Sunday, January 30, 2011

Revealed: the inventive trick behind the balancing 'magic'!

Two men at work in a Cheung Chau street
while a boy watches and waits... get 'dressed' and thereby prepared
to take part in the 'balancing' act
featured in the parade of the 'floating' children

In my previous blog entry (one with Standing as its theme for the Photo Hunt meme established by tnchick that I take part in on Saturdays), I put up a photo of two young Cheung Chau residents who appeared in the midst of enacting an amazing balancing act -- and promised to put up an entry showing how it was done if enough people asked.

So here it is -- and please don't get upset if the magic now feels gone... this not least because I honestly like finding out how creative and inventive is the trickery behind the 'balancing' and 'floating'! Also, to put things into context: the fact that the people in the photos were so open about what they were doing -- working as they did in the middle of a street in Cheung Chau's main town -- makes me have fewer qualms than I otherwise would about putting up the revelatory photographs.

More re the photos: Those who are wondering how come the store fronts open right on to the street might like to know that Cheung Chau is one of Hong Kong's many car-free islands. Also,, those whose attention were drawn to the dolphin plushie apparently floating in mid-air should know that it actually was suspended on a washing line along with other more conventional items being hung out to dry that day by the people living above the buildings' ground floor shops. :D

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Standing (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

For more than a century (a very long time by Hong Kong standards!), the islanders of Cheung Chau have been honoring the god Pak Tai with an annual commemorative event that has come to popularly known as the Cheung Chau Bun Festival on account of one of its major activities involving a "bun snatching" competition whose contestants vied to remove as many buns as they could off giant bun-covered bamboo towers.

Visiting Cheung Chau last year on the weekend before the festival was due to take place, I not only got a good taste of what was to come a few days later but, also, a concrete idea of how communal at the core at this event which has become a major one on the Hong Kong tourism calendar still really is. Put another way: I saw many local folks hard at work preparing for the island's big day by doing such as baking the famous Cheung Chau buns in different ovens in various parts of the island, stringing the buns together (while being watched over by large, already standing paper-mache effigies of deities) and fixing the buns on to the bun towers.

Apart from the multitude of buns (on the bun tower or not), another novel aspect of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival is its parade of "floating" children where a number of preteen children appear to be performing impossible feats of balance -- and I was lucky enough that day to also see what amounted to a couple of practice rehearsals of that event.

And for those who haven't quite figured out what I'm referring to, check out at the second photo in this Photo Hunt entry (and click on it to enlarge if necessary!). In particular, look at the child casually standing on the red table top and appearing to hold with her right hand a bunch of objects and, right at the top, another child balancing onto the whole affair on just one leg!

So... how did they do it? Well... if enough people request for it to be so, I'll post a couple of other photos tomorrow* that will show the clever idea behind the "magic". (Alternatively, I'll take silence on this matter to mean that people would prefer to not have the magic be lost by finding out how this "feat" gets enacted! :b )

Update: Since yesterday's "tomorrow" is now here, you can go here to see the inventive idea behind the magic. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Violet Hill Path hike (Photo-essay)

Long before his Soft Film blog came about, duriandave and I had already become friends and even met in "meat"- as well as cyberspace. And many months before he decided to call it a day with regards to his latest online venture, I took him on what he came to see as his first real Hong Kong hike -- one that took us from Wong Nai Chung Gap to Tai Tam Road via the same 7 kilometer long Violet Hill Path that I had taken my mother along a couple of years back:-

On the day that we went hiking, it actually was cloudy and
unseasonably humid but the overall visibility still wasn't too bad

Nature and concrete in a single view and photo

A more close-up shot of some of the
rhododendron flowers also seen in the previous photo

One of those sections of hiking trail that
I'm happy to see railings at and for!

Several paths meet at Tsin Shui Wau Au
(AKA Repulse Bay Gap), including those leading
down Violet Hill and towards The Twins

The run off from the Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir
contains beautiful reflections

The reflections on its still waters help make
the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir one of my favorite
of the many reservoirs in Hong Kong

Ending on a whimsical note: doesn't this
tree branch get you thinking of a deer
with very long (and thin) antlers? ;b

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Signage rant

Not the most noticeable signpost in the world

Well, it's about time!!!

Earlier today, I went hiking along Stage 3 of the Wilson Trail, one of Hong Kong's four major long trails along with the Maclehose, Hong Kong and Lantau Trails. Named after one of Hong Kong's former British colonial governors, the 78 kilometer long trail has attracted some criticism on account of many hikers finding the sign posts along it unclear and full of errors.

After reading Neill of Diving Thoughts' account of his hike along Wilson Trail Stage 3, I was prepared for some problems with the trail signage and consequently added an extra hour into the official hike time for just in case. But while my regular hiking companion and I took extra care when looking out for signs to guide us and were able to complete the hike safely before the sun went down, we experienced our own frustrations with the signage along the way -- not just because there was a troubling lack of signs where we could have done with them (e.g., at places where paths divided) but also upon encountering lots of signs where we didn't need them at all (including along sections of the trail where there were no other alternative routes in sight).

A few kilometers along the trail, we encountered an official notice that the Wilson Trail's signage problem has been noticed and steps finally are going to be taken to help remedy the situation (cf. the second photo above). Our reaction? Hell, such actions are long overdue -- considering that construction work on the trail began in 1994 and it was first opened to the public on January 21, 1996 -- some 15 years ago now!

And in the off chance that the officials entrusted with putting up new signage read this and welcome our advice: PLEASE put trail signs around regular people's eye level rather than close to the ground like has been the case to date!!! Also, please make the signs more prominent. As it is, one such as that near Tseung Kwan O Road (see the photo at the top of this entry) are barely visible even from a meter or so away!!!!!

So, I can foresee some readers asking, why -- even though I knew to expect some problems with the signage -- did I elect to go along this particular hike? Because this hike that takes one up and down a few Eastern Kowloon hills (notably 222-meter-high Devil's Peak, 302-meter-high Black Hill (AKA Ng Kwai Shan) and the unnamed -- and actually most difficult to hike up and down -- 281-meter-high hill in between) offers up panoramic vistas galore, a visit to an old fort that had a prominent part to play during world war two, an area where interesting statues galore have been erected and more.

In other words: Yes, the trail is most definitely worth hiking; just make sure when attempting it to bring a map and guide book with you and even then be prepared for some frustration -- of the sort that can lead one to vandalize existing signage (as at least one hiker before us had done) -- and puzzlement along the way! :S

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hands (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

You've got to hand it to the Hong Kong authorities (yes, pun very much intended!): in that they do seem to try to go beyond most other territories' authorities in terms of trying to make sure that those living within their borders do the right thing!

Seeing the above pictured signs (that have images of human hands prominently featured on them): many an individual might get to thinking firstly, what are the chances of encountering cows in Hong Kong and secondly, who would go and blithely attempt to cattle they find wandering about the place. My answer to that first query is that they are higher than many a visitor to the Big Lychee might think -- especially in Sai Kung and on Lantau. And re the second: well... how about the all too many folks who seem to delight in disregarding the law to happily feed -- and thereby play a big part in creating the nuisance that are -- the many and often scarily large groups of wild monkeys in Hong Kong!

My own personal take on these two groups of creatures is that spotting the occasional cow wandering freely on country park and other public space is one of those things that keeps Hong Kong interesting (with the possible action of on Tap Mun, an island with a whole lot of feral cows and their mess!) but that the monkey population has grown too big and bold to the extent that they have become a sometimes pretty scary menace.

And although a story I heard about a monkey jumping onto a hiker's back, unzipping his backpack and making away with some of his food located that particularly bold monkey on mainland China, I can see a day in the near future when something similar takes place in the Hong Kong monkey land centered at Kam Shan (translated from Cantonese as Gold Hill/Mountain but now often frequently referred to as Ma Lau Shan (i.e., Monkey Hill/Mountain) but also taking in parts of Shing Mun and Lion Rock country parks.

So while I did appear to start off this Photo Hunt entry in a light-hearted fashion, I actually do agree with the Country Parks authorities in their bid to curb unwitting urbanites from unbalancing the ecological system by doing such as encouraging feral animals to approach -- rather than steer clear -- of humans and expect to be fed. Put another way: people should keep their hands away from stray and feral animals... unless they want the hands that feed to be bitten -- if not literally, then metaphorically -- somewhere along the line!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My top ten 2010 Hong Kong movies list

One of the posters for the film that gets
my vote of top Hong Kong film of 2010

In 2008, I viewed 37 Hong Kong movies released for the first time that year. The year before (2007 -- the year I moved to Hong Kong), I had watched 30 Hong Kong movies released that year. So it seemed at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 that my contemporary Hong Kong movie viewing numbers were slated to keep on increasing -- only they didn't in 2009 (with my total number of 2009 Hong Kong movies that year being just 26).

But although I don't actually recall 2010 having been a bona fide banner year for Hong Kong cinema, I can report that, on a personal note, my local viewing numbers went up again -- to 32 contemporary Hong Kong movies viewed that year: more, actually, than the number of Hong Kong movies made in other years that I viewed for the first time in 2010 as well as the number of movies from any other territory in the world (including the USA, Mainland China or Japan).

So, equipped with ample movies to choose ten movies I enjoyed from, the following is a list of what got my votes for the top ten Hong Kong movies of 2010:-

1) The Stool Pigeon

Upon exiting my viewing of that which was the second Dante Lam crime drama I viewed on a big screen in 2010, I felt a thudding in my head. Although some might not consider it a good sign, I did -- because rather than being signs of a migraine or tension headache, what I took it to be was a physical manifestation that this film that reunited the two main stars (Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse), scriptwriter (Jack Ng) director of The Beast Stalker (my second favorite Hong Kong movie of 2008) actually had had quite the major impact on me.

Put another way: I found this work which centered on a physically unassuming police inspector whose job is to make use of low level criminals to bust higher level ones and one of his selected stool pigeons to be absolutely thrillingly intense and emotionally involving -- the latter not least because I found the main characters to be so satisfyingly complex and believable, however dramatic the situations they found themselves put in. Additionally, while its two main men were indeed superb, I'd like to give a shout out to Kwai Lun Mei for impressively investing a scene she was in with amazing fury borne out of a desperation that felt all too real.

2) La Comedie Humaine

Having already reviewed this Chan Hing Ka and Janet Chun movie on this blog, I don't see much reason to write much more about the film. Instead, here's taking the opportunity to recount that some years back, I had the privilege of meeting Chan Hing Ka and his frequent collaborator (including on this movie), producer Amy Chin. The official reason was to interview the director about a previous movie of theirs (La Lingerie). But the icing on the cake came after the interview ended and Chan Hing Ka and I hung out and talked movies for fun for a couple of hours, with Amy Chin joining in at some part during the conversation.

One thing that became very obvious over the course of the conversation (that took in the works of Tsui Hark and John Woo as well as their own) was how much they really are film buffs (and not "just" filmmakers). And there's a wonderful scene in La Comedie Humaine that served to confirm this to me -- one that is made particularly amazing by how in the Cantonese dialogue, references are made to a series of Hong Kong movies and in the English subtitles, references are made to a bunch of English language movies -- and both the original dialogue and that reported via the subtitles seemed able to flow so incredibly smoothly!

3) Gallants

As an observer of the Hong Kong cinema scene, it's been interesting to see the reception that this nostalgia-tinged Derek Kwok and Clement Cheung movie revolving around an unlikely group of old school kung fu exponents and youthful followers has gotten in various spheres. At the Hong Kong International Film Festival screening that I attended (and which was graced by a number of its stars and Derek Kwok), the film received the kind of rave reception that many a filmmaker and actor can but dream of. But although it appears to have become quite the film festival favorite overseas as well, it had but a modest commercial run in Hong Kong -- indicating that this is the kind of movie that appeals only to a certain (as opposed to truly wide) audience.

However, if you are a member of its target audience, it would seem that Gallants truly does hit the spot. A well made movie that allows stars of yore to shine as they haven't (been able to) for many a decade, it is full of goodwill and charismatic actors who know how to individually make their mark but also know full well how to work as a team. Let's just hope that after their star turns, Teddy Robin Kwan, Leung Siu Lung, Chen Kuan Tai and Susan Shaw Yin Yin get plenty of roles in other movies -- because, if nothing else, this film showed that they still have so much to offer to Hong Kong cinema (and cinema goers).

4) Once a Gangster

Although some people might think otherwise, Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan never truly came across dangerous, even when young, to me. Instead, I always liked them best in comedies (including, in the case of Ekin, as an overaged virgin in Boys Are Easy and in the case of Jordan, as Wing's best friend in He's a Woman, She's a Man). So it probably was inevitable that I would thoroughly enjoy watching them in a triad movie satire that assumes you know about their Young and Dangerous background/back story and proceeds to take advantage of that in a creative as well as light-hearted way.

Throw in references to quite a few other famous Hong Kong crime dramas, an appearance by hunky Alex Fong Chung Sun (as opposed to the blushingly boyish Alex Fong Lik Sun) and over-the-top scene-chewing courtesy of Candice Yu On On and what you have is a fun treat of a movie that doesn't take itself seriously for movie goers that are capable of enjoying such kinds of works. In some ways, this movie -- including in its easy mixing of comedy and violence (including a scene inside a vehicle that turned out to involve lots of ketchup rather than blood!) -- is a throwback to the kind of Hong Kong movie where anything (or any genre) goes. And for my money, it'd be great if there's more -- not less -- of such in the (near) future!

5) Bruce Lee, My Brother

What with 2010 being the 70th anniversary of Bruce Lee's birth, it was almost inevitable that there would be a Hong Kong International Film Festival programme commemorating the man who may well still be Hong Kong cinema's internationally most recognizably personality even after all these years. Less predictable -- at least to me -- was that there also would be a biopic made of the individual known to Cantonese-speakers as Lee Siu Lung (Little Dragon Lee), that the biopic would actually have far more drama than action, and that it would turn out to be a watchable movie even for someone who's not been that big a Bruce Lee fan for decades. (Confession: as a child, I was a big fan -- and remember having been in utter disbelief as well as devastated at the news of his death.)

Where I think the genius of this movie came is the filmmakers' turning to Bruce Lee's siblings' version of the Bruce Lee story. The result was a work that felt refreshing as well as was valuable in terms of filling and fleshing out some sections of the legendary individual's tale that previously hadn't been that well known -- at least outside of certain circles. And even while some bits do appear to need to be taken with some dashes of salt, others are not only revelatory but do help one to understand and appreciate that he didn't just spring out from nowhere but, instead, possessed an acting lineage that didn't only include older works such as The Kid (1950) and The Orphan (1960) but also Hong Kong acting aristocracy in the form of his Cantonese opera star and sometime film actor father.

6) Dream Home

A tycoon's daughter playing a woman so desperate to get her dream home down to an affordable price that she will kill to make it happen. Only in Hong Kong and only Josie "daughter of Stanley" Ho? The fact that she not only plays the role with such gusto but also pulls it off -- and is the Pang Ho Cheung-helmed film's producer -- is a real credit to her. And it is a real credit to the cinematic work that its horror credentials didn't take all that much away from the seriousness and validity of much of its commentary about Hong Kong real estate prices, related housing issues and average people's salaries in the territory.

7) Fire of Conscience

The first Dante Lam film I viewed in 2010 provided me with a real roller-coaster ride of a movie experience. Filled with highs and lows, it opened with a scene that left me slack-jawed in amazement -- it was that astoundingly innovative and good. Unfortunately (and this is a good part why it is only at number seven on my list), it ended with a whimper as far as I (and quite a few other people I know) are concerned. If only the last quarter or so of the film had lived up to what had preceded it... including some visuals that had excellent special effects and others that made use of the kind of stunt work and dedication to physical acting duty that contributed quite a bit to what made many of us fans of Hong Kong cinema.

8) 72 Tenants of Prosperity

The title and some of the story of this 2010 Chinese New Year comedy set in a Mongkok neighborhood harks back to The House of 72 Tenants, the 1973 Shaw Brothers production credited with playing a major part in reviving Cantonese language cinema. But due to such as it being graced by a lot of faces who are most associated with that era (notably Anita Yuen), this work directed as well as starring Eric Tsang also got me thinking of Hong Kong cinema's most recent golden age -- that of the period between the years 1985 to 1994. To be sure, the nostalgia factor played a part in my enjoyment of this movie that essentially revolves around two rival families headed by men in love with the same woman but the film also possesses plenty of sight gags and in jokes that hit the spot (i.e., my funny bone). Additionally, I can definitely imagine that people who watch plenty of contemporary TVB shows as well as decades of Hong Kong movies would have a lot of extra fun spotting the multitude of stars that appear in this work!

9) Ip Man 2

There's no two ways about it: It was impossible to go into a screening of this 2010 sequel to Ip Man with low expectations. Nonetheless, the fight scenes atop a rickety table in this period martial arts movie which saw the legendary Ip Man pit his wing chun style and skills against more than one skeptical Hong Kong kung fu sifu managed to impress and even astound. No doubt about it: Sammo Hung's choreography is top notch and the veteran still has it in him to come across as a thoroughly credible opponent for Donnie Yen's Ip Man. And I am glad that such good use was made of his talents in this Wilson Yip movie. Alternatively, Fan Siu Wong is sadly wasted in this work. And I have to be honest and state that I wish that Ip Man had been provided with an alternative opponent in his climactic fight -- one that was exciting to be sure but also had certain undertones that were disturbing when viewed in a wider cultural political context.

10) Little Big Soldier

Some years back, Jackie Chan talked about how he made certain movies for the US market and others for the Asian market. While he continues to appear in movies for American audiences, I'm not so sure that he's actually got that much of an Asian audience anymore -- and, in fact, would go so far as to state that the Hong Kong native does not appear to have that many fans left in Hong Kong. At the same time, Jackie Chan appears to have some standing still in Mainland China -- where this Mandarin language period dramedy actioner was shot and is set. And judging from this work which has him playing a farmer coopted into becoming a soldier who yearns to return home to sow crops once more, he may well have some life and good films left in him after all. And -- even better news -- show signs of an overdue coming to terms not only with his no longer being young and needing to grow up but, also, that he is best at playing an underdog in a way that mixes comedy and pathos, and idealism and pragmatism.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hong Kong Trail Stage 7 (Photo-essay #2)

And so it goes... my chronicling via photo-essays of the hike I took along Hong Kong Trail Stage 7 that is! One of the easier stages of the eight-stage, 50-kilometer-long Hong Kong Trail which passes through five Hong Kong island country parks, this one stays for the most part on the border of Shek O Country Park which is much more famed for being home to the Dragon's Back trail that I had hiked a couple of times before I decided to walk this trail that actually ends close to where stage of the Hong Kong Trail that goes onto the Dragon's Back officially begins.

While definitely tamer, I hope that this and the previous photo-essay covering it does show that this hiking trail is not without its views, charms and attractions... even on a day that turned out to include some sprinkling of rain that made my hiking companion and I happy that we had actually thought to bring umbrellas along in our backpacks... ;b

Not one's typical image of Hong Kong dwellings
and the area surrounding them

Not much danger of flooding that winter's day...
but maybe a different matter during monsoon season?

The above photo doesn't do the real view
real justice but a glimpse through the camera
is better than nothing at all, right?

A Hong Kong Trail sign post along the way
doubles as a temporary post to hang one's backpack

while one pauses to rest for a bit

Although Hong Kong Trail Stage 7 doesn't officially lead down
to To Tei Wan beach (home of the
Hong Kong Hobie Club),
it's easy enough to temporarily divert there

Walking on the beach with umbrella in hand
and hiking gear on! ;D

Some of the dreaded 700+ steps that
one needs to ascend to get to hike's end

Several hundred steps up later, one feels that one
has gone some ways towards acquiring buns of steel
as well as (other) reward in the form of views like this one :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

At Fo Tan for the Fotanian Open Studio Days

Venture onto this corridor and into an open door
on Fotanian Open Studio days...

...and you might find yourself in surroundings
such as Chow Chun Fai's wonderful work space

As the proverbial "they" say, never judge a book by its cover. To which I'd like to add "and buildings solely by how they look from the outside" -- and maybe especially in Hong Kong where I currently reside in an apartment in old tong lau which was nicely renovated and refurbished only a year before I moved in, and where more than one former industrial building and area have latterly become the spaces of choice for film companies and personnel, gigs organisers and fine artists.

A case in point is Fo Tan, a suburb of the New Territories "new town" and district of Sha Tin that, as late as the 1970s, was a rural township of about 30,000 people but now is an urban sprawl that is home to over 600,000 people. Developed as a light industrial area, it now may be better known for its artistic community whose members occupy over 80 studios, galleries and related space in this physically unassuming part of Hong Kong.

Ten years ago, members of this community held what amounted to the first Fotanian Open Studio days. This past weekend, I attended the 10th edition of this arts event which has grown to involve 260 artists and more than 80 studios but still remains quite a bit more casual and low key than one might expect -- especially when it counts the Sino Group as a backer.

If truth be told, I found quite the qualitative range with regard to the art on display at the event. Put another way: the works at the first studio I visited left me distinctly unimpressed but I fortunately went on to find art that I could appreciate at other locations on my tour -- notably Chow Chun Fai's studio and Belgian transplant Sarah Van Ingelgom's Blue Lotus Gallery, both of which are located in Wah Luen Industrial Centre that is at the Fotanian art community's heart.

In addition, I have to admit to often finding the space in which I got to go inside more fascinating than the art on display within them. For instance, in Chow Chun Fai's studio, I found a large but cosy space full of books that provided ample illustration that this artist was well versed in art history and criticism, DVDs that showed that he was a major movie buff who really had done his research with regards to his Hong Kong movie-themed artworks and a work desk and related accoutrements to die for! Meanwhile, the Blue Lotus Gallery -- with its white walls and floor and large windows that let in views of a nearby green hill -- had a wonderfully light and airy feel to it.

To say the least, these are not the kind of spaces I expected to find in an industrial area. Alternatively, I definitely can see how they could be the kind of spaces where one can come by artistic inspiration as well as the kind of spaces where art can be exhibited in style. :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shadow (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I am not one to put up photos of myself or family members on it. Consequently, what people tend to know via this blog about my family (particularly, I realise, my mother) is through my writings and the occasional peek of them from the back and/or a distance. As for myself, ditto re the writings and substitute shadow for "from the back and/or a distance". So here's offering up two more opportunities to view me in this Photo Hunt entry -- or, at least my shadow! ;b

Incidentally, the first Photo Hunt week with a shadow theme that I participated in was back in July 2007. And although I had moved to Hong Kong a few months before, the photos I put up (including, yes, of my shadow) were actually taken while out hiking back home in Penang -- more specifically, in that section of the state where the world's smallest national park lies -- rather than the Big Lychee.

This time around, the two photos with my shadow in them were taken while out hiking in Hong Kong and feature natural background "designs" that caught my eye. More specifically, the first photo gives a glimpse of some of the 290-million-year-old Permian sedimentary rocks at Ma Shi Chau, an island in Tolo Harbour that is part of Hong Kong Geopark while the second photo was taken at Tai Long Wan of abstract art-looking patterns formed by a combination of sea water, sand, sunlight and shadow.

And speaking of subjects: I can't remember or figure out if there's another shadow besides mine in the first photo -- but if there is, it would be of my regular hiking companion and show what the two of us do quite a bit of while out in the wilds of Hong Kong besides walking (and huffing and puffing a lot): i.e., pausing to admire the scenery before and around us and putting our cameras to work! ;D

Thursday, January 13, 2011

10 highlights of 2010

One of the many great views to be had
while on my choice of best hike gone on in 2010

A stretch of that which gets my vote
for best beach that I visited in 2010

Last Thursday, I wrote up the latest edition of a series of "looking back at a year" blog entries that I first began in 2007. This Thursday, here's another -- specifically the "10 highlights of the year" list (for which I also have 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 editions):-

Best Beach: Although I was born and lived for many years on a tropical island, I actually didn't frequent beaches in Penang all that much when I was there. But each successive year that I live in Hong Kong, I find myself increasingly being attracted to beaches -- of which it really does have very many -- and being inclined to venture further and further to check out various beaches in the territory. And while Cheung Sha (Lower and Upper) may be among the furthest beaches from where I live in Hong Kong, it (as a collective) is one that I was happy to visit more than once in the summer of 2010 because, with its fine sands, lack of crowds and scenic surroundings, I really do consider it the best beach in Hong Kong -- and maybe in the region (especially based on what I've seen of beaches in neighboring Macau)!

Best Book: Unlike with movies, I don't make lists of the many books I've read each year (or over any period, for that matter). So it can actually be hard for me to remember when I read a book. Largely because I read it while on holiday in Germany though, I can recall that I read Nicholas Drayson's A Guide to Birds of East Africa -- A Novel in 2010. Furthermore, I know that I liked the book so much that it prompted me to seek out Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series after it was likened to them... and would attribute a new found interest and appreciation for spotting birds while out and about in Hong Kong to having read the good-hearted novel about a gentle soul of a Nairobi-based birdwatcher who turns out to be an even better man he appears!

Best Concert: Decades ago, I was forced by my mother to take ballet and piano lessons. Although I never developed a genuine appreciation of ballet, I have come to enjoy classical music -- so much so that I'd say that its my favorite kind of music and that the large number of classical music concerts I get to attend in Hong Kong is one of the great things about living here as far as I'm concerned. So it's somewhat ironic that my favorite of the concerts I attended in 2010 actually involves Latin rather than classical music. But the Cafe de los Maestros concert that was part of last year's bumper Hong Kong Arts Festival really was special -- and not just because so many of the incredibly talented musicians who demonstrably still have that special "it" were of an age that one would normally consider way past retirement and their prime! And the standing ovation they received confirmed to me that I was far from the only person in the audience who felt that way about the music and music makers that evening. :)

Best Encore Performance: I'm not sure if it's my imagination but on more than one occasion, I've felt that the best part of a concert has been the featured soloist's encore performance. And in 2010, two such performances stood out and way above everybody else's. One of these involved violinist Ning Feng playing Paganini's God Save the King at the Hong Kong Sinfonietta concert which he headlined. The other involved Dame Evelyn Glennie at the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong concert at which she was the star attraction. If pushed to choose, however, I'd go with Dame Evelyn Glennie's performance as she blew me away with all the encore pieces she chose to play rather than just one of them -- even while I also will note that Ning Feng's bravura performance of the Paganini piece did leave me slack jawed with amazement!

Best Hike: One hot summer's day last year, my regular hiking companion and I went up to Ngong Ping in search of a hike that we could go on in that highland area that can be 10 degrees Celsius cooler than down at sea level on many a day. Having found not one but two good trails, we ended up hiking in that portion of Lantau Island on two consecutive Sundays. And while the first of these two hikes was interesting (because for much of our time up there, fog enveloped much of the area), the second turned out to be on a major gem of a trail that offers up stupendous views as it circles around Nei Lak Shan, Hong Kong's sixth highest hill -- including, from many angles, of both the Big Buddha and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that it's among the top five of the more than 80 hikes I've now been on the hiking paradise -- yes, really! -- that is Hong Kong!

Best Meal: Close to her birthday (though not on the exact day itself), my mother, a foodie friend, a good friend of hers visiting from France and I went and had the most expensive meal I've paid for here in Hong Kong. Sitting at the bar and opting for an omakase (chef's choice) at Sushi Kuu, I knew beforehand that dinner that night would be pricey -- but I didn't fully realise until I underwent the experience how decadently delicious as well as generally imaginative the food on offer would be. As a bonus, the atmosphere that evening was really excellent -- and no, that's not just the alcohol talking... as my mother didn't drink any of the copious amounts of sake that the others of us had that night and still professed to have enjoyed herself and that meal very much too! :)

Best Museum: Many, many years ago in Europe (more precisely, London's British Museum -- with its mummys, Rosetta Stone and so much more -- and child-friendly Science Museum), I started a love affair with museological establishments that continues to this day. And while I do think that Hong Kong has a number of museums that one shouldn't too easily sniff at, it was in Europe again that I came across my choice for top museum visited in 2010. Cologne's cumbersomely monikered Wallraf-Richartz-Museum and Fondation Corboud has a name that's hard to completely remember as well as say but my positive memories of its magnificent collection and top notch curation should stay in my mind for a very long time. An art museum that truly seems interested in helping one to learn more as well as appreciate the art it has put up on view, it really should serve as an example to the art museum world, some of whose representatives can seem too rarified for their own good.

Best Music Album: For the second year in a row, not only did I buy very few CDs over the year but my favorite music album purchased turns out to be an original movie soundtrack CD. In 2010, the album in question is the Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea CD comprising music composed for the film by Joe Hisaishi. In view of this, I think people can more fully appreciate how very ecstatic I was to be able to attend the concert last year which had Joe Hisaishi conducting the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra playing his compositions (including the Ponyo theme song) on top of two other concerts featuring the performance of the Ponyo theme song -- one of which featured the voice of Ponyo, Yuria Nara; the other had the Four Gig Heads percussion group performing various percussion variations on the Ponyo theme. :)

Best Place(s) to Drink Beer: As certain of my friends know full well, I enjoy drinking vodka martinis and sake. But if pressed to choose just one kind of alcoholic beverage, my choice would have to be a beer -- but one that is served on draft, and the fresher the better. And as I duly discovered on my visit to Germany in 2010, local brauhauses and biergartens are the places where one can pretty much be guaranteed brews that taste amazingly fresh and truly refreshing. In particular, I feel obliged to mention Speyer's Domhof Brewery -- whose biergarten I wish I could have spent more than the mere two hours or so that I did there! -- and Cologne's wonderful kolsch -- which I drank some 1.4 liters of at three different brauhauses in less than 10 hours but, honestly, I'd think it next to impossible to get a good beer from any brauhaus in that land!

Best Restaurant: The proverbial "they" are wont to say that familiarity breeds contempt. However, I find with such as my choice of favorite eatery for 2010 that it's a case of things appearing to get better the more you get to know it and its menu (and its staff get to know you). Although it doesn't have a single one of the many Michelin stars awarded to restaurants in Hong Kong, Jin Luo Bao -- which I first started going to back in 2006 -- has become my "go to" restaurant for Korean food, be it for lunch or dinner, barbecue, jigae, yuk hwe or something else altogether. (And this especially since the last time I visited my second favorite Korean eatery after it had moved a block of so from its original location, I found that quality there has unfortunately dropped...)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hong Kong Trail Stage 7 (Photo-essay)

Some days, I just gotta hike -- and never mind if it's cold or potentially wet. Thus it was that despite the threat of rain, a friend and I decided one gray winter's day to hike from Tai Tam Road to To Tei Wan along a 7.5 kilometer long trail described as an "easy walk" -- and so it is, except for the end part which involves climbing up some 700 steps to Shek O Road and the nearest bus stop!

But before we got to that challenging series of steps, here's some photos of what we got to see along the way:-

Much of Hong Kong Trail Stage 7 goes along
a flat catchwater some people like to jog on

For my part, however, I prefer to go at a slower pace
-- so that I can have more time to admire scenery
like that the verdant greenery in the above photo

View of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir's main dam
from across Tai Tam Harbour

The wonders of having a camera
with 10X zoom... :)

Red Hill (AKA Pat Pat Shan) viewed from across
Tai Tam Harbour -- and yes, I think the old white building
is far more beautiful than the newer bigger ones!

A speed boat goes near to greener, less developed
portions of land bordering Tai Tam Harbour

Probably not big enough to be described as a waterfall
but a pretty picturesque sight all the same!

The temple at the banks of Lan Nai Wan --
visible but too far down and away from
the trail to visit this time around, alas!

To be continued (but of course!)...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Musings on the (culturally) British side of me

Yes, I enjoy eating pie, gravy, chips (with HP sauce
slathered on them) and peas at pubs -- and
feel the meal would be incomplete without a pint!

According to the proverbial "they", a rolling stone gathers no moss. But although I consider myself a rolling stone in many ways, I actually feel that the different places I've been to in the world all have left marks on me and -- particularly in the cases of those where I spent years living in -- contributed to the shaping of my personality and character.

Once upon a time, I was a socio-cultural anthropology student whose specialist areas included the study of ethnicity. (Indeed, I even once taught a 300-level university course on it!) So musing about cultural identity issues is not something that's completely alien to me.

Still, because the anthropological phase of my life was so long ago (to the extent that it can feel like another lifetime), it's not something that I've explicitly thought about for a while. But a remark by a friend earlier this week got me thinking of it once more. More specifically, he wondered how Malaysian I actually remain -- considering not only my years spent away from my native land but, also, the influences that the societies I've lived in (notably that of England, the USA, Tanzania and now also Hong Kong) have had on me.

My immediate reply to my friend's query was couched as a joke -- in that I told him that my love of food remains very Malaysian. (We were having the conversation over a meal.) But another conversation later in the week with a different friend hammered home the fact that unlike many other Malaysians, I am quite happy to go without Malaysian food for months at a time. (Put another way: I refuse to eat Malaysian food in Hong Kong because I just can't stomach the prices of Malaysian food outside of Malaysia and also because my experiences in places like England and the USA have me convinced that Malaysian food is truly only very good in Malaysia!)

Alternatively, the thought also has occurred to me this week, I find myself pining for English food and drink (more specifically, its beers -- ales and stouts) -- and doing what I can to satisfy those yearnings -- every place that I have lived! And especially when the weather turns cold, I actually seem to almost instinctively seek out nice warm pubs where I can find good beer served at room temperature and pub food (including Scotch eggs, all manner of pies and other kinds of food that feel perfect for helping warm as well as fill one up!).

Of course, if they have Arsenal match on TV, all the better! (Though to make me truly happy, the match had better see the Gunners winning comfortably!!) But, yes, I think my love of association football is another British cultural bequest -- though admittedly by way of Malaysia, since my earliest memories of watching Arsenal involve watching them on TV thousands of miles away from their North London home.

Other loves that I have to thank the British for: museums (because the first museums I was taken to as a child were in England); reading (not only is my favored reading language English but the first books I read were by English authors -- notably Enid Blyton!); hiking (since the first countryside tramps I took were in the English countryside); classical music (because the first classical music concerts I attended were in London); and theater-going (with my first theater-going experiences being to plays in London's West End).

In addition, strange as it may seem, I owe an interest in Japanese -- maybe even general world -- cinema to the British -- or, at least, my time spent in England. For it (also) was in the British capital many years ago that I got in a viewing of Akira Kurosawa's revelatory Ran -- the kind of film that exponentially expanded my ideas of what movies are and can be... and ditto, one could say, life in the bargain!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

**Free Week** (This week's Photo Hunt (non-)theme)

What kind of photos do you find hardest to take? For a time, I despaired of ever being able to take a good photograph at night. But since I acquired my current camera close to three years ago now, I've been able to take a number of "after dark" snaps that I've felt good about (like these and these).

Thanks also to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ2, I've found myself able to take some action shots that I don't believe I hitherto would have been able to. Action shots like the two in this Photo Hunt entry -- hence my wanting to take this **free week** opportunity to show them off!

Re the upper photo: Believe it or not, as I was wading in the shallows at Stanley Main Beach one day, I looked down and saw a tiny fish struggling to not be washed ashore by the tide. Caught up in viewing its fight to survive (which it miraculously did win), I managed to also take a few photos for posterity -- of which the one in this entry is the one I like the most.

Re the lower photo: Back in May, I took a day off from work to go and view the Tin Hau birthday celebrations at Joss House Bay. On the ferry back, some people were throwing "spirit money" into the waters in order to get (more) blessings from the goddess of the sea -- and for my part, I did feel blessed to have managed to take a shot of two of them in mid-flight before they hit the churning water. :)