Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scenic beauty on view along the South Lantau Country Trail (photo-essay)

For those of you who are wondering: yes, I did venture outside of Hong Kong between my first photo-essay of my December hike along the eastern portion of the South Lantau Country Trail and this one. But rather than cover my most recent vacation today, I'd like to focus some more on the kind of day excursion out in the Hong Kong countryside that a fellow hiker remarked can make one feel like one is on holiday outside of Asia's World City -- so different are the scenic surroundings one finds oneself in from stereotypical urban views of Hong Kong, even though the super high density sections of the territory actually aren't all that far away, especially as the crow flies!

Adding to the sense of being in a foreign land even though one actually is still in the Big Lychee: many a time while out hiking, including on the South Lantau Country Trail, one's mobile phone will suddenly receive "Welcome to China" messages to signal that services have (temporarily) switched to "China roaming"... And for those reading this and thinking "wait, isn't Hong Kong part of China?", well, yes, it is and yet... in many small as well as big ways, it really still doesn't feel like it is...

Still, rather than get (over(t)ly) political, here's turning back to the subject at hand and this blog entry's intent: that of showing how certain parts of the Big Lychee are filled with scenic beauty that is simply glorious to catch sight of while out on a nice hike in good weather with a good friend. :)

If I didn't tell you, would you think that
this was/is a Hong Kong landscape?

In the dry season, some thrill seekers -- guided by
signs in the form of colored ribbons showing which
side of the path to go along (click to enlarge this photo
and see) -- hike on these mountain stream paths

Me -- I'm content to just follow the official trail
from where I catch sight of scenes
of natural beauty like this one! ;b

A hiker pauses to catch some shut eye in what
some others might not deem a safe place, apparently
oblivious to others and a helicopter passing by! ;O

A walk on the wild (Hong Kong) side :)

For those (like me) who suffer a bit
from vertigo, this flattish but rugged trail
serves up a few hairy moments

...but I actually think those moments are more than
balanced out by the copious amounts of scenic beauty
on view on this particular Hong Kong hiking trail :)

And while I love the sight of a great landscaped garden,
I find that I really do often appreciate natural beauty more

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An obligatory Chinese new year blog post ;)

A glittery sight on Chinese New Year eve

Flowers for sale at the Chinese New Year
Flower Market
in Victoria Park

Festive decorations also were on sale
at the Flower Market

Kong Hei Fat Choi/Keong Hee Huat Chye/Gong Xi Fa Cai once more to one and all -- and for those who think I'm (too) late with my Chinese new year greetings, do please be informed that the Chinese New Year festivities traditionally last(ed) for 15 days! ;b

Alas, however, I was back at work on the third day of Chinese New Year -- and this despite it being a public holiday in Hong Kong. At the same time though, what with Chinese New Year having fallen on a Monday this year, I have to admit to having been happy enough that I had a "long weekend" to get into a festive, holiday mood.

Also, if truth be told, the decorations on display in many parts of Hong Kong and slew of Chinese New Year-specific activities taking place also helped get me feeling celebratory. And after avoiding it in previous years for fear that it would be way too crowded for comfort, I finally paid a visit to a Chinese New Year Flower Market -- in fact, the biggest one of the lot over in Victoria Park!

What with the weather that day (and on subsequent days) having been on the cold and damp side, the crowd turned out to be not as horrifically large as I feared. At the same time, it wasn't raining so hard that a dampener was put on the affair. So, unlike Maggie Cheung Man Yuk and Leon Lai's characters in Comrades, Almost a Love Story, my time at the Flower Market did not turn out to be a wash out.

And although I didn't go on a shopping frenzy unlike some other people, I still did enjoy myself there -- by window shopping, viewing the whole affair for the festive spectacle that it is, taking photos while there and, also, just feeling a sense of communitas by way of taking part, in however small a way, in a local, communal activity.

Indeed, the overall experience was so positive that I definitely wouldn't mind repeating it again -- unlike that involving viewing the Chinese New Year fireworks display in Victoria Harbour from a boat which I had some years back, one that was so uncomfortably chilly as well as sea-sickness inducing that I've since been put off even wanting to view that annual festive pyrotechnic display from land! ;(

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Along the eastern section of the South Lantau Country Trail (Photo-essay)

Before anything else: Kong Hei Fat Choi and Happy New Year of the Dragon to this blog's visitors, especially the regulars among you (regardless of whether you are the commenting type or not ;b)! And if you're wondering, yes, I have done some traditional Chinese New Year stuff like visit the Chinese New Year Flower Market in Victoria Park, have dim sum lunch with a large group (though, in my case, it was friends rather than relatives) and go watch a Chinese New Year movie.

Additionally, as has become a tradition of sorts for me this time of the year, I went out hiking with friends. And, in fact, this year, I've actually went on two hikes rather than just one; the first on Chinese New Year Eve and the second -- which was quite a bit easier than the Cloudy Hill excursion -- earlier today! :)

But rather than post photos from today's hike, I'm electing to go back in time with this photo-essay to a brighter as well as less cold and damp day than today. More specifically, I'm returning via my photo archive to a day in December during which my regular hiking companion and I trekked along the 7 kilometer Pak Kung Au to Nam Shan section of the South Lantau Country Trail that I had been on a few years earlier with a couple of friends, during which hike we had lingered so much to enjoy the scenery that we ended up hiking in darkness for some of the end portion -- an experience I was determined not to repeat this second time around going along this eastern section of the official Country Trail!

Although this hike was not one I'd consider dangerous
to undertake, it is along a trail with sections that
people should exercise care when going along them

A close to identical -- but clearer -- view of
Lower Cheung Sha Beach and Sha Tsui to
one I had
on my earlier hike along this trail

Looking back to Pak Kung Au (and, further
in the distance, the seriously
-- to me, at least! -- Lantau Peak)

What bliss to come across and photograph
this male member of the
blue pansy butterfly
resting on a rock! :)

Much of this trail goes along the mountain side
and offers up panoramic views of South Lantau

A view showing part of the mountainous 'wall'
that separates south from north in this section
(still) largely wild and rural
Lantau Island

The kind of rugged scenery and landscape
that few people associate with Hong Kong

Believe me when I say that it's one of the things I treasure
about living in Hong Kong that I can regularly venture
into the countryside and be treated to vistas like this :)

To be continued... of course! ;b

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cloudy Hill on a cold January day

Cloudy (misty) view of Cloudy Hill as my regular
hiking companions and I neared the top of it

Fortunately, the visibility began to noticeably
increase a few minutes after we began
descent along the other side of the hill

While it was somewhat intimidating to see how far we
still had to go to get down, it really was pretty nice to be
able to have the splendid views we did from Cloudy Hill :)

One December years ago (so long ago, in fact, that one of my regular hiking companions -- yes, we've been joined by another since September 2010 -- was not born then!), I paid my first visit to Hong Kong with my parents and a Singaporean family of four. Since Hong Kong isn't that far away from Penang (i.e., only about 15 degrees latitude further north) and its latitudinal location has it in the tropics, I don't think we -- adults and children alike -- were prepared for temperatures to drop as low as they did during our visit. (Hence one of my strongest memories of that trip involving the children in the party getting bundled into a store and emerging with new thick coats to help us stay warmer!)

As I write this line, temperatures of 7.5, 5.5 and 9.1 degrees Celsius are being reported on the Weather Underground of Hong Kong website for Victoria Peak, Ngong Ping and Tai Po respectively. While that is not low at all compared to temperatures I've experienced when I lived in Wisconsin (AKA The Siberia of America), it really is all relative -- and I have to say that I felt plenty cold -- not just cool (in more ways than one) -- earlier today when I was standing up on the summit of Cloudy Hill, the 440 meter high hill located just north of Tai Po whose Cantonese name of Kau Lung Hang Shan sounds like it can mean Nine Dragons Going (up a) Hill (i.e., Going Hiking)!

As it so happens, we burned up so much energy on the way up Cloudy Hill that we literally looked like we were steaming at some points during our hike -- and, indeed, we not only were actually sweating from our exertions but also had to stop a couple of times to peel off what ended up feeling like superfluous extra layers of clothing. But the summit as well as southern portion of Cloudy Hill were pretty windy -- and soon, we found ourselves putting back those layers of clothing we had peeled off not even an hour previously.

Perhaps the best way to convey a sense of how cold it felt up there is that I ended up electing against holding on to the railings on my descent -- because the metal was so very cold to the touch! At the same time though, I have to state my gratefulness that there were railings within clutching distance on much of the route down -- because, if nothing else, I felt assured that there would be something nearby that I could grab if the wind got any stronger and threatened to blow me off the formidable-looking hill that I've regularly viewed from a lower level for some years now and whose ascent I looked upon as one of those Hong Kong hiking challenges that I'd consider an achievement upon accomplishing. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bliss and Animal (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Do animals -- particularly/including insects such as butterflies -- feel bliss? And if so, when in particular do they feel blissful? This was one of the questions that Sandi's and Gattina's choice of themes for this Saturday had me pondering as I decided what images to put up for this week's Photo Hunt entry.

With advance apologies to the more sensitive Photo Hunters: Going with the theories about food and sex (or, if you prefer, food, love and sex) that I first was introduced to in a college biological anthropology class, I've consequently elected to put up shots of animal pairs -- specifically butterflies -- getting sustenance (this entry's top photo) and going at it (the other two photos -- yes, even in the middle one... though you'd have to look more closely to see the... *ahem*... connection! ;b).

On a personal note: I must say that spotting beautiful butterflies and being able to get good photographs of them can get me feeling pretty blissed out. And being able to do so counts as one of the highlights and attractions of hiking in Hong Kong for me -- this particularly so because a great variety of butterflies (about 240 different species, in fact!) can be spotted in the territory. :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

My top ten 2011 Hong Kong movies list

My to-be-expected choice of best
2011 Hong Kong film viewed last year

There's no two ways about it: 2011 was not a banner year for Hong Kong cinema -- and that might be putting it somewhat mildly. One gauge of this being so is that I don't think I've recalled another year since my return to Asia (where my access to Hong Kong movies new as well as old -- especially in cinemas, as opposed to "just" home video -- is way more than it was in Philadelphia, particularly once the video rental stores switched from VHS tapes to VCDs (and no, it never was DVDs)) when there were so many new Hong Kong movies released that I decided to not watch -- and even so, I still ended up viewing major dogs like the painfully bad 3D Sex and Zen and brain-meltingly idiotic Love You You.

Another indicator of this sad state of affairs is that the number of purely Hong Kong movies (as opposed to Hong Kong-Mainland China co-productions) went down so much that I'm now counting co-productions as Hong Kong movies for the purposes of such as this blog entry. And even when doing so, my total number of 2011 Hong Kong films viewed last year comes up (or is it down?) to just 23 -- 9 fewer than the equivalent number in 2010.

So it actually comes as a bit of a surprise that I reckon that there are 10 good (or better) 2011 Hong Kong movies to want to write and let people know about. (And, in fact, I'd go so far as to say that I got more out of viewing the top five on this list than last year's list of Hong Kong movies viewed that year as well as that for 2009!) Also, for those of my fellow Hong Kong movie fans who read this entry, do please feel free to let me know on its comments thread what (other fine Hong Kong) films I have missed that you think I ought to check out.

1) A Simple Life

Time was when seeing Ann Hui's directorial credit on a film would cause me to think twice about going ahead and checking it out. But in the 21st century, the veteran filmmaker looks to have really come into her own.

Although she has not completely lost her tendency to have her main characters suffer often (unnecessarily, to my mind) sad fates, in such as The Way We Are (2008) and now, also, A Simple Life, this doyen of Hong Kong cinema has also proven majorly adept at revealing nobility, if not actual beauty, in lives led that could be described as having been on the modest, even difficult, side -- yet actually turn out to not have been entirely without happiness and good fortune after all.

In doing so, in such as this 2011 film starring Deannie Ip and Andy Lau that is based on the true story of a greatly appreciated amah and the man who sought to repay some measure of the care she had given over the years, the auteur has revealed a side to her characters as well as her film-making and, it could be said, personal outlook on life that is welcomingly warm and tender (even if also often pragmatic).

2) The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake

This historical drama-actioner that casts its light on Qing Dynasty-era revolutionary and poet Qiu Jin stars a Mainland Chinese actress (in Huang Yi) and has its Chinese characters speaking in Mandarin rather than Cantonese. Nonetheless, there is a very Hong Kong feel to it -- and not just because there are a lot of faces that will be familiar to Hong Kong film fans among its cast (including Anthony Wong Chau San, Lam Suet and Dennis To but also ex-Shine boys, Wong You Nam and Tsui Tin Yau!).

Rather, what I mean is that I thought that director Herman Yau managed to very successfully inject the kind of zest and energy into proceedings -- as well as fairly seamlessly cobble together a number of disparate genres -- in the manner of the best Hong Kong films of the 1980s and 1990s. And in so doing, he came up with an offering that was so entertaining that I happily went and watched it more than once in the cinema -- and on each occasion, came away feeling that I had got quite a bit out of the experience! :)

3) I Love Hong Kong

No doubt about it: This Eric Tsang and Chung Shu Kai co-helmed movie wears its heart on its sleeve. And it also is very much to the filmmakers' credit that this Chinese New Year offering centring on two buddies who re-connect in the public housing estate they call home showed that they definitely have their feet planted on the ground and know and can communicate full well the concerns and cares of regular Hong Kongers -- as well as know what tickles many a Hong Kong movie viewers' funny bones.

In addition, I really appreciate the lengths that many a star actor and actress is willing to go to make their audience laugh -- with particular kudos going to Sandra Ng who shows here that she may be a very good dramatic actress but that she truly is superb when it comes to physical comedy! And on a personal aside: imagine the thrill as well as shock I had one evening at dinner with friends when I suddenly realized that the reason one of the friends of friends who had been invited to dinner was so familiar was because I had previously seen her (Michelle Lo, if you're wondering) making an appearance in this movie!! ;O

4) All's Well, Ends Well 2011

The sixth installment of Raymond Wong's All's Well, Ends Well film franchise which got its start in 1992 with a movie with a stellar cast that served up plenty of laughs only has one of its original stars (i.e., producer-actor Raymond Wong) in the movie. But even while it is undeniably so that the likes of Louis Koo, Donnie Yen and Cecilia Cheung lose out in the superstar stakes to such as Stephen Chow, Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, their performances in this 2011 Chinese New Year comedy showed that this younger crop of Hong Kong cinematic luminaries are well capable of shining and getting audiences roaring with laughter too.

Even more surprising was how Donnie Yen actually was pretty good in a comic role as a dedicated make-up artist. Still, to my mind, Chapman To it was who stole the show -- even though he had less screen time than many other members of this movie's cast! ;b

5) Wu Xia

This Peter Chan-directed wuxia work was one of the rare movies in 2011 that I viewed with a friend. (I normally prefer to go to cinemas by myself.) Post-screening, my friend and I talked about the movie -- and it became readily apparent that, even though (maybe because?) she's a way bigger Donnie Yen fan than me, she had emerged from the viewing distinctly less satisfied than me.

In the months since I viewed the film, I have to say that my feeling -- that I shared with her that evening -- hat this martial arts drama is more easily admired than liked, never mind loved has grown. Put another way: this is a technically excellent work -- and yet there somehow feels like a certain special "oomph" is missing from it. At the same time, there really is much to be admired about it -- not least the performance and presence of veteran thespians Jimmy Wang Yu (whose best film this may well be -- since I thought he actually was much more wooden-acting in his Shaw Brothers days) and Kara Hui Ying Hung (who, together, with Jimmy Wang Yu, really had the kind of super convincingly menacing screen presence that few of the actors and actresses in succeeding generations really have been able to evince!).

6) Overheard 2

Strange but true: I can hardly remember the story of Overheard 1 -- even while still recalling that it was a film that I didn't think all that badly of. In contrast, this 2011 thriller from Felix Chong and Alan Mak is a work with scenes and moments that I reckon will live in my memory for some while. For even while I grant that the story of a loving son wanting revenge (justice?) for one parent and to be able to financially provide for another parent in her old age is a time honored one, certain twists in the conventional tale and performances by particular actors make this work more than run of the mill.

In particular, I reckoned Kenneth Tsang put in a particularly powerful performance while Lau Ching Wan was excellent playing against type. And as much as I found the roles given to the younger actresses in this work on the throwaway -- and consequently disappointing -- side, I really liked that this film's makers made it so that a multi-generational cast was involved, and that the older thespians included a number of veteran actors who can be counted on deliver pretty much every time they appear in a movie!

7) Don't Go Breaking My Heart

Johnnie To may take greater pride and joy in his crime dramas but when he puts his mind, even if not heart, to it, I really do think that he -- in collaboration with Wai Ka Fai -- really can come up with a winner of a romantic comedy. In 2000, he did so with Needing You -- a work that I've come to love more and more each time I've viewed it (more than 5 times now...). And in 2011, I reckon he's done it again with Don't Go Breaking My Heart -- another office-based romantic comedy revolving around a love triangle involving a woman and two men who are not perfect yet can come across as two very good catches as far as most females are concerned.

Although I adore the 2000 romantic comedy starring Sammi Cheng, Andy Lau and Raymond Wong Ho-yin, I actually think that Don't Go Break My Heart is better than it in at least one crucial way: i.e., this time around, I reckon that the female protagonist (played in this film by Mainland Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan) made the right choice with regards to the man to spend the rest of her life with! :b

8) 72 Martyrs

In 2011, more than one film was made about rebels against the Qing Dynasty and released in the 70th year after the 1911 revolution led by Sun Yat Sen that has come to be seen as marking the beginning of the end of imperial China. Although the film entitled 1911 starring Jackie Chan had a bigger budget, more publicity and a wider release, I was much more impressed by Derek Chiu's 72 Martyrs, the period political drama about the revolutionary supporters of Sun Yat Sen who waged -- and lost their lives in -- what has come to be known as the Second Guangzhou Uprising (AKA the Yellow Mound Revolt) that took place on April 13, 1911.

Granted that I have probably am more inclined to like this movie than most on account of one of its main characters (essayed by Zhao Bingrui) hailing from my home state of Penang, Malaysia. However, I also will say that this work came across as a distinct improvement vis a vis Road to Dawn, Derek Chiu's 2007 Malaysian-Shenzhen co-production that that was much more Penang focused and based. On a more general note: I reckon that 72 Martyrs benefited greatly from having an all-round good cast (headed by Tse Kwan Ho) -- this particularly since it was a film in which financial constraints led to key action scenes taking place off screen, making it so that the focus was very much on showing the emotional reactions of people to these significant events.

9) Datong

Years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia and in the early days of my (re)discovery of Hong Kong cinema, I viewed Evans Chan's To Liv(e) and found it revelatory as well as impressive in many ways. Shortly after moving to Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to meet and interview the journalist turned filmmaker. And I frankly consider it quite an honor that some years after our first meeting, he actually remembered me and that we got back in touch and have done such as had had a few drinks and good conversations. This is especially so on the back of my viewing his latest work which served me to remind me what a rare transnational as well as thoughtful and thought-provoking filmmaker he is.

A docu-drama that weaves together the stories of Qing Dynasty scholar-reformist Kang Youwei who spent several years in exile in Sweden, his daughter Kang Tongbi and actress turned dance choreographer Chiang Ching (whose misfortune it was to have the same name as the woman who became Mao Zedong's most (in)famous wife and a member of the Gang of Four), Datong is the kind of work that leaves me in awe at the intelligence of its filmmaker. Something that also strikes me as admirable it how it does seem to be the rare independent Hong Kong film that really does endeavor to communicate with its audience even while not pandering to them, politically or otherwise. Lastly, I think perhaps the best tribute that I can pay to the main man behind it is that it caused me to want to find out and learn more about the people whose stories it told. Put another way: it aroused my interest, and got me curious and wanting more knowledge and information about its subject matter!

10) Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

When I first heard of this Tsui Hark project, my immediate reaction was a horrified "Oh no!" This not least because I really love Dragon Inn, the 1992 film starring Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Tony Leung Kar Fai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk that he had produced (and, some say, had a hand in directing as well). However, after being assured that the 2011 wuxia work is actually not a remake of that film which ranks among my top ten favorite Hong Kong movies of all time (still), I decided to go ahead and check out this 3-D action offering.

To be honest: upon doing so, I really would not rank this movie among my top ten favorite Tsui Hark films, let alone Hong Kong ones. (This not least because I think the script really have been better -- including in terms of helping create characters that I could feel more strongly for and about.) On the other hand, I also do reckon that this film shows that the technology now finally exists for Mr. Tsui to realize his artistic vision -- one that truly can be mindbogglingly imaginative and creative beyond most others. And it's pretty clear that he really does want to share, or at least show, it to the viewers of his movies. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From Mui Wo to Pui O (Photo-essay)

How enjoyable can a hike in winter in Hong Kong be? One answer is: So enjoyable that rather than follow the originally planned route, one -- and one's obliging hiking companion -- can decide mid-excursion to extend it and go along a longer route just so that one can spend more time enjoying being outdoors in the Big Lychee's countryside. More specifically, that's exactly what my regular hiking companion and I decided that December day that saw us ending up hiking Lantau Trail Section 12 in reverse!

So, rather than end up at the Nam Shan Barbecue Area, near where sections (or stages) 1 and the considerably more challenging 2 of the Lantau Trail meet, we ended our hike that we began in Mui Wo in picturesque Pui O. And while we did see the buffalo that (in)famously hang out in the area, some other -- cultural as well as natural -- sights actually caught our eye and attention more there... ;b

Photographic evidence that not all hiking trails in
Hong Kong
have had concrete poured over them!

A warning to those thinking of going along this trail
in the opposite direction from me:
there are a lot of steps --
particularly ascending up
from near Shap Long Kau Tsuen

Also do please note that some of the steps
are more difficult to go on than others...

The Tin Hau temple at the southeastern end of Pui O
that dates back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644)

The Tin Hau temple's main fruit-laden altar

A modest -- but well kept up -- shrine
not far away from the Tin Hau temple

Birds find a perch in the form of a branch
stretching out of the water of a nearby tidal creek

The Chi Ma Wan peninsula's 302-meter-high Miu Tsai Tun
casts a scenic shadow over this part of Lantau

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hong Kong rainy day photography

This foggy (as well as rainy) day shot of the Aqua Luna
gets me
thinking of the legend of the Flying Dutchman!

Rain drops keep falling... including on this leaf

For a few days each year, Hong Kong has weather that an English friend and I agree reminds us of the kind of weather -- gray (foggy even), cold and damp -- that used to get us down when we lived in England. Although my hiking companions and I had hoped otherwise, this weekend turned out to be among those days.

So, unlike another friend who went ahead with her hiking, only to text me later in the day that "we gambled that it wouldn't rain and lost big time"(!), I stayed in the urban sections of the Big Lychee today. But rather than remain cooped up in my Hong Kong home (whose high ceilings makes it several degrees cooler in winter time than it is outdoors), I did go ahead and do a couple of the things I previously suggested that people do when it rains here!

Over on the comments thread of that October 2010 blog post (which, more than incidentally, was a follow up to one of this blog's most popular entries), the blogger behind Horsoon's Photography suggested that one other worthwhile activity to do when it's raining in Hong Kong is to go about taking photos.

To be honest, I wouldn't recommend taking out one's camera and snapping some shots in the more crowded streets in rainy weather -- not least because the space often gets much too filled with individuals wielding umbrellas in such a way that they risk poking other people in the eye with their umbrellas' end tips! At the same time though, it's also true enough that there are vantage points -- including insides of buildings and vehicles -- that are happily free from this hazard.

And should you find yourself in less crowded areas of Hong Kong when it's raining or just after the rain, one really can sometimes be presented with some cool sights. Among the more memorable for me have been water drops delicately balanced on thick spider webs and butterflies that seemed to have been lulled into slumber by the rainy weather (spotted while hiking on Tung Lung Chau some years back). Also, yes, I do indeed find water drops on stalks of grass and such like to be pretty visually appealing and worthy of photographing! :b

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Circular and Joy (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

A little less than a month ago, I wrote about my friend Joy for a tnchick-organized Photo Hunt entry in which I had also mentioned taking a mutual friend of ours and her family along a circular walk around Victoria Peak. But rather than repeat or elaborate on those subjects, I've elected to go another route for this Photo Hunt entry that once again combines themes for the week separately chosen by Sandi and Gattina -- and focus on things capable of giving me substantial joy that are often served up on circular dishes, with the bonus being that some of these things are themselves circular-shaped!

With regards to this blog entry's top-most photo: I'd like to call attention to not just the quantity of food in it but, also, the occasion at which that home-cooked feast was served up. For, as it so happens, that picture was taken at the home of a local friend who was good enough to invite me -- along with another friend who she subsequently got engaged to, then married, within 11 months of the photo being taken! -- to dine with her and her family one Chinese New Year evening.

Foodie that I am though, it's also true enough that I often can derive great joy from consuming particular foods, not just the social and communal aspects of meals -- and that's where the two other photos in this entry come in. More specifically, the photo of what look like Chinese versions of sandwiches is actually a photo of the decadent traditional Hong Kong delicacy known as gold coin chicken (that is so rich that it really is recommended that each diner only have just one of these circular concoctions at a seating!) while the photo of circular green goodness in small plastic packets are of a Malaysian delicacy known as onde-onde (or ondeh-ondeh or, as I actually pronounce it, oondeh-oondeh!) whose outer doughy green casings (garnished with bits of grated coconut) hide -- and balance, taste-wise -- wonderfully sweet gula melaka (palm sugar) centers.

And yes, now that I think about it, how wonderful it would be to have a meal consisting of one gold coin chicken followed by one packet -- or, hmm, maybe two -- of onde-onde... Alas, however, I don't think gold coin chicken is served in Penang and onde-onde can be found in Hong Kong -- or, to qualify, examples of these dishes that would be well made enough to truly bring me great dining joy! ;(

Friday, January 13, 2012

10 highlights of my 2011

One of many photos I took over the course of that
which I've decided was the best hike of my 2011

This work by Takashi Murakami made me smile at that
which gets my vote for best visual arts event of 2011 :)

As I told a friend (who occasionally reads my blog) at dinner last night, one reason why I go about writing up my annual "10 highlights of..." posts is that the very act of doing so gets me looking back at the past year -- and thinking of the many great times and experiences I had in the previous calendar year. On a related note: more frequently than not, it gets me realizing how much good stuff I often manage to pack into 365 days -- and realizing how good a life I generally lead (even if that life does have some bumps in the road now and then).

So, without further ado, here's adding another edition to the series that first involved my looking back at 10 highlights of the year 2006 and has continued with subsequent look backs at the years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010... :b

1) Best book: Josie Dew's A Ride in the Neon Sun: A Gaijin in Japan was first published in 1999 but I only came across it in a used book store in Hong Kong in 2011. A thick paperback that's 689 pages in length, the account of the Englishwoman's bicycle tour of a country she describes with much warmth as well as a humorous outlook was so very readable that I tore through it in way less time than one might think. Although its author never professes to be an expert about the country or its people, one nonetheless comes away from reading the book feeling that she did manage to get to heart of many things Japanese -- and also had her heart touched by her encounters with more than one Japanese person in more than one part of that land of contrasts, even if not major ethnic diversity.

2) Best concert: The Taiko Legend concert that was part of the Enchanting Arts of Asia (World Cultures Festival) program presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department had Japanese national treasure, Hayashi Eitetsu, leading members of his Eitetsu Fu-Un no Kai group in serving up the kind of mesmerizing, pulsating performance that often appeared to be a coming together of martial arts with music. Put another way, there's no mistaking the grace and strength on show -- and no forgetting the incredible and exhilarating percussion sounds that filled the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre that evening. How ironic then that upon my unexpectedly being given two complimentary tickets (rather than just one), I ended up asking more than ten friends in vain if they wanted to go to the concert with me before the first person I asked (a woman who had lived in Japan and whom I got the distinct feeling would love this show) got back to tell me that she could make the date after all! ;b

3) Best dance show: As a young child, my mother made me take ballet lessons. The experience left me loathing this dance form for decades, not just years. Even now, it's not often that I attend a ballet show completely voluntarily -- rather than due to feeling obligated professionally or to accompany my ballet-loving mother. So I'd say that it takes a really special ballet to make me enjoy the performance -- and in 2011, the Birmingham Royal Ballet did just that when it came to town as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival and presented the Asian premiere of Hobson's Choice, a dance version of Harold Brighouse's play created in 1989 by David Bintley in which not a single tutu is to be seen. Fun, lively and expressive, it was an expertly danced musical comedy with plenty of heart and soul along with bravura performances as well as interesting characters. In short: truly a sight to behold -- especially in those scenes that called for fast-paced action of the kind that I previously had not associated with ballet works!

4) Best single dish: In 2011, I went back to Penang three times. The first two times, I was able to go lunch at my favorite Malay assam laksa stall (over on Shamrock Beach) -- and as is my custom, I had two bowls of that delicious concoction -- the first one eaten quickly to satisfy my cravings, the second eaten slowly in order to truly savor its sublime taste(s). The third time around, I went to Shamrock Beach but found the stall was not operating that day. Loathe to leave that area without a taste of assam laksa, I ordered a bowl from a nearby competitor. Suffice to say that doing so only resulted in my having no doubt that I really, really love the assam laksa from "my" regular stall -- and so much so that I actually might consider it my favorite single dish of food ever! :O

5) Best ferry/kaito ride: This may seem a super specialized category but believe you me that there are plenty of candidates for this as there are quite a number of different ferry and kaito routes within Hong Kong (as well as the route between Hong Kong and Macau). And while it may not be the longest and most definitely is not the best known, I really do love the ride along the kaito that goes from Chek Keng (where I've ended more than one hike) to Wong Shek Pier out on the Sai Kung Peninsula. If you ever get the chance to go on this kaito, make sure you eschew the seating in the covered area in favor of that on the open top section where you are guaranteed a refreshing breeze along with fresh air and some pretty views that are well capable of taking your breath away.

6) Best hike: I went on more hikes (34!) this past year than in any other year of my life thus far -- and quite a few of them really were very enjoyable indeed, including ones that I went on in the summer months (when many people won't go out hiking in Hong Kong). And, indeed, my favorite hike of 2011 was a very satisfying trek that my regular hiking companion and I went on one beautiful Sunday back in June with great visibility -- along a route that took us from the Quarry Bay section of King's Road, up Mount Parker Road and a section of the Wilson Trail to Siu Ma Shan and Mount Butler (where superb views were to be had), then down along the Jacob's Ladder of Hong Kong Island to Quarry Gap and eventually back down to the hike's starting point.

7) Best manga series: At the tail end of 2010, a friend introduced me to a Japanese food themed graphic novel that I later found out was part of a series of seven cooking manga that effectively are compressed "best of" as well as English translations of a popular Japanese manga series. Writer Tetsu Kariya and illustrator Akira Hanasaki's Oishinbo a la Carte devotes whole volumes to the joy of rice, vegetables and sake (separately) as well as fish, sushi and sashimi (one book) and ramen and gyoza (one other book). It also introduces its readers to involving characters like a slacker journalist with a rare knowledge and passion for food, his soulmate, friends and colleagues... and his estranged artist-gourmand father. Perhaps the best way for me to describe how wonderful these books are are that I find it impossible to not eat (or at least snack) when reading them -- and suffice to say that I've re-read them more than once this past year as well! ;b

8) Best meal: Back when I was living in Penang, I read Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise and thought how cool it'd be to go on a restaurant review. These days, I'm very lucky enough to get invited along a fair few by a good friend of mine who writes about food for a living. And it was while out on a food review with her that we dined at Sushi Dokoro Hikari, a specialist Japanese eatery whose sushi is good but also has surprisingly good tonkatsu and super excellent sashimi (the last due to its Hong Konger head chef having incredible knife skills as well as an ability to get very fresh seafood and other ingredients for his craft). Even without adding the fact that this meal was free (in that the company she works for picked up the tab), it was already great -- but yes, there definitely is a certain additional joy to be had in getting to eat a superb meal without having to put down a single cent for it! ;b

9) Best theater show: People's memories being what they are, we often find it easier to remember things that took place a month or so ago rather than 10 or 11 months before. At the same time though, my sense is that even if I had checked out a performance Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio's Beating the Classroom in January rather than December 2011, I'd have found it very memorable. For one thing, it's one of the first -- if not the very first -- non-verbal physical comedy theater shows I've ever seen. For another, it really was very creative, fun and eye-catchingly entertaining. And for a third, the cast was really unusual -- consisting of not only "regular" actors but, also, a trained gymnast who is the coach of the Hong Kong Cheer Team (Zico Hau), a trio of Bboys and a multi-talented entertainer (Lisa Cheng)who was able to use her sports climbing(!), gymnastics and belly dancing(!!) as well as acting abilities to good use in the show!!!

10) Best visual arts event: Especially during its Vernissage period, the Hong Kong International Art Fair (ART HK) can attract people who look like they want to compete with the actual art works for attention. Still, for actual culture vultures like me, there really still is plenty of real art from Hong Kong and far beyond to look at and appreciate. What's more, with the 2011 edition having been better than the 2010 edition, this is one annual Hong Kong artistic event that does promise to grow better as well as bigger from year to year. So, yes, I'm already looking forward to see what its organisers have in store in 2012! :b

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Along Lantau Trail Section 12 (in reverse!) (Photo-essay)

One gray December day, I took the ferry from Central to Mui Wo where I met up, as pre-arranged the day before, with my regular hiking companion at that Lantau town's pier. Although visibility was not as high that day as we would have liked, such as the cool (as opposed to cold) winter temperature was actually to our liking.

All told, we enjoyed our 9 kilometer hike along Section 12 of the Lantau Trail (but in reverse from the official direction) -- and have vowed that we will hike along this trail again some time when we have greater visibility... for certain scenic panoramas viewed along the way promise to be truly breathtaking on another, clearer day...

Gray sights from the ferry to Mui Wo that day

The hike start was just a few meters from Mui Wo pier
-- but in such an inconspicuous place that it

actually took us several minutes to locate it! ;(

Our moods lifted up considerably upon getting such as this
nice view of Mui Wo town not long after starting the hike

Although the Lantau Trail is long established,
this section of it looked like some construction work
was (still) taking place along it

A look a little way beyond the path yields
scenic natural vistas like this one

A study in fortitude -- this butterfly actually was still alive
and could fly despite being without a large part of a wing!

Very few Hong Kong trails are flat -- and we could
count ourselves fortunate that the uphill sections of

this trail didn't have overly steep gradients

In the distance lies something that I can get
excited to set my eyes on when hiking --
i.e., a trigonometrical station on top of a hill ;b

To be continued in a week's time... :)