Friday, August 31, 2012

Around a quieter part of Lamma (as well as Hong Kong) (Photo-essay)

For those visitors with a spider phobia: don't worry, there aren't going to be any pictures of spiders -- big or small -- in this particular photo-essay.  Not because my hiking companion and I didn't see any more arachnids on our southeastern Lamma Island hike beyond Mo Tat Wan, mind.  Rather, it was that at that point about one third into our day's excursion, we had seen (and photographed) so many spiders already that we got rather blasé to their presence!  

Consequently, we focused our sights (and cameras) more on other things and matters -- some of whose images can be seen below:-

 View of Lamma's Shek Pai Wan (which is not to be
confused with the one over by Aberdeen, Hong Kong
(as opposed to Aberdeen, Scotland!))

A couple whose outer clothes and other items strewn 
atop the nearby rock point to their having done a bit of 
hiking before they decided to lay down and sun bathe ;b

 A less -- ahem! -- peeping-tomish view of the beach area 
(with Yung Shue Ha, the largest village in the vicinity of 
visible in the distance)

The main path that goes through one of these 
largely quiet, small southeastern Lamma villages

A view from a higher elevation of Shek Pai Wan
and the surrounding area

That pavilion in the distant is actually only 136 meters
above sea level -- but on that super hot and polluted day,
it really felt like quite the achievement to get up to it!

Yup, that blue is the water of Shek Pai Wan
that we had been so much nearer only 
just a while earlier in the day!

Although we initially planned to hike to Yung Shue Wan 
up in the north of the island, we ended up stopping 
back in Sok Kwu Wan -- and treating ourselves to 
early dinner over at Rainbow Seafood Restaurant :)

Photos from the air

A splendid view from the plane that took me 
to my most recent vacation destination

Another shot that shows why 

Still up in the air but getting closer to land...

To those who wondered: yes, I was away on holiday!  But now I'm back -- and with great memories and many pretty good photos that I'd like to share, starting with a trio of images that I took from the plane.

Re where I went on my most recent vacation: some of you already know where I went but for those who don't, hope you can wait until my next vacation-specific blog entry!  (Put another way: I actually would like to put up a concluding photo-essay for my Lamma hike first before launching in earnest into vacation accounts!) :) 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Images from the Lamma Island big spiders hike (Photo-essay)

The big spiders hike. More than a year (and over 30 other hiking excursions) later, that's how I still think of the south-eastern Lamma Island hike that my hiking companion and I went on back in July last year.  Because we saw so many big spiders that afternoon that we stopped getting excited at the sight of time and we took to just pointing and generally walk by them without pausing to admire their very sight and size!

Something else I vividly remember was how difficult it was to climb up from sea level to just 136 meters above sea level.  At the time, we chalked it down to the heat of the day -- what with the temperature rising to around 33 degrees Celsius.  But later, we realized that it was because air pollution had played a part in our hiking difficulties and general discomfort.  

Nonetheless, it's also true that we had a pleasant enough day out.  After all, we did get some exercise, saw some interesting sights and got to cap off the day with a nice seafood dinner at the justly famous and popular Rainbow Restaurant before getting a complimentary ferry ride back to Hong Kong Island courtesy of that dining establishment! :b 

Birds perched on a fish farming platform 
in Picnic Bay (AKA Sok Kwu Wan) 

View of the beach and pier at Mo Tat Wan

One of many bugs spotted on the hike -- in this case,
it's a bug intent on getting nectar out of a beautiful flower

See the colorful caterpillar -- not just 
pretty flower -- in this photo? :b

A view of some of the better preserved structures
in Mo Tat Old Village

The village's old school house looks quite a bit 
more abandoned -- and reclaimed by nature

What looks to be a Common Sailor butterfly at rest

One of many big spiders spotted that day
-- with this spotting being special because
the spider's sizable food is also in the picture! :b

To be continued!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

McDull: The Pork of Music (film review)

 Mcdull and friends returned to the big screen in
Mcdull: The Pork of Music :)

McDull: The Pork of Music (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2012)
- Brian Tse, director
- Starring Cheung Ching Ching, Anthony Wong Chau San, Sandra Ng, The Pancakes 

Twenty-four years ago this year, Alice Mak created McDull, the piglet cartoon character that has captured many hearts in Hong Kong, Mainland China and beyond.  In 2001, the star of some 23 comic books made the leap to the silver screen with My Life as McDull, a film that I caught at the 2002 Philadelphia international film festival with a very receptive audience and have seen literally move adult viewers to tears.

Three years later, McDull, Prince de la Bun followed.  2006 brought McDull: The Alumni which combined "live action" with animation -- and did such as visually introduced me to the Hong Kong Sinfonietta (who had contributed music to the soundtracks of the Mcdull movies).  And in the summer of 2009, Mcdull made his first foray into the mainland with Mcdull Kungfu Ding Ding Dong.

If truth be told, none of the later movies could hold a candle to the first Mcdull film to my mind.  McDull, Prince de la Bun was moving but way too depressing for my liking, McDull: The Alumni was too muddled and McDull Kungfu Ding Ding Dong lacked "Hong Kong" locations and elements and, consequently, felt too generic and as though its makers had... if not "sold out" completely to the Motherland, then like they had agreed to too many compromises in order to be able appeal to Mainlanders.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I went and attended an advance screening of McDull: The Pork of Music, which I knew to also be a Hong Kong-Mainland China co-production.  Fortunately, however, my fears proved unfounded for, among other things, this film's story is mainly set in Hong Kong and largely peopled by characters who attend, work at or are alumni of -- and live in the vicinity of -- the Chun Tian Hua Hua (trans. Spring Flower) Kindergarten in  Tai Kok Tsui.  And even while there are trips made across the border (to Shenzhen) and also to Macau in the movie, they are the kind of excursions that are very definitely part of the characteristic Hong Kong experience.

In addition, there are those very Hong Kong touches and in-jokes that those who "get" them will feel particularly pleased to see in the picture.  For example, the movie (that's helmed by Alice Mak's husband and regular collaborator, Brian Tse) begins with Mcdull and friends singing with a Canto-pop star referred to as "Perfect Andy" (and can only be the cartoon equivalent of none other than Andy Lau) at the Hong Kong Coliseum.  And there's a local politician in the movie whose appearance and bids to get votes elicited knowing laughs in the audience.

Geographical and cultural factors aside, McDull: The Pork of Music also is redolent of the sublime My Life as McDull in its somehow being able to produce something magical and moving from mixing together childhood aspirations and adult concerns, cute characters with bitter-sweet story elements, interesting visuals and a wonderful musical selection.  Actually, as befitting a film about a modest kindergarten headmaster with a gift for instilling a love of music in his pupils, the music in this work (which features original compositions by Ng Cheuk Yin -- who, incidentally, was the Hong Kong Sinfonietta's first Artist Associate) might be said to stand out even more than the visuals -- though that's not at all to say that the animation is not once again of a very high order.

Put another way: There's no question that Mcdull and his friends are visually cute and often amusing but the real beauty of this movie lies in its music -- and, also, its affecting story.  Also, while the little piglet and his kindergarten classmates do have prominent parts in Mcdull: The Pork of Music, its main focus actually is the headmaster (voiced by Anthony Wong Chau San).  Not only does his character get fleshed out in this film but it gets vested with layers of emotion -- and so much so that I didn't just shed tears of laughter while watching this enchanting movie (which I did do) but, also, tears that come from feeling genuinely moved by it. 

My rating for this film: 8.5

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can and Sculpture & Monuments (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

For many people, a visit to Macau is not complete without a visit to at least one of its many casinos.  For others, a visit to the former Portuguese enclave just is not complete without digging into some Macanese and Portuguese food.

As those who know me will realize, I've never actually spent a dime in a Macau casino but I've definitely enjoyed many meals and snacks in "the other SAR" -- and that many of my recent visits to Macau have been motivated by a yearning for Macanese or Portuguese food.  At the same time, I also consider my excursions to this cultural heritage-rich territory to be incomplete without a stroll around the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Historic Centre of Macau and visits to at least one of its many historic monuments.

Although some of Macau's historic monuments (such as the Mandarin's House) can appear to be off many visitors' radars, pretty much every tourist and traveler will invariably gravitate at some point during their visit to the very photogenic Ruins of St. Paul's. Almost as inevitably, many of them tend to be generally content to just take photos of the intricately carved 17th century facade of what was originally the Jesuit Church of Mater Dei -- with or without ascending the 66 steps leading up to it -- and also snap a picture or two of the friendship sculpture located nearby of a Chinese woman presenting a flower to a Portuguese man.

But because I realized that the Na Tcha Temple located near the Ruins of St Paul's (so close, in fact, that you can see it to the left of the photo at the very top of this blog entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts that's dominated by the Jesuit structure) is dedicated to the Taoist god that was the subject of a favorite childhood movie of mine called Na Cha the Great, I made a point to check it out on one of my early visits to Macau.  (And yes, it's a small and architecturally simple structure but this temple built in 1888 as part of a bid to halt the Plague ravaging the territory at the time is indeed also one of Macau's valued historic monuments).

However it wasn't until my most recent visit to the territory that I finally checked out the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt  built in the inner area of the Ruins of St. Paul's. And even though I was surrounded throughout my visit by hordes of tourists, I have to say that I'm glad I went -- and, also, that I was indeed moved by what I saw in there: notably, the remains and relics of Japanese and Vietnamese Christian martyrs that had been shipped to Macau as well as a historic painting depicting the 1597 crucifixion of the 26 Martyrs of Japan (who I had been told about on my first visit to Japan back in 1982 but hadn't previously realized had their remains removed more than a thousand miles (i.e., close to two thousand kilometers) away to Macau).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The best uni I've ever had :)

Feast on your eyes on this ikura and uni don
(trans. salmon roe and sea urchin gonads rice bowl)...

The zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles 
with dipping sauce) tastes pretty good too
on a hot summer's day!

 But what price this generous piece of
uni gunkan sushi?

When I was a pre-teen, the first Japanese restaurant was established in Penang.  The Furusato restaurant at the Rasa Sayang Hotel (now "remade" into a "resort" and, alas, minus a Japanese dining establishment) was where I had my first sushi -- and where I developed a general love of Japanese food.  

However, I didn't begin to understand people's -- including that of my father's -- love of uni (sea urchin gonads) until my mother and I paid a visit one fateful morning a few years ago to Tokyo's Tsukiji Market and one of the restaurants located within it, the (in)famous Sushi Dai.  Up until I had the uni that was part of the omakase breakfast I had there, I had thought that uni tasted too strongly of iodine for my liking.  On a related note, I also thought that uni visually resembled mud.

But at Sushi Dai, the uni that was placed on the portions of gunkan sushi that my mother and I were served consisted of noticeably individually separated pieces -- and it was absolutely heavenly!  Tasting of the sea but also simultaneously light and creamy, it was a revelation as well as sheer delight.  

Since that amazing breakfast (that was a wonderful cultural experience on top of being an incredible culinary one), I have become a fan of uni and I've been truly lucky to be able to get my share of good uni over here in Hong Kong (as well as on a return visit to Sushi Dai when I returned to Tokyo for another visit last year).  But a few weeks ago, at a physically modest restaurant in Tin Hau, I had the best uni I've ever had thus far in my life -- surpassing even the uni at Sushi Dai and the far more expensive and famous Sushi Kuu located in Central (that I've happily gone for omakase a few times, including one time the same week as I visited the Tin Hau establishment).

I'm almost afraid to give publicity via this blog entry to Kiyoshi Sushi for fear that this great place is going to get super popular and risk its being ruined.  But a place that serves uni this good really deserves to get major praise and patronage.  And this especially when it offers lunch sets that are around the HK$90 range (including one that is made up of that ikura and uni don and zaru soba in this blog entry's top two photos -- with a bowl of miso soup thrown in for good measure!)

Those seeking the ultimate uni should note, however, that it's the Hokkaido uni on the restaurant's menu that is truly super special.  Also, it's not cheap -- more specifically, it costs HK$160 for one order (i.e., two pieces) of the Hokkaido uni gunkan sushi.  (For comparison, one order (i.e., two pieces) of the "regular" Japanese uni gunkan sushi costs, if memory serves me right, just half the price!)

So... what to do?  Well, you could do as I did last Saturday -- i.e., go for lunch and order the set that includes the ikura and (regular) uni don, then see if you can get the restaurant to effectively accept half of a regular order of the Hokkaido uni -- though it's true too that you may decide that just one piece of Hokkaido uni gunkan sushi might not be enough, so you might as well go for the full single regular order of it (for yes, it does taste that orgasmically great!)! :b

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Downhill to our hike's end at Mui Wo (Photo-essay)

From atop the hill where I took photos that ended the previous photo-essay, the trail that began in Discovery Bay and took my regular hiking companion and me steadily uphill could be seen going downhill pretty much all the way to our hike's end at Mui Wo.  Part of me wanted to stay a while longer on top of this hill where wonderful 360 degree panoramic views were to be had.  But I was getting peckish and knew that many eateries serving delicious fare (such as Bahce Turkish Restaurant and Wah Kee) awaited down in that rural Lantau town by Silver Mine Bay.

So down we headed... though not so quickly that we didn't stop every once in a while to admire the vistas that unfolded in front of and around us as we trekked that last section of a relatively short but still recommended trail... :b

One last look eastwards from atop the hill -- 
towards Peng Chau, Hei Ling Chau and, 
in the distance, Lamma and Hong Kong Island

The kind of idyllic scenery I did not realize could be 
found in Hong Kong until after I moved to -- 
and began hiking in -- the Big Lychee :)

 An attempt at an artistic shot along the way :)

Not too far to go before hike's end -- really!

 ...still, it'd be a while before we would be 

Those high mountains will have to wait for another day
(and ditto re the trail in the foreground!)

Soon we were at beach level (but no, we
didn't go bask on the sand there that afternoon)

 Instead, after a few satisfied looks back at the trail
we had come down the hill on, we went and 
treated ourselves to our customary 
post hike drinks and slap-up early dinner :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Caterpillar spottings on Victoria Peak

A scenic view from the (Victoria) Peak Circuit's
northern Lugard Road section  -- but wait, what's that
blurry thing in the foreground of the photo that 
I was (also) trying to bring into focus?

A caterpillar like the pair in this photo, that's what! :)
 A bigger and far hairier caterpillar spotted further 
down the road (and also crawling along the railing)

Earlier today, I went on a hike with a friend that didn't yield too many good photos -- this not least because of the misty gray conditions that we experienced for much of the afternoon, and especially when we were up near the top of Victoria Peak and at the very top of neighboring High West.  In all honesty, I didn't mind too much though because the hiking route I chose for today consisted of trails that I had previously been on on days with better weather and visibility.  Put another way: the main intention of today's hike was to get in a good workout more so than to come across (and take photos of) scenic vistas.

Before the mist moved into the area though, we did get some nice views -- as might be expected when one's walking about the Victoria Peak area.  However, it's also true enough that what frequently caught my eye more was the sight of scurrying caterpillars -- all of which appeared to be hurrying to the same meeting or location as they all were headed in the same easterly direction! 

So quickly were the caterpillars moving that it really was pretty difficult to get good photos of them.  And I'm not sure whether other people were too preoccupied with taking in the panoramic views along the Peak Trail (which is where we spotted all those caterpillars -- for, in contrast, none were to be seen on High West, on the Governor's Walk or the trail leading from The Peak down to Pok Fu Lam) but I only saw one other person attempt to take a photo of a caterpillar this afternoon!

While I do wish my caterpillar photos from today's hike were better, I still reckon that they are worth sharing.  So here they are -- and if nothing else, I like that they help to confirm once again that there are many interesting critters to be found on Victoria Peak (on cool and damp as well as more conventionally hot summer days) despite it sometimes seeming like they must have been driven away from the area by the large and often way loud tourist hordes about!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Numb, and Planes and Trains (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

There are people for whom transportation is just something that gets you from place A to B.  They are numb to the delights of the journey itself.  For my part, while I do admit to wishing that my current commute to and from work could be shorter than it currently is, there still actually are (many) times when I derive some enjoyment from looking out of the nearest window and checking out the scenery and sights that pass by.  And even while I've been in Hong Kong for more than five years now, I still really do find ferry rides -- across Victoria Harbour, to and from an outlying island, or elsewhere in the territory -- far from mundane.

Still, it's when I'm on planes to foreign lands as well as trains, buses and other above ground modes of transportation that I'm most likely to be eagerly facing a window and avidly drinking in the views and very experience of viewing new and often exotic and cool sights and scenery that I'm going by.  And while my photos unfortunately don't do them justice, I really do count such as the island and ocean views I got while flying out of Okinawa among the valued parts of that holiday I took there this year and the very experience of the train rides that offered up many lovely views of the Rhine when I visited Cologne with my German friend a couple of years back.

But you know who's pretty numb to these travel experiences -- even when she is ensconced in the business class section?  Yes, my Puppet Ponyo (who, by the way, should not be a stranger to fellow participants of Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts by now!) !  In all fairness to her though, it's because most of the time, she's actually inside my backpack rather than sitting on a cushion with a seat all to herself.  (And for the record, I have to say that those Cathay Pacific business class seats with that configuration you see in the above photo are not my favorites since, as may be noticed, they aren't all that conducive to taking in views from that seat's allocated window... :S)     

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hong Kong film (and TV) magic :)

Guess what is the striped shirt-wearing man 
in the middle of the photo getting ready to do?

Why, "creating" "rain" for a TV shoot, that's what! :b

Earlier this evening, I had dinner with two relatives visiting Hong Kong who I haven't seen for ages -- not least because they have made their home in a part of the world (New Zealand) which I've just visited once in my life thus far.  At one point during our conversation, I was asked by my Scots-born New Zealander uncle if I liked movies made in Hong Kong and when I answered in the affirmative, he responded with an "aah, the films of Run Run Shaw".  

Although I have found some Shaw Brothers movies to like (including The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Heroes of the East), I was quick to tell my uncle that, actually, the great majority of Hong Kong movies I'm partial to actually are ones that are filmed outside of studio lots and in real Hong Kong locales.  From there, I got to telling them about "human-sized and -centric" works like this year's Floating City and how I really do get a kick out of learning more about Hong Kong through the movies -- and coming across places that had featured in Hong Kong films while going about my regular business in the Big Lychee.

Musing about our dinner conversation an hour or so later, I got to realizing that I hadn't told my relatives the thrill I get when I serendipitously come across a film (or even "only" a TV) crew in action.  Perhaps it's just as well -- since my film geekiness (and fanaticism?) might have freaked them out.

But here's going ahead and sharing just that by way of this blog entry -- since I have a feeling that quite a few of this blog's regular readers may sympathize, and even empathize, with my reactions.  In addition, here's also admitting that I do find myself sometimes on the look out when viewing movies for scenes that I might recognize as ones which I saw being filmed!

As might be expected given the state of Hong Kong cinema in the past few years, it's true enough that I've more often come across TV crews (like the TVB crew pictured above who were filming at Ma Tau Kok Public Pier last Saturday afternoon -- by the way, can anyone identify the actors in the picture(s)?) than film crews in action here in Hong Kong.  Still, I do reckon it's pretty cool to come across even a TV crew filming a scene -- and this especially when one does so in the very neighborhood in which one lives since it gets the imagination conjuring up all kinds of interesting possible dramatic scenarios playing out in one's part of the territory... ;b   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

From the Trappist Monastery up to a hilltop with grand views (Photo-essay)

Say "Lantau" and "monastery", and chances are that most people will think of Po Lin, the Buddhist Monastery on the Ngong Ping Plateau whose biggest statue is none other than the famous Big Buddha.  However, it's not for nothing that at least one online Hong Kong authority has labelled Lantau Island the Isle of the Unexpected.  

Actually, when you connect the facts of Lantau being home to a number of monasteries and there being some 355,000 Catholics in Hong Kong, the existence of a Trappist monastery on Lantau becomes not so surprising.  Still, because it's still not every day that one finds oneself passing by a Trappist monastery -- in the Big Lychee or most other parts of the world, for that matter -- I really couldn't resist checking out the section that were open to the public of the monastery that is located along the way of the popular hiking trail between Discovery Bay and Mui Wo that a friend and I went along one hot summer day...

 ...which is why it is that there's a photo of the inside of
a Trappist monastery chapel in a hiking photo-essay! ;b

 A greener and more conventional hiking photo 

Aren't they pretty? A red and black bug and its baby :)
(And yes, I'd be happy to be told what kind of insect they are!) 

A stack of fire beaters available for use if needed 
near the top of the hill from which splendid views 
of the surrounding area are to be had

Not yet at the top and it already looked 
pretty good to me :)

At the top and looking eastwards to Peng Chau and beyond
to Hong Kong Island as well as back downhill to the 
Trappist Haven Monastery (whose chapel's cross and roof 
can be seen in the photo -- especially if you click to enlarge it) 

 View that takes it that day's hike destination -- Mui Wo

Before proceeding to Mui Wo, however, my hiking companion
and I felt compelled to tarry a while atop the hill though
-- and with sights like this, who could blame us, right? ;b

To be further continued...! :)