Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In sanuki udon country

Can you imagine an area's welcome sign 
looking like this anywhere other than Japan? ;D

The very first photo I took in Kagawa prefecture, Shikoku,
and on my most recent visit to The Land of the Rising Sun ;b

To those of you who noticed the recent lack of blog updates and figured that I was off travelling again: you guessed right!  And you do indeed know me very well if you had reckoned that I was paying yet another visit to Japan!

This time around, I spent the majority of my trip in Shikoku, the smallest of the country's four main islands -- and the one I had previously never set foot on, unlike the case with Honshu (whose Kanto, Kansai and Chugoku regions I've been to), Hokkaido and Kyushu, and even Okinawa.  Considered remote and (relatively) undiscovered by foreigners, it -- like with the San-in Coast-- does take some effort to get to.  More precisely, I needed to take three trains to get from Kansai International Airport to Takamatsu, considered the gateway to Shikoku and the first of two cities I used as a travel base on this recent trip.

Pretty much the first thing I did after I checked into the Dormy Inn Takamatsu (which I chose to stay at after the great experience I had at the chain's hotel in Matsue) was to go eat a bowl of sanuki udon, the famously firm and chewy version of the thick wheat flour noodles that bears Kagawa's old prefectural name. 

A few years back, I watched a film called Udon (yes, really!) that got me appreciating the Japanese noodles that I had previously considered a far second best to soba.  Since then, I've eaten my share of udon, in Japan -- and also in Hong Kong, where I'm able to satisfy my cravings for them at dedicated udon specialists like Marugame Seimen.  

But at the risk of sounding like a food snob, there's really something special to eating udon in the spiritual home of sanuki udon!  Actually, when you think about it, there's a rational reason how come udon is so good in Kagawa prefecture.  

Consider this: in Takamatsu, I passed by scores of udon-ya but only saw one restaurant that specialized in soba and just a handful of ramen eateries.  (In fact, there appear to be way more ramen-ya in Hong Kong -- where the Japanese version of the Chinese lamian is super popular these days -- than there was in all of the parts of Shikoku I visited combined!)  With so many udon restaurants competing against one another, surely competition is super tough and only those deemed good by the area's discerning customers will be able to survive for long?

And for the record: yes, I had udon every day that I was in Shikoku. One reason is that the Dormy Inn Takamatsu offered a free breakfast that included a bowl of sanuki udon every morning that I stayed there (the way its Matsue branch had done with soba).  But on two occasions, I found myself happily lunching on udon too -- and didn't feel sick and tired of it the way I have to admit to feeling about soba after my time on the San-in coast where that particular type of noodle is king! ;b

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Intern delivers intelligent, mature, and fun entertainment! (film review)

A rare contemporary Hollywood movie
I thoroughly enjoyed! :)

The Intern (USA, 2015)
- Nancy Meyers, director-scriptwriter
- Starring: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway 

Before anything else: yes, it's pretty rare that I review a Hollywood movie on this blog.  But, then, it's also not usual for me to get to watch one before it goes on general release in the US -- and that's indeed what has happened in the case of this entertaining "feel good" cinematic offering that just happens to have been written and directed by Tinsel Town's most successful female filmmaker

Although some might assume otherwise (because, you know, it's usual for a movie's main character and its helmer to be of the same gender), The Intern's titular character actually is male rather than female.  Even more remarkably, he's actually a 70-year-old rather than someone several decades younger -- and he is played by none other than the legendary Robert De Niro!

The superstar actor effortlessly convinces, and charms, as Ben Whittaker, a retired widower who decides to go back to work -- as a lowly intern at a clothing company which sells its products online.  Assigned to be the assistant of its founder and head honcho Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the affable senior citizen goes on to show that, even while he may need help doing such as establishing a Facebook account, he still can do a lot to help his colleagues and boss at work, and also as fellow humans.     

To be sure, The Intern's premise is on the gimmicky side, and its general story arc is pretty obvious.  But Nancy Meyers' film is not so predictable -- and consequently actually cool! -- in terms of the plot directions that it eschews, and the way it chooses to do such as portray and develop its characters.  

For example, it most emphatically is not a romantic comedy; something that some of us would think should be pretty apparent since there's a 50 year gap between its male and female leads, yet is something that could easily happen in, say, a film directed and scripted by Woody Allen.  Also, not only does de Niro's Ben come across as a wonderful person but so, too, does Hathaway's Jules.  

Furthermore, Jules is rather remarkable in being the rare female senior executive portrayed on screen who's not a major bitch (a la, say, Meryl Streep's The Devil Wears Prada character or that essayed by Kristin Scott Thomas in Love Crimes) and, even more amazingly, happens to be the loving mother of an adorable daughter and caring wife of a man who has decided to be a stay-at-home dad.  Pretty awesome too is how Anne Hathaway manages to show that Jules is not a complete superwoman but, rather, someone straining to keep things together and a success, who is not afraid to show her vulnerability at times even while also coming across as pretty impressive in many other ways. 

The Intern benefits tremendously from having the charismatic leads that it does.  But I reckon that a substantial amount of credit should also go to its director-scriptwriter for having fashioned a work that's intelligent, mature, warm, and pretty fun(ny)!  This is particularly obvious in those scenes where it's the little details that count, and in how many of the movie's supporting characters (notably those played by Rene Russo and Zack Pearlman) are given opportunities to shine and elicit a big laugh (or more) in the bargain!  

My rating for this film: 8.0

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A quieter but also scenic alternative to the Dragon's Back (Photo-essay)

A friend who moved to Hong Kong recently told me of her surprise at seeing how many people there were on the trail when she and her husband went along the Dragon's Back a few weeks ago.  No doubt many folks were lured up there by Time magazine having declared it to be the best urban hike in Asia some years ago.    

While it may be far less hyped, I reckon that those looking for a hilly hike with plentiful views of the nearby water on a trail should also consider the Tai Tan Country Trail.  Don't get me wrong: I like going along the Dragon's Back too.  But when I want a quieter alternative, I am happy to go the few extra miles to venture on another trek which offers up some pretty nice views of the surrounding countryside, this time including Sharp Peak on the other side of Long Harbour, along the way -- one where you're likely to spot more people engaging in aquatic activities of some sort or other nearby than out hiking along the same trail as you! ;b 

I'd be tempted to linger at this scenic spot more 
if it wasn't located so close to the start of the trailhead ;)
I wonder how many people who visit Wong Shek Pier
realize there's a cool hiking trail so close to it?
This sign wasn't there the previous times that I hiked along
this trail, and may be the result of area residents getting
tired of answering the same question over and over again ;b 
If not for that man wading about out there, I'd not have 
realized how shallow the water in that area was! :O
 Two people enjoying an afternoon of fishing (one of them 
complete with face cover to protect it from the sun!) 
Another of those "Can you believe  this is Hong Kong?" images :)
If I'm not mistaken, the long piece of land in the background 
on the left side of this photo actually is that of a portion of
More than once when I've spotted a kayaker at Hoi Ha Wan,
I've thought that I should try my hand at paddling there some time... ;b

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hou Hsiao Hsien's The Assassin, brought to the screen after 37 script revisions! (film review)

The kind of image that I don't think would look
out of place in Hou Hsiao Hsien's The Assassin* ;) 

The Assassin (Taiwan-Mainland China-Hong Kong-France, 2015)
Hou Hsiao Hsien, director and co-scriptwriter
- Starring: Hsu Chi (AKA Shu Qi), Chang Chen

Back in the late 20th century, when I was (still) living in Philadelphia, I learnt about the existence of Hou Hsiao Hsien and his films via two documentaries.  In both Stanley Kwan's Yang + Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema (1999) and Olivier Assayas' HHH: A Portrait of Hou Hsiao Hsien (1997), for which he was the primary subject, the Tawanese auteur came across as articulate, interesting and actually pretty down to earth.  And my interest in both this filmmaker and his films were further piqued by seeing him onscreen in Shu Kei's Soul (1986).  

Thanks to a friend who was then living in Taiwan, I managed to get my hands on a Hou Hsiao Hsien DVD box set of his early works, including his autobiographical A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985) and the seminal City of Sadness (1987).  Add in my counting a viewing of his Flowers of Shanghai (1998) at an art museum in San Francisco among one of the most awesome big screen viewing experiences I've had to date and I think it could safely be considered one of the director's fans, and for quite some time now.

Yet I couldn't conjure up much enthusiasm for Hou's latest cinematic effort, which had garnered major hype and a best director award for him at Cannes this year.  Upon reflection, I think one big reason was that I had a hard time imagining the Hou Hsiao Hsien I know making a great wuxia work (which was what The Assassin, whose titular character is a Tang Dynasty trained killer, had sounded like it would be).  And then there was my great dislike of the film's leading actress, one whose high pitched voice (at least when speaking Cantonese or English) has helped ruin films as diverse as triad drama Young and Dangerous 5 and arthouse offering The Island Tales for me.

Really, though, I should have guessed that Hou's adaptation of a 9th century Tang Dynasty tale would be more a period drama than swordplay actioner.  And I honestly wish that those of my friends who had seen the film before me would have let me know that Hsu Chi actually doesn't utter that many lines at all in it!  Instead, I got statements like "it's the kind of film one admires more than one likes" (this from someone on the polite side) and it's "dull and dry and ponderous and boring" (this from someone known for his colorful opinions!) -- and post viewing The Assassin, I know what they both mean.  

On the plus side, there are many noteworthy things about this work which was shot on location in Japan* as well as different parts of mainland China along with on sets in Taiwan, including Mark Lee Ping Bing's masterful cinematography and Hwang Wern Ying's classy costume and overall production design.  Also, part of me does admire its director for eschewing a conventional approach in his relating a potentially intriguing story involving a young woman (Hsu Chi) given to a nun with royal blood (Sheu Fang Yi) to be trained to become a ruthless taker of lives who is sent home years later to kill the region's ruler (Chang Chen), who just happens to be her cousin and also the man she formerly was betrothed to! 

On the minus side, however, there's no getting away from this film being not only slow-paced but also having an elliptical approach to storytelling that borders on the deliberately obfuscating (or perhaps this is the inadvertent result of the script having gone through 37 revisions!). To give just one example: the work is entitled The Assassin but it's only after the lead character appeared in a scene with a a masked female martial artist who had previously been briefly shown practicing her deadly skills that I got to realizing that they were not one and the same person!  (An aside to those who have viewed the film: please tell me that I wasn't the only one who took that long to figure this out!!)

To those who say that for films like these, the plot details don't matter that much in the overall scheme of things: I'm going to state that I actually may loathe being bored by a movie even more than feeling befuddled when watching (a good bulk of) it.  And that, alas, is what I have to conclude happened to me with The Assassin: because as much as I truly did appreciate its visual aesthetics (not least how much physical depth there appeared to be in what is, after all, a 2-D work), the fact of the matter is that -- and yes, I did look at my watch to verify this -- the first time I yawned during the screening, we hadn't even reached the 10 minute mark of this 107 minute work!

Perhaps the most damning thing I would say of this Hou Hsiao Hsien film though is that unlike those of his previous works which I have seen, the vast majority of characters in it don't seem to act like real people.  This feeling was brought home to me in one scene that doesn't involve any of the main personalities, during which a gaggle of young female entertainers chat happily while walking along a palace corridor -- for I got to noticing that it was one of the rare occasions in this work when the people on screen actually came across like they were acting naturally, and consequently seemed like actual humans rather than actors merely obeying cues in an artificially staged affair.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Critter spotting heaven up on The Peak!

Can anyone help in figuring out what this is?!*

When this critter moved, I figured it was a caterpillar -- 
but when it stays still, it's hard to believe it's actually alive! :O

But the more I get to know this area of Hong Kong, the more I come to look upon it less as a place of privilege or a tourist trap and more as a prime area for cool critter spottings!  So even though today was not the kind of super high visibility day of the kind that makes hiking in the summer feel absolutely worthwhile to me, I decided to go up to The Peak this afternoon to enjoy a few hours in an area close to nature, and felt pretty confident that I'd be able to get in some interesting sights in addition to a a bit of exercise there.

Earlier this week, a photo of Taiwanese actress Hsu Chi (AKA Shu Qi) and Hong Kong celebrities Ekin Cheng and Yoyo Mung out hiking on Mount Parker Road was posted on the internet.  As I told a friend though, my chances of spotting celebrities while out hiking are pretty slim -- even when they hike on trails I've been on and am familiar with -- because I tend to focus my attention on spotting all kinds of cool critters rather than spend much time looking carefully at the faces of other hikers I see along the way!

And I realize that I may have seemed/acted rather strange in the eyes of a number of other people walking along the Peak Trail since, while their eyes were often drawn to the stunning (especially on a high visibility day) views to be had of Victoria Harbour and such from The Peak, mine were often focused more on the railings and -- what they didn't realize -- the critters that appear to treat them as a de facto highway!

Early on during this afternoon's excursion, I spotted what I initially thought was a dragonfly but am not so sure now after having had a closer look at it.  Honestly, this is the kind of critter that, in all honesty, I wouldn't know what section to start looking for if I had a bug book!  And I wouldn't be surprised to see that which I now think looks like a cross between a dragonfly and a mosquito be the inspiration for a designer working on a special effects movie -- or even turn out to be an alien from another planet!!

A few minutes and hundred meters or so later, I spotted what I reckon is a caterpillar moving about on the railings.  Upon noticing my attention (and my camera's long lens getting near it), it suddenly froze and gave me a pretty good impression of a thin twig!  If I hadn't seen it in action before, I would easily have mistook it for -- and dismissed it as -- an inanimate object.  And, I have to admit, so still was it that I ended up giving it a poke to try to figure out if it had died of fright or something about having realized that it had come to this giant creature's attention!

In contrast, I easily could figure out what the two colorful bugs that were staying pretty still even while seemingly stuck to each other were, and were doing: i.e., they were stink bugs in the middle of procreating -- only one of them also looked to have become interested in figuring out what a shiny shell near it was and/or housed! (And for the record: stink bugs really do seem prone to be distracted while having sex -- or be able to continue doing what comes naturally even while investigating or even outright pursuing something else! ;D)      

*An update: thanks to a new bug book I've got, I can identify that scary looking -- and sometimes acting -- critter as a Robber Fly! :b

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Game for a laugh outside a Yau Ma Tei mahjong parlour?!

An image pretty much guaranteed to get the attention
of those who pass by it (and put a smile on faces?)! :)

A few hours ago, the association football team I've supported since 1978 basically ended any real chance it had of winning the English Premier League this season in a game that it didn't just lose but also saw two members of the team sent off and a crucial player injured. After trying to destroy the Arsene Wenger bobble head my sister gave me -- but not being completely successfully in doing so because it turned out to be made of super strong stuff! -- I've decided to try another way to feel better: i.e., by thinking of and/or looking at something humorous.  

While looking through my photo archive, I found just the thing -- and reckon that the imaginative caricature I snapped while walking in Yau Ma Tei earlier this week is so cool that it's actually worth sharing on this blog (and yes, you can click on the photo to view an enlarged version of it)!  

Adorning an outer wall of a mahjong parlour is this large illustration which depicts Chinese president Xi Jinping, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Russian president Vladimir Putin and American president Barack Obama seated at a mahjong table.  And to judge by the chips on the table, Xi and Obama look to be doing well -- and this sense is given strength by Xi and Obama looking quite a bit happier than Abe and an especially disgruntled appearing, judo outfit-wearing Putin!

Just the image of this foursome playing mahjong together would bring smiles to the face of many.  But that wasn't enough for the ambitious artist, who also has North Korea's "dear leader" Kim Jong Un, popcorn in hand, being one of the game's spectators, German chancellor Angela Merkel at the party serving cupcakes, and the ghost of Saddam Hussein hanging on to the back of Barack Obama's chair!  

And while I can't identify the eighth personality in the picture, I'd easily imagine that he's a political heavyweight from the African continent.  If his hair were whiter, I'd say that it was supposed to be Nelson Mandela.  What do you think?! ;b

Friday, September 18, 2015

Natural and not so natural sights along a Tai Lam Country Park hike (Photo-essay)

Earlier today, I took a new friend hiking along a favorite route: that which goes from Wong Nai Chung Gap to the Tai Tam Reservoirs via Violet Hill.  But rather than have that be the subject of today's blog entry, I'm dipping into my ever burgeoning hiking photo archive to offer up pictures taken on a previous foray into the countryside that I went on with two different friends.

Like in today's case, I had gone on that particular Tai Lam Country Park trail (leading from Tsuen Kam Au down to Tsuen Wan via Shek Lung Kung) before and was introducing it to friends.  On that occasion though, the day that turned out to be quite a bit wetter than we had anticipated -- and we found ourselves seeking shelter from a downpour under the concrete slide in the grounds of the old Lin Fa Shan school!  Fortunately, however, the rain soon stopped and we were able to resume our hike in drier conditions -- and the next time it rained again was only after we were safe inside a cha chaan teng having our dinner! ;b

I often see fungi while out hiking in Hong Kong --
and unlike some people, I'd never dare to try to eat them!
A helipad is not something I'd expect to see on a trail 
with the word "nature" included in its name! :O 
Now that's more natural -- and beautiful! :)
Shortly before the heavens opened, it got on the 
gray -- and foreboding seeming -- side ;S

Is the Hong Kong Buddhist Association a corporation? In any case,
 I'm cool with their taking part in the Corporate Afforestation Scheme ;b

That day's hike went along a section of the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail 
that used to be the main route between Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan
Long before we got down to Tsuen Wan, 
we could see the high rise-filled section of Hong Kong

But even as we neared the city, there were ample signs that nature 
really isn't that far away from the concrete jungle in the Big Lychee :)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Hong Kong service that cannot be taken for granted, especially post living in Tanzania

What I came across while making my way home earlier this week

Paramedics at the scene less than 10 minutes later!

When I was living in Tanzania two decades ago, I was told a tale that chilled me to the bone.  A friend of a friend had gotten drunk one night and, in a fit of anger, had punched his hand through a sheet of glass.  He had been rushed to the emergency room of the main government hospital at Dar es Salaam, the East African country's largest city -- and ended up bleeding to death there after not having been attended to in time.

Granted that he had been drunk and done something stupid while under the influence of alcohol.  But surely he -- who had worked as a teacher, and had tutored my friend's two daughters -- didn't deserve to die so needlessly.  But this is what is liable to happen when you live in a Third World country that, the first year that I lived there, was ranked by the UNDP as the second poorest country in the world and the second year, rose to become "only" the world's third poorest country.

I got to thinking of that Tanzanian man earlier this week when making my way home late one night.  Upon rounding a corner, I saw a man sprawled on the pavement in front of me.  I couldn't tell if he was drunk, drugged or something else altogether -- but I did realize that he was not in a good way, and proceeded to call 999 and make a report to the woman who answered my call.

Within 10 minutes, an ambulance arrived at the scene -- and it was soon followed by three policemen on foot.  In all honesty, I was left in awe by the quick response of the emergency services over here in Hong Kong.  And while I didn't stay to see what happened with the man who had been lying on the pavement, I think it's safe to say that he was in far better hands than that friend of a friend in Tanzania.

All in all, I wouldn't be surprised if Hong Kong's emergency services had some of the fastest response times in the world.  Because I really can't imagine their equivalents in the other places in the world I've lived in being so quick to get to the scene -- and apart from Tanzania, I've also lived in England and the USA as well as Malaysia!  If so, those living in Hong Kong really should count their lucky stars -- and realize that what they see as the norm, and are apt to take for granted, really, sadly, can't be universally counted upon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hoping for a truly Malaysian Malaysia on Malaysia Day

A delicious Malaysian dish...

The master chef at work behind the counter :)

Today is Malaysia Day.  To be precise: today marks the 52nd anniversary of the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia, and the joining together of Malaya, North Borneo (now known as Sabah), Sarawak and -- for what turned out to be just a short period -- Singapore.

I wish I could say that I was surprised by this turn of events but I can't.  Instead, I just thank goodness things didn't get worse -- and find it both unexpected and heartening that the Malay-dominated police actually broke up the rally by firing water cannons into the crowd.  So maybe, hopefully, the likes of Dennis Ignatius, writing in Malaysiakini about a paradigm shift having taken place among some Malays(ians) who have got to realizing that Malaysia should be truly Malaysian rather than primarily be about and for one of its ethnic groups, actually are on to something.

Veteran Malaysian politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is on the record as stating that: "Malays are scared and lacking in confidence and this can be seen in their relationships and interaction with other communities".  The ethnic Malay member of parliament -- and one time prime ministerial hopeful -- also has said that "we conveniently forget that other Malaysians have contributed more than their fair share in the service of our country".

There are times when I tend towards the opinion that if only politicians got out of the way and Malaysians of different ethnicities just sat down to break bread together, ethnic relations within the country would be much improved.  Only instead of boring bread, Malaysians could partake of something more delicious like, say, mee rebus cooked "Mamak" style: i.e., a uniquely Malaysian dish made by Indian Muslims, which has a Malay name, and whose main ingredient (egg noodles) are primarily associated with the Chinese.

Put another way: whatever their ethnicity (or "race" as it tends to be termed in Malaysia), it seems to me that many Malaysians have long shown in their actions -- and via such as their tastebuds -- that they actually are, well, Malaysian rather than "purely", narrowly following a single ethnic path.  And at long last, at least some senior politicians may actually realize that prioritizing one "race" over others is not ideal for the nation as a whole  -- and that the far better way to go is for Malaysia (the country that likes to market itself as being "truly Asia") to be genuinely Malaysian!  

"In our desire to remain on top of things, we conveniently forget that our other Malaysians have contributed more than their fair share in the service of the country. - See more at:
"In our desire to remain on top of things, we conveniently forget that our other Malaysians have contributed more than their fair share in the service of the country. - See more at:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Northern Limit Line packs a punch (film review)

Military-themed memorials like this one at Wolmido
ensure that the military is never all that far from
the thoughts of the South Korean people

Northern Limit Line (South Korea, 2015)
-  Kim Hak Soon, director-scriptwriter
- Starring: Lee Hyun Woo, Kim Moo Yul, Jin Goo 

Made in South Korea by South Koreans, there's little doubt that Kim Hak Soon's blockbuster war drama was primarily made for his fellow South Koreans; particular those of whom, among other things, recall the ectasy of their country co-hosting the 2002 World Cup Finals (with Japan) and their national soccer team's dream run in the competition but also the nightmare of the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, a confrontation at sea between North Korean and South Korean patrol boats which took place while the World Cup Finals were still going on. 

Northern Limit Line takes its name from a disputed military demarcation line in the Yellow (West) Sea that acts as the de facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas.  On June 29, 2002, two North Korean naval vessels crossed this contested boundary and engaged with two South Korean navy patrol boats.  And the military skirmish is indeed re-enacted with the help of the South Korean military forces in this fact-based cinematic offering which packs an emotional punch in no small part due to its audience realizing that much, if not all, of the dramatic -- and often very bloody -- events portrayed in the film really did happen.

The film's director-scriptwriter also wisely spent a good chunk of the maritime actioner introducing the audience to the crew of Chamsuri 357, the South Korean patrol boat primarily involved in the military action.  Consequently, when the bullets start flying, the viewers realize that actual human lives are endangered, not just faceless military personnel -- and feel more emotionally caught up in the proceedings.

But although pretty much every member of the 24-strong crew gets some "face time" in the film, three men's backstories are fleshed out more than the others.  The first of these is the ship's amiable young medic, Corporal Park Dong Hyeong (Lee Hyun Woo) -- a conscript looked by many others as having had an easy ride in the military for the most part due to his being the only son of a deaf woman (Kim Hee Jung).  

Then there's the ship's "no nonsense" commander, Captain Yoon Young Ha (Kim Moo Yul), an ambitious career naval officer with a lot of respect for his father (Song Jae Ho) despite the latter having been demoted because of an incident involving his treatment of a North Korean military man. And although the sub-plot involving ship's helmsman, Han Sang Kook (Jin Goo), who wants to continue serving on the ship despite having problems with hand tremors and a wife (Chun Min Hee) who'd prefer that he stay on land, initially appears less affecting than those of Corporal Park and Captain Yoon, his part in the proceedings will not be easily forgotten by the film's end.

In the wake of its strong showing at the domestic box office, Northern Limit Line has gone on to get theatrical runs overseas (including the USA and Hong Kong).  Certain sections of the movie may not translate well (or, at least, instantly) across borders and there were a few elements (such as the real life plausibility of a personality like actress Lee Chung Ah's Captain Choi existing in the South Korean military) that I felt a need to do some research on to more fully understand -- but the fact that I did go ahead and do this surely says something about this cinematic work having been interesting enough to feel worth doing so for me!    

In addition, the archival footage included in this film needs little explanation and moved me to tears.  And the fact that its usage did not feel emotionally manipulative is testimony to Northern Limit Line having generally worked as a genuine tribute to those who served on the Chamsuri 357 and their comrades in arms, male and female, past and present.

My rating in the film: 7.5

Monday, September 14, 2015

A scenic North District hike (Photo-essay)

The North District is the northern-most of Hong Kong's 18 districts, and also one of its largest.  When talking to people, I often get the sense that it's additionally the least visited -- which I think is too bad for those who don't realize that it's home to some scenic spots, including those located within Pat Sin Leng Country Park, which a friend and I checked out on a hike that saw us venturing along the northern section of Section 10 of the Wilson Trail and detouring to Bride's Pool rather than connecting with Section 9 and snaking up the formidable Pat Sin Leng mountain range

Its location (closer to mainland China than much of the rest of Hong Kong) has quite a bit to do with many people being disinclined to go up there.  But I have to say that I've enjoyed every hike I've ever gone on in the area, and am often left with an urge to return again before too long. :)

Even before we actually began our hike that day, my friend 
and I already were being treated to some scenic views! :)

Something that strikes me every time I'm in the area is how rural is 
At Nam Chung are three villages bearing the name of the
area and also their clans (i.e., Yeung, Cheng and Lo)
 Also living in Nam Chung was this pretty lepidopteran :b

A splendid view of Nam Chung and beyond 
 At certain points during the hike, it was best to keep
one's eyes on the path to prevent slip ups... :O

But the wet bits of trail couldn't dampen our spirits since we 
were treated to lovely views of nature for much of the hike!
And, actually, some of the paths we went on
that day were very nicely laid out indeed! ;b

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Unexpected hike sights I came across this afternoon

A political message emblazoned on a bridge over 
a hill stream in Tai Mo Shan Country Park
An ant struggling to move the body of a worm-like creature
that's about the same size as -- if not longer than -- it! 
A macaque monkey looks smug after stealing 
an ice cream cone from a human child! :O
Each time that I've gone on the Lung Mun Country Trail, I've come across unexpected sights.  The first time that I did so, the water levels of a number of the hill streams one comes across when hiking along this route were quite a bit higher than expected -- as in covering the tops of stepping stones that, ideally, should have been dry (though, thankfully not high enough to cover the elevated bridges that have been erected over the wider streams found in this area)!  
Happily, the second time that I hiked on this trail, conditions were noticeably drier and safer; with the major unexpected sight came in the form of caged song birds that their owner presumably had brought out along this trail for some fresh air!  But while this afternoon was the same in terms of the raging hill streams that I had encountered the first time around looking on the tame side, today's unexpected hike sights could be said to be noticeably wilder than what I came across the previous time that I had gone on this particular trail which goes from Chuen Lung village to Shing Mun Reservoir.

The first of these were messages asking CY Leung (aka the politican known as 689) to step down, whose Chinese characters are written in such a way that English readers may alternatively interpret them as reading "F.U"!  Although I've seen a number of "I want genuine universal suffrage" stickers and other pro-Umbrella Movement symbols while out hiking in Hong Kong in the past year, this actually was the first time I had seen the "CY step down" messages out in the country parks (as opposed to, say, during the July 1st protest march.
On a less political note: today's two other unexpected hike sights are wild in the sense that they involve wild animals carrying out acts that could be said to be on the aggressive side.  The first of these involved an ant trying to bring home a dead animal that looked to weigh more than it.  That tiny insect was struggling to do so but it sure didn't look like it was planning to give up any time soon; something that I found pretty admirable, actually! 
Then there was the macaque monkey pictured in the third photo from the top of this blog post.  Moments before that photo was taken, it had grabbed the ice cream cone it's shown with right out of the hand of a startled child!  To be honest, my initial reaction was along the lines of "What the hell was the child's parents thinking in allowing the kid to openly eat food in an area of Hong Kong that's famously monkey country?!"  And while I generally am not a fan of those simians that are an introduced species to the Big Lychee, I have to admit to a grudging admiration for that particular monkey for having had the inspired initiative to get itself a nice, cooling treat (which it proceeded to look to enjoy just a few feet from its former owner)! ;S