Sunday, May 27, 2007

Out and about in Hong Kong

Rainy Sunday afternoon
in the City of Glass (and skyscrapers)
that is Hong Kong -- or, at least, its Central District

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a friend in Malaysia asking me whether I've managed to check out all of Hong Kong yet. Reading it, I wanted to laugh. This isn't just because my work hours have been on the long side -- though, in mitigation, my job does allow me to get out and about quite a bit; e.g., I expect to be out of the office, even if at work, for much of tomorrow -- but, also, that Hong Kong may well be larger than many people, including her, realize. Additionally, there just is so much to see and check out here.

One reason for this is the incredible density of the place -- or, at least, the parts of Hong Kong that I now spend the bulk of my time as well as have come to know best over the course of my previous visits to the Fragrant Harbour. And it's not just that there are many buildings wedged into spaces in Hong Kong where in more land-rich territories, there'd only be one or two but also -- and this is something I'm still having to train myself to realize and recognize -- that they are far more likely to be multi-storey edifices (many of them veritable skyscrapers) than not.

For another, Hong Kong is not as small as many people think. And while I do think that most people know full well that this 1,104 square kilometers of territory is bigger than, say, Penang or Macau, they may not realize that it's actually twice the size (in land and population) than Singapore. Nor, for that matter, that Hong Kong (SAR) comprises not only Hong Kong Island and Kowloon but also the New Territories and a bunch of other islands -- one of which, Lantau, is twice as large as Hong Kong island.

For a third, Hong Kong is the kind of territory where the film buff but, also, culture vulture, foodie and beer geek will find many places of interest, to spend time in, hang out, etc. For example, I've viewed five movies (Herman Yau's Gong Tau and Whispers and Moans; Umizaru 2; and Single Blog and Kidnap -- two local offerings which aren't officially out in theaters yet) in cinemas in the past ten days. (And it would have been six films if it didn't turn out to be the case that the screening of the Li Han-Hsiang offering that I wanted to see at the Hong Kong Film Archive this afternoon hadn't been sold out way before I got over to Sai Wan Ho!)

Over on the culture vulture front: Two Saturdays ago, I was privileged to be among the opening night attendees of the Hong Kong Repertory Cinema's From Sunset to Sunrise; and yesterday evening found me in the audience enjoying the concert given by France's Poum Tchack over at the Sheung Wan Civic Centre, an arts center improbably located in the same building as a wet market! (Message to those who think that Hong Kong is a cultural desert: Believe you me when I say that I've lived in places which make Hong Kong feel like a veritable cultural oasis that a long parched moi is now supremely delighted to be in!)

And on the foodie front: suffice to say for now that Hong Kong reputedly has some 10,000 restaurants and I've only eaten in one place more than once since moving here on the first of this month!! Additionally, as far as drinking opportunities are concerned, suffice to say that last night, I had my first gin martini in ages -- not least because I usually prefer vodka martinis along with draft beers... ;) -- and it tasted very good indeed. :)

Not that I spend that much of my time eating, never mind drinking. For often, I just feel compelled to just be out and about -- not just outside of my apartment or workplace but also in any one permanent physical space. Put another way, I really do love Hong Kong's public transportation system(s) and -- contrary to how its plethora of crime dramas can lead one to think otherwise -- how safe it is. (So safe, in fact, that women as well as men thinking nothing of walking through such as Victoria Park after midnight!)

Put yet another way: After four years in Malaysia, where the public transportation ranges from inconvenient to downright abysmal, I feel like I have legs and a license to roam again. As an example: this afternoon, after having my original plans of spending the afternoon at the Hong Kong Film Archive thwarted, I decided to roam around the island instead. Yes, it was raining, but this just meant that instead of walking and/or using the tram, I'd just hop on buses and pop in and out of buildings instead.

So, from Sai Wan Ho (where I did at least manage to enjoy a nice noodle lunch for a HK$14 -- and this included a packet chrysanthemum tea drink!), I took one of those nice double-decker buses whose upper deck affords good views into Central and spent some time exploring the ifc mall for the first time. (Verdict: Okay to look at at least once but generally too rich for my blood!)

Then, having bored of it quicker than I thought I would, I walked down into the large bus station at the bottom of Exchange Square and made an off-the-cuff decision to take another bus over to
Aberdeen, famed for its Jumbo Floating Restaurant (the setting for such as the climactic scenes of God of Cookery) but a place I hitherto had never visited!

Finally, after spending a couple of hours exploring its city center, I hopped on yet another double decker; this time, one that took me back to my home time for dinner (HK$23 -- so, yes, here's another myth debunked: i.e., that everything in Hong Kong is ultra expensive!), which I opted to have in yet another neighborhood eatery which I had previously not yet tried!!

All in all, I'm thinking that my feelings for Hong Kong may well be akin to Samuel Johnson's for London. And should you be uncertain as to what those are, here's pointing out that Mr. Johnson it is who has been credited with having memorably asserted that "
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life..." ;b

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Colorful (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

The two photographs were taken on my visit to Japan last year. Though it may not be readily apparent when viewing these images, the colorful items that are the focus of both of them are pretty large and estimated to weigh around one ton each. These facts nothwithstanding, these towering objects actually were constructed to be portable after a fashion; and to be carried for fairly significant distances by groups of men for a few days each year.

More specifically, these aesthetically as well as physically impressive constructions are wooden portable shrines which frenzied groups of male believers will carry while racing through the streets of Fukuoka during its Hakata Gion Yamakasa -- a major Shinto festival that takes place in mid-July and whose participants and onlookers number in their tens, if not hundreds, of thousands.

For much of the year though, these carved creations are to be found -- mounted in place and behind some protective mesh that, presumably, helps keeps birds and such from pecking at them, along with small red wooden fences imbued with, I imagine, symbolic meanings -- in the largely peaceful environs of the Kushida Shrine.

A religious establishment which lies in Fukuoka's bustling Hakata district in a location just off the traditional -- and, if truth be told, somewhat out-of-fashion as well as old-fashioned -- feeling Kawabata-dori shopping arcade plus mere minutes away from the busy plus modern leisure destination called Canal City, that which traces its establishment back to 757 CE makes for quite a study in contrast with the commercial portions that also are located in the heart of that which has claims to being Japan's oldest city.

On a personal note: I'd highly recommend that visitors to Japan who seek to delve beyond the surface of its culture not leave the country without having spent some time inside of a Shinto shrine. And if you're wondering: No, I'm not a particularly religious person by any means; however, my experiences in more than one part of the world often get me sensing plus thinking that it's in many religious establishments where the heart and soul of places and nations are most likely to be felt and encountered.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cooked/ing (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

In my favorite movie of all time (Peking Opera Blues -- for those of you who don't yet know), a certain Chinese dish's name get rendered in the film's English subtitles as sukiyaki. While not completely incorrect, in that, like the Japanese "steamboat"-style dish, that which is known in Cantonese -- the dominant language of Hong Kong, Macau (where the above photograph was taken), Mainland China's Guangdong Province and many a Chinatown in "the West" -- as ta pin lo could be described as Asian versions of the Swiss fondue, its name usually gets more prosaicly translated into English as "hot pot".

As can be imagined from its English name, hot pot is a steaming hot dish that's really ideal for cooler climes and times of the year. However, its popularity is such that many people, including myself, are perfectly happy to partake of it on hot and humid as well as cooler and/or drier days. And, as it so happened, ta pin lo was what I had as my first full meal after arriving in Hong Kong earlier this month (despite it being a period when temperatures tend to hover in the high 20s on the Centigrade or Celsius scale)!

Ask someone what hot pot ingredient (s)he likes best and you're likely to get a whole bunch of different answers. This is due in large part to there being, in the words of one hot pot lover, "nearly as many types of hot pot as there are regional dialects in China". And, also, a whole range of ingredients to boot.

For example, some of the more delicious items that were put into the boiling hot water of the communal pot from which I recently ate included incredibly tender as well as thinly sliced slices of Wagyu beef, long pieces of chewy cuttlefish and small segments of smooth geoduck (which actually is more clam than a member of the regular duck family). And if you think that they all already sound incredibly exotic, I'm going to direct you to the items on the plate in the upper left hand corner of the above photo and tell you that they're actually -- no, I really kid you not! -- chicken penises!!!!

Still, lest it be thought otherwise, hot pots -- including even some that I've had a part in eating -- can feature more conventional ingredients. For instance, what we've got being cooked in the pot in the photo are some prawns on sticks along with some kind of green vegetables. Oh, and for those -- like myself -- who've long wondered about the differences between shrimps and prawns, it seems that a shrimp is a shrimp and a prawn is a shrimp but not all shrimps are prawns... ;b

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

2 weeks and 1 day after arriving in Hong Kong

Greetings from Hong Kong -- where I now not only live and work but, also (finally, as of only two days ago), have access to broadband at home as well as the office! :)

"Time flies when you're having fun" says the proverbial "they". There've been many a time when I've felt this. From more recent experience, however, here's additionally fully attesting to time being prone to feel like it's flying when you've got lots of work on your plate as well!

Don't want to go into too much details about work stuff since I get the distinct sense that my new boss actually checks out this blog at least every once in a while...At the same time though, I think it's safe enough to report that tomorrow, the latest issue of the bi-weekly magazine which I'm currently staff writer for will hit the streets and that those who lay their hands on a copy will find that five out of the six feature articles have been written by a certain YT(SL)! And that's not even the half of it as other sections of the magazine now have my imprint -- e.g., in the Cinema section, you'll also find my (extended) review of The Go Master. (And yes, if that title seems familiar, it may be because you've seen a previous mention of it on this here blog.)

Alternatively put: Yes, I've spent a good portion of my time thus far in Hong Kong at work. And yes, I've already experienced at least two working days that only ended at around 1:30 the next morning. (So, if you ever wondered, yes, it's true enough that Hong Kongers -- even newly transplanted ones like myself -- work very hard indeed!)

Furthermore, my first few days in Hong Kong were colored by finding myself saddled with the roommate from hell: a young woman who I had agreed to share an apartment with for a month without having met her. I know, I know...and yes, it could have been worse. But it still was bad enough that she turned out to not yet have housetrained her pet dog -- so that on my first May morning in Hong Kong, I had experience of literally stepping into some shit on my way to the bathroom! Oh, and also be the kind of party animal who, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be able to hold her drink all that well; with the result that the bathroom sometimes could smell worse than the parts of the apartment where the dog was allowed free rein. :(

So, to say the least, it was with great relief that my frantic apartment hunting efforts actually resulted just four days after I landed in Hong Kong for this new great adventure in living in my discovery of an apartment that I'd be happy to stay in and settle into for what I hope will be a long stay in the Fragrant Harbor. And on the first Sunday of this latest Hong Kong sojourn (i.e., just one day after said discovery!), I moved into this veritable oasis that's located in one of those actually quite interesting as well as pleasant parts of Hong Kong which I'd previously passed through more than once on a tram but, I must confess, had never stopped to check out.

Some more minor yet significant -- at least, to me -- milestones reached in the past two weeks or so: My getting a Hong Kong phone number to call my own (this on the day that I came across the apartment I now call home); and my opening an account in a local bank (this only done yesterday). On a lighter note: Over the weekend, I also belatedly succumbed to the temptations of a Hong Kong branch of Krispy Kreme that, I've found, not only has a "buy five, get one free" offer in place but also can boast culinary attractions like delectable donuts with a green tea flavored glaze on top of them! ;b

Finally, what's a Hong Kong entry on this blog with movie mentions? Those of you who know me will doubtless understand that I really truly started feeling comfortable, if not yet outright settled, when I finally found the time, energy and such to go and get myself a DVD player (just this past Saturday). (If you're wondering, the apartment came with a nice enough TV set along with some other furnishings.)

And go watch a movie in a cinema. (For the record: It was only this past Sunday and the film was Spider Lilies, an affecting art house offering cum -- oh, heck, I'm not going to hide this fact! -- lesbian drama from Taiwan accorded but a category IIB rating here in Hong Kong which I found to be hypnotic, haunting and very much watchable due in larger part to Rainie Yang (a wonderful young actress who I had previously seen only in the under-rated Merry-Go-Round) than the more celebrated Isabella Leung (of Isabella fame).

Of course, this being in Hong Kong, I caught sight of a major film star many days before these two events occured. On the same afternoon that I landed in Hong Kong, in fact. And no, I really am not kidding when I tell you that the celebrity in question was ex-Shaw Brothers actress Lily Ho; and that I almost literally bumped into the still very lovely looking her -- and her pretty stunning as well young adult daughter -- while waiting to buy fruits at a small corner shop!!

And while I didn't dare to go up and talk to that charismatic female, I did talk to -- indeed, interview for work! -- none other than Fredric Mao last week! Should this luminary's name not immediately ring a bell, here's pointing out that he's the celebrated artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, an individual who the likes of Anthony Wong Chau San look upon as a sifu and call "Mao Sir", as well as someone who has made significant supporting appearances in small but worthy cinematic efforts like 9413, A Queer Story and Forever and Ever. And should anyone wonder: Yes, he was very nice and the interview went very well indeed... :)