Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One week in Hong Kong

Scene at sunset in Northeast Hong Kong
this past Sunday

Work hard, play hard. That's a saying I've heard more than once in my life -- and have to say that I really feel that I'm living that maxim over here in Hong Kong -- a place that's notoriously workaholic but, also, I reckon, full of people who know how to actively have fun (rather than, say, just lounge around watching TV like I feel too many people in Astro-dominated Malaysia).

In any event, here's reporting that this past week, I got my first pay check from my new employers. (One that, more than incidentally, I'm pleased to report is larger than previously even though I also work fewer days a week and fewer hours a day!) Also, that the following are some of the things I did outside of work over this time period:-

Tuesday: Stay home sheltering from the typhoon(!);

Wednesday: Go out and attend a theatrical performance of Alex (the stage version of the Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor cartoon strip) at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in Wan Chai (Note to Hong Kong movie fans: The HKAPA is the very academy that was celebrated in Simply Actors (2007));

Thursday: Celebrated my birthday by taking my mother to see the very fun Mamma Mia! (the ABBA-inspired movie -- which I had seen by myself the previous week and enjoyed very much!) at the Palace IFC in Central;

Friday: Attended a screening of Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin's involving Head-On (2004) at the Hong Kong Film Archive, then went for dinner with a couple of friends and after dinner, walked along the promenade from Sai Wan Ho to Tai Koo Shing (one of the beauties of Hong Kong is that it's perfectly safe for four women to go for a walk in the park/by the harbour at 11:30pm!);

Saturday: Dim sum lunch with a whole bunch of people in a restaurant inside the APM in Kwun Tong (on another Hong Kong movie fan note: this is the modern complex that can be briefly seen from projectionist Anthony Wong Chau San's window in Mr. Cinema (2007)); then a Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui in the evening; followed by a late night viewing of my beloved Arsenal lose to Hull City (the one blot on my otherwise wonderful week) on TV in a Causeway Bay pub with fellow Gooners (including my mother!);

Sunday: Hike in Tai Mei Tuk and a walk on the 2km dam that separates Plover Cove Reservoir from Plover Cove with friends, followed by a bona fide Hong Kong-style barbecue (or "bbq" in Hong Kong-ese; one in which every one does his or her own cooking and where the food includes squid and various kind of meatballs as well as sausages and meat :D); and

Monday: Attend a piano recital by Peter Jablonski at the Hong Kong City Hall in Central.

(So, if you ever wondered what are some of the things I get up to/go for while not blogging nor working... ;b)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

View(s) (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Back in September 2006, I visited Taman Negara -- whose name translates into plain "National Park" from Bahasa Malaysia, as befits its being the first and oldest of Malaysia's national parks -- with a city-slicker friend from the US who hitherto had never been to a single national park in his life. Or, as I was to learn, on a single country or wildeness hike. Ever.

As I was to find out, he was singularly unimpressed with views dominated by greenery -- even if it encompassed those of the oldest tropical forest in the world; and this especially when he had to hike on muddy trails to get up high hills to see them. Put another way: views from the interior of Taman Negara like the ones in this week's Photo Hunt entry represented too little gain for the considerable effort that it took to get to the vantage points from where they could be had.

I, on the other hand, view matters differently. And I hope that you will too after viewing two of my photos of those views; at least one of which was taken from atop one of Taman Negara's lesser peaks, 344 meter high Bukit Terisek. ;b

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Typhoon season in earnest

Typhoon damage last month

Another month, another typhoon. That's what it feels like this summer in Hong Kong -- what with Typhoon Signal No. 8 being hoisted at around 6pm today due to Typhoon Hagupit approaching the territory. In contrast, the summer of 2007 only saw one typhoon come a-visiting. So what gives this year, I wonder?

To judge from comments found on some websites though, it seems like last year was the anomaly rather than this year. Looking for a metaphorical silver lining in the increased typhoon cloud: I got to thinking that typhoons can stir up much anxiety but they also are known for blowing away air pollution and bringing clear air and blue sky days in their wake. So even while I'm holed up in my apartment this evening, I'm nursing the hope maybe going out and enjoying some clean(er than usual) air later in the week, especially come the weekend!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blue skies over Hong Kong (photo-essay)

If the world and its mother didn't know it before this Olympic year came along, it's now conversant of the fact that Beijing has problems with air pollution. And although I wish it were otherwise, so does Hong Kong. This week alone, there was a morning where the air was so bad I actually literally gagged when walking from my apartment to the MTR station on the way to work. But, then, yesterday, the air suddenly cleared and, among other things, allowed the sky to turn beautifully blue -- something that I was moved to capture in a few photos; and that also has inspired me to come up with this photo-essay of (various) blue skies over Hong Kong...

Blue skies over Tsim Sha Tsui, today

Blue skies in Wan Chai, yesterday

Blue skies over Lantau's Ngong Ping, August 2008

Blue skies over Fanling, August 2008

Blue skies over To Kwa Wan, July 2008

Blue skies over Clear Water Bay, July 2008

Blue skies over the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path,
November 2007

Blue skies over Ping Shan, July 2007

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Road (This week's Photo Hunt)

To put it mildly: This week's Photo Hunt was one for which I *wasn't* going to lack photos. For while it's true that Hong Kong only has 2,034 kilometers worth of roads, that's actually a lot for a territory that totals just 1,104 square kilometers in size -- and even more so when one considers that only 25% of that land has been developed, with some 40% of that total being officially designated country parks and nature reserves.

In continuing my efforts to try to show people different sides of Asia's World City, I've selected three photos that I hope you'll agree don't present the usual views that one gets of Hong Kong, its roads and all. Individually, they also respectively represent: town (albeit an older, more hilly part that tends to be off the tourist path); country (Who would have thought it? Cows in Hongkers!); and being out and about (since I took it while on a bus heading back into the city proper after a day of further exploring in the New Territories). :)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Omnivore's 100

Yes, it's edible (albeit not on the Omnivore 100 list)
anyone else know what it is? :b

I saw this meme over at Alejna's Collection Tokens and couldn't resist trying it out. The directions are as follows:-

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

With that in mind, here goes with regards to
The Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (although I have eaten alligator!)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoissest
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns (i.e., char siew pao?!)
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or Head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowl
33. Salted Lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted Cream Tea
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more
46. Fugu (aka puffer fish)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snails
79. Lapsang Souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose Harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole Poblano
96. Bagel and Lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Which makes it so that by my calculation, it's 71 items eaten, 18 items not yet eaten and 11 items that I never want to eat. So... wanna try doing this meme yourself over at your blog (in which case, do please come back and report your results) or in this entry's comments section? :b

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ma On Shan Country Park hike from hell! (photo-essay)

One day this past March, I went on a day excursion in
Ma On Shan Country Park with two friends and a hiking buddy of theirs that turned into what I have come to think of, and refer to, as "the hike from hell." More specifically, more than once during this adventure off the beaten track, I -- who really was/am by far the least experiened hiker in the group -- actually feared that I might fall off the hill -- nay, mountain! -- that we were on and, at a few other times, got to worrying that I was limited to the following unpalatable options: 1) give up and stay forever up on the mountain; 2) resort to calling mountain rescue to come to my aid; or 3) die trying to make it down a steep slope on a dry, stony, unpaved path!

Another good measure of my high anxiety can be seen by my abandoning any attempts at photography a couple of hours from the hike's finish. (Frankly, looking down from where I found myself was already threatening to be too frightening and I also generally was too busy trying to find things to grip to for dear life!)

Looking back, however, it is true enough that on the portion of the trek that saw us going from near
Wong Chuk Shan New Village up to the ridge connecting Buffalo Hill (which at 606 meters is, incidentally, Hong Kong's 13th highest peak) to 540 meter-high Shek Nga Shan, there really was some stunning scenery glimpsed; some of which, as can be seen in the following shots (and others shown here and here), I did manage to photograph for posterity:-

Looking down and back early on during the hike
at the rocky trail we had climbed up thus far on

Our fearless hike leader leading the way

Amidst beauty up on Ngong Ping plateau

Soon, however, another rocky path beckoned

Also, almost before we knew it,
Pyramid Hill (see picture 2) and Ngong Ping
had been
left far away in the distance

Similarly pyramid-shaped -- at least when viewed
from this angle --
Buffalo Hill

View from the top of Buffalo Hill --
one I found simultaneously beautiful and scary
(as there aren't any erected fences or barriers
up there on the mountain!)

One of the final photographs I took that day --
with Shek Nga Shan summit (and my fellow hikers!)
in the distance

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns 2008

Signs of the times

Things sure ain't like what they used to be. Apart from being the second night that the Tai Hang fire dragon will make its appearance this year, tonight also is the night when lanterns will be lit, carried and paraded in commemorate the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. But maybe due to global warming as well as Hong Kong being China's far south, it sure doesn't feel like summer's ended yet, never mind mid-autumn! (At one point today, the temperature hit a sweltering 34 degrees Celsius in parts of the Fragrant Harbour!)

Another sign of the coming apocalypse as far as traditionalists are concerned may well be the fact that the more old-style lanterns made of colored see-through paper, constructed in such a way that a lighted candle could burn within, and or shaped like spheres and animals (or, in my childhood, also things like rockets, cars and such), have given way to plastic inflated 'lanterns'... Worse, it seems that this year, Hello Kitty and CJ7 most emphatically rule!

Despite my love of the cute cat and furry alien, I must admit to having mixed feelings about this festive development. The thing is, I did/do love the paper lanterns of my youth. They seemed more, well, Chinese as well as traditional -- one of those links to my ethnic ancestors that I felt comfortable dealing with.

Still, as I have often found since returning to Asia more than five years ago now, certain segments of people in parts of the continent -- including Malaysia and Hong Kong -- really do seem more popular/mass technology enamoured and savvy than the Americans, never mind English and Tanzanians, I also have spend years living among. This is the same continent, after all, which has made a mobile phone and digital camera owner and user out of me... though I still don't own or even know how to operate -- and still don't feel a need to do so -- blackberries, pdas, wii and whole bunch of other techie consumer items just yet! ;b

Tai Hang fire dragon!

The head of the Tai Hang fire dragon...

...and the 67 meter long creature's tail end

Last night, I went to see the Tai Hang fire dragon. Last year, I had gone to get my first glimpse of the impressive creature and had a great time. Unfortunately, the camera I had with me then was only able to capture traces of the beastie's light rather than the dragon itself. But now that I've got a new and seriously more technologically marvelous camera... viola, check out the above two shots of the seriously fiery phenomena that I managed to take this time around (albeit with lots of mysterious white spots appearing on them :S)!

This year's visit was made enjoyable due in no small part to my having gone with a German friend -- who has lived in Hong Kong for five years now but had not as yet visited Tai Hang -- and her German colleague who was visiting Hong Kong for the first time. It's not just that I felt like the veteran who could show them the ropes with regards to checking out the Tai Hang fire dragon but, also, that they enthusiastically embraced my -- and many locals' -- practice of chasing after the dragon as it made its way through the streets of Tai Hang (rather than just passively stake a place among the crowd and wait for the dragon to pass by).

Imagine, if you will, the thrills and movement along with sound of drums rhythmically beating the way, the powerful smell of incense along with clouds of smoke emanating from the ancient beastie, and an excitable crowd of happy people running, not just standing, around -- and you'll have imagined the atmospheric scene that was the case last night (and tonight and tomorrow, as the fire dragon dances for two more nights before calling it quits until next year)!

At one point, we misjudged the path of the dragon and rather than running after it, found that it was heading our way. As the German friend excitedly noted a bit later, "until tonight, I had never seen, never mind chased and be chased by, a dragon!" Alternatively put: Much fun was had at Tai Hang last night.

(And this, amazingly, within 24 hectic Hong Kong hours that also involved my attending a jazz gig the night before, viewing Akitsu Springs (Japan, 1962) on Saturday afternoon and then going and watching Arsenal beat Blackburn Rovers 4-0 on TV in a Tai Hang bar with a couple of fellow Gooners. Oh and do more regular stuff like take part in the weekly Photo Hunt once again, etc. too! Small wonder that I'm content to take thing easy today... at least until this evening when I go watch another classic Japanese movie; this time courtesy of the still on-going Summer IFF! ;b)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wild (This week's Photo Hunt)

While editing an article not so long ago, I was flabbergasted by a throwaway comment made by the writer about his never having seen an animal in Hong Kong besides the racehorses that get raced competitively over here. For aside from the dogs and cats that a surprisingly large number of Hong Kongers -- even small apartment-dwelling ones -- own, I've seen my share of wild critters while out hiking in the Big Lychee's countryside. This being said, some of the more interesting and faster creatures spotted (e.g., scary snakes; some really beautiful butterflies!) admittedly have been too difficult to photograph.

Fortunately, there have been plenty of other wild things about that are not so animate and thus easier to photograph. Oh, and post going through one Nature Diary and book on wild flowers in Hong Kong, I've still not been able to identify that whose photos grace this Photo Hunt entry. So should anyone be able to tell me what they are, I'd be grateful! :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kuala Kangsar's Ubudiah Mosque (photo-essay)

I have one of those jobs where I have to think, plan and work ahead; so that today, I was working for the most part on something that will only see the light of day on Sunday (September 14). For all this, though, there's no way that those of us who were living in the US on September 11, 2001, can't be aware that today's (a) September 11 and that seven years ago, certain attacks occurred that changed America.

Part of these changes involved a belated awareness that the world contains Muslims. Sadly, along with this awareness came an emphatic mistaken equation that Islam = destruction and ugliness. The thing is: although I'm not Muslim (and not particularly religious -- period!), I do hail from a country with a majority Muslim population.

Consequently, I'm in a position to know full well that not all Muslims are evil and, also, that there is such a thing as Islamic art along with beautiful Islamic architecture -- just one example of which I am devoting much of this photo-essay to showing: i.e., the impressive Ubudiah Mosque in Kuala Kangsar, the royal town of my countrywoman Michelle Yeoh's homestate of Perak, which I visited along with a couple of Muslim friends on my most recent trip back to Malaysia:-

Exterior view of the royal mosque
(For those who are wondering,
Perak has a sultan as its official head of state)

View of the ceiling
underneath the mosque's main dome

View of a few of the walls of the main prayer area

A close-up shot that allows one
to appreciate
the internal decorative details

The marbled area of the mosque that's
halfway between enclosed and open air

View from within that area (and yes,
non-Muslims, including females like myself, are allowed
there --
albeit covered up more than may be usual)

Another beautiful close -up view

A final close-up view
this time of the mosque exterior

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Over here in Movie Mecca

Hong Kong skyline and a sculptural tribute
to one of the territory's great industries

There's many a day in which I think I'm living in Movie Mecca. This is not least because Hong Kong is not only home to the Hong Kong International Film Festival but also a place where many other -- even if smaller -- film festivals and specialist film programmes (frequently organized by the invaluable Hong Kong Film Archive) abound throughout the year. And a wider choice of film programming is regularly available in non-repertory cinemas than has been so in most, if not all, of the places I've previously lived.

A case in point: The past three days has seen me able to take in screenings of an interesting contemporary Hong Kong documentary (
Tammy Cheung's Election (2008)) at the Broadway Cinematheque, Japanese film classics in Yasuzo Masamura's Giants and Toys (1958) and Nagisa Oshima's A Street of Love and Hope (1959) at the Hong Kong Film Archive, and another notable Japanese film in Kon Ichikawa's The Crowded Streetcar (1957) at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

But as if this weren't already enough to make me a very happy movie buff (or, oh alright, geek!), there's also many a day that I feel like Hong Kong is a giant movie set or lot. And it's not just because there are quite a few places in Hong Kong that I recognize from having seen them appear in a movie or more. Rather, it's that, increasingly, I also spot places I know and previously had been to on the big screen when I go and take in a new movie! Then there are the celebrity spottings. And not just on occasions like film premieres and such either.

In point of fact, I really have also spotted movie people -- active and retired ones alike -- in MTR stations (
Bobby Yip; Hui Siu Hung), walking on the street (Sandra Ng), strolling inside a shopping mall (Josephine Siao Fong Fong), eating at restaurants (Grace Chang; Jo Kuk; Athena Chu), attending performing arts events (Ada Choi; Raymond To; Candice Yu On On; Teddy Robin Kwan), going to watch other people's movies (Michelle Yeoh; Ann Hui; Lawrence Ah Mon; Peter Chan Ho Sun; Shu Kei) and otherwise apparently unself-consciously engaged in, you know, 'regular' activities!

So frequently has this been the case that I have to admit to having lost count of the number of these happenings plus no longer being able to recall each and every personality I've seen since moving to the Fragrant Harbour!
For all this though, it's true enough that even while my previous job additionally gave me lots of opportunities to meet and interview movie folks, it often seems more of a thrill -- and sometimes downright magical -- for me to spot familiar faces when, and in places where, I didn't expect to.

In any event, the fact of the matter is that, for these and other reasons, there really have been quite a few days since moving to Hong Kong when it doesn't only feel like I'm living in Movie Mecca and/or a giant movie set but, also, that I'm actually living *in* a movie -- period... and, yes, I do consider myself so very fortunate to be doing so. :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

String(s) (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

I don't know whether it's the case for many other Photo Hunters but one of the by-products of Photo Hunting for me involves my checking out English dictionaries more often than usual (to do such as find wider and more potentially creative definitions of a term that's the theme for a Photo Hunt!). Take this week's theme as an example: i.e., upon consulting the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary entry, I found that the word string can be a noun, verb and adjective; and that definitions for string in its noun form include not just "a cord usually used to bind, fasten, or tie" but, also, "a series of things arranged in or as if in a line string of cars> string of names>".

Thus, I present to you a pair of photos of one more aspect of Hong Kong I love: ample along with great public transportation! More specifically, the first photo in this blog entry are of a string of green (as opposed to red)-topped mini buses -- that I happened to have taken while on another popular mode of public transportation, a double-decker bus! ;b -- while the second are of strings of red taxis (along with a short string of red minibuses).

And while we're on the subject of Hong Kong mini-buses: It'd be totally remiss of this Hong Kong movie buff to not take this opportunity to recommend that people check out a worthy drama called Lost in Time whose female and male protagonists both are mini bus drivers. And for those who don't know it yet: Yes, Hong Kong cinema really does comprise more than just action movies!!! :)

Friday, September 5, 2008

'Rock baby' mystery solved?

One of many photos taken
on my flying visit to Engyoji

Let me tell ya 'bout... no, not the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees, like the Jewel Akens song goes. Rather, I would like to devote a few lines in this blog towards extolling the wonders of the internet: which not only gave me a good friend in sbk -- who I first got to know online for a time before we finally had face-to-face encounters in Atlantic City (to attend an Anita Mui concert together), New York and Hong Kong over the years! -- but now looks to have given me an answer, via her Pictures, Thoughts and Comments blog entry here, of what it is that I had seen and taken a photo of when I visited the amazing Engyoji temple complex up on Mount Shosha.

Two words: Jizo Bodhisattva. That's what I had taken to calling a 'rock baby' and wondered whether was part of Shinto Japan's plethora of nature spirits known as kami. So, sbk (who also regularly visits and comments on this blog), is this what I think it is? If so... another mystery solved thanks to information found on the internet (and this time with the bonus of coming from a friend)! :)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sai Kung East Country Park hike (photo-essay)

A few months back, when the weather was considerably cooler and more pleasant, I went hiking with a friend in Sai Kung East Country Park. On the day in question, the Sheung Yiu Country Trail -- which promised to end at beautiful High Island Reservoir -- was what we wanted to walk on. but to get to the start of that trail, we first had to go on the short but interesting Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail and had the option, which we took, of returning to a road where buses run along part of the Stage 1 of the Maclehose Trail.

Complicated sounding, right? The experience though was actually pretty pleasant and not at all difficult -- and, as I think you'll agree post checking out the following photos, the views that we were treated to, especially of the High Island Reservoir, definitely made the hike worthwhile! :)

An indicator of how very dry it was then

With a couple of old (disused) lime kilns -- and also
the Sheung Yiu Folk Museum -- along the way,
the educational Pak Tam Chung Nature Trail
boasts cultural heritage components as well

Not the folk museum but, instead, more examples
of abandoned dwellings that I'm no longer surprised
to see while out hiking in the New Territories

A scenic view that we were treated to early on during
the Sheung Yiu Country Trail portion of our hike

View of a section of the Sheung Yiu Country Trail

What's over on the other side of this massive wall?
(Alternatively: what's this wall part of?)

The answer: Why, High Island Reservoir, of course!

Another view of the breathtakingly beautiful reservoir
(and go here for two more lovely views)