Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hot, hot, hot!

A colourful way to warn against heat stroke

This Thursday's South China Morning Post's front page had an article that confirmed what many of us had been suspecting: that this month is the hottest August that Hong Kong has had in decades. How hot can be discerned from factoids such as these:-

- As of August 26th, the Hong Kong Observatory had recorded ten "very hot" days (i.e., with temperatures past 33 degrees Celsius);

- There has only been one August with more "very hot" days since recorded began to be kept in 1885... in 1962, when there were 15 for the whole month of August.

- Three construction works have died of heat stroke since July.

(And adding to all this is the fact that rainfall is 113.4 milimeters below the August average.)

All of which makes hiking not the most ideal of weekend activities... and yet, I just can't make myself stay in the air-conditioned indoors all day. Not even today, when the maximum temperature recorded was 35.2 degrees Celsius in Sheung Shui and even The Peak wasn't that much cooler with a maximum recorded temperature of 31.4 degrees Celsius -- not when there's so much to see and do in Hong Kong for pleasure and fun! ;S

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Surprise (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As my well-travelled foodie friend Daisann has noted, there is a saying about the Cantonese -- Hong Kong's majority ethnic group -- that "they'll eat anything with four legs that isn't a chair, anything with wings that isn't an airplane"! In fairness, she also noted that "the truth is that most Hong Kong people I know are fussy eaters". To which I'd add: often more fussy with regards to quality than actual range; and not likely to be put off eating something merely from looks alone.

Skeptical? Behold the first two photos of this Photo Hunt entry then. Seriously now, aren't you just a little bit surprised that people would eat them for pleasure -- and in the case of the mantis shrimp, even if not the more humble Hakka delicacy (consisting of a wild green vegetable-beans mix encased in thick dark dough), pay good money (HK$120 for one of those suckers!) for the privilege too?

As for the bottom two photos: yes, Virginia, for all of Hong Kong's population being less than 1% "white" (the term preferred to Caucasian in official government records!), certain foods that many people think of as "Western", including macaroni, luncheon meat (AKA spam) and garlic bread, have become a part of regular Hong Kongers' diets. (Though it is not every day -- and thus came as an amusing surprise when it happened once at an eatery here --that garlic bread gets served in the kind of bamboo containers that one tends to associate with dim sum!) :D

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Peak down to Pok Fu Lam (Photo-essay)

Earlier this year (in March, to be more precise), I went on a hike that almost feels like it took place in another life time. For one thing, my companion on that admittedly easy downhill hike that day was my pre-operation mom. For another, it was a spring day that was as cold as it was foggy -- and today is super hot. (For the record, today's high temperature actually was 34.6 degrees Celsius!!)

So foggy was it, in fact, that I actually wondered whether we should go ahead with our planned walk down from The Peak -- especially since the fog was so thick in parts on the way up that, from the top of our bus, we frequently couldn't even see two vehicles ahead! But proceed we did and proceeded to have a rather pleasant hike; one that, even if too easy and short for my liking, still yielded some, to my mind, interesting sights and shots...

I honestly have never seen a tree trunk
so covered
by little (parasitic?) leaves before...

Like a still shot of a horror movie scene?

Dew on one of many
spider's webs
we saw along the path

A different shaped web from what one normally sees
-- one that was similarly much dew covered

The Hong Kong Hawthorn's flowering period
is February through April each year

A now disused and bricked up structure that
might well have been
a World War II bomb shelter

Waterway -- complete with pipe (not cannon!) --
leading down to Pok Fu Lam Reservoir

The waters of Hong Kong's oldest reservoir
were so calm I almost used this photo in
this past week's "rippled"-themed Photo Hunt entry
(but then decided to save it for this entry instead)! ;)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hello Kitty's Kitty Lab

The Kitty Lab exhibition's ticketing office
(with nary a child -- only adults,
male as well as female -- in sight! ;b)

The enlarged electronic version of Kitty Chan's DNA
that visitors were given to lead them around
the exhibition's Hello Kitty-themed simulated city

Because sbk asked about it and I don't need much excuse to post about Hello Kitty... ;)

Two Saturdays ago, I spent close to two hours exploring the Kitty Lab exhibition that opened here in Hong Kong the Thursday before and will run through to August 30th. (And no, those two hours don't include the 45 minutes spent waiting in line to get in to the exhibition!) Set up as a participatory game that involves quite a bit of rushing from one point to another more than a conventional exhibition, the 35th anniversary project's story-line -- as much as I could get from a Kitty Lab "assistant"'s Cantonese explanation -- goes something like this:-

One day, an explosion occurred in Dr Kitty's lab that caused her head to look rather woolly -- or is it bubbly? (see the first photo above) -- and required her DNA and general physical being to be reconstituted. Visitors to Kitty Lab are tasked to help to get Dr/Hello Kitty looking more normal once more.

Duly provided with some Hello Kitty DNA (in electronic form (see the second photo above)), they are then sent on their way into a Hello Kitty-fied simulation city that comes complete with such establishments as Kitty College (where you record the characteristics of Hello Kitty's eyes), Mrs Ribbon Salon (where you choose which ribbon would best suit the cute cat) and Daniel Travel (where you virtually travel around the world -- I was sent to Africa! -- to get Kitty Chan's favorite accessories). Heck, there's even a Kitty Police Station, complete with a Kitty policewoman, where you can go to whenever you get lost or just plain confused or befuddled by it all!

And confused and befuddled I was quite a bit -- because, even for a fan of the furry feline like me, it really was a case of Hello Kitty as well as sensory overload at times. On a related note: one goes beyond feeling that the inner child gets let out in Kitty Lab; rather, I'd go so far as to say that I felt temporary infantilized during my time there.

Still, you know what? It actually was quite fun... for me and the multitude of Hello Kitty-philes -- male and female, old and young, but overwhelmingly East Asian! -- who were there that day (and, in all probability, also on the other days that the pretty unique exhibition's been open). And yes, I think it helped that no one was taking it completely seriously in addition to there having been a seriously cheery feel to the whole place and project. ;D

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ripples (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Typhoons are strong hurricane-strength tropical cyclones that occur in the northwestern Pacific Ocean that surrounds much of East Asia and nearby/associated bodies of water such as the South China Sea. Taking their name from the Cantonese tai fong (trans., big wind), they regularly occur and pay visits during the summer to the part of the world in which Hong Kong is situated.

In view of factors such as much of Hong Kong bordering or being surrounded by lots of water and a significal percentage of its population historically being boat-dwellers as well as seafarers, the territory has an elaborate system for dealing with typhoons that includes the construction and continued existence of official typhoon shelters. Shelters against rough seas, they are where -- and yes, we're finally getting there! ;) -- small waves and ripples are the rule rather than exception.

More specifically, this week's Photo Hunt's are of the typhoon shelters at Causeway Bay (upper photo) and Shau Kei Wan (lower photo). As befits it being in the vicinity of the very private Royal Hong Kong Yacht, Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter is home to luxury boats along with more modest craft (and -- it seems from my photo -- wild birds!). In contrast, Shau Kei Wan's Typhoon Shelter is home to traditional Chinese fishing boats -- which themselves pose quite a visual contrast to the many high rise apartment buildings to be found on the Hong Kong Island as well as Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yet another Penang food blog entry!

Char koay teow (fried flat rice noodles)
from a stall in Pulau Tikus market

The cook might not approve but
I find that some sweet Maggi chilli sauce
the dish truly tasty!

The proverbial "they" say that time flies while you're having fun. But while it's true enough that I've had my share of fun -- including in the form of three movies viewed, one Hello Kitty exhibition visited and one multi-media show attended -- since returning to Hong Kong from Penang more than a week ago, I've also been working quite a bit.

Perhaps it was the hard work and stress that caused me to lose my appetite -- and a few pounds -- for about a week after getting back to Hong Kong. More likely, though, was how bland a lot of the food to be found in the Big Lychee tastes in comparison to that to be found in the food capital of Malaysia.

Still, this is not to say that I've not been known to make certain Penang foods more tasty (to my mind) by adding not just any chilli or sauce but Maggi chilli sauce: which, in spite of what its name might get one thinking, actually is more sweetish-savoury rather than outright spicy and more akin to tomato ketchup in texture than regular sauces. (Incidentally, the one Malaysian food item that my Hong Kong apartment's kitchen always has is Maggi chilli sauce -- though, of course, it often also is supplemented by such as nutmeg syrup (for making nutmeg cordial drinks)!)

As an example, I like to dip my prawn or fish crackers in Maggi chilli sauce. In addition, I'm one of those "weird" individuals who likes my char koay teow without eggs and regular chilli sauce but with Maggi chilli sauce instead. Oh, and I also can do without slices of Chinese red sausage in my plate of char koay teow!

On the other hand, I consider dishes of char koay teow to be incomplete without cockles -- fears of hepatitis be damned! -- as well as whole juicy prawns (the larger, the better!). And speaking of cockles: steamed cockles are great dipped into Maggi chilli sauce too -- really, truly... and no, I actually am not being paid by Maggi to write this! ;b

Sunday, August 16, 2009

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

Earlier today, I went on yet another Hong Kong hike that yielded great views -- and, I hope you'll agree when you see them, photos to treasure. But rather than put up any of today's snaps today, I think I first had better hurry and complete my set of photo-essays chronicling the hike from Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O (see the other parts here, here and here) I went on back in February and some ten hikes ago now! So, without further ado...

Not far from Fan Lau Fort but literally
miles away from a road
and other settlements
lies the still inhabited
village of Fan Lau Tsuen

Peaked Hill (AKA Kai Yet Kok) island
viewed from the southwestern coast of Lantau

A beautiful Hong Kong view I get the sense that
even many native Hong Kongers have not seen

(on account of it involving quite a trek
to get to
the particular spot from which the photo was taken!)

Not the ruins of another Qing Dynasty fort but, rather,
part of a wall to be found in the vicinity of
the Yi O section of south-western Lantau Island

No, you're not imagining it -- as we hiked
north up from the tip of Fan Lau,
the water
really did get less blue (and, frankly, dirtier)

Our destination -- the fishing village of Tai O
-- is not so far away now!

Tai O has been likened to Venice --
um, not quite I don't think! :D

Rather than end on an anti-climactic small village note,
here's backtracking a bit and offering up a photo
showing the power of nature
--in that those near vertical stripes
in the distance
actually are landslides caused
by a typhoon
hitting Hong Kong some months back!

And should it not be clear: yes, I'd highly recommend the hike from Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O to those who like -- and are able to go for -- long, scenic walks. Just remember: for the bulk of this approximately 20 kilometer hike, one really is far away from any roads, so there's not many possible "out"s once you commit yourself to going for it. (N.B. This is something people need to be made aware of as we had a hiker in our group -- not moi, honest! ;) -- who was not truly prepared for this walk, so that, sadly, a significant part of it actually became more torture than joy for her!)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Artificial (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

The word artificial is one of those I rarely use in everyday conversation -- not because I don't encounter much that's "made by people, often as a copy of something natural" (one of its definitions according to Cambridge Dictionaries Online) but, rather, because it never seems to be able to be free of the negativity that comes with its other more value-weighed meaning (i.e., "DISAPPROVING not sincere").

But in keeping with one of my blogging resolutions being to help release my inner Pollyanna, I've sought more positive possibilities when searching for appropriate snaps to use for this week's Photo Hunt. So what I've opted to offer up are aesthetically pleasing artificial versions of something I (also) love to find in nature.

And for those seeking location information, the artificial waterfalls in the photos are to be found at (from top to bottom):-
- Himeji, Japan's Kokoen Garden
- Taipei, Taiwan's Lungshan (Dragon Mountain) Temple
- Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong's Yuen Yuen Institute

Think them (all) pretty? I hope so! :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My mother's favorite Penang dessert (and mine too!)

The famous Swatow Lane ais kacang
that's got far more than just
ais (ice) and kacang (bean(s)) in it!

Greetings again. I'm actually now back in Hong Kong and *sob* in just a little more than 12 hours, I have to get back to work once more. But knowing that some people are eagerly awaiting photos of Penang food... well, I know there's just one photo in this entry but hope that it -- and this blog post as a whole -- satisfies for a time at least!

When my mother was a schoolgirl, she took to patronizing a particular hawker's stall whose offerings included quintessential Malaysian treats known as ais kacang (in Malay) or ang tau s'ng (in Hokkien) -- either way, it literally translates = "ice bean(s)! -- in Penang (but air batu campur (ABC for short; literally translated = "ice mix") in such as Kuala Lumpur) and ice ball(s) over in Swatow Lane.

She continued to go there to get icy treats during her working days and over the years, introduced her husband, children and many friends to the delights of eating at that particular stall whose offerings are particularly appreciated on hot, thirst-inducing days.

Even in the time that I've known it, the stall has undergone quite a few changes. For one thing, the two uncles who I first encountered manning the stall have passed away as well as passed on their culinary talents to a new generation of that family whose expertise has actually seen them representing Penang at food fairs in Singapore, Adelaide (the twin city of George Town, Penang's capital) and elsewhere. For another, its location has moved from one side of Swatow Lane to another and most recently into the New World Park Hawker's Centre (located on the site of a former amusement park whose attractions included striptease queen Rose Chan).

Fortunately, amidst all these changes, I haven't detected any significant decrease in the quality of its colorful specialty dish... whose integral ingredients are a small mountain of shaved ice (that melts really quickly) coated with syrup (rose is the norm but the Swatow Lane stall also has a sarsi (aka sasparilla) option), underneath which lies some kidney-type red beans mixed with sweetened sweet corn and cincau (black grass jelly).

Many people like a further topping of sweet condensed milk on the shaved ice but my mother and I are not fans of that. At the same time, I'm about the only person I know who likes an extra topping of bananas in the mix. Furthermore, I looove that the Swatow Lane ais kacang also counts atap chee (palm fruit seeds) among its ingredients -- and reckon that when taken as a whole, you've got a pretty cool (in more ways than one) culinary combination that I like best during the part of the day that the British and Anglophiles like to reserve for afternoon tea! ;b

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Here In My Home

The 22nd Malaysian Film Festival awards ceremony were held last night, with Talentime up for eleven prizes. Unlike Sepet, the bitter-sweet inter-ethnic romance that majorly contributed towards making Yasmin Ahmad a household name in her home country, it was named Best Film. However, it finally garnered the late filmmaker the Best Director prize that eluded her in previous years, even that which saw her offer up the sublime Mukhsin.

For many of her fans, including myself, the award feels like "too little, too late". Still, better late than never, I suppose. And I really hope that the country's powers and denizens alike will remember what Yasmin Ahmad stood for along with her creations -- all of which offered up a vision of a Malaysia which all of its citizens can truly feel they belong in as well as are proud and privileged to be a part.

As a reminder of that vision, here's a music video that she co-directed with fellow Malaysian filmmaker Ho Yuhang (whose admirable Rain Dogs she had a Cantonese-speaking role; and who also appeared in a Malay-speaking role in Yasmin's Mukhsin!):-

Entitled Here In My Home (what I was tempted to entitle my previous post...), the song's written by Pete Teo, who also produced the music video. Made as a project by a group of Malaysian Artistes For Unity, featured performers include individuals whose faces will be familiar to those who've watched Yasmin's movies... and, also, a smiling Yasmin herself.

Seeing Yasmin in that video is, to say the least, a bitter-sweet experience capable of evoking smiles as well as tears. Just like pretty much all of her work, actually. So once again, I have to say (write): thank you, Yasmin. And may you rest in peace.

Home in Penang

Penang town scene (complete with blue skies,
low buildings and a narrow road laden with
private vehicles -- in other words, one that's
a far cry
from that of Hong Kong's in so many ways!

Greetings still from Penang! As some of this blog's regular readers have already surmised, the primary reason why I've returned to my home state for a short visit is to see for myself how my mother's doing. Thus far, I have to say -- touch wood but so far, so good. In fact, my mother appears to be doing better than I dared to have hoped: not only eating well and but also fit enough to do such as go on short walks (up to four short circuits around the neighborhood as of yesterday) each evening.

One activity that she rues still being unable to do though is to drive a car. Unlike Hong Kong, private cars are what you really need to get around town in a part of the world with a much vaunted highway system but whose public transportation is neither considered reliable nor "prestigious" enough for most people to want to make use of. (I've taken to trying to count the numbers of taxis and buses I pass by whenever I travel around town but many a time, I don't spot even a single taxi or bus on a car ride from one place to another!)

The truth of the matter, though, is that whenever I return to Penang these days, I actually spend the bulk of my time back within the confines of my family home -- almost only venturing out to do such as go foraging for good food (and, to be fair, also to book stores -- as for all of it often seeming like a kampung (Malay for village) relative to Hong Kong, it actually does have a wider range of English language books on sale than "Asia's World City").

One way of looking at it is that it goes to reason that I'm a homebody in my home state. Another less cheery way to view the way things are, however, is that what with my having spent more years outside of than in Penang, there often can feel as though there's not much left for me here besides family. On a more positive note, accentuated no doubt by my parents' presence here, Penang is a place where I can go home to "chill", de-stress and relax for a bit before returning to the hustling, bustling, fast-paced Hong Kong -- whose pulsating energy usually invigorates but also can, admittedly, occasionally drive one to exhaustion!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Low (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I enjoy
hiking in Hong Kong. Since one of my criteria for selecting the hiking trails I go on is that they show me a different part of the Big Lychee from where I've previously been, I tend not to hike in the same area more than once -- with one notable exception: Tai Tam Country Park on Hong Kong Island; which is not only conveniently accessed from where I live but, also (as I trust that this week's Photo Hunt photos show) has some truly beautiful sections to boot (including around its reservoirs).

More specifically, this week's pair of Photo Hunt photos are of the bridge over a river near the Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir that I've walked over on one hike and spied on two different others. The first time I did so, it was during the dry, winter season; whereas the two subsequent spottings have been during the current wet, summer season. Consequently, whereas the water level is still on the low side in the second (and later) photo, with a few feet to go before the water would reach to the top of the bridge, it still is markedly lower in the first (and earlier) photo.

All told, what a difference a few rainy months and inches of water can make! Still, either way, the combination of bridge, water and green surroundings do make for a pretty sight, don't you think? :b

Friday, August 7, 2009

Polyglot Penang

A commercial establishment in Penang that,
as can be seen by its signage, caters to
a clientele that speaks Malay, Tamil,
at least one Chinese dialect or English

A joke about languages I heard some years back goes like this: "What's someone who speaks three languages called?" "Tri-lingual." "What about someone who speaks two languages?" "Bi-lingual." "How about someone who speaks only one language?" "American!"

Although Hong Kong is a predominantly Cantonese-speaking society, one also can get by in Asia's World City knowing just English. At the same time, and increasingly, one hears Mandarin being spoken on the street, in MTR trains and stations and elsewhere by people ranging from tourists to business folks.

Still, for all of the Big Lychee also being home and work place for a diversity of linguistic groups (including those whose ancestors hail from Shanghai, Swatow and elsewhere in China besides the Pearl River Delta, India, Nepal, Britain, Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and elsewhere), it still can make for a shock to return home to Penang -- where I'm currently visiting for a week -- and see a truly multi-lingual (as well as -cultural) society in glorious action.

On a visual level, there are all these commercial signs in different languages (and scripts). And even though the road signs tend to only be in the national language, the names on them (e.g., Lebuh Macalister (Macalister Road), Jalan Ramanathan (Ramanathan Road) and Jalan Lim Lean Teng (Lim Lean Teng Road)) bear witness to Penang's history being multi-lingual and -ethnic.

But whereas written forms often stand separate from one another, the ears will discern how poly-lingual and -glot things really can get over in this part of the world. For one thing, Penangites tend to be like other Malaysians in having a tendency -- propensity even -- to switch languages mid-conversation (sometimes even mid-sentence).

For another, what with Penang being an Hokkien majority state -- in fact, the only such linguistic entity -- in Malaysia, it is quite likely that ethnic Malay, Indian (usually Tamil but also such as Sikh or Ceylonese) and Eurasian Penangites can and will converse with an ethnic Hokkien Penangite in Hokkien as well as the more usual (in Malaysia) Malay or English.

Thus it is that if the joke I told at the beginning of this entry were told about Penangites, it'd have to be reversed -- except since a fair few Penang folks actually know more than "just" three languages, it'd have to go as follows: "What's a person who knows one language called?" "Mono-lingual." "Two languages?" "Bi-lingual". "Three or more languages?" "Penangite"... ;b

Monday, August 3, 2009

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

I hiked some 20 kilometers from Shek Pik Reservoir to Tai O back in February 22. (And, for the record: yes, it's the longest hike I've embarked on in Hong Kong to date.) A lot has happened since then. And a lot has happened as well since I put up my second photo-essay of that hike just a little over two weeks ago. But, finally, here's the third -- but not yet final! -- photo-essay chronicling that hike; one which effectively chronicles part of the route, albeit in reverse, that makes up Stage 7 of the Lantau Trail (which, more than incidentally, is relatively flat yet listed as "very difficult"!):-

Before anything else: here's another look at
part of what remains of Fan Lau Fort

A view of part of Fan Lau Fort and
the surrounding area that I got
as I sat and had my lunch that day

The Fan Lau Peninsula also is home to
a Tin Hau temple -- one, alas, that we didn't visit
but, instead, only saw from up hill

This is Hong Kong? Yes, indeedy --
its southwestern corner, to be exact!

I wasn't kidding when I said that the air cleared
and things got brighter and more beautiful
as we went along the hike that day! :)

The last of that day's mist lying over a hill top

A shrine in Fan Lau Sai Wan that is far more
approachable from the sea than land -- and which
I suspect was established, and remains
largely patronized, by local fisher folk

Even in this remote part of Hong Kong, there are
signs of civilization and continued inhabitation

To be continued -- at least once more!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Entertainment (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

If you read the About Me section on this blog, you'll find that being a Hong Kong film fanatic and culture vulture are pretty high on my descriptive list. And for all the derogatory talk that Hong Kong cinema is dying (well, yes, it's not currently experiencing a golden age but it really does still make, and is the setting for, more movies than a territory the geographic size of Rhode Island and the population size of North Carolina has a right to!) and Hong Kong being a cultural desert, I really do think that there's a lot of entertainment of a cinematic and cultural nature to be had in the Big Lychee.

As an example, last weekend's activities included my viewing two movies (one current and one at the Hong Kong Film Archive) and also attending the A Cross-Rhythms Concert at the University of Hong Kong's Loke Yew Hall that featured percussion performances by an African drumming master, an Indonesian gamelan troupe and a Korean percussion group, among others.

While the performances were enjoyable enough, the icing to the cake (and why I chose this particular event to highlight for this week's Photo Hunt) was the event's venue. A friend who is more culture vulture than film fan complains that it's acoustics are not great.

I see his point but don't care too much because of its Lust, Caution connection. Put another way, it turns such as attending a trans-cultural concert into yet more confirmation that I really do live in Movie Mecca... ;b