Saturday, September 24, 2011

Program interruption

A serene and quiet place

Nature and culture get together to form
an aesthetically pleasing space

If things go as planned, before the end of today, I will be in a country I last visited in 2008 enjoying my first long vacation of 2011. Looking back at my last visit to Japan, about my only regret is that I didn't take enough photographs on that trip. (I guess I was too busy exploring, experiencing... and eating!) Even so, it's also true enough that there are quite a few images from that vacation that I still haven't shared on this blog (including, until today, the two at the top of this entry).

I don't see myself blogging from/in the land of Hello Kitty, Totoro and Ponyo. So this blog won't get new entries for a week or so. Still, don't let this prevent you from visiting during this time should you feel so inclined! :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From A Po Long downhill and northwards to Tai Ho Wan (Photo-essay)

In some parts of Hong Kong, place names abound that can make one think that one is on another continent other than Asia. (I think in particular of Hong Kong Island and its locations like Aberdeen, Stanley, Kennedy Town, Victoria Park, Mounts Davis, Butler and Parker, and Jardine's Lookout -- though it also is true that many, if not all, of these places also do have Chinese names -- such as Chek Chue for Stanley and Hong Kong Tsai (Little Hong Kong) for Aberdeen.)

In contrast, a look at the hiking trail that takes one from Mui Wo to Tai Ho Wan -- and, at certain points, it felt, back in time -- yields nothing but locales with distinctly Cantonese names like Pak Ngan Heung, A Po Long, Hung Fa Ngan, Tin Liu, Ngau Kwu Long and Pak Mong! And it's near A Po Long where my previous photo-essay left off and that -- without further ado -- this photo-essay that will complete a trio of photo-essays (including the first one of the greater Mui Wo area) covering this Lantau Island hike now begins... ;b

Around A Po Long (also) is where we noticed that
the trail would be literally going mostly downhill

Between Hung Fa Ngan and Tin Liu, there is a pavilion
which provides shade, and from where good views could be had

The smaller, enclosed body of water visible in this photo
is Tai Ho Wan -- where this hike would end

An earth god shrine at the village of Ngau Kwu Long

The village of Ngau Kwu Lung with its fung shui woods
at the back and facing out to still cultivated fields

A dead snake spotted along the trail whose upper section
looks like it had been run over and flattened by a vehicle

Door gods at the entrance to Pak Mong village

Tai Ho Wan at long last! (And from there,
we were just a stone's throw from the North Lantau
Highway and access to public transportation!!) :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fire Dragon in Tai Hang, and Hong Kong movies

It was festival time in Tai Hang earlier this week

Street view of a section of the long creature which
gets paraded through the neighborhood annually

And if you didn't know or guess already:
It's the fire dragon that's the center of all that attention!

Years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia, I encountered a Hong Kong fire dragon. To be precise, I came across a Hong Kong movie entitled Fire Dragon (in which the great Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia played a fiery as well as deadly assassin known as the Fire Dragon) in a Chinatown video store full of Hong Kong cinematic gems on VHS tapes.

But it was only after I moved to the Big Lychee that I encountered the mighty Fire Dragon of Tai Hang. A smokey 67 meter long creature made of thousands of lit incense sticks along with stalks of dry straw and 'pearl' grass, it has been paraded through area streets annually -- bar for such as the years when Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation and in 1967, the year of major riots having occurred in the territory -- to celebrate its first appearance having driven away the plague from the community back in 1880.

Earlier this week, I went to Tai Hang for my third year of Fire Dragon viewing. (For reasons I actually can't remember now, I missed out on doing so last year.) This time around, I got to see the festivities from a different, higher viewpoint courtesy of a friend now living on one of the streets that the Fire Dragon parades along.

Still, much of what I got to see was as I remembered it from previous years: with the contemporary Fire Dragon being far more impressive than the earlier incarnation which can be seen in The Orphan, a 1960 drama starring Ng Cho Fan and an adolescent Bruce Lee that I viewed at last year's Hong Kong International Film Festival; and the whole affair being way better attended and crowded than the way it's depicted in Dante Lam's Fire of Conscience (2010).

For the record, the only cinematic depiction of the Tai Hang Fire Dragon festivities that looks like that which I've seen in real life is, ironically enough, a film that's mainly set -- and concerned with political intrigue -- in Taiwan. Still, while its director was born in South Africa, he definitely considers himself a Hong Konger these days. So I guess it does stand to reason that Laurence Lau's Ballistic does feature scenes -- though sadly short and few -- that do the Tai Hang fire dragon justice.

Considering how visually impressive the creature is and how fun and exciting the accompanying festivities are, I actually am surprised that the Tai Hang Fire Dragon (dance/parade) hasn't appeared in more Hong Kong movies, and more prominently too. Or is it that I just don't know about the films in which it has? If anyone knows otherwise, do please share the information (e.g., in this blog entry's comments thread)!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wooden (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

There is an area of Hong Kong known as Diamond Hill whose existence I first got to know about via it being the setting for movies such as Soi Cheang's Diamond Hill and Fruit Chan's Hollywood, Hong Kong. After moving to the Big Lychee, I tend to only visit it on the way to someplace else -- as its main bus terminal (at the base of Plaza Hollywood) is the starting point for buses such as the 96R that takes people to Wong Shek Pier and the 91 that goes to the Clear Water Bay beach area. At the same time, I've directed more than one person asking about tourist attractions in Hong Kong (beyond obvious ones such as The Peak and the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping) to two Diamond Hill locales situated next to each other.

Although I've taken more photos of the shutterbug's delight that is Nan Lian Garden, the two photos in this week's Photo Hunt entry are actually of the neighboring Chi Lin Nunnery. More specifically, the two photos are of the Buddhist nunnery's mainly wooden main building complex constructed using ancient Tang Dynasty (618-907) architectural techniques that do away with the use of any iron nails.

On my most recent visit to Nan Lian Garden (in the early part of this year), there was an interesting exhibition in one of its own wooden buildings featuring models of other -- and usually far older -- buildings in other parts of China constructed using the same ingenious architectural techniques as the Chi Lin Nunnery's 16 timbered temple halls and related structures. It also provided explanations and visual glimpses into the bracketing and dowels techniques employed to hold these wooden structures -- some of them very large indeed in reality -- together in place of nails.

Interesting architectural techniques aside, I reckon that the Chi Lin Nunnery's wooden buildings also can be appreciated on a visual aesthetic level. Simply put, I believe that there is an observable beauty and elegance to them -- and the existence of taller, concrete structures in the vicinity only serve to emphasize, rather than detract from, this being so! :b

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hot and cold = a cool combo

Freshly fried cucuk (AKA cucur) udang -- great with
fried tofu, fish paste rolls and raw cucumber
all dipped in a semi spicy, semi sweet peanut-y sauce

...and even better in tandem with a shallow bowl
of delightful Swatow Lane ais kacang!

According to its Wikipedia entry, a certain American institution is the largest fast food burger chain in the world -- and serves some 64 million customers daily. But as hard as it may be to believe it (now), the bulk of my childhood years in Penang were spent without a single American fast food outlet having been established in the state.

Consequently, I actually had my first McDonald's experience on one of my early visits to England -- and it was only during my undergraduate years at Beloit College that I learnt that the hot-cold combination of a burger, French fries and a milk shake is one of those culinary instances of the whole being better than the sum of its parts.

At the risk of losing my foodie credentials, I must admit to still not being above getting food from McDonald's every once in a while. (And this not just because there are two of its outlets located within 10 minutes walk from my apartment here in Hong Kong -- including one that's open 24 hours and even when the typhoon signal number 8 is hoisted.) However, I also will attest to having belatedly discovered an even cooler hot and cold combo back in Penang than the archetypal American one.

More specifically, I really,
really like eating a slice of hot cucuk udang (prawn fritters) that has been dipped into its accompanying sauce and then quickly spooning a icy cold portion of ais kacang into my mouth. (And yes, it really is a joy to get to repeat this several times over the course of a single meal.) Even more specifically, I like getting this combination at the stalls at the Swatow Lane New World Park Hawker Centre (that I make a point to eat at on visits back to Penang), and first began going for this combination back when both the cucuk udang and ais kacang were being sold from roadside stalls one one side of Swatow Lane itself.

Like the McDonald's burger-fries-milk shake combo, this Malaysian hot-cold combo also incorporates hot elements that are savory and cold elements that are sweet. However, when I point out that the ais kacang alone is a dish whose ingredients include red beans (the kacang in the dish's name), rose or sasparilla syrup, grass jelly, creamed corn, pine seeds and more as well as thirst-quenching shaved ice (the ais in the dish's name), I think you'll appreciate that the combination I favor as an adult is quite a bit more complex than that which I enjoyed as a callow youth! ;b

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Northwards and upwards from the Silvermine Cave area (Photo-essay)

Early on in my time hiking in Hong Kong, I was wary of going on any hikes on
Lantau Island on account of my having gotten the impression that Hong Kong's largest island only had super difficult trails. Upon getting more familiar with the Big Lychee's hiking trails though, I've discovered that not all of Lantau's hiking trails lead up (and then down) challenging peaks like Lantau Peak or Sunset Peak (Hong Kong's second and third highest mountains respectively).

Consequently, I've found my increasingly being wont to explore Lantau -- and, in the process, gone on trails such as the one that two friends and I went along from Mui Wo to Tai Ho Wan; one whose early part I previously chronicled via a photo-essay featuring views of the greater Mui Wo area. And now, here's starting again close to where I left off the last time around...

This view shows how far we had gone from Mui Wo --
far up from sea level -- already at that point in the hike

These flowers were growing near the
now disused Silvermine Cave

The largest spider I have ever seen in my life
(one which could very easily wrap itself
around my
entire face and head!)

Yes, the buildings jutting out into Silver Mine Bay
on the
right side of the picture is indeed the Mui Wo
ferry pier that the ferry I took from Central docked at

Since part of the trail that we hiked on has been
designated as the Hong Kong Olympic Trail to
commemorate the
2008 Beijing Olympics, sections of it
Olympic-themed decorations on them

In all honesty, however, I found the natural
decorations on view on this trail to be far more
and beautiful

Be they seeds or fruits, they are pretty
and colorful
to my eyes

And yes, a day in which a butterfly stayed still enough
for me to photograph is a good one by my reckoning! ;b

To be continued... once more! :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years after 9/11

Fun flying objects spotted in the sky today

Observed while out hiking this afternoon:
regeneration and growth from out of the ashes

Earlier today, I went out hiking on Lantau Island with two friends. Although we all now reside in Hong Kong, on this day ten years ago, one of them had been living in Toronto, the other in Washington, D.C., while I myself had been living in Philadelphia. And, of course, wherever we were, all of us had been very much affected by the events which have collectively come to be known as 9/11.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in my apartment in West Philadelphia. As was my usual practice, I switched on the radio to get the weather forecast. As I went about my morning routine, I only listened with half an ear to what was being said on the radio. But upon noticing after several minutes that the customary musical notes preceding a weather forecast still had not been forthcoming, I paid closer attention to what was being said and thus realized that news was being broadcast about a plane having crashed into one of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.

At the time, I had a good friend who worked as a banker in New York City. Fearing that he was in the area, I e-mailed him to ask how things were over where he was. A few minutes after I sent off my e-mail to him, I got a reply from him in which he informed me that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center's towers.

Until I got that e-mail from my friend, I had thought that the first plane crash was a freak accident -- something along the lines of a trainee pilot having somehow steered his small aircraft into the iconic New York structure. But upon learning of the second plane crash, I got to having the chilled realization that these were premeditated terrorist attacks on the U.S.A.

It's such a cliché but in terrible times, one's instinct does seem to be to reach out to others -- to talk, share, for mutual support, etc. Soon after getting the e-mail from my good friend in New York, I called another good friend -- this one like me (then) based in Philadelphia. Upon finding out that she hadn't heard yet about the plane crashes, I asked her to turn on the TV.

While on the phone to her, I learnt about a third plane having been hijacked and subsequently flown into the Pentagon. And while we were on the phone and simultaneously watching the images flickering on our TV screens, we simultaneously -- along with millions of others in the country and around the world -- witnessed the twin towers becoming no more.

Amidst the shock and horror, I found myself thinking of my family (and wishing that they weren't physically so many thousands of miles away from me at that point in time) and friends, a number of whom lived and/or worked in New York and Washington, D.C. And I of course couldn't help but also think of the innocent victims of 9/11 -- notably the poor souls known collectively as "the jumpers" who the cameras captured and showed jumping from the Twin Towers, some individually, others hand in hand with people I presume were their loved ones, friends and/or co-workers.

Much more than even seeing the Pentagon walls having been breached, the plane wreck in Shanksville and even the Twin Towers collapsing, the images of those jumpers have haunted me (and many others I've spoken to who saw them -- even if "only" "live" on TV) and truly brought home that human lives were being unnecessarily lost in the whole terrible disaster. (And even while writing about them ten years on, I still feel chills down my spine and profound sadness with regards to them.)

Although in the early days, the news media definitely did include the jumpers in their 9/11 coverage, mention of them subsequently -- and quickly -- seemed to have become taboo for the most part. So it really makes for quite the shock that one segment in the strong emotion-evoking as well as thought-provoking 11'09"01 (AKA September 11) features film footage of a jumper's hellish descent to earth.

Viewing it, I cannot help but recall the words "Lest we forget". And also of the anti-war (and terror) motto and hope I found years ago on the Imperial War Museum of London's badge: "That the past will serve".

Ten years on, I think I can say with certainty that we have most certainly not forgotten. And I really do hope that the past will serve to, among other things, teach us valuable lessons about humanity -- including how many of us, living in different parts of the world, actually are empathetic beings who really can feel and care for others even if they're not related to us, not people we know personally and not from the same religious or ethnic group and/or of the same nationality as us.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Greasy (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

In the quiet village of Coloane down near Macau's southern tip, there is a purveyor of decadent edibles such as its trademark egg tarts that scores of people happily go out of their way to get their hands on the establishment's greasy delights. Although Lord Stow's Bakery now has branches elsewhere (including at the opulent Venetian Macao and outlets in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines), my preference -- and that of many others -- is to solely head to its original location at Coloane Town Square.

Its exterior may appear modest but I think it adds to its charm. And not only is the sales area full of goodies but you also can see the establishment's usually seriously busy bakers at work producing their undeniably greasy but oh so delicious Macanese egg tarts (which, funnily enough, were created at that location by an Englishman, albeit one who lived and worked for years in the former Portuguese enclave that now is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China).

So how good are Lord Stow's Bakery's egg tarts? Let's just say that on my visits to Macau, I find myself regularly unable to resist having one -- and sometimes even two -- of these tarts that taste like they have crème brûlée centers for tea, even after having had my usual large Macanese lunch. And despite seeing all the grease oozing out to stain the brown bag that it's put into at the bakery in mere minutes! (A question for my fellow Photo Hunters: Why oh why does super greasy food that probably is not very good for you often taste oh so very heavenly?! ;S)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Home in Penang

A view of buildings that might not be out of place
in Hong Kong (but, actually, are located in Penang)

Alternatively, this view looks like what it is --
of a place that's thousands of miles away from the Big Lychee

Late last week up to earlier this week, I was back in Penang -- where my parents still live (but not my siblings as well as myself). Although I was born there, I have spent more than half of my life -- and most of my adult years -- outside of my home state; and it often shows -- in terms of such as my often getting easily mistaken by my fellow Penangites for a foreigner. (I tend to think it's because of the clothes I wear, the hairstyle I favor and maybe also my gait.)

Increasingly too, even while I have not lost my ability to speak Hokkien (my mother tongue and Penang's majority language), Bahasa Malaysia (the national language) and "Manglish" (AKA Malaysian English), I find myself automatically thanking people in stores with a Cantonese m'goi rather than, say, the equivalent Hokkien kahm siah, Malay terima kasih or English thank you!

Additionally, more than four years of living in Hong Kong has gotten me all (pleasantly) surprised -- like many foreign visitors to the place -- to find how cheap great Penang food really can be. (E.g., a plate of my favorite assam laksa still is just RM$2.50 (about HK$6.50 or US$0.83) and a dinner for two consisting of one kilogram of female crabs, half a kilogram of big prawns, a plate of fried fish, a plate of cockles and two drinks (one alcoholic) amounted to less than RM$120 (about HK$313 or US$40)!)

On this recent trip, I further got to really noticing how comfortable Penangites are with speaking English -- not just in terms of their ability to do so but also not having cultural political hang ups with the language. Put another way: English isn't really seen (anymore) as a colonial British tongue or vestige. Instead, it -- and, yes, more so than Bahasa Malaysia -- appears to be the de facto socially equalizing language for Penangites to communicate with their country folk from other ethnic groups.

On another linguistic note: something else I appreciate after spending time in Hong Kong -- and visiting Macau, never mind Beijing -- is how it is that in Penang, I am not expected to know Mandarin (AKA Putonghua to denizens of the People's Republic of China). For in this part of the world which has had ethnic Chinese residents as far back as the eighteenth century, it truly is understood that there are people whose ancestors may have come from China but those ancestors left the old country so long ago that China is no longer looked upon as their descendants' true homeland.

For my part, I look forward to a year not too far in the future now when I can apply for and hopefully successfully receive Hong Kong permanent residency status. At the same time, I don't plan to give up my Malaysian citizenship (to take up such as a Chinese one) any time soon. And come what may, Penang food remains the food that most represents "home" to me. So even if other parts of me may not seem like that of a Penang native, I do reckon that my stomach and tastebuds -- and my abiding passion for tasty food -- will forever remain that of a Penangite! ;b

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Around greater Mui Wo (Photo-essay)

One of the reasons why I love hiking in Hong Kong is that it can often "fill in the blanks" in my imagination when looking at a map of the territory. Another reason is that it allows me to venture to parts of the Big Lychee which one can't if one were to solely rely on such as public transportation (or, in some cases, even private cars).

And such was the case for the most part when two friends of mine and I hiked from Mui Wo, the sprawling but largely low density town on the eastern coast of Lantau Island that's served by ferry as well as public bus, to Tai Ho Wan, a body of water that borders the North Lantau Highway. For while the hike began and end in accessible locales, its trail effectively cut across land which were not accessible to vehicles for the most part -- and which I'd venture to suggest that few people other hikers and area residents are likely to pass through.

First, however, here's presenting some photos of the greater Mui Wo area taken during the hike (for yes, this Mui Wo to Tai Ho Wan hike was one of those excursions that yielded enough photos for more than one photo-essay... ;b):-

On the waterfront at Mui Wo looking towards
Silver Mine Bay Beach and the Silvermine Beach Hotel

Organizations and/housed in buildings such as these
emphasize Mui Wo's still predominantly rural character

Inside the Man Mo Temple located in the Mui Wo area

I can see why those seeking a bit more peace and quiet
than is often to be had in Hong Kong would want
to make their home in this part of the Big Lychee

At the same time, I also can understand why other people
would be inclined to abandon their homes in this area
to go to other, more "buzzing" parts of the territory

Silvermine Bay Waterfalls -- not worth a visit by itself
but nonetheless a nice sight to stop and check out
along the way (and early into the hike)

The Silvermine Cave that gave Silver Mine Bay its name
is so modest looking these days that it could very easily
go unnoticed if not for the nearby sign which tells
"the story of Silvermine Cave"!

To be continued (in terms of there being more hike -- as opposed to Mui Wo area -- photos to come!)! :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wrong (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Surely there's something wrong with that sign? Put it another way: I'm far more willing to believe that something got lot in translation with regards to its English portion than that pedestrians and mountain bikes (the latter especially when just by themselves -- that is, sans riders) are really that scary, be it on a hiking trail or not! ;b

(Also, no, there's nothing wrong but yes, this week, my Photo Hunt entry is indeed quite a bit shorter than usual. And do please excuse me for checking your entries later than usual but I do promise to, at the very least, visit those who check out mine first at some point this weekend.)

Addendum: There also appears to be something wrong with Blogger with regards to this post because, try as I might, I can't get the formatting of the first paragraph looking the way I want it to look!!! :(

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Arsenal and the beautiful game

View of a night time association football game
played on a lighted but grass-less Kowloon City pitch

The first thing I did this morning after I woke up wasn't to go wash my face, brush my teeth or even switch on the electric water heater (to boil water for my coffee). Instead, it was to rush to my computer to go online and find out who my association football (soccer in American English) club of choice, Arsenal of North London, had signed before the closing of the transfer window on August 31.

To my joy, I discovered that Arsenal had brought in a total of five new experienced players (two of them captains of their countries -- South Korea and Israel -- and one other capped 79 times for Germany), three more than after I switched off the computer and decided to call it a night the previous evening. And even while I rue these transfers not taking place until after Arsenal lost 8-2 to Manchester United over the weekend (as well as lost 2-0 to Liverpool the previous weekend), they do go some way towards my restoring my faith in The Gunners as a while (management and board as well as team and club).

This all is a very good thing indeed to my mind -- and something that helps rest my mind and generally puts my ease. For, even while there may be some readers of this blog who do not yet realize this, I am as much a Gooner as I am a fan of Hello Kitty and Ponyo, among other things.

As a matter of fact, I've been an Arsenal supporter for much longer than I've been a lover of the furry feline and feisty fish creature. And at the risk of showing my age, I actually can vividly watching Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 -- after being tied at 2-2 with five minutes to go -- in the 1979 F.A. Cup Final as well as the 1989 Arsenal game at Anfield which The Gunners had to win by two clear goals in order to become league champions, the 1998 match vs Everton that Arsenal won 4-0 to clinch the English Premier League title, and so much more.

Being an Arsenal fan in particular (and association football in particular), it probably won't come as a surprise for me to state that I also enjoy playing the beautiful game. And it really gives me great joy and no small amount of pride to say that I've managed to play in several organized association football matches over the years -- including at varsity level (during my first two years at Beloit College) as well as intra-mural tournaments at college and a six a side indoor soccer league in Philadelphia some years later.

Somewhat sadly though, I only got to play organized soccer in the US -- but never did so in Malaysia (my home country) or England (where I attended boarding school) because in the time I've lived there, association football has been very much considered a sport for males rather than females. So it's somewhat ironic then that most of the time I've played the game in the US (and the one time in Singapore that I was on holiday and met up with a college friend with whom I regularly played soccer in Philadelphia, and in Tanzania, where I happily played with people half or even one third my age), it's been in a co-ed environment...

All in all, I've found that although I may not have the physical power and strength of many male football players, I have been able to at least match quite a few of them in playing skills. In addition, I've known several male football players who have been happy to have me on my team because of my attitude and team spirit as well as general footballing abilities. And although I've long since hung up my football boots (in favor of such as hiking), I definitely have many good footballing memories that come from my playing days (in addition to those that come courtesy of supporting and watching Arsenal).

To be sure, these include winning the state championship my freshman year at Beloit and scoring my first goal for the Beloit College varsity team. But, in all honesty, little achievements like winning tackles against macho men who thought they'd easily get past the tiny female left-back (i.e., moi), setting up someone else's brilliant goal or feeling like one had got this amazing, unspoken understanding with certain team-mates (Denise and Henry, if you ever read this, I'm talking about you) really are things I look back upon and treasure to this day. :)