Friday, January 31, 2014

Sunset Peak on the first day of Chinese New Year 2014 :)

Hong Kong mountain high! ;b

Parts of today's hike up Sunset Peak
felt like it involved ascending Jacob's Ladder!
 A view, including of the stone chalets, atop the mountain
due to that day having been on the misty side
If you told me a few years ago that I'd be hiking up to 869 meter high Sunset Peak, Hong Kong's third highest mountain, not just once but twice, over the course of a calendar year, I'd have thought that you were off your rocker.  But that's exactly what I've done -- if one were using the Roman calendar.  

According to the Chinese lunar calendar though, one year separates the first and second time I went up Sunset Peak.  More specifically, the first time I hiked up Sunset Peak was on the first day of Chinese New Year last year (i.e., February 10, 2013) whereas the second time I've done so has been on the first day of the Chinese New Year after that (i.e., today!).

When thinking of hike routes for this afternoon, I hadn't originally thought of going along Lantau Trail Section 2 (in reverse).  But when I saw how clear the top of Sunset Peak looked when a friend and I were in Tung Chung around noon time today, I decided to take a chance that we'd be treated to more and better scenic vistas on this hike than the one up Sunset Peak I had taken last year.

While this time around I didn't see any Chinese New Year flowers on the mountain, I have to say that this was a far more rewarding hike in terms of the visuals one was afforded -- what with there being a great deal of sunshine, beautifully bright blue skies and landscapes that stretched for miles.  At one point on our descent towards Nam Shan and Mui Wo, my friend and I could not only look downwards and see Pui O (including its beach) and the Chi Ma Wan peninsula but also way beyond to Hei Ling Chau, and as far as Lamma and Hong Kong Islands! Also, what with the temperature being in the 20s today, I even spotted butterflies and moths that thought that spring has arrived!
Best of all though were the stunning vistas I got this time around of the stone chalets up on Sunset Peak. The first time I was in the area, the visibility was so low that I could only see one stone chalet at a time.  In contrast, this time around, I could see that about a score of them peppering the rugged landscape -- and I also even spotted the nearby pool whose existence I learnt about via a post by Ulaca!  
All in all, today's hike was a great way to welcome in a new lunar year.  And yes, so wonderful was today's experience that I definitely would like to go hiking again on the first day of the Chinese New Year next year -- and who knows, maybe I'll make it a point to go up Sunset Peak again then! ;b

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hello Babies and The Monkey King (Chinese New Year movie reviews)

The stars of Hello Babies unveil auspicious messages

The star of The Monkey King minus monkey make-up! :)

Hello Babies (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2014)
Director: Vincent Kok
Starring: Raymond Wong, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng, Raymond Cheng, Fiona Sit, etc.

In recent years, Raymond Wong and Eric Tsang have been associated with rival Chinese New Year movie series (namely, the All's Well, Ends Well films that date back to 1991 in the case of the former and I Love Hong Kong trilogy that began in 2011 in the case of the former).  And for a time in late 2012/early 2013, there had been talk that the two Hong Kong film industry veterans would join together to make a Chinese New Year movie.

But while Raymond Wong mentioned in an 2013 interview that he considered Eric Tsang to be his best friend, we've had to wait until 2014 to see them together on screen in a Chinese New Year movie. Considering how hotly anticipated their collaboration has been in many quarters, it's a bit of a disappointment that the Chinese New Year movie in which they appear as rivals who vie to be the first to have a grandson is not as funny and special as was hoped.

On a more positive note, it's not as though Hello Babies is entirely bereft of laughter-inducing moments.  Still, it's just surprising that there's not only more of them but that the bulk of the guffaws generated come courtesy of the movie's other stars -- notably Sandra Ng, Ronald Cheng and Fiona Sit.

To be sure, Eric Tsang does have a super scene alongside Sandra Ng in which they parody the train station fight in Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster.  Still, my favorite scenes in this movie are those that have a yogi played by Jan Lam getting Fiona Sit to strike up the kind of sexually suggestive poses that has her character's hubby (played by Ronald Cheng) all jealous as well as heated up!

If only there were more inspired moments like those in the movie.  Instead, and rather sad to say, there's a very workmanlike feel to this Chinese New Year comedy that is less zany than movies of this genre but, alas, expectedly loosely structured!   

To put it in context then: Hello Babies is not as funny and generally good as Hotel Deluxe, last year's Chinese New Year movie from Raymond Wong's stable.  At the same time, it serves up enough laughs that those who opt to check it out this holiday season aren't going to walk out feeling like they had been cheated or anything like that!

My rating for this film: 6.0  

The Monkey King
Director: Soi Cheang
Starring: Donnie Yen, Aaron Kwok, Chow Yun Fat

Whereas the makers behind Hello Babies appear to not have been all that ambitious with regards to their film, the equivalent folks behind The Monkey King certainly didn't lack any ambition.  Some four years in the making and with a budget that eventually rose to HK$600 million,  there's enough in the finished product to indicate that it was meant to be a visually spectacular fantasy epic.

However, those who opt to check out this cinematic imagining of the early chapters of Wu Cheng'en's Journey to the West truly would be best served by looking upon it more as a children's film than a serious envisioning of one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China.

After getting negative reports from a few parties about this fantasy actioner, I went into a viewing of this film that shows the Monkey King enjoying himself on earth and also wreaking havoc up in the heavens with way lower expectations than I normally would for a cinematic product with as large a budget as it does.  And I can confirm that it does indeed look like certain sections of the film's CGI are being shown without their actually being fully polished, if not outright completed.

At the same time, the reports of its script having inane dialogue are, to my mind, on the unfair side.  Also, I really have to congratulate action director Donnie Yen not only for some interestingly envisioned and enacted action scenes but also Donnie Yen the actor for being the most simian Monkey King I've ever seen on film -- and, also, the one that most conforms to the vision of Sun Wukong that I've had ever since, as a child, I eagerly devoured all 40 volumes of an illustrated Journey to the West series that I had been given.

While watching the film though, I got to thinking that this 16th century tale has many details that's hard to take seriously now that we're firmly in the 21st century.  Also, that much of this film's visuals are too much like that of a video or computer game, supplemented with 'fantastical' creatures that are too obviously humans in furry costumes.

On a related note: I can't help but think too that if The Monkey King had been faster paced, I wouldn't have noticed and fixated so much on these kinds of things. Even then, the ambitious work really is nowhere near the disaster or even mess than some critics have it being.  Or perhaps I'm being generous -- but, then, that's what happens when I watch a Chinese New Year movie -- which, by dint of the timing of its release on Chinese New Year's Eve, even if nothing else, this blockbuster offering is!

My rating for this film: 6.0

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Scenic and interesting sights along a hike to and from Cheung Sheung plateau (Photo-essay)

Years before I moved to Hong Kong, I already knew of the Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau Island which is home to the Po Lin Monastery and its Big Buddha.  But it was only after I started hiking around the Big Lychee that I got to know of the existence of the Ngong Ping plateau that lies within Ma On Shan Country Park, and still other cool plateaus at Luk Wu and Cheung Sheung.

On one summer's day that was cooler than many others can be in Hong Kong, a hiking buddy and I went again to Cheung Shung Plateau -- but this time via Section 3 of the Maclehose Trail rather than the Cheung Sheung Country Trail as had previously been the case. Rather than continue along the Maclehose Trail after reaching the plateau though, we headed back to Pak Tam Road via the Cheung Sheung Country Trail -- with our hike to and from the plateau being made interesting by the scenery along with several critter spottings made along the way! ;b

 Far from the urban jungle and yet 
still very much in Hong Kong :)

One does have to trek uphill a bit on trails 
like this one to get those kinds of scenic views!

 Vistas like this make it feel worthwhile to me though :)

A moth whose delicate white wings are so see-through
you can see the green of the leaves below them

 Cows and calves at rest on Cheung Sheung plateau

The front section of this bug has me thinking it's an ant but
 its back section doesn't look like that of most ants I've seen! :O

 One of the nice things about hiking during the humid parts 
of the year is seeing how green and lush the landscape becomes

 And one of the best things about hiking during the summer
is the sheer variety as well as number of interesting critters
one comes across out in the wild :b

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Do not feed the monkeys!

This is one monkey that knows where it's all at!
Hide and seek along with the grooming?

Some years back, my then regular hiking companion and I went along a trail that took us through Kam Shan Country Park that got us realizing that it's Monkey Central, not least because of stupid people (illegally?) driving up from Tai Po Road deep into the country park to (definitely illegally) feed the monkeys that now make the area their home.  That experience was so unpleasant that it wasn't until today that I ventured again into that area -- this time with not just one but three hiking buddies in tow!

I'm happy to report that this afternoon's hike was a good deal more pleasant than the one that provided ample proof that Kam Shan (aka Golden Hill) really deserves its Monkey Hill nickname.  Although we saw plenty of monkeys on our hike (again particularly along Golden Hill Road, and also along the Eagle's Nest Nature Trail in the neighboring Lion Rock Country Park), I felt quite a bit safer because, this time around, there were four in our group.  In addition, this time around, we didn't see any people trying to feed the wild macaques that are an introduced species to Hong Kong.

Maybe people actually are paying heed to the signs and banners put up by the authorities telling people not to feed the monkeys. At the same time, the fact that quite a few of the macaques we saw looked so expectant when they saw humans makes me think that they really have have come to look upon humans for free food.

Almost needless to say, I way prefer those monkeys who ignore the presence of humans to do what monkeys more naturally do (e.g., groom each other) to the ones the simian beggars (or, worse, snatch thieves).  In a perfect world, people also shouldn't tempt the monkeys by holding out food and eating in front of them.  More than incidentally, a man who was conspicuously munching away walked by our group at one point -- and it was startling to see the amount of monkeys that suddenly appeared along the path, and that he left in his wake and staring at us, seemingly with the hope that these other humans they saw would feed them.

At the very least, I hope more people will heed the following warnings and advice seen on an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department banner hanging near Kowloon Reservoir today: "Feeding of wild animals leads to problems. Nature can meet their needs. Wild Animal Protection Ordinance (CAP, 170): Feeding of Wild Monkeys is Prohibited. Maximum Penalty is a Fine of HK$10,000".

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Vast and Wine (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

As regular readers of this blog (including certain participants of Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts) will know, I definitely love certain kinds of tipple -- particularly beer and sake.  And to give those of you who didn't know some idea: I consider my visits to the beery Sapporo Summer Festival among the highlights of my visit to Hokkaido last July (along with the crab feasts I had there and the visit to the Furano lavender fields), and hope to attend Munich's Oktoberfest one of these days.

But as far as I'm concerned, there's a vast difference between my alcoholic drinks of choice and wine.  Put another way: I really don't care much for that alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes.  Thus it was that when I visited Germany back in 2010, I tended to favor the excellent local beers.  

So even though my non-beer-drinking German friend who I spent time with did get me to try a glass of Riesling (that did have, as she said it would, some lychee notes to it!) and also some Schnapps while I was in her home country, I had the beer in the second photo from the top of this blog entry while she had the wine!  And there is absolutely no way that I could ever drink as a vast a quantity of wine as is (was?) contained in Heidelberg Tun, the huge vat of wine housed in the cellars of Heidelberg Castle.

Oh, and for those who wondered: sake is often described as a rice wine but it actually is more of a rice beer if you consider that, like beer, it's brewed.  In any case, I definitely prefer the sparkling sake that was served at the New Year's Eve party at Sake Bar Ginn than champagne -- not least because, unlike champagne and red wine, I don't get a headache after drinking it!  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

One night in Hong Kong

Pigs in a blanket and an accompanying mustard dip

A street I walked along on my way to 
the MTR station after dinner

Looking up at the night sky and tops of 
surrounding skyscrapers in the same area

After work one day, the blogger behind The Fragrant Harbour and I went to The Roundhouse for dinner and drinks.  As I told her on our first visit a few weeks ago, if only the food menu was as interesting as its microbeer selection, I could see that Soho establishment becoming a favorite of mine. So, yes, the truth is that we went there again that evening because I was pining to try more microbrews (or craft beers, as they appear to be more popularly known in Hong Kong these days) -- though we definitely did make sure to order some food along with drinks.

Rather than go for the barbecue like I did the first time around, I went for a special -- pigs in a blanket, a dish that I was first introduced to as a college student at Beloit all those years ago.  The microbrews (including a Russian imperial stout and a Belgian lambic) that I had that evening, on the other hand, sent me back to my graduate student days at Penn -- for Philadelphia was where I became a beer geek!

Atmosphere- as well as food-wise, there were moments that evening at The Roundhouse when I felt like I had been transported back and thousands of miles away to the US.  But upon exiting the place, it only took a few minutes outside to be squarely reminded that I was squarely in Hong Kong.  

Granted that Soho is home to its share of restaurants serving up cuisines associated with territories as far flung as Australia (Jaspas) and Argentina (La Pampa Argentinian Steak House), and many points in between.  Also, that a small Taoist temple nearby I associate more with a transnational movie with a Thai director at the helm -- specifically Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves.

But there still is a distinctly Hong Kong air to it as far as I'm concerned -- and ditto (and all the more so, in fact) with Sheung Wan, where the nearest MTR station to the part of Soho we had been in is located. More than incidentally, this atmospheric neighborhood is where much of Johnnie To's The Sparrow was filmed.  And like Simon Yam's character in it, I was inspired to snap some photos there -- and if I may say so, I reckon that at least one of them looks like it could be a still from a movie! ;b

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Critter spottings and scenic views along a Tai Lam Country Park hike (Photo-essay)

A few years back, Ulaca blogged about a hike in Tai Lam Country Park he went on that took him to a Fire Lookout Post that stood some 555 meters above sea level.  While in the area one Sunday afternoon, I decided to detour to that spot and also up a 474 meter high hill that I previously had just gone around.

If not for those detours, the route taken would have been one that I'd gone on a few times previously.  But, truly, they help add some spice as well as variety to my hikes -- and ditto re the different flora and fauna spotted along the way at different times of the year! ;b

A shy Punchinello butterfly spotted nestling 
amidst some green leaves

 The fire lookout and the view to its northeast

This scenic green view to the north of Tai Lam Country Park 
is one that could not be had on a less clear day!

 Another pretty butterfly spotted along the hike

The coloring tells me it's a moth I see while all I can think
of its shape is that it looks so cool!

They may look like bits of shit to some but
methinks they're a kind of caterpillar (or cocoon at least)!

View of Tsuen Wan and Tsing Yi from atop the
unnamed 474 meter high hill near Shek Lung Kung

Spotting -- and managing to clearly photograph -- 
this green grasshopper perched atop a green railing
was something that made my day! :b

Sunday, January 19, 2014

John Denver was right (about sunshine on the water, that is)!

Shimmering sunlight on the water helps make
a scenic view more special

Lots of light reflecting on the water transforms 
an otherwise mundane scene into one that's pretty beautiful :)

After a few weeks of hazy weather and low visibility, we've been treated in the past week to a few days with noticeably clearer air and bright blue skies.  So imagine my disappointment upon checking the Hong Kong Observatory website's weather information for hiking and mountaineering section this morning and seeing visibility was less than 10 kilometers.  (For comparison, the summer months here in the Big Lychee regularly see visibility of more than 30 kilometers.)

For much of my journey to today's hike destination, things did not look too promising visibility wise.  But as we rolled into southern Lantau, my hiking buddy and I started seeing blue skies and feeling out spirits lifting at the welcome sight.  And although it turned out that the sky wasn't always brilliant blue this afternoon, there still were enough of it together with bright sunlight to warm the cockles of my heart -- and, at one point, warm me enough to get me removing two layers of outer clothing and feeling that it was t-shirt weather despite it actually being the middle of winter!

As the John Denver song goes, "Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy" and "Sunshine on the water looks so lovely".  And so happy was I -- when going along this Chi Ma Wan Peninsula hike that began and ended in Pui O, and offered up plenty of views of sea along with land -- to catch sight more than once of the sunlight reflecting off the water and creating beautiful sights that I couldn't help but capture them for posterity with my camera and share them in this blog entry! :)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ripple and Two (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

At the risk of stating the obvious: ripples on the water are a photographer's delight.  So Sandi can easily be excused for choosing it as a Photo Hunt theme even though ripples had previously featured as a Photo Hunt under tnchick's tenure.  

The last time around, I had gone for shots of calm waters in typhoon shelters -- and that's the case again this second time around! For my mark two version of a ripple-themed Photo Hunt entry though, I've gone away from Hong Kong Island deep into the New Territories, specifically the relocated fishing village of Sam Mun Tsai on the shore of Tolo Harbour.

More than two years ago now, a good friend and I had gone hiking in the area.  Before heading to Tai Po for dinner, we decided to hang out and watch the sunset at a locale the two of us found scenic in daytime but were to discover could be really beautiful when the setting sun's rays illuminated the water and accentuated the lines of its ripples.

Almost needless to say, we both took far more than just two photographs while we out there that day!  But for this entry, I've restricted myself to just offering up one daylight snap with two boats in the foreground -- expressly for Gattina's choice of Photo Hunt theme this week -- and a further two shots taken later, during what, for me, felt like a magical time that day. :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tung Ping Chau butterfly bonus!

What does this butterfly...

...and this 'flutterby' have in common?

Without seeing this photo, would you have believed that
they were one and the same?! :b

I realize three photo-essays from one single trip to an island measuring only 600 meters long and 200 meters wide may seem excessive to some.  And this on top of the blog entry I posted that same summer's day that I visited Tung Ping Chau.  But as I think you'll agree after checking those photo-essays (further links to them here, here and here), there really were plenty of fascinating sights to be had on that remote Hong Kong island!
As it so happened, among the most fascinating to me was one encountered near the end of the day trip and involving yet another wonder of nature.  While strolling through a green -- rather than rocky-surfaced -- part of the island, a small butterfly with dotted wings caught my eye.  As I readied my camera to take a photo of it, it opened its wings... to reveal ones that were mainly blue on one side and largely white on the other!  

Common the Common Hedge Blue may be by name and in terms of its conservation status but I still find it really pretty as well as pretty interesting!  And I hope you will too upon checking out my photos of it on this blog entry. :)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

One more geologically interesting Hong Kong island! (Photo-essay)

After this third and final photo-essay of my excursion to Tung Ping Chau, it'll be time to say farewell to Hong Kong's geologically interesting as well as most remote island.  Sadly, after my two friends and I visited the area and hiked along the 6 kilometer length Ping Chau Country Trail, some sections of it have been blocked by the island's villagers.  

So it'll be a while, if ever, before people can go entirely along the route that we went along -- which is a real pity since, as can be seen from this and the previous photo-essays, the hike did yield some interesting and cool sights indeed...

A non-geological sight to begin with -- more specifically,
of a hairy caterpillar embracing a flowering plant!

Back to a geological focus -- albeit a photo with
aquatic as well as land elements!
 Weird, I know, but don't the roots look like
they've sketched out a skirted human figure? :O
 Can you make out the formation known as 
Dragon Diving Into the Sea in the above photo?

Is this a trilobite -- or its descendent, at least --
that I see in the photo?!
 I should write something geologically pertinent
but will state instead that I was drawn
most to this view by its beauty

Have you ever seen a geological formation like this?

...or, for that matter, one that looked as pretty 
as this one?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A visit to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum

The very modern museum does look back at the past
as well as informs about contemporary subjects
 Guess who decided she wanted to check out what 
it'd be like inside a deep sea diver's helmet? ;b

Earlier this week, my German friend (visiting once more from her native country) and I went and checked out the Hong Kong Maritime Museum which has relocated in the past year from Stanley's Murray House to the Central Ferry Piers.  Although the museological establishment has been in existence since 2003, this was the first time that we had visited the museum.  But based on how interesting we found the exhibitions there, I sincerely doubt that it'll be the last time we will be going there.

My primary reason for wanting to visit the museum was to check out a special exhibition of historical photographs which is on until the middle of next monthThrough the Lens of John Thomson: Hong Kong and Coastal China (1868-1872) includes some really splendid landscape pictures by the Scottish photographer and portraits of Chinese people that were really fascinating, not least because many of the people in his photos look so very different from Chinese people these days.  

We're not just talking here of those people who lived more than a century ago having different hair and clothing styles from present day folks.  Rather, many of the people in the photos had incredibly dark skins -- the result, I'd presume, from their spending much and many of their days working outdoors in the hot sun.  Also, so many of them were really thin and had faces that were on the gaunt side.  Put another way: the general sense was of life having been pretty hard and harsh for many Chinese people in Hong Kong and those parts of Qing-ruled China that Thomson visited.

After spending about half an hour viewing Thomson's photographs, my German friend and I headed to the museum's permanent galleries which turned out to be far more fascinating and also higher in quantity as well as quality than we expected!  All in all, we ended up spending a little more than three hours at the museum -- and would have spent even more time there if not for the institution's closing time being earlier than we would have liked!

One thing I really liked about the permanent exhibition galleries was how there were items on view that hung above our heads as well as at eye level and the more usual spaces.  I also was impressed by how there are so many interactive devices, including not just electronic pages of information and short videos (including about Poon Lim, a Chinese seaman who survived a record-breaking 133 days alone at sea) but also live web cams and various electronic games on such as the identification of ship types, and morse code.  Really cool too was there being an innovative display area which utilized one's sense of smell.  

If truth be told, maritime history is not among the subjects that I normally find all that fascinating.  But the Hong Kong Maritime Museum really does present it in a super interesting way.  All in all, this private museum comfortably ranks among the territory's top five museological institutions to my mind.  And yes, I think there really are many Hong Kong museums that aren't only worth visiting but, in fact, are worth visiting more than once!