Monday, April 22, 2019

Getting that "It's like I'm in a Hong Kong movie" feeling at Fung Wing Kee Hotpot Restaurant

A place that looks like it could figure in a horror movie
but actually was in a Hong Kong crime drama ;D
The restaurant which occupies the street level space
of those three tong lau is a hotpot specialist ;b
And it's customary to finish a meal at this restaurant with 
instant noodles cooked in the eatery's signature satay sauce soup! :O
As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a film fan whose love of Hong Kong cinema can approach geek levelsI'm also am a bit of a foodie.  And when I have managed to combine both these passions (by doing such as eating something I got to wanting to try after seeing it featured in a movie -- like in the case of fugu shirako -- or by dining at an eatery which served as a movie location), the experiences are often pretty special to my mind.

So when a fellow Hong Kong movie fan friend told me the identity of the hotpot restaurant which figures in the opening scenes of Johnnie To's PTU and of its continued existence (something which can't be assumed -- since so many famous eateries cum movie locations, such as the restaurant associated with Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood of Love are no more), I immediately contacted a few friends to see if they were up for going there some time.  (A note for those who are wondering: There are eateries where I'm perfectly happy to dine alone but when it comes to hotpot restaurants, one needs dining companions to properly enjoy eating at the place!)             

The Fung Wing Kee Hotpot Restaurant was heaving with customers the night that two friends and I made it out to that Kowloon City dining establishment, so I'm really glad that we pre-booked our table a couple of weeks in advance.  Famed in real life for its satay sauce soup option (with the thing to do being to end a meal there with instant noodles dipped in that salty brown brew!), it's pretty old school in terms of its culinary offerings and also its atmosphere -- and thus not for everyone, particularly those with more refined tastes and tendencies!
If truth be told, my two friends -- one of whom is a fellow film fan cum foodie, the other far more of a foodie than film fan -- whom I went there with were not too impressed with the food on offer  In particular, we all didn't care much for the beef that was supposed to be the restaurant's forte -- and it was rather disappointing that the most expensive dish we ordered also turned out to be one that we ended up not feeling like finishing since the meat turned out to be tougher than we had expected as well as hoped would be the case.
On a more positive note: we did find the seafood we ordered surprisingly fresh and tasty, and the vegetable options were respectable.  Still, what made me happiest over the course of our dinner at Fung Wing Kee Hotpot Restaurant was -- you guessed it! --  was the "It's like I'm in a Hong Kong movie!" feeling that the place gave me -- and not just because it's an actual famous movie location but also because it's the kind of old school place that Hong Kong movies made me nostalgic for even though I actually have spent most of my life outside of the Big Lychee! ;b

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Critter spottings and more on a solitary hike in Tai Tam Country Park (Photo-essay)

It used to be that I wouldn't think to venture into Hong Kong's countryside without at least one other companion -- and, actually, frequently two.  In recent years, however, I've gone alone on a number of hikes in Hong Kong's country parks.  Initially, it was because of my regular hiking companions being indisposed (due to reasons that included knee problems, having to work one days when I wanted to hike, and one of them having become a father).  But I've come to realize that hiking alone can bring its own joys.

More specifically, when hiking alone, I feel more able to slow down and better take in my surroundings.  I also don't feel like I'm imposing on anybody (human) when I decide to stop and try to take a really good picture of a bug that isn't as willing as I'd like to stop and pose for my camera!  

At the same time though, I do carefully select which trails I feel comfortable hiking alone (versus with the added safety and security from having a friend around); with the criteria being that they're not all that physically demanding but, also, that they won't be bereft of people for hours on end.  Consequently, the vast majority of the hikes that I go along on my own are on Hong Kong Island; with Tai Tam Country Park proving to be one of my favorite places to venture on a solo hiking excursion...

It was a good day to get away from the concrete jungle for a few hours :)
A grasshopper that would have been far better camouflaged
if it had settled among a bunch of twigs and branches ;b
Peaceful scene at Tai Fung Au (aka Quarry Gap)
It's not just me who thinks that the patterns at the back of 
the spider's head resembles a face, right? 
A clear shot of another species of grasshopper that 
I am really happy that I managed to get on this hike! :)
A smaller and more unusual looking spider than the
Golden Orb Weaver that I photographed earlier
The Tai Tam Upper Reservoir's dam is one of those structures 
that I find to be an awesome sight and pretty cool to walk along
It often amuses me that few visitors to Hong Kong realize 
that there are parts of Hong Kong Island that are so green :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Eating Women contains both a number of sex scenes and scenes of women eating! (Film review)

Hong Kong poster for a Japanese movie
Eating Women (Japan, 2018)
- Jiro Shono, director
- Starring: Kyoko Koizumi, Atsuko Maeda, Erika Sawajiri, Charlotte Kate Fox, Kyoka Suzuki, Alice Hirose, Mitsu Dan, Yu Yamada, etc.
Be honest now: what came to mind when you saw the title of this Japanese film?  If it was something rather naughty and/or erotic, you wouldn't be entirely wrong with regards to the subject of this movie.  Because even though Eating Women's Hong Kong poster emphasizes its foodie and female bonding elements, it's not for nothing that this actually rather delectable Japanese offering got a Category IIB (Not suitable for young persons and children) rating from the Hong Kong censors!
Eating Women begins with a innocent scene featuring two young girls (Kotone Uda and Yuna Suzuki) lying down on a quiet road in a bid to hear the gurgling of an underground river whose existence one of the two friends' mothers (Mitsu Dan) had talked about.  Intrigued by their actions, an older female decides to follow suit -- with her actions showing her to be a rather eccentric individual.     
The owner of a food-themed bookstore which occupies space in a rambling building which also is her home, Atsuko Motchisuki (Kyoko Koizumi) is a spinster with a cat but also a good number of female friends with whom she regularly gets together to cook, eat, drink and talk about subjects that include their love lives.  At the instigation of her restauranter friend Mifuyu (Kyoka Suzuki), she additionally ends up taking in as a boarder a young American woman whose husband (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) divorced her in part because of his being tired of her not being able to cook proper (Japanese) meals for him!  
In an early scene, Lisa Matilda (Charlotte Kate Fox) is shown effectively being raped by her then husband.  It's a shocking scene for its contrast with what had come before in the movie.  At the same time though, it effectively serves notice that Eating Women does have sex scenes -- including far more pleasing (and at times amusing) ones that show the female party being pleasured -- as well as a number of mouth-watering scenes involving women enjoying consuming a variety of foods!   
Adding to the diversity of this film's subject matter is that its story involves sub-plots involving eight different women.  If truth be told, some of them are far more memorable as well as interesting than the others -- and I also must admit to having difficulty telling a couple of the younger women apart!  So I actually do reckon that Eating Women would have benefited from a paring down of the number of characters that have stories to tell but I wouldn't be surprised if scriptwriter Tomomi Tsutui, who was charged with adapting her novel for this 104-minute-long cinematic production, baulked at doing precisely this.
Incidentally, Eating Women's main character, Atsuko, spends a significant amount of time in the movie in front of her computer trying to complete a book that details the lives of her friends.  Is this a case of art imitating life here?  If so, Tomomi Tsutui sure does have some interesting and diverse friends based on such as their occupations alone since this film's female characters include an ear model, a TV assistant producer and a books editor.  Also worth noting is that none of the female characters in this ensemble dramedy is married for any significant amount of the movie; something that's still not all that usual in Japanese cinematic offerings but, at the same point, looks to be reflective of Japanese films being increasingly likely to present portraits of Japanese individuals and families that don't fit the conventional images of yore.
My rating for this film: 7.5  

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hiking and food = a good combination in Hong Kong! ;b

Farm/home grown vegetables and fruit for sale
Traditional peanut candies made before your eyes!
As friends who have gone hiking with me know too well, a hike excursion isn't quite complete for me without a stop (or more) for food.  My usual practice is to start a ramble at a time of the day that will allow for us to reach a good place to have dinner before sunset.  I've also been known to stop for a snack of tofu faa or a more substantial repast mid-hike -- especially if time allows -- on trails that take us through a village enclave with a stall or actual dining establishment!
Thus far, however, I haven't stopped to buy items being hawked by people who look like they farmed the produce or made the products they sell by the side of certain trails.  Part of me wants to, not least to help support local farmers and producers -- of which there really aren't that many left in rural Hong Kong.  But the thing is that I'm loathe to add weight to my load (which, early on in a hike, can feel on the heavy side because of the minimum 1 liter of water I bring along to drink on hikes in the cooler months and 1.5 liters of water I take along on hikes in warmer weather).    
Maybe I will at some point -- but in the meantime, I do like to not only have dinner in the nearest town (or village) from where I end a hike but also then do a bit of shopping in the area before hopping on public transportation that will take me back home.  Among my favorite post-hike destinations are Tai Po, Mui Wo, Sai Kung and Yuen Long.  And Yuen Long was where two friends and I went for dinner post hike this past Saturday.
After wolving down our meal at Victory Beef Ball, the three of us went snack shopping in the area.  While one friend went to a discount store for items to bring home and another decided she had to try some siu mai from The Queen of Siu Mai over on Yuen Long's Food Street, I decided to get some peanut sweets from Kei O after watching one of the establishment's staff making faa saang tong in front of the store, right out on the street.  Then it was off to a bar for a round of craft beer because we went and got our bus that would take us back to our respective home turfs! 
Two days on, I've consumed more than half of the box of peanut sweets from Kei O that I only opened after I got back home that evening -- and no, I don't want to think of how many calories they contain (vis a vis how many I managed to burn on Saturday's hike, etc.)!  Instead, I'm already thinking that after I finish the box, I might well have to return to Yuen Long for some more of this sweet stuff -- on a day that involves some hiking or maybe not... ;b

Sunday, April 14, 2019

An urban park that I've grown to like a lot, maybe even love ;b

View from a cool section of Hong Kong Park

A veritable oasis in Admiralty :)

When I was a tourist to Hong Kong -- rather than the permanent resident that I now am -- I never thought to go and visit Hong Kong Park.  And for more than a year after I moved to this part of the world, I didn't set foot even once in this spacious urban park in Admiralty whose wonders aren't all that visible when you're outside of it.  

Slowly but surely though, this well-planned public space has come to occupy a place in my heart.  And it's not just the special facilities such as its walk-through aviary or 1,400 square meter conservatory that I've found myself repeatedly returning to visit.  Rather, I've also come to seriously appreciate how relaxing it can be to walk along its paths that take one close to ponds full of lotus plants, tortoises, koi and frogs (the last of which are often heard but not as often spotted) and waterfalls that may be artificial in nature, yet whose sights and sounds can have the kind of calming effect on me that I get when I hike in the more natural environs of Hong Kong's country parks.    

So much have I come to like -- and maybe love might not be too strong a word! -- Hong Kong Park that I now have taken to taking friends and other folks visiting the Big Lychee to this urban oasis, particularly those unable -- due to time constraints or some other factor -- from spending time in the territory's country parks.  Almost without fail, it's proven to be a hit with the visitors; and this especially with those individuals who have been in Hong Kong for a few days and had rushed themselves off their feet trying to adjust to the quick pace of life here as well as felt stressed by the crowd density in the parts of the territory that tourists and people here for a conference or other type of business trip usually stay within.

For my part, there's one additional reason why Hong Kong Park feels special: that is, certain areas recognizably served as filming locations for movies that I've seen and liked, including Dante Lam's The Beast Stalker (which was my second favorite Hong Kong movie of 2008).  So, there are times when I feel like I'm in a movie while I'm in the park -- and perhaps none more so than on my recent visit there last month when a friend and I got to belatedly realizing that acting legend Lisa Lu was right behind as as we made our way to the branch of the Lock Cha Tea House located within Hong Kong Park and, as we sipped tea and chatted in one corner of the facility, filmed what appeared to be a TV interview in another section of the establishment! ;b

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Critter spottings on a hike from Shek Kong to Ho Pui

Can you see the two critters in the above picture?  
(You may need to click to enlarge the image ;b)
Is that a Paris Peacock I see before me?
After not going out hiking for weeks, I've now been out hiking twice this week!  What's even more amazing is that, despite the Hong Kong Observatory's forecast for today having included showers and even thunderstorms (and it in fact having rained in a large percentage of Hong Kong), I didn't feel more than a few rain drops over the course of the 7.8 kilometer hike that I went on over on the northern edge of Tai Lam Country Park!
Upon checking the weather forecast earlier in the week and seeing what had been predicted for today, the two friends and I had come up with a contingency plan to go for yum cha at Chuen Lung if it was raining when we met up at Tsuen Wan West (from where we would be boarding a bus to take us into the countryside to the north).  But since conditions were on the clear (even if overcast) side when we met at the appointed place and time, we opted to stick to our plan to go hiking; with the chosen route from Shek Kong to Ho Pui being entirely paved, flat and wide -- and thus easy enough to go along with umbrella in hand if the need did arise.
While it may be on the physically unchallenging side, the trail we went along is by no means uninteresting; what with it passing by the Farm Milk Company (where one can get fresh milk and milk pudding), an eco-garden that's home to lots of flowering plants beloved by butterflies, a couple of irrigation reservoirs and a small but pretty waterfall.  Indeed, I like it so much that I've been along it around five times now (albeit with minor variations in the route on a couple of occasions)!
With abundant foliage growing in the area, I find this shady trail to be particularly pleasant during the times of the year when the sun is likely to shine pretty fiercely.  Something else that makes this unnamed trail attractive to me in the warmer months is that lots of critter spottings can be made; with way more butterflies being spotted on today's hike than the one I went on in Tai Tam Country Park earlier this week.
Among today's critter spotting highlights were a couple of eye-catching Paris Peacock swallowtail butterflies, grasshoppers camouflaged to look like chunks of wood and one of those long-tailed lizards whose tails are around three times lengthier than their bodies.  More than incidentally, the lizard was spotted in fairly close proximity to a small butterfly which my friends and I were thinking might have been the reptile's intended meal if not for our presence having made it decide to turn tail and disappear into the undergrowth away from our prying eyes!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Signs that spring has come before the rainy season begins in earnest this year!

Before the rain fell

Lots of flowers and plants are already in bloom...
...and mating season has begun for some wildlife! ;b
Between my trip to Phuket and the Hong Kong International Film Festival occupying a good chunk of my time last month, I didn't do as much hiking as I should have.  And after seeing that the rainy season looked to be getting going in earnest from today (with many consecutive days of precipitation), I decided I had better go spend some time outdoors before the heavens opened with a vengeance.  
With the air already heavy with humidity and a high temperature for the day of around the 30 degrees Celsius, I opted for an afternoon hike in Tai Tam Country Park that began at a bus stop in Wong Nai Chung Gap and ended some three hours later at a green minibus stop in a residential section of Braemar Hill.  Along the way, I passed by, as well as caught sight of, three of the Tai Tam Reservoirs -- which were a study in contrast in terms of one being pretty full, another being completely empty and the third being not completely empty but also far from being completely full.
While the water levels at the reservoirs didn't look as terribly low as around this time last year, seeing them got me realizing that not that much rain has fallen in recent months.  At the same time though, much of the foliage was reassuringly and splendidly green.  Also, there are a lot of flowers in full bloom already, including those of the Red Azalea and Gordonia plants, which add lovely splotches of color to views of the Hong Kong countryside.

Since flowers bloom in winter in Hong Kong as well as the warmer seasons (with the Chinese New Year flower famously blooming, as its name implies, around the Chinese New Year period), however, I don't tend to equate their presence with spring, as would be the case in many other parts of the world.  Instead, the signs that really signal that spring is here for me are my being able to spot a lot of varieties of critters out and about (including butterflies that actually stop to be photographed rather than just seem to want to flit about all day) over the course of a hike, including ones which have decided that the time has come to go about procreating!
And for those who wonder, in view of my having captured so many creatures enacting such acts: no, I really don't go in search of copulating critters.  Indeed, in the warmer months, I tend to be more on the look out for snakes -- and not because I especially want to spot these slithery reptiles but because I really don't want to accidentally step on them and thereby be the target of their often downright poisonous ire!
At the same time though, I must admit that the sighting of the amorous pair of critters was one high point of this particular hike; this particularly since I had previously never come across wasp moths performing this act before and so now can add my shots of them to the subset of my photography collection which has had friends labelling me "nature's pornographer"! :D