Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pigging Out at the Kimberley

A whole suckling pig all roasted, stuffed and waiting
to be a dinner's piece de resistance

For those who were wondering: in keeping with its
Chinese roots, this pig(let) was stuffed with glutinous rice!

In the middle of this week, I texted my regular hiking companion to tell her that I really wanted to go hiking this Sunday. And it wasn't just because the previous two weekends had been hike-less ones on account of their being on the rainy side either.

Rather, it also was because the past week or so has been a bumper one in terms of pigging out -- what with it including another imaginative omakase meal at Sushi Kuu and a pair of meat-heavy multi-dish dinners at newly opened Japanese restaurants with different friends on two consecutive nights. But the midweek meal that truly got me thinking that I absolutely needed to do some pretty major amounts of exercise this weekend to compensate for my gluttony was one that I had at a Chinese restaurant: to be precise, the Kimberley Chinese Restaurant in the Kimberley Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

With six other diners (all of them female, I will add), I shared two starters, one pot of substantial rich beef and radish soup, a fried salmon skin accompaniment for the soup and a whole stuffed as well as roasted suckling pig. And even while there assuredly were leftovers for people to take home, the truth of the matter is that we all did a pretty good job of stuffing ourselves with the stuffed suckling pig that I've wanted to try ever since seeing the photos over at the Life as a Bon Vivant blog of it along with the other ordered dishes that evening!

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm no stranger to the joys of eating suckling pig -- including back at home in Penang. However, I actually wasn't previously familiar with suckling pig whose preparation included being stuffed with glutinous rice -- and so much so that despite the descriptive efforts of a foodie friend who loves this pig very much, I needed to view visuals of it to really be able to imagine what it'd be like and start hankering to try out the dish.

After finally getting to do so, I have to state that the pig actually looks more interesting than it tastes. On the positive side, the cook(s) did a very good job of roasting the meat and making it so crispy that you can hear it crunching away inside your mouth as you chew on it. Sadly though, the glutinous rice was less tasty than I'd have liked... and I found myself wishing I could spice it up with some cut red chillies and soy sauce... or a dollop or two of Maggi sweet chili sauce!

Still, it was not like I had any problems polishing off that substantial portion of stuffed suckling pig that was put on my plate. Hence the need to go hiking this weekend... which I am happy to report that I was able to do -- more specifically, on an approximately 9 kilometer long trail in Sai Kung East Country Park earlier today despite the weather being unusually warm for February (and maxing out at 25.5 degrees Celsius in the area and 26.6 degrees Celsius in Hong Kong) this Sunday! :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mostly Black (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

More than a decade and a half ago, I spent two years working and living in Tanzania. Towards the end of my East African sojourn, I treated myself to a safari trip that included visits to Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Tarangire National Parks and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Over the course of a few days, I was treated to the sight of thousands of pink flamingos and migrating wildebeest, hundreds of elephants and zebras, and scores of other wild creatures including lions, lionesses and their cubs, cheetahs, hippopotamuses, hyenas, baboons and giraffes. But -- somewhat astonishingly to me at the time -- my safari companion and I discovered that our eagle-eyed guide reserved particular passion and enthusiasm for sightings of rare birds.

These days, when out hiking in Hong Kong, I often think of that guide -- because, if nothing else, hiking in the Big Lychee has taught me to appreciate the smaller and noticeably seasonal, even if not super rare, natural sights. And yes, certain birds definitely fall into this category -- but so too do certain insects such as the super big -- and, yes, mostly black! ;) -- spiders and beautiful butterflies that make Hong Kong their home for at least part of the year.

Oh, and should this Photo Hunt entry have you hankering to see more photos of Hong Kong wildlife, do please feel free to go here and here on this blog for a few more close-up shots of certain of this territory's denizens that I'm happy to see when out hiking (but would be far less happy to see inside my apartment -- as was the case a few weeks ago when a scarily giant centipede decided to visit! :O).

Friday, February 25, 2011

What watching movies made me do!

Not your average tempura platter

...nor your average bowl of chawan mushi

Blame it on Departures -- more specifically, the particular scene in the multi-award-winning Japanese movie whose protagonist is a cellist turned nokanshi (embalming master) where the lead character's boss is shown cooking and then consuming a portion of fugu shirako with great relish. For after viewing it, foodies such as a friend of mine here in Hong Kong and myself found ourselves yearning to try eating what is delicately described as blowfish or pufferfish milt and more baldly as that fish's SPERM.

As one might expect, this particular culinary delicacy is actually not something that is readily available -- and not least because it's seasonal. And, as a matter of fact, last year, my friend and I missed out on trying it because we went to a restaurant that we knew served fugu shirako here in the Big Lychee a little after the season for it.

With that missed opportunity in mind, this year, we decided to pay another visit to the restaurant in question (Sushi Kuu) one month earlier in the year than we did last year -- and were ecstatic to discover on the evening we were there to see that the kitchen did have some fugu shirako available. Alas, after the head chef tested it (by literally touching and stirring some of that sperm about in a bowl with his bare hands), he told us that it wasn't fresh enough to grill like had been the case in that memorable Departures scene.

Cue a strong sense of disappointment and feeling of "so close yet so far. AGAIN". Only... a few minutes later, as we dug into first a tempura portion and then a chawan mushi dish set before us, we got to realizing that even though the chef had decided that the fugu shirako was not fresh enough to consume grilled, he had deemed it okay to consume in the form of tempura and as an ingredient in the chawan mushi! So the wait was over -- at least for non-grilled fugu shirako!!

And for those who wonder: it doesn't have a particular strong taste. Rather, what stands out from the experience of consuming this slightly salty-tasting delicacy is its wonderfully soft, creamy texture. Also, like with, say, clotted cream, there is a richness to the fugu shirako that makes the experience of consuming it seem really decadent and threaten to be overwhelming if you have too much of it but come across as quite divine when partaken in small quantities.

So... would I eat it again? Most definitely! Only next time, I really do want to eat it grilled... like in the film!!! :b

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

From Mount Butler down to Braemar Hill (Photo-essay)

Last Tuesday, I put up my first photo-essay of an 11 kilometer Hong Kong Island hike I went on last spring that conveniently began at the junction of the busy thoroughfare that is King's Road and the uphill bound Mount Parker Road halfway between two MTR stations. This evening, I'm continuing the documenting where I left off the last time: at the top of 436-meter-high Mount Butler.

But while I did feel a sense of satisfaction upon having reached the summit of Hong Kong Island's 6th highest peak even though it is only the 72nd highest mountain or hill in Hong Kong as a whole, the fact of the matter is that the hike was far from over -- and there truly were a number of other cool views to be had before the hike's official end inside Tai Tam Country Park (Quarry Bay Extension) as well as the unofficial one near a stop for buses heading down the hill to Wan Chai, Siu Sai Wan and other points on Hong Kong Island...

A view of the urban jungle from deep within
the Hong Kong Island countryside

The peak with the visible trail is Mount Butler --
and yes, I came down that very trail

to the point where I stood to take this photo :)

Some people don't like seeing urban structures when hiking
but I reckon it adds to the overall
Hong Kong hiking
experience to view them in the distance

This particular trail takes hikers close by
the Mount Butler HF Radio Receiving Station

It also overlaps in parts with Wilson Trail Stage 2
Hong Kong Trail Stage 5

Help with ID-ing this flower would be appreciated!
(In the meantime, I'll just describe it as a pretty
pink flower spotted on Braemar Hill!!)

Natural rock formation or artificial sculptural arrangement?
Either way, one has to weave past them to get to the hike's end!

A scenic rest spot on the edge of the country park
that marks the official end of the hike

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Power Plant in Kowloon Walled City Park

Smoke and shadows...

...and sound and light make for a memorable
Hong Kong Arts Festival evening show
at Kowloon Walled City Park

Make no mistake: the Hong Kong International Film Festival remains the numero uno item on my cultural calendar. But since moving to the Big Lychee, the Hong Kong Arts Festival -- which sometimes overlaps for a few days with the HKIFF but also usually begins a few weeks before it -- is one other cultural fiesta that I have been unable to ignore both personally as well as professionally. (For the record: one of my highlights of 2010 (i.e., best concert) was courtesy of last year's edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival.) And yesterday saw me taking in not one but two of this year's shows.

In the afternoon, I went to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre for a matinee performance of Birmingham Royal Ballet's very lively and enjoyable Hobson's Choice. Then in the evening, I headed over to the Kowloon City Walled Park -- a 31,000-square-meter park set up in the style of a traditional Chinese garden where the Kowloon Walled City formerly stood -- to check out Power Plant, a show that promised to turn the location into "a magical place where art meets nature".

Although the Kowloon City Walled Park is officially open until 11pm daily, I had previously only ever visited it in broad daylight. So I don't know how atmospheric it usually is at night. Yesterday evening, however, the place definitely felt full of atmosphere along with possibility -- what with the artistic folks behind Power Plant putting up a grand show that makes good use of the Kowloon Walled City Park's existing structures, ponds, flora and fauna along with various introduced elements such as disco balls and lights, flourescent tubes, fire, smoke, vibrating bells and rotating feathers.

To be sure, some sections of this magical mystery tour of a show proved more eye-catching and attention-absorbing than others. And sometimes it was so dark (and the ground wet as a result of rains earlier in the day) that there were places where people seemed more preoccupied with making sure they didn't slip and fall as they moved along the prescribed route through the park than to look around at the often teasing sights and listen to the generated sounds that sometimes bordered more on the eerie than engaging. But, taken as a whole, my feeling is that this was an awesome show -- and a great bargain of an artistic deal at just HK$20 (around US$2.57 or 1.88 Euros) per entry.

Among the sections that particularly impressed were: Kirsten Reynolds' evocatively psychedelic Sights from the Depths, Mark Anderson's colorful Kinetic Flowers and their beautiful reflections on the water of one of the Kowloon Walled City Park's ponds, Jony Easterby's Worm Can which presents alternative, kaleidoscopic views of insects and flora that show up how amazing the seemingly everyday can be, Ulf Mark Pedersen's impressive Japanese-inspired Wabi Sabi shadow, smoke and light installation, and Mark Anderson's climactic Pyrpophones featuring flickering and leaping flames that appeared to be dancing in tune to the "music" of complex sound patterns.

My most major regret about them all -- and the show as a whole -- is that they are ephemeral rather than permanent in nature. But precisely because they are so, I have to admit to feeling all the more privileged to having been there to witness their presence -- and in a park that I already felt special even without these transformative sensory embellishments that will be there only until March 13th.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

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

Victoria Harbour is one of Hong Kong's greatest assets, a jewel that people marvel at, no matter how many times they visit the city. People come from all over the world to see and admire it. Thus states the Hong Kong Tourism Board website about the natural landform harbor situated between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula whose naturally deep and sheltered waters teem with activity and shores offer up many scenic waterfront views.

For some years now, there has been cries about over-reclamation of land around Victoria Harbour and jokes made about how some day soon, reclamation will make for people being able to walk across it. (As it currently stands, ferry rides across it takes mere minutes.) But reclamation goes on -- like it has for decades now. (Indeed, much of the current waterfront areas along Victoria Harbour -- and quite some meters of space back (including all the way to Queen's Road on Hong Kong Island) -- is reclaimed land.)

Yet amidst all the area's hustle and bustle of on-going reclamation efforts and otherwise, there continues to be places where moments of tranquility can be grasped or at least glimpsed -- places where individuals (like the fellows viewed in silhouette in this Photo Hunt entry) can go for a bit of quiet time away from the madding crowd. Often times, it's with fishing gear -- sometimes not much more than a fishing line minus rod but with hooked bait at one end -- in hand. At other times, it's just to gaze out at the waters and land not so far across.

For my part, I welcome the various photo opportunities that Victoria Harbour offers -- and that even though my apartment doesn't have a much vaunted "harbor view", it's close enough to the harbor front that views like these literally are within walking distance from it. :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lantern festival musings

Lanterns hanging from a tree at Lai Chi Wo
early into this new lunar year of the rabbit

Wider angle shot of the same tree and
the village square
where it stands in one corner

More than two weeks ago, those who use the lunar calendar celebrated a new lunar year of the rabbit. Traditionally for the Chinese, the new year celebrations last for fifteen days -- and on the evening of that fifteenth day, it all culminates in a lantern festival that heralds in the spring and also at times functions as the Chinese version of Valentine's Day.

This evening, however, the weather here in Hong Kong is still too cold (and misty, humid and wet) to feel all that spring-like. And as those who know me know, I almost never am all that romantic inclined. So, rather, than have my thoughts turn to spring or love, I find myself walking down Memory Lane and recalling how, as child in Penang, I loved the lantern festival for it being an occasion which was marked by my parents taking me out to buy a lantern -- and not just any lantern but one which was hand-made from thin wire and a material in between paper and plastic and chosen by myself from what seemed then to my mind to be an incredibly huge design range.

On the night itself, my mother would place a candle inside the lantern and I'd parade the lit lantern about in the garden or sometimes further afield (e.g., at my maternal grandparents' house where I'd join my cousins in an informal parade -- and should anyone wonder why it wasn't my paternal grandparents' place, it's because we lived with them until they passed away as yes, ours was a multi-generational household.) Also, if memory serves me right, these too were nights which would sometimes see me dressing up in brightly-colored "Chinese costume".

But to give you an idea of how long ago all this was, I actually can't remember if that lantern festival I so happily celebrated as a child was the lantern festival that takes place on the 15th night of the lunar new year or the mid-autumn lantern festival that takes place much later in the year! (And what with Malaysia being so close to the equator and therefore having only wet and dry seasons rather than spring, summer, autumn and winter, I don't have any climate-sensitive clues with which to help me narrow the time of the year down!!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quarry Bay to Braemar Hill via Mount Butler (Photo-essay)

How convenient is it to go hiking in Hong Kong? For hikes which effectively begin approximately halfway in between
Quarry Bay or Taikoo MTR stations at the junction between King's Road and Mount Parker Road, it may seem extraordinarily convenient. And yet, quite a few of those hikes should not be underestimated in terms of their difficulty -- including the scenic 11 kilometer hike to Braemar Hill that my regular hiking companion (the fuzzyflyingbunny) I went on one spring day last year that involved ascending and descending three peaks in the form of 436-meter-high Mount Butler and 424-meter-high Siu Ma Shan as well as 200-meter-high Braemar Hill:-

As unlikely as it may seems, this "fake tree" in
what seems like the middle of urban Hong Kong

really is pointing to countryside hiking trails!

But venture less than an hour and around 300 meters up
Mount Parker Road and this is where you'll be...

If I'm not mistaken, these beautiful flowers I spied
along the trail are called
lavender sorrel

The particular hiking trail I chose to go on that day
includes a multi-step section which has come to be
known as
Hong Kong Island's Jacob's Ladder

High up on Jacob's Ladder looking westwards
towards Mount Parker
and the observatory atop it

Visual proof of our having ascended Mount Butler

Something I have come to be familiar with -- this
unmistakeable sign of
there being a trigonometric
station atop a particular Hong Kong peak

View taking in three of the Tai Tam reservoirs from Mount Parker
-- and yes, I wish the day were clearer but it's also true
that the view was already pretty breathtaking that day

To be continued... to be sure! :b

Sunday, February 13, 2011

All's Well Ends Well 2011 (movie review)

Chinese New Year of the rabbit advertising
-- including for
All's Well Ends Well 2011

All's Well Ends Well 2011 (Hong Kong, 2011)
- Starring Louis Koo, Donnie Yen, Cecilia Cheung, Carina Lau, Chapman To, Raymond Wong, Yan Ni, Lynn Xiong, Ronald Cheng, etc.
- Chan Hing Kai (AKA Chan Hing Kar) and Janet Chun, co-directors

Funny how expectations can so affect one's viewing experiences. That was my reaction upon coming out of my viewing of All's Well Ends Well 2011, a Chinese New Year movie that A Nutshell Review's Stefan S largely panned but which I enjoyed quite a bit -- and actually found touching in parts as well as side-splittingly funny in others.

Aside from his review having helped me to go in to a screening of the movie with modest expectations (despite its this particular offering having its share of big name stars -- notably in the form of the top-billed pair of Donnie Yen and Carina Lau (who I nonetheless felt got less screen time than Louis Koo and Cecilia Cheung)), I reckon that it also helped that as the film unfolded before me, I got to thinking of this comedy in which cosmetics and cosmetics industry staffers prominently figure as a follow-up to Chan Hing Kar's La Brassiere (which had Louis Koo and Carina Lau among its stars), Mighty Baby (with Cecilia Cheung in its cast) and -- with Janet Chun in the co-directing seat -- La Lingerie movies.

For although this Chinese New Year movie's title -- and Raymond Wong's involvement behind the scenes (as producer) and in front of the camera (as co-star) in it -- makes much of it being the sixth in a series of festive comedies whose first edition came out in 1992 (and starred Stephen Chow, Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, the last Leslie Cheung, Teresa Mo and Sandra Ng re Raymond Wong), it actually shies away -- with the notable example of Donnie Yen's character -- from its more family ties and shenanigans format and emphasis. (And the fact that the scenes involving Donnie Yen's family are actually pretty entertaining can make one rue the filmmakers' choice to go along the single generational route for the most part that looks to have become the norm in Hong Kong films of the past few years or so.)

So rather than be a family-oriented comedy, All's Well Ends Well 2011 goes in the direction of having at its center two men who were rivals at make-up school but get on the same side after one of them, who has gained fame and adulation on TV, becomes CEO of a cosmetics company and enlists his talented old make-up school-mate to man the counter in a prime location with demanding customers. And, of course, they both experience love in the movie -- though it is interesting that both those appear to be slow-burn affairs rather than ones that involve instant sparks and high tension excitement.

As the TV personality who deliberately cultivates a metro-sexual (even stereotypically homosexual) vibe, Louis Koo is great fun to watch and Donnie Yen does much better than one might expect with a role that has him approaching the art of make up in ways that definitely do bring to mind his roles as a martial arts master. Cecilia Cheung also acquits herself well in a good role as a lass whose personality is more compelling than her looks -- and shows once again that she's got a smile that can brighten one's day upon catching sight of it together with an amazing ability to come across as utterly genuine when she lets the tears flow.

On a less positive note, Carina Lau looks to be coasting in her role of Donnie Yen's character's writer love by posing more than truly acting once again -- something I have come to expect post seeing her in Jiang Wen's Let the Bullets Fly, Stanley Kwan's abysmal Showtime and, also, Tsui Hark's Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame. (As an aside: how ironic as well as disappointing it will be if she finally wins the Hong Kong Film Awards' Best Actress prize this year after not being justly rewarded in previous years for her marvelous work in such as Intimates, Forbidden City Cop and Girls Without Tomorrow.)

In addition, I'm not sure how deliberate it was but Raymond Wong really does get thoroughly out shone on screen by not only Louis Koo and Donnie Yen but, also, Ronald Cheng (who prominently features in the movie's very funny mahjong-playing scene) and -- most obviously -- Chapman To. Although his is technically more of a supporting character than main role (and his first appearance in the movie comes relatively late in the work), this guy gets my vote for generating the most laughs in the movie as a whole -- and while the scene in the nightclub is definitely more eye-catching, I have to say that my favorite part of the whole movie involved his dinner date with Cecilia Cheung's character in a Maxim's MX fast food outlet (which his rich man character had difficulty realizing has different dining "rules" from a "proper" restaurant).

Another development I found interesting was how, although there was a perceived need to include Mainland Chinese thespians (notably in the form of actresses Yan Ni and Lynn Xiong) in this very Hong Kong form of movie, they weren't given particularly great roles -- both in terms of amount of screen time and, also, in terms of character "likeability". At the same time though, there is a scene involving Yan Ni together with Louis Koo, a cameo appearance-making Paw Hee Ching and a little girl that successfully tugged at my heart-strings and brought happy tears to my eye.

In conclusion: even if this movie didn't leave me feeling all's completely well with the world, it did make me feel good as well as generate quite a few laughs during my viewing of it. So even if a bit uneven and not immaculately polished, I'd count it as a pretty successful Chinese New Year movie as well as generally enjoyable comedy that I'm happy to have caught so early in the new lunar year of the rabbit. :)

My rating for the film: 7.5

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Education (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

If these walls could talk, they would have much to tell us about education -- particularly that which takes place in far flung rural areas in Hong Kong --for they belong to the now ruined buildings of the abandoned Lin Fa Shan School that now lies in the middle of Tai Lam Country Park (which came into being in 1979) -- and which I've encountered on hikes through that section of the Big Lychee.

According to the country park's website, In the past, tungsten and other ores were mined in Lin Fa Shan near Route Twisk. Production ceased after the war as ore prices dropped, but old mines have remained to this day. (Hmmm... so... maybe the "hidden holes" and "hidden caves" that I got warned about in Tai Lam Country Park are the entrances to some of these old mines?)

Although I have seen my share of abandoned and semi-abandoned villages while out hiking in Hong Kong, I actually didn't see any in Lin Fa Shan -- aside from the ruined school buildings there that is. And internet searches post-hike have yielded very little information indeed about the village or the school itself.

So, if its walls could talk, here are some questions I'd like to ask it: When did Lin Fa Shan School actively exist as an educational institution? How many pupils did it have each year? I'm going to presume it was a primary school -- if so, did many of its students go on to secondary school and does this school have any notable alumni? How far away did the pupils live from the school and need to walk to it and back home (since I also can't see any actual roads leading to and from the educational institution)? What sort of education did one receive there? (I'm thinking in Cantonese and pretty elementary -- but maybe more practical-oriented than most too?) Do any of them return to site from time to time -- if nothing else than for nostalgic reasons?

See? This is what happens when I hike in Hong Kong -- or, for that matter, stroll about its more urban areas. That is, I find things that make me curious about this and that part or aspect of Hong Kong society, culture, history and wildlife! (And yeah, I will also say that visits to the blog homes of other Photo Hunt participants do often similarly get me wanting to know and learn more and more about the big, wide, interesting and diverse world out there. So, yes, I do appreciate that this particular meme founded by tnchick is working to encourage and assist my continuing education! :b )

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Yung Pak Corridor hike (Photo-essay #2)

Continuing from last week's Yung Pak Corridor hiking photo-essay... and for those who're into numbers, this was an 11 kilometer hike -- and my 56th post moving to Hong Kong! (And to give you an idea of how far behind I am in my hiking photo-essays, last Sunday, I went on my 84th hike since moving to Hong Kong!!) :b

Deep in the heart of Sai Kung East Country Park
lie large green moss-covered rocks like this one

Nearby flow hill streams around and over which
much vegetation grows (and cast their shadows)

Eye-catching bright yellow wild flowers
whose name escapes me (Can anyone ID them?)

The authorities sure chose a paint color
that would make these railings stand out!

A viewing that would be much improved by the
removal of the wires as well as on a less misty day

A section of woodland that's particular creeper-strewn

Misty view of a section of Three Fathoms Cove
with an artificial shelter area (that when we were there,
someone was steering a radio-controlled boat around!)

The final photo I took on this generally pleasant hike --
despite the misty and humid weather conditions -- was
of a few
of the egrets that are attracted to the
of Kei Ling Ha Hoi (AKA Three Fathoms Cove)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Borderland views

View from Kuk Po, Hong Kong,
across the border to
Mainland China

Just one more from the over one hundred photos
I snapped
over the course of the hike I went on today

Earlier today, I went on a hike that took some 7 hours to complete -- if you include a short lunch break midway through. So am on the tired side -- to say the least! -- but still don't want the day to end without my writing a bit about the hike up in the northern New Territories that took two friends and I from Wu Kau Tang to Luk Keng via Lai Chi Wo, an isolated but well preserved village famed for its fung shui woods that I have long wanted to visit.

On the last leg of the estimated 15 kilometer hike, we were treated to views of Starling Inlet (AKA Sha Tau Kok Hoi) and, across it, the border town of Sha Tau Kok and the Mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen. On at least a couple of levels, these made for surreal sights and experiences.

For one thing, Starling Inlet and Sha Tau Kok are within the Frontier Closed Area of Hong Kong that Hong Kong residents (besides those who reside in those areas) are generally barred from entering. For another, like other parts of Mainland China, Shenzhen is a place that the likes of me require a visa to enter. Thus it was that I was gazing out at places -- and within touching distance in the case of the Starling Inlet -- that I technically cannot enter without getting official permission from Hong Kong proper.

In addition, it just happens to be so that the part of Hong Kong that I was in is on the rural -- if not naturally wild -- side whereas the part of Mainland China across the water is one of the more physically developed sections of the territory. Thus it was that I found myself gazing out at the kind of built-up area one tends to associate with Hong Kong -- but which actually is not in Hong Kong -- from the kind of rural area in the territory that is a very far cry indeed from the high density concrete jungle that many people think that all of Hong Kong is. Alternatively put, what an inversion of stereotypes -- but also a fearful visualization of what is to come years from now -- when Hong Kong it is that looks like the backwater vis a vis Mainland China!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fashion (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As those who know me well know full well, being fashionable just is not my style. (E.g., I still regularly wear an old school scarf that is now decades old and a couple of sweaters that date to my undergraduate days!) Consequently, this week's Photo Hunt theme was one that I found more difficult to come up with photos for than most -- for even while Hong Kong most definitely has its share of fashionable folks (and bona fide fashion victims) as well stores selling high fashion goods, the fact of the matter is that this is one section of the Big Lychee that I am pretty content to not be a part of.

Alternatively, I also think it safe to say that I am one of those people who makes more than her fair share of visits to museums -- and this being fashion-loving Hong Kong, the fashion and museum worlds do meld on occasion. More specifically, the mega show at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 2009 was Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation -- an exhibition of selections from the Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la Création collection that included artworks by such as Andreas Gursky, Gilbert and George, Takashi Murakami and Cao Fei -- while in 2010, the Hong Kong Museum of History's The Evergreen Classic special exhibition took a look at the qipao (AKA cheongsam), the Chinese dress that, among other things, is a major visual element in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love.

Incidentally, the Louis Vuitton flagship store here in Hong Kong has a space for rotating art exhibitions within it. However, I have to admit that I've never been in it -- this not least because whenever I pass that store, I actually see people having to wait in line to enter it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Love Hong Kong (movie review)

...and I love this movie! :)

I Love Hong Kong (Hong Kong, 2011)
- Starring Tony Leung Kar Fai, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng, Anita Yuen, Stanley Fung, Aarif Rahman (AKA Aarif Lee), Mag Lam, Clorinda Chan, Bosco Lam, Wong Cho Lam, Lam Suet, Wayne Lai, Wu Ma, etc., etc.!

- Eric Tsang and Chung Shu Kai, co-directors

Before anything else, here's wishing this blog's readers -- especially the old faithfuls among you ;b -- kung hei fat choi and happy new year -- since today is indeed the first day of the new lunar year of the rabbit! And lest anyone wonder: yes, this Hong Kong filmophile has managed to get the new year off to a festive and fun start by taking in two enjoyable Chinese New Year movies (Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, followed by I Love Hong Kong) earlier today with large -- and largely appreciative -- audiences.

Additionally, although it's very early in the year still, I'm going to stick my neck out and predict that I Love Hong Kong is going to be a commercial success along the lines of 72 Tenants of Prosperity, Eric Tsang's Chinese New Year offering from last year -- or, at the very least, emerge tops of the Chinese New Year box office charts over a competitive pack that includes yet another installment of the All's Well, Ends Well series and Hollywood offerings such as The Green Hornet (with Jay Chou as Kato) and Category I-rated Yogi Bear and Tangled. (Oh, and Shaolin and Let the Bullets Fly remain in cinemas, and consequently in the frame, too!)

An archetypal Chinese New Year movie in that it mixes together guffaw-inducing comedy, feel good vibes, touching moments that brings tears to people's eyes and star power galore (complete with boasts of its having a cast of 198 stars!), I Love Hong Kong is also essentially a buddy movie revolving around two men who grew up in a public housing estate and, decades after moving out of their modest homes, return to the old neighborhood and, in the process, rediscover the ties that bind them to each other but also the community at large.

After his business goes bust (due to the world economic downturn that caused various clients of his, particularly in the US, to cancel their orders), Ng Shun (Tony Leung Kar Fai), his wife (Sandra Ng) and three children (Aarif Rahman, Mag Lam and Clorinda Chan) move into his old family apartment which now officially has only one tenant in the form of his bone-setter father (Stanley Fung). Although this results in a living situation that is on the cramped side, his understanding wife is moved to observe that maybe their changed circumstances might have a silver lining in terms of bringing the family closer together. And while there is some initial wailing about how little room there is for their stuff (not to mention private space within the place for each individual), the family does seem to quite quickly adept to their new situation and make the best of it.

Of course, this is not to say that this latest phase of their life is not all smooth going. Sandra Ng's character, in particular, encounters problems when out shopping in the housing estate's market and out at the workplace she returns to, only to find that a former underling has become the boss from hell. (But rather than portray these aspects of the story in a dramatic way, they get played for laughs; a good deal of which come out of the multifaceted star actress showing that she remains very game to do whatever it takes to get people rolling in the aisles.) In addition, some angst -- and further physical comedy -- comes out of it turning out to be the case that Ng Shun's old flame, So Ching, (Anita Yuen), also had recently moved back to the old housing estate.

As it so happens, however, the most dramatic development for Ng Shun turns out to not be re-encountering So Ching but, rather, the return of another integral link to his past to the scene. Years ago, Lung (Eric Tsang as an adult; Wong Cho Nam as a youth) had left the neighborhood in a way that had caused Ng Shun (played as a youth by Bosco Lam) to regret their having been best buddies. But now Lung appears to have returned with nothing but good cheer and intentions... and, in his own way, proceeds to help Ng Shun and his family strengthen their ties to their new/old community.

A film clearly designed to appeal to a wide age range, I Love Hong Kong has a nostalgic streak that those who remember the good old days will appreciate but also contains topical commentary and jokes galore of the kind that shows that it clearly is aware of contemporary concerns (and, also, that its filmmakers have a welcome bite and cutting edge to them. In particular, I loved the barbs it threw in the direction of Cafe de Coral and Link REIT.). In any case, it unquestionably is a very Hong Kong movie-- both in content as well as form -- and I have to say that I love it all the more for being so!

My rating for this film: 8.5

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Yung Pak Corridor hike (Photo-essay)

When I was young(er), I used to love poring over maps and planning -- or just plain fantasizing about -- where in the world I would like to go visit. Maps produced by the National Geographic Society that came with copies of their monthly magazine that an uncle gave me subscriptions of. A map of (the original) Disneyland gifted by the same uncle. Maps in a beautifully large world atlas belonging to my paternal grandfather. Maps in another, more up to date atlas that I later got to call my own. They all helped me to plan, prepare and dream.

These days, the maps I tend to regularly pore over as well as consult are of a single territory -- that of Hong Kong. And although its 1,104 square kilometers size may not seem like much to many, I have to say that I see so many places on its maps that I want to go to and see for myself. And, yes, hiking is how I get to many of these places in Hong Kong... including those along the intriguing sounding 11 kilometer-length Yung Pak Corridor trail that cuts from Pak Tam Chung across Sai Kung West Country Park to the coastal area along Three Fathoms Cove down south to Kei Ling Ha:-

In the early parts of this particular hike, the scenery
was more agricultural than truly natural

But before too long, we had gone up to
higher ground and left the farming areas behind
-- though, on this hike, never entirely the mist!

On misty days, I've learnt to look around and appreciate
the interesting sights that nature unfurls before one

Is that a large butterfly I see before me there?
(Honestly, I don't quite know for sure!)

Hiking bliss is having hiking companions who also are into
stopping and taking photos of bugs and other neat stuff
one sees while out tramping in the countryside :)

Yes, I really did find this watery sight to be pretty
-- and worth taking a photo of for posterity!

The bare trail was how I like it -- not too dry
yet still not all that muddy (and not too steep!)

But just like in life one has to take the rough with the smooth,
so on this trail one also has to contend with those bits
with mossy stones and wet bits to step on (or around)

To be continued... since, again, I have more photos that I'd like to offer up from a single hike than can be contained in a single photo-essay!