Monday, September 30, 2013

Kyoto's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Nijo Castle

Relatively close-up shot of Nijo Castle's 
Kara-mon (Chinese style gate)

The Ninomaru Palace of Nijo Castle*
 View from atop a castle wall of the Honmaru Palace*
Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by castles.  This may sound strange coming from a Malaysian -- but something to bear in mind is that for many of my preteen years, I also spent a portion of every year in England.  And England, to put it mildly, sure does have its share of castles -- ruined and still lived in.

So strong was my fascination with these particular structures that in my late teens, I actually went on a self-guided tour of castles in northern Wales (including UNESCO World Heritage-listed Conwy, Carnavon and Harlech).  And in recent years, I've been visiting my share of castles once again; only these days, it's largely been ones in Japan (like Himeji) -- with the odd German and Turkish one thrown into the bargain -- rather than British ones. 

Having been introduced to castles by way of Britain, Japanese castles don't quite fit the archetype I have of these fortified structures.  For one thing, they tend to be constructed of a lot more wood than stone.  For another, they often just are way too visually attractive!

While I reckon Himeji-jo cannot be beat in terms of its exterior beauty, I think Nijo Castle (AKA Nijo-jo) is tops in terms of its interior beauty -- which made it really sad from a shutterbug's point of view to be told that photography is prohibited inside Ninomaru Palace.  

But at least visitors are allowed inside Ninomaru Palace to see its beauty with one's own eyes and, also, experience walking along its very cool nightingale floors (so-called because they are designed to emit "chirping" sounds when walked upon) -- whereas, in contrast, the Honmaru Palace's buildings are not open to the public, only its admittedly already aesthetically impressive garden.

These restrictions notwithstanding, I still did opt for Nijo Castle to be the first attraction I visited on my recent Kyoto vacation -- though partly, I have to admit, because it's the sole attraction I had on my "to visit" list which I could easily get to by subway rather than bus, and I decided that it'd be best to ease myself into using Kyoto's public transportation by first using its subway rather than the buses!

In any event, Nijo Castle did not disappoint this visitor who came away feeling privileged to have seen the beauty of a structure that began to be constructed back in 1601, whose wall paintings and other sections are understandably considered Important Cultural Properties of Japan, and which is one of the properties that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

*Addendum: I find it funny that I ended up taking a few photos that look very similar to ones on sarah sbk's Nijo Castle blog entry which I first checked out back in 2009! ;O

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kyoto sights (and Ponyo sightings!)

You'd think it'd all be downhill after seeing 
something like the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) 
on the first day of one's Kyoto vacation...

 ...but when you consider that this is a city where 
one comes across samurai -- okay, 'samurai' -- 
taking photos of uniformed schoolgirls...! ;b

And of course Puppet Ponyo was with me -- and 
popped up to pose for photos on visits to such as 

I know what you're thinking: i.e., "Japan again?!" And yes, it was only a couple of months ago that I spent a few days in Hokkaido.  But especially since Japan did away with visa requirements for Malaysians on July 1st of this year, I really feel able to indulge my urges to visit a country whose culture and people -- as well as fooddrink and movies -- I've come to love.

This time around, I took off a few hours after Typhoon Usagi visited the area to spend time in cultural heritage rich Kyoto -- one of the places I visited on my first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun way back when I was just 14 years old (and the only one that I've ever been on as part of a guided tour group). 

I know there are many people (including the author of Frommer's Japan) who reckon that Kyoto is the number one part of Japan that people should visit.  But, actually, my least positive memories of that maiden Japan visit involved that former Japanese capital city -- with my impressions of it centering on it being a place that was overwhelmingly jam-packed with (other) tourists as well as filled with not much else than temples and shrines.

Now there's no denying that Kyoto is home to many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines -- literally thousands of them, in fact.  But, as I was pleased to discover, there are other things to see and do when one is overcome by temple and shrine fatigue.  Also, not all of the temples and shrines are -- and, for that matter, Kyoto in general is -- overcrowded with tourists; and this especially if one gets one's day off to an earlier start than many others are wont to do when on vacation!  

So yes, it's possible to have a (relatively) diverse, mob-free vacation experience in Kyoto -- if one visits on one's own, as opposed to on a guided group tour.  And most definitely an enjoyable one too.  Something else that endeared this charming city to me is that I saw a lot more Ponyos here than in the other parts of Japan I've visited in the past few years -- and yes, you'll see what I mean in an upcoming entry (and I really am referring to other than Puppet Ponyo here...)! :b  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Waiting for Typhoon Usagi

In Hong Kong, taped Xs on glass are a sure sign that
a major typhoon is expected

The MTR and buses run when it's Strong Wind Signal No. 3
(but the buses stop running after Typhoon Signal No. 8 is raised)

On Thursday night, after I got home from the Mid-Autumn Festival lantern show at Victoria Park, I received an email from a Canadian friend of mine who told the Canadian consulate had sent out a message about a typhoon that was due to hit Hong Kong within the next few days.  At work the next day, there was quite a bit of talk about what was being described in many quarters as the most powerful of the year (thus far) and even since 1984.

Yesterday, Standby Signal No. 1 was raised in "honor" of Typhoon Usagi -- followed by Strong Wind Signal No. 3 later in the day.  As I write this blog entry, Strong Wind Signal No. 3 warning is still in effect -- but the latest news from the Hong Kong Observatory is that it expects to raise Typhoon Signal No. 8 by 7pm today.

Also included in its message were the following lines: Usagi will make landfall to the east of Hong Kong and will skirt to the north of the territory at around 100 km later tonight and early tomorrow morning. Locally, gales are already affecting high ground and winds generally over the territory will continue to strengthen.

What with my first having heard about Typhoon Usagi some three days ago, it can seem like the typhoon's been moving pretty slowly.  Viewed from another perspective, however, it's quite amazing how it was sunny and hot -- super hot, in fact, with a "very hot weather warning" triggered by temperatures that went up to 36 degrees Celsius -- yesterday but the sky's been consistently gray all day today, with rain starting to fall by around 10am and strong winds that threaten to destroy umbrellas already blowing this afternoon.

Hopefully, Typhoon Usagi's visit to the area will be short (as in over by tomorrow afternoon) and not too damaging.  (It's already caused several flight cancellations and such but a lot of the measures are taken have been precautionary more than anything else.)  And -- touch wood but... -- I do take some comfort in its having already being downgraded from Super Typhoon to "merely" a more regular Severe Typhoon.        

*Update: Typhoon Signal No. 8 was raised at 6.40pm today!

*Latest update: By 11am on September 23,  there were no more typhoon signals hoisted!! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rousing and Your books (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

If you ask people what's more rousing, mega fireworks displays and colorful festive parades or a good book, chances are that people will say the former (and it's also true that they are more interesting photographic subject matter -- as can be seen by the shots at the top of this week's entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts!).  But the fact of the matter is that there really are books whose tales are so rousing (as in stimulating) that they've literally kept me awake turning their pages for hours beyond what should have been my bedtime! 

A look at my collection of books will get one realizing that I'm a big fan of crime and detective novels -- with my favorite authors including many crime novelists such as Linda Fairstein, Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen, Qiu Xiaolong, Sara Paretsky and Alexander McCall Smith.  (I also like the three crime novels that Lisa See wrote and wish she would return to this genre.) But the book that I'd say is the most rousing of the ones that I've read thus far this year actually is actually not strictly a crime novel, though some crimes, including murders, do take place within its pages.   

Pat Conroy's South of Broad did not get an overwhelmingly positive reception when it came out a few years ago -- but, in all honesty, I'm one of those book lovers that don't tend to read book reviews and news and, instead, tend to go my own way and at my own pace when selecting what to read and when.  And for me, every book of Conroy's that I've read thus far -- including The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, The Water is Wide and My Losing Season -- I've liked very much.

Funny but true: years ago, a friend of mine and I went on a road trip that took us from Philadelphia down to Beaufort, South Carolina.  Along the way, we stopped at several cities and towns, including Charleston.  While we were in the town that is the setting for South of Broad, we went and attended a parade at The Citadel, a military college whose existence I first learnt about via The Lords of Discipline and was curious to see for myself as a result.

The parade by The Citadel's cadets was very interesting -- and rousing, even.  So positive did we feel about it and the place that afterwards, like pretty much every other person in the crowd that day, we rushed to The Citadel's shop afterwards to get souvenirs associated with that institution.  And to this day, I still have the key chain I got there, and use it too! :b

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Environmental thoughts on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival

Scene at Victoria Park tonight, 
the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival

Lantern Wonderland that Victoria Park's football fields
had been temporarily transformed into

The interior of the 10 meter high spherical installation is
a veritable visual wonderland made more amazing by
it mainly being made out of...recycled water bottles! :O

As I write this sentence of this blog post, it's not yet the Mid-Autumn Festival but, as can be witnessed in such locales as Victoria Park, many Hong Kongers are already in a festive mood -- and out en masse to enjoy festive treats such as the Lantern Wonderland, Tai Hang fire dragon 'dance' (parade, more like, actually), the fire dragon dance in Pok Fu Lam (and, especially this year, Aberdeen too) and various other public Mid-Autumn Festival lantern displays.

I don't want to rain on people's parades but I do hope that at least some, even if not all, of the people who checked out the very visually impressive Rising Moon installation in Victoria Park tonight will be inspired by it to be more environmentally aware and be more active with regards to conservation of resources and recycling plastics and other waste materials.

Made out of 7,000 water bottles, Rising Moon is an eye-catching work because of the play of multicolor lighting on its surface and the reflections on the water of the pool that surrounds it but also its sheer size.  The shocking as well as amazing fact though is that 7,000 plastic bottles are actually consumed every 15 minutes of a typical day in Hong Kong.

I'm old enough to remember a time when people -- especially adults -- didn't walk around with plastic bottles of water in their hand or backpack, almost as if it was a necessary accessory of urban living.  But now so many people move around the city equipped with a plastic bottle of water as if their hike through the urban jungle will have them passing as few places to get a drink, should they need it, as through a bona fide natural jungle.

And while I'm on the subject of waste: to people who still have some mooncakes left, please make sure they're all eaten or to give them to other people who will appreciate them rather than have them go to waste. A 2011 survey estimated that more than 2 million mooncakes get discarded rather than consumed -- and frankly, I consider it a crying shame because, among other things, I love mooncakes, so think it such a terrible, unnecessary waste of a delicious food item!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hike down to Chek Keng from Luk Wu Plateau (Photo-essay)

Before going further in this photo-essay, I have to register my surprise at the lack of comments re last week's photo-essay.  Put another way: there doesn't seem to have been any love for the big lizard (though it's also true enough that that wasn't the first time it made an appearance on this blog)...

Undaunted, here's going ahead and putting up a second photo-essay of the hike that took two friends and I from Luk Wu Plateau down to Chek Keng one sunny and hot (but actually not too humid) day that I remember causing the sunburnt arms and back of the neck of one of my friends to turn a quite amazing pink by dinner time that evening! ;b

A rock pool that's tempting to jump into on a hot day

...until you realize it's really close to this scary drop!

One of the prettiest waterfall areas I've seen in Hong Kong

I've never quite figured out what the deer symbol on the 
sign posts mean -- but part of me suspects it might mean one has 
to be as sure-footed as a deer when going along this trail!

Upon catching sight of this crab, we figured we were
now near the waters of Chek Keng Hau

Chek Keng is largely abandoned but one resourceful villager
has set up a stall here that sells cold drinks and such

I love taking close up shots as well as 
panoramic photos of Chek Keng Hau
 And yes, I also do love the kaito ride back to "civilization"
by way of Wong Shek Pier -- and taking photos while on it :)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hiking along a favorite trail on a less than ideal weather day

One of those butterflies that tends to hide the more 
beautiful side of its wings when it's at rest position ;S

Those are raindrops, not dew, on the flowers and leaves ;(

Earlier today, two friends and I hiked from Route Twisk to Chai Wan Kok via Lin Fa Shan and Shek Lung Kung -- a route along which I've gone on a few times before but still am up for repeating because, among other things, I really like the views to be had from Shek Lung Kung and much of the section of trail leading from there down towards Chai Wan Kok.     

Approximately 6.5 kilometers in length, it's fairly easy -- bar for a steep descent towards the end that can leave one's legs feel like they've turned to jelly -- as well as scenic, my preference is to hike along it in the summer months because there's a better chance then of the air being clear and visibility being good, and sometimes even superb.

But although we're still in summer and yesterday was a beautiful blue sky day, such was sadly not the case today.  Adding insult to injury, not only was it somewhat hazy at the start of the hike but midway into it, my friends and I got caught in a thunderstorm -- one that most definitely not mentioned in today's weather forecast when I checked the Hong Kong Observatory's website as late as just a half hour before I left my apartment to embark on the journey via MTR to Tsuen Wan, the town nearest to the eastern and southern sections of Tai Lam Country Park!

Fortunately, the storm turned out to be a typical Hong Kong summer one in duration -- and consequently lasted just about 30 minutes from sudden start to finish.  And it did help clear the haze somewhat, so that we ended up getting better views at Shek Lung Kung and along the tail end of our excursion than it looked to be the case earlier that afternoon.

Still, for the most part, this was one of those hikes where I focused on sights near to me rather than scenic landscape views.  And looking back, my visual highpoint this afternoon actually came by way of a butterfly species that often frustrates me because it is so much more beautiful when flying (with its outer wings that have purple patches on them) than when it's perched on a flower or in a more 'restful' position (and usually only displaying only its non purple outer wings).

On the subject of insects: I've come to realize that when one comes across a whole bunch of dragonflies flying about, it can signal that it's about to rain.  And such was indeed the case just a few minutes before this afternoon's deluge.  It interesting how it is that nature does provide one with such warning signs, isn't it?  And also re how it seems to be the case that for all that myriad pavilions have been erected in the Hong Kong countryside, I'm never close to one whenever a storm suddenly breaks while I'm out hiking... ;(

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Silly and Something Outdoors (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

As this blog's regular readers know, I love spending time in Hong Kong's great outdoors, particularly its 24 country parks.  But I also do appreciate the Big Lychee's urban parks, particularly Victoria Park -- where events of a serious as well as fun nature regularly take place.

In recent years, one of the more fun events at Victoria Park that I look forward to is the annual Hong Kong Flower Show which features some pretty impressive floral displays and elaborate creative arrangements, like these and these.  And Hong Kong being Hong Kong, you can pretty much count on some whimsical and kawaii expressions of creativity on occasions like this.

Also at events like the Hong Kong Flower Show, one will come to the realization that there are thin lines between creativity, kawaii and/or whimsy, and just silly.  And while evaluations of where the lines lie are obviously subjective, my criteria for silly at such an event is when I come across a sight that leaves me thinking "What the..?" or gets me bursting into laughter.

At this year's edition of the flower show, the top two silly sights as far as I was concerned were those whose images can be seen at the top of this entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts. And yes, I know that that snake-shaped floral figure was created to commemorate this year being the Year of the Snake according to the Chinese lunar calendar -- but even so, the very idea of a large-sized snake-shaped floral figure and sight of it did/does tickle my funny bone!  As for that green-skinned bathing-suited (and -capped) figure... it's definitely imaginative but, let's face it, also makes for an improbably amusing sight, right?

Or maybe it's only me who sees it that way... you tell me!  And while you're at it, do let me know too whether I'm the only person in the world who gets thinking of Yosemite Sam when they see pansies... or whether I'm being just plain silly there? ;b 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Birth of a Hero: Exhibition of Ma Wing Shing's Comic Works at Comix Home Base

Large banners and a life-sized statue of a comic hero
greet visitors to the Comix Home Base

Currently on show there is The Birth of a Hero --

A comic style figure of Ma Shing Wing
on display at Comix Home Base

In recent months, there've been quite a few Hollywood movies getting screened in Hong Kong (as well as other parts of the world) that have comic book superhero protagonists.  While not generally a fan of comic books or movies with comic book superheroes in them, I feel like I've checked out my share over the years -- and ones from Hong Kong as well as the US and Britain too.
Although I've never see any manhua by Ma Wing Shing, his name and work is not unfamiliar to me -- because, among other things, I've seen The Storm Riders and A Man Called Hero.  And while I have to be honest and state that I didn't care for both those movies, I also didn't hold it against the creator of those film's characters -- feeling that the filmmakers were more to blame for the movies being not to my liking.
Knowing that his work is highly thought of by manhua enthusiasts, I figured it'd be interesting to go have a look at an exhibition at the newly opened Comix Home Base of the work of the man who has been called the Godfather of Hong Kong Comics.  Having done so this past weekend, I have to say that I'm really glad I did -- because the exhibition has a lot of interesting items on display, and exhibits them in a manner that shows them off very well indeed. 

Occupying at least three floors of the Comix Home Base, The Birth of a Hero - Exhibition of Ma Wing Shing's Comic Works includes several of Ma's illustrations and, also, paintings and three-dimensional renditions of his works, most of them miniature but at least one of which is life-sized (or actually even slightly larger than life-sized).

The paintings are colorful and interesting but, to my eyes, the ink illustrations are on another level altogether -- and so wonderful that I have no qualms thinking of them as very impressive artworks.  In addition, while many of them are great enough as stand-alone works, what makes the exhibition all the more special is that several of the ink illustrations are displayed as a series that shows how a particular comic panel goes over several steps and stages from rough draft to super detailed finished work.
For those of this blog's readers who are based in Hong Kong or are going to be visiting here in the near future, do note that this exhibition runs through to October 20 at Comix Home Base.  And yes, admission is free -- and, frankly, would be worth it even if you had to pay the standard HK$10 (~US$1.30) Hong Kong museum fee! :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From the Luk Wu Plateau downwards towards Chek Keng (Photo-essay)

The first time I went along the Luk Wu Country Trail, my then regular hiking companion came across a sign post pointing out that one could get down to Chek Keng from the plateau.  Right there and then, I resolved to try out that route some time -- and I finally did so one sunny spring day with two other hiking buddies.

Looking back, I wonder whether I'd be so bent on going along this trail if I had realized that it involved such a steep descent along an unpaved trail where one ended up slipping and sliding down quite a bit.  But now that I've done it, I have no regrets -- and for more than one reason, I can safely say that this particular hike actually was one of those I found more memorable than most... :)

  The Luk Wu Country Trail is one of those that begins
with one having to go up a challenging number of steps

Happily, it also has sections of relatively level 
as well as unpaved path

 The kind of colorful wild flowers that are nice
visual additions to one's hiking experience :)

 The trail cuts across a stream area that is really pleasant
when hordes of other hikers don't decide to break there
for a time -- as I've sometimes have found to be the case!

 This is one of those waterfalls that appears to be seasonal 
-- in that the first time I was up on the plateau, during a 
drier time of the year, I didn't notice its existence! :O

This lizard I definitely did not see the first time

On the rugged, unpaved trail leading down to Chek Keng

The kind of rock pool that'd be tempting to go for a dip in
-- if not for it being not that easy to get to!

To be continued in the form of one more photo-essay...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A tale of two northeast New Territories scenic spots

An idyllic as well as secluded section of 
a hill stream in Pat Sin Leng Country Park 
 Natural light and rippling water create beautiful reflections 
and a generally very pleasing scene    
 The area around Bride's Pool, while more visually stunning,
also was quite a bit more crowded and noisier

When I first started hiking in Hong Kong, I would conscientiously follow the directions for the trails I went on that I found in books like Alice Kershaw and Ginger Thrash's invaluable Above the City: Hiking Hong Kong Island and the Country and Marine Park Authority's helpful Hiking All in One.  But these days, as I told the friend I went hiking with this afternoon, I liked to mix and match sections of different trails -- and also feel free to change my route midway through a hike after spotting a sign pointing in a potentially interesting direction.
More often than not, I find there's a payoff to being willing to explore a different, alternative route -- and such was definitely the case today, when my friend and I veered off Section 10 of the Wilson Trail toward Bride's Pool along a section of trail I had never previously been on before.

Firstly, this section of trail appeared newly paved -- but instead of the much hated concrete, it was with really well laid out "crazy paving".  Secondly, we didn't see anyone else along the couple of kilometers or so that we were on this section of trail (and another couple or so kilometers after that) -- and so felt like we were walking on a really nice private path, and through some really gorgeous scenery to boot!

Thirdly, we came across a really pretty stream area -- one with lovely clear water, and on which rays of light fell and helped made all sorts of beautiful patterns in the water.  Even more amazingly, to one side, there was a rock face where ripples and light combined to create a wonderful shadow show that, if I had the time to spare, I'd be happy to watch for hours -- and which got this Hong Kong film geek immediately thinking of the early moments of one of the scenes in the water in The Bride with White Hair involving Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung!

Adding to the sublime scene was how peaceful it was -- and so much so that a couple of dragonflies felt free to settle for a time on a couple of rocks near the water.  All of which served as a major contrast to the scene that greeted us at the tail end of today's hike over at the main stream at Bride's Pool -- one that, frankly, was too full of people for my liking.

Granted that the stream and falls at Bride's Pool are more immediately eye-catching than that of the much less known -- and, as far as I know, unnamed -- stream area in Pat Sin Leng Country Park.  But especially if it stays as little visited as it appeared to be today, the latter's where I'd like to re-visit and spend more time around in the future.  And I truly hope that those other folks who happen on it will respect nature's beauty there and not do such as litter and otherwise pollute that gem of a place that really was such a treat to come across while out hiking in Hong Kong this afternoon. :)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fave and Shadows (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

For the most part, shadows are things I take for granted as being inevitable components of the photos I take  And there's many a time, especially when I'm taking photos of delicious food, where shadows can get in the way of a good shot. 

But there also are times when the shadows are the focus of my pictures.  And I was duly reminded of this when hunting through my photo archive for fave pics of shadows for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week.

With regards to the photo at the top of this blog entry: A friend and I were waiting to board the ferry to Macau at Shun Tak Centre when I noticed the natural shadow play taking place on a section of its wall.  With regards to the middle photo: yes, that's my shadow inside a seaside Tin Hau temple even while I stood by the doorway outside of it!  

As for the final photo presented today: The shadows of the side railings along a paved trail in Tai Tam Country Park are what made that particular shot worth taking -- and a fave of mine.  And for the record, that particular country park is my fave one on Hong Kong Island -- and one where I've been on many hikes, including the Christmas Day hike that yielded this photo, and another that resulted in one of my fave photo-essays ever (and yes, please feel free to click on that link to check out that entry)! :b