
I still vividly recall a heated argument I had in a Philadelphia bar with an American acquaintance who refused to believe that I could be a Malaysian and yet not Muslim.  When I told him that not only was this the truth but that I had attended a Convent school in Penang (run by the government) whose headmistress was an Irish nun, he actually got angry with me and said that this was all impossible; this because his view of Islam and Muslims (none of whom he had ever met) was that they were intolerant extremists -- something that I was moved to conclude that he was more like than the people he wholesale accused of being the case!
As might be expected of someone who grew up in a majority Muslim country, I have had friends who are Muslim for much of my life.  Actually, I don't only have Muslim Malaysian friends but I also have had Muslim friends over the years from Singapore, Tanzania (where I lived for a time with a Muslim family with whom I shared many meals, laughs and fun moments, and, at other times, with an American-Zanzibari Muslim couple, and rent-free for a few months in the house of a Muslim friend when he was out of town), Eritrea, Mali, Turkey, England, and also the USA.  
In the case of the last: one of my Muslim American friends is the kind of person -- Caucasian, born in the Midwest, and going by the Christian-sounding name he was given at birth -- that doesn't fit the Muslim stereotype that the narrow-minded likes of Donald Trump have.  Actually, none of my friends would fit the image of Muslims that Donald Trump has -- for otherwise, he surely would have no reason to fear or hate Muslims so much that he'd advocate banning all Muslims from entering his country!

One of the reasons why I felt compelled to blog about this is to register my shock and horror that a supposedly serious American presidential hopeful could be so idiotic as well as  prejudiced.  I also want to do my bit to point out that not all Muslims are violent, horrible people -- and that, in fact, the majority of those I have known in my life are actually pretty nice folks who one would feel privileged to call "friend".
In addition, I remember the following words by German pastor Martin Niemöller, who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps, and don't want what befell the likes of him to happen in my lifetime:-

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Butterfly spotting at Fung Yuen in December!

Probably the last pair of randy butterflies I'll spot this year ;)
Not the usual angle from which I get to see
(and take photos) of butterflies! 
The whitest of the many tiger butterflies I spotted
on my most recent visit to Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve 
When I passed by Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve towards the end of my hike yesterday, I was clad in long trousers and was wearing a sweatshirt over my t-shirt, and a windcheater over my sweatshirt.  In contrast, when I visited the conservation area earlier in the week, I was comfortable with just a t-shirt and shorts on as it was several degrees warmer that day -- around 27 degrees Celsius, in fact, despite it already being December!
Figuring that it'd be the last warm day of the year, I headed over to the declared Special Site of Scientific Interest to catch what I figured would be my last chance to do some butterfly spotting (as, from what I've observed, these winged critters aren't all that active in cold weather).  And while, as it turned out, I did spot a few butterflies on yesterday's hike, it wasn't anywhere near the variety as well as numbers I encountered in the few hours I was at Fung Yuen just a few days previously!
All told, I'd conservatively estimate that I spotted over 20 different kinds of butterfly species during my visit, including the rare white dragontail that is among Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve's "stars"; much more than had been the case when I visited the facility in the summer of 2014.  Another highlight for me was my managing to add to my already fairly sizeable -- and ever amusing, for the likes of me -- crittters "doing what comes naturally" photo collection, and so late in the year too!
On a more serious note: A chatty staff member at the center told me that when building was going for the nearby Mont Vert apartment complex that's infamous for having flats barely bigger than the cells at Stanley Prison, the area's butterfly numbers had noticeably gone down.  Happily though, the butterfly population looks have since rebounded; something I found somewhat surprising since they (and the other interesting critters that live in the area) now have to share Fung Yuen with what looks like a few thousand more human residents. 
Hopefully, the existence of Mont Vert will actually help Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve in the long term.  Something I noticed on my most recent visits to the area is that public transportation has become much improved; with the green mini-bus service now being  more frequent.  If this helps bring more appreciative visitors to the butterfly reserve, this could be a good thing in terms of doing such as getting people to appreciate this precious facility and how amazing it is that Hong Kong, so commonly mistakenly perceived as being one giant concrete jungle where wildlife couldn't possible thrive, is home to more than 240 species of often really pretty butterflies!