Tuesday, January 29, 2019

10 highlights of my 2018 year

An image that brings back fond memories 

Puppet Ponyo posing in front of a temple in

The proverbial "they" say that time flies when you're having fun.  If so, I must have had a lot of fun in 2018 -- and in the similarly fast passing first month of 2019!  So it really would be a crime to not note down 10 highlights of the past year for the record to add to my previous posts for 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 (the last of which was the year that I began this now over 12 year old blog) -- and preferably before the second month of 2019 comes long!  So, without further ado...

Best book: It's been decades since I last set foot at my beloved undergraduate college but, as a recent blog entry shows, I still find myself fondly recalling my experiences there from time to time.  Perhaps for this reason, I still enjoy reading stories that take place, even if only partly, in college settings.  So when I saw a copy of J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement for sale at the local Salvation Army thrift store for HK$25 (~US$3.18), I bought it despite being unfamiliar with the author or book title.  Post reading this 2009 novel, I now realize what a bargain I got -- since this gem of a book is one that I can easily foresee myself re-reading again more than once in the future! :)    
Best concert: I went to a number of classical music concerts in 2018 that I thoroughly enjoyed, including yet another Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert which had my favorite classical musician, Ning Feng, as the featured artiste, and a Hong Kong Sinfonietta concert with a movie-themed program.  However, none of them got me beaming from ear to ear all evening that the Hong Kong leg of Charamel's Splash Tour did!  There's no two ways about it: my favorite pear fairy and its band really rock, and are super entertaining and fun to watch as well as listen to! :)   

Best decorated building (complex): I visited many buildings in 2018 whose decorated interiors as well as exteriors had me gasping at their sheer beauty, and filled with awe at the mastery of the artists and artesans whose creations remain amazing centuries after they were made.  This was particularly the case in Spain, a country whose past glories have left it with a number of really incredible works of art, including architecture.  In Segovia, I was so busy admiring the buildings seemingly everywhere around me that I literally fell down in the street.  In Sevilla, I was bowled over by Christian cathedrals along with Mudéjar artistry.  But it was Granada's Alhambra, particularly its Palacios Nazaries, which I found truly heavenly -- and I count myself very blessed to have been able to see its beauty up close and with my own eyes.   

Best exhibition: After visiting in Hiroshima in October 2017 and discovering that the area's oyster season hadn't begun yet, I vowed to return there soon to feast on fresh and raw Hiroshima oysters.  Upon doing so early last year, I not only was able to do that but I also got to check out a special exhibition of works by the great ukiyo-e artist, Hiroshige, at the Hiroshima Museum of Art which ran there for less than two months.  Although the art history classes that I took at college in Wisconsin focused by and large on Western art, this former art history and anthropology double major (and museum studies minor) still is able to appreciate masterworks from the Land of the Rising Sun which may use different aesthetics but depict scenes that I increasingly find familiar rather than super foreign, and feel an emotional as well as intellectual connection to.

Best hike: For a number of reasons, I didn't hike as much in 2018 as in previous years.  At the same time though, I was able to get in a number of hikes outside as well as in Hong Kong -- sometimes on my own but also often in the company of friends; with my favorite being a hike in southwest Lantau on the third day of Chinese New Year in the company of two good buddies who I've done a lot of hiking with over the years and are always fun to be around both on a trail and off it.  On that particular excursion, we got to see lots of great views (and Chinese New Year flowers) and also get to talking about a wide range of subjects -- the kind of ingredients enjoyed by people who go for the kind of "non-competitive hiking" that we all like to do! ;b 

Best meal: The category with the most candidates by far; something which should come as no surprise considering how much of a foodie I am and that the territories I visited in 2018 include Japan, Penang, Spain and Jeju!  This past year, I also dined at a couple of three Michelin-starred restaurants (8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo and Lung King Heen) here in Hong Kong.  The more I think about it though, the more I return to my most recent meal at zero Michelin star Godenya -- which I actually am a bit shocked to realize that I didn't blog about.  Many months later, I still can almost taste the incredible kabogani (female snow crab) risotto, the inspired combination of sweet potto, beets and century egg, the rich-tasting abalone and shirako combo dish, and the amazingly delicious pistachio and sake dessert -- and their memory is getting me thinking that another visit to that sake-food pairing specialist is overdue! 

Best museum: Last year, I achieved a dream I've long had of visiting Spain's Museo Nacional del Prado.  But as it turned out, my favorite of the museums I visited in 2018 actually was another Madrid museum: the, to my mind, better designed and curated Museo Arqueológico Nacional which came across as well as innovative as well as interesting and informative, filled with lots of impressive artefacts and also possibly the best multimedia displays that I've ever seen in a museological institution ever!

Best sunrise: Being far more of a night owl than early bird by inclination, it's extremely rare for me be awake at sunrise, never mind wake up to hike up to a high vantage point from which to watch the sun rise.  Thank goodness that the views from the top of Jeju's Seongsan Ilchulbong were absolutely worth it -- and the sunrise I viewed there may well be the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen, never mind for the year 2018, which is saying something since the previous year, I had seen the sunrise from atop Indonesia's Borobudur!  

Best tour: If I could only choose one alcoholic beverage to drink, it'd be sake (yes, rather than beer!).  And if I could only drink one brand of sake, the Asahi Shuzo Company's Dassai sake would be it.  With this in mind, I hope you can get a sense of how much of a thrill it was for me to be accorded a personalized tour of the Asahi Shuzo Company's brewery: one which included visits to a rice milling factory and various rooms in the main building including one where the koji was being sprinkled onto the rice along with my third meeting with company president Kazuhiro Sakurai (and the first in his home country) and complimentary glasses of the three sakes at the top of the Dassai range.  In addition, so amazing was the hospitality that I will feel forever in the Sakurai-san's debt -- one which I guess I can only repay by making sure to imbibe a lot of Dassai sake in the years to come! 

Best town/city visited: There are many towns and cities in Japan, my favorite country to visit, that I've been charmed by over the years -- places where I've seen beautiful sights, tasted good food and had great encounters with local folks.  Nonetheless, Takayama, which I visited for the first time this past year -- and certainly want to return for another visit at some point -- really did feel especially wonderful.  In just a few days there, I got to see a seriously gorgeous sunset, had daily encounters with super friendly people, enjoyed a lot of good food and loved the sights found in its streets so much that I spent many hours doing nothing more than strolling around the town that I would go so far as to say that I fell in love with... :)           

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