Monday, April 29, 2013

From near Hau Tong Kai to Cheung Sheung Plateau and down Sai Kung's Jacob's Ladder (Photo-essay)

There are certain Hong Kong geographical landmarks whose names strike fear in the hearts of this hiker.  Among these are Sharp Peak and Tai To Yan (Cantonese for the blade of a knife).  By their name, the Jacob's Ladder on Hong Kong Island and the one on the Sai Kung Peninsula also seemed intimidating too. So it was a while before I finally went on them. 

But while I can personally attest that the Jacob's Ladder on Hong Kong Island really is pretty steep, I actually thought that the Jacob's Ladder on the Sai Kung Peninsula actually isn't even half as sheer as I thought that it'd be!  So, in the end, it felt anti-climactic to finally go on it. 

Indeed, I'd go as far as to state that the Jacob's Ladder section was one of the less interesting segments of the trail that two friends and I hiked along one Sunday afternoon that took us from near Hoi Ha Road close to Hau Tong Kai to Sai Sha Road via the village of Yung Shue O; one that passed by an abandoned village or two, and through a still inhabited -- and seemingly thriving even -- village along with a lovely plateau that cows appear to find very attractive... :)

 Not Jacob's Ladder but the start of the hike
(which included the Cheung Sheung Country Trail)
did involve going up quite a few steps

Disused agricultural terraces in the vicinity
of the abandoned village of Wong Chuk Long

 Yep, this was indeed another Hong Kong hike that saw us 
passing by the ruined buildings of abandoned villages...

A stream runs through Cheung Sheung plateau

A cow grazes on Cheung Sheung plateau

Maybe it was the influence of the cows I saw
earlier on this hike -- but this branch stub 
resembled a calf head to me! :O

One has to descend along -- yep, you guessed it --
Jacob's Ladder to get from Cheung Sheung plateau
westwards and down to Yung Shue O

See what I mean by Jacob's Ladder being way less scary 
in actuality than its name had made me think it'd be? ;b

To be continued!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A fantastic post-hike meal at Yuen Long's Tai Wing Wah

This whole bowl of chicken cost just HK$75 (~US$9.66)

This bowl of pork belly also cost just HK$75 
 A plate of broccoli cooked with garlic and some amazing 
claypot rice completed our dinner order for this evening :)

I think I just had the best chicken dish in the world at dinner this evening.  Granted that I was ravenous by the time I got to Tai Wing Wah Restaurant in Yuen Long, seeing that I didn't have breakfast or lunch (only brunch at 11.30am) today, and had completed an approximately 15 kilometer hike in Tai Lam Country Park -- but I truly found the five spice chicken at the dining establishment opened by celebrity chef Hugo Leung Man To to be absolutely delicious.

How delicious can be discerned by my actually eating more pieces of the five spice chicken than the also very tasty "village style pork belly" that I had also ordered; this even though I loooove pork belly and would prefer pork belly to chicken 99 times out of 100 (heck, maybe even 9999 times out of 10,000!).
The five spice chicken alone would have made this meal pretty special.  But there also was another dish at this walled village food specialist that tasted absolutely heavenly.  Costing just HK$11 (~US$1.42) per serving, the claypot rice at Tai Wing Wah may not look like much -- but I actually would be pretty happy to eat it just by itself, albeit after it's had some premium soy sauce and pork fat mixed into it, as was the case at dinner this evening!
Afterwards, my hiking friend and I were in agreement: today's hike had been pretty good but the post-hike dinner truly was superb!  About the only dish that was fairly ordinary to my mind was the vegetable dish we ordered to balance the two protein dishes we ordered and the decadent claypot rice.  In all honesty, that's not much of a complaint -- and my friend and I also are in agreement that the next time we are in Yuen Long after a hike, we absolutely do intend to dine at Tai Wing Wah again! :)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Zoom and Coffee or tea (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Besides drinking it in the morning, I hardly ever drink coffee and am more likely to opt for some tea -- hot or cold, with sugar and milk, sugar and lemon or plain -- instead during the rest of the day.  So I guess it stands to reason that when searching through part of my photo archive for today's entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts, I found zero coffee snaps but at least a handful of tea (themed) photos. 

The top-most photo on this blog post was taken at Luk Yu Tea House, one of Hong Kong's oldest dining establishments because I zoomed in on to the cup being suitably shaped for serving Chinese tea in it but designed to be served, English style, on top of a saucer! 

The middle photo is of cakes of Pu-erh, a kind of Chinese tea prized by connoisseurs.  Not having a refined palate when it comes to tea, I really just zoomed in on the prices that cakes of the tea command!

Finally, in the bottom photo, one sees an actual cup of tea of the kind that Hong Kongers like to drink.  Hong Kong-style milk tea is a revved up version of traditional English tea that's super strong tasting and also in its "wiring" effect. 

While walking about in Mongkok earlier this week, I paid a visit to the China Cafe to rest my legs a bit and get a reviving cup of Hong Kong-style milk tea. Truth be told, I also was eager to soak up the atmosphere of one of Hong Kong's most traditional cha chaan teng, one which -- movie buffs, zoom in on this fact! -- was a location for movies including PTU. :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A crispy Christmas Day hike with three friends (Photo-essay)

December 25th is a special day for many people -- particularly those of the Christian faith but not only them.  The thing is that Western colonialism, cultural and political, has made it so that many people think of Christmas Day is a special time of the year -- if nothing else because it's a public holiday in their home territory.

This is the case in my mainly Muslim native land of Malaysia.  And this also is so in largely Buddhist and Taoist Hong Kong, where I currently reside.  So December 25 has long been a happy day for me -- if nothing else than because it's a day when I'm on holiday, as are many of my friends!

Thus it was that since none of us were working that day, three friends and I went hiking one Christmas Day in the Tai Tam Country Park section of Hong Kong Island. To add to that day feeling special, the air was pretty clear as well as crisp -- and yes, the company that day was very enjoyable too! :)

 Lest there be any doubt, there are indeed parts of 
Hong Kong that are densely populated, and 
some of it was visible early on in the hike!

 Sooner than some might expect, however, we soon 
were closer to nature than the concrete jungle

While still on Mount Parker Road, we spotted a butterfly 
(known as the Common Sailor?) that had 
decided to stop and rest a bit on the tarmac

The man-made structures in the picture don't detract
from the scenic nature of the vista as far as I'm concerned

The hand painted arrow points to the summit of
Boa Vista, from where one can get a view bonanza

A naturally black (and gray) and white view
looking westwards to Parkview!

 Fish galore in the beautiful clear waters of

its name was built during the colonial period by 
the Royal Navy for navigational purposes

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Way We Dance (movie review)

Give The Way We Dance a chance!

The Way We Dance
- Adam Wong, director
- Starring Cherry Ngan, Babyjon Choi, Lokman Yeung, Choi Hon Yik, Tommy "Guns" Ly, Paul Wong, etc.

Give Them a Chance.  That was the message behind as well as title of a 2003 Hong Kong movie about hip hop dancers that, in all honesty, I didn't give a chance to -- i.e., didn't view -- because, in all honesty, I didn't appreciate hip hop dancing at the time.

In recent years though, thanks to having watched some b boys and other hip hop dancers performing live on stage in Hong Kong (including as part of the Tang Shu Wing Theatre Studio's incredible physical comedy production, Detention), I've become a fan of this type of performing art.  So when another Hong Kong movie about hip hop dancers appeared on the scene this year, I was more inclined to give it a chance and check it out.

Post having viewed The Way We Dance, here's stating that I am so very glad I did so -- because that which had its world premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, was the opening film of the HKIFF's Cine Fan programme and is due to get a general commercial release in Hong Kong this August may well be my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2013!  

Funnily enough, The Way We Dance also may get my vote as one of the most unlikely Hong Kong movie I've seen in 2013, or even the past few years.  For in addition to being a rare Hong Kong film about hip hop dancers, it also has a cast of hardly big names (whose names, bar for rocker Paul Wong's, are more novel -- Babyjon?  Lokman?? -- than familiar) and a director, in Adam Wong, whose last film before this (Magic Boy) was released five years ago -- and was as low key as this latest one is exuberant.

If truth be told, this drama's story -- involving love triangles and dance rivalries -- can seem pretty generic.  But the dancing on display is impressive, the music helps gets one in a great mood, and quite a few members of the cast (particularly Cherry Ngan and the amusingly monikered Babyjon Choi) are very likeable.  

What really makes The Way We Dance a winning effort for me though is the creativity that's on display.  Among other things, it's not just the very idea of combining tai chi with hip hop in a single movie but the way this is done in this film.  Then there are the surprise elements in a couple of the dance scenes in the latter part of the movie -- which, in one instance, can cause one to gasp out loud and, in the other, should get viewers smiling at how very inspired and cool it is. :)

My rating for this film: 9

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Critter spottings galore on a spring day Hong Kong Island hike! :)

Today, I had my first sighting this year of a butterfly
known as the Lemon Emigrant :)

I also spotted this long-tailed skink on the hike
 Another interesting creature out on today
was this cool stick insect :)

Early on in today's hike that took me up Mount Parker Road and then down from Quarry Gap (aka Tai Fung Au) to the Tai Tam Reservoirs, I stopped to visit the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department's Woodside Biodiversity Education Centre which opened in June 2012.  In there, I saw a live green snake along with photos of many critters that I've seen over the course of hiking in Hong Kong.

Shortly after resuming my hike, I spotted one of many interesting creatures that looked to have decided that it is already spring; this despite being today's weather still being cooler (i.e., in the high teens and low 20s on the Celsius scale) than what I've come to expect of April in the Big Lychee.  

Some of these critters were too small for me to clearly photograph -- this particularly applied to the tiny spiders that wove beautiful webs that were made even prettier due to their being rain and dew drops on them this afternoon.  Others moved too quickly -- including at least one small wizard that I spotted scurrying about in a rocky area on the edge of Mount Parker.  Then there were those frogs whose loud croaks could be heard but which simply weren't visible to me.

Fortunately, some other critters were better photographic subjects -- with my hitting pay dirt in this regard when going along a quiet section of forest track that I had never previously been on, and which nobody else appeared to be on when I was on it this afternoon.  First, one butterfly fluttered by, then another, and yet still others -- including a female Lemon Emigrant that I got pretty excited to have spotted for the first time ever. 

At one point, three butterflies looked to be fighting to rest on one single small flower, only for the Lemon Emigrant to somehow get sole landing rights for it!  And as if that weren't enough excitement for one afternoon, a few meters further along the forest track, what should I spot but a long-tailed skink hanging out by itself on the side of the path!!

After I got to a part of the trail that was part of the Hong Kong Trail and consequently trekked on by a number of people, the critter spottings tailed (no pun intended!) off.  But near the end of my hike, I spotted a stick insect hanging from a gray railing!  Funnily enough, no one else seemed to have noticed it.  So I had it all to myself to photograph -- something that, I have to admit, made me uncommonly gleeful!! :b

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wither and In a park (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I regularly spend my Sundays in a park -- more precisely, one of Hong Kong's many country parks.  And as they (including regular participants of Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts) know, I frequently take a number of photos when out hiking in Hong Kong on those days.

But because Hong Kong is a pretty rainy (and also humid) place, one is more likely to be surrounded by greenery that really is green rather than brown, dry and, you know, withered, when out in a park!  So Sandi's part of this week's Photo Hunt most definitely presented more of a challenge than Gattina's!!

After some hunting, I finally came up with the three photos in this entry that features withered leaves or tree branches (but all have quite a bit more color than just the browns one tends to associate with 'wither').  And yes, they definitely all were taken in a park -- and for the record, here's stating once again how much I love that my life in "Asia's World City" regularly includes time out in nature spots as well as super urban surroundings! :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Anyone for... baby mice wine?!

Believe your eyes!

This has been one exhausting week.  So much so that, among other things, I went to bed four hours usual on this past Wednesday night -- and still felt brain dead by the end of the work week earlier today.

Thanks to a lovely evening of classical music courtesy of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and guest soloist, French harpist Xavier de Maistre though, I'm feeling considerably reinvigorated a few hours on.  Still, on the way home, I stopped by my favorite herbal tea shop and drank a bowl of five flower tea to further relieve my fatigue.

Years of living in Hong Kong has turned me on to the curative powers of five flower tea and, also, 24 herbs tea.  I also enjoy drinking chrysanthemum tea and sugar cane juice on occasion -- and find them to be, at the very least, thirst quenching.

But I don't think the day will ever come when I'll agree to drink what I saw for sale at a village store while out hiking in the New Territories last Sunday: not just bee wine (complete with bees as well as bits of honeycomb in it) but also baby mice wine!  Incredibly, the mice wine is considered by some as a traditional health tonic. Even more incredibly, the bottles we saw for sale were selling for HK$250 each and, if the date on the bottle is to be believed, is of 2006 vintage.  

So... if you drank that, you'd have paid HK$250 for the privilege of drinking 7 year old wine that had lots of baby mice fermenting in it for 7 years!!! (And yes, compared to that, the bee wine does seem pretty tame....) :O

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From the Sir Edward Youde Pavilion down to Luk Keng (Photo-essay)

A couple of years before I moved to Hong Kong, I viewed a Hong Kong movie directed by Derek Yee entitled 2 Young about two young lovers (played by Jaycee Chan and Fiona Sit) who run away from their families and try to make their own home in various places, including an abandoned village in the countryside. 

At the time, I couldn't believe that there were abandoned villages in Hong Kong.  Heck, I even found it hard to imagine that there were villages -- as opposed to concrete jungles -- in "Asia's World City"!  Some years and many Hong Kong hikes later, I know better.

And yes, this is a prelude to confirming that the hiking route that a friend and I went on from near Bride's Pool to Luk Keng did pass by and through a number of villages, abandoned and still inhabited! (Also, if anyone knows which abandoned village features in 2 Young, do please let me know!!) ;b     

The Sir Edward Youde Pavilion is a nice place
to rest a bit before continuing the hike

It was hazier than ideal that afternoon but one still 
could see across to Shenzhen from this part of Hong Kong

The area between Nam Chung and Luk Keng has 
a number of old fish ponds that are still operational

My hiking buddy and I went along a trail we hoped 
would be a short cut down to Luk Keng from the pavilion, 
only to find that it led to another large grave! 

 So we ended up backtracking a bit and taking
this more obvious trail down instead

I find it interesting how many villages in Hong Kong
entirely consist of a single row of houses like this one

In Hong Kong, a 1962 building is old!
Luk Keng looks like an idyllic locale, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

So Lo Pun - largely ruined but still not entirely uninhabited!

At first glance, the Northeastern New Territories village 
of So Lo Pun looks completely ruined

And indeed, many of its buildings are not much
more than mere shells now

But at least one building looks to still be inhabited -- 
and we met three residents of the village this afternoon
(at least one of whose English was pretty good)! :)
Earlier today, my hiking friend and I paid a visit to a Northeastern New Territories village whose origins date back to the 9th century according to its Wikipedia entry.  Mind you, the same Wikipedia entry also states that "Today, the village is now derelict and is uninhabited." But among the things we discovered over the course of this afternoon's excursion was this village is not completely abandoned -- or, at the very least, has been recently re-settled by at least three people.
Definitely inhabited and prosperous in 1898, the year that the British leased the New Territories for 99 years from China, this village whose geography may be ideal according to fung shui principles  -- what with it being nestled in a valley but also with access to the sea -- was then known as So Nou Pun, with "pun" referring to its location in a wide valley (or basin -- which is what means in Cantonese).  However, no doubt because its location is less than ideal in terms of it being far away from any roadways, never mind any main roads, the village went into decline in the 1960s, and only a handful of residents remained by the 1980s.

Somewhere down the line, this remote settlement got to have a reputation as a "ghost village" where compasses would malfunction when in the vicinity.  Stories about the village renamed as So Lo Pun -- which translates from Cantonese to mean "the compass is locked" -- include a man having died of a heart attack after seeing ghosts there.  And a local hiker who joined our party midway through our excursion did appear much happier to be visiting the area with other people rather than on his own (even while having been happy to hike by himself on other parts of the trail!).
While it's true enough that So Lo Pun's buildings generally look to be in worse condition than the nearby abandoned village of Yung Shue Au and sparsely inhabited Kuk Po on the other side of the ridge, I didn't find the admittedly quiet settlement to be all that creepy.  Indeed, I found myself wishing that we could have spent more time there than we could spare, given its distance from our hike starting and end point of Luk Keng (reachable by green mini bus 56K from the Fanling MTR station).
Hopefully, I'll pay So Lo Pun another visit one of these days.  And if there are no signs of life in the village, only then will I be inclined to pay attention to all those urban legends about it being a haunted part of Hong Kong... ;b

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Scrumptious and Where do you sit while watching TV? (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

While going through my photo archive in search of images that fit Sandi's and Gattina's choices of themes for this week's Photo Hunt, I got to realizing how many scrumptious meals I've had in Hong Kong (never mind other parts of the world) over the past few years -- and also remembering how certain multi-course or -dish meals can be quite uneven, with some distinct 'lows' but also some pretty amazing 'highs' on the scrumptious scale!  

Somewhat coincidentally, the two food photos in today's blog entry were taken over the course of those kinds of meals. More specifically, the top-most picture is of a portion of absolutely delicious Iberico ham that had been aged for 36 months, accompanied on the plate by a refreshing spoonful of a concoction that included fish roe along with vegetarian ingredients, that was part of a sadly ultimately disappointing dinner at the (in)famous Bo Innovation; with the other food shot being of an incredibly scrumptious crab roe-(chicken) egg custard dish at an otherwise unmemorable meal at a Japanese crab restaurant in Causeway Bay.

Just last Sunday, I had another scrumptious meal that, in retrospect, I really should have taken a photo of -- not least because it marked the first time in decades that I had had gammon steak, a dish that I only ever had previously been served in England.  Instead, I fixated on the fact that the place where I had my post-hike dinner had a television -- so could take a photo that would work for Gattina's "Where do you sit while watching TV?" query (because, if truth be told, I hardly ever watch TV -- especially in my apartment!  Indeed, the last time I did so there, it was for the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics!)! :D