Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ma Shi Chau's physical attractions (Photo-essay)

Before anything else: For those who didn't check out the comments thread of my previous photo-essay, baroness radon enquired why Ma Shi Chau (Cantonese for "Horse Excrement Island") was so named. My reply was that I had heard that "the island's shape is thought to resemble a heap of horse excrement when viewed from an elevated angle".

However, sbk offered an alternative explanation to the effect that some of the rocks in my photos reminded her of horse shit! To which I have to express my relief that Ma Shi Chau most certainly does not smell of horse excrement -- nor is covered by piles of horse manure the way that another Hong Kong island, Tap Mun, is full of cow shit.

So, fortunately, one doesn't have to watch where one walks on Ma Shi Chau -- at least not in that sense. At the same time though, those thinking of visiting this island in Tolo Harbour need to be aware parts of the island -- including sections on which the Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail lie -- are underwater during high tide. In addition, it is worth noting as well that although the Ma Shi Chau Nature Trail is officially only 1.5 kilometers long, one needs to double back along it and its official starting point actually is about one hour's walk from the mini bus and bus stops at Sam Mun Tsai!

Still, lest there be any doubt about my thinking the area is a good place to hike, just look at the following photos to dispel those doubts double quick! :b

For some geographical context: no, Ma Shi Chau
really isn't all that far away from civilisation!

On the designated Special Area itself, there lies
a "memorial garden"/columbarium whose
legal status looks to be in dispute

It didn't take much to get me focusing my attention
more on Ma Shi Chau's geological features however

...and this especially since some of the rocks to be found
on the island are so colorful as well as interesting looking!

Of course, admiring the rocks didn't stop me
from also enjoying the scenic views

...or spotting what looks like a soft shell crab
nestled on the rocks by the water ;b

Occasionally, passing traffic out on the water
would also catch my eye

Still, I think you'll understand when I assert that
the rocks really were the main attraction that day :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kitty Intelligence Beta at the Sanrio Robotics Institute

At the entrance to the Sanrio Robotics Institute (SRI)
-- along with other Kitty da Vinki acolytes -- that has
temporarily set up shop at Tsuen Wan's Discovery Park

My own (small) Robot K -- see it? -- posing with
a couple of (larger) Robot K prototypes awaiting
attention at the S.R.I. Repair Department

Inside S.R.I.'s aesthetically impressive --
and so it should be! -- Design Department

Another year, another Hello Kitty-themed interactive exhibition! Two years ago, it was Kitty Lab (which I happily went to -- and whose experience I joyfully chronicled here). Last year, it was Who's The Next Hello Kitty? (Cosplay Party) (which I skipped because while I like the furry feline, I actually don't aspire to be like -- never mind become -- her!).

In 2011, we have Kitty Intelligence Beta -- which has participants becoming trainee engineers at the Sanrio Robotics Institute (S.R.I.) established by genius inventor, Kitty da Vinki, the 51st generation member of a line of gifted felines -- the first of whom lived in the early 16th century and was the star student of Leonardo da Hello, a renowned intellectual along the lines of the similarly named Leonardo da Vinci.

At the start of their education, S.R.I. students are paired with their own 20 centimeter tall Robot K (a cool robotic version of Hello Kitty, if you will). They then are sent off to explore what S.R.I. has to offer -- but with the injunction that they can only graduate from the institute after undergoing training in seven departments (Research, Design, Assembly, Component, Repair, Quality Control and Energy).

From personal experience, I can assure prospective trainees that one does not have to pass every department's training test in order to graduate but also caution them that not all the tests may be as easy as one might assume (since I failed two of the seven tests I took!). At the same time, even while it feels rather embarrassing to not have passed all of S.R.I.'s tests with flying colors, no permanent damage was done -- including to my pride and ego -- and I actually did manage to generally have a good time at S.R.I. (despite the whole affair there sometimes literally being an amazing maze)!

If pushed to point to some negatives, I will admit to wishing that the admission fee to Kitty Intelligence Beta had been at least a tad lower and that the Sanrio Robotics Institute's premises were larger as well as not so labyrinth-like. (I could be mistaken but my sense was that it was only half the size -- if that -- of Kitty Lab.) Still, it's also true enough there actually was plenty (of kawaii Hello Kitty-ness) on view at S.R.I. -- and so much so that I could see visitors experiencing major sensory overload if one were to stay there for more than an hour.

Concluding on a positive note, three things that were most definitely an improvement on my Kitty Lab experience of two years ago involved it being so that this time around: instructions, panel information and such were bilingual (in English as well as Chinese) rather than solely in Chinese; visitors were allowed to take photographs -- though, understandably, not indulge in flash photography -- inside the experiential exhibition; and trainee engineers get to keep their personal Robot Ks upon graduating from S.R.I. (whereas one had to sadly surrender the electronic Hello Kitty DNA device that one went around Kitty Lab with upon the completion of that particular participatory experience)!!! :DDD

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Symbolic (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As those who regularly check out this blog (and not just its Photo Hunt entries) know, I have a fondness for photos of large spiders that I've come to realize is not shared by some of the blog's visitors. However, I'm actually not sure whether these people know that I also find the webs that spiders weave fascinating as well as beautiful.

Maybe it's the symbolic anthropology training I received (courtesy of Kathleen Adams, now of Loyola University of Chicago but previously a professor at Beloit College, my favorite alma mater by far) but it also is the case that the sight of the spider webs often get me thinking not so much that humans are prone to weave tangled webs in order to deceive (to paraphrase a Sir Walter Scott quote) but, instead -- to quote my favorite definition of culture, one made by the great symbolic anthropologist Clifford Geertz -- that "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun..." (with those webs of significance being culture).

For those who ever wondered (and hadn't previously read this entry I wrote back in this blog's early days), that quote from Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), is indeed where I got this blog's name from. And yes, I do think that my choice of blog name does symbolically show that I may have said goodbye to the groves of academe but that I still do often see the world through anthropological eyes. (Something that I trust would make Larry Breitborde, another one of my influential Beloit professors, happy as he did tell us, his students, that his ambition wasn't to produce anthropology professors but, rather, people who could use anthropology -- and for whom anthropology would be of use -- in their life.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rainbow sightings

Rainbow-like spectrum created
by sun rays shooting a cobweb

Rainbow in the sky over Hong Kong Island
on -- believe it or not -- a rain-less day!

For the many people who still haven't realized that some three-quarters of Hong Kong is countryside (rather than urban concrete jungle) -- and that forty percent of the Big Lychee's land lies within country parks, it can seem ironic as well as improbable that living in Hong Kong has got me increasingly appreciating nature's offerings (including wild critters such as dragonflies, spiders and skinks). But it really is the case that not since I was at Beloit College in Wisconsin and taking courses in geology and environmental biology to fulfill my science requirements have I been wont to observe and enjoy being out in nature as much as I have since moving to Asia's World City.

Still, it's not been only during this periods of my life that I've been captivated by the sight of rainbows (and associated visual phenomena). And it's true enough that the two rainbow spotting experiences I've considered the most memorable have admittedly not taken place in Hong Kong (or, for that matter, at Beloit). Instead, one of these was at Victoria Falls over on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border (where a rainbow was formed by the spray of the largest and most impressive waterfall I've seen in my life to date) while the other involved my catching sight of beautiful double rainbows while on a bus during my visit to Germany last year.

In the past year, however, I've had two rainbow sightings here in Hong Kong that I reckon are on the special side -- not least because they both occurred on rain-less days. The first of these took place last summer in a wooded area that a friend and I passed through on a hike up to Amah Rock. The second took place on the hot and humid -- but emphatically non-rainy -- day last month that I hiked up Devil's Peak and then down to Lei Yue Mun. More specifically, on my way out of Lei Yue Mun, I happened to glance over across Victoria Harbour and suddenly saw a rainbow in the by-then-not-so-blue late afternoon sky above the Quarry Bay section of Hong Kong Island!

Almost needless to say, I did have my camera with me on both those occasions and thus managed to take shots of the natural phenomena. And while I grant that my treasured snaps pale in comparison to many other rainbow photos on the internet, I still am happy that I managed to take them since it makes it so that I am able to share the sight of those rainbows in this blog entry with other people. :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Destination: Ma Shi Chau (Photo-essay)

Why would one want to visit an island with the unattractive sounding name of Ma Shi Chau (Cantonese for "Horse Excrement Island")?! For those in the know, the answer would be "To see its rock formations of course!" For as it so happens, this island in Tolo Harbour which is connected, at low tide, to Yim Tin Tsai via a tombolo is part of a designated Special Area on account of its rich geological features (and also a part of the Hong Kong National Geopark which came into being in November 2009).

In particular, Ma Shi Chau is considered to have the oldest sedimentary rocks in Hong Kong -- dating back to the Permian Period (about 280 to 225 million years ago)! So while it doesn't have rock formations that look like turtles, Buddha's palms and such as on Po Toi, the island certainly has its attractions especially for those with a geological bent... and hikers who can appreciate the beauty of rocks along with other aspects of nature! :b

Like the sign shows, to get to Ma Chi Shau, one
has to
pass through Sam Mun Tsai New Village

View from inside the relocated fishing village (the original
settlement was one of a number whose inhabitants were
displaced by the construction of the Plover Cove Reservoir)

Boats (and one perching egret) out on
the nearby
Shuen Wan Typhoon Shelter

View of Tolo Harbour, the Plover Cove Reservoir's
Main Dam and beyond from Yim Tin Tsai

View from Yim Tin Tsai of Ma Shi Chau and
the tombolo that connects the two islands

Follow this path downhill...

...and you'll find yourself at sea level
and within spitting distance
of the tombolo!

Across the water (and the tombolo) is Ma Shi Chau --
the island that's far more beautiful than its name! :)

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

This weekend's hiking (and) weather

Blue skies over Chek Keng Hau yesterday

Blue skies over Ngong Ping (and some mist
over Lantau Peak) this afternoon

Just before I set out to Tung Chung to meet my regular hiking companion earlier today, I decided to check the Hong Kong Observatory's website one more time -- and was somewhat horrified to see a thunderstorm warning in effect. For those who are wondering: the two reasons why I was only "somewhat" rather than "very" horrified was that I also saw that the weather forecast still included some sun in the afternoon and it just happening to be the case that I had also gone out hiking yesterday with a friend visiting from the US (so could be deemed to have already filled my hiking ration for the week!).

Yesterday's hike out on the Sai Kung Peninsula had taken place under beautiful bright blue skies for the most part. And although the temperature and humidity was on the high side, I enjoyed the trek from Wong Shek to Chek Keng -- which yielded sights that included tiny crabs, whole cow families, an abandoned village and a still inhabited one -- along with scenic vistas -- and the bonus kaito ride that took us from Chek Keng back to Wong Shek (and trust that Alejna did too!).

Despite the portends not looking good initially today (including my train to Tung Chung getting showered on when passing through Nam Cheong and encountering a substantial downpour in Tsing Yi), my regular hiking companion and I decided to go ahead and take the bus up to the Ngong Ping -- from where we planned to start our hike. The Hong Kong weather being what it is (i.e., often quickly changeable), we banked on the sky clearing by the end of our bus ride -- and imagine our glee upon finding blue skies when we got up to the highland that is Ngong Ping plateau!

More than incidentally, this was the second time in a month that we decided to press ahead with a hiking excursion despite it having been raining early on in the journey to it -- and it turning out to be the case that not one drop of rain fell on us during our hike that day. That first time around, the bus we were taking to our planned hike's starting point literally had a rain cloud pass over it so as the bus continued north, we suddenly found ourselves on dry rather than wet land as the rain cloud continued moving eastwards! So, if anything, our weather fortunes appeared to change even more dramatically than it did today!!

And although the weather forecast also warned of 70 kilometer gusts of wind being likely today, we definitely did not encounter any gusts close to that speed. Actually, our hike definitely would have been made quite a bit more enjoyable if there had been more and faster breezes to be experienced. Still, I'm not complaining about today's weather. After all, it proved to be good enough for a good hike filled with some really excellent views -- thanks in no small part to the rain that fell earlier in the day helping to clear the air and the sky turning out to pretty blue for the most part this afternoon! :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Drink (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

There's no two ways about it: I do like my drink. Contrary to what some people might think, however, I don't only care for alcoholic beverages! And it really is the case that I tend to choose what to drink based on the occasion but also, for meals, what food is being eaten.

For example, on my German holiday last year, during which I ate much traditional German fare (like was the case when visiting Heidelberg), there was no question to my mind that beer -- particularly local draft beer -- was the ideal drink to have at lunch as well as dinner! (Equally, lots of Japanese food -- including sushi, yakitori, kushiyaki, "Genghis Khan" and, most definitely, izakaya offerings -- go great with alcoholic drinks like beer but also sake or umeshu.) On the other hand, bar for seafood, I feel that Chinese dishes are best paired with non-alcoholic beverages, including -- of course -- Chinese tea.

In Hong Kong, tong lai cha (translated as cold milk tea) is the cold drink of choice for much of its populace. For my part, I find that this rich-tasting sweet non-alcoholic drink made from a blend of black Indian and Chinese teas mixed together with condensed milk (or evaporated milk and sugar) can sometimes be a bit too rich or sickly sweet for my taste when not made well. So when in doubt (which is often), I tend to order the less sweet -- and seemingly more difficult to not make well -- tong leng cha (cold lemon tea that's far more "lemony" than that favored by the "sweet tea" favored in the American South!) instead.

However, I have no qualms about ordering tong lai cha at any of the branches of Tsui Wah, a chain of 24 hour cha chaan tengs that really is of a surprisingly reliably good quality. And for its packaging alone, I do find some fun in ordering and getting a bottle of Tsui Wah's smooth and nicely chilled milk tea champagne (which, for the record, does not contain any alcohol in it -- and yes, is meant to be drank with a straw)! :b

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not just a famous Hong Kong movie location!

View of part of the over 800 meter long
Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

A couple of evenings ago, I had dinner with an American friend who is visiting Hong Kong for the first time. Among the things she told me she had targeted to check out during her maiden trip to the Big Lychee was the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. This was something that I thought pretty normal -- not least since one of the things I had sought to do when visiting Hong Kong as a tourist was to go and ride along this outdoor escalator system that came into being back in 1993.

Hong Kong film fan(atic) that I am, my reason for wanting to do so was because I had first come to know the existence of the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator by way of catching sight of it in Chungking Express. And since I had first come to know of Alejna's blog by way of her posts on kick ass female movie characters (a number of whom had been essayed by Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia), I presumed that it was also the case for her.

So imagine my surprise to find that wasn't the case -- not least because she actually hasn't seen that 1994 Wong Kar Wai cinematic gem yet! In view of that discovery, I find myself looking at that Hong Kong landmark in a different light -- and coming to realize that, as with the iconic Star Ferry, the world's longest outdoor escalator system has become a tourist attraction in its own right rather than because of its movie connection.

Still, I have to admit that I can't help but think of Chungking Express whenever I ride on the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. And this even after I've been on it hundreds, if not thousands, of times now -- including on the way to work and back home after I first moved to Hong Kong (on account of the first place I lived in the Big Lychee having been located in Soho)! ;b

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wu Tip Shan on a hot and muggy day (Photo-essay)

As I mentioned last week, after my regular hiking companion and I completed the Fung Hang Family Walk one hot and muggy afternoon, we decided that we were game for more hiking that same day. So after green mini bus 56K dislodged us at its Fanling MTR station terminus, we made our way to Wu Tip Shan (whose name translates into English as Butterfly Hill), next to Fung Ying Sin Koon.

If truth be told, we found the hike up Wu Tip Shan to be harder going than expected -- not least because the hill doesn't look so high from the station and Taoist temple complex. In retrospect, however, I think the high heat and humidity that day had more of an effect on us than we thought it would. Also, we had done a bit of hiking earlier in the day... or so we told ourselves to make ourselves feel better and feel some sense of achievement upon finally making it up that hill (and then far quicker down)! ;b

Intertwined bamboo and tree spotted early
during this second hike of the afternoon

Also seen on the way up Wu Tip Shan:
a solitary ceramic figurine of
a female deity (the Goddess of Mercy?)

The trigonometrical structure that
marks the top spot of a Hong Kong hill

Muggy day view from the top of Wu Tip Shan

Misty view of Wo Hop Shek Cemetery
(that also takes in Gallant Garden)

These steps (and others like it) were
far easier to go down than up!

Be these Winged Cassia or not, these yellow flowers
sure are bright and eye-catching looking!

An open air shrine on Wu Tip Shan that appears
well looked after, visited and used

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Photographic highlights of a hike up (and down) Mount Davis earlier today

This shy dragonfly was not easy to photograph

These pair of dragonflies, on the other hand,
were far less shy and way easier to photograph!

...and lest it not be clear in the other photo what they
were doing, this shot should be revealing enough! ;D

Earlier today, my regular hiking companion and I hiked up (and then down) Mount Davis, Hong Kong Island's westernmost hill, on what turned out to be -- upon checking my records -- my 100th hike in Hong Kong.

A friend had told me that this area was inhabited by many large spiders. While I did see a fair few this afternoon, they just could not compare in either size or number to the spiders spotted on the eastern section of Lamma Island a few weeks back or while hiking along Lantau Trail Stage 10. And although another friend had warned me to watch out for snakes while on Mount Davis at this time of the year, I happily did not catch sight of any of those slithery creatures this afternoon.

Instead, more notable sights on this hike included a few birds of prey flying not too far above us, one blue tailed skink (like that which I had spotted on Mount Parker close to a year ago) and a number of beautiful butterflies of various sizes and colors along with some scenic vistas that took in land, sea and gorgeously blue sky. For all this though, I have to admit the visual highlight of today's hike came in the form of a pair of dragonflies we spotted going at it in earnest -- including in flight as well as while balancing on long leaves!

Like I think I've stated before, one reason why my hiking companion and I get giddily happy upon spotting copulating insects is because they tend to be more focused on each other rather than concerned with getting away from human photographers like us! And should anyone need proof, just take a look at the photos at the top of this blog entry and notice how much nearer I could get to the dragonfly couple than to the single dragonfly -- and how much clearer the photos of the former are vis a vis the latter as well!! :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This week's Photo Hunt entry is one of those rare ones for which I'm offering up just one photo. This isn't because I only have one suitable candidate of photo to fit the theme but because I thought one photo would be appropriate considering what this week's theme is. For those of you who'd like to check out some more photos, however -- and specifically for those looking for more proof that there really are cows to be found in Hong Kong -- here's referring you to some previous entries on this blog including this, this and this. So... enjoy? :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What to do in Hong Kong on hot summer days

At Lido Beach (underneath the Ting Kau Bridge)
one weekend afternoon this summer

View at one point in a hike up on
the Ngong Ping Plateau last summer

"What are you going to do this weekend?" is a question that my mother frequently asks me since I moved to Hong Kong. My usual response involves a combination of cultural activities (e.g., viewing a new film or an old movie, going to a classical music concert, dance show or theatrical play) -- normally on Friday or Saturday evening -- and outdoor activities (most likely hiking). But it's also the case that what I do over a weekend is very much dependent on the season and weather.

By season, I mean the cultural one as well as the natural seasons: with the former's high activity period being during the early part of the chronological year (with the Hong Kong Arts Festival taking place in the early months of the year and Hong Kong International Film Festival starting as the other arts fest is coming to a close) and quietest time being in the summer months (when many arts groups go on hiatus and vacation); and the latter speaking to sub-tropical Hong Kong's year being divided into our four seasons like in the more temperate climes.

As for weather: suffice to say that Hong Kong can get very hot as well as surprisingly cold considering its latitudinal location -- and also has its markedly dry along with super wet and humid months together with typhoon seasons.

This time of the year, it often gets so hot that a number of people try to minimize their time spent outdoors. And when they do something outdoors, it often involves going to the beach (to just hang out there and sunbathe or actually take the plunge and swim in the waters).

Since I'm not by nature a beach goer, I didn't go to many beaches my first couple of years in the Big Lychee. But after discovering the existence in Hong Kong of beautiful beaches like those at Cheung Sha and Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan, I've become more inclined to check out -- and spend time at -- various beaches in the territory.

For all this, however (and unlike many people I know), my preferred outdoor activity even during hot summer days still is to go hiking. At the same time though, the heat and humidity plays a part in making me more inclined to opt for easier hikes and/or hikes either at higher (and cooler) elevations in Hong Kong (like the Ngong Ping Plateau and the Victoria Peak area) or along more tree-shaded trails during this time of the year.

Put another way: While many people's instincts are to seek comfort in some air-conditioned indoor area (be it a cinema, shopping mall, museum or some place else) during hot summer days, my feeling is that time spent outdoors at this time of the year doesn't have to be unpleasant. Instead, it's the rain -- rather than heat or even humidity -- that's far more likely to drive and keep me indoors; hence my ideal being for it to rain on weekdays (when I have to work and thus am stuck inside an office) and then to be dry on weekends! ;b

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fung Hang Family Walk (Photo-essay)

On one of Hong Kong's super hot and muggy summer days, my regular hiking companion and I decided to go for an easy hike: specifically, the just 2.25 kilometer long Fung Hang Family Walk up in the northern New Territories, near Starling Inlet (AKA Sha Tau Kok Hoi) and the border between the Big Lychee and Mainland China.

As it so happened, we decided at the end of this family friendly hiking trail that we still were game to hike some more. Those photos from our second mini-hike of the day I'll leave putting up for another day. In the meantime, hope you'll enjoy this photo-essay of a hike that was short but still came with its share of cool sights:-

Let the hiking begin -- near the village of Kai Kuk Shue Ha! ;b

The flowers of the plant known as
Wild Bean (Shui Huang Pi in Cantonese)

This being a Hong Kong summer hike, it seemed inevitable
that we would come across some big spiders along the way
(To better see how big this one is, click and enlarge this photo!)

Believe it or not, this Giant Golden Orb Weaver
was bigger than the spider in the previous photo

On a less than super clear day, one still could just about
see Shenzhen over on the other side of Starling Inlet as one
went along the trail that went by the body of water's shore

How green is "my" Hong Kong? Pretty much so! :)

The hike took place inside of Plover Cove Country Park
but bordering rural villages and homes

A picturesque area where people enjoyed themselves
leisure fishing by the side of Bride's Pool Road (near hike's end)