Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sepet trailer (complete with a guide of sorts)

Yasmin Ahmad was laid to rest earlier this week. I still find myself mourning her way, way too premature death though.

As expected, the tributes have kept on pouring in. Among the most amazing I've read is what amounts to a letter to Yasmin written by Pete Teo on his blog. And it was while reading this post by ewaffle on his blog that I got to realizing that Yasmin managed to emotionally impact even those who have not (yet) viewed a single one of her feature films. Which is why I figured I might as well go ahead and post a trailer of my favorite of her works, Sepet, a tale of inter-ethnic romance told with that trademark Yasmin Ahmad dose of humanity.

Because the trailer's so multi-lingual, I previously hesitated to post it. But now... except that what I've also done is provide a guide of sorts for people who can't understand Bahasa Malaysia (i.e., the Malay language) or Cantonese down below it. Hope it helps. And in any case, I hope you'll enjoy and appreciate one more example of Yasmin the storyteller's talent, even genius...

A song by Hong Kong singer-actor Sam Hui (sung in Cantonese) plays over much of the trailer... the opening shot of which shows an ethnic Malay lass dressed for Muslim prayer who proceeds to kiss a copy of the Quran. Soon after, the words "a Yasmin Ahmad film" flash on the screen.

Then you hear the lass saying, in English "I think" before switching to Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian -- really, Malay -- language) to complete her thought that "of all the many, many actors, he's the most handsome[? I had problems hearing the word]."

"Who?" her friend asks.

"Takeshi Kaneshiro" (The Taiwanese-Japanese actor also known as Gum Sing Mo and Aniki Jin), she replies.

Next is a scene of a typical Malaysian outdoor market.

At a VCD stall, the lass asks the vendor in Malaysian English if he's got any VCDs of films with Takeshi Kaneshiro in it.

The ethnic Chinese guy tells her in Malay: Don't call me "boss". Then switches to English to tell her: "My name is Jason." Then he switches to Cantonese to ask her: "What is your name?"

"Orked", she tells him.

Over a scene of Jason's family having dinner (incidentally, his family members are all ethnic Chinese but his mother, it gets established early in the film, is a Malay-speaking Nonya (a kind of Chinese with centuries of historical roots in what is now known as Malaysia), she says in English that "He doesn't know me well enough to like me... but he loves me."

Then, as the scene switches to a more action shot, she can be heard saying -- still in English -- that "You guys (i.e., Jason and his friend Keong) are not like what I imagined guys in this area would be like..."

Next, the scene changes again to one in which Jason can be heard asking Orked in English: "Do you trust me?"

At around the one minute mark, we are introduced to other characters in the film: first, Orked's parents and their maid (who's pretty much like family) for the first time; then Jason's friend, Keung; and then still others.

As Orked and her mother hug and cry, her father can be heard saying in Malay "I think this boy is not suitable [for you]..."

(And in case that sounds like a bad way to end, here's pointing out that in the film, Orked's mother retorts by telling her husband that that's exactly what her father had said about him...)

Again, thank you so much, Yasmin. And I really hope that your work and your very life ends up inspiring lots to do good and be more like you.

P.S. To those who didn't know, Yasmin Ahmad was a fellow blogger. A few years back, in reaction to some (Malaysian Malay) critics accusing her of dirtying the Malay culture with her multi-cultural films, she posted an impassioned blog entry entitled In Praise of Mongrels. I sincerely hope this and other parts of her blogs are allowed to remain in cyberspace for a long time to come.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Memoriam: Yasmin Ahmad

So long. Fare thee well. The dancer and the dancing days have taken leave and fell...

Thus goes the opening lyrics of a wonderful song by Pete Teo in Talentime. Sadly, that movie which I viewed at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival turned out to be Yasmin Ahmad's final film as she passed away last night after suffering a stroke while presenting a proposal for another project earlier this week.

Tributes for Yasmin have already started appearing. I'm not going to add to it much except to urge those who have yet to be acquainted with her body of work to seek them out -- and to point out to those who are familiar with her films that her other work also is very much worth checking out; imbued as they are with that distinctive Yasmin Ahmad mix of absurd comedy along with touching drama, multi-ethnicity and transnational elements.

An example of this can be seen in a recent work for the Singaporean government...

R.I.P. Yasmin. Thank you so much for your wonderful films and the messages behind them. On a personal note: I now am doubly glad I got to meet you earlier this year and tell you that. It's just terribly sad -- not least because Malaysia is so much poorer without you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Utensils (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

When thinking of utensils, I tend to think more of knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks over such as pans and pots. But since the online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines utensils as "an implement, instrument, or vessel used in a household and especially a kitchen", I'm going ahead and putting up photos of the kind of vessel in which super delicious clay pot rice is cooked (along with toppings like Chinese sausages, pork spare ribs and salted fish).

Although its name sounds generic, clay pot rice actually is a beloved Hong Kong specialty dish that's considered particularly suitable to eat in winter -- and one that, for all of its being a budget food (we're talking around the high teens to low 20s in Hong Kong dollars per pot (i.e., about US$2-3), has famous fans including Anthony Bourdain.

It's with a bit of foodie pride that I have to say that my mother and I discovered the Four Seasons claypot rice eatery years before Mr. Bourdain. (It helps that the place is not so much near Temple Street but in the same area as the invaluable Broadway Cinematheque.) In fact, when we started eating there, it actually was a dai pai dong with tables on Temple Street itself.

These days, however, the Four Seasons has moved indoors and one street away (to the east) from Temple Street. However, the woman who ran the stall and now the indoor eatery -- I'm sorry but "restaurant" still does seem too fancy a word for the place! -- is the same friendly soul who recognises and seems very happy to see my mother each time she visits (though, alas, she can't seem to remember me!)... ;b

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Up above and on the ground in Hong Kong

Guess what I've seen hanging above...

...and spread out on the pavement
(sidewalk in American speak!)?

A local friend of mine tells me that when he walks about in Hong Kong, he likes to look up at the upper floors of buildings because often, he'll spot a new shop or two -- as some retailers have taken to setting up shops above ground level because rents tend to be lower the higher up one goes.

Like him, I like to look up when I stroll around in Hong Kong but, perhaps unlike him, I also take care to look down on the ground and elsewhere. Also, unlike him, it's less new shops that tend to attract my attention and more such items like... drying lime and tangerine peels!

Because even while it's a pretty normal and mundane thing to him, it's pretty fascinating to me that vestiges of the traditional -- such as the drying of lime and tangerine peels to use in food recipes and such by individuals, including those who seem unworried that those items will get stolen by others or mistaken as trash and consequently swept away! -- continue to exist in a territory whose marketing authorities like to call Asia's World City and tout as very much a modern kind of place in many ways... And I think I speak for more than just a few folks when I also state my hope that long may it be thus! :b

Sunday, July 19, 2009

From Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O, Part II (Photo-essay)

No hiking this weekend... on account of a typhoon over Hong Kong (that got the signal raised all the way up to a pretty high 9 -- while I slept soundly last night!). So here's turning instead to my photo archives for doses of green and, in the process, putting up a second photo-essay of a further section of my Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O hike than in this earlier photo-essay:-

Close to where I left off previously...
some 6 1/2 kilometers from the starting point

The plan was to get to Fan Lau
(the peninsula in the photo) for lunch

...but first, there was some scenery to admire
along the way (as well as some ways yet to walk!)

Descending down to Fan Lau Tung Wan beach
(which, incidentally, I believe is one of the beaches
that features in Scud's
Permanent Residence)

As strange as it may sound, this really was
a hike that incorporated a walk on a beach!

Before too long, we had to climb up
away from
the sea and sea level once more

An interesting natural rock formation
on the Fan Lau Peninsula way down
on the south-western tip of Lantau Island

Not so natural: the remains of the Qing dynasty redoubt
south-western Lantau known as Fan Lau fort
-- on top of which my hiking party broke for lunch!

To be continued (to be sure!)...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

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

Hong Kong Rocks! Believe it or not, that's the title of an article I wrote around this time last year -- and which, I was proudly surprised to find, currently comes up number 3 when one does a search for "Hong Kong rocks". (At the same time, I don't claim responsibility for such as the typo in the final paragraph as I had left that particular publication by the time the piece was published!)

The Hong Kong rocks article focused on natural geological formations found in the territory, notably the iconic Lion's Rock that I featured in a previous Photo Hunt entry and the phallic Lover's Rock, a photo of which can be seen in this photo-essay but also such other geological curiosities as dog head-shaped rocks.

Rather than go along that route, however, I've opted here to focus on some rocks found in Nan Lian Garden over in Diamond Hill, a part of Hong Kong that invariably gets me thinking of the movie named after it as well as Hollywood, Hong Kong, one more film set in the area (and partly named after its Plaza Hollywood complex).

Designed as a Tang Dynasty-style garden to complement the nearby Tang Dynasty-style Chi Lin Nunnery, it has sections that strike me as Zen-like -- and get me contemplating the interesting shapes, textures and beauty of single or isolated groups of rocks. And yes, it also does get me thinking that Hong Kong really rocks for having places like this in which the public are free to wander, wonder and generally get some aesthetic respite and inspiration. :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Health note

Lao Fu Tze (Old Master Q) and his buddy Potato
(whose film appearances include Master Q 2000)
help teach "cough manners" in Hong Kong ;b

Before anything else: Thank you to those of you who sent good wishes with regards to my mother on the previous blog post's thread and/or via e-mail. The operation looks to have gone well and although she's still in hospital, she came out of intensive care yesterday and I've been able to speak to a surprisingly cheerful- as well as strong-sounding her twice on the phone in the past 36 hours or so.

On a different health note: I recently received an e-mail query from a friend as to the swine flu situation in Hong Kong. Although the patient numbers have continued to rise here along with in the rest of the world, my sense actually is that the initial panic in this territory that was hit hard by SARS a few years ago actually has dissipated somewhat.

On another Hong Kong note: I wonder... have others noticed that the current head of the World Health Organisation is a Hong Kong woman? In any event, here's linking to an interesting recent article in The Guardian on Margaret Chan for those who'd like to learn more about her. :)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dim sum with my mom

Some might think that five dishes
between two people is a lot, others too few
-- but for us, it's just right!

As I write this blog entry, my mother's lying in a Singaporean hospital where tomorrow morning, she'll undergo pretty major surgery. To state the obvious: it's hard not to think of her -- and worry about her. But when we spoke on the phone about half an hour ago, she was pretty cheery and actually sounded a lot less worried than I know that the rest of the family currently are.

To psychologically boost and cheer me up somewhat, I'm going to recall some memories of when she visited me in Hong Kong a couple of months ago, during which we sampled quite a few of the Big Lychee's culinary delights. Among the dining highlights of that week was dim sum brunch at the peculiarly named Sportful Garden in Causeway Bay.

Not being huge eaters, we decided to share just five dishes -- along with a pot of tea -- between the two of us; with our choices being a mix of basic and more exotic eats. Because we wanted some variety, however, we only ordered two of the staple dim sum triumvirate of har gau (shrimp dumplings called "kau chee" in Hokkien), siu mai (pork and mushroom dumplings) and char siew pau (roast pork buns).

A word (or, actually paragraph!) re Sportful Garden's char siew pau: I have to say that they are among the best I've ever eaten -- made special because they are cooked with a special abalone sauce! In other words: their char siew pau actually is pretty extraordinary!

Because I was with my mother (who, like me, loves eating what can be described as "spare parts"), I could happily order two dishes to share that would freak out some other people I know: i.e., stewed chicken feet (and should you wonder, chicken feet is good at soaking up sauces!), and a plate of cold jellyfish and hot ducks' tongues (both of whose textures are what contribute to making them good eating as far as the initiated are concerned!)!

Lastly, there were steamed sweet custard buns for dessert. And again, I have to say that the ones at Sportful Garden really do seem especially good -- because, my mother suspected, they used richer duck eggs rather than regular chicken eggs in making the custard.

So... does our meal sound decadent or weird to you? To be honest, it was neither to us -- and, instead, was just plain delicious! So much so that I hope to be able to repeat the experience with my mother again before too long...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Garbage (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This is one of those Photo Hunts that had me hunting through my photo archives because sorry, but no way was I going out of my way to take photos of garbage! Indeed, I usually take pains to avoid taking photos containing, to quote the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "discarded or useless material.

Much as one would like for it otherwise, however, garbage often is an apparently invariable presence in photos and reality. In the case of the first photo above, it comes in the form of what gets washed ashore onto beaches like this isolated one out on Tung Lung Chau (trans. Eastern Dragon Island), a largely uninhabited island -- that lies east of the much bigger Hong Kong Island -- where garbage is more likely to be "imported" by ocean waves than generated by the tiny local populace.

Over the course of hunting through my photo archive, I also came across a visual reminder of how it is that just as one person's poison is another's meat or pure pleasure, so it can be that one person's garbage can be another's livelihood, if not outright treasure. Thus it is that while Hong Kong, a place with a significantly disproportionate income disparity between the "haves" and "have nots", is often noted for its consumers of luxury and "name brand" items, it's hard not to also be struck while visiting or living here by the presence of people -- usually older folks at that -- who have effectively become scavengers of re-usable or recyclable materials, including discarded electrical items and old cardboard.

On one hand, I feel so sad when seeing people reduced to such (and not being able to live comfortably in what should be their post-retirement years). On the other hand, I feel great admiration for these folks who seem so determined to live independently and not be a burden to others. And yes, both of these emotions only get heightened upon thinking -- as some writings and films I've come across have implied -- that these working men and women may have been the ones who formed the backbone of Hong Kong's economic rise in the late twentieth century and find themselves still having to work to the bone in the twenty-first century (even while more fortunate contemporaries now are able to rest).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O, Part I (Photo-essay)

In the last (thus far -- since she never say that she had retired for good) film that she appeared in, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia played a drug trafficker who is never seen without both a trenchcoat and a pair of sunglasses on her. When asked why, she muses about how changeable the weather is. And while those who live somewhere other than where Chungking Express was filmed may think that her answer is a reflection of her mercurial nature, the fact of the matter is that Hong Kong's weather really can be pretty capricious and not all that easy to predict.

Take, for example, the day back in February that a bunch of folks, including moi, decided to hike from Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O along Sections 7 and 8 of the Lantau Trail: When we met up at the Outlying Islands Ferry Pier in Central that morning, the fog (and/or air pollution) was so bad I had problems seeing across Victoria Harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui. But visibility had improved quite a bit by the time we arrived at Shek Pik Reservoir (via a ferry, followed by a bus ride) and just before we reached Fan Lau, we were greeted with bright sunshine and blue skies!

So while the initial photos taken along this hike tend to be of the close up variety and/or with views that can be on the misty side, I promise that it was quite a different picture later on (in at least one more photo-essay to follow!)...

The first photo I took on the hike -- and yes,
I have Hong Kong's air pollution to thank for
making me become more observant of sights
in the immediate vicinity when out hiking!

Part of me knows I should take warning signs seriously
but the graphics often amuse more than scare!

Still more misty than I liked at this stage
but the views had started to open up

This was one of those hikes where we saw
a lot of water along the way

...not all that bad a thing when it helps
produce views like this, right?

After a few kilometers walking on the concrete
Kau Ling Chung Catchwater, our path became
more rugged (and attractive in the eyes of many)

As my geology professors at Beloit (especially
the wonderful
Carl Mendelson) taught me to appreciate,
there truly
can be beauty underneath one's feet

Looking back at a scenic view of wild Hong Kong that
would pale in comparison to what's to come! ;b

To be continued... (of course!)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pink (Photo Hunt redux)

For a previous pink-themed Photo Hunt back in 2007, I opted to focus attention on pink urban sights in Hong Kong. So I thought it'd be good to go to the other extreme and focus on pink natural sights beyond as well as in the Big Lychee.

More specifically, the three photos of pink flowers above were taken (from top to bottom): while out hiking in the Wan Tsai peninsula in northeast Hong Kong; in the garden of my family home in Penang; and while visiting the Kokoen Garden in Himeji, Japan. (BTW, hope the Penang flower qualifies as pink - it looked very pink to me when viewed on its own but seems purplish compared to the other flowers...)

And for the record, all these photos were taken after I put up the first pink Photo Hunt entry back in October 2007. Also, something else I found interesting that the vast majority of my post 2007 pink photos either are of flowers or were taken on special occasions (e.g., Chinese New Year or -- as was the case with last week's Photo Hunt photos -- Tam Kung's birthday)!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hello again, Hello Kitty!

My latest Hello Kitty plush
and the box she came in

You know it's summer in Hong Kong when it gets seriously hot and humid... and McDonald's runs yet another Hello Kitty promotion. (Maybe it's just coincidence but, seriously now, McDonald's has had a Hello Kitty promotion each summer since I've moved to Hong Kong!!!)

And although I actually don't much like to eat at McDonald's here, I find that I can't resist those way too cute Hello Kittys. So... just one day after learning about the promotion, here's my first -- and probably not last (since I find myself coveting the white-coated Dr Kitty!) -- of the Kittylab Hello Kittys... which, more than by the way, really is verrrrrry soft to the touch as well as kawaii to look at. ;S