Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflections on Malaysia and Malaysians, on Merdeka Day

The Malaysia Building on Gloucester Road is home to
such as the Consulate General of Malaysia

This past Saturday afternoon, a crowd of yellow T-shirt 
wearers congregated over on the other side of the road
and made their "Bersih" demands 

Fifty-eight years ago today, a Kedah prince popularly known as Tunku Abdul Rahman shouted the word "Merdeka" ("Freedom" in his native language) in a speech delivered at midnight that heralded the birth of the new nation of Malaya.  But it actually wasn't until September 16th, 1963, when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (which was expelled just two years later) joined with the Federation of Malaya, that Malaysia actually came into being.

Regardless of whether one considers August 31st, 1957, or September 16th, 1963, as Malaysia's birthday, it's a young country by many people's estimation -- including my parents who, more than once, have noted that they're older than the country that they're citizens of.  And although a number of decades have passed since I read an article entitled "Malaysia: Youthful Nation with Growing Pains" in a 1977 volume of National Geographic magazine, I reckon that it's true enough that Malaysia still has a ways to go towards becoming the kind of mature and developed nation-state that many of its citizens want it to be.

When I first came across that National Geographic article all those years ago, I was a little patriot who bristled at the portrait painted of the country of my birth being one that wasn't entirely positive.  But I jettisoned the rose-tinted glasses through which I viewed Malaysia long ago, and these days definitely do see the flaws in such as its political structure (particularly its electoral system) and administration.  Furthermore, I've never hidden my preference of Hong Kong (over Malaysia along with the rest of the world) as my chosen home -- and happiness at having achieved permanent residency status here in the Big Lychee.

For all this though, I still do identify myself as Malaysian when people enquire about my nationality.  (And for the record: I do not see a need to qualify my Malaysian-ness by including my ethnic grouping before or after "Malaysian".)  And while there's much about Malaysia that I do criticize, I also definitely have done my share of defending and praising of those aspects of the country that I feel justified in being proud of.

This Merdeka Day, there are reasons to worry about and bemoan Malaysia's current situation, but also reasons to take heart.  On the negative side: Last week, the Malaysian ringgit sank to a 17-year low and not completely unrelatedly, Malaysia has been embroiled in a political crisis for some months now, due in no small part to its present prime minister, who has been dogged by scandal even before he assumed this top post.  

On a more positive note: this past weekend, an unprecedented number of Malaysians took part in Bersih rallies in Kuala Lumpur and scores of cities in various parts of the world (including Hong Kong) to demand such as clean (as in fair and free) elections and a clean (as in transparent and uncorrupt) government ("bersih" means "clean" in Bahasa Malaysia).  And in the 34 hours that Malaysians were protesting out on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, it was actually peaceful; thanks in no small part to the police not firing tear gas and water cannons at the demonstrators unlike, say, at the smaller 2011 and 2012 Bersih rallies.

To be sure, it shows how angry, frustrated -- and maybe even desperate -- many Malaysians have become about their country's current political and economic situation that they are willing to take part in mass protests which resulted in images that bring to mind the Umbrella Movement for many Hong Kongers.  But it's worth noting that these kinds of actions also take courage.  In addition, I'd argue that people must still feel hopeful that they can make a difference and the situation can be changed.  Otherwise they just wouldn't bother to do anything, especially that which puts them at personal -- and professional -- risk.  

So on this day, I feel sad for Malaysia but also retain some hope for it -- along with some pride in, and gratefulness to, those of my fellow citizens who have shown the world and one another that they actually do care for their country, and much more than those like the pathetic fellow who called the Bersih protesters shallow and unpatriotic will ever know and understand.   

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Tai Tam Country Park hike's highlights

Tai Tam Country Park panoramic view that takes in the likes of
(Please click on the photo to get an enlarged view)

One of the many winged creatures I caught sight of 
on the hike -- and it is a beauty, right? :b

The last few days have been rainy for at least parts of them.  And with thunderstorms included in today's weather prediction, even I -- who has gone out hiking in the rain on occasion -- elected to busy myself doing other things this Sunday.

One reason why I didn't mind not hiking so much today though was that I had actually ventured out into the wilds of Hong Kong earlier in the week.  The late afternoon excursion that took me from Wong Nai Chung Gap to Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir actually was on the short side and within the familiar environs of Tai Tam Country Park.  But it nonetheless managed to exhilarate and reinvigorate, as I encountered literally as well as metaphorically refreshing breezes during the trek!

Early on during this hike, I told myself that I'd like to venture up to a particular point in the country park which I remembered having a view compass and lovely panoramic views.  I had been there on one of my first hikes in the area but never since, and knew that it wasn't on the main trail leading from Wong Nai Chung Gap to the Tai Tam Reservoirs.  Instead, as I re-discovered on this hike, that panoramic point's located along the 1.6-kilometer-long Tai Tam Family Walk which I incorporated into that afternoon's hike route, and actually isn't all that scenic until the last 100 meters or so!   

If truth be told, I actually prefer the view from a bit higher up the hill than where the view compass has been placed -- and that's where I elected to snap the photo at the top of this blog entry.  Funnily enough, this blog post's other photo also was taken close to that point.  And speaking of funny: Maybe it's just my imagination but it sometimes seems to me that butterflies (and moths) tend to flit more slowly and less on cooler days than super hot ones.  In any case, this particular little critter stayed still enough for me to get a much clearer shot of it than I thought I'd be able to -- and of course I'm very glad that this was so! :)   

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Taking part in a beach cleanup on Cheung Chau

Some people clean the beach while others enjoy themselves
earlier today on Cheung Chau

A sample view of the kind of trash found on a Hong Kong beach

The fruits of a morning's worth of labor 

Today has been one of the busiest Saturdays I've had in a while.  I just got back from watching  the English association football team I've supported since 1978(!) triumph in a match telecast "live" from England into such as the big screen of a bar in Hong Kong.  And in the afternoon, I put on a yellow T-shirt and went to Wan Chai to hang out for a time with my fellow Malaysians in aid of Bersih (the movement to demand for clean -- bersih in Bahasa Malaysia -- and fair elections (and government) in Malaysia).

While important in their own way to me, both of those events actually weren't the main event of the day as far as I was concerned.  Instead, that "honor" goes to a morning beach cleanup session over on Cheung Chau organized through Green Sustainable Living HK, a local group founded by a Madagascar-born Hong Kong resident.  One reason for thinking this is that it was the event of the day where I felt most actively a participant.  For another, I really appreciate that there was physical evidence that people's efforts actually counted and made a difference.

Whereas my first beach cleanup had seen the group head over to Coral Beach (AKA Tung Wan Tsai) over on the northeast of the island, this time around, we headed in the opposite direction -- over to Pak Tso Wan (AKA Italian Beach) over in southwest Cheung Chau.  Partly because this smaller area of the island didn't seem half as full of garbage as Coral Beach and in part because there were more volunteers around this time out, I really could see that the beach was quite a bit cleaner after we had labored for a few hours in hot sun and also under clouds as well as were showered upon on a couple of occasions -- and boy, did this make me feel good!

Over on Coral Beach last month, I had been shocked to not only find lots of glass shards on the beach but also whole test tubes and bottles that looked like they were meant to contain medication.  This time around, I found less glass about but, equally -- if not more -- alarmingly, lots more plastic materials and styrofoam, both of which easily break into little bits after baking for a time in the sun.

Sometime back, I read about how the tiny bits of plastic found in the ocean are liable to be swallowed by various sea creatures, including those that we consume -- leading to the pollutant ending up in our bodies.  When seeing the garbage found on the beach, I also get to thinking of the early scenes in Ponyo, on the Cliff by the Sea showing the horrific mess that trawlers tend to dredge up from the seabeads -- and how it is that pretty much all of it is the creation of us humans.

To this end, I make it a point to get as much plastic and styrofoam off the beach as I can while carrying out beachcleaning exercises.  Something else that I target are the broken pieces of glass that dot the ground, since there have been too many times when I've been barefoot on a beach in Hong Kong and found myself worrying that my feet'd get cut by the shards I can't help but spot every few meters that I walk on what on the surface can appear to be truly beautiful beach locales.

At the same time, there's no denying that one can get a disproportionate sense of achievement from getting larger, more clearly visible items off the beach and into the garbage bag.  Some of these objects are on the mundane side and come in the form of such as whole plastic and glass bottles.  More unexpected "finds" on Italian Beach this afternoon included footwear, ranging from an adult-sized sneaker to a child-sized plastic sandal!  Then there's what strikes me as really disturbing to find on a beach in Hong Kong: items such as syringes, which get me thinking less of drug users and more of medical waste that should have been disposed of in a much more responsible way than it has been.

But when the pollution I see threatens to make me despair about humankind, I get to thinking of the people who volunteer to help clean up the beaches.  As one beach cleanup participant remarked to me last month: "Isn't it amazing to think that people are willing to do this kind of labor for free?"  Alternatively put: humans really aren't all bad, there's hope for this world -- and long may that be this way! ;b

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tung Chung to Tai O hike sights on a festive summer's day (Photo-essay)

The first time I traipsed from Tung Chung to Tai O, the 16 kilometer hike was the longest I had ever gone on, and I was pretty tired by the time I got to the so-called "Venice of Hong Kong"On my third trek along that route, however, it was my hiking companion who was the exhausted one -- and I consider that a good gauge of my health and hiking prowess having increased!

One reason why my friend felt so drained was because it was pretty hot out there that summer afternoon -- and while I had opted for shorts and a cap to cover my head, he chose to wear long trousers and no head gear.  I'm glad to report that he didn't come down with heatstroke though -- thanks, I believe, to his at least having brought ample water to drink along the way; though when we got to Tai O, he ran to a store to get at another bottle of water to empty over his head to really cool down!  

Still, any fear I had that he was actually in a bad state disappeared when, rather than hurry to our hike's end, he got all excited when we spied a bamboo theater erected on the outskirts of the village and he rushed to snap photos of the temporary structure and the Cantonese opera performance taking place inside it! ;b
Early on in the hike, one of the most visible area landmarks
Wires galore up above! :O

Less than an hour into the hike, one can get drinks, snacks
and a bit of rest if one so wishes at this cafe
Other signs of one not having left civilization behind at all include
that of the busy airport across the water and a waterskier on said water!
Still, this is not to say that this was a hike bereft of 
cool critter spottings, like this brightly colored beetle!
 On my second hike along this trail, my heart sank at the sight
of these steps but this time around, I took heart in knowing
that seeing them meant that we were more than two thirds done already ;)

When you get to this point of the hike, 
you're more or less at the home stretch! :b
And on this hike, there was the bonus sight of the festive
bamboo theatre, and colorful flags fluttering in the wind :)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A delicious dinner at Little Bao

One of the dishes that gives Little Bao its name

As the above photo shows, this eatery has 
more than just baos on its menu :)

I know a number of people who pride themselves on being among the first to try out a restaurant after it opens in Hong Kong.  I, on the other hand, am perfectly happy to check out an eatery weeks, months, even years after it's opened; this not least since I figure this gives the restaurant time to iron out its early wrinkles and, if it's any good, prove this by having staying power.

In the case of the much hyped Little Bao, I actually had thought about trying it out on previous occasions (and had been wanting to give it a try ever since an Asian movie fan friend visiting from the US raved about it to me).  But on each of the previous occasions that I figured that the time had come to give this now close-to-two-year-old Asian take on an American diner a try, the crowd waiting outside at the restaurant -- one of a number in Hong Kong with a "no reservations" policy -- told me otherwise!

Earlier this week, however, I finally passed this (still) pretty popular dining establishment located on the border between previously "happening" Soho and increasingly popular "Poho" at a time when there were vacant seats waiting to be filled pretty much immediately.  So I quickly popped into Little Bao and after scanning the menu, decided to order its pork belly bao and a bowl of brussels sprouts (a vegetable I know that I love far more than most other folks!).

As the photo at the very top of this blog post shows, Little Bao's signature dishes aren't ordinary bao.  Physically, they resemble burgers -- with the Chinese-style steamed bun taking the place of burger buns in the assemblage.  Of the five different bao options at the restaurant, the beef bao would be the best to directly compare with a regular burger.  Maybe I'll go for it on my next visit but for my first ever order there, I opted instead for the pork belly bao whose contents include slow-braised pork belly, bits of leek, shiso and red onion dressed with sesame, slices of pickled cucumber, and what was described on the menu as "hoisin ketchup".

Smaller than the smallest burger I've ever eaten that was not a slider (from, say, White Castle!), the pork belly bao was gone in about four bites!  This wasn't quick enough though for the bottom slice of the soft steamed bun to stay whole, and its breaking up made eating the concoction somewhat messier than I'd have liked.  In truth though, I didn't mind too much, on account of the dish having been so lipsmackingly tasty! 

Even better was the brussels sprouts prepared with fish sauce caramel, chili, peanuts, lime and fried shallots.  Admittedly, I more or less have never come across any brussels sprouts dish that I've disliked (and it really was the case that at boarding school in England, I'd happily eat up my entire lunch table's allotment of what I looked upon as sweet miniature cabbages -- to the delight of the other girls on it!).  But I also reckon that it's entirely possible that I've eaten a greater variety of brussels sprouts dishes than most others, so it's saying something when I state that this may well be one of the most delicious I've ever had!

Put another way: When I return to Little Bao in the near future (like I plan to do), it'll be hard to not order the brussels sprouts again; this even though I would like to try other offerings on the eatery's menu!  Actually, even though part of me thinks I should try another bao option, Little Bao may be like Yardbird (which, incidentally, Little Bao owner and chef May Chow used to work at) for me -- in that the non-signature dishes might actually appeal more to me, with such as its twist on mac and cheese (which makes use of steamed rice rolls and mentaiko cheese sauce) sounding pretty enticing indeed! ;b

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Looking forward to Beertopia 2015!

Would you jump for joy if you had more choices
of craft beer to try than this selection?

And how do you feel about beers that have up to 13% alcohol?! :O

A couple of months ago when I walked into Mack Brewery's Ølhallen brewpub in Tromso, Norway, a part of me thought I had died and gone to heaven because I had never been in a pub with 56 beers on tap before.  In Hong Kong, the Roundhouse Taproom looks to have the most beers on tap, at just 25.  But while just a few years ago, I'd have said that Hong Kong wasn't a place for fans of craft beer (or microbrews), the existence of the likes of Beertopia have changed my mind. 

So imagine the disappointment I felt when I learnt that this year's edition of the mega craft beer fest would not take place in March (as was the case last year).  Instead, I'd have to wait a few more months to take part in this event since Beertopia 2015 was rescheduled this year to October -- and the venue moved from the West Kowloon Cultural District across Victoria Harbour over to the Central Harbourfront.

Still, now that August is almost over, October doesn't feel so very far away -- this not least since the dates for this year's Beertopia have now been fixed and announced, and "early bird" tickets for the events have gone on sale.  (Oh, and there's also the small matter of the more than 550 beers that will be available to taste having been announced, including Norway's Nøgne Ø!) 

For the record: I've already got myself a ticket for the second day of Beertopia -- with the plan being that I'll go during the day, in the hope that the atmosphere will be "chill" and the crowd not on the thick side then.  In other words: I'm hoping for a repeat of the very enjoyable Beertopia experience I had last year.  And if any of this blog's readers are also hoping and planning for the same, do please let me know -- and maybe we could actually meet up and go taste some beers together there! :b

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Succumbing to the siren call of "Play Me, I'm Yours" at PMQ :)

The sound of music and this intriguing sight
got me into the courtyard of PMQ earlier this evening

The pianos called out to be played, and some 
people accepted the open invitation! :)

And to judge from the music they produced,
some of these Hong Kongers do indeed have talent ;b

When I was six years old, my mother took me for piano lessons.  While it was not my instrument of choice (I'd have preferred the drums, actually!), I ended up learning to play the piano for about 10 years.  And when I finally stopped my formal piano studies (after the practice time started seriously eating into my academic study time), I was at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools  of Music (ABRSM)'s Grade 7 and already had passed Grade 8 Music Theory.     

Over the course of my piano studies, I had had four different teachers -- all female, two of whom I considered on the unhappily mean side, and two others whom I actually liked, not least because I got the sense that they genuinely loved music and wanted to impart that love to their students.  It also helped that the latter two instructors also appeared to have a sense of humor.  In particular, I remembered one of them telling me to imagine the Sophie whose name was in the title of a piece of music I was playing as a delicate model; so when I played that piece, my fingers should be nimble and ladylike, like the way that she'd walk, rather than produce anything loud and clumsy!

If I were asked, I wouldn't profess to having a particular love for piano playing -- and I don't consider myself to be all that musically talented.  Yet more than once over the years (in places that have included Australia, England, the US, Tanzania and Germany as well as Malaysia), when I've seen a piano available to be played though, I have to admit to not being able to resist sitting down and getting some sounds out of it!  And thus it was earlier this evening when I caught sight of -- and heard music emanating from -- a group of pianos assembled in the courtyard of PMQ, the creative industries hub located in the former Police Married Quarters in Central

Upon crossing the street and entering into the space, I found 16 individually decorated pianos bearing the words "Play Me, I'm Yours" on each and everyone of them, some of whom were being played with no small amount of enjoyment by people who looked, like me, as though they had been lured into doing so, with no prior plans of playing a piano in public previously!  Something noticeable was how quite a few of them looked to be in a world of their own, focused on the tunes they were teasing out of the piano they had chosen to play -- not caring how their music sounded and/or if other folks decided to take photos of the feelgood scenes in which they had (for a time) become a part. 

In between snapping a few photos, I too sat down to make some music -- and thus take part in the Our Hong Kong, Our Talents -- "Play Me, I'm Yours" project which aims to connect people with street pianos.  Eschewing the piano books available to sight read from, I went down Memory Lane and played an international mix of music that included Do-Re-Mi (teehee!) and Tanah Pusaka (a Malaysian song that I learnt to play to accompany a choir while on an Australian youth exchange trip decades ago!).  And yes, it's pretty funny to find what sticks in one's memory after all these years! ;b

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Lantau hike that largely took place outside the country parks (Photo-essay)

Hong Kong is presently home to 24 country parks and 11 designated Special Areas, and it stands to reasons that most of the territory's hiking trails are located within them.  Every so often, however, one will find oneself hiking in countryside that's actually neither country park nor designated Special Area (with one example being Po Toi and another being Cheung Chau).  

In addition, there are those hiking trails with sections partly inside a country park and other sections that are not.  One of the more popular of these is that which takes one from Discovery Bay to Mui Wo via the Trappist Monastery -- a route that's almost entirely paved and fairly easy going but nonetheless quite interesting and consequently one that I have gone on a few times now, including with a friend who I've only managed to drag out on hikes just twice thus far! ;b

but this time around, we opted for a considerably easier hike! ;)

This easier route begins at sea level by Nim Shue Wan

Nim Shue Wan's a location some shiny bugs seem to find romantic ;b

It would be easy to assume that the monastery in question
is Buddhist, given that this is Hong Kong after all --
but it's actually Catholic, Trappist to be more exact! ;b

In between Nim Shue Wan village and the Trappist Haven Monastery
lies an organic farm where one can buy vegetables if so inclined

The next time I'm over in Peng Chau, I should check to see if
the Trappist Monastery on neighboring Lantau's visible from there ;)

This wild looking section of the hike is one of the 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Critter spottings made and noises heard during a Tai Lam Country Park hike

One of two lizards I caught sight of on today's hike

Two butterflies hanging out side by side

Can you see the two grasshoppers in this one photo? :b

As today's weather forecast was for another very hot day in the Big Lychee (one which turned out to have maximum temperatures of 35.9 degrees Celsius recorded over in Yuen Long and 35.2 degrees Celsius in Tsuen Wan), I picked a hiking route to go this afternoon that I knew would have plenty of shade over in Tai Lam Country Park.  The trail that took us from Tsuen Kam Au to Sham Tseng also has the benefit of a few hundred meters above sea level for a good bulk of it -- and it really did feel noticeably cooler for much of our countryside excursion, especially in the shady spots where we encountered cool breezes, than in the city below.  

Although Hong Kong's second largest country park doesn't have scenery as stunning as that to be found over on Lantau Island or the Sai Kung Peninsula, I generally enjoy the hikes I go on there -- thanks in part to my often encountering lots of interesting and/or pretty critters on each of my treks in the area.  With sightings of lizards, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies and more, today's hike was another one which yielded plenty of critter spottings.  

On two occasions, I came across sights made unusual not by the type of creatures in the frame but by their two of the same types of insects being so close to each other, yet not engaging in any randy behavior!  In particular, the two butterflies I spotted hanging out near a bunch of flowers looked like they were engaging in conversation!  Alternatively, I wonder whether each of the two grasshoppers hanging out on the same plant realized that they actually had company on it -- since what's a small distance to larger beings like us isn't to small creatures like them!

By far the strangest part of today's hike was not a critter or any other spotting but, instead, the loud noises we heard that sounded as though they were made by a creature that was in quite a bit of distress.  My hiking buddy said that shortly before we heard the din (which I had initially thought was the croaking of particularly loud frog but which my friend reckons may have been made by a wild boar), he had heard the kind of sounds that could have been caused by a large creature breaking tree branches and such.  So we got to speculating that a not small animal had slipped on a slope, fallen and broken a limb.  

However hard we tried though, we couldn't spot the critter in the densely forested area several meters below (we were walking closely to the edge of a hill when the incident occurred).  So, sadly, we couldn't help it in any way like, say, reporting the animal's whereabouts to the country park authorities.  After a few minutes, the sounds stopped -- and if the creature was in great pain, it would have been best for death to come quickly.   

For the record: Wild boars are among the wild animals found in Hong Kong that I've not caught sight of in the wild to date -- and to be honest, I'm not sure that I'd want to do so!  Having seen them on a visit to Kadoorie Farm and read that they can grow up to 2 meters in length and weigh up to 200 kilograms, I think I'd find them a scary sight -- be it in nature or when they choose to venture out into the more urban areas of the territory, as some of them have done earlier this year! :O

Update: my friend did some research after we returned from our hike and discovered that the strange animal sounds we heard are what barking deer (aka muntjac) make to signal trouble. The only species of deer found in Hong Kong, it is a protected animal.  There have been a number of sightings of them over the years but there appear to be no records of how many barking deer there (still) are in the territory.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What people get up to at the Sai Wan Swimming Shed

If I told you that the waters in the above picture belong to
Victoria Harbour, would you go swim there?
Believe it or not, there are some brave souls who think nothing
of going for a dip in that area, complete with boats passing by and all!
I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to stay dry
and just admire the view, especially near sunset :)
Ever since I read about and saw photos of the Sai Wan Swimming Shed's wooden pier, I've wanted to go and check it out.  Mind you, it wasn't as though I was looking for a swimming spot but I figured that it'd offer up some cool pictures, especially in the hours leading up to sunset, a la the areas I found out about on my May trip to Japan by Matsue's Lake Shinji; this especially since I've not only seen some beautiful colors in the sky and water when I passed by the northwestern section of Hong Kong Island on a ferry at this time of the day but also lots of photographers standing on the banks of Victoria Harbour with their cameras trained out to the water.
Somewhere along the line, it also dawned on me that this was where the Sulphur Channel swimmers who Jason Wordie wrote about in his Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island jump into the water to get their exercise!  And while it's often commented that these days, one is more likely to encounter camera buffs than actual swimmers in this area, I did actually spot an intrepid fellow practicing his strokes in the waters several meters away from the Sai Wan Swimming Shed's wooden pier!

While some people might think him a bit weird for daring to swim in Victoria Harbour (a body of water that is not exactly the cleanest out there, due in no small part to it being one of the world's busiest ports), swimmers like him probably would reckon that the photographers jogging for space in the area, especially during magic hour, have a few screws loose themselves!  In addition, there are those who go and pretend to be jumping into the water or carry out other antics on the rickety pier for others to take photos of them -- and I must admit that I, who preferred to focus on the scenery when taking my photos, found their presence alternately amusing and annoying!

While waiting for the sun to go down, some movement close to the water caught my attention.  The first time, I didn't quite catch what I saw -- but eventually, I got to realizing that there were big fish leaping in and out of the water (or, maybe just the one continually doing it over and over again), for reasons that I can't quite fathom!

A few weeks back, while on the ferry from Central to Mui Wo, I had spotted whole bunches of smaller fish leaping about in the water and had concluded that they were flying fish, like ones I've seen while riding a boat in the waters off Penang.  But the fish I saw this time around was quite a bit bigger than any flying fish I've seen before -- though, thankfully, nothing close to shark size nonetheless.  
Yet, to judge from the lack of reaction from the other people around me, I was the only one who had spotted -- but, sadly, was unable to get a shot -- of it!  I guess it was a case of different strokes for different folks in terms of what we look for and notice, even when we're all assembled in the same area, at the same time! ;b

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Tai Tam Country Park hike during which it rained twice! (Photo-essay)

In my mind's eye, summer days are hot but frequently have the compensation of having super high visibility.  And it's true enough that there are glorious days when one can clearly for miles.  But the fact of the matter is that there actually are many days in summer when the clouds sit over and/or cover Hong Kong's hills: that is, those sections of Hong Kong where some of the best hiking is to be found!

In addition, June usually is the month that gets the most rainfall in a year, August the month with the second highest rainfall and July the month with the third highest amount of rain.  And although I initially wouldn't have entertained the thought of going out on a hike when there was a chance of encountering any precipitation, I now am not above venturing out into the countryside when the weather forecast is for some light rain showers and drizzle (coupled with warm temperatures).  

Even though it actually rained twice on a Hong Kong Island hike that two friends and I went on one afternoon, that didn't dampen our spirits.  Indeed, so intact was our humor that we got to teasing one of our party because it seemed that whenever she decided she had had enough and decided to put on her rain jacket, also get her umbrella out of her backpack plus take the trouble to put some rainproof covering over her backpack, the rain would actually stop, only to return with a vengeance after she decided to remove all her waterproof gear and pack them all nicely back in her bag! ;b

The view (and weather) really wasn't too bad 
early on during the Tai Tam Country Park hike...

...but soon afterwards (as we hiked up the Violet Hill peak 
that the Wilson Trail goes along), we were hiking in the mist!

On days like this, one particularly appreciates the splashes 
of color that pretty flowers like these add to the scenery :)

Notice that when my friend had her umbrella up,
it actually was not raining? ;b

One of the many hill streams in Hong Kong that
are particularly noticeable during the rainy season
Again, no rain when that red umbrella was held up! ;b

I'm sure it mattered little to the tortoise and its fish friends 
in Tai Tam Upper Reservoir whether there was any rain or not :)

Proof up on Quarry Gap (aka Tai Fung Au) that 
we weren't the only folks who had decided 
that it was okay hiking weather that afternoon! ;b

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The tomato broth noodles at Sing Heung Yuen are worth waiting for!

It may not look like much but Sing Heung Yuen's
a much loved local eatery 

I love this concoction so much that I drink every drop of the legendary
tomato broth as well as eat all the noodles and vegetables doused in it!

Years ago, while waiting to get into Kau Kee to partake of a bowl of its famous beef brisket noodle soup, I noticed that an even longer queue had formed for what looked to be a super popular dai pai dong located on the other side of the street.  While I was curious to know what goodies all those people were so patiently waiting to sample, I also felt rather intimidated by the prospect of having to wait for at least half an hour, probably even more, to eat at a place that was on the spartan side -- and where, I could imagine, one would be discouraged from lingering at.  

Consequently, I have to admit that not having made it a major priority to find out more about the place.  At the same time though, it obviously left quite an impression on me since I recognized it when watching the Hong Kong episode of The Layover as where two Hong Kongers took Anthony Bourdain to try what they described as "Hong Kong comfort food" as well as "soy sauce Western", and the American decided "doesn't look remotely Chinese".

At Sing Heung Yuen, Bourdain tried some of its signature crispy buns topped with lemon marmalade and shared a bowl of its tomato broth soup with elbow macaroni, fried eggs and luncheon meat (what Americans better know as spam) with his two local friends.  If truth be told, he didn't seem all that enamored by what he ate there (which makes this dai pai dong a rare Hong Kong eatery that Bourdain isn't an enthusiastic fan of).  Still, I am grateful to him for letting me know the name of the place and also what its specialties are.

Earlier this year, I finally had the good fortune to pass by Sing Heung Yuen when empty seats could be seen at its tables.  In a flash, I secured one of those seats -- and was also happy to discover that this no frills eatery has a bi-lingual (i.e., English as well as Chinese language) menu!  Rather than completely copy what Anthony Bourdain and co's choices, I went for a bowl of instant noodles and vegetables in the surprisingly hearty as well as super tasty tomato broth.  Add a glass of delicious iced lemon tea and the total damage to my wallet's just HK$39 (~US$5), which makes my lunch an incredible bargain in Hong Kong, particularly as Sing Heung Yuen's right in Central

Over in Penang, local foodies talk about their love for eating at places which are C&G (i.e., cheap and good).  Sing Heung Yuen is an eatery which falls into this category for me.  Even rarer in Hong Kong, it's also cheap and cheerful -- in that the people manning this dai pai dong, whose license dates back to 1953, are actually pretty cordial, if not downright friendly. 

Almost needless to say, I've been back more than once since to Sing Heung Yuen.  And while I realize that I should try some other dish or variation of the tomato broth noodle concoction at some point, the memories of how so very right the heartwarming combination of springy instant noodles, homey vegetables and thick tomato broth are keep on prompting me to re-order it each time that I'm there!

And yes, like with the trams, this is the kind of place that I strongly feel should be preserved and even encouraged to proliferate.  But, again, this is precisely the kind of very Hong Kong institution that's come under official threat -- with just 24 dai pai dong left, at last count... :S

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hail to the Hong Kong trams -- and a pox on those who advocated their removal from Central!

Imagining Hong Kong without trams would be like
imagining it without dragon (and lion) dances to me...

...and, in particular, a tram-less Central would mean
the area having significantly less (local) color than now

It's not often that I feel a need to comment on this blog about Hong Kong news subjects but recent reports that a consulting firm headed by a former senior government town planner has proposed the removal of trams from Central really has me feeling upset and angry -- not just because that consulting firm is actually being paid to issue such stupid suggestions but, also, because the government of 689 may well go ahead and implement them!  

In a world where climate change and global warming is being increasingly recognized as real and affected by such as the number of oil-guzzling vehicles on the road, we should be planning for -- if not already living in -- a world where more people use public transportation that carries a lot of people and fewer folks go about in private cars (and, also, taxis) which often have just one or two individuals in each of them.  

Before I moved to Hong Kong, I already was a fan of its public transportation system.  What I've noticed with some consternation in recent years though is an increase in the number of private cars on the road; this even though few people in Hong Kong actually have the money to not only own a car but also do such as pay for the parking spaces it occupies, its fuel and insurance, and maybe even fewer Hong Kongers actually have a driving license and know how to drive!  In addition, because of such as the high numbers of tourists coming over to Hong Kong (who make use of the public transportation -- particularly the MTR and tram -- while here), the MTR carriages and the likes have been getting noticeably more and more uncomfortably crowded.

So rather than argue (like the Intellects Consultancy folks have done) that the extension of the MTR Island Line to Kennedy Town in recent months means that there's less need for the trams (which, for a long time, were the favored mode of transportation to the western part of Hong Kong Island), I'd counter-suggest that the authorities should be looking to make sure that there remain ample public transportation options -- and seats on them -- for people.

With special regards to that which are popularly known as ding ding (for the sound that their bells make): yes, they can be on the slow side; and yes, these non-airconditioned modes of transportation can be hot as ovens in summer.  Also, some of the windows of the older trams that remain in service don't seem to be able to completely close to keep out the rain when it pours.

But they are the most economical way to go from an area where they have a stop to another (with the adult fare having been HK$2 eight years ago and still being only HK$2.30!).  And each tram stop is closer to the next one than their bus, mini-bus and MTR equivalents.  Also, unlike the MTR but like other above ground transportation, passengers don't have to walk down and up flights of stairs and/or escalators to get on the tram (a major plus for the elderly and less mobile among us), and can see where it is going.  Indeed, the likes of my mother will point out that it's easiest to see where the tram is headed because their tracks make their routes visible in a way that bus and mini-bus routes aren't!

On one of our first visits to the "Fragrant Harbour", both my mother and I fell in love with these now-more-than-a-century-old Hong Kong mode of transportation -- and going on a tram ride is one of the things that we recommend to tourists looking to see and experience 'some local color', and learn more about Hong Kong.  And I remember, after I had moved to "Asia's World City" to work and live, taking a company intern on a tram ride all the way to Shau Kei Wan to show her that Hong Kong Island wasn't all money and expats the way she had thought after spending too much time exclusively in Central, Soho and Wan Chai. 

At a time when Hong Kong is struggling to market itself as more than just a shopping hub, and it's been pointed out that the best tourist attractions are those that neither were created nor exist specifically for tourists, the Hong Kong Tourism Board could do far worse than encourage more tourists to try riding trams.  If it does so though, I'd further suggest that tram quantity -- and quality (with air-conditioning as an option in the summer, say!) -- be increased.  In any case, the banishment of trams from Central -- or any other part of Hong Kong -- ought to be the opposite of what the authorities should be doing with regards to this much loved mode of Hong Kong public transportation!