Saturday, May 30, 2009

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

It's been a while since I took a photo expressly for the Photo Hunt like I did this morning since I'm usually able to find a suitable photo (or more) for a theme by perusing my ever-growing personal digital photo archive. Even more unusually for a Photo Hunt, I felt obliged to take a photo in my living quarters of some of my personal belongings.

This circumstance is attributable to it being so that, as Nuala Rooney observes early in her book about Hong Kongers' experience of high density domestic spaces, "[w]hile high density is certainly a phenomenon increasingly associated with most major cities around the world, in Hong Kong, where only a third of the total geographic land mass can be used for building, affordable spaces tend to be small" (At Home with Density, 2003:2).

Put another way: living in high density domestic space encourages one to want to head out of it. (Though, I have to say that for me, it's also a case of my being pretty happy to live in a small apartment because I know my lifestyle involves being out of it for most of my waking hours!)

But if I needed further encouragement to venture out into the rest of Hong Kong, I've also got -- as I think can be seen in the above photo -- hiking guide books galore as well as books on exploring Hong Kong's streets and checking out local culture and heritage. Of those I have, I'd like to single out the following for being invaluable guides to this part of the world that I've come to realise is more than just a Movie Mecca:

- Michael Ingham's Hong Kong: A Cultural and Literary History (Signal Books (Oxford), 2007),

- Jason Wordie's Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong University Press, 2002)

- Alicia M. Kershaw and Ginger Thrash's Above the City: Hiking Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong University Press, 2005); and

- the Country & Marine Parks Authority's Hiking All in One (Friends of the Country Parks and Scout Association of Hong Kong, 2005)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Finally -- Ashes of Time Redux!

In honor of the fact that for a desert epic,
Ashes of Time Redux (and the original Ashes of Time)
sure has a lot of shots of water in them!

At last -- a film that I've waited for over a year to check out -- one that is but a revised version of a film made in 1994 and that I've seen multiple times already -- has finally opened in theaters in Hong Kong!

Though, I should point out, not that many theaters. Most notably, the cinemas with three of the biggest screens in Hong Kong (Golden Harvest's Grand Ocean in Tsim Sha Tsui, MCL's JP in Causeway Bay and the BEA Imax in Kowloon Bay) aren't showing the movie. Also, despite my thinking it would be, an on-line check of today's screenings showed that they aren't packed at all... which is why I decided I could hazard going all the way to Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei -- probably the multiplex in Hong Kong that would attract the most respectful and appreciative audience for the film -- after work this evening to watch the Wong Kar Wai desert epic.

Do I like Ashes of Time Redux? I think it suffices to say at this point that I literally felt my hair stand on end and shivers going down my spine at the end of the screening (and I hope that I won't spoil it for anyone when I disclose that I think it a wonderful tribute to Leslie Cheung that the last shot that one sees before the end credits start to roll is a close-up of his face). And, upon coming out of the theater, was tempted to run up to the ticketing counter and buy a ticket for the immediate next screening of the movie!

Somehow, sanity prevailed. Or, rather, I was lured back to my apartment by the promise of being able to watch the original Ashes of Time on DVD for comparative purposes -- only to find, alas, that my DVD has "died"!

So until I get a new Ashes of Time DVD, I'm going to have to rely on my memory of the film in recalling it. Which means that the following comments about Ashes of Time Redux versus and vis a vis the original Ashes of Time may be off base. If so, I hope that this entry's readers will let me know about this, albeit gently! And if you agree with -- or have further thoughts upon reading -- them, I'd appreciate your letting me know that too!


Among the most noticeable changes from original film to redux version are those involving the beginning and ending scenes. Re the former: the original lines appear to be missing, as are -- as David Bordwell has noted -- the more explosive parts of the sword battle between Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung) and Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Kar-Fai).

As for the latter: the whole entire final montage, including the short shots that have Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia atop a bed of red chili peppers as well as making like a martial Mary Poppins in the rain, is missing. And I'd be lying if I were to say that I don't miss seeing them. And yet, the new ending, like I related above, has a strong emotional punch for me...

Another section of the work whose new version I have mixed (bitter-sweet?) feelings about is the scene in which Murong Yin (Brigitte Lin) caresses Ouyang Feng while pretending/imagining that he's actually Huang Yaoshi (and Ouyang Feng indulges in his own imagining/fantasy that the woman caressing him is actually his brother's wife (Maggie Cheung Man Yuk)). For while the original version came complete with a moody, mesmerizing music track, this scene plays out sans music entirely in Redux -- so what you hear is the onscreen characters' breathing... and your own intakes of breath watching what still is a visually breath-taking -- and, for me at least, emotionally devastating -- minute or so of film.

All in all, it is very noticeable that not only is the music often softer and more subtle (and more classical in tone -- the synthesized sounds are gone) but there actually seems to be less of it overall. Actually, less "noise" in general -- as an example, Brigitte Lin screams just once in Redux versus, if I remember correctly, on three different occasions in the original movie.

In contrast, the outdoor desert scenes and establishing landscape shots have had their color tones turned up so unnaturally high that I got to thinking from viewing those visuals that Wong Kar Wai is a latter day Fauve. (And while I can understand those who have been unhappy with this move, I actually am not that upset by it. In honesty, I think I'm just too happy overall to finally see a clear version of the work -- one which I have seen on 35mm film as well as DVD, VHS tape and VCD!)

Story-wise, things have not been as simplified as I had worried would be the case. Those familiar with the original Ashes of Time might think some of the visual clues as to who loves whom and such aren't that necessary. At the same time, I don't think their addition is that jarring -- and, actually, it does seem rather nice that as a consequence of this impulse, Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung and the actress who plays Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung)'s wife now look to have more time on screen than in the original film.


In conclusion: In the almost immediate aftermath of viewing the film, my feeling is that Redux is a work that I could see myself growing to love as well as the original Ashes of Time. And if nothing else, I must say that I love the experience of watching Brigitte on a big screen in a wonderful movie, parts of which do feel novelly new as opposed to wonderfully familiar.

Also, if hearing Ms. Lin speaking Mandarin while the other stars do so in Cantonese can be a bit disconcerting, what really struck me more was how she really did act so very expressively with her voice as well as the rest of her. Put another way: what a tragedy it was that this goddess of an actress worked in Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema in eras when, for the most part, the preference was to dub rather than film in synch-sound... for based on what I heard and saw courtesy of Redux, I really would have loved to have heard as well as seen so much more of her than has been the case!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hong Kong decadence

Waffles, Hong Kong-style

This one's for you, duriandave -- in honor of our recent e-mail conversation about Hong Kong eats... in particular, such decadent delights as Hong Kong-style French toast (a recipe for which can be had here -- courtesy of a Malaysian homemaker!) and waffles topped with -- and I can personally vouch for this as this is what I had earlier today (and took a photo of -- see above) -- butter but also peanut butter, sugar crystals and (sweetened) condensed milk!

Are these foods bad for you? Probably! But does it hurt all that much to have it once in a while? I'm hoping not because, honestly, they really are so delicious that it's very hard to resist partaking of them once you come to know of their very existence. (And yes, I do recommend that visitors to the Big Lychee -- particularly those that consider themselves foodies -- give them a try... along with more famous (and "traditionally Chinese") foods... :b)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hiking in Tai Tam Country Park (Quarry Bay Extension) (photo-essay)

Back in 2007, at the height of summer, a friend took me on my first post-move-to-Hong Kong hike along the Hong Pak Country Trail in Tai Tam Country Park (Quarry Bay Extension). Earlier this year, in winter (and on the second day of Chinese New Year), it was my turn to introduce a friend to a hike from Mount Parker Road to Hing Tung Estate that followed a similar route for at least the first two thirds of the way.

While the first hike was under a more bright blue sky and in clearer air, I think that the second hike was more enjoyable. One reason is that I now better know what to expect of hiking in Hong Kong. For another, it really is much cooler and less humid in January than July! And so much so that I know some Hong Kong hiking enthusiasts who won't go out on a hike at all once summer -- with its heat and, often, heavy rains to boot -- comes along... :S

From 2007 and early into the hike --
a view of the dense urban scene that soon
will be left behind (albeit only temporarily)

Woodside -- a colonial-era Grade II heritage building
located inside the country park that has been spared
from being torn down and now is used as
the headquarters of The Institute for Cultural Affairs

Above us for part of the way was what
my hike companion and I took to laughingly calling
the not-so-great wall of Hong Kong!

Far more interesting and impressive to us
were the natural rock formations
to be found in the area

Doesn't this rock resemble the
face of some prehistoric creature?

There are times during this hike
when one can feel like one has left
the urban jungle far behind

The 2007 hiking trail took us down
an area full of trees before ending up
on King's Road near the Tai Koo MTR station

In contrast, before ending near Hing Tung Estate
above Sai Wan Ho, the 2009 trail took us by an area
that came complete with railing on one side and
a sign near it that read "Steep and dangerous slope
-- please do not lean on the railing"!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Plastic (Photo Hunt revisiting of the theme)

Plastic is everywhere -- and maybe that's why it's been a Photo Hunt theme more than once. (Go here to check out (again for some of you!) my previous Photo Hunt entry!)

A glance at the first photo in this entry of one of the more traditional-looking establishments to be found in Hong Kong's Central District, however, you may not think so. And this especially so since I'm not even sure that plastic money (i.e., credit cards) are accepted at the very traditional -- and popular -- herbal shop that is the Good Spring Company.

But look at the second photo and you'll see that lots of cups of some of the staple teas brewed by the company (including sweet chrysanthemum and the much more bitter -- but even better for you -- 24 herbs tea) and housed for a time in metal urns are made of plastic-coated paper cups rather than the perhaps more expected porcelain.

And, actually, if you go back now to the first photo, you'll notice some other plastic containers about the shop along with the more old looking glass bottles and wooden drawers. So, really, plastic is everywhere. It's just that sometimes you have to look harder to find them in some places than others! ;b

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Go - Pete Teo, You Go!

Close to two months ago now, I watched Yasmin Ahmad's Talentime at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Among other things, I came away thinking that it was blessed with one of the best soundtracks not only of the Yasmin Ahmad movies I've seen thus far but, also, of all the movies I watched at this year's HKIFF.

So imagine my joy upon finding out that there's an official Talentime OST CD. And while I initially preferred Azizat's rendition of I Go that can be heard in the movie, I've since come to prefer the version by composer-singer Pete Teo* that I'm happy to be able to share, courtesy of Youtube and Red Bag Music, among others:-

*While checking out Pete Teo's blog, came across a cool finding: i.e., that he's yet another big fan of the great Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia... And here's an additional thought: wouldn't it be cool if he were to be inspired to write a song about her sometime? ;b

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hong Kong dinner dining

This may look like a lot but we actually had
even more dishes for dinner that night ;b

My mother returned to Malaysia this afternoon after a one and a half week visit that was in part a veritable eating orgy. Among the highlights was a mid-week hot pot dinner with three friends that lasted several hours, over the course of which we ate items as diverse as pigeon, beef, eel, tofu skin stuffed with shrimp, fried fish skin (that's crispy when dry but Hong Kongers like to soften by dipping into soup), corn, fish balls with cheese inside them, and squid ink spaghetti which we had to squeeze out of a tube as well as cook ourselves!

Last night, after we had what will be our last dinner together in months, I got to recounting where we had had dinner together during this recent visit of hers. The list reads as follows: Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Yau Ma Tei (Temple Street, to be exact!), Macau, Heng Fa Chuen (where we had the hot pot dinner), Sai Wan Ho, Tin Hau, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Central. In other words: Without consciously intending to, we actually had ended up dining in a different area of Hong Kong (and even further afield -- i.e., Macau) every night for the past one and a half weeks!

On further analysis: it really does go to show how convenient it is to travel around and about in the Big Lychee -- and how, for the likes of me, this really looks to have become the rule rather than the exception. As I told a friend some time back, post leaving Malaysia (which, like large swathes of the US, is so pro-car) and coming to Hong Kong, I feel like I have legs again...

Additionally, from a food(ie) perspective, I guess this all goes to show that good food can be had far and wide in the territory but, also, that certain favorite restaurants are ones that I do feel are worth traveling some distance for. ;b

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pictures from an exhibition (HK International Art Fair photo-essay)

Shortly after I moved to the Big Lychee, I heard comments to the effect that Hong Kong is a cultural desert. More than two years on (and yes, it's been that long -- as the proverbial "they" say, time flies when you're having fun!), I can't help but wonder what planet those people are on.

Particularly at this time of year, when not only is Le French May in full swing but the bumper fine arts affair that is the Hong Kong International Art Fair being held. And especially when you consider that these fests have followed in the wake of the Hong Kong International Film Festival (in March-April), the Hong Kong Literary Festival (earlier in March), the Hong Kong Arts Festival (in February-March) and... well, I think you get the picture!

For those wondering how big a deal the Hong Kong International Art Fair is: consider that some 120 art galleries from 24 countries had exhibits at this event that was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Put in another way: I spent several exhilarating hours checking out the fair yesterday afternoon and still regret that I didn't spend more time doing so.

One thing I didn't regret was that, despite a sign near the entrance saying otherwise, people seemed free to take photos inside the huge hall as well as outside of it. Hence my being able to offer up the following set of shots for your viewing pleasure:-

Even if at least one artist (Wang Guangyi)
seems to be saying so,
no way is it a case of say "no" to art!

Not when there's art that intrigues,
including this eye-catching large figure
at the entrance to the art fair!

Just one small section of the art works
on display inside -- and crowd
of art enthusiasts checking them out

Finland's Galerie Forsblom exhibition space
included Tony Oursler's Cosmic Cloud
along with works by such as Julian Schnabel

Still photos can't do justice to Gabriel Barredo's works
as they have components that move
(in the case of this horse head, it's the mane!)

Other art pieces -- like this pair of sculptures
that I heard someone describe as "like images
from a hall of mirrors" -- didn't need
moving components to attract attention!

With still others, however, it was more
the inadvertent interaction they had with art fair goers
(and other works) that I found more interesting! ;b

The interactive work by Ay Jyoe Christine
that won the SCMP Art Futures award
attracts the attention of young art fair goers
-- and, in the process, seems to give concrete proof
that art (appreciation) does indeed have a future :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Painted (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Before I started this blog, pretty much all of the writing I did on the internet pertained to movies, particularly those from Hong Kong. And long before I got onto cyberspace, I was a culture vulture. (Among other things, I double majored in art history along with anthropology at college.) So imagine my delight to find that this week's Photo Hunt theme allows me to highlight both those passions.

More specifically, one of my favorite Hong Kong artists is a fellow named Chow Chun Fai who has painted specific scenes from many a classic Hong Kong movie (like in the cases above, period actioner Dragon Inn (1992) and crime drama Infernal Affairs (2002)). Some time back, examples of his art were put up on display in a gallery that's within the Central MTR station -- which is how I got to take the photos above (and no, I really didn't see any "no photography allowed" signs about -- unlike in a regular art gallery or museum); photos which I'm now very happy to be able to offer up to share.

Oh, and for those unfamiliar with Hong Kong films: Yes, pretty much all of them come with English along with Chinese subtitles -- albeit English which sometimes may need some more translating into "regular" English.

In the case of the Dragon Inn line immortalized in one of Chow Chun Fai's paintings, however, the translation isn't necessarily wrong. Rather, it comes after two parties bearing swords (one of whom, played by the great Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, is a cross-dressing female) who actually are hostile -- but pretending to be friendly -- meet and effectively confront each other in a desert inn. One asks, and the other declines, to give their names, whereby someone suggests, partly to dissipate tensions somewhat, that "let's [drink and give] cheers for this nameless world"... ;b

Friday, May 15, 2009

Truly natural!

Moths doing what comes naturally

Every once in a while, I go hiking in the company of Roz's Hiking Group. (I'd do it more except that these very friendly folks tend to go for long hikes that begin at 9.30am whereas my preference is to wake up late on weekend mornings!)

In any event: among the regulars is someone who, like me, can get a tad obsessed with trying to take photographs of butterflies and moths. And we've been a source of amusement to others on more than one hike as we announce our spottings to the other and/or temporarily stray away from the group proper in pursuit of those winged creatures.

More often than not, however, we've found to our chagrin that those insects are really hard to take photos of as they prefer to fly about rather than stay still for a reasonable amount of time anywhere. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I came across a pair of colorful moths lying still atop a railing while out hiking last weekend.

Only after I snapped the above photograph of them did I get to wondering why they were lying so still like that. Were they dead, I wondered? No, opined my dear mother, who proceeded to point out that not only were those creatures alive, they also actually happened to be going about *ahem* creating life...! :O ;b

(And should you wonder: I'm trying to not use the "s" word since I really don't want a whole bunch of people intent on searching for s-- coming over to this blog and getting disappointed the way that it seems that quite a few people looking for a-- have been when coming over here because I happen to have blog entries about movies in which women kick ass!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Clear Water Bay Country Park hike

Last weekend, I went on a hike (in northeast Hong Kong) with my mother on which we crossed paths with more than our fair share of roaming cows and wild dogs. After our encounter with four of the latter (which fortunately was resolved with the kind help of an elderly gentleman who appeared from seemingly out of the blue to walk with us through the section that he told us the pack of wild dogs liked to frequent), I got to telling my mother about a hike I had taken earlier in the year in which my hiking companion and I encountered some other wild dogs as we were descending a steep hill...

As can be imagined, that experience brought about not only a major adrenaline rush through our veins but, also, there being no photographs taken by me during the majority of our descent down the hill that was the last leg of a combined hike in Clear Water Bay Country Park that started off with the easy 1.55 kilometer long Clear Water Bay Tree Walk, then moved on to the more challenging Lung Ha Wan Country Trail that may be only 2.3 kilometers in length but involved going up and down the 291 meter high Tai Leng Tung -- from where, as I hope this photo essay will show, beautiful views are to be had...

Tai Leng Tung viewed from close to sea-level

Before ascending that hill (mountain?) though,
we took time to gaze out to sea

...and also ponder why portions of
the Clear Water Bay Tree Walk
seemed to be
a graveyard for kites!

That mystery was resolved when
we rounded a corner
and discovered
a designated
Kite Flying Site nearby! ;b

Warm up over, time to tackle that hill!

One of my mantras when tackling a tough ascent:
"the view had better be worth it"
-- well, I think this one was! :)

Same with this!

The descent that awaited us from the top --
a bit formidable
even minus the wild dogs factor
(and since we encountered them shortly after
this photo was taken, thus endeth this photo-essay!)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Coming soon?

Spotted at the Broadway Cinematheque when
I went to re-watch The Way We Are --
currently getting a second run -- earlier this evening)

For those still keeping tabs of the "when will Ashes of Time Redux get an actual theatrical run in Hong Kong?" saga: Maybe, finally, it's going to happen at long last! Except that as of this evening, I still have yet to see confirmation of this happening on the Broadway Circuit website!

Bleeeh!!! Because I have to say that the way things have been shaping up, it really is hard for my viewing of this work to be anything but anti-climactic. Also, will I ever get to see the poster of the film in which Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia prominently figures see the light of the day here in Hong Kong? Here's wishing even while not feeling that one can hold out much hope for that prospect... :S

Saturday, May 9, 2009

ln Memory (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Yesterday, Hong Kong lifted its week-long quarantine at the Metropark Hotel in Wan Chai where a Mexican swine flu patient had stayed. Even with -- touch wood -- no one else infected by that single patient here in Hong Kong, the fear and caution, even paranoia, over swine flu that has overcome much of the populace here is understandable: Hong Kong is considered SARS' "ground zero", after all.

The Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic -- which struck in 2003 -- had a 17% fatality rate in Hong Kong, killing 368 people, many of them health care workers. In memory of them, there was erected a Fighting SARS Memorial in the Tai Chi Garden of Hong Kong Park, one of the city's centrally located green lungs.

However beautiful it is, let's hope that that memorial won't need to have a companion any time soon... So, my message this week to my fellow Photo Hunt participants (and other visitors to this blog): Stay healthy wherever you are, people!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pinewood Battery and other Morning Trail sights (photo-essay)

At the end of the last photo-essay before this one, I promised that I'd put up some photos I took of the Pinewood Battery. Before doing so here though, here's first quoting some of what local historian Jason Wordie had to say about this former military site in his Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong University Press, 2002:95):-

Construction of a gun battery started on [a] remote hillside west of Lugard Road commenced in 1903, but in 1910 the emplacement was designated surplus to requirements and the guns removed. After standing abandoned for over a decade, it was reactivated in the mid-1920s as an anti-aircraft emplacement. After being bombed and badly damaged in the early stage of the Japanese attack on Hong Kong it was abandoned, and never refortified after the [Second World W]ar.

Literally within walking distance
millionaires' mansions on The ritzy Peak
lie the ruins of a military installation

Previously a military site, the Pinewood Battery
now is located within Lung Fu Shan Country Park

If these walls could talk...?

Some of the walls still have
camouflouge paint on them

Other sections of the complex have been
reclaimed by nature and now wear natural green

Really back to nature:
the flowers of a wax tree (AKA wild sumac)

Still, the city really never was all that far away
(N.B. Click on the picture to enlarge it to
better see how busy Victoria Harbour is!)

Near the Mid-Levels end of the Morning Trail
lies another historical item: a stone
boundary marker for the old City of Victoria

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pre-hike meal at Tak Cheong Noodle

A bowl of fish ball noodle soup that costs
less than HK$20 (around US$2.50)

Kau choi faa with oyster sauce to dip into
-- simple but oh so delicious
at around HK$15 (less than US$2) a plate

The piece de resistance - fried fish skin
that's crunchy until dipped into soup! ;)

Earlier today, I went on my first hike in over a month. (And for those who wonder -- yes, it was pretty enjoyable, even if this afternoon's temperature was a little higher than I'd have liked!)

As I dug into my simple but still pretty tasty pre-hike meal at Tak Cheong Noodle, a small noodle shop that got written up last month in England's The Guardian, I got to remembering that when I visited for another pre-hike meal a couple of months ago, I had taken some photos of what I ate for the edification of the foodies among this blog's visitors.

Among the things I'd like my pre-hike meal to be is: substantial, yet not too heavy; and flavorful but not spicy -- as I find that a spicy pre-sporty activity meal can result in my unpleasantly feeling like the spices are coming through my pores along with the sweat!.

As far as I'm concerned, the meals at Tak Cheong are just the delicious ticket. So much so that I'm quite happy to go a little bit out of my way to stoke up at this Tin Hau area budget eatery before heading out to some other part of Hong Kong to start my hike proper. :)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Walking (addendum)

Even in Hong Kong, it's not every day
that one sees
a lion dance troupe's members
casually strolling in front of a tram

Rather it's only on Tam Kung's Birthday that
lion, dragon and unicorn dancers
have the
right of way on the streets along with such as trams!

Attention visiting Photo Hunters: this is not my Photo Hunt entry for this week. (For that, look one entry below.) Rather, I just spent the greater part of this beautifully sunny afternoon checking out this year's edition of the Tam Kung's Birthday parade over in Shau Kei Wan and can't resist sharing a couple of walking-themed photos taken while attending it. Like them? Hope so! :)