Thursday, February 27, 2014

Microbeer h(e)avens in Hong Kong!

The Roundhouse has up to 25 microbrews 
on tap at any one time

 There may be only four taps at Stone's but
they're always only for microbrews!

On my first visit to Stone's, I got invited to take part in
a mega beer tasting session! :O

It all started with my finding the Nogne O Imperial Stout available on tap at the Excelsior's Dickens Bar last November.  Until then, I had assumed that I wouldn't get to taste an imperial stout on draft unless I flew back to Britain (the home of the amazing Sam Smith Imperial Stout that I'm pretty partial to) or the USA (where I had imbibed the Victory Storm King Imperial Stout on draft and dreamnt of one day being able to drink the North Coast's Old Rasputin Imperial Stout on draft rather than just from a bottle).

And although I've since learnt that imperial stouts are indeed thin on the ground on Hong Kong due in part to local tastes not being partial to this particular category of beer, I also have more happily found out that the Big Lychee has developed a taste for microbrews (which tend to get referred to more as "craft beers" over here) -- and that several establishments and companies exist to cater to the territory's growing group of beer geeks.

One evening a few months ago, a friend invited me to go with her to The Roundhouse over in Soho for barbecue and beer.  If truth be told, she was more interested in the barbecue while I was more excited by the beer selection I found there!  For while I didn't see any imperial stouts on tap that evening, I did get to renew my acquaintance with some old American microbrew "friends", including those from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company whose beers I had enjoyed when I lived in Philadelphia so many years ago now.

Feeling emboldened by the experience, I decided to check out another establishment that only has microbrews on draft, and is located closer to my neighborhood. Thus it was that one Saturday afternoon, I walked into Stone's over in Tai Hang and up to the bar. As luck would have it, boss man Joel was manning the bar and after I told him that I really liked microbrew beers, he scored me an invite to a private beer tasting session going on in the bar's other room that was hosted by Hop Leaf's Jeff.

After tasting some 15 (maybe 20?) different beers and giving my input on them, I left Stone's... without having paid a single dime for anything!  Of course, I felt I had to go back again after that.  As it turns out, my second visit to that bar-restaurant was also pretty memorable because Joel got me drinking whiskey shots as well as microbrews -- and consequently way drunker than I would like, and have been for at least six years!

The next time I saw him, I told Joel very firmly that I would be sticking to drinking beer -- and this even though he offered to buy me whiskey shots at least three times that evening.  Sticking to that policy, I've subsequently had many enjoyable afternoons and evenings at Stone's -- with the latest being two nights ago when I found Anderson Valley's Hop Ottin' IPA newly on tap there.

Emboldened by these experiences, I've gone ahead and signed up for a session at Beertopia this year.  Scanning the event's impressive beer list, I've spotted a few favorites along with other microbrew beers I've heard of/read about but have yet to try.  In particular, I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with Cherry Hill, New Jersey's Flying Fish XPA and the tipples from Philadelphia's Yards Brewing Company.

Incidentally, although I've yet to find my microbrew holy grail (i.e., the North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout on tap), I've found another imperial stout that's very much to my liking this winter -- and believe it or not, it's from a microbrewery (called Boxing Cat) that's located in... Shanghai! ;O

Monday, February 24, 2014

A hike up Tai Mo Shan on a beautiful, blue sky day (Photo-essay)

Standing at 957 meters (i.e., 3,470 feet) above sea level, Tai Mo Shan (AKA Big Hat -- think fog -- Mountain) is Hong Kong's highest peak.  But although it may seem logical to think it so, it's not the most difficult Hong Kong mountain or hill to ascend.  

This is largely because one can hike up all the way-- or at least as far as you go before you reach the restricted area occupied by a Hong Kong Observatory weather radar station -- via a paved road leading up to the top of what actually is an extinct volcano that doesn't have all that steep a gradient.

In part because of this, and because it can be quite a bit cooler up on Tai Mo Shan than in those areas closer to sea level, a trek up Hong Kong's highest mountain is one that may be nicer to go on in the hotter than cooler months.  Thus it was that two friends and I decided to go up Tai Mo Shan one hot summer afternoon -- and there was the bonus of the afternoon in question also being one which was a sunny and high visibility occasion! :b

 Our destination looks so close yet is actually fairly far away!
Early into our hike, we got to realizing that we had lucked
out in terms of it being a high visibility day! :)

 The clouds had grey tinges but we stayed encouraged by
the blue bits of sky that were visible that afternoon

Whichever way we go, it'd be on the Maclehose Trail! :b

How green is my (Hong Kong) valley? ;b

Looking northwards to Pat Heung, the mountain range 
of Lam Tsuen Country Park, and beyond

 Feral cows can be found on Tai Mo Shan as well as

 All that bicyclist had to worry about was cows
-- not cars -- being in his way... ;b

To be continued...really!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

On high ground in the Sai Kung Peninsula, including atop Shek Uk Shan

Atop Shek Uk Shan, which -- at 481 meters -- is 

 View of Ma On Shan, the Tolo Harbour and more
from atop that high hill on the Sai Kung Peninsula

The view from lower ground of Shek Uk Shan
(and yes, we really had been at the very top of that hill!)

The first few years that I hiked in Hong Kong, I stuck religiously to trails that I read about in informative hiking guidebooks like Alicia M. Kershaw and Ginger Thrash's Above the City: Hiking Hong Kong Island, and the Country & Marine Parks Authority's Hiking All in One.  In recent years, however, I've become more adventurous.

Some days, my hiking friend(s) and I will go on a trail that looks interesting on one of the countryside maps that I not only own but have spent quite a bit of time looking at.  Other times, while out hiking, I'll spot a sign post pointing to a part of Hong Kong that I had not been to previously or trail that I hitherto hadn't been on, and make a mental note to maybe check it out at a future date.  

Then there are the days, like today, where we end up going somewhere that I had seen from a distance on a previous hike and thought "I'd like to go (up) there at some point"!  In this particular case, there actually were two hills that I had wanted to go up after catching sight of them while hiking on the Cheung Sheung Country Trail and the first part of the Maclehose Trail Stage 3 -- one of which, Shek Uk Shan, has a signal station atop it, and Lo Fu Kei Shek, a 235 meter high hill that's home to a fire lookout.

On the Sai Kung and Clear Water Bay countryside map (edition 11) that I have, there were trails leading up to these hills and along the ridge that joined them that were depicted as solid orange lines (denoting major/easy footpaths) rather than dotted orange ones (denoting difficult or indistinct or seasonally overgrown footpaths). But my friends and I got to realizing that things may have changed quite a bit since the map was published (in 2010) when we couldn't figure out where one option to veer off the Cheung Sheung Country Trail that we had started on was!

Undeterred, we just went a longer way -- up past the Cheung Sheung Plateau and picking up a(nother) trail up Shek Uk Shan that began close to the top of Jacob's Ladder. Although on the steep side, it actually was a fairly easy climb up to the top of the 481 meter hill -- with the more difficult components of the hike occurring as we trekked along the ridge and found ourselves generally descending but also sometimes ascending along fairly overgrown rugged trails that took us through alternately shrubby and forested areas.

In the end, we decided to forgo going all the way up the fire lookout on the final hill on today's hike, opting instead to follow a trail going around Lo Fu Kei Shek rather than diverting up it.  And yes, that decision was partly made because we were on the tired side at that point in the excursion.  

But, in all honesty, we felt that we had accomplished enough already that afternoon.  After all, we had already been up (and then a good way down) the considerably higher Shek Uk Shan, atop which could be found not only a signal station but also a trigonometrical station, and another piece of high ground which may have been nameless but had the distinction of having -- woo hoo! -- another trigonometrical station atop it! :b

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Amber and Wrapped (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

In my mind's eye, I had the perfect image for both of Sandi's and Gattina's chosen Photo Hunt themes for this week.  But, alas, I don't have any shots of a fossilized creature encased -- or should I say wrapped? -- in amber in my photo archive (even while I do have plenty of shots of live critters on this blog!).

Instead, I'm going to stretch a little -- okay, maybe a lot! -- and separately offer up a photo of the next thing I thought of with regards to the word amber and images of wrapped items with centers that I'd normally describe as orange but I'm thinking may be described as amber for our purposes!

More specifically, there's a style of beer known as an amber ale.  And while none of the beers offered as part of the Frites Beer Sample Paddle actually officially falls into that particular category, I reckon that the color of the Leffe Blonde is actually more amber than blonde. 

As for the food: the photo of the sea urchin wrapped in deep fried seaweed brings back wonderful memories of the first of two dinners I've had the privilege to have at the Hong Kong branch of the wonderful Japanese kaiseki restaurant that is RyuGin, while the second is of the har gau (shrimp dumplings) that has become one of my favorite dishes at the North Point branch of the similarly Michelin-starred but far less expensive Tim Ho Wan.

Incidentally, seemingly everyone else (including visiting journalists and bloggers) who've been to Tim Ho Wan rave about their crispy baked barbecue pork buns. But I honestly believe that those at Victoria City Seafood Restaurant are better, even if admittedly more expensive!  Put another way: That particular dish is not a "must have" for me whenever I eat at Tim Ho Wan but it is whenever I dine at Victoria City Seafood Restaurant.  Hong Kong-based readers, feel free to go compare them for yourselves and then let me know what you think! ;b

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Public toilet talk!

Does this look like a public toilet to you?

Not only did it cause me to do a double take but
I felt compelled to take some photos of it for my records!

As I noted in my blog entry for that day, two Sundays ago, I walked from Repulse Bay to Aberdeen.  In passing in that post, I also mentioned my having come across what may well be Hong Kong's most elaborately constructed public toilet while strolling along the Aberdeen waterfront -- and yes, so remarkable did I find it that I'm now hereby dedicating a specific blog post to it!

Funnily enough, when I showed these photos of it to a friend who had lived in Beijing for a time, she remarked that the design style looked "so mainland".  For my part though, I can't recall having come across any public toilets on my one and only trip up north to Mainland China thus far that looked like this elaborately decorated that I saw in Aberdeen. But if truth be told, it's because I remember the designs of the public toilets there far less than I remember the behavior of the people I had the misfortune to witness while in them!!

Rather than spend too much time recalling certain sights that may well have left me mentally scarred for life, I'm going to thank goodness that Hong Kong's public toilets do tend to be cleaner -- and better designed -- than those in a number of other territories I've lived in and visited. (In addition to Mainland China, I also most definitely am not a fan of Malaysia and Tanzania's public toilets!)  

At the same time though, they have a ways to go before they can be considered as nice -- and not a nightmare to visit -- as the public toilets of Japan and -- I have to admit this came as a surprise to me -- Vietnam.  Something else to commend with regards to Japanese public toilets -- and Hong Kong ones too -- is that, unlike in, say, Britain, Turkey, Malaysia and Vietnam, I've never had to pay to use one!  (So yes, that very nice looking public toilet over in Aberdeen is one that people don't have to pay to patronize!)   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

From Wong Nai Chung Gap to the Tai Tam Reservoirs via Violet Hill (Photo-essay)

One summer's day, two friends and I went on a hike that that took us up to the two highest of Violet Hill's three peaks. Apart from it being my first trek up Violet Hill that took me up its 436 meter high peak to the north west as well as its 433 meter high peak to the east that is along Section 1 of the Wilson Trail, what I remember most about this particular excursion is seeing the rain racing towards us when we were Tsin Shui Wan Au!

So I'm grateful for the many photos I took along the way for jogging my memory and showing me that there was quite a bit more to the hike that took us from Wong Nai Chung Gap to the Tai Tam Reservoirs via Violet Hill than those two undoubtedly memorable experiences.  And without further ado, here's sharing a few of those images here:-

To the west of Violet Hill lies Brick Hill (AKA Nam Long Shan), 
most famous these days for sections of it being home to Ocean Park
 Looking northwards and down mid-ascent towards the 

I realize it's not a harmless bug and yet I couldn't help but
think it's pretty and go up close to take a photo of it!

Past the greenery way down to the south, one spies
the skyscrapers (and harbour) that one associates
far more with Hong Kong

Look northwards while along the northern slope of Violet Hill
though, and a very different vista unfolds before you

Among the highlights of a hike up Violet Hill is the views
to be had of the Tai Tam Reservoirs
The hike may not take us to sea level but it does 
take us down to reservoir level!

The reservoirs of Hong Kong are home to more tortoises
than one might expect! ;b

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Today's Tai Lam Country Park hike and post-hike bonuses :)

A clump of Chinese New Year flowers spotted while out
hiking on the 17th day of this new year of the horse :)

The day was on the misty side but we still managed 
to have a pretty enjoyable hike this afternoon

Trust me when I state that our post-hike meal at
tasted so much better than it looks... ;b

There are many people who don't hike in summer in Hong Kong because they feel it's too hot to do so.  My hiking buddies and I, on the other hand, are fine doing so because we've found that the summer is the Hong Kong season with the most blue sky and clear air days.  And while I am okay to hike on summer days where "rain patches" are included in the weather forecast, I tend to be less enthusiastic about hiking on rainy days when the temperatures are on the cold (or even cool) side.
But even though today's forecast included rain patches, a hiking buddy and I decided to go ahead and head out to Tai Lam Country Park this afternoon.  One factor that made us more inclined to do so was that the temperature had risen to a more comfortable level than it has been at for the past two weeks or so.  In addition, we figured that it'd be nice to get some exercise -- and our usual interesting conversation along the hike -- even if we couldn't count on getting many nice views along the way as a result of the day being on the misty side.    
As it turned out, we ended up having a couple of bonus elements to our excursion today.  The first came from our spotting a couple of clumps of Chinese New Year flowers on a hillside -- the first time I had come across this rare sight this new Chinese New Year, in fact!   (In contrast, last year, we spotted Chinese New Year flowers up on Sunset Peak on the first day of Chinese New Year!)
The second came by way of our post-hike meal in Sham Tseng having been a really tasty one. In my first year of hiking in Hong Kong, I had gone on a Tai Lam Country Park hike with Roz's Group that, like today's, had ended up in Sham Tseng and was followed by a meal in an area restaurant that had included some of the famous Sham Tseng roast goose
I have to honest though: I don't recall the roast goose we ate back in 2007 being near as delicious as the one that my hiking buddy and I had at Yue Kee earlier today. Otherwise, I'd have wanted to go back way sooner to Sham Tseng than I did!  Put another way: I think the roast goose I had for dinner today may be even better than the ones I've had at Yat Lok over in Tai Po, being a fair bit meatier and also possibly less greasy!  
And although, if memory serves me right, the roast goose at Yue Kee is pricier than that Yat Lok, the Sham Tseng eatery also has the bonus of having an English menu with many enticing dishes besides the roast goose, very complementary thousand year old eggs and ginger, and "country style" tofu dish that we had today.  Put another way: I think I need to return to Yue Kee soon -- and with a larger group too -- in order to try some of those other dishes, which include different goose parts prepared Chiu Chow style (since the residents of Sham Tseng are historically Chiu Chow)!;b

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reflection and Vertical (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

It actually didn't need much reflection on my part to figure out how I wanted to combine Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunt themes for this week.  Simply put, my plan involved choosing vertical (as opposed to horizontal) photos showing reflections in them.

Interestingly, when hunting through my photo archives, I got to realizing how many more horizontal than vertical photos I take!  So, if I actually done a bit of thinking and reflecting, I might have opted for another way to combine this week's Photo Hunt themes!!

Nonetheless, I think the three photos I'm offering up this week are pretty okay by themselves and make for a nicely diverse group -- with the top-most photo showing one of Hong Kong's many highly vertical residential structures and its reflection on the water, the second having my reflection on a window of an intriguing looking building I came across while hiking that appears to never have been completed (as well as abandoned), and the third of reflections of clouds on the windows of one of the territory's highest buildings, the 415 meters tall Two International Finance Centre. :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An upper Northeast New Territories hike (Photo-essay)

As I write this, the Weather Underground of Hong Kong website has it that it's 1.8 degrees Celsius up on Ngong Ping (and actually -4.3 degrees Celsius after factoring in wind chill)!  Even at sea level, it's on the distinctly cold side -- e.g., it's currently 6 degrees Celsius in Tsuen Wan, 6.6 degrees Celsius in Sha Tin and 7.5 degrees Celsius in Shau Kei Wan.

In contrast, the maximum temperature on the summer's day that the photos in the photo-essay below were taken was 34 degrees Celsius!  Consequently, even though the fire lookout my hiking buddy and I climbed up that day is only atop a 300 meter high hill up in northeast Hong Kong, trust me when I say that we felt quite a sense of achievement -- as well as were bathed in sweat -- when we got up there.  And while the trail after we got down to Kuk Po was on the level side, the lack of tree and other overhead cover in the area is something that both my friend and I aren't going to be forgetting any time soon... ;b

I didn't realize it when I took this photo but the 
 The view southwards from the hill takes in part of  

The view north from the fire lookout takes in the
Starling Inlet and, across it, mainland China

A well worn village path takes one down the northern 
side of the hill to the largely abandoned hamlet of

One would think that a beautiful building in a scenic location
would not be left abandoned but one would be wrong!

In this part of Hong Kong, one is as -- if not more -- likely to
come across feral cows than one's fellow humans!

With the help of my zoom lens, Shenzhen really doesn't look
that far away from the shores of Hong Kong where I stood
when taking this photo!

Concluding with another bug pic -- this one of a critter 
whose shape got me thinking it's some type of wasp but whose
shiny nature I found very unusual as well as eye-catching...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

On foot from Repulse Bay to Aberdeen this afternoon

View this afternoon from the Seaview Promenade 

Further along Seaview Promenade, one spies yachts and 
other craft floating near Middle Island, and also 
Ocean Park in the distance atop part of Nam Long Shan

View along the Mills & Chung Path that took me
from Deep Water Bay Beach to near Ocean Park

I ended up pressing on to Aberdeen -- the one also known as
Hong Kong Tsai (Little Hong Kong), that is, not the city in Scotland! ;b

After a couple of weeks or so of warm and dry weather, Mother Nature decided that it was time for cooler and wetter weather this weekend.  With rain predicted today, I didn't go hiking as usual. But since I was feeling in need of some exercise, I decided to go for a walk on level ground in the afternoon -- that ended up taking me from Repulse Bay all the way to Aberdeen an estimated 6 (or 8 according to another source) kilometers away.

From Repulse Bay to a point near the Hong Kong Country Club, I got to stroll along path that afforded me nice seaviews.  I'd been along the Seaview Promenade before when I checked out the Sculpture on Hong Kong Sea 2009 but today was the first time I had gone along the even less known and consequently less frequented Mills and Chung Path.  

Taken together, they make for a pleasant walk, albeit one that's on the too short side for my liking.  Still, I can see myself returning for a stroll there, especially on a hot summer's day with great visibility.  In fact, I've already earmarked a particular spot along the Mills and Chung Path that I'd like to return to in order to take what would be clear and cool shots of Ocean Park on a super high visibility day!

The section of the walk before one gets to Aberdeen Harbour is not very scenic -- seeing as it's along main roads -- but it's interesting in terms of seeing how the landscape can quickly change from one where leisure facilities predominate to industrial buildings and then on to a mix of residential, tourist and local cultural facilities. 

While strolling along Aberdeen Harbour, one's eyes inevitably are drawn to the views of the boat-filled water and high rises of Ap Lei Chau over on the other side of the harbor.  Still, don't forget to check out the informative signs, interesting sculptures and what must be Hong Kong's most elaborately constructed public toilet(!) to be found at various points along the harbor front!  

With regards to Aberdeen town itself: I must confess to being underwhelmed by its town center each time I've visited.  This time around, it looked even more bereft of interesting attractions, stores and eateries than before.  It doesn't help that Shan Loon Tse Kee Fish Ball restaurant's now closed.  And no, I didn't go and eat at Jumbo Kingdom -- and, in fact, I have yet to do so.  

Despite its bad rep among foodies, there's a part of me that does want to go eat there at least once -- not least because of it featuring in films such as God of Cookery!  Strangely enough, in recent weeks, I actually found that two friends of mine have been and actually liked the food there -- so one of these days, I'm going to have to go there with at least one of them for a meal!! :b

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Intricate and Water (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Given my fascination with spiders, it stands to reason that when I see the word intricate, spider webs are pretty much the first thing that leaps to my mind.  And given the large number of spiders and spider webs that I've photographed over the years, I definitely didn't lack for images to illustrate Sandi's choice of Photo Hunt theme for this week. Rather, the question was whether I had any that could also fit Gattina's water theme at the same time.

After rooting through my photo archive, I found two candidates: one taken one wet day of a spider web covered with rain drops (but so strongly woven as to still be standing!); and another of a spider and -- more visible if you click to enlarge on the photo -- parts of the web it was weaving over the surface of a body of a water.

Ironically, however, the spider webs in those two photos that have water in them along with spiders and their webs happen to have some of the least intricate spider webs I've seen in them!  So, for comparison, I've put a photo of a spider and its truly intricate spider web right at the top of this blog post -- and yes, I'm hoping there are no arachnophobes among my fellow Photo Hunters or, at least, those who elected to check out my entry this week! ;b