Thursday, February 28, 2013

Walking city

Hong Kong street view with 
lots more pedestrians than vehicles :)

 View of just one of a number of Hong Kong streets 
whose very nature make them for pedestrians only

Over the course of less than a week, I've viewed two Hong Kong movies with lead characters who liked to walk about in the city.  Although I wish it weren't otherwise, it's rather unusual these days for me to watch two Hong Kong movies in a week these days.  But while it may be coincidental that the Hong Kong movies I viewed last Sunday and earlier today featured main characters whose preferred mode of transportation were their own two feet, I would subscribe to the idea that there are many people in this territory who share their views on this matter.

Granted that Hong Kong is a place with a great public transportation network that many people can't do without.  At the same time, anyone who spends time in the territory will realize that there are a lot of walking enthusiasts here -- and while it's true enough that many people get more pleasure from strolling (and/or hiking) about in the Hong Kong countryside, I also do reckon that there are quite a number of folks who enjoy traipsing about in the Big Lychee's urban areas as well.

For my part, I enjoy walking in the built-up as well as less built-up areas of "Asia's World City" since I find that in both cases, there frequently is so much that's interesting to see when doing so.  Granted that I also do like taking buses, the MTR, mini-buses, trams, ferries, etc. here (and love that they make it unnecessary for me to own and drive a car).  But it really also is the case that I frequently willingly devote some free time to exploring various parts of the city on foot.    

While strolling around Hong Kong, I've come across various streets that are car-free -- notably on islands such Cheung Chau, Peng Chau and Lamma.  Then there are the stepped streets on which it also is unlikely to see bicycles on -- such as Ladder Street in Sheung Wan and the section of Pottinger Street in Central between Queen's Road Central and Hollywood Road.  On them, pedestrians rule supreme -- as much so as on the walkways and underpasses that Hong Kong has its fair share of as well (as at least one blogger realized to her chagrin)! ;b   

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Not your usual Tung Chung area sights? (Photo-essay)

Some trails are so good that they're worth hiking more than once.  I know I've written this before but it's worth repeating because I really do think it's true.  What's more, it can make for a really different experience when you hike it with different people.

In this case of the hikes from Tung Chung to Tai O: I didn't only go on the trail with different hiking buddies the second time around but we varied the route a bit (particularly early on) from the first time I went along it.  Consequently, I do have photos from the second hike I want to share that differ from those I shared of the first Tung Chung to Tai O hike I went on a few years previously (see here, here and here!) -- including the following:-

View of Tung Chung (including one section of Ngong Ping 360)
from near the ruins of the Qing Dynasty era Tung Chung Battery

View taking in high rise Tung Chung 
and low rise (and coastal) Ma Wan Chung

A make-shift shrine located near Tung Chung's Hau Wong Temple

 View early on the trail of sections of Ngong Ping 360
and a still occupied village house in a prime location 
in terms of scenic qualities :)

Looking back at sections of Ngong Ping 360
and Tung Chung town (on a gray day)

Yes, even in the 21st century, some Hong Kongers still
live in more traditional, non-high rise housing ;b

...and the postman still visits and delivers too! :)

And yes, one reason I love hiking in Hong Kong
is that it reveals glimpses of an old Hong Kong
that many people still don't realize still exists :)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Literally earth-shaking experiences

The stone island called Horaijima at Tokyo's Rikugien
had its shape altered by the earthquake 
that hit northeast Japan in March 2011

Sign at Rikugien detailing earthquake damaged areas
and also what to do in the event of an earthquake  
(in imperfect English and presumably much better Japanese)

This past Friday morning, while I was at work, I felt my chair move on its own underneath me.  As I stood up to inspect the chair to see whether there was some problem with it, I happened to glance at a few of my colleagues and saw perplexed and disturbed looks on their face.  That gave me an inkling that I had not been alone in having felt something unusual.  

After going around and ascertaining that pretty much everyone in my area had felt unusual movement, my next question was: did we have a problem with our building or had an earthquake occurred somewhere over across the border in Mainland China?  And as we found it a bit later that day, it indeed had been the latter.  More specifically, an earthquake of magnitude 4.8 had occurred at 11.34am that day in Guangdong Province, with its epicenter being some 180 kilometers away from Hong Kong.

For the record: this is the fourth time I've been in an area that experienced minor tremors courtesy of an earthquake -- and something I found interesting is that each time, it's been in a different part of the world.

The first time, I was nine years old and visiting family friends in California.  Late one night, while I was in bed but not yet asleep, a picture hanging in the room fell down with a bang.  A few seconds later, my hostess ran into the room to make sure that I was okay, and to tell me that there had been a small tremor.  I still remember my relief at her telling me that -- because I had been inclined to believe that a ghost had caused the picture to fall down!

The second time, I was on a visit to Istanbul with my mother.  One evening, I was walking on a bank of the Bosphorus at Ortakoy with her and a Turkish friend of ours when waves splashed into our path.  We were inclined to chalk this down to a big boat having passed closed by until a friend of our Turkish friend phoned her to say that a small earthquake had just occurred!

The most recent time before Friday was on the last night of my 2011 Japan visit -- and the one where I felt the most movement.  Like in California all those years ago, I was lying in bed -- only this time, I was reading and the bed very noticeably pitched to one side before rolling back to its original position!  This being mere months after the Tohoku Earthquake (AKA Great East Japan Earthquake), I was a bit scared -- but when I mentioned it the next morning to a friend who lives in Japan, she was nonchalant about it, saying it really was not a big deal at all.

And that's the thing: all four tremors I've personally felt thus far in my life truly are the results of small earthquakes -- and yet, I remember the experience of their occurring so very vividly. All of this makes me really hope that I never experience a big one, and gives me some sense of how incredibly terrible it can be to be caught in a major earthquake like the one that occurred in Japan on March 11, 2011.  (And when one remembers that in that particular instance, there also were tsunami and nuclear radiation problems, it seriously is amazing how the country and many people have managed to recover as much as they have... )

The literally earth-shaking experience on Friday morning also reminded me how unpredictable life is, and how there is so much that we really cannot control.  Rather than be traumatized by this though, I'm inclined to think they serve as a good reminder of the wisdom of the first few lines of The Serenity Prayer: i.e., we need to accept the things we cannot change, have the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference between them.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Upper and Pet Portrait (This week's Photo Hunt themes)


It used to be that having pets were something only the upper -- or at least moneyed -- classes could do.  These days though, it can seem like more people have pets than don't have them.  As it so happens though, I'm one of the latter. So this week's Photo Hunt theme chosen by Gattina (but less so Sandi's) looked like it might present me with a problem (or, at least, a puzzle)... until I got to realizing that I do in fact have portraits of other people's pets!

As unlikely as it may seem, both the bird photos in this Photo Hunt entry were taken while out hiking in Hong Kong.  More specifically, while traipsing along the Lung Mun Country Trail around this time last year, my hiking buddies and I caught sight a bird cage with a beautiful bird in it.  (That it was someone's pet was obvious as its owner was in the vicinity -- I guess he lived nearby and wanted to take his bird out to get some fresh air!)  And if that were not already an unexpected sight, at Tai Po Kau last month, my hiking buddies and I came across a colorful pair of un-caged parrots that seemed content to pose for portraits for just about anyone with a camera who passed by!

As for the upper-most photo on this blog entry: those familiar with Hong Kong art will recognize it as a work shown at Art HK 12 by Wilson Shieh, one of my favorite Hong Kong artists -- and whose studio I visited during last year's Fotanian Open Studios.  And while I'm not so sure that it could be considered an upper class marker to own one of his creations, I -- for one -- reckon it's a sign of one possessing good artistic taste to appreciate them! ;b

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A fruitful Mai Po Nature Reserve birdwatching expedition

Birds (egrets?) on a wire in the area bordering

Cormorants galore hang out at 

A black-faced spoonbill watches as an egret passes by

One of the many beautiful water lilies also spotted at Mai Po

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I was at Mai Po Nature Reserve last Saturday afternoon.  A Ramsar Site that's home to some 60,000 birds in the winter, it's the place to go birdwatching in Hong Kong -- and that's what I went there to do with two friends, one of whom is a truly keen birdwatcher who can identify and name various species of birds, including many of the ones we saw over the course of the time we spent at Mai Po.

Since Mai Po is a place that one is not allowed to visit on one's own, we booked ourselves on a World Wildlife Fund guided tour that was scheduled to last for about two hours but ended going on for twice that time, to our great pleasure.  Even before the tour began, as we milled around in the World Wildlife Fund's Education Centre waiting for our group of around 20 people (including a few children, most of whom turned out to be very well behaved) to assemble, we were treated to the sight of interesting birds and people attempting to take photos of them with cameras that came equipped with mega-sized zoom lenses.

The first half an hour or so of the tour actually was not great at all for birdwatching.  In fact, as I told our guide, I saw more birds -- and closer up -- at Hong Kong Wetland Park!  But shortly after coming out of the one and only hide that we spent any time in at Mai Po (from where, to be fair, we did spot a number of black-faced spoonbills -- endangered birds of which there are estimated to be only around 2,700 in the whole world), we got to seeing whole flocks of birds about, some of which were (already) asleep on trees despite it not being all that late in the day.

A large percentage of the birds we saw over the course of our time at Mai Po were cormorants but we also caught sight of lots of egrets (great and little), herons and -- surprisingly, considering their endangered status -- black-faced spoonbills  We also saw mallards swimming on a pond, bulbuls, sandpipers, and snipes (which, in all honesty, I had thought was just an invented bird since I previously only heard them mentioned in Up!) and wigeons (whose name also sounded made-up to me!).  

Individual highlights included two different types of kingfishers: one, a colorful bird with blue and yellow feathers; the other a black and white bird that was well camouflaged and so felt like a greater achievement to have spotted.  On the non-birding front: our group twice came across a mongoose -- an animal that I first learnt about as a young child from watching a lovely animated film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi -- and the shutterbugs were uniformly thrilled to come across a pond full of beautiful waterlilies (which turned out to be close to the furthest point that we'd venture to at Mai Po that day).

Granted that there were quite a few times during the tour when I found myself wishing that my camera's zoom was considerably greater than 10X but I have to say that I had a pretty good time overall at Mai Po that afternoon -- and thanks in no small part to our assigned guide who proved to be charmingly amusing as well as genuinely informative.  And lest there be any doubt: I would love to visit that part of Hong Kong again -- and even go on the offered 7 hour tour next time! :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Along the edge of High Island Reservoir to hike's end (Photo-essay)

Some hours after starting our hike at Sai Wan Pavilion and then heading over Sai Wan Shan down to Long Ke, where my three friends and I took a short break on the beach before resuming our trek, we finally hit a stretch of more or less level and paved trail.  Still, we couldn't completely relax yet as this portion of the trail -- which officially consists of Section 1 of the Maclehose Trail -- is 10.6 kilometers in length.

As it so happens, we ended up walking in near darkness for the final couple of kilometers or so.  Fortunately, we did have flashlights with us -- or in my case, a mobile phone with a flashlight function!  And yes, before the sun completely set, we were treated to some stunning golden hour scenes along the way... ;b     

One of the more healthy looking feral cows 
found in various parts of Hong Kong photographed 
walking along the East Dam of High Island Reservoir

 Down at sea level, there's a cave near the
East Dam that I could see some people 
getting tempted to go into and explore

To the west of the East Dam lies Po Pin Chau
which was separated from the land nearby
by natural forces, including long term erosion

Monument located near the East Dam erected 
in memory of those who lost their lives working on 
the High Island Reservoir project

 A High Island Reservoir view filled
with various shades of blue

 Looking ahead to some of the sections of trail 
we still had to trek along before getting to hike's end

  Golden hour view from the West Dam
of High Island Reservoir

Although it was getting dark, I still couldn't resist
stopping to taking photos at this late stage of the hike ;b

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beautiful skies should not be uncommon sights in Hong Kong

Blue skies over northwest Hong Kong 
yesterday afternoon

Cloudy but still pretty sky over northeast Hong Kong
this afternoon

In recent weeks, the polluted air of Beijing has made headline news all over the world.  Close to a thousand kilometers south of China's capital city, the air quality of Hong Kong also frequently has been quite a bit less than optimal.  So many Hong Kongers, not just city folk over in Mainland China, were looking forward to the Chinese New Year holidays when many generators of much air pollution, including the many factories helping power the Chinese economy, would shut down -- or at least lower their output -- for a few days.  

Sadly though, I don't believe there's been a single fully clear sky day this past week in Hong Kong -- with even the first day of Chinese New Year itself having not been one of great visibility.  And both yesterday and today started off with hazy gray skies that really weren't very attractive at all. 

However, both late yesterday afternoon and also around the same time today, the sky and air looked to have cleared quite a bit compared to earlier in the day.  In particular, on my visit to Mai Po Nature Reserve yesterday (of which I definitely will be separately posting about soon), I was treated to the unfortunately no longer common sight of beautiful blue skies over (at least some part of) Hong Kong.   

More than by the way, both yesterday and today, the sky looked most glorious to me when I was in parts of the Big Lychee that were rural rather than urban; with the bluest sky having been observed in a part of Hong Kong within walking distance of the Frontier Closed Area lying on the Hong Kong side of the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China.  

I'm sure that it's obvious to pretty much everyone that the urban areas of "Asia's World City" generate more air pollution than its rural ones.  And while Hong Kongers used to blame the Mainland Chinese factories across the border for Hong Kong's polluted air not so long ago, I think it's also now become pretty apparent to most people that Hong Kong also generates its fair share of pollution and consequently needs to do its share to ensure the return of more days of beautiful skies and cleaner air in this part of the world.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Miniscule and Food Photos (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

By itself, this week's theme for Sandi's Photo Hunt posed quite a bit of a challenge for me.  This is because, the way I see it, truly miniscule objects are really hard to see, let alone photograph!  So I contemplated concentrating instead solely on Gattina's chosen Photo Hunt theme this week -- except while surveying my hardly miniscule collection of food photos, I got to realizing that I had indeed found some snaps that could fit both of this week's Photo Hunt themes!

First, I decided on a photo of a small plate of tiny fried fish that some restaurants here put on the table for you to munch (like peanuts) as you contemplate what you want to order for your dim sum lunch that day. Then, if that's not miniscule enough, I went for something even smaller. 

For those of you looking at the middle photo above and thinking "no way is that large plate of fried rice miniscule!", I call your attention to the tiny bright orange bits on it that, to me, are actually the best part of the dish.  Known as tobiko in Japanese, flying fish roe were my favorite sushi ingredient as a kid. 

Over the years, I've developed an appreciation for various kinds of roe utilized by Chinese and Japanese cooks and chefs. And it's here in Hong Kong that I've discovered a traditional Cantonese dish that features an unlikely combination of pomelo skin (which I previously hadn't realized is edible), broccoli (whose Cantonese name of sai lan fah translates into Western orchid flower!) and shrimp roe that's so miniscule that they appear like mere specks in my photo of this particular dish! ;b

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chinese New Year movie advertising

Hotel Deluxe and I Love Hong Kong 2013 red packets

Hotel Deluxe star Ronald Cheng's image
on a promotional door hanger 
 A passerby checks out the large Journey to the West:
Conquering the Demons poster at a bus stop

Kong Hei Fat Choi once more on the fifth day of Chinese New Year!  And while this Thursday brings a few new releases into Hong Kong cinemas (a few of which are romance themed as befits today also happening to be Valentine's Day), I'm glad to report that the three local Chinese New Year movie offerings still are playing on many screens -- and that advertising for them continues to be on prominent display in various parts of the Big Lychee.

The early reports had Stephen Chow's Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons selling more tickets than the Raymond Wong Pak Ming produced, Vincent Kuk helmed Hotel Deluxe and Eric Tsang produced, Chung Shu Kai-helmed I Love Hong Kong 2013.  (The same reports also, very disappointingly to my mind, had the mediocre A Good Day to Die Hard besting them all at the Hong Kong box office -- and I can but hope that the Hong Kong movies will find a larger audience in the films' second and later weeks of release.)

I have to confess to the trailer for Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons having put me off wanting to watch it though, so it's the one Chinese New Year movie that I've yet to view.  At the same time, a friend has told me that it's actually pretty good... if you don't think of it as a conventional Chinese New Year movie since it's got much more violent action than comedy.  And, also, that Hsu Chi -- an actress who I like far less than many others -- actually doesn't figure as prominently in the film as she does in the Hong Kong posters for the movie.  So maybe I'll catch it some time before its theatrical run ends.

In contrast, the trailer I saw for Hotel Deluxe got me eager to check it out.  And I also appreciate its promotional giveaways -- including decorative red packets, mini packets of tissue paper and novelty door hangers!  All in all, I think that the folks behind this very Hong Kong comedy which I thoroughly enjoyed viewing have worked the hardest at promoting their film -- and come up with creative ways to advertise the movie along with the more conventional posters at bus stops and in the MTR, and advertising on buses and trams. To wit, I was amused to find images of Sandra Ng in her Hotel Deluxe role plastered in the toilets of the President Theatre when I went to view I Love Hong Kong 2013 earlier this week!

I'm not sure if it was planned but I Love Hong Kong 2013's advertising looked to have appeared the latest of this year's three Chinese New Year movies.  And unlike with Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and Hotel Deluxe, I didn't see any trailer(s) for the TVB film production whose story contains elements plucked from American Christmas favorite, It's a Wonderful Life. Still, in time for Chinese New Year, I found myself in possession not only of I Love Hong Kong 2013 themed red packets but also door decorations -- both of which I have indeed put to use this New Year of the Snake! :)     

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From Long Ke to High Island Reservoir (Photo-essay)

Before moving on to the photos taken on the part of the hike following that which took three friends and I from Sai Wan Pavilion towards Long Ke one beautiful November day, here's recounting our having come across -- while descending from Sai Wan -- a party of people on a hiking tour that's part of the Hong Kong Tourism Board's annual Great Outdoors promotion and being shocked to find that a fair few of the participants looked way more exhausted than comfortable, with at least one of them looking like she was clinging to a tree in a bid to prevent herself from collapsing. 

One problem is that many of these people were clad much more warmly than should have been the case on the warm-for-November day.  (As a comparison, while some of them had thick corduroy trousers on, three of my party were wearing cotton shorts and the one who wasn't was wearing thin cotton trousers.)

Since I didn't read any news reports of hikers needing to be rescued that day, I will surmise that those tourists ended up being okay after all.  Still, for people reading this, here's making clear that the trek from Sai Wan Pavilion to Pak Tam Chung -- or the other way around, like those tourists went -- really isn't all that easy!  Put another way: it's one which I really did get a sense of achievement upon completing it!

 As we approached Long Ke, we came across a sign 
that I strongly suspect was actually meant to read "beach" :D

The Maclehose Trail closely skirts the beautiful beach at Long Ke 
that I could easily have spent an afternoon hanging out at

I find it amusing the lengths some people will go
to make sure they have cool graduation photos :)

A photo that gives a better idea of how few people
were actually on the beach at Long Ke that afternoon! :)

It was hard to tear myself away from Long Ke
and the spendid views of it one gets along the trail

 I found the rocky edges of Long Ke Wan
to be interesting to look at too

also yields eye-catching sights

The East Dam of High Island Reservoir and nearby
natural scenery makes for a glorious view

To be continued... because I really do reckon I took a whole bunch of pretty good photos on this 14 kilometer hike through a truly beautiful part of Hong Kong! :)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chinese New Year Flowers on Sunset Peak :)

Pretty flowers with delicate dew (mist?) drops
hanging from some of them

This clump of Chinese New Year flowers added welcome color 
to the generally dark green, beige and grey mountain landscape

Yesterday, my hiking buddy and I commemorated its being the first day of Chinese New Year by trekking up -- and then down -- Sunset Peak.  Ideally, I'd like for there to have been greater visibility on one of the most challenging hikes I've been on to date -- especially when we were at the misty top of Hong Kong's third highest mountain. At the very least, it'd have been nice for the mist to dramatically clear for a bit like when we were atop Cloudy Hill around this time last year.

But I'll content myself with having spotted some pretty -- as well as pretty rugged, considering where they grow -- flowers along the way.  For the most part, the ones that attracted my attention were small and purple in nature.  But near the top of Sunset Peak, I came across a clump of one of my favorite flowers to spot out in the wilds of Hong Kong. 

Its Latin name of Enkianthus quinqueflorus is quite the mouthful and its Chinese name (which translates into English as "hanging bell(s)"), while descriptive, doesn't quite do this dainty, elegant looking flower aesthetic justice, I feel.  Instead, I prefer this pink flower's English name of Chinese New Year Flower -- not least because the first time I spotted it was on the 12th day of Chinese New Year 2008 and it's a sight I find myself looking forward to seeing while hiking around this festive time of the year.

Almost wiped out by deforestation at one point in Hong Kong's history, the Chinese New Year Flower now grows in various parts of the Hong Kong countryside.  (I've caught sight of it on Hong Kong Island, more than one country park in the New Territories and now also on Lantau Island). 

I've read in one of my Hong Kong flower books that the Chinese New Year Flower is one source of nectar for hummingbirds.  Maybe one Chinese New Year day in the future, I'll spot hummingbirds as well as this flower. Should that ever happen, I'd truly feel blessed indeed by Mother Nature. :)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Goodbye Dragon, Enter the Snake

Why is this woman happily posing with a snake hat
on her head?

Short answer: because it's now the Year of the Snake
according to the Chinese lunar calendar

Most of the time though, people in Hong Kong are 
more likely to be eating snake or wearing snake skin 
belts, etc. than wearing cute snake themed items!
Kung Hei Fat Choi!  Congratulations and may you be prosperous -- for it's time once again to celebrate the start of a new Chinese year!

Because this year is the year of the snake, snakes prominently feature on a number of Chinese New Year ornaments and decorations.  Some people just cannot subscribe to the idea of snakes being cute or looking good though.  So alternative festive symbols and/or characters can be seen around town -- including pandas, and a boy-girl pair dressed up in traditional Chinese garb.

For my part, I find the boy-girl pair (too) old school and dislike the pandas because they look to me like a part of the "Mainlandisation" of Hong Kong.  But it's also true enough that I do find it hard to look upon  snakes as cute, benign and/or auspicious creatures -- though a number of stalls at this year's Chinese New Year Flower Market (which, despite its name, is about more than just flowers) did try manfully to get me and many others thinking otherwise.
At the same time, I do realize that snakes generally have an undeservedly bad reputation.  After all, as I was reminded when I passed by a snake shop in Sham Shui Po this past Friday, it's humans that are more likely to eat snakes than for snakes to eat humans!  In addition, humans not only eat snakes but also do such as skin them and make belts, shoes and other items out of them -- and proceed to sell all of this within the same locale, as is the case at the shop in that part of Hong Kong which still has some very traditional pockets!
Something else I've gotten to realize in the past year or so is that snakes can actually be good looking -- I think particularly here of the sea snakes I saw through the glass bottom of a boat I was on in Okinawa early last year  and also the red-necked keelback that two friends and I saw up close while hiking in Tai Lam Country Park this past January.
In any event, I hope this new snake year will be a good one for us all -- this not least since the most recent year of the dragon is now but a memory! :)