Saturday, January 31, 2009

Furry (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This past Monday was the first day of the Chinese New Year of the Ox. The day before, as a friend and I were walking to a cinema to catch a Chinese New Year movie, we spotted a peculiar looking-furry creature on a busy Mongkok street.

As the crowds temporarily parted to reveal more of the centre of attention for the moment, we caught sight of its attire and got to realizing that the furry beast was meant to be an ox, albeit an anthromorphized version clad in festively approprate traditional Chinese costume! In truth, I hardly think it's the most beautiful or even realistic looking ox-thing out there but if it's good enough for all those who flocked to be photographed with it, I figure that it should be good enough to offer up for this week's Photo Hunt!

And to those of my fellow Photo Hunters who celebrate Chinese New Year: Kong Hei Fatt Choi to you! :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chinese New Year 2009

Chinese New Year 2009 in Hong Kong

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the kind of silence that, during typhoon season, would suggest that typhoon warning signal 8 had been hoisted. Because although public transportation continues to run, a lot of shops are closed -- and storefronts shuttered -- during the first few days of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong.

Wandering around neighborhoods, a lot of the street traffic is made up of people on their way to or back from making visits to the abodes of members of the family. And pretty often, you'll see that those people are dressed in red and/or traditionally Chinese attire. (Re the photo above: I like how the dressing "burden" was spread between red-coated sister and traditional Chinese-jacketed brother!)

Since Hong Kongers don't have an "open house" tradition like Malaysia, I count myself privileged that this Chinese New Year, not only was I invited to visit a Hong Konger friend's abode -- like I was last year -- but I also was invited to have dinner -- cooked my her mother -- with her extended family.

Something else that looks to be becoming a tradition for me during Chinese New Year is to go out for a hike in the hills to enjoy the crisp seasonal air as well as greenery (like I did earlier today). And although it may seem unlikely, there actually are a fair few Hong Konger families whose Chinese New Year activities include a walk out -- and/or barbecue -- in a nearby country park! (Not one's stereotypical image of Hong Kongers -- perhaps especially during Chinese New Year -- but that's the reality of it!) ;b)

Monday, January 26, 2009

My top ten 2008 Hong Kong movies list

The quiet drama that is far and away
the best Hong Kong movie of 2008

Better late than never? I had meant to write a list of the top ten of 2008 Hong Kong movies I had seen (including those seen at film fests and (still) have not received a 'regular' release) shortly after watching what I knew would be the last Hong Kong movie I'd watch in 2008 (which, for the record, was Ip Man). I also was thinking it might be good to get the list done before the Chinese New Year of the Ox came along.

As it turns out though, the holidays that have come by way of it Chinese New Year being upon us -- so, Kong Hei Fatt Choi to celebrating readers! -- are when I finally feel like I have time to really 'work' on this list; one which comes in the wake of having watched thirty-seven 2008 Hong Kong movies and deciding to renew my tradition of annual top 10 Hong Kong movies list (began on back with a 2001 list) which I temporarily abandoned in 2007 in favour of, among other things, taking part in the Annual Awards that I've decided against participating in this year.

So, without further ado, here is my top ten list of movies from a year which began badly with two major duds, including one by Johnnie To, and included a terribly humongous dud from the filmmaker I once considered to be my very favorite, but, fortunately, ended up with a string of worthwhile offerings (including numbers #2, 3 and 8 on this list) that I hope are portends of more good things to come from Hong Kong cinema in the year ahead:-

1) The Way We Are

Back in 2002 (when I was still living in the City of Brotherly Shove), the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema showcased more than its usual share of Hong Kong cinematic gems. While action fiends made a beeline for the Shaw Brothers' The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Concubine (which I also did go to see and enjoyed watching), I also was very happy to get a chance to see a quiet drama by Ann Hui on a big screen. As it so happens, July Rhapsody not only ended up topping my 2002 Hong Kong movies list but it got me feeling far more predisposed in the future to checking out the films of a director whose penchant for what Glenn nicely termed "lyrical fatalism" has frustrated me more than once.

Even more modest-scaled and unassuming than that 2002 drama which starred Jacky Cheung, Karena Lam and Anita Mui, The Way We Are is a small budget work whose only big names are director Hui and cinematographer Charlie Lam (and whose lead actress, Bau Hei-Jing, is best known for being Oscar winning cinematographer Peter Pau's sister). A "slice of life" offering revolving around three Tin Shui Wai residents from different generations, this is a drama that never gets overly dramatic -- and is all the better for this being so -- as well as contains some wonderfully amusing moments.

As Ann Hui proceeds to methodically paint richly detailed portraits of the kind of individuals -- a middle-aged grocery store worker, her quiet teenage son and a lonely grandmother -- who don't often get spotlighted, in real as well as reel life, what results is a film infused with a sense of great humanity as well as humility; one that may sound boring but actually is never mundane and, in fact, turns out to be very enthralling and immensely watchable.

2) The Beast Stalker

Packed with stunning action scenes but also interesting characters and a more than solid cast, Dante Lam's movie about a cop (Nicholas Tse), a kid (Wong Sum Yin) and a kidnapper (Nick Cheung -- who filmmakers seem to have belatedly realized excels in crime dramas over comedies) whose lives fate brings together on more than one occasion is enjoyably tight, taut and tension-filled. What truly seals my sense of this crime drama as an excellent piece of cinema though is its possession of a really good script (by Lam and Jack Ng), one that comes complete with an end coda that ties together the movie's many narrative strands in a way that sent shivers down my spine.

3) Ip Man

This period actioner about the wing chun master hitherto best known as Bruce Lee's sifu seems bent on making Ip Man (AKA Yip Man) comparable to another real life martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia (whose own story was immortalized on film in Fearless), and the latter's student, Chen Zhen (portrayed both by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and Jet Li in Fist of Legend) rather than tell a truer story of the man. It also has the kind of one-dimensional characters that would be laughable if they weren't so negative. So why is it so high on this list? Because, purely and simply, the action on display really rocks! Inventively choreographed by Sammo Hung and confidently executed by the likes of Donnie Yen, Fan Siu Wong and Chen Zihui, the scenes also look to have been masterfully shot and edited. Consequently, the fierce beauty of the martial arts comes through in an adrenaline pumping way that I found thoroughly satisfying as well as exciting!

4) Election

Before anything else: no, I'm not referring here to the 2005 Johnnie To triad drama. Rather, I'm trying to draw attention here to Tammy Cheung's documentary about the 2004 Legislative Council elections that was given screenings shortly before and after this past year's LegCo elections that I found fascinating, enlightening and also quite a bit of fun to watch -- the last in large part because of the caught-on-camera antics of politicians who, for all of Hong Kong's being a major world city, often come across -- sometimes endearingly, other times shockingly -- more like amateurish small-town politicos!

5) City Without Baseball

This Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon) and Scud (he only goes by one name) co-helmed offering stars the real-life Hong Kong baseball team. But although it does have some baseball-playing scenes, much of it comes across as an at least somewhat fictionalized work, albeit one with actors who are so natural that it's amazing to find out that they really are experienced baseball players rather than film folks. Adding to its minority status is this Hong Kong movie about a minority sport in the HKSAR possessing homosexual content and full frontal male nudity. All in all, I can't help but think that this movie would have benefited from having fewer themes and characters. Post having viewed it not once but twice, however, my feeling is that it's one of those quality works that not only is worth a second viewing but actually improves upon one doing so.

6) Ticket

Shot entirely in Mainland China and with nary a Cantonese line of dialogue, this tearjerker of a drama about a young woman (played by Zuo Xiaoqing) left at the door of a Christian orphonage as a young girl who decides to go and look for the biological parents might not qualify as a Hong Kong movie to some. However, on account of it being directed by Jacob Cheung (Cageman; Intimates) and allocating scene-stealing supporting roles to Cecilia Yip and Wu Ma as well as having a Taiwanese male lead (in Nicky Wu) who made his name as an actor in mid 1990s Hong Kong movies (like The Lovers), I'm going to count it as so. As to why it makes this list: Suffice to say that its story moved me tears. In addition, this film gets bonus points on account of it taking its viewers out of the usual locations to show a China that may be physically beautiful but also requires back-breaking work of so many of its inhabitants.

7) Besieged City

As I gathered my breath post viewing this Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon) film that gives a completely different view of Tin Shui Wai from Ann Hui's The Way We Are, my film reviewer friend with whom I had watched the movie turned to me and said, "Slit my wrists now!" That statement wasn't a reflection of the quality of the work. Rather, it gave a sense of how depressingly bleak this dramatic offering's tone is. Not the kind of film for those looking for a good time at the movies (the understatement of the year there?!), it literally gave me nightmares as well as understandably bombed at the box office. Nevertheless, I'm glad I saw this work which feels alarmingly real and tells the kind of personal stories I sincerely believe society ignores at its peril.

8) True Women for Sale

Filmmaker Herman Yau and writer Yang Yee-shan collaborated in 2007 on Whispers and Moans, a prostitute drama which focused on the world of nightclub hostesses. One year on, Yau and Yang went further down market into the world of Sham Shui Po streetwalkers. In the process, they also went for greater levity -- albeit mixed with some of the usual prostitute drama melodrama -- than tragedy. The result is a movie that feels more light-weight as well as light-hearted than I would have liked.

At the same time, however, there is no denying its entertainment value; not least from watching two worthy acting performances from Prudence Liew (the surprise winner of the 2008 Golden Horse Best Actress Award) and Anthony Wong Chau San (one of those Hong Kong actors who truly has improved with age).

9) All's Right With the World

How does one decide if a film is good? One criteria I use is that a good film is one that you catch yourself thinking of from time and time, and months, even years, post viewing it. Perhaps because it's Chinese New Year and this King Wai Cheung documentary specifically looked at how poor people in Hong Kong observe Chinese New Year, I found myself recalling scenes from that work as I walked around Hong Kong today and in the days building up to this festive event. And hoping that the people featured in the film -- who I found courageous in their open-ness about their living conditions and problems -- and too many others in similar situations manage to find some happiness in the new year of the Ox.

10) La Lingerie

There have been times when after having a delightful interview with its director (or star), you watch a movie and embarassingly decide that it's a bust. Such, I'm glad to report, was not the case with La Lingerie, writer-director Chan Hing-kar's years later follow-up to his La Brassiere (the latter of which had Patrick Leung as its co-director).

This time around, he -- who, as it turns out, was the last person I interviewed for bc magazine -- has a female co-director (Janet Chun) as well as producer (Amy Chin, who I also had the pleasure to meet and talk to). In any case, the soft-spoken director may consider himself a bit of a male chauvinist but I really do reckon that, as with La Brassiere, this romantic comedy manages to present female as well as male viewpoints in what is less of a battle of the sexes this time around than often hysterically funny, but at times surprisingly sad and touching, account of women's pursuit of true love.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chipped (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Asia's Sin City. The Las Vegas of the East. That's how the former Portuguese enclave of Macau is often portrayed and perceived. But as I've found on visits to the other Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, Macau has a fair few attractions besides casinos and prostitutes -- including pockets of culture and serenity like the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden where, among other things, I came across a piece of pond decoration that looks ideal to highlight in this week's Photo Hunt entry.

More specifically, what we have here appears to be a rock which has been chipped into not quite a statue but still recognizably is -- at least from the front, if not the back or sides -- a likeness of a mother and child. Or is it that it's a statue that's been so weathered that its features are no longer distinct? Frankly, reckon that the former idea is cooler. So let's just opt to think that, shall we? ;b

Monday, January 19, 2009

Day out in Tai Mei Tuk (photo-essay)

2008 was one of those years in which I was unable to take a day off work on my birthday. On a happier note: made up for this by -- among other things -- spending the Sunday after my birthday with my mother (visiting from Malaysia), a Hong Konger friend and her mother, and two other friends on the Tai Mei Tuk Family Walk, exploring a bit more of the surrounding area, then enjoying a substantial barbecue dinner and, in between, being treated to beautiful sunset sights over at Tai Mei Tuk over in Northeast Hong Kong...

View of Tolo Harbour and Wong Chuk Tsuen
(N.B. tsuen means "village" in Cantonese)

The dam in the center of the photo is what
separates the waters of Tolo Harbour (on the right)
and Plover Cove Reservoir (on the left)

Lower level view of
the Tolo Harbour side of the same dam

View of Pat Sin Leng (Eight Fairies
(or Immortals) Range) from the dam

View across Tolo Harbour of Ma On Shan (trans.,
Saddle Ridge Mountain) and the nearby new town
that the mountain range has given its name to

The sun was setting as we made our way to dinner

Unbelievably, I think the (immediately) post sunset
photos turned out to be even more beautiful
than those taken as the sun was setting!

See what I mean? :b

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A by-the-numbers look at my 2008 movie viewing year

Louis Koo, Rene Liu, Sylvia Chang and an interpreter
at one of the Hong Kong International Film Festival
I attended in 2008

High Noon (2008) director Heiward Mak
poses with the film's producer, Eric Tsang
just before another HKIFF screening

2 - The total number of Malaysian movies I watched in last year (i.e., Days of Turquoise Sky (AKA Kurus) (2008) and Sell Out! (2008))

2 too! - The total number of films viewed outside of Hong Kong (one in Malaysia and the other on board a plane!)

4 - The number of Hong Kong films viewed at film festivals (i.e., the Hong Kong International Film Festival last spring and Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival a few months ago) that still have yet to get a theatrical release in Hong Kong (with the films being: All's Right In the World, Citizen King, Magazine Gap Road, and Three Narrow Gates)

5 - The number of musicals -- yes, musicals; albeit including Chinese opera movies! -- I watched (and generally liked) last year (i.e., Across the Universe (USA, 2007), Eternal Love (Hong Kong, 1966), Mamma Mia! (USA/Britain, 2008), Princess Chang Ping (Hong Kong, 1975) and Sell Out! (Malaysia, 2008))

6 - The number of Edward Yang movies that I managed to view in 2008 (all courtesy of the Hong Kong International Film Festival)

- The number of Hong Kong films viewed in 2008 that I'd give a 9 or higher rating to (And for the record, they are: 13: A Saintly Girl (1977), Beast Stalker (2008), CID: Dawn, Noon, Dusk, Night (1976), CID: The Robbery (1976), Festival Moon (1953); Mud Child (1976), Sorrows of the Forbidden City (1948), and The Way We Are (2008).)

8 as well!
- The number of non-Hong Kong films viewed in 2008 that I'd give a 9 or higher rating to (i.e., A Street of Love and Shame (Japan, 1959), Battleship Potemkin (USSR, 1925), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (USA, 2007), Burmese Harp (Japan, 1956), The Edge of Heaven (Germany-Turkey, 2007), The Home Song Stories (Australia, 2007), The Incredible Hulk (USA, 2008), and The Mist (USA, 2007))

8 yet again
- The number of documentaries I viewed last year (i.e., All's Right In the World (Hong Kong, 2008), An Inconvenient Truth (USA, 2005), Election (Hong Kong, 2008) Encounters at the End of the World (Germany-USA, 2007), Hollywood Chinese (USA, 2007), July (Hong Kong, 2004), This Darling Life (Hong Kong, 2008), and Yasukuni (Mainland China-Japan, 2007))

15 - The number of Japanese films I viewed in 2008

18 - The days into 2009 that I'm writing this overdue 2008 addition to the 2006 and 2007 editions of this blog 'series' ;)

18 also - The number of different countries whose movies I saw last year (For the record, they are: Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia (including the then U.S.S.R.), Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and the U.S.A.)

22 - The number of Hollywood movies I viewed last year

22 too - The number of films I viewed at the 2008 Hong Kong International Film Festival

37 - The number of 2008 (and not yet officially released in cinemas) Hong Kong films I viewed in 2008

54 - The total number of Hong Kong -- and Hong Kong related (e.g., Hong Kong-Mainland collaborations) -- films (including originally made-for-TV films) I viewed last year

70 - The number of non-Hong Kong films I viewed in 2008

119 - The number of films viewed on a big screen in 2008

124 - The total number of movies watched last year

1925 - The original year of release of the oldest film I viewed in 2008 (Battleship Potemkin)

1948 - The original year of release of the oldest Hong Kong-related film (*Hong Kong-related because its director, Zhu Shilin, moved to Hong Kong from Mainland China where he made the film, Sorrows of the Forbidden City)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hat (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Are caps hats? I'm thinking technically not. And because I think this, I've had to resort to putting up a picture of a hat-wearing statue -- to be precise, one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of different-looking life-size religious figures (including the wrinkled sage I featured in a previous Photo Hunt) one encounters going up to, on and down from the hill which is home to Shatin's interesting 10,000 Buddhas Monastery.

For the fact of the matter is that there aren't too many hat-wearers in Hong Kong. Indeed, the distinct impression one gets is that the days of hats being considered an essential, or even fashionable, adornment are long gone. (Though I'd grant that in winter, a few wooly hats can be seen adorning folks' head every once in a while!)

If, on the other hand, there were a cap-themed Photo Hunt, I'd not lack for subjects... heck, even I have a collection of those about (whereas the one hat I myself own is gathering dust back in my room in the family abode in Malaysia, having last been worn when I was on safari in Tanzania more than a decade ago now)! ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Only in Hong Kong movieland...

A message to Wong Kar Wai wannabes
over on the Central-Midlevels escalator
that figures prominently in Chungking Express

This post is partially a direct retort to Glenn's lament about the lack of Chinese New Year movie offerings to look forward to this year and partly an account of how surreal it is to be living in the movieland that is Hong Kong.

To wit: Early on Sunday morning, as two friends and I walked out of a bar post-watching Arsenal play, we literally crossed paths with a tall man dressed all in black who gave us a smile as we passed by (or he passed by us). A moment or two after, one of my friends gave an exclamation and asked, "Isn't that Wong Kar Wai?" As we turned and looked at the man's back as he mounted a nearby building's stairs, I realized that that building housed the Jet Tone office -- and that yes, that really was Wong Kar Wai that we had seen (and seen give us a smile). Even though -- and it made sense, considering that this was about 1:15am -- he wasn't wearing his trademark sunglasses!

Fast forward to this evening (i.e., less than a week later). This time around, while I was at the bar in a bar in Central with a friend, I happened to turn to my left (my friend was sitting on my right) and found that none other than Chin Kar Lok was sitting right on my left. So... two celebrity spottings in less than a week. Oh, and to add to the surreal-ness of it all, here's pointing out that the bar I was at today is owned by Joe Ma's sister and located just a stone's throw away from a real life herbal tea shop that featured in Herman Yau's Herbal Tea. Also, that one previous time I had been to that bar, Herman Yau had been in it...

Now to the retort part of the post: instead of going to dinner and then drinks at the bar with my friend this evening, I could have tried to get a ticket for Red Cliff 2 which opened today and definitely should still be in cinemas come Chinese New Year. Another film that's opening this week but still should be around for Chinese New Year movie-goers to enjoy is Hayao Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. (And yes, I know Ponyo's a Japanese rather than Chinese work but...!)

Also, curently in cinemas: Ip Man, Parking, Tactical Unit - Comrades in Arms, Forever Enthralled and Lady Cop and Papa Crook. And while a few of these undoubtedly will lose their places in the cinemas next week to Chinese New Year movies All's Well Ends Well 2009 and Look for a Star, this plethora of movies showing this January truly represents a feast -- rather than famine -- for Hong Kong film fans.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Winter in Hong Kong!

Down jackets and coats are a common sight
in Hong Kong these days (BTW, if I'm not mistaken,
this is the Chinese pharmacy in Dry Wood, Fierce Fire!)

Another local method of warding off the cold:
scarily spicy hot pots!

Say the word 'tropical' and images of a warm (even hot) place come to mind. Ditto, I'd wager, with the word 'sub-tropical' which is used to describe the climatic zone which Hong Kong is -- and such as Savannah, Georgia, and California but also Auckland and parts of Russia are -- in.

Nonetheless, Hong Kong winters can feel pretty cold. This especially since the buildings here tend to be built to be cool in summer (rather than warm in winter!). And this even before this winter during which Hong Kong is (currently) experiencing its coldest spell for sixteen years!

Of course, it's all relative though -- in that there's no chance of snow falling on the ground and Hong Kong probably would only freeze over around the same time as hell itself! Still, believe you me when I say that I've actually reached the point where I'm donning thermal underwear again (for the first time since I left Philadelphia) and have taken to sleeping under four layers of admittedly thin blankets on my bed at night.

At the same time, however, I don't think I'll be donning any down jackets, never mind lengthy down coats, any time soon. Or eating hot pots filled with more red chillies than surely can be healthy for anyone!!! (For the record, when a fellow foodie friend and I went to eat hot pot one cold evening, we got the 'yin and yang' version which allowed me to dip my slices of mutton -- considered 'warming' by Hong Kongers and consequently a popular meat to eat in winter -- and such into a clear soup while she went for the super spiced-up soup option shown in one of the photos above!)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Aftermath (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Before anything else: This is not a joke. Also, this Photo Hunt entry is neither meant to offend nor upset. Rather, it's intended to make a few salient points; including it being in so that in the aftermath of the events in 2001 that has come to be known as 9/11, it's hard for people to see or hear the words World Trade Center (or -- in British English -- Centre) without thinking of the twin towers that no longer exist in New York along with the shocking events that took place on American soil on September 11, 2001.

This even though there actually are numerous World Trade Centers/Centres in other parts of the world, including Dubai, London (whose original building, more than incidentally, was heavily damaged by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb in 1996), Mumbai and Hong Kong (which recently has been having renovations done to it -- hence the erection of the sign in the photo -- and on a lower floor of which is located a favorite sushi restaurant of mine).

I think this is particularly true of Americans but also those of us non-Americans who were living in the USA at that time. (As a reminder, 235 non-Americans -- excluding the perpetuators of the international crime -- died as a result of the events of 9/11.) Alternatively put: They are tragedies we will never forget and that have most definitely impacted -- changed in irrevocable ways -- our lives. And whose aftermath and welter of psychological scars it inflicted on individuals along with governments and whole communities of people we still are having to deal and come to terms with more than seven years on.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Bowen Road Path (Photo-essay)

The secret is really out! That is, that hiking in Hong Kong is not an oxymoron! And while there definitely are truly rugged, difficult hiking trails in the territory, gentler souls should rest assured that there also are routes that are easy yet still scenic... and really not that far away from the city center. In particular, the one I'd recommend for those who don't want to work too much of a sweat yet be able to say that they had at least a bit of outdoor exercise while in Hong Kong is the Bowen Road Path located in the Mid-Levels which I first ventured on a few years back (with two friends cum visitors to this blog, sbk and 'eliza bennet') and went walking on again one hot (but beautifully clear air -- hence my wanting to be out and about) day this past summer:-

Near the start of the Bowen Road Path
is one of seven boundary stones erected in 1903 for
the City of Victoria (AKA Hong Kong's Central District)

The view that day near the eastern end of the path
-- of part of Happy Valley, Jardine's Lookout
and the surrounding green environs

The Bowen Road Path is one of those
Hong Kong walking/hiking paths
where shrines are to be found along the way

...including this big phallic looking whopper
of a fertility shrine known as Lover's Rock! ;D

View of Causeway Bay and beyond
from near Lover's Rock

Further west along the walk -- a view of Wan Chai

When I worked in Wan Chai, I'd often gaze up into the hills
and see this grand old building and wonder whether
it had been abandoned (but looking down at it from
the Bowen Road Path, I'm inclined to think it's still inhabited)

It may be a modest waterfall but it still goes to show
that one does get to see more than concrete jungle
along this walk above the city :)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

10 highlights of my 2008

Best Thrill Ride in the foreground --
and, in the background, Best Natural Sight

In 2006 and 2007, I wrote up "10 highlights of the year" entries. Although I had intended to write my 10 highlights of 2008 before 2009 came along, certain circumstances (including my having to work on the first day of 2009 and that day falling in the middle of the week) have led to my only doing so over the first weekend of the new year. Still, better late than never, right? Well, at least I think so! Hence my going ahead and submitting my "best of" list for 2008 in this here blog post:-

1) Best Book: Once upon a time, I was an Africanist. Although that is no longer the case (along with my thinking that I'd devote my life to being an anthropologist), I actually continue to have strong, emotion-laden memories of -- and interest in -- those parts of that continent that I've spent time in. As far as Zimbabwe is concerned, I also have wondered for years now how it went from being quite a bit better off than Tanzania (where I lived for some two years) when I visited it in December 1995 to the heartbreakingly and nightmarishly benighted place that it now has been for some time. Peter Godwin's When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa (Back Bay Books, 2008) clearly explains as well as describes how the situation deterioriated while also being a very affecting history and story of himself and his family. Tragic but also not entirely without hope, this book really is a very enthralling, highly recommended read.

2) Best Concert: I feel very lucky to have been able to attend -- in a single year -- concerts headlined by such as Joanna MacGregor, Midori, her brother Ryu Goto and Trey Lee. For all of the considerable prowess of the afore-mentioned talents, however, there really is no question for me as to what was the best concert I attended in 2008; not after being witness to Yo-Yo Ma and the HKCO performing. Suffice to say that Ma is a musician who deserves his exalted reputation; with the icing on the cake being how, when performing, he seemed able to enjoy himself, the music that he was producing and the very process of collaborating with fellow musicians.

3) Best Filmophile Facility: Its theatre's screen is not the biggest in Hong Kong and there are movie fans who will scoff at its restrictions against eating or drinking when taking in a movie but the Hong Kong Film Archive is one of the greatest things in the Big Lychee as far as this film geek is considered. This not least because its programmers have allowed for me to view Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1928), Ivan the Terrible Parts I (1944) and II (1958), Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929), Zhu Shilin's Sorrows of the Forbidden City (1948), The Dividing Wall (1951) and Festival Moon (1953), and so much more there in 2008 alone!

4) Best Hike: The hike from Wu Kau Tang to Sam A minimally covers a distance of 10.5 kilometers but I'm not sure whether that measurement includes the return leg back and doubt that it includes the walk to take in the Bride's Pool that my two hiking companions on the day and I decided to apend to our hike. Still, it wasn't its length alone that caused this Northeast Hong Kong hike to yield material for not one but three separate photo-essays but, rather, the number of interesting sights (like abandoned villages as well as different geographical and geological situations) that we got to view along the way!

5) Best National Cuisine: There's no denying my love of Penang food and Klang bak kut teh. Nevertheless, my favorite national cuisine in the world actually is not that of my native Malaysia but, rather, Japan. And while good Japanese food can be found in many parts of the world (including Hong Kong, as can be seen by my favorite restaurant in the territory being a yakitori-ya), my latest visit to the Land of the Rising Sun in the summer 2008 -- in particular, the experiences of partaking of such as the Genghis Khan barbecue lunch and ramen dinner in Sapporo and the evening eating marathon in the centre of the kuidaore no machi -- i.e., the city where you eat ‘til you drop that is Osaka -- that is Dotonbori Street -- served to reconfirm that Japanese food really is unparalleled in its native land.

6) Best Natural Sight: I knew things were bad but it's still pretty disconcerting to get statistical confirmation that in 2008, Hong Kong air pollution was the worst since records started being kept. Besides fears of what the air pollution will do to one's physical health, something else I've definitely noticed is how polluted air days are so gray and depressing. On a related note, I also notice how much I psychologically perk up at the sight of bright blue skies. No longer something to be granted, they now are things I truly treasure. Let's just hope that they will not be rare sights a la rainbows (or, even rarer, starry skies) in Hong Kong in 2009... :S

7) Best Sporting Event: No, not something Arsenal-related because 2008 has not been a particularly great year to be a Gooner. (Indeed, I'll state for the record here that the current Arsenal side is the worst under Arsene Wenger ever!) Instead, and even though I was one of those slow to catch the fever, count me as one of those eventually won over by the hype and drama of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. So much so that not only did I watch more of the Olympic Games on TV than I thought I would but also ended up doing such as giving people -- and taking lots photos of -- more fuwa than I ever thought I would! ;b

8) Best Television Series: It's true enough that since moving to Hong Kong, I rarely spend time in front of the TV. Indeed, I'll go so far as to admit that I tend to only turn to the TV when I come down with a cold or the flu; and then only after I feel I've spent too many hours resting and/or reading in bed. In short, it's the rare TV show that I'll watch for its own sake. In 2008, that TV show was The Wire (in particularly, Season 5 of the series). So, now that it's wrapped up for good, would recommend suggestions as to what I should turn to next should the TV viewing bug bites once more...

9) Best Theatrical Production: There's no question that the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre's production of De Ling and Empress Dowager Ci Xi is on the old side. After all, the 2008 edition was the fourth revival of a play that was first performed back in 1998. In addition, many of its cast members -- notably its 81-year-old leading lady -- are on the... mature side. But, post catching a performance of this historical drama, can but conclude that old is gold re the production but also its wonderful star, Lisa Lu. (And yes, meeting and interviewing her most definitely was one of the highlights of my time at bc magazine -- heck, my still not too lengthy journalistic career!)

10) Best Thrill Ride: This category has more candidates than usual this year, including the world's largest ferris wheel over in Osaka and rollercoasters over in Ocean Park. But the award has to go to that which I'd also consider to be the best cable car ride I've ever gone on: Hong Kong's Ngong Ping 360 which takes passengers from Tung Chung all the way up to the Ngong Ping Plateau whose residents include that impressive statue popularly known as the Big Buddha. :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hope (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Say "Hong Kong" to many people and their immediate visions are of an urban jungle where shopping is the main activity and attraction, followed by eating. Without it having been consciously aimed for though, it has turned out that -- in tandem with chronicling my activities and interests while living in Asia's World City -- one of this blog's results has been to show that the Fragrant Harbour offers far more than that.

This I think I've done for the most part thus far through my copious Hong Kong hiking photo-essays and a sprinkling of photo hunt entries (like those for Wide and Blue). But Hong Kong also is far from a cultural along with natural desert. And although its cinematic and performing arts offerings tend to overshadow its fine arts sector, there are exponents and exhibitions that are worthy too of people's attention.

Take, as an example, the self-taught ceramicist and sculptor named Johnson Tsang, an exhibition of whose works I caught a little more than a month ago at the exhibition area of the Central Library. Of the many fine art in the exhibition, I found myself particularly drawn to two works that both are expressions of hope -- and therefore eminently suitable for exhibiting in this week's Photo Hunt entry.

The first of these is entitled Conversion (Dedicated ToThose Striking for Peace). And in case you can't make it out immediately, here's urging you to click on the photo to see an enlarged shot of this sculpture in which a melting gun held by a pair of hands is transformed below into the makings of a peaceful head of Gautama Buddha. The second's meaning along with shapes should be more immediately obvious. And yes, Heal the World is indeed the title of the work that looks cute as well as couched with hope.

(More than by the way, thanks, tnchick, for the great start to what I hope will be yet another fun and wonderful year of Photo Hunting. And happy 2009 to this blog's visitors, readers and appreciators!)