Sunday, July 31, 2011

Up Devil's Peak and down to Lei Yue Mun

View of some of Lei Yue Mun's structures
(and Devil's Peak in the background)

Scenic view from near the top of Devil's Peak

Lei Yue Mun dwellings and -- to the right of the photo
-- the Tin Hau temple by the water's edge

Earlier today, I broke one of the cardinal hiking guidelines I normally follow: "Never hike alone". I couldn't help it. Despite my regular hiking companion being indisposed (due to her having to fulfill a family obligation) and the temperature being on the high side, the sky was such a beautifully brilliant blue and the quieter, greener part of Hong Kong kept on calling out to me.

To make things safer, I opted to go along a route that I had previously been on (with my regular hiking companion): one that took me up to the top of Devil's Peak, where the ruins of a redoubt (that served as a location for Project A according to Hong Kong (& Macau) Film Stuff's Phil K) are to be found -- and great views are to be had.

On the way down, however, a trail I had not previously been on beckoned -- one whose signposts promised to lead me to Lei Yue Mun, a fishing village famous for being one of the places to eat seafood in Hong Kong. Upon following that which actually was a footpath, I discovered that it consisted of stone steps for the most part -- and led me through a wild area above which many birds of prey flew, then a squatter village and down all the way to sea-level, ending near an over 200-year-old Tin Hau Temple that actually still is by a waterfront.

While I enjoyed my time up on Devil's Peak this afternoon, I have to say that the highpoint of today's excursion actually was the time I spent exploring Lei Yue Mun -- a place I had hitherto only viewed from the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbour (and seen featured in Cheung King Wai's All's Right With the World).

Based on physical appearances, the impression I got is that the residents of this part of Hong Kong are among the less economically well off of the territory's inhabitants. At the same time, however, there is a distinct sense of community there -- and one which includes younger members, including families with preteen children, rather than just aged individuals as is the case in places like Tai O.

In addition, there was a holiday air about Lei Yue Mun this afternoon. To be sure, the visitors attracted to this neck of the woods by the seafood restaurants played a part in this. However, I also observed plenty of locals enjoying the air and space out by the waterfront -- doing such as fishing and sketching the scenery as well as just plain hanging out and enjoying the good weather and views.

This, coupled with the people hiking up Devil's Peak -- quite a few of whom had cameras with them ;b --provided some more positive proof that, contrary to popular belief, there really are many Hong Kongers whose primary leisure activity is not (window) shopping (nor, for that matter, just eating!) -- and long may this state of affairs continue! :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Together (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This time last year, I was absent for a couple of Photo Hunts due to my being away in Germany visiting with a German friend who I had met while hiking in Hong Kong -- and who lived and worked in Asia's World City (and happily got permanent residency status in Hong Kong) before getting sent home to Germany by her company.

Before she left the Big Lychee, she invited me to visit her -- and I duly did so a few months after. What made my German vacation particularly cool was that my friend took some days off from work during my stay so that we could go and visit other parts of Germany together. And although she had actually previously been to most of the places we went to together, she kept on assuring me that she was enjoying seeing them in my company -- and that by doing so, it sometimes helped her to view them in a different light.

Among the towns and cities we visited during my 2010 German sojourn were Heidelberg (with its romantic ruined castle), quiet Speyer, charming Cologne and beautiful Mainz. In Heidelberg, we stayed the night with old friends of my German friend -- and I have to say that one of the highlights of my holiday was the post-dinner conversation we had that evening in their home: one which involved talk on a wide-ranging variety of subjects, lots of laughter and also some piano-playing interludes.

All in all, when I think of my German vacation last year, I remember not only lots of visits to cathedrals, museum, biergartens and other beery places but also lots of laughter and great conversation -- the last of which I would not have been able to have if I hadn't been holidaying together with a good friend (whose goodness was evidenced, among other things, in her literally having a hand in all the Puppet Ponyo photos that were taken in Germany, including at the bustling marketplace in Mainz! ;b)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan (photo-essay)

Close to the spot where I took the first photo in the following photo-essay, I heard a European visitor ask why there weren't more people at the beautiful beach that lay ahead. When told that many people thought it was too hot to go on such a long way to that location, he appeared flabbergasted.

Even while I could understand his local companion's point, I also could understand why the European found it hard to fathom -- this not least since, from his point of view, it seemed like perfect beach weather and the beach in question really is pretty scenic.

In any event, I'll let you be the judge and decide whether you think it worth going all the way from Sai Wan Pavilion to Tai Long Wan on a hike that also takes in a visit to more than one beautiful, uncrowded beach on the evidence of last week's photo-essay and also the following one:-

Ham Tin beach viewed from
a point along Maclehose Trail Stage 2

View of part of the hillside hiking path
between Sai Wan and Ham Tin beaches

At Ham Tin, a rickety bridge takes one across a stream
to two beach cafes serving basic food and ice cold drinks

The pineapple ice drink I had at one of the cafes
tasted heavenly that super hot afternoon --
and the view from my table wasn't half bad either!

Yes, this really is Hong Kong! :)

The water beckoned -- and it really was great
to wade about and cool my tootsies in it :b

View from the water's edge

On the way back: one last look at this remote,
close to paradisiacal part of Hong Kong

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brigitte Lin back in the limelight!

My favorite actress of all time in a scene
from one of my favorite films of all time

Despite the "very hot weather" warning in effect these past few days, I've had one of those active weekends which saw me do such as viewing two movies at the Hong Kong Film Archive and also going on a 5 hour hike earlier today. But even while much of what I did this past weekend was enjoyable enough, the fact of the matter is that an event I didn't attend is what actually has occupied my thoughts quite a bit.

Yesterday evening, Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia was the featured speaker at an event at the Hong Kong Book Fair in the capacity of a new book author. Inside the Window, Outside the Window (whose title references her first film, Outside the Window) sounds like a memoir, if not autobiography -- I say "sounds like" because, unfortunately, it is written in Chinese, a language that I can only read a few characters of (including the three characters that make up Brigitte's Chinese name).

I didn't attend the event because, among other things, I had a schedule conflict and also because I didn't want to effectively just go and gawk at the woman once known in the Chinese-speaking world as "Wondrous Beauty". And in retrospect, it probably was a good thing I didn't attempt to go to it because, according to at least one news report, some 3,000 fans wishing be at that talk ended up filling three halls of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre yesterday evening! Put another way: the event was way over-subscribed and two rooms had to be specially opened and the event broadcast into them!!

Instead, I partly satisfied my Brigitte "cravings" by re-watching her scenes in Ashes of Time Redux and the Q&A at the New York Film Festival for it that involved Wong Kar Wai, Christopher Doyle and Brigitte Lin (still available on Youtube here, here and here) also finally checking out Ashes of Time Redux's DVD's extras.

Watching her in Wong Kar Wai's desert epic, I was reminded once again of what a charismatic actress and powerful screen presence she is/was. From what he said (both at the Q&A and in one of the DVD's extras), it is clear how major a player she was in the Hong Kong cinema world back in the early 1990s. More specifically, Wong Kar Wai took pains to point out that Ashes of Time couldn't have been made without Brigitte Lin being in the cast -- because her being in the film was what made financial backers willing to put up money for the production.

Considering her status as an actress -- and her continued star power (as evidenced by her continued ability to attract crowds of fans), it is amazing to think that she so decisively walked away from the film world and last appeared in a film in 1994 -- 17 years ago now. (For the record, yes, I know that she narrated Bishonen and The Peony Pavilion... but that's not the same as acting in front of a camera!)

Something else that's really amazing to realize is in the intervening years, she appears to have effectively assumed the role of loving wife and mother -- and now also is on her way to becoming a bestselling author! All of which prompts me to think that Brian really was onto something when he wrote in the Actor Index of his Hong Kong Cinema: Views from the Brooklyn Bridge site that "Her life would make a hell of a movie."

And since Brian is really very eloquent when discussing The Great One (as he and I would refer to her in e-mails), here's going ahead and concluding this Brigitte entry by quoting him some more on her: "It's more than just presence -- it's more than whirling robes and shooting scarves -- it's more than painfully beautiful close-ups -- it's more than larger than life characters -- this woman is a great actress -- pure and simple -- and she can act the hell out of any role and reach out and grab the audience by the heart or by the throat." :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Patch (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As I outlined in last week's Photo Hunt entry, one is likely to encounter patches of local culture along with nature when out hiking in Hong Kong -- and as I think the snaps in this week's Photo Hunt entry clearly shows, the former sometimes can be quite whimsical as well as colorful in nature!

More specifically, the photographs at the top of this blog post are of guardians of cultivated patches of land I've encountered over the course of hikes in the Sai Kung Peninsula, northwestern Hong Kong and Lantau Island respectively.

Not your usual generic scarecrows in appearance, I have to admit that the sight of them all caused me to double up with laughter. Also, while the figure in the second photo looks more suited to be a child's beloved plush and the figure in the third photo's maker clearly was inspired by the Frankenstein monster, I can't fathom out what the maker of the figure in the first photo wanted his or her patched up creation to resemble (if anything besides something humanoid enough to scare off pests).

Does anyone of you have any ideas? If so, feel free to submit them in the comments section of this blog entry! :b

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Feast (your eyes) on these clams! :b

A delicious dish of clams offered up at Hong Kee
Respaurant (according to its sign!) in Cheung Chau

One step up in clam quality:
Razor clams at Tung Po in North Point

Get a load of these babies! King size razor clams
at Rainbow Seafood Restaurant on Lamma Island :b

Before I moved to Hong Kong, I already knew about the culinary wonders of such as dim sum, siu mei (particularly char siu and siu yoke) and (custard) egg tarts. Some of these tasty delights I knew from eating at Cantonese eateries in Malaysia and London's Chinatown. Others (including pineapple buns (cf. Mcdull, Prince de la Bun) and cha chaan teng specialties such as instant noodles with fried egg and luncheon meat!) I learned about from watching Hong Kong movies!

Since moving to the Big Lychee, however, I've come across -- and to like -- a number of other delicious dishes and treats. High on this latter list would be stir fried clams in black bean sauce with chillies -- a savory, spicy seafood concoction that's full of strong flavors and consequently best eaten with a bowl of white rice to balance the taste and washed down with an Asian lager like Japan's crisp Asahi Super Dry or China's smooth Tsing Tao.

But while regular clams will suffice in a pinch, the way to really go with regards to this dish is to specifically ask for the meatier razor (AKA bamboo) clams when ordering it. And if you are willing to splurge (for they are considerably pricier -- and have their price quoted by piece rather than plate or weight), go for the super large king razor clams like my regular hiking companion and I have now done twice when eating post-hike!

The first time around, we ordered just two king razor clams with black bean sauce and chillies to eat -- but lest you feel sorry for us, bear in mind that our dinner that day also included another kind of large clam (this one cooked with garlic and thin noodles), a plate of fried squid and a sizable dish of vegetables!

However, just one week later, the two of us ended up having what amounted to about four times the number of king razor clams for dinner together with just one other dish as we really were primarily craving clams in black bean sauce and chillies that evening -- and even though we had less to eat than at dinner the week before, I think it safe to state that we felt more satisfied by our meal that evening!! :b

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From Sai Wan Pavilion to Tai Long Wan (Photo-essay)

One very hot day last summer, a friend and I hiked to Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan (as opposed to those on Hong Kong Island (better known as Big Wave Bay, the English meaning of the Cantonese "tai long wan"), Cheung Chau and Lantau (of which there are two -- both of which are always known as Tai Long Wan rather than Big Wave Bay). So memorable was out of outing that I felt compelled to blog about it soon after my return to my apartment in the evening.

However it's only now that I'm putting up the photo-essay of the hike. (So yes, this will give you an idea how far back I am in terms of my hike chronicling via photo-essays!) Or, rather, the first photo-essay of the hike... for there definitely will be at least another to come after this one! ;b

A few minutes into our hike, we were greeted with this
splendid view of a section of
High Island Reservoir

Our first views of Sai Wan and Tai Long Wan
weren't too shabby either!

On the beach at Sai Wan

Looking northwestwards at Sai Wan (whose name
translates from Cantonese as West Bay even though
it's actually located in northeast Hong Kong!)

A part of Tai Long Wan in danger of being ruined
by development (and near where
I nonchalantly
skipped over a big black snake that I mistook
a large hose before it started moving on its own accord!)

Wouldn't it be better to leave this place
close to nature like it presently is?

Though of course this isn't to say that
there isn't a place for warning signs where necessary!

Truly, some more great views lie ahead! :b

Definitely to be continued! :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Food *and* s-e-x in bugland

Spotted while out hiking today: A large female
stink bug going and getting food (in the form of
a centipede) even while a smaller male stink bug
was stuck to her behind doing you know what! :O

Advance apologies to those blog visitors of a sensitive disposition who may be appalled by the sight of bugs and talk about s-e-x but I feel obliged to document and discuss a sight I came across earlier today that I found pretty amazing. So here goes with this blog entry...

Many years ago, when I was an anthropology student at Beloit College, I was introduced to sociobiology and the food for sex theory by a wonderful biological anthropology professor named Karen Strier who taught me many lessons about life as well as anthropology. A Harvard University Ph.D. with a great academic pedigree, Karen was wonderfully connected and was able to attract a whole host of star names in the academic world to tiny Beloit to give guest lectures that were often fun as well as well as informative and educational.

Among the famous academics who came over at her invitation was Franz de Waal. A primatologist well known for his research on bonobos (AKA pygmy chimpanzees), he delivered a lecture one evening that proved memorable indeed -- not least because one of the slides he showed that evening depicted a male bonobo holding a bunch of bananas in one hand and his -- no lie! -- penis in the other. (More than incidentally, I also will never forget the comment de Waal made when showing us that particular slide: i.e., "Now, that's what I call a great illustration of the food for sex theory!" :b)

For those who are wondering: the food for sex theory postulates that males want sex and females want food and are willing to trade getting food for sex. But earlier today, I came across an example of an animal -- specifically, a female stink bug -- that clearly showed that her wanting food was so strong that she was willing to keep on searching for food while having sex!

More specifically, even while she had a male bug stuck to her behind, she (who is the larger of her species) continued to scurry after and then snare with her mouth a centipede. Frankly, I am in awe by her ability to do (those) two things at once -- and apparently pretty well! Put another way: she sure seemed like one female who's able to have her cake and eat it -- or be able to surmount what looked to be quite a considerable physical obstacle to get what she wants when she wants it!! :D

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Backwards (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

When out hiking in Hong Kong, one sometimes can feel not so much that one has gone back to nature but that one has gone backwards in time. This is because many a hiking trail doesn't just lead those who follow them out of -- and at times above -- the concrete jungle into the countryside and country parks but also sections of a more traditional, rural Hong Kong bordering, crisscrossing and surrounded by such areas.

Some of the villages close by to or through which certain hiking trails pass look to be still thriving while others look to have been completely -- and sometimes suddenly, inexplicably -- abandoned. Even in quite a few of those that are still inhabited though, one sometimes gets the sense that even if they are not stuck in time, time passes by more slowly there than in other parts of the territory and world!

These are, after all, sections of the Big Lychee where doors often are left open, never mind unlocked -- where ancestral photos are proudly displayed and ancestral temples still looked after, where people have and continue to tend to their vegetable gardens and fields, where fung shui woods still are to be found (and undoubtedly utilized), etc.

Those who aren't into hiking but wish to view and visit traditional villages in Hong Kong can do worse than go along the officially designated Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail up in the North District or Ping Shan Heritage Trail located between the "new town" of Tin Shui Wai and bustling market town of Yuen Long out in the west. However, I have to say that the most interesting villages (including the fabled Lai Chi Wo and Sha Lo Tung) are those encountered while out hiking -- a pursuit that I think that those viewing this Photo Hunt entry realize can give one tastes of culture as well as nature, at least here in Hong Kong. :b

Thursday, July 14, 2011

West is West (movie review)

The sequel to East is East -- released 11 years after it!

West is West (Britain, 2010)
- Andy De Emmony, dir.
- Starring Aqib Khan, Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Emil Marwa, Ila Arun, Nadim Sawalha, Raj Bansali, etc.

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," goes the famous line from Rudyard Kipling's The Ballad of East and West. Far less well known, however, is the same poem's third and fourth lines which go as follows: "But there is neither East nor West, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!"

In both East is East, an entertaining 1999 dramedy revolving around a family living in northern England headed by a Pakistani father (masterfully portrayed by Om Puri) and an English mother (touchingly essayed by Linda Bassett), and West is West, its similarly part dramatic, part comic sequel made 11 years after, the initial impression that the viewer will get is of there being a clash of cultures and civilizations that threatens to tear apart a family in the process.

*Vague spoiler alert* In both works though, there are shown to be ties between family members that are strong and do bind. And while certain individuals are shown to have undoubted faults that can make the lives of others pretty hard at times, there also is a lot of love in evidence -- which often results in scenes that tug at one's heart strings and make the likes of me tear up as well as put lumps into one's throat. *End of spoiler alert*

Set in the 1970s, West is West begins in working class Salford with George Khan (Om Puri) and his wife Ella (Linda Bassett) still running a chippy but with just one child, youngest son Sajid (the precocious Aqib Khan), still living with them. Said child often plays truant from school because he gets bullied by his schoolmates as a consequence of his father being Pakistani rather than Caucasian. He also rather understandably reacts to his situation by rejecting the Pakistani part of his heritage.

Matters come to a head one day when he not only gets caught for shoplifting but also calls his father a "Paki" (a negative slang term used for a Pakistani person in Britain). Determining that drastic action is needed, George packs Sajid off to Pakistan -- and also decides to go along with him on a trip to his country of origin -- where his first wife (touchingly portrayed by Ila Arun) and two daughters live but he has not returned to for some 30 years.

In Pakistan, Sajid encounters a range of exotic sights (Camels! Graves of old Moghul soldiers!! A magnificent ruin!!!), lots of family members (including his brother Maneer (Emil Marwa)), new friends and a wonderfully sage mentor (charmingly played by Nadim Sawalha). In short, a place he had been loathed to go to turns out to be a place where he gets to have many wonderful times and experiences. Alternatively, contrary to his expectations, George finds that going back to a place where he is known as Jahangir actually isn't all that pleasant and easy...

On a personal note: Watching West is West, I couldn't help reflecting on my own life and how much it has changed since I first viewed East is East. At the time, I was living in Philadelphia, leading what seemed like another life -- one which saw me screening that film to my students for a course (on ethnicity, for those interested to know!) that also saw me also use Comrades, Almost a Love Story as instructional material.

More than a decade on, I live on the other side of the world in Hong Kong -- where West is West is being shown as part of the Asia Society's Asian Reflections summer film series -- and far outside of the groves of academe. And my personal experience is that it's not only other places in the world that can feel and be foreign. Rather, it's also the case that, to quote another English writer -- L.P. Hartley this time -- "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently over there"!

My rating for this film: 8.5

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

From Lantau Trail Stage 10 down to Lower Cheung Sha Beach (Photo-essay)

As it so happens, I had dinner earlier this evening with the friend I went on the hike I've already put up two photo-essays of (here and here). But it was only after I got back to my apartment and prepared to put up a third photo-essay of the hike along Lantau Trail Stage 10, then down the old Tung Chung Road to Lower Cheung Sha Beach via South Lantau Road that I got to thinking that maybe I should ask her why we haven't gone hiking together again since!

Was it all the spiders we saw on the hike? Or the hike being lengthier than she had expected (even while easy enough in that it was largely on level ground or downhill)? In any event, too bad -- since I thought it was a pleasant enough day out... and one that yielded a number of photos that I reckon are nice enough to look at and share (with visitors to this blog though not willingly with those who put them on their own blogs in order to financially profit from doing so)!

View looking southwards not far from
where I ended the previous photo-essay

Another friend e-mailed me to register her horror
at the number of spider pics on my blog -- but,
in all honesty, I think these creatures are fascinating
and the webs they weave often amazing and beautiful!

View that takes in both Cheung Sha beaches and the
Chi Ma Wan Peninsula dominated by Lo Yan Shan

A solitary cow grazes at the peaceful picnic area
where Lantau Trail Stages 10 and 11 meet

The single lane Old Tung Chung Road in the foreground,
the significantly wider New Tung Chung Road in the
background, and a paraglider appearing as not much
larger than a small speck in the blue sky above

Hong Kong -- particularly Lantau -- truly is a place
where unusual flora as well as fauna can be spotted

It was close to sunset when we got
to Lower Cheung Sha Beach

So after taking a few more photos like this one,
we settled down to dinner at The Stoep before making
our way home to other, more urban parts of Hong Kong

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Spiders galore over on Lamma's eastern section

Large female Giant Golden Orb Weaver
and its way smaller as well as redder mate

Male spider doing something behind
-- and to? ;b -- its larger female mate

Update: a friend who saw this photo
told me that it's of a spider's exoskeleton!

Update: this is the baby female spider whose
exoskeleton I spotted hanging above it!

Up until today, I had looked upon the Lantau Island hike I'm currently in the middle of putting up photo-essays on (see here and here, with one more to come in the next few days) as the hike which had yielded the most spider spottings.

But this super hot and humid afternoon, my regular hiking companion and I saw -- no lie! -- at least 50 spiders on the 4 kilometer eastern circuit that led us from Sok Kwu Wan to Mo Tat Wan, Mo Tat Old Village, Yung Shue Ha (which has been identified by some as Chow Yun Fat's home village!), Tung O (another village also identified as Chow Yun Fat's ancestral village), up to a pavilion that lay 136 meters above sea level and then back -- and back down -- to Sok Kwu Wan.

More than a decade and a half ago now, I went on safari in Tanzania to Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti National Park, Ngongorogoro Crater (which falls within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) and Tarangire National Park. In Tarangire, there were so many elephants about that my safari companion (an Irish aid worker friend with the very Irish name of Fionnuala) and I actually became quite blasé with regards to viewing them -- and only got really excited when seeing such as large herds of the pachyderms crossing a river.

By midway through today's hike, that how my regular hiking companion and I got to feeling about the spiders we saw along the way, despite many of them being pretty large indeed. At the same time though, we recognized that some of the webs we saw this afternoon were among the largest we've seen -- with some of them having a three dimensional quality in that they were double and even triple layered and some others actually had corners to them that curved to form something akin to a sticky cobweb box in which to trap prey!

Then there were the two forms we saw and initially thought were dead and dessicated spiders, only for them to move when we pointed our cameras at them. After looking some more, I've got to thinking that at least one of them (that which is in the four photo at the top of this entry) is a baby or at least still juvenile spider.

But I'm not sure if the thing hanging above it (i.e., that which is in the third photo above) -- that resembled la scary alien from a Hollywood sci fi movie to my eyes -- is another baby spider or something else altogether! (Update on July 14th: a friend -- thanks, David S! -- has told me that the third photo is of an exoskeleton and confirmed that the fourth photo is indeed of a baby female spider! :D)