Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From misty Ngong Ping to sunny Cheung Sha Beach (Photo-essay)

Hi once more -- and much thanks who registered their concern, etc. elsewhere on this blog. The news from my computer doctor is that my computer has been subjected to a virus attack -- albeit a low level virus. So touch wood that things are relatively okay now -- and in any case, I feel able to get blog again and continue where I left off with last Tuesday's photo-essay account of a Ngong Ping Plateau hike:-

So thick was the fog that came over the Ngong Ping Plateau
that the view from the view compass was of nothing more
than fog and one often had to trust more than one's eyes
that there was indeed a trail to go on ahead!

At the same time, there was ample physical evidence
still of the landslides that had caused
the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail to be closed for a time

Further along the trail, a rustling in the nearby foliage
gave away the nearby presence of this reptilian creature

Wild flowers in bloom add color to
the general natural greenery

Near hike's end, my regular hiking companion and I
found ourselves walking directly under the path
of the Ngong Ping 360 cable cars above!

Back to "civilization" at mist-enveloped Ngong Ping village

A bus trip away -- sunny Cheung Sha Beach the same day!

Same day, same island (Lantau) --
what can seem a world away (but actually is not! :b)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Quick note

Sorry, no Photo Hunting for me. Among other things, my notebook -- along with the thousands of photos in its memory -- has gone to see the computer doctor! Fingers crossed, its health will be restored soon...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

At ART HK 11

Liu Wei's oxhide, wood and metal
Don't Touch at ART HK 11

Art works, the absurd and crowds come together
at Hong Kong's premier visual arts event

At opening night, some eye-catchingly attired
members of the audience compete with the art
for attention and to be in the frame!

As many a local culture vulture knows, the Big Lychee has a distinct cultural year whose highlights include the Hong Kong Arts Festival taking place in February and March, the Hong Kong International Film Festival taking place around March and April of each year and Le French May increasingly extending into April and June as well as having plenty of events scheduled for the fifth month of the calendar year. And although it's only four years old this year, the Hong Kong International Art Fair (AKA ART HK) definitely also has become a "must attend" event for those with a love of visual arts.

Last night, I went to the vernissage (AKA opening night) of ART HK 11. Because of work commitments, I only got to its Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre venue in Wan Chai around 7.30pm -- so only had an hour and a half or so to say hi to friends who were already there as well as check out the rich assemblage of works on display there courtesy of more than 260 art galleries from 38 countries.

Almost one of the first things I was told upon getting there was that "Gigi Leung's here!" Although I didn't catch sight of the singer-actress, I did witness one of my friends cum colleagues gawping -- and threatening to swoon -- at the sight of a handsome young artist that she confessed to having a crush on.

In all honesty, however, I tended to fixate more on the art on view -- and this year, there really were much more recognizable works by famous artists (including dead white men like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Camille Pissarro as well as living individuals like Takashi Murakami (whose smiling flowers invariably bring a smile to my face), Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, Julian Opie and Bridget Riley) than previously.

At the same time, it also is true enough that works by less well known artists are quite capable of catching one's attention and eye. And for those who wonder: while it is undoubtedly the case that the galleries taking part in ART HK are there with the intention of selling the works they have on display, I really do think that it is very possible for one to have an enjoyable -- and educational plus aesthetically pleasing -- time at this event (which goes on through to this Sunday) even if one is there just to look (as opposed to be looking to buy). :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ngong Ping Plateau hike (Photo-essay)

Back on July 4th (American Independence Day!), 2010, my regular hiking companion and I headed up to the Ngong Ping Plateau to temporarily escape the summer heat and hike along Section 4 of the
Lantau Trail. Upon getting to the starting point of that stage 4, we found that it had been re-routed due to landslides two Novembers earlier. On top of it all, weather conditions at the plateau were far mistier than we had expected than it would be.

As luck would have it though, we ended up having a hiking experience that proved pretty memorable as well as enjoyable -- not least because the mist transformed the landscape into one that actually was on the mysterious side. In addition, along the way, we "discovered" a hiking trail -- the Nei Lak Shan Country Trail -- that had hitherto had been unknown to us that we not only proceeded to partially hike that day but found so interesting that we resolved to return to check out the entire circuit the following weekend! And while that later hike did turn out to be a truly superb one, this one wasn't too bad either as far as views and experiences go -- and here are some photos to prove it... :b

Misty clouds at Ngong Ping Plateau

A moss-covered tree provides testimony
of the humidity of Ngong Ping Plateau

Just one example of the many types of exotic flowers
that can be found on Hong Kong's largest island

The Wisdom Path that looks to only impart wisdom
to those who are able to read Chinese script :S

A colorful phoenix sculpture and wooden archway
signal the start of Lantau Trail Stage 4

View of the Shek Pik Reservoir and neighboring portions
of Lantau Island from a portion of Lantau Trail Stage 3

Scenic junction where the Lantau Trail meets the
Nei Lak Shan Country Trail

The point in the hike when the mist started to
come over and obscure much of the landscape

To be continued...! ;b

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Oyster meal memories

The raw seafood platter
that I had for lunch yesterday

Yesterday, I ate my first raw oysters since a dinner platter worth of them gave me food poisoning around a year ago. I am happy to report that nothing physically untoward has happened to me in the close to 28 hours since I caved in to a strong craving for that shellfish and went to Casa Fina for a luxuriously delicious meal of half a dozen raw oysters (two American Kumamoto, two Irish gigas (the tastiest of the lot!) and two Scottish rock oysters), two large Canadian whelks and a bowl of lobster bisque.

At the same time, however, I reckon that it will be a while before I partake of this fare again because, frankly, the price of oysters in Hong Kong is on the high side -- especially in relation to frankly better oyster meals I've had elsewhere in the world (as well as meals featuring other kind of good food to be had here in the Big Lychee).

Funnily enough, the top three raw oyster meals that I've had to date have been on the budget side. One of these was even completely free of charge -- courtesy of a friend of my father's who, on a visit to Penang from his native Australia, gifted us with a crate of raw oysters that was so large that my parents felt obliged to give away dozens to other friends because it was felt that my family couldn't possibly eat even one quarter, never mind all, of the gifted bivalves before they spoiled! (And for the record, I had at least two dozen of those critters on my own for dinner that night!!)

The other two raw oyster meals I recall most fondly took place over two consecutive evenings of a road trip I took with a friend one spring that took us from Philadelphia down to Beaufort, South Carolina (where The Big Chill was shot!) along a meandering route that saw us making sightseeing stops at places including Annapolis (the capital of Maryland and home to the United States Naval Academy), Wilmington, North Carolina (the very livable looking hometown of basketball legend Michael Jordan), New Bern, North Carolina (where Pepsi Cola was invented), and Charleston (the architecturally impressive South Carolina town that's home to The Citadel made infamous by Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline).

While in North Carolina's Outer Banks, we chanced upon a sea-side restaurant that was offering one dozen oysters on the half shell for US$6.99 (just a little more than the price of a single oyster at Casa Fina!). Granted that this was close to a decade and a half ago but I'm sure you'd believe that even then, the price -- for what I presume were local and consequently very fresh oysters -- represented quite the bargain!

Although I can no longer recall the name of the eatery in question, I definitely can remember how my friend and I proceeded to have two dozen oysters each - washed down with a couple of Bloody Marys each -- the first night. The second night, we moderated ourselves -- and ordered just" one dozen oysters each along with a serving of clams (also being offered at a bargain price) that we individually clothed with a decadently buttery dip before consuming. And, yes, we washed it all down with some more Bloody Marys -- having decided that they were the perfect drinks to go with the seafood we feasted on.

While quantity is not the same as quality, I have to admit that my memory of other oyster consumption featuring fewer oysters pale compared to those three oyster feasts. Thinking some more, it's also a factor that on most other occasions, including dinners at ritzy restaurants in London (including Scott's in Mayfair), oysters only have featured as appetizers rather than as the entire or even main course.

Then there are the times when some other things about the eatery I ate at stay more strongly in my memory than the taste of the oysters I had there. Specifically, when I dined at the Oyster House in Philadelphia, I couldn't help but be aware that I was the only non-Caucasian -- and almost the only non-male -- customer in there. (However, my love of oysters is that strong that this didn't entirely put me off going there more than once when I lived in the City of Brotherly Shove. And, to be fair, I never felt like I was treated badly as a customer at that establishment.)

A question to those of you who have read this far down this entry: do you eat raw oysters? And either way, what's behind your decision? I ask because I've discovered over the years that oysters are one of those things that many people won't countenance eating even while others like me consider them a great delicacy. (At the same time, I have to admit that, even if given a chance, I don't think I'd want to eat these bivalves every day. Rather, I think they're one of those foods best reserved for rare occasions -- this way, I do treasure the opportunities to eat them (all the more)... especially if they don't make me sick after doing so! ;b)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cluttered (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

If truth be told, one very easy way for me to get appropriate photos for this week's Photo Hunt would have been to go about snapping shots of the cluttered interior of my apartment. But rather than doing that, here's presenting more interesting and colorful sights found while strolling about in Hong Kong!

Looking at those photos as well as around me as I write this entry, I got to thinking how there can be a fine line between clutter and outright mess; and how although the photographed street scene and shop store front may look to have many jumbled up elements at first glance, it also is so that there actually is an order to the overall pictures -- a method to the apparent madness, if you will.

In the case of the street scene, its cluttered "feel" comes from such a narrow vertical space having so many horizontal layers. Put another way, take away the individual store signs hanging one or more floors above street levels and the similar profusion of shop awnings that protect the space below from sun and rain and that area surely won't feel that cluttered!

As for the store in the second photo: I'm sure its manager/proprietor knows exactly what is where and will be able to locate an item from that clutter very quickly should a customer ask for something it stocks and sells (even if the customer might feel too visually overwhelmed to find it him- or herself)!

Something else to consider is that people unaccustomed to viewing Hong Kong shop displays are likely to be thrown off by how many street-level shops here have open store fronts and regularly maximize their floor and overall display space by putting things right up front. To me, this says something not only about how space is at a premium in this part of the world but, also, how unlikely it is here that someone would think to take criminal advantage of this display propensity to shoplift or run off with an item or more off those front displays -- thus showing in one more way how Hong Kong really is a place with a very low crime rate (touch wood! But, more seriously though, yes, it's something for which I do regularly feel very grateful).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Seasonal Musings

Autumnal colors on view while out hiking
in Tai Lam Country Park one day last November

Heathery colors of the sort I associate with cool(er) climes
on view on a December hike in Lantau South Country Park

As I write this entry, tunes from Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons play in my head; the result of having spent a couple of hours earlier this evening at the Hong Kong City Hall listening to -- and watching -- James Cuddeford and other members of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta in concert playing that thoroughly enjoyable work (and then, after the interval, Luke Dollman conducting the orchestra performing Ludwig van Beethoven's sublime Symphony Number 6 in F, Pastorale).

As is often the case, I found myself letting go of a substantial amount of my stress at the concert -- and also letting my mind wander at the same time as I took in the music. And this evening, as the Hong Kong Sinfonietta played Vivaldi's set of four violin concertos, I found myself musing on how my favorite portions of that musical work mirror my favorite seasons of the year -- in that both with regards to the Vivaldi set and the actual four seasons, I like autumn and winter best, and summer the least.

To be sure, when I was at boarding school in England and college in the U.S.A., summer was a season I looked forward to -- as it represented a long vacation period early on and, then in my later college years, the time when I could go on such as archaeology field school (how I spent my sophomore year summer!) and a museum internship (what I did the summer of my junior year!!). But the more years I spent in the U.S.A., the more I got to realizing that many an American building just isn't an ideal place to be in during the hot summer months...

Here in the Big Lychee, while I've sometimes felt in the winter months that the Hong Kong apartments I've lived in would be quite a bit more comfortable if they had more insulation, it also seems that the same spaces can get too hot in summer. (Put another way: Hong Kong apartments appear best suited to the not-too-hot, not-too-cold seasons of the year that are spring and autumn!)

As for why I don't like spring as much as autumn and winter: In Philadelphia (which, together with South Jersey, has been labelled as a "pollen capital"), it was because spring represented allergy season for me (and many others); while in Hong Kong, it's because spring has heavier amounts of rainfall than either the fall or winter (though still much less than summer) -- and rainy days just aren't optimal hiking days as far as I'm concerned!

What with it now most definitely feeling like summer (with even City Hall's air-conditioned Concert Hall having been on the overly warm side this evening), I can but look forward to a day a few months from now when there will be clear signs of the return of autumn. On that dry day, the air will feel less humid -- and the temperature will approach nicely cool, even appealingly crisp, levels.

In the meantime, I'll be glad for contraptions such as fans and air-conditioners that help cool and put some breeze into the air... And yes, I do indeed have one of them on right now as I type out this sentence. Otherwise, I'll be dripping sweat onto my nice computer keyboard -- and we certainly don't want that happening, for the sake of the computer as well as this blogger! ;b

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hike along Hong Kong Trail Stage 4 (Photo-essay)

Back on a wintry day early in 2008, I went hiking with a friend along Stage 4 of the Hong Kong Trail from Wan Chai Gap to Wong Nai Chung Gap. Although misty conditions prevented us from having stellar views along the way, it still was an enjoyable enough hike that I decided that it was would be worth repeating -- albeit on a clearer air day.

Thus it was that one day last summer, I decided to go with two other friends along that same 7.5 kilometer trail. And as I trust that the following photos I took that afternoon will show, it really was a beautiful day to be outdoors and tramping about on Hong Kong Island... :)

A section of one of the many hill streams
that flow down a Hong Kong slope

A colorful critter (caterpillar?) spotted making its way
across a muddy gray surface

View downhill towards Aberdeen, including
Ocean Park (and its big Sky Star balloon)

A natural bulls-eye created by a spider! ;b

A flower whose petals are a pleasing --
and unusual? -- blend of white, purple and green

Looking towards Ocean Park again
but from further away

Panoramic view that takes in Deep Water Bay
the exclusive golf club there whose
members famously include
Li Ka Shing

Sign next to Wong Nai Chung Gap Road
at the meeting point of Stages 4 and 5 of the
eight stage, 50 kilometer-long Hong Kong Trail

Sunday, May 15, 2011

De-stressing afternoon on quiet Peng Chau

Quiet beach area along Peng Chau's
northern Peng Yu Path

Farmland and secluded house with the
.99 square kilometer island's highest point,
95 meter high Finger Hill, in the background

Famously low crime as well as car less,
Peng Chau is the kind of place where biking and
walking are the favored means of transport --
and where bicycles don't seem to need to be locked!

"Hong Kong is hectic, crowded and noisy". Thus proclaimed an article on Asia's World City that -- to be fair -- also noted that "Hong Kong is far from just a metropolis full of looming skyscrapers".

But just a less than hour-long ferry ride away from Central, the Hong Kong district where many of the territory's most famous skyscrapers are to be found, lies a part of the Big Lychee where one can easily get away from the madding crowd. Indeed, when I visited Peng Chau earlier today, I found myself alone for much of the time that I was there -- and the predominant sounds I heard were the twitter of birds (and the waves in the areas near the shore) rather than the chatter of my fellow humans or any noise issuing from machines.

Granted that today may have been a quieter Sunday than usual on Peng Chau by virtue of the weather being on the cloudy and gray side, with some drizzles earlier in the day doing their part to make people not want to go anywhere outdoors, and especially not a part of Hong Kong whose main leisure activity may well involve hiking along a series of admittedly not that difficult trails.

Although it's true enough that today's weather was not ideal for hiking (not least because it was very humid -- so much so that ascending Peng Chau's two highest hills today caused me to sweat buckets) nor -- for that matter -- picture-taking, I'm nonetheless glad that I paid my first ever visit to the island today. For one thing, it allowed me to do what I was hankering for: to temporarily get away from other people and feast my eyes on calming green scenery, a smattering of beautiful flowers and some wildlife (including a bird of prey that flew in the sky high above the island, several swifts, some yellow and brown-spotted butterflies, and a number of smaller, predominantly white members of the same insect species).

For another, I found Peng Chau to be another of Hong Kong's outlying islands with its own distinctive charm. For whereas Cheung Chau has a more bustlingly touristy feel on weekends, Lamma's Sok Kwu Wan can seem to be nothing else than a row of seafood restaurants, that same island's Yung Shue Wan has an expat hippie vibe and islands such as Po Toi and Tung Lung Chau look to no longer be home to a substantial community, Peng Chau comes across as having a genuine (sense of) rural island community of the sort that has become thin on the ground in the rest of Hong Kong.

In short: Just four kilometers away from Hong Kong Island is a place that can feel like a whole other world from the stereotypical Hong Kong that "never stops", never mind "never sleeps". And seeing that being in places like this helps me to de-stress, I thus am very grateful indeed for their existence within the Big Lychee! :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Missing/Missed (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Yesterday (Friday the 13th, more than incidentally!) and for much of this morning, I was wondering whether I'd be able to take part in this week's Photo Hunt because Blogger went wonky (doing such as not allowing new posts, making me think I had accidentally deleted a recent blog entry and somehow having my first name appear in place of my initials in the "posted by" spaces of my blog!). And this even more so after finding that my post on the Fringe Club as Hong Kong landmark and movie location had been restored as well as an official Blogger is Back announcement but (still) not (yet) the online home of Photo Hunt founder, tnchick.

However a spot of Googling yielded the information that tnchick's online base can now be found here (and, actually, not so old posts still here too). So eureka re not having to miss this week's -- ironically, enough -- missing/missed-themed Photo Hunt!

In the celebratory spirit, here's posting up four photos taken at a parade of "unicorns", "lions", "dragons" and more to commemorate the Birthday of Taoist god, Tam Kung, one of three festive events that are celebrated on the same day each year (on the Chinese lunar calendar's eight day of the fourth moon) here in Hong Kong. And for the record, yes, this day is a public holiday in the Big Lychee.

Unfortunately for me, however, I'm one of those people who has to work on public holidays (unless they fall on weekends -- since I am at least fortunate enough to now be in a job where I have a five day week). So this year, as with last year, I missed being there for the the Birthday of Tam Kung celebrations which I had so enjoyed attending in 2008 and 2009 (when the festivities had taken place on a weekend).

More than incidentally, the Birthday of Tam Kung celebrations (which center in Shau Kei Wan) tend to be overshadowed by the Cheung Chau Bun Festival held to thank fellow Taoist god Pak Tai on the same day in the year. So much so that there are many Hong Kong residents, never mind tourists, who aren't all that familiar with the annual festivities at Shau Kei Wan.

I, on the other hand, have yet to attend to go to Cheung Chau for the bun festival -- even while I also have been to that charming island a few times (including on the Sunday before festival day last year). One of the recent I've been not completely unhappy to have missed attending that festival thus far is because friends who have attended have complained about the super crowded conditions at the bun fest. At the same time though, I do feel that I have to go one year... otherwise, I'll have forever missed some important part of the overall Hong Kong experience that I so love for its variety, general color and helping instill a sense in me of being truly alive. :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Hong Kong landmark and movie location

Recognize this brick and stucco striped building
from its appearance in more than one Hong Kong movie?

This stairway within that building has featured in at least
two movies I rate highly (i.e., He's a Woman, She's a Man
and, more recently, Beast Stalker)

This blog entry was inspired by two recent events. One of these was the decision by Hong Kong (& Macau) Stuff's Phil (AKA Oriental Sweetlips) to start a blog dedicated to recording Hong Kong (and Macau) film locations while the other was a conversation with a friend about our favorite Peter Chan Ho Sun films that segued into how we both had recognized with a start about entering certain sections of the Fringe Club that it had had served as the location of many a scene in He's a Woman, She's a Man -- my favorite film of the filmmaker who happens to be one of my favorite interviewees of all time (not least because after I stopped my tape recorder and officially ended our interview, we proceeded to talk amovies for another one and a half hours just for fun!).

For those who are unfamiliar with the establishment: the Fringe Club occupies part of the Grade II heritage-listed Old Dairy Farm Depot (with the other part of the building being home to the expat journalist hangout that is the Foreign Correspondents' Club). And although it has the word "club" in its name, one does not have to be a member to check out the visual and performance arts shows that take place there -- or do such as go get a drink and chill at its rooftop bar (where He's a Woman, She's a Man Wing fell asleep while waiting to go for the fateful audition during which she met Sam and Rose, the man and woman she had thought of as the perfect couple).

One floor below lies the Rehearsal Room, a space that's not open to the public but which I got to enter a couple of times to do such as interview Peter Jordan, the director of Ho Chi Minh in Hong Kong, a 2008 theatrical work produced by the Fringe Club. And I have to say that I did manage to keep my cool even while I realized with a start midway through my interview with the director who I first interviewed about the Chung Ying Theatre's production of Cyrano de Bergerac that I was in the room where the funny audition scenes of He's A Woman, She's a Man had been filmed!

To get to both the Rehearsal Room and the Rooftop Garden, one has to walk up a series of stairs that includes that in the second photo at the top of this blog entry -- the same one where Leslie Cheung walked up in a scene from He's a Woman, She's a Man and, close to a decade later, Nicholas Tse chased after Nick Cheung after the latter's character had abducted Zhang Yingchu's character's daughter.

And down on the ground floor of the Fringe Club can be found yet another He's a Woman, She's a Man location. More specifically, the Fringe Gallery -- where I've spent evenings doing such as listening to jazz bands play -- was where Sam (Leslie Cheung's character) enjoyed jamming and performing songs including a lively version of Twist and Shout! with his band.

Should you wonder: yes, I do often think of He's a Woman, She's a Man when I'm inside those parts of the Fringe Club I've mentioned above even while it's also true that I've also come to have many good non-movie memories of those spaces over the years. And it's places like these that really do give me the sense that I'm in a giant movie set when wandering around Hong Kong -- and maybe sometimes in a movie too! ;b

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Central and northern Lamma Island sights (Photo-essay)

Continuing from two Mondays ago with my account via photo-essay of an easy and/but enjoyable hike I went on Lamma Island with my mother one afternoon close to a year ago now; with today's entry focusing on the central to northern Lamma Island section of our interesting sights-filled afternoon excursion...

Surely it isn't just me who thinks this rock
looks like a clothed ape trying to hard
to hide itself
amidst the green foliage? ;O

Can anyone ID the alien-looking bug in this photo? :O

Looking out and back southwards to
Mount Stenhouse in the distance

Flower patch in the foreground, and
Lamma Island Power Plant in the distance

A small but rocky looking beach that,
even if inviting looking, would be hard
get to -- from land that is!

A street in the middle of Yung Shue Wan,
the village that is Lamma's main population center

Physical evidence that Lamma remains
to a hippy element to this day

Not bye, bye, really, but, instead, au revoir! :b