Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shing Mun Redoubt (photo-essay)

When talking to many local Hong Kongers, I often get the distinct sense that they invariably prefer the new to the old. Add to that the propensity of a significant percentage of the Hong Kong populace to not stray far into the countryside and you're likely to reach the conclusion that World War II sites like the Shing Mun Redoubt aren't much visited and aren't too well maintained.

But when my hiking companion that day and I checked out that which was considered the strongest part of the Gin Drinker's Line (only to fall within hours to the invading Japanese), we were surprised to find that much of what remained navigable through has actually been well maintained (by volunteers) -- and, also, that we were by no means the only visitors to the site.

Somewhat amusingly, one rather large group we came across in that part of Shing Mun Country Park seemed to be composed for the most part of youngsters who got more excited when their adult leader promised them ice cream than by what they saw in the area. Still, I must say that the overall behavior I saw on display at the Shing Mun Redoubt was infinitely more respectful of its history and heritage than what I saw when, say, visiting such as the Yuan Ming Yuan or even the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Also, that this site is one that really is interesting -- especially if you know about its place in Hong Kong's history...

One of a number of dark and narrow --
but surprisingly clean -- tunnels that
link together bunkers, pillboxes
and other military defence constructions

A hole in the roof that I suspect was made
a combination of an explosive blast
and natural erosion
over time

The ruined as well as bullet- and shrapnel-riddled
part of the former military complex

Yes, well... we did enter (and, fortunately
as well as actually,
as it turned out,
it didn't seem all that dangerous!)

The story is that homesick British soldiers
named the Redoubt's connecting tunnels
after certain famous London streets

A shot (no pun intended!)
that will be familiar to those who have viewed
Tactical Unit: Comrades in Arms (2009) ;b

Inside one of those tunnels:
helpful signs
along with not so helpful graffiti

And should there be any doubt:
yes, it could get claustrophobic in there,
so it was nice to come out of a tunnel into the open
-- and especially to see bright blue skies! :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Things to do in Hong Kong when it rains

A view from the bus on a rainy day

After the storm earlier today

I come from a place where it rains a lot. (In statistical terms, we're talking over an average of 100 inches of rain each year!) This fact notwithstanding, many non-Asian tourists seem to primarily visit Penang for sun along with sea and sand. Consequently, I have visions of their being reduced to holing up for hours on end in their hotel rooms and bars when the heavens open.

What with Hong Kong being marketed as a shopping paradise, its giant indoor shopping malls are the places that tourists and locals alike tend to make a beeline for; and this particularly so when it rains in this territory whose authorities take rain storms very seriously. But for those for who do not always consider shopping or window shopping to be all that fun activities, there really are other -- and, to my mind, better -- options. More specifically, two rainy day activities that I regularly indulge in are movie viewing and museum going.

With regards to the former: one would do well to remember to not only look at what's on offer at the multiplexes -- some of which (like the Broadway Cinematheque) regularly offer up fare that's more art house than one might think -- but also the Hong Kong Film Archive. In addition, Hong Kong really doesn't lack for film festivals; with the HKIFF Society that organises a Summer IFF along with the Hong Kong International Film Festival each spring being the undoubted granddaddy of them all yet by no means being the only game in this city whose denizens have had a love affair with the movies for many decades.

With regards to the latter: although there surely are residents of -- as well as visitors to -- Hong Kong who don't pass through the doors of a museum even once during their time in Asia's World City, I really do reckon that those folks are missing out on a lot more than they might realize. For one thing, Hong Kong is home to more museums -- and some very interesting specialist ones at that -- than many people realize. For another, the territory's major museological institutions -- and one relatively 'minor' one in the form of the University of Hong Kong's University Museum and Art Gallery -- often play host to some really interesting special exhibitions.

As an example, earlier today, I braved the rain to go visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art -- and, particularly (since I had already been there before), its truly special temporary Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation exhibition -- the Takashi Murakami part of which (that includes screenings of this super-cute and colorful Superflat First Love video) actually got me covetting a Louis Vuitton item for the first time in my life!

For first time visitors to Hong Kong who want to know more about its local history and heritage, however, I really would recommend that they check out either the Hong Kong Museum of History -- with its wonderful multi-room The Hong Kong Story permanent exhibition along with informative special exhibitions like the current Modern Metropolis: Material Culture of Shanghai and Hong Kong (that I checked out last weekend) -- or the Hong Kong Heritage Museum whose permanent exhibitions include a very impressive Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall and one of whose planned special exhibitions is one on the late Lydia Sum.

What with rain storms in Hong Kong liable to come to an end as abruptly as they begin, one should also be on the look out for opportunities in between storms to enjoy scenic vistas -- since the storms often act like nature's cleaners and leaving clearer air behind. As an example, this afternoon, it was raining very hard when I entered the Hong Kong Museum of Art but it stopped pouring some time when I was in that museological establishment. Consequently, I was able to enjoy a nice stroll along the nearby Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade and take the post-storm photo that adorns the top of this entry... :)

Addendum: this entry has turned out to be one of the most popular entries on my blog. For those seeking more ideas for what to do in Hong Kong when it rains, please go here -- and hope you'll be able to enjoy your time in the Big Lychee even when it's not sunny out!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Flags (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Before I came to Hong Kong, I had never heard of the sea deity known as Tam Kung. Since moving here though, I have to say his birthday parade through the streets of Shau Kei Wan and that involving the Tai Hang fire dragon dance have become two of my very favorite festive occasions. And while it's true enough that the main attractions of the Tam Kung Birthday Parade are dancing dragons, lions and unicorns, the large flags that get carried as part of the procession do make for a colorful sight too.

Still, when push comes to shove, what makes those two festivals so fun for someone like me is that one can feel like one gets to be in the thick of things through the fact that -- as hopefully can be seen in the upper photo in this week's Photo Hunt entry -- one can end up pretty much in the same space as the parade participants! Alternatively put, it all can really feel like quite the interactive and inclusive as well as far from generic tourist experience. ;b

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ponyo trailers (Japanese vs French vs American)

Because it's still not yet out on DVD anywhere in the world (and for that matter, hasn't even made it to American cinemas just yet), I content myself with playing with and gazing at my beloved Ponyo plush and occasionally going online to check out Ponyo trailers.

The very first of these that I discovered was the original Japanese trailer that I found cute and fun. Then came the French trailer which I really do think is a lovely piece of art in and of itself.

For the life of me, I can't decide whether I like the Japanese or French trailer better as each has its merits. (I love the Japanese voice of Ponyo -- even when I can't understand what it's saying! -- but also love the French trailer for using that wonderful Joe Hisaishi composition that also features in the film proper.)

Still, one thing's for sure: Both are miles better than the American version -- including at capturing the movie's sense of magic along with beauty. So should you deign to check out the American trailer, do then go back and watch either of the other trailers to wipe the bad taste in your mouth that the stupid version temporarily left behind!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shing Mun - scenic views and the Redoubt (photo-essay)

Last week, after looking again at the photos I took on my February visit to Shing Mun Country Park, I got a hankering to go on another hike in the area. After mentioning this to a few colleagues at lunch time, it was decided that we would go on a group outing there this past weekend.

Alas, the humidity and heat -- with temperatures rising on both days to 33 degrees Celsius -- put paid to that idea (or, at least, got us postponing the trip to a cooler time of the year). So, for now, will just focus my eyes -- and hopefully your attention too -- on the photos taken some months back on a beautifully clear day and a hike that was only around 8 kilometers but was enlivened by checking out some wonderful Central Hong Kong panoramas as well spending some time and effort exploring area military relics, including underground tunnels with names like Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue...

View from Smuggler's Pass looking
northeast towards Needle Hill
and the Lower Shing Mun Reservoir

View from further south along Smuggler's Pass
Sha Tin new town and its green surroundings

The Shing Mun East Country Trail is
yet another Hong Kong hiking trail that
takes one
into the countryside without being
removed from views of the city

Photo courtesy of a 10x zoom that
gets me thinking of a scene from a sci-fi film!

Looking down and northwards
Shing Mun Reservoir

It may not look like much now but this used to be
the command centre of the Shing Mun Redoubt

A map found inside the ruin shows the extent
this military defense point in its hey day

Dare to enter and explore further?
With an intrepid companion and
torchlight in hand -- yes, indeedy!

To be continued (in another photo-essay)... for sure! ;b

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Creamy (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Would you travel somewhere just so you can eat there? Would you ever have its cuisine as your primary -- maybe even sole -- reason for feeling attracted to visit a particular country or city? Much to the shock of at least one friend from another culture (who finds the concept utterly alien), my answer to both these questions is an emphatic "yes".

For the record, my ultimate food destination is Japan (the land of sushi, yakitori, mentaiko, soba, udon, tempura, okonomiyaki, Genghis Khan barbecues and so much else!). But another place -- that also has the benefit of being far closer where I currently live -- that I've travelled to to eat is Macau.

On one work trip to Macau a year ago, I found myself being served the two creamy dishes that I'm highlighting in this week's Photo Hunt entry. The upper most delicacy is actually a hollowed out bread bun with creamy gravy and bits of meat and food inside of it.

And although it really would be hard to want something else after finishing it, if you do have room for dessert, I would highly recommend the very Macanese serradura -- a truly delicious dish with far more creamy -- along with crushed cookie -- bits than you'd think one whose name literally translates into English as "sawdust" would have! ;b

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vending machine wares (or should it be wear?!)

What's attracting the attention of one shopper
at Kwun Tong's apm Mall?

Could it be the Hello Kitty slogan tee
as opposed to the packet of tortilla chips? ;)

Vending machines have intrigued me since I encountered them on childhood visits to London, England. All these years later, I still can recall what a treat it was when my mother passed me a few pence to get a Kitkat from a vending machine located in a tube station several hundred feet underground. And I still regret that I never got to an eatery in New York that I had read about where one bought food from vending machines!

Years later, when visiting the current world vending machine capital that is Japan (where there is estimated to be one vending machine for every 23 people), I found myself often unable to walk by a whole row of them without getting a drink or something from one. And just last week, when I was at the apm mall in Kwun Tong, I found myself unable to walk a row of vending machines in one corner without taking a peek at what was being hawked.

Although I've seen ice cream and lollipops as well as the more usual canned drinks and such being offered up for sale in vending machines here in Hong Kong, the ones in Kwun Tong still yielded surprises. I mean... a Hello Kitty slogan tee?! (And yes, I was tempted -- especially considering the low price -- except for one thing: I couldn't see what was the size the T-shirt bearing Kitty-chan's visage being hawked... ;b )

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shing Mun Country Park (photo-essay)

Hand on heart: I had wanted to hike in the area of -- and check out -- the 12 acre citadel known as the
Shing Mun Redoubt that was part of the Gin Drinker's Line that has been described as Hong Kong's equivalent of France's Maginot Line for a while now. However, this Hong Kong movie geek has to admit that her interest in visiting the military installation that was infamously overrun by the Japanese in record time during World War II increased post seeing it featuring pretty prominently in Tactical Unit: Comrades in Arms (2009), the Milkyway Image production that sent Simon Yam, Maggie Siu, Lam Suet and co. deep into the Hong Kong countryside.

Thus it was that one day this past February, a fellow Hong Kong movie fan cum hiking enthusiast and I decided to hike the Shing Mun East Country Trail that began and ended at the Shing Mun Reservoir's Pineapple Dam -- and whose circuit includes a walk along Smuggler's Pass and the area of the Shing Mun Redoubt.

But long before we went exploring the Shing Mun Redoubt and, actually, before we even we got to the official start of the trail, I already had seen many sights that made me so happy that we had decided to go out hiking that beautiful day. Put another way: wouldn't you agree that the following make for a good warm up to other remarkable sights to come? ;b

The very first of many photos
that I took while out hiking that day

An even better photo, to my mind,
of Shing Mun Reservoir and the area nearby

One of the many formidable Hong Kong peaks
that I've yet to hike up (and maybe never will!)

So why haven't I hiked more in Shing Mun
Country Park than I have thus far?
Two words: wild monkeys (more so
than the fear of steep cliffs, actally!)!

I don't know about you but I have to say that
I don't think I'll ever tire of spying Lion Rock
-- and from a whole host of different angles

Before beginning the Shing Mun East Country Trail
proper, my hiking companion and I were distracted by
the reservoir's beauty and consequently ventured a bit
out of the way from the trail's official starting point

Like a scene from a movie, we saw
a bunch of bicyclists carrying their bicycles
commando-like down that series of steep steps!

The flowers of the Ivory Coral Tree
are like few other flowers I've seen in my life!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Seems like someone should have been
paying more attention when writing...

In yesterday's Photo Hunt entry, I wrote about there being some disturbing materials on display at the Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum in Stanley. As can be seen in the above photo, there's a sign within that museological institution that attempts to state precisely that.

Unfortunately, that official warning unintentionally loses some of its gravity on account of the authorities appearing to not be too proficient with their English -- or, worse, seeming to be less than completely careful folks. Not that I particularly mind, mind... since I thus find myself with one more item to add to my unintentionally funny signs photo collection! ;)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lock (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Some months ago, I wrote about how safe Hong Kong feels -- at night as well as during the day. In that entry, I posited a couple of reasons for that being the case. Upon finding out that Hong Kong has more prisons than one might think and one of the region's highest rates of imprisonment, one might also conclude that the threat of getting found out and locked up additionally acts as a strong crime deterrent to would-be offenders in the Big Lychee.

Once upon a time, captured criminals found themselves faced with terrible fates in Hong Kong. Anyone doubting that would do well with checking out the exhibits on display at one of the territory's close to thirty museological establishments: the Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum located close to the maximum security Stanley Prison in the southern section of Hong Kong Island.

As this Photo Hunt entry shows, the museum includes a cell diorama and mock up of the gallows (but for the record, capital punishment was abolished in Hong Kong in 1993 even while death penalties continue to be meted out in Mainland China). But you'd have to visit the institution yourself to see what were some of the punishments in store for convicts and condemned individuals that I consider quite a bit worse than spending time locked up in a cell or even getting a noose being put on your neck.

The Hong Kong Correctional Services folks also seek to emphasise by way of the museum that these days, the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. For all that, however, a visit to that educational establishment got me convinced that being locked up is not a fate I'd like. (In stark contrast, there's a Japanese film called Doing Time which made prison in the Land of the Rising Sun actually seem... quite attractive! ;b )

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Super-crowded Causeway Bay

Causeway Bay scene last Thursday evening

As regular visitors to this blog know full well, I've done my share of hiking in Hong Kong. One reason why I've done more hiking in Hong Kong than elsewhere is because hiking trails really are pretty easy to get to here -- and on public transportation to boot! Another reason is because hiking gives me a way to occasionally get away from the madding crowd that is to be found in many of the Big Lychee's urban areas.

Last week, I scared a friend who is planning his first trip to the territory by e-mailing him the above photo of what I caught a section of Causeway Bay looking like one evening. But as I quickly reassured him, although this popular shopping and restaurant district is indeed often full of people, that really was the most crowded I have thus far seen the area to be -- the reason being that the photo was taken as the estimated 150,000 crowd who had crowded into nearby Victoria Park for the June 4 candlelight vigil was dispersing.

So to those who are wont to quibble re the numbers last Thursday night: all I will say is that, as the sea of humanity in the photo shows, there really was a whole lotta people out and about in the area that evening. And for once, I really don't think that the majority were there (just) to shop and/or eat... (though, in my case, I have to admit that after attending the vigil, I did go ahead and make straight for an area Tsui Wah for a late dinner! ;b )

Monday, June 8, 2009

Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail redux (photo-essay)

Last week, I put up my first photo-essay of the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail hike I went on back in February. Going as my hiking party did from Tsuen Wan, this meant that the hardest part of the hike -- an ascent of over 400 meters in about an hour along a path that was observably bereft of tree cover for the most part -- was completed first.

What was left to cover was not completely a breeze though -- seeing as Yuen Long district remained some distance away. Fortunately, it really was a very nice day weather-wise. And the company wasn't too bad either. So much so that my Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail hike experience was a thoroughly pleasant one; even more so than the first, shorter hike through Tai Lam Country Park that I went on with Roz's Hiking Group back in September 2007...

More than 30 Hong Kong hikes on, I'm still
not too knowledgable
about the biology of the territory
-- consequently,
I'm not sure whether these trees
are diseased
or just naturally look this... picturesque!

An idyllic spot on the way that, alas,
my hiking group
didn't really
pause and linger all that much at!

Walking by the above, I got to thinking that
nature's achieved what many landscape gardeners
would love to be so
aesthetically pleasingly arrange!

Speaking of walking - here's showing
some hikers doing precisely that ;)

One of the streams that runs into the pretty sizable
body of water within
Tai Lam Country Park
that is the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir

A ruined but still functioning shrine
along the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail

Maybe not that impressive a sight
during the dry season
still good enough to photograph to me!

Civilization at the Yuen Long end of the trail --
albeit one still far from the concrete jungle image

that most people possess of Hong Kong! :b

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Advertisement (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Have you heard about how, when deciding which place to eat at in areas full of eateries, the best one will be the eatery with the longest queue (or just plain line for those of you who don't understand British English!)? At any rate, this free form of advertisement seems to be all this dai pai dong without even a large sign to its name needs!

(For enquiring foodie minds, the dai pai dong in question is located on restaurant-laden Gough Street, opposite the also pretty popular Kau Kee beef noodle shop. And no, it's not just the recession that seems to be attracting people to this budget eatery -- as the photo in this week's Photo Hunt entry actually dates back to more than a year ago now! :b )