Sunday, September 30, 2018

Beach clean-up at Cheung Chau's Tai Kwai Wan

Trying to give tender, living care to a dirty beach
 
The more willing hands to work at cleaning up the beach, the better!
 
A respectable haul after just a couple of hours' work
by eight pairs of willing hands :)
 
After a four month summer hiatus, I figured it was time to go clean a beach once more this weekend.  The original plan had to go back to work trying to add a dent to the piles of trash on Cheung Chau's regularly badly polluted Tung Wan Tsai (aka Coral Beach).  But close to two weeks after Severe Typhoon Mangkhut paid Hong Kong a visit (or, at least, very close call) and hit the island particularly hard, there was uncertainty over whether the trail leading from the built-up areas of Cheung Chau down to that beach as a result of trees having fallen down and other typhoon damage in the area.      
 
Given the choice of going to work on a supervised beach on the same side of the island as Tung Wan Tsai and another unsupervised beach on the other side of Cheung Chau from it, my group of eight volunteers decided to go check to see whether the latter could do with some loving care.  After seeing that the main beach at Tai Kwai Wan could indeed do with some cleaning up, we set to work on it for a couple of hours; over the course of which we found, gathered and bagged up quite a bit of trash.
 
Like at every beach I've been to for beach clean-up activities in Hong Kong (be they on Cheung Chau, Lamma or Lantau), a good percentage of rubbish found at Tai Kwai Wan's beach consisted of styrofoam and (other) plastic items.  While there, I also saw the too familiar sight of ghost nets as well as plastic sheets wrapped around tree branches, be they broken off or still attached to living trees.  In addition, I came across hundreds, maybe even thousands, of plastic microbeads -- which can be hard to differentiate from sand from a distance and are fiendishly hellish to separate from the grains of sand that they lie on.
 
Noticeably different though was how much smaller the chunks of styrofoam and plastic found at this particular beach were from those we usually find at Tung Wan Tsai.  One possible reason for this is that they're older/have had more time to further break up; a sure sign that this beach hasn't been cleaned much -- if at all -- in years.  Almost needless to say, this made my group's task more difficult -- and also more frustrating; with one needing to work harder to have the satisfaction of filling up a trash bag than when there are larger pieces and/or items to pick up and clear away!
 
Another factor that contributed to our task being on the demanding side was it getting on the hot side as we reached midday.  Seeing the pretty red face of one of our group members got me thinking we should halt our activities before the temperature peaked for the day!  On the plus side weather-wise: we all felt the kind of breeze that signals to us that summer may finally be coming to an end here in Hong Kong; and we all agreed that it was much better to work under the sun than in the rain that has been unleashed on so many days this super wet summer (that came, ironically enough, after an unusually dry spring)!      

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Reflections over moon pics and viewings this week! :)

This month's full moon :)
 
Not so full moon but I like that you can see texture in the photo!
 
Mid-Autumn night in Victoria Park :)
 
Last night, I introduced a friend visiting from Britain to the pleasures of strolling about in urban Hong Kong after dark.  In Central, he exulted at the veritable light show that I've come to think of as pretty normal -- not least because it occurs daily rather than on special occasions -- courtesy of lit-up high-rise edifices like those of the Bank of China Tower and HSBC Building.  Meanwhile, I really enjoyed on this particular evening, the nearly full moon was so beautifully visible -- and also surprisingly yellow -- in the night sky too.    
 
At a couple of points during our walk, I considered taking my camera out of my backpack and snapping photos of the moon.  In retrospect, maybe I should have.  But I didn't do so because I've actually been doing quite a bit of that this week courtesy of such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and one of its traditional activities involving moon viewing!
 
As long time followers of this blog will know, I also do make it a point to go view the Mid-Autumn Festival lantern displays held at Victoria Park on that festive occasion.  I did think of skipping doing so this year though because I had got a preview of this year's alien lanterns in the days leading up to the event while walking through the park some days earlier.  But on the day itself, I decided to venture to the venue to catch sight of the Tai Hang fire dragon (which would be making a rare foray out of its home territory).
 
As it turned out, I found the crowd in Victoria Park to be way too large for me to get proper glimpses of the fire dragon (like I've managed to do in Tai Hang itself in previous years).  Also, the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival this year turned out to be on the damp side -- and while it had stopped raining when I headed over to the park, the rain returned midway through the fire dragon's appearance in that venue.  
 
While some members of the crowd took this as the cue to call it a night, what was the clincher for me was when many of those that chose to remain got out their umbrellas to further obscure my view!  So I didn't manage to get any good shots of the fire dragon this year.  Still, all was not lost since, thanks to the rain, I got photos of some wonderful reflections on the wet Victoria Park football pitch surfaces of the lantern display that I must admit to thinking are more visually impressive than the moon pics I've taken this month! :)   

Monday, September 24, 2018

Some thoughts on alien encounters in Hong Kong ;)

An unexpected sighting in Hong Kong :O

Some illumination a few days later ;b

Seeing stars and spacecraft (as well as aliens) at Victoria Park! :)

The day after Severe Typhoon Mangkhut buffeted Hong Kong with winds that were strong enough to get Hurricane Signal No. 10 raised for several hours, I ventured out of my apartment for the first time in some 36 hours to get stretch my legs and get some fresh air.  Over the course of my doing so, I came across scenes of tree carnage (particularly in Victoria Park), instances of dragonflies behaving rather unusually, and two large forms that had their wrappers on but still obviously were meant to look like extra-terrestrial beings with extra big heads!

After I stopped laughing at the sight of them, I quickly got to realizing that these alien representations were supposed to be part of this year's Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival at Victoria Park.  And while they look rather bizarre, the connection between them and the moon could be said to be as obvious as that between the heavenly body where a goddess is suppose to reside according to Chinese legend and those heavy traditional Chinese baked goods known as mooncakes.  Also, goodness knows that those in charge of deciding the themes for the Mid Autumn Lantern Carnivals in Hong Kong have come up with weirder themes in the past (including the time when giant lanterns shaped like a stick of fishballs and egg waffles went on view at the Mid-Autumn Lantern Carnival!).

A couple of days later, I got the chance to see the alien-themed lanterns and a bunch of others all lit up.  All in all, I reckon that they made for quite the kawaii sight and the sight of the smiley aliens got me recalling a story a teacher friend told me years ago that she and I found amusing -- and also rather illuminating with regards to the mindset of young Hong Kongers.  

Over the course of tutoring a couple of 12 year olds, she had decided to ask them as part of their English conversation practice to tell her what they'd do if they encountered some aliens in Hong Kong.  Hailing from the US as she was, my friend expected to hear answers that emphasized the, well, alien-ness of the extra-terrestrials and maybe also their threatening nature.  Instead, those young Hong Kongers -- whose home territory is remarkably crime-free, particularly when compared to other places with a similarly high degree of urbanism -- told her that they'd take the aliens they encountered shopping at the local department store or maybe even to Hong Kong Disneyland!

Clearly, they didn't look upon aliens as threats -- and just assumed they'd be friendly.  Consequently, the natural thing to do would be to be nice and friendly back!  And yes, Hong Kongers are not known for being super friendly but, in all honesty, I do feel that I've found my share of friends -- many of them good ones at that -- over the course of my more than 11 years now in the Big Lychee.  So this Mid-Autumn Festival is as good a time as any to register my gratefulness that this has indeed been the case. :)  

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Art -- and free food and drinks -- on offer at the 2018 South Island Art Day!

Works by Kesang Lamdark on display at Rossi & Rossi Hong Kong
 
Another piece by the Tibetan artist that's part of his
 
Robin Moyer talks about his photographs on display 
  
Years ago, when I lived in Philadelphia, some friends and I would venture to the artsy part of the city on the first Friday evening of each month.  There we'd find the streets where the art galleries were located bustling with people checking out the art on display in spaces which  they'd not think to venture on other occasions and also stuffing their faces with complimentary canapés (and often enjoying them more than the art on view in the galleries offering free food and alcoholic drinks on the night!).
 
I didn't see any free food at the first of the 12 galleries and artist studio clusters participating in this year's South Island Art Day that I set foot in yesterday.  But alcohol (in the form of chilled cans of San Miguel beer) was on offer along with art works by Tibetan artist Kesang Lamdark and Italian artist Giorgia Vigna at the spacious Wong Chuk Hang premises of the Hong Kong branch of Rossi & Rossi,.  
 
Considering that the art work on display there including images clearly inspired by the Tiananmen Square "tank man" and that bring to attention Tibetan self-immolators along with one showing a woman performing fellatio, it probably was for the best that one didn't have anything solid in one's mouth (and newly churning about in one's gut) when viewing them!  And the day before the opening of the West Kowloon terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link designed to more closely link Hong Kong to its behemoth of a northern neighbor, such works served as a reminder that there still is quite a bit more artistic and expressive freedom allowed in Hong Kong than over on the other side of the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China.
 
At the second gallery I visited yesterday afternoon, I found food, drinks, art and more: specifically, a talk being given by longtime TIME magazine photographer Robin Moyer, whose photographs are the subject of an exhibition at the Hong Kong branch of Pékin Fine Arts whose title is given as My China (1976-Present) on the gallery's website but -- and I don't think it's accidental nor a small matter -- My China, My Hong Kong on the South Island Art Day program.  Again, there was clear evidence of the differences that exist between Hong Kong and Mainland China at this second venue; including in the form of a photo taken at Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989 which, as the man who took it noted, cannot be shown in Mainland China but can be openly displayed in Hong Kong.
 
Before I decided to call it a day in Wong Chuk Hang, I visited two other art galleries and one cluster of artist studios; all of which offered more -- and arguably better quality -- food and drinks than either Rossi & Rossi or Pékin Fine Arts, but also had far less interesting and impressive works on show within their spaces.  All in all, it got me thinking when exhibitors know their art isn't great, they try to make up for it -- and make their visitors happy -- with food and drink (including alcohol)!  And since they did try to be nice that way, I'll be nice in turn and not mention their names (but will note them down and not pay visits to these places the next time I go art gallery hopping in Wong Chuk Hang)!! ;b  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Hong Kong's on the mend post Mangkhut, and admirably quickly too!

Blown out by Mangkhut :O
 
Tree carnage in Victoria Park :(
 
Salvage work underway in the wake of 
 
The day after Hong Kong's T10 signal was raised for some 10 hours thanks to the most severe storm recorded by the Hong Kong weather authorities, I expected to see a lot of typhoon damage when I finally ventured out of the apartment I had holed up in for some 36 hours.  And on a walk around what's just a small part of the territory, I most definitely saw that: particularly in Victoria Park, where scores of trees had been uprooted and/or had branches broken, benches were broken, metal railings bent, and several sections of Hong Kong Island's largest urban park were declared unsafe or just plain damaged and subsequently closed off. 
 
During the morning rush hour that day, transport chaos also ensued and, in retrospect, it probably would have been best if the bulk of Hong Kong's workers had been given a day off the day after Severe Typhoon Mangkhut battered the city.  At the same time, it really was a good thing that the workers involved in the mass cleaning up after the typhoon were working, and so very hard, on Monday.  And what they managed to accomplish within 24 hours of the T10 and T8 signals going down to, first T3, then T1 and then being entirely removed, looks close to miraculous.    
 
From the majority of bus routes being suspended on Monday to most, if not all, buses running again on Tueday (albeit with slight detours in some cases because not all roads have been completely cleared of typhoon debris), much of the city looked to be back to normal just two days after Mangkhut shut down pretty much all of Hong Kong on Sunday.  And considering how flooded and trashed the podium garden in my housing complex got on Sunday, it was really amazing to see it so cleaned up this morning that those who weren't here when Mangkhut visited (or, at least, came so close to the territory) would have had no idea how terrible it had all looked just two days ago.
 
Of course the parts of Hong Kong that were much more severely affected by Mangkhut will take more time to recover.  And even in those areas that didn't make the news, one still can see buildings whose blown out glass windows have not yet been replaced and such.  But when the fire brigade can be seen attending to the damaged trees on the minor road on which I live, like they were this afternoon, my sense is that Hong Kong is most definitely on the road to recovery -- and admirably far quicker to mend than would be the case in so much of the rest of the world if a similar disaster struck.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Unusual -- typhoon-related? -- animal behavior!

Large gray clouds still loomed over much of Hong Kong 
when I decided to go out for a walk earlier today

There also were a lot of dragonflies flying about
near the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter this morning!
 
Two dragonflies spotted stuck together -- but in not quite 
 
After feeling obliged to stay indoors for the entire day yesterday to stay protected from the wrath of what's now officially Hong Kong's most intense storm on record, I was relieved to see that the T8 Gale or Storm Signal had been replaced by the time I woke up this morning by Strong Wind Signal No. 3.  And while remnants of Typhoon Mangkhut remained in the area, it was mainly in the form of large dark clouds in the sky and the gusts of wind that blew today were actually quite welcome as they brought the temperatures down a notch or two below what they usually would be at this time of the year (which may officially be autumn in some places but still feels very much like summer here).
 
Soon after I had my breakfast, I headed outside for some fresh air and exercise by way of a walk that took me from my neighborhood to the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, past the Jardines Noonday Gun and through Victoria Park, among other places.  While quite a bit of clean-up work had already been done by the time I ventured outdoors, there still were signs of typhoon damage about, primarily in the form of downed trees -- some of which caused the closure of sidewalks and even whole roads -- but also visibly in the form of wrecked scaffolding, shards of broken glass on the ground and -- this at the typhoon shelter which turned out to provide insufficient shelter from the typhoon for some -- sunk sampans.
 
Something else that I found to be out of the ordinary was the veritable swarm of dragonflies that I saw by the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter.  This is a sight that I tend to take as a sign of impending rain (rather than departing typhoon) when encountering it while out hiking in Hong Kong.  But among the things that the visits of Typhoon Hato and now Mangkhut have taught me is that T10-rated typhoons can get animals behaving in unusual ways!  

During Typhoon Hato's visit last year, far more ants than I cared for decided to seek refuge in my kitchen.  And my apartment got only its second ant infestation since I moved into it the day before Severe Typhoon Mangkhut beat a path close to Hong Kong.  As more than one person has observed, many animals have better advanced warning as well as survival instincts than many of us humans!
 
Still, this doesn't explain the unusual behavior of the dragonflies I saw today -- including one pair that might have been on the randy side, yet weren't positioned the way I usually find them and also seemed far more intent on flying about while stuck together than staying put in one place than would normally be the case for dragonflies in that situation!  And this especially so since -- unless they know better -- there's not supposed to be another typhoon coming to these parts for at least the next few days!!  

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A mainly Hurricane Signal No. 10 day in Hong Kong (courtesy of Severe Typhoon Mangkhut)

Large pools of water where there shouldn't be

Strong winds did this (including decapitate a couple of garden lamps!)

One of a number of objects that looked to have blown out 
of nearby apartments down several floors

Shortly before I decided to call it a day last night, the No. 8 Gale or Storm Signal was raised by the Hong Kong Observatory.  And when I woke up this morning, it was to find that Hurricane Signal No. 10 (the highest typhoon warning signal used by Hong kong) had been raised despite Super Typhoon Mangkhut having been re-designated as "just" a severe typhoon.

A little more than a couple of hours ago, the T10 signal was replaced with the No. 8 Gale or Storm Signal having been hoisted.  But it's actually still pretty windy and plenty rainy out there, and I won't feel safe enough to venture outdoors or take an elevator until the signal drops to at least T3 (this since there were a number of power surges in my building today and I've read reports of people getting stuck in elevators in various parts of the territory in the past 24 hours or so).  

At the risk of sounding like a scaredy cat, I also must admit to not having felt 100 percent safe in my apartment at various points today.  Among other things, I worried that Severe Typhoon Mangkhut would break the glass on at least some of my windows or even blow the windows out entirely since this particular tropical cyclone was being billed as the strongest on record to hit Hong Kong as well as the strongest typhoon this year.  And it really didn't help that this typhoon's winds sounded at times like that of a jet engine and I was given a good idea of its strength when it decapitated at least a couple of lamps in my building complex's podium garden and sent quite a bit of stuff flying out of windows and down from my very building or ones nearby!

Something else I was shocked to observe was how the water in my toilet bowl actually swirled about at times when the T10 signal was in place and also its turning disconcertingly murky rather than staying clear colored!  Still, I am thankful that -- unlike a few of my friends -- I couldn't feel my building swaying about for much of the day (maybe because my apartment is on a lower floor than theirs!)!   

In addition, I am very grateful indeed that I don't live in a low lying area susceptible to flooding and being pounded by scary looking waves (like not only the old waterfront villages of Tai O and Lei Yue Mun but also the modern housing estate of Heng Fa Chuen).  And left even worse off are Macau, where some 20,000 households have been left without electricity by Mangkhut, and the Philippines, where floods and landslides added to the damage caused by Mangkhut and the death toll has already risen to 64 at the time of writing (and possibly could go up quite a bit higher in the next few days).

In view of how dangerous many of us figured or even knew outright that Mangkhut would be, I'm rather shocked that there were people who thought nothing of going out to waterfronts to get some thrills and others who decided that a T10 typhoon was not enough to stop them going for yum cha with family members and/or friends!  In all honesty, until a friend told me she was out having dim sum with her parents this morning, I didn't realize that there were any restaurants that would be open when a signal higher than T8 had been raised!!

For my part, even though I must admit to suffering a bit from cabin fever, I don't regret staying put in my apartment pretty much all day today.  And for the record: I will state that Severe Typhoon Mangkhut really has felt far more powerful -- and scary -- than the two previous T10-strength typhoons (Hato last year, and Vicente in 2012) whose Hong Kong visits I've been around to experience; and it really is a scary thought indeed that, as a result of climate change, the world may soon see hurricanes or typhoons that are even stronger than the category 5 Mangkhut. :(

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Getting ready for Super Typhoon Mangkhut's visit

a frequently asked question today

Trees tied up as a safety measure

Earlier this week, Strong Wind Signal No. 3 was raised when tropical cyclone Barijat passed between 100 and 200 kilometers south of Hong Kong.  Kindergartens were suspended on Wednesday morning but life generally proceeded pretty much as usual and when walking about the city, I honestly didn't really feel that it was all that windy for the most part.

A few hours ago, Strong Wind Signal No. 3 was raised again for the second time this week.  This time around, things do feel quite a bit different.  For one thing, when I was outside less than an hour ago, I already felt gusts of wind that were noticeably stronger than normal.  Furthermore, you can feel the tension in the air and see that serious preparations have already been made for the predicted visit of what could possibly be the most powerful typhoon to hit Hong Kong in recorded history.

The strongest on earth this year, Super Typhoon Mangkhut has been sending chills up and down spines for some days now (even while bringing high temperatures in advance of its visit).  We're talking, after all, of a super typhoon that's worse than even the typhoon which brought quite a bit of damage to Japan earlier this month; a good measure of which can be seen by Kansai International Airport's Terminal 1 not being operational until 10 days after the typhoon hit the area and still not expected to be fully operational even after September 21st.   

With the maximum Hurricane Signal No. 10 being predicted to be raised sometime tomorrow, hundreds of flights previously scheduled to land at or depart from Hong Kong International Airport have already been cancelled -- and even there even won't be any horse racing at Shatin tomorrow!  On a more mundane note, thousands of windows throughout the territory have had taped fastened onto them (even while others remain untaped since there's some debate whether taping them does any good), trees have been tied to one another (to prevent the trunks crashing into others, I presume) and lanterns which had been installed in advance of the Mid-Autumn Festival later this month have been removed for safety.    

In addition, there have been runs in supermarkets and bakeries for food supplies and bottled water, leaving many a shelf bare.  I remember years ago stocking up for a typhoon, only to find that it maxed out as a T8 (Storm Signal No. 8) typhoon and, upon my deciding it was safe to venture out for a bit to get some fresh air and stretch my legs, that the likes of McDonald's and 7-Eleven outlets remain open when the T8 signal is raised!  This time, however, it really does look like it'll be different -- with my fully expecting to be ensconced in my apartment for at least 48 hours, hopefully with electricity, running water and windows intact throughout... :S 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Historical and contemporary sights along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail (Photo-essay)

When people ask me why I go hiking in Hong Kong, my usual answer is that I do it for exercise and to be able to check out interesting sights in sections of the territory that are not accessible by motorized transportation.  Usually, these satisfying sights involve scenic vistas or eye-catching creatures.  Sometimes, however, it's cultural and/or historical sights that end up being the hike highlights or main focus. 

One of my more regular hiking buddies in recent years is a military buff with whom I've explored such as the ruins of the Shing Mun Redoubt located within Shing Mun Country Park and the even older ruined redoubt atop Devil's Peak.  And it was with him that I opted to go along the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail that is a historical battlefield trail that passes through a key area of conflict during the Battle of Hong Kong which was one of the first battles of the Second World War's Pacific arena...

One of ten detailed information panels that can be found
along this battlefield trail established in 2006
 
It can be difficult now to imagine this part of Hong Kong as
 
A pillbox located on the side of the trail
 
 A good view of Wong Nai Chung Gap
(and a good place to set up a defence post?)
 
We went looking for historical relics but couldn't help
but stop at times to admire the contemporary view

Nature looks to be winning its battle against historical ruins

A better preserved section of the former military site

A Hong Kong summer hike wouldn't feel complete
without a large spider spotting... ;)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Some thoughts on this day that inevitably brings back memories of events that took place many years ago now

Two candles burning at a memorial vigil

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I reconnected a couple of years ago with an old school friend who I had lost contact with for decades.  Now connected on Facebook, I received an alert this morning that today was her birthday and promptly sent her happy bday wishes.  Around the same time that I did so, I got to realizing that today's the 17th anniversary of what has come to be known 9/11 and remembered as a day that majorly changed the United States of America, if not the world.   

As someone who's now in her fifth decade of life on earth, I've invariably accumulated a lot of memories: many good, some not so great; many of a personal nature, others of which I share with many others, including people I don't personally know; some of which revolve around events which took place far away from where I happened to be when I heard about their having occured, yet had quite the psychological and emotional impact on me.     


Although there were other reasons why I eventually decided to leave the USA (on July 4th, 2003), the role played by 9/11 is not to be under-estimated.  I think that many people living in America were scarred forever by the terrible events that occured that day in New York City, Washington, DC., and in the air over Pennsylvania.  And, to this day, I'm not sure that many people (including members of the US government) have learnt the right lessons from what happened on September 11th, 2001.

Among other things, the experience and memory of 9/11 has left many of us with some really irrational fears and loathings.  A New York resident I know who saw the planes hit the Twin Towers with her own eyes told me about how, on a recent visit to Hong Kong, she asked for a room change after being assigned a hotel room with the number 911.  In turn, I told her how I -- who saw the Twin Towers fall in real time, even if "only" on TV -- refuse to live, to the perplexity of various Hong Kong property agents, in an apartment located higher than the 12th floor.

And then there's the fear and distrust, if not outright loathing, that many Americans have come to have of foreigners, especially Muslims.  Among the things I will never forget being told in the months after 9/11 was -- and this by an undergraduate at an Ivy League university -- that Americans wanted to study anthropology (which he saw as the study of foreigners) in order to better understand the enemy and defeat them.  Around that time was when I decided that maybe it was time for me to leave the USA; whereupon I did, and returned to my home country -- one with a Muslim majority but also a sizeable non-Muslim population with whom they regularly interact.     

More than incidentally, the friend I have whose birthday it is today is indeed Malaysian, and Hindu.  When we were in secondary school, her family would open their house on Deepavali to the likes of me and her other friends who would happily go there and be fed delicious food by her grandmother.  Among our group of friends were a Malay Muslim, whose house we would in turn visit and get fed at when Hari Raya Puasa came along.  And those friends would, of course, visit my family home during Chinese New Year to eat (and get ang pow)!

Remembering those times makes it so that this September 11th, I have been having happy, not just unhappy, thoughts today.  I really wish 9/11 never happened.  And while I don't think the memories of September 11th, 2001, aren't going to go away nor become less upsetting any time soon, I also really do hope and wish that people will be able to let go of their irrational fears and hates, especially towards other people, eventually and sooner rather than later.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A (bird-filled) Hong Kong Park excursion so fun that it's worth repeating!

Is that a blue-winged leafbird perched on that tree branch?

A yellow-faced myna thousands of miles away from 
where members of this species usually are to be found

Any one able to identify this other unusual looking bird that 
caught my eye today at Hong Kong Park's Edward Youde Aviary?

Earlier today, I spent time having Chinese tea and conversation with a friend at the branch of Lock Cha Tea House located in the grounds of Hong Kong Park.  Afterwards, we decided to go for a stroll in the park -- and after I learnt that, despite her having lived for five years or so in Hong Kong, my friend didn't know that this Hong Kong park possesses a conservatory, I decided it was high time she visited it.

On the other hand, she needed no introduction to the second of the park's indoor facilities which we visited.  Indeed, the Edward Youde Aviary appeared to be a place she's not only familiar but also, like me, enjoys spending time doing a bit of bird watching (and photographing) in.

Built along a natural valley on the northern slope of Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Aviary is home to a number of fascinating trees, palms and tree ferns.  Still, there's no doubting that the stars of the show are the 600 or so birds of some 70 different species housed in in this expansive space measuring approximately 3,000 square meters that's enclosed by steel mesh (whose exteriors squirrels often climb onto and look to enviously peer down at the scene below). 

While I recognized a few birds in there as ones I've seen in the wilds of Hong Kong (including at Hong Kong Wetland Park as well as in the country parks), there are other, more exotic birds that I doubt that I'll see elsewhere in Hong Kong on account of their home continent being South America rather than Asia or continents that are nearer to it.  In addition, quite a few of the birds that are easy enough to spot in the aviary have far more striking plumage than those I've caught sight of while, say, out hiking in Hong Kong.  When coupled with their appearing to have become far more used to people than those in the wild, it really is hard to resist snapping bird pics galore on a visit to the Edward Youde Aviary. 

Here's a funny thing: upon going through my photo archives, I got to realizing that on this day two years ago, I actually had spent time at Lock Cha Tea House and the Edward Youde Aviary with a(nother) friend!  Even more amazing is that none of the photos I took at the aviary back on September 9th, 2016, were of the same species of birds as those that I photographed today!! :)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A hike from the Peak down to Aberdeen with a diversity of critter spottings (Photo-essay)

It's official: the 11 amber rainstorm warnings issued last month were the most that have been issued in a single month since June 2001.  Alternatively put: this past August was very wet indeed.  And while I worried just this past spring about whether Hong Kong would be experiencing a drought in the near future, I'm now of the view that a little bit less precipitation this September actually might be welcome!

For one thing, it'd give me more opportunities to go out hiking again.  Indeed, it's been such a while since I've been out hiking that I'd even welcome an excursion that would get me sweating buckets the way I sometimes do when climbing up a lot of steps; this especially if that same hike also turned out to be a critter spotting bonanza, like the one I that took me from the Peak down to Aberdeen a while back:-

  A blue-spotted crow that's a butterfly, not a bird :b

Hill streams are in full flow at this time of the year
 
I have no idea what this bug is -- and until I set eyes on it,
didn't realize such a creature existed on this planet!
 
A section of trail that's not difficult but which I still would 
hesitate to go on by myself, thanks to my having a fear of heights
and the trail being both high up and close to the edge :S
 
View from the trail of high-rise-filled Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau,
and part of the body of water in between

The warning sign makes this trail sound 
quite a bit more difficult than it actually is!
 
Fish in the catchwater my hiking companion and I
walked along for part of the way!
 
My last critter spotting of the hike -- yes, it's a wild boar!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Big Brother stands up to deliver (Film review)

The Hong Kong poster for Donnie Yen's passion project

Big Brother (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2018)
- Kam Ka Wai, director
- Starring: Donnie Yen (who also co-produced), Jack Lok, Gordon Lau, Gladys Li, Bruce Tong, Chris Tong, Yu Kang

There are many things about Big Brother that long time movie fans will have already seen before. A teacher new to the field whose professional background is very different from that of regularly appointed secondary school teachers?  To Sir, With Love.  A teacher with unorthodox pedagogical methods and a good heart who, against the odds, manages to win over -- and even inspire -- his students? Dead Poet's Society.  Heck, tell Hong Kong cinema fans that you've seen a movie about a super caring educator set in Hong Kong and saddled with a title that makes it sound more like a kung fu film and thoughts may well turn to Little Big Master from just three years ago! 

At the same time though, it's not often that one sees an action star like Donnie Yen playing a teacher and it also is rather uncommon for a teacher to be, like his Big Brother character, a crack soldier turned dedicated educator.  A man with a chequered past (some details of which get revealed over the course of the movie), Donnie Yen's Henry Chan is assigned to teach liberal studies to a class filled with a failing school's problem kids but also makes it his mission to convince them that there's value in a school education and that academic success can lead them to a better tomorrow -- even if they are, say, an impoverished orphan (Jack Lok), a member of an ethnic minority (Gordon Lau), a girl (Gladys Li) rather than the boy her father evidently prefers, and the sons (Bruce and Chris Tong) of an alcoholic widower.     

A hard task is made all the more difficult when one of Henry Chan's students decides to drop out of school and join a gang whose dai lo (big brother) (Yu Kang) is tasked by his boss to get the school shut down so that its land can be re-developed.  (What a very Hong Kong idea this is!)  Almost needless to say, this sub-plot gives the movie's big star a couple of opportunities to showcase his ability to kick ass and put his personal stamp on a film that, in terms of his willingness to mix genres, felt like an old school Hong Kong movie (or, at least, one spiritually akin to those churned out in the hundreds during the mid 1980s through to mid 1990s that I consider to be Hong Kong cinema's most recent Golden Age).   

For all of Big Brother most definitely being Donnie Yen's show though, the younger members of the cast get opportunities to shine -- and it is to their credit that they go ahead and make the most of it.  Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that a number of the youngsters actually outdo the movie's biggest star in the dramatic stakes, with at least a couple of the sub-plots and dramatic scenes in which they are prominently figure successfully drawing tears from my eyes.  

Even more admirable is the decision of the makers of Big Brother to not turn a blind eye to the problems to be found in Hong Kong's educational system, ones so systemic and serious that student suicides have become not at all unexpected events even while surely being avoidable tragedies.  For even while Henry Chan, the "Big Brother" many kids wish they could have, is shown solving a number of his students' problems (and surprisingly easily at that), the movie effectively points out that there are certain issues that need to be addressed by higher authorities than a teacher, however impassioned, dedicated or outright great he may be.

All in all, I found Big Brother an enjoyable watch and very much appreciated that its makers look to have their hearts very much in the right place.  So why isn't my rating of it higher?  For one thing, it's not the most technically polished of films.  For another, it contains a number of improbable plot developments and twists that require quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to let pass.  Approach it with the appropriate attitude and level of expectation though, and this movie will deliver drama, action, laughs and heartening messages of hope.

My rating for this film: 7.0