Friday, September 30, 2016

Shin Godzilla is not your usual monster, or monster movie! (film review)

The Japanese poster for the Japanese film known as 
 Godzilla Resurgence in some other territories, including the USA

Shin Godzilla (Japan, 2016)
- Shinji Higuchi, co-director and Hideaki Anno, co-director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Satomi Ishihara

It's not like most other monster movies.  Based on that asssessment cum assurance from a friend, I decided to go check out the 29th film from Japan -- and the 31st in total (since that giant creature also has appeared in two Hollywood movies, including the 2014 blockbuster bearing its name) -- since 1954 in which Godzilla has top billing.

Far talkier and serious than expected, the first ever Godzilla movie I've seen from start to finish often comes across as more political point-making drama than action blockbuster.  After a Japanese coast guard boat is mysteriously destroyed in Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Bay-Aqua Line combination bridge-tunnel is severely damaged, Japanese government officials get to realizing that they've got a major disaster on their hands.  But rather than spring immediately and efficiently into action, they wade at a deathly slow pace through a series of meetings where bureaucracy and "face saving" impulses tend to prevail at the expense of productive action.

Amidst a tangle of fearful as well as colorless administrators who appear to prioritize etiquette, precedence and procedure above all else, mid-level cabinet official Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) stands out for his straight-talking and willingness to consider seemingly wild possibilities when provided with evidence that they are indeed valid and actually true.  But while he manages to muster a team of like-minded individuals who are able to think outside the box from among his countrymen (and at least one woman (Mikako Ichikawa)), it's really only after US special envoy Kayoko Ann Peterson (Satomi Ishihara) enters the picture that the efforts to deal with this giant monster -- known as Gojira to the Japanese but Godzilla to Americans (as noted at one point in the film) -- really get going; and this despite it already having amply demonstrated early on how utterly destructive it is!

As unlikely as it may seem, the most interesting aspects of Shin Godzilla may well be its illuminating highlighting of certain uniquely as well as distinctively Japanese political procedures and perspectives.  Among these are the accepted roles and limitations of the Japan Self-Defense Force (which has far more experience in disaster relief efforts than in the firing of any weapons in anger), and the "brotherly" relationship it has with the USA by way of the US-Japan Security Treaty in which Japan is very much cast as the lesser, weaker sibling.  In addition, it's easy to draw damning parallels between the frustratingly inept governmental administration depicted in this Toho production with those who were frequently found wanting when Japan's Tohoku region was beset by earthquakes, tsunami and then a nuclear disaster in March 2011.

Still, whenever the king of kaiju appears in the frame, it often is the case that the havoc it wreaks is pretty mind-blowing!  For with only a fraction of the budget of Hollywood blockbusters, special effects wizard Shinji Higuchi and Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno have managed to create a number of spectacular scenes featuring an 118.5-meter-tall monster that is the largest Godzilla to date that are utterly believable in terms of its incredible power(s).

Ironically, the least convincing element in Shin Godzilla is not the titular mythical creature but, instead, the actress playing the US special envoy.  Kayoko Ann Peterson's Japanese physical features may have been explained away by her being Japanese-American (with a grandmother who had been born in Japan and lived there for a time).  But shouldn't it have been possible to find another actress at least as capable as Satomi Ishihara, yet fluent enough in English to be able to speak it with a convincing American accent?    

I suppose the idea was -- and excuse is -- that Shin Godzilla's primarily meant for domestic consumption.  But surely the filmmakers must have known that this offering was destined to play in many other countries on Godzilla being, well, big -- heck, gigantic even -- in many territories rather than just the Land of the Rising Sun (and kaiju eiga)?!

My rating for this film: 7.0

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A super delicious dim sum lunch at Lung King Heen

The best baked barbecued pork buns I've ever had!
 These baked whole abalone puffs with diced chicken
were super scrumptious too :)
And while it doesn't look all that pretty, do trust me when I tell you 
that this truffle and wild mushroom dumpling tasted heavenly ;b
Whenever I hear or read raves about Tim Ho Wan's baked barbecued pork buns, I tend to feel rather bemused.  Because, in all honesty, I think they're okay but not all that super special.  And before anyone suggests it: no, it's not a case of familiarity breeding contempt since one of this budget priced dim sum restaurant chain's Michelin starred outlets is located in my neighborhood.  (For the record: I do go there fairly regularly but my favorite items on its menu are actually the har gow (shrimp dumplings) and the pork liver cheong fan (steamed rice noodle rolls).)
Rather, I think one big reason why I don't get the Tim Ho Wan baked barbecued pork bun hype is that I had already tasted ones that were so much better at a number of other Hong Kong restaurants, notably at the Sun Hung Kai Centre branch of Victoria City Seafood Restaurant, before I ate my first baked barbecued pork bun at this dim sum chain founded by a chef who famously previously worked at Lung King Heen, the first Chinese restaurant in the world to be awarded three Michelin stars.  And Lung King Heen it was where I went for lunch one Saturday earlier this month, and had what I reckon is the best baked barbecued pork bun I've ever eaten! 
Actually, I would go as far as to state that this restaurant at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong is where I had the best dim sum meal of my life thus far.  Having gone with eight other people (all of whom most definitely are foodies), our table was able to order and sample a wider variety of dishes than would be the case if our party was smaller in size.  And amazingly, nothing we ate (be it steamed rice rolls with tofu sheets, steamed lobster and scallop dumplings, pan fried turnip cake, Chiu Chow dumplings, etc.) disappointed, bar for -- if I were to be ultra critical -- the serviceable but, well, hardly exciting crispy spring rolls which I get the feeling wouldn't have been ordered if our party had not included Westerners.
At the same time, three dishes absolutely stood out for me.  One was the truffle and wild mushroom dumpling, whose truffle component I could smell through the delicate dumpling skin and was wonderfully meaty and rich tasting, yet never overwhelming.  The second was the baked whole abalone puffs with diced chicken, whose pastry was surprisingly as well as incredibly buttery -- like something you'd get at a top class Western bakery rather than what one would expect to come across at a dim sum lunch. 
As for the third: you guessed it -- it was the baked barbecued pork buns!  Sweet, yet savory, with wonderful textures, perhaps the secret lies in their actually also having pine nuts along with the usual ingredients found in this item!  It is absolutely at the top of my list of dishes to order when I next go to Lung King Heen for dim sum: which, sadly, isn't all that soon since its weekend lunch reservations have to be made months in advance!

On a Michelin star note: I've also had dim sum at two Michelin starred Tin Lung Heen over on Kowloonside at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.  And while some of Ting Lung Heen's dishes may win in terms of looks, there really is no contest when it comes to taste.  Put another way: the judgements of the Hong Kong Michelin Guide inspectors has sometimes been called into question (including by myself with regards to its apparent low estimation of many of my favorite restaurants).  But I totally agree that Lung King Heen is at a level -- sometimes, even more than one level -- above every other place that I've had dim sum at; and this coming from someone who has had dim sum at scores, if not hundreds, of places over the course of her life!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Two years on from the commencement of the Umbrella Movement

Umbrella Movement goals succinctly laid out

The Umbrella Movement = Hong Kong 
as its most civil and civilized?

Two years ago today, I returned from a wonderful Japan trip (during which I did such as cycle across the wonderfully scenic and peaceful Kibi Plain on my birthday) to find Hong Kong in turmoil.  In the early afternoon, I had gone over to Admiralty to initially not do much more than meet up with a friend to collect something -- my beloved Hello Kitty plush which she had washed for me, actually! -- from her and have a late lunch together.  

But as we made our way out of the mall where we had dined, we noticed that the nearby street seemed unusually empty of vehicular traffic.  Being the inquiring folks that we are, we decided to go over to find out what was going on -- and soon came across what looked like regular folks doing such as putting barricades on the streets as well as walking right in the middle of normally vehicle-filled roads.  

While we went and tried out the experience of walking on thoroughfares that are normally reserved only for cars and similar vehicles for a bit, my feeling at the time was that we -- and the people around us -- were actually behaving in a pretty foolhardy fashion.  And even though I had done my share of protesting and demonstrating on such as June 4th and July 1st prior to what turned out to be the dawn of the Umbrella Movement, I actually was inclined to think that the particular pro-democracy protests that the likes of Benny Tai and Joshua Wong had called for didn't seem that well thought out and, consequently, worth supporting.

But later in the day, the police fired an unprecedented amount of tear gas into the crowd of demonstrators who had assembled at Admiralty as well as used pepper spray and baton charges on them. Rather than achieve their aim of scaring the demonstrators and dispersing the crowd, the uniformed force that used to be known as "Hong Kong's finest" -- but saw their reputation tarnished through a number of brutal acts over the course of the Umbrella Movement -- ended up actually making people more determined to stand up for their beliefs and actually got many other folks so furious and indignant by their use of what was commonly seen as a seriously unnecessary amount of force.

As I told my friend after learning about what had transpired at Admiralty in the late afternoon, I actually felt like I wanted to rush back there in the evening; so enraged did I feel as well as determined to do my bit to ensure that Hong Kong ground would not have the blood of protestors shed on it like it had happened at Beijing in the summer of 1989.  Because of such as work commitments, however, I actually didn't return to Admiralty until October 1st -- when a few friends and I went and visited, and walked along, "Occupied" spaces in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok as well as Admiralty.    

A few days later, I sat down on a road in Hong Kong for the first time ever.  Looking back, it seems almost ridiculous that I was so scared that I'd immediately be apprehended by the long arm of the law, attract negative attention, maybe even be spat at or physically assaulted by angry people against the Umbrella Movement and what it represented (and still represents).  Instead, I was largely left alone, with my thoughts and such -- and the few strangers who came over to me actually did so to thank me for my actions and did things like ask me if I needed any water or food while I was there!

After some 15 minutes or so had passed by, a few other people came over and also sat down to "occupy" that section of road.  Like me, they looked like regular folks, as did those who had come over to thank me for my actions and offer me water and food (and, for that matter, the vast majority of people I'd see at the "Occupy" sites over the next few days and weeks).  And there and then, the conviction took hold in me that there were -- and continue to be, two years on -- lots and lots and lots of Hong Kong people who truly love Hong Kong, want genuine universal suffrage for its denizens and support the Umbrella Movement!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Along one of my "go to" hiking trails on a hot and humid day (Photo-essay)

The very first time I visited Mui Wo, it was years before I moved to Hong Kong -- and I only went there to catch a bus up to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha.  Little did I know then of the charm that greater Mui Wo possesses -- and also that it's the starting and end point for various cool hiking trails, including ones that lead to or from Discovery Bay (either via Lo Fu Tau or the Trappist Monastery), Sunset Peak (via Pak Kung Au), the South Lantau Country Trail (ditto!), Tai Ho Wan (via A Po Long), and Pui O (either via a coastal route or a hillier section of the Lantau Trail). 

Because of the delicious offerings available at more than one Mui Wo eatery, I usually prefer to end a hike in that coastal Lantau town rather than start off from there: with one exception.  As it so happens though, the nine kilometer length Section 12 of the Lantau Trail really is significantly easier when done in reverse due to there being lots of steep steps leading up from near Shap Long Kau Tsuen.  Am every time I see them, I'm so glad I'm actually walking down rather than up them; this particularly since in recent years, I tend to earmark this particular trail to go on in the hot and humid summer months! ;b

A full hill stream can sound as well as look cool :)
The afternoon that two friends and I went on this trail, the sky 
was a hazy gray but the vegetation was a rich green
 I'm almost always rewarded with sightingss of 

This intriguing bug resembles a beetle from the back...
...but a grasshopper from the front! :O
The kind of out of the way place I love seeing and passing by 
but must admit to never wanting to stay in ;S

At the same time, Pui O beach that afternoon was 
far too crowded to be a place that I'd like to hang out at  
Instead, I was far happier to keep my distance and go hiking 
on a scenic trail which few people still actually opt to
venture along -- at least on hot and humid days... ;)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pedestrian precinct(s) in Hong Kong this past Sunday

The scene in Hong Kong's Central District yesterday afternoon
How nice to see a road bereft of cars -- and where
people can safely walk -- in the middle of the city!
Yesterday afternoon, I decided to go check out the 200 meters of Des Veoux Road Central which was going to be car-free for what I mistakenly had thought would be the whole day.  But even though I got to Central too late to see that car-free scheme being effected, I got to belatedly discovering that sections of nearby Chater Road and Ice House Street are regularly turned into a pedestrian precinct between 7am and 12midnight on Sundays and public holidays -- and thereby got to see stretches of road that were car-free after all!
With a carnival-esque atmosphere in effect, the scenes I came across did get me thinking of the car-free spaces of Occupy Hong Kong early on during the Umbrella Movement.  But upon looking closer, it became very apparent that pretty much all the people I saw sitting on the street, dining out al fresco and chatting away with friends, dancing and even doing some flag-waving (to music) were female and Filipina -- and that almost everyone else other than me who were taking photos of the scenes they had come across in the middle of Central were tourists!
For those who not aware of this: there are hundreds of thousands of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong; the vast majority of whom are female and hail either from the Philippines or Indonesia.  Over the years, the Filipinas have congregated in Central on their days off (Sundays and public holidays) whereas the Indonesians look to meet up with friends and hang out in Causeway Bay, particularly Victoria Park and its surrounding areas.

When Occupy Hong Kong resulted in sections of Central as well as Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok being closed off to vehicular traffic in late 2014, jokes were often cracked about how the city's foreign domestic helpers and Umbrella Movement participants had joined forces, and it sometimes being hard to tell where the politically "occupied" spaces and those "occupied" as a matter of course by women who habitually hung out in public spaces on their days off began and ended.  
Something else I remember about the Umbrella Movement was, as just one example of its civility, protesters having made a point to stay off the grass of the Cenotaph.  And it was lovely to see that the people hanging out in the vicinity yesterday -- this time for purposes of enjoyment rather than political action -- were giving that memorial space the respect it's due too. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Taking part in a beach cleanup at Chi Ma Wan once again

Not a sight one wants to see in the sea

 A crab at home on the beach despite the ample trash strewn about it

Some benevolent souls (were) willing to commit time and effort to make 
this little section of Hong Kong a cleaner and more beautiful place

The portends were not good early on for the beach clean-up I went on yesterday.  First, only half of the people who were signed up for the event the day before turned up at the meeting point in the morning.  Then, as we walked from the ferry pier at Chi Ma Wan to the nearby beach which the group has been cleaning on the last Saturday of each month for the past few months, I spotted a large, clearly dead fish floating in the nearby waters.  And, as has been the case each time I've gone on a beach cleanup, the seriously polluted sight that greeted our group as we got close to the beach was one capable of shocking and getting hearts sinking. 

But upon setting foot onto the trash-strewn beach, my spirits were lifted by the sight of crabs scurrying about on the sand and butterflies and dragonflies deigning to flit about the place.  Put another way: this part of Hong Kong may have been disgustingly dirty but the resilience of nature made it so that there was plenty of life still left in it.

Even more heartening still was how much of a difference a band of just eight individuals were able to make in just a few hours.  And not only did the beach look a good deal cleaner when we decided to call it a day but this time around but we also had gone about undertaking the additional task of separating the collected trash into recyclable plastics, glass and metal vis a vis items which couldn't be recycled (which actually still consisted of a lot of plastic along with styrofoam, both of which fish and other creatures are liable to fatally ingest) this time around.

Something else that also gives me hope in humanity is that half of our group yesterday consisted of repeat volunteers who have been taking part in beach cleanups for more than a year now.  And while there are lots of people who join us to clean the beaches just once and then never return, I actually do remain optimistic that more folks (including a couple of members of yesterday's group) will feel inspired and/or duty-bound to join us again some time. :)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Scenic views from The Peak just before and after sunset

Looking northwards from The Peak minutes before sunset
A view from The Peak minutes after sunset
Whenever I go hiking in the vicinity of Victoria Peak, it's almost always in bright daylight.  And although I've been up on The Peak at night a few times, I had never been there at sunset until today -- when I decided to go up there an hour or so before I was due to meet a friend for dinner at a restaurant in the Peak Tower (which, if truth be told, was so mediocre that I can't be bothered to name it!) to enjoy the views from a northern point in the Peak Circuit trail which offers up panoramic views of the city below, Victoria Harbour and the area to the north of that iconic body of water.
As luck would have it, the sunset was not particularly spectacular today.  I heard a couple of people blame the air pollution for the lack of a visually striking sunset; which I found rather funny, since when I went to college in Beloit, Wisconsin, years ago, the beautiful orange-red sunsets that one regularly caught sight of there -- along with the significantly less pleasant "cheese breeze" -- tended to be ascribed to the big presumed-to-be-majorly-polluting Frito-Lay factory across the river! 
With time to spare, I decided to hang about to see if the views would get more glorious after sunset.  And so it proved, with the switching on of each light inside and outside a multitude of buildings below adding a bright spark to the overall visual display.  
In all honesty, so beautiful was the sights that lay there before me that if I hadn't had that dinner date with my friend, I could easily have spent 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes enjoying gazing out and down at the sprawling urban landscape below; and this without the artificial -- and, to my mind, really unnecessary -- addition of the Symphony of Lights, the daily light and sound show that the tourism folks make quite a big deal of but I've never felt inclined to go and check out! ;b

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Seasonal musings on autumnal equinox (in the northern hemisphere) day

A beautiful day for windsurfing in Long Harbour
(and hiking along the nearby Tai Tan Country Trail!)
Insects like this damselfly are still out and about -- but I reckon
it's noticeably, even if slowly, changing from summer to fall
According to the Chinese lunar calendar, it was already mid-autumn last week.  But according to the Gregorian solar calendar which much of the world now uses, the autumnal equinox (and thus the first day of the fall) for the northern hemisphere only arrived today.  And although the maximum daily temperature still is around the 30 degree Celsius (~86 degrees Fahrenheit) mark here in Hong Kong, I've begun to get the distinct feeling that summer is -- if not completely over just yet in this part of the world, then at least winding down at long last. 
For even though I'm still feeling a need to have the air conditioning on for at least a few hours of the day and/or night in my apartment, I've got to noticing a nice cool breeze blowing every once when I'm outdoors, in urban as well as rural areas.  And more welcome still is the air feeling noticeably less thickly humid these days; making it noticeably easier to breathe when one's out exerting oneself by doing such as hiking up and down hills! 
Best of all is that I no longer get invariably bathed in sweat from just standing out in the sun waiting for the bus or going for a bit of a stroll (never mind an actual hike).  And the difference that just a few weeks can make became patently clear to me when I went hiking along the Tai Tan Country Trail with a friend a few days ago: for while I wore the same pair of olive green shorts that were so very badly stained with sweat the day that two other friends and I hiked up Siu Ma Shan and Mount Butler, that same piece of cotton clothing didn't look all that much worse for wear at the end of my most recent hiking excursion!
Although it still may be too hot for quite a few people to want to go hiking just yet, I think we're actually hitting a really nice time of the year to do just that.  For on one hand, we still have the beautiful blue skies and high(er) visibility days along with prime critter spotting opportunities that are associated with the summer while on the other, things are not longer as super hot and humid as they were even just a few weeks ago.
And even while the season to do such as tackle Sunset Peak again or try a "new" hard hike -- both of which are things I tend to reserve for when it truly feels like we're into fall or winter here in Hong Kong -- may not yet be upon us, I do feel more assured than just a week or so ago that it really soon will be upon us; so that just a few months from now, we'll be commenting and even complaining once more about it feeling too cold rather than too hot (and also wet) for our liking! ;)   

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Partaking of regional specialities at Sake Bar Ginn's Toyama Night :b

Three of the sakes I tasted at Sake Bar Ginn's
Toyama Night special event :)

Dried firefly squid snacks, complete with eyeballs!

A raw egg went very well with the Himi udon
that's a speciality of Toyama prefecture! ;b

Although I've been told by a few Japanese friends that I've been to more Japanese prefectures than many Japanese people, there still are a fair few which I've yet to set foot in.  Among the Japanese prefectures I've yet to visit is Toyama: whose western border abuts the Japan Sea, and is best known for its industrial activities, yet also has sake breweries and food products to be proud of.

At Sake Bar Ginn's this evening, I got to taste five different sake and six different food dishes from Toyama.  Like at this past March's Tokushima Night, the food and drink on offer are regional specialities which one doesn't often see at the venue along with other Japanese dining and drinking establishments in Hong Kong.  So it really did feel like a special treat to get to try them tonight.

As the Toyama Prefecture representative present at the event informed me, the Toyama sake made available this evening came from five of the prefecture's nineteen sake breweries, and the ones I tasted included a variety of grades and types of the Japanese alcoholic drink: namely, junmai daiginjo, junmai daiginjo nama, junmai daiginjo, junmai ginjo nama genshu, and tokubetsu junmai.  And true to form, my favorite of these was the junmai daiginjo: specifically, the Haneya Junmai Daiginjo Tsubasa Nama from Fumigiku Brewery which I felt was pleasantly delicate, yet flavorful.  

Although Toyama actually has mountainous inland areas, seafood dominated its culinary offerings right from the start, with the first dish I was served being while hotaru (firefly) squid served three ways!  Squid also figured in two other dishes on offer this evening: an oden-like offering which also included balls of potatos and taro (yam), mushrooms and slices of carrots; and the Takaoka-style black croquette with a center made up of rice, onions and potatos cooked in squid ink and consequently very black looking! 

Two other seafood dishes included in the mix were a tororo kombu (seaweed) rice ball, and a yellowtail miso soup.  (And for those who wondered: yes, I did type "tororo" as Totoro the first time! ;b) So it may be rather ironic that my favorite dish on the special Toyama Night menu was the sole one that wasn't a seafood dish!  And while the Himi udon may not look like anything special, let me emphasize how wonderful this chewy wheat noodle's texture was -- and how much of a treat it was to feel safe to eat the rich-tasting Toyama egg -- with its big and bright yellow yolk -- that came with it raw! ;b

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wong Kwok Fai's The Moment is an imperfect movie which still does have its moments (film review)

An iconic Hong Kong sight which can be seen 
in more than one scene in The Moment

The Moment (Hong Kong, 2016)
- Wong Kwok Fai, director
- Starring: Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Poon Chan Leung, Eric Suen, Carman Kong, Kelvin Kwan, Dada Chan, Eric Kwok, Grace Ip
Pretty much every time I venture along the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator or catch sight of -- never mind venture into -- Chungking Mansions, I get to thinking of Chungking Express.  But while director Wong Kwok Fai's first feature film is nowhere near the same level as Wong Kar Wai's magical whimsical romantic classic, it's also true enough that I will get to thinking of The Moment now whenever I see a Mobile Softee ice cream truck!

And even though it's also the case that this ensemble drama which ambitiously seeks to tell and link together the stories of four different pairs of individuals is nowhere near to being a cinematic masterpiece, it admittedly does have its moments (pun intended!).  Furthermore, this offering -- which happens to share the same English title as a 2014 Taiwanese documentary but is otherwise very different -- endears itself to me for happening to be one of those increasingly rare Hong Kong movies whose cinematographer and location scout(s) look to be utterly willing to take advantage of the territory possessing some very photogenic as well as culturally iconic spaces and structures (including mobile ones).
The Moment also makes good use of character-filled interior locations -- notably the vintage photography studio which the socially awkward Chan Kar Fai (Gordon Lam Ka Tung) appears to have spent a good bulk of his life, and is extremely reluctant to let go of despite a persistent property agent, Lee Chi Kin (Poon Chan Leung), insisting that Fai's father (Richard Ng) had agreed to sell the place before he suffered the stroke that's left him hospitalized and unable to speak.  
As it so happens, the best ever portrait that Fai may well have taken was of Kin when the two of them were at school together and fast friends.  And even while they fight over what's to happen to the property in which the photography studio is located, Kin -- somewhat unbelievably but also at times amusingly -- ends up posing again for Fai, and even striking the same poses in the original photo taken decades ago!
Among the many other individuals who have had their pictures taken in that photography studio over the years are Hin (Kelvin Kwan) and Yin (Dada Chan), a pair of thespians who used to be a real life romantic pair but now are only playing a couple in a movie currently being filmed.  More recently, Wai Man (Eric Kwok) had a series of photos taken of himself in the same photography studio which were revealed on the occasion that he asked the woman he loved (played by real-life wife Grace Ip) to marry him.  
But while Ah Yo (Carman Kong) does venture into the photography studio, she dejectedly leaves without Fai carrying out her request to photoshop a picture of her father (Eric Suen) taken in Hong Kong along with one of a snap of her mother and her taken over in her native Canada.  And even sadder still is how clunkily contrived all of The Moment's four tales turn out to be; with their credibility quotient not being helped by the way that many of their scenes have been visually arranged, and a number of these characters being prone to express themselves by way of long, uninterrupted monologues that come across as extremely stagey as well as overly-theatrical.     

For all this though, all bar one of the film's quartet of stories did have at least one moment that moved.  In addition, this viewer did get the sense that this film's makers do have their heart in the right place, even if their storytelling abilities haven't reached the requisite level to compellingly relate the complicated narratives they have attempted to do so.  Consequently, The Moment's messages about the possibility to make amends and start all over again are ones that I'll take as encouragingly uplifting rather than completely corny.   
My rating for this film: 6.0

Monday, September 19, 2016

The easy way by foot to Stanley (Photo-essay)

When people talk about hiking to Stanley, they tend to assume that it involves a climb up and over The Twins, a pair of Hong Kong Island hills that take more than 1,000 steps straight uphill to mount.  An easier but less well known option is to go along the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path which hugs the western side of Violet Hill and the Twins, and follows a catchwater for much of the way.  And even easier and less well known still is a trail located far closer to the water and sea level that lies just off Island Road near the Hong Kong Country Club.

After getting off at a nearby bus stop, I went along an elevated walkway that's known as the Mills & Chung Path to Deep Water Bay Beach, then along the Seaview Promenade from there to Repulse Bay (both of which I first visited when attending the Sculpture on Hong Kong Sea 2009 event).  Then after spending time checking out the colorful Kwun Yam Shrine at Repulse Bay, I continued my trek initially along the side of a road before connecting to a shaded trail I hitherto hadn't realize existed, and which eventually took me to Stanley via Ma Hang Park

Although this excursion is too urban for the most part as well as easy to really feel like a genuine hike, it still can be quite a workout on a hot summer's afternoon; with my pedometer showing that I had taken close to 18,000 steps after I got home that day.  Also, much to my surprise, I did actually get in some critter spotting along the way.  So I guess I did get close to nature to some extent after all on this outing! ;b

Ocean Park's cable car ride and rollercoasters are visible 
on a fine day from the Mills & Chung Path
Looking back from the Seaview Promenade at
Deep Water Bay Beach and the surrounding hills
Looking out across the water to Middle Island, home to 
clubhouses belonging to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and 
less prestigious -- but reputedly friendlier -- Aberdeen Boat Club
My praying mantis photographic subject stopped and 
stared boldly at me and my camera! ;b
On the way to Repulse Bay, I caught sight of The Twins
and felt so good to be able to say I've been up those twin peaks!
Can you spot the brown stick insect?
This considerably longer green stick insect
should be much easier to catch sight of! ;b
Yes, there were some stairs to go up --
but they were way fewer than if I had
gone to Stanley via The Twins! :)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

An unexpectedly sanitized Hong Kong EcoPark visit

Not a sight many people want to see or imagine
All the more reason then that we should recycle
Early yesterday morning, I made my way to Tuen Mun to meet up with the friend who organizes beach cleanups and fellow "sustainability heroes" (as Rija refers to the members of his Green Sustainable Living HK meetup group).  In the first year or so after moving to Hong Kong, I tried to get to know the lay out of the land better by doing such as taking long bus rides and ended up in this new town in the western New Territories on at least one occasion.  And more recently, I've been over to this part of the Big Lychee to begin hikes along such as the final stage of the 100-kilometer-long Maclehose Trail.        
While I get the feeling that there were a few hiking enthusiasts in our party yesterday, our actual aim was to pay a group visit to the EcoPark set up by the Hong Kong government.  But although we went all the way to that remote recycling facility which occupies some 200,000 square meters of land near the Tuen Mun Area 38 fill bank, we ended up only touring the EcoPark's spick and span visitor center rather than any sections where actual hands-on work was being carried out.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful to such as the polite guide assigned to show us around, my distinct feeling was that we were provided with a pretty sanitised view of goings on at the EcoPark along with waste management efforts in Hong Kong as a whole.  And not only did a great deal of what we were told sound like propaganda designed to assure us that official actions to deal with the mountains of waste that have been -- and continue to be -- generated are going well but it seemed to be targeted towards individuals younger than the members of our group; which makes sense when it sounds as though the majority of visitors to the EcoPark (specifically, its still "like new" visitor center) are members of school parties.   
On the bright side: I truly welcome any attempts to educate Hong Kongers from a young age about the importance of recycling along with reusing items and reducing their consumption of goods.  And, at the very least, the message was not sugercoated that, to quote one of the text panels at the visitor center: "When the people enjoy the seemingly endless consumption of new goods by discarding the old ones, they are producing more and more garbage. Our city is drowning in the sea of garbage as we speak..." 
At the same time, as Rija pointed out, the fourth "R" (repair) appeared to have overlooked.  Worse is my fear that the educational messages being offered up come across as mere platitudes with little substance to them, and there also being little sense that what you do could actually have any actual effect on a large-scale matter and mess.
Still, while the text on the displays and the words we heard being uttered in the short video that we were shown may not make much of an impact, hopefully the sight of a remarkably large and detailed mockup of a section of landfill will get people vowing to be less wasteful in their daily life.  And in this particular case, I am indeed grateful that the mountain of garbage we saw wasn't only not real but also didn't smell and doubtlessly be home to myriad annoying bugs like it'd be the case with the genuine article, which sees some 13,800 tonnes of waste being added to them each day and are coming close to reaching capacity any day now.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Succumbing to the siren call of the Japanese golden peach

An overexposed Puppet Ponyo in the Room of Peach
at the Kobuntei in Mito's Kairakuen

 The priciest peaches I've ever seen, 
paid for and eaten! ;O

How much would you pay for fruit?  I know people who'd pay a premium for excellent sushi, top notch steaks (and just about anything wagyu) and refined alcoholic beverages (such as the bottle of the Daishichi Sake Brewery's Myouka Rangoku which reportedly has a retail price of around HK$10,000 (~US$1,288) and I feel very privileged to have drank part of!) but would not consider doing so for any melon, peach or other fruit -- even highly valued ones from Yubari, Furano and other regions of Japan known for producing what in all probability are the best fruits in the world, and certainly the most expensive.

Maybe because I come from a part of the world whose most prized -- and priciest -- delicacy is a spiky fruit, I might be more susceptible than others to answer the siren call of certain fruits (and I don't (just) mean a certain lovable dancing and singing Pear either).  In any case, after recently reading about Japanese peaches that tasted like "the nectar of the gods", I decided that I really wanted to try this golden version of what is in fact one of my favorite fruits (alongside durian and mangos).

To be sure I'd get the good stuff, I went to the food hall of Sogo's Causeway Bay flagship store to get what turned out to be two golden peaches rather than just the one I had wanted to just try -- because it turns out that they're packaged that way.  More precisely, the golden peaches are not only wrapped in plastic but also are encased in the fruit version of cushioning to prevent bruising and such -- and they turn out to cost HK$148 (~US$19) for two, or HK$74 (~US$9.50) each!

Despite my having gone to Sogo this afternoon expressly to buy this particular Japanese fruit, I have to admit to baulking for a bit before deciding to bite the bullet and get by far the most expensive -- and, as it so happens, largest -- pair of peaches I've ever bought in my life.  But after going ahead and eating one of them earlier this evening, I can confirm that it is easily the most delicious peach I've ever tasted in my life: sweet, juicy and smacking of wholesome goodness!  

While it's true enough that I won't be making a regular habit out of buying and eating these very precious fuzzy fruits, I totally can see myself getting them as presents for good friends on special occasions such as their birthdays.  At the same time though, those friends would have to be fellow foodies -- otherwise, they probably will not really appreciate the gesture, and the peachy fruits themselves! ;b

Friday, September 16, 2016

Tai Hang's festive Fire Dragon in action once more!

What's that blur of lights in the picture? 

 The Tai Hang fire dragon, that's what! ;b
And imagine my joy to get as clear a picture
as this one of its remarkable head! ;b
Today's a public holiday in Hong Kong on account of it being the day after the Mid Autumn Festival according to the Chinese lunar calendar. It's also the day of the Monkey God Festival held in honor of the Monkey King who figures in Journey to the West (and lots of movie adaptations of that Chinese classical novel), Malaysia Day -- and the last of three days this year that the Tai Hang Fire Dragon goes "dancing" in the streets of that Hong Kong Island enclave.
Back in 1880, the then small village by the water suffered a triple whammy in the days leading up to the Mid Autumn Festival.  First, a typhoon slammed into Tai Hang and destroyed many of its houses and other buildings.  Then a plague spread illness in the community.  After a python entered the village shortly after and devoured the livestock, a village elder came up with a plan to stop Tai Hang's spell of misfortune -- or, rather, if the legend is to be believed, Buddha himself appeared in a dream to tell him what the villagers needed to do.
As unbelievable as it sounds, the cure for Tai Hang's woes involved a large "dragon" -- which these days is some 220 feet or 67 meters in length -- made from straw and covered with over 70,000 incense sticks being paraded through the area streets for three nights, guided by two "pearls" (that actually are made of pomelos into which numerous sticks of incense are stuck) and loud drumming.  Even more amazing is that this scheme worked so well that since then, pretty much without fail every year, the ritual has been repeated -- and has become a festive annual commemoration whose fame has spread far and wide!
Earlier this evening, I went with three friends -- two American, one a local Hong Konger -- to Tai Hang to see its fire dragon in action once more.  This time around, the crowd may well have been the largest I've seen to date -- but, actually, better organized too, with the police having been pressed into action along with community representatives.  
Also, if truth be told, the fire dragon looked to move slower this year than I recall from previous years.  But while this brought down the excitement quotient somewhat, I'm not going to complain since this made it so that I got better and clearer photos than previously.  Or maybe it's a case of practice leading to improvement, even if not resulting in perfection just yet! ;)