Monday, February 29, 2016

A borderland hike to, and out of, the remote abandoned village of Yung Shue Au (Photo-essay)

The physical health benefits of hiking are pretty clear to people.  It also is easy to see how this activity can help one to expand one's geographical knowledge of an area.  In Hong Kong, hiking has had the additional benefit of helping to increase my vocabulary as my brain gets to noticing and recognizing certain words that re-occur in local place names.

For example, early on, I got to realizing that the word au (found in such place names as Pak Kung Au and Tai Fung Au) means "gap" or "pass" in Cantonese.  And then there's the yung shue that's part of the name for places as diverse as Lamma Island's Yung Shue Wan, the Yung Shue O abutting Three Fathoms Cove, and the abandoned village of Yung Shue Au over in the northeastern New Territories which I may be one of the few people in Hong Kong to have been to not just once but twice -- and that I've come to learn is the Cantonese word for "banyan"!

Ironically, banyan trees aren't what I particularly associate with any of those places with yung shue in their names.  Instead, it's that they are all villages located in scenic parts of Hong Kong that are near the water -- and are a far cry from being part of the concrete jungle that many people think the Big Lychee predominantly is; this particularly so with Yung Shu Au, given the views and other sights one encounters there as well as on a hike to (and out of) it... ;b    

The tide was on the low side that afternoon as we walked
along the southern banks of Starling Inlet (AKA Sha Tau Kok Hoi)

Pretty much every time I pass by (or through) Kuk Po, I think 
how only its remoteness prevents it from being a nice place to live!

This check point in Starling Inlet that's manned by the Hong Kong 
marine police acts as reminder of this area's

 Behold! The verdant green of Hong Kong in the foreground, 
and the port area and grey hills of Shenzhen in the background

Feng shui-wise, Yung Shue Au looked to have been in a
great location -- with water in front and hills at the back of it

But in the modern world, it didn't pay to be some distance
-- and unconnected by road -- from "civilization"

On the way out of Yung Shue Au, we opted for a route that took 
us closer to Kuk Po, whose buildings are in better shape than 
Yung Shue Au's but still show signs of nature taking over them!

 And while on the subject of nature: isn't this butterfly pretty? ;b

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Southern Chi Ma Wan's "rock wonder(s)" and other attractions

Interesting shaped rocks and stupendous views abound
on the southeastern section of the Chi Ma Wan peninsula!
It's not only me who thinks that the rock to the left
resembles a pig trying to get up from the water, right? ;b
 Click to enlarge this photo of a view bonanza that takes in
the neraby island of Cheung Chau! :)
Compared to Hong Kong's four major long trails (i.e., the 50-kilometer-long Hong Kong Trail, 70-kilometer-long Lantau Trail, 78-kilometer-long Wilson Trail and 100-kilometer-long Maclehose Trail), the Chi Ma Wan Country Trail may seem like not a big deal to try to go along.  But it's worth bearing in mind that southeastern Lantau hiking trail is 18 kilometers in length, goes steeply up and down at least two hills, and is estimated by the authorities that set it up to require 8 hours to complete.
Since I don't like to hike for more than five hours at a time, I would never consider completing the Chi Ma Wan Country Trail in one go.  But thanks to my discovering the existence of some other trails on the peninsula that connect with this officially named hiking route, I have been able to complete my exploration of the entire Chi Ma Wan Country Trail in three interesting parts.
By far the most demanding of my hikes along sections of the Chi Ma Wan Country Trail was the one that involved an ascent up 302-meter-high Miu Tsai Tun and a descent down a fair amount of the hill, then going uphill and down some more before scaling up 303-meter-high Lo Yan Shan and down to Lung Mei.  And while the two other hikes that go along a more coastal route are no where as challenging, they too are far from boring -- in large part because there are scenic views and interesting rocks to check out along the way.
Although my hiking companion on all three of these hikes reckons that the one along the western of Chi Ma Wan Peninsula has the more interesting geology, it was actually on today's hike --  in the southern section of this body of land which, when viewed from certain sections of Cheung Chau, can look like a separate island from Lantau, that we passed through the scenic area known as "rock wonder".  Also, while I was prepared to see lots of interesting rocks this afternoon, I found myself being quite a bit more impressed by the views from the trail of such as the nearby islands of Hei Ling Chau and Cheung Chau.
Despite today's weather forecast including some haze in the afternoon, we lucked out and got pretty high visibility -- along with beautiful blue skies -- over Chi Ma Wan and its surroundings.  And for the second day in a row, it was warm enough at some points in the day for me to remove my windcheater and sweatshirt, and enjoy the feel of the sun on my arms!  What with some butterflies being seen flitting about for the first time in ages as well, it felt like spring had come -- though it did get rather chilly again later in the day and after darkness fell once more.

We may now be able to see that we've gone along the entire Chi Ma Wan Country Trail but my hiking friend and I sure aren't going to stop visiting the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula.  It may not be the easiest place to get to but it sure is very scenicAnd my friend and I already have a fair idea of our next hike destination on the peninsula: the attractive-looking beach on the shore of a bay that's one of four in Hong Kong -- and one of two on Lantau -- named Tai Long Wan! ;b

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Making a difference against the odds?

It'd seem to be an impossible task to clean up this beach, right?

Adding to today's work was the trash we collected the previous 
month not having been picked up the relevant government 
authorities and turning into added mess :(

In view of this, I think we actually did a pretty good job
of cleaning up the beach this afternoon!

Shortly after I joined last year, I started taking part in beach clean-ups on Cheung Chau.  Organised by the wonderful Rija of Green Sustainable Living Hong Kong, they take place monthly -- and although we've gone once to Pak Tso Wan (AKA Italian Beach), over in southwest Cheung Chau, we've thus far largely focused our attention on cleaning up Coral Beach (AKA Tung Wan Tsai), located over on the northeast of the island, where the tides appear to wash up a lot of rubbish from mainland China as well as Hong Kong.

With last month's turnout being the largest since I started taking part in the beach clean-ups, I was hoping that Coral Beach wouldn't be terribly dirty when we headed over there this afternoon -- but sadly, this was far from the case.  The sight that greeted us when we got there was the kind that can sink nature lovers' hearts; what with there being rubbish all over the beach, with such as styrofoam boxes, plastic and glass bottles, junk food wrappers and medical equipment among the usual detritus, and far more plastic bags strewn about the place than I had previously seen.

If this was not bad enough, consider that the large (plastic) bags that we had filled with trash at last month's beach clean-up had not been picked up by the relevant authorities, as was supposed to be the case.  And to add to the ugly picture: some of those bags had been torn -- by environmental degradation or some of the feral dogs that Cheung Chau is known to have -- and now had rubbish coming out of their holes.    

Fortunately, the group had been supplied with plenty of plastic bags as well as gloves once more -- and after Rija and I repacked some of the old trash, things didn't look quite so bad.  Even better was that our clean-up "team" today of just eight people actually managed to make a visible difference to the landscape with a couple of hours or so of "work".  

In all honesty, it's been edifying to find out how much just a few people are able to accomplish in a short period of time, and that discovery has instilled in me the willingness to keep on taking part in these beach clean-ups for some time to come.  At the same time, I'm a believer in there being strength in numbers.  Consequently, I'd like to encourage those of you reading this blog post to do the same (or something similar) because: yes, the environment matters; and yes, you really could -- and can -- make a difference (and, of course, engaging in such as recycling and using fewer plastic bags would be good, and helps too)!

Friday, February 26, 2016

A dance show memorable for the walkouts it prompted!

The performing arts show I've seen the most
audience members walk out of! :O
Years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia, I attended a screening of Hungarian auteur's Bela Tarr's The Werckmeister HarmoniesThis 145-minute-long drama most definitely has its fans (including many prominent film critics).  But it also happens to be the film at whose screening I've seen the most walkouts: as in around three quarters of the original audience!

At the risk of sounding like a Philistine, I must admit to not being super impressed or mesmerized by this cinematic work which has many scenes of people walking and walking and walking and walking.  But I did stay until the end of that screening of the film; if nothing else because I found the general audience reaction to this art house offering pretty amusing as well as didn't want to be left wondering if I had missed something particularly incredible if I didn't stay until the very end of the screening!
Over the years, I've seen people walking out of other film screenings -- and since moving to Hong Kong, I've also attended performing arts shows that induced audience walkouts (notably a performance of Eileen Chang's Red Rose, White Rose by the National Theatre of China that featured sexier language than some of the more conservative members of the audience found acceptable).  
But it wasn't until this evening, at the performance of FOLK - S: Will you still LOVE me tomorrow (that's part of this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival) that I've seen the number of audience walkouts come anywhere close to that of that fateful night in Philadelphia when I went to see The Werkmeister Harmonies and ended up spending quite a bit of time observing my fellow audience members!
It's not that the Italian troupe that was performing their dance of choice -- the Schuhplatter, a folk dance popular in the Alpine regions of Bavaria and the Tyrol that began as a courtship display -- all that badly.  And it's not like one couldn't appreciate the effort they put into staging this show conceived of by Alessandro Sciarroni which looks to tax their stamina and leave them incredibly sweaty and some parts of their bodies (including the palms which they used to strike different parts of their body at various points in the dance) disturbingly red.  
But it often seemed like this dance event was like a competition between the dancers and the audience to see who would decide first that they had had enough, and walk out of the auditorium! And, in fact, by the time I left myself (about one and half hours after the start of the show), two out of the six dancers had left the stage and so too did the sound guy who had been part of the performance as well as approximately one third of the audience!
The performance began promisingly enough with an intriguing dance display that involved the dancers managing to dance in near perfect unison despite five out of the six of them having tape over their eyes (and consequently being unable to see).  Closing my eyes for a few moments, it was actually rather cool to hear (without seeing) people dancing.   Opening my eyes again, I saw that a few minutes later, the tapes on the dancers' eyes were removed and cast to the floor -- and it seemed like the show proper would then begin.   
By just around the half hour mark of the show though, the performance was feeling kind of boring -- because the dancers just kept on repeating certain moves over and over and over again -- and prompted the first walkouts of the evening (which included my immediate neighbor to the left, who mumbled that she felt sick as she made her excuses to leave the auditorium!).  Soon after, the buzzy noise that was "playing" as the dancers danced got loud and really annoying -- so much so that I ended up sticking my fingers into my ears to prevent myself from being driven out of the auditorium by it!
Around the one hour mark, many members of the audience clearly felt that they had had enough, and the number of walkouts dramatically increased.  At this point, part of me was getting rather pissed off but grimly determined to not "break" before the performers -- who, after all, were the ones doing the sweating and not looking all that happy while the likes of me "just" sat back and watched them!  And there was another part of me that was getting somewhat amused at the evening's actually rather farcical developments!
A little after the one and a half hour mark though, a number of people in the audience began tittering during one pause in the dancing, then clapped during another pause in the dancing -- the way I see it: not because they loved what they had witnessed but because they were politely telling the dancers "Enough, please stop!"  When these didn't have the hoped for effect,  I decided to stop wasting my time and join the walkouts.
Truly, it was like the audience members were willing the dancers to end the "show" but the remaining dancers weren't going to conclude their performance until every single member of the audience had decided to call it a day first!  So, for all I know, some people could still be there in that auditorium (out of stubborness, a misguided sense of politeness, or whatever); engaged in one of the weirdest "stand-offs" I've been witness to -- even while the first audience members to walk out of the show did so hours ago! :O

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny can't escape from the shadows of Ang Lee's 2000 classic (film review)

Does this look like publicity material for a film
shot in English to you?

The Hong Kong advertising for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (USA-Mainland China-Hong Kong)
- Yuen Woo Ping, director
- Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Harry Shum Jr., Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jason Scott Lee 

Back in the summer of 2000, I sat down and watched the wuxia work that would go on to win four Oscars, six (Taiwanese) Golden Horse Awards and eight Hong Kong Film Awards, among a number of other honors, in a cinema in Penang, Malaysia.  All told, I ended up watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon more than 10 (maybe even 20!) times on a big screen -- including in Philadelphia (where I then lived), New York (with the webmaster of Hong Kong Cinema: View from the Brooklyn Bridge), and Los Angeles (with the webmaster of the incomparable Michelle Yeoh Web Theatre).  And after it came out on home video, I watched this Ang Lee masterpiece on a DVD a few times over the years too!

So I think it's fair to say that someone like me would be expected to get pretty excited about the coming into being of a sequel to the impressive epic which introduced many non-Chinese people to the fascinating world of "martial heroes" who include women warriors and "flying" swordmen.  But factors such as it not having Ang Lee at the helm, being scripted by an American writer with not much of a pedigree and being filmed in New Zealand (rather than China, where Wang Du Lu's novels are set) made me leary about this new offering: whose story, set two decades after the events chronicled in the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, again features people planning to steal the centuries old Green Destiny sword and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh's character) fighting to make sure that it doesn't get into the wrong hands. 

Then there's the matter of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny being shot in English and then being released in Hong Kong theaters with a Cantonese dub that reportedly doesn't include the voices of any cast members even though the likes of Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen are fluent in Cantonese as well as English.  (For the record: the movie also has been dubbed into Mandarin for its release in Mainland China, where it had its world premiere.)

After looking around in vain to see if any Hong Kong cinema was showing the original version of this 2016 film, I decided to go ahead and check out the Cantonese dubbed version of the movie helmed by veteran Hong Kong action director Yuen Woo Ping (who had been the action choreographer for the first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- and also directed Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen in the fun Wing Chun back in 1994).  After all, I reasoned, it's not like I don't have any experience watching films dubbed into Cantonese; with Stephen Chow's Mermaid being the most recent example!  

Although there's obviously a more marked disconnect in the lip movements when people dubbed into Cantonese were actually speaking English rather than Mandarin, this quirk in the film is something that isn't too jarring in many scenes -- particularly the action-packed ones but also a number which feature voiceovers, are shot in such a way that the faces (and, in particular, the mouths) of individuals don't loom large on the screen, etc.  However, I can't help but wonder how much my emotional response to the new movie has been affected by the voice acting not being done by the people seen on screen -- along with other factors such as its script, which (over-)ambitiously introduced a boatload of new heroes, heroines and villains into the martial mix.

On her way to commemorate the death anniversary of Sir Te, a respected relative of the Emperor who looked upon her as a member of his family, Yu Shu Lien is attacked by bad guys led by Wei Fang (Harry Shum Jr.), a young member of a powerful gang headed by Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee).  A lone warrior (Donnie Yen) who had been tracking her movements comes to her rescue.  And after she realizes that Hades Dai is mounting a power play that involves getting hold of the Green Destiny, a precious sword whose whereabouts she's one of the few people to be privy to, and seeks help of her Iron Way (Jiang Hu) brethren to protect it, he -- who now goes by the moniker Silent Wolf but Shu Lien previously knew as Meng Si Zhao, her bethrothed -- steps in to help her once more.

At an inn located in the middle of nowhere, Silent Wolf finds formidable allies in Iron Crow (Roger Yuan), Silver Dart Shi (Juju Chan), Thunder Park (Woon Young Park) and Turtle Ma (Darryl Quon).  It's also there that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny really bursts into life with one of the best action scenes to be found in the movie; one which has the kind of action choreography that is innovative, infused with a sense of humor, features movements that look to have considerable power behind them, and bears the recognizable mark of director Yuen Woo Ping.

Not surprisingly, Donnie Yen stands out from the rest whenever his character goes into full action mode.  In contrast, Michelle Yeoh doesn't seem to be as well utilized in this movie; with her appearing to pose rather than act in some of the dramatic scenes, and coming across as being noticeably less powerful and graceful in her action scenes than I've seen her in past films (including the original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

Most disappointing of all is not so much that many of the other cast members -- including Natasha Liu Bordizzo, whose Snow Vase character could be described as the successor in this movie to that played by Zhang Ziyi in the 2000 film -- often fare less well when in action mode but, rather, that the script makes it so that different people seem to suddenly have different fight capabilities from action scene to action scene.  More than anything, this aspect of the movie frustrated this long time fan of wuxia films, and made certain scenes (including an aesthetically impressive fight on ice) less believable as well as enjoyable.

Cutting to the chase: much as I loved the quality visuals and touching drama on display in Ang Lee's 2000 film, what really made it soar for me were the action scenes (notably the two which had Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi's characters pitting their wills and abilities against each other).  I also loved Tan Dun's score, which often made the fight scenes more exciting and the dramatic scenes more heartrending.  While echoes of it can be heard in this watchable but largely uninspired movie, those muted notes sadly only served too often to remind a fan like me of what was, and was (done) so much better some 16 years ago.

My rating for this film: 6.5

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Edible bling at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong's Tin Lung Heen

Yes, these har gau have edible gold leaf on them! 

Cheese and crab tartelets were also 
on that deluxe dim sum menu

 Probably my favorite dish that day: cheong fun 
stuffed with Iberico pork char siu! :O

Foodie that I am, it's not often that I remember a restaurant's decor more than its food.  But such was the case for the first time I went to Tin Lung Heen, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong's Cantonese restaurant that's located on the 102nd floor of the 108-storey International Commerce Centre.

It's not just that we had the good fortune of our dinner that evening taking place on a high visibility day that consequently gave us spectacular night views.  But I don't think it inaccurate to say that this restaurant (whose name translates into English as "Dragon in the Sky") has one of the "blingiest" dining establishment decors around.  And while I have little doubt that the food served that evening was good, it wasn't so memorable that any particular dishes we ate that night have stayed in my mind over the years, or made me think that I really should go eat there again.  

Still, when I was invited to a dim sum lunch there last week, I definitely wasn't going to say no.  If nothing else, I was interested in seeing how a two-Michelin-star restaurant would make its yum cha offerings stand out.

Upon scanning the menu, it soon became apparent that one way Tin Lung Heen goes about doing so is to use some pretty choice ingredients in its dishes.  I'm not just talking about traditional Chinese specialty ingredients like bird's nest, fish maw, sea cucumber and such here but also prized Western imports such as black truffles, caviar and Iberico pork. 

Some of these were used as garnish -- and I have to say that my cynical reaction when seeing such as flakes of edible gold leaf on food (elsewhere than in Kanazawa, where I was served a complimentary cup of tea with gold flakes floating in it!) is that it gives the restaurant a reason to jack up the price of what otherwise were pretty regular and average tasting dim sum staples such as har gau and other steamed dumplings.  Others had a more substantial role as fillings in such as cheong fan (steamed rice rolls) and baked pastries; and I have to say that, in the case of the Iberico pork char siu, I actually prefered it as a filling rather than on its own (on account of it tasting too richly decadent that way).

In short: on my second visit to Tin Lung Heen, I noticed that there was edible bling as well as decorative bling about the place!  As gastronomically memorable as much of this dim sum meal I had there was though, I did notice that when it came to those dishes which looked to have been prepared in a simpler, more classic manner, I honestly would prefer to eat that at far less ostentatious -- and, also, no doubt way less expensive -- establishments; and this even when someone else is paying!  

In particular, I genuinely believe that the roast goose served there that day was nowhere as good as that which can be found at Yat Lok.  Also, gold flakes or no, I'm actually not convinced that the har gau served at Tin Lung Heen are as delicious as those on offer at my neighborhood Tim Ho Wan (though, in all fairness, it's worth pointing out that these two much cheaper dining establishments also have had Michelin stars bestowed on them)! ;b

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An afternoon on Tap Mun (Photo-essay)

The grassy island of Tap Mun has never been home to all that many people.  At its peak, this small body of land that lies to the north of Sai Kung Peninsula only had 2,000 inhabitants -- and nowadays, it has just around 100 human residents.  So it should be no surprise that there are plenty of areas of the island where one can get far away from the madding crowd.  

Indeed, even though I initially feared otherwise the second time that I went to Tap Mun, on what I got to realizing was an Easter Sunday, the friend I was with and I did manage to find a number of quiet as well as scenic spots on the island; this especially after we hiked to its northern portion, along trails that often had helpful red ribbons pointing out the way! ;b
It may not look like it here but there's actually a body of water 
between the part of Tap Mun in the foreground of the above photo 
and the sections of the Sai Kung Peninsula in the picture!
This view from Tap Mun iself shows things up more clearly though!
 I still have yet to find out who was being filmed that afternoon,
and what film the footage was (meant to be) for... ;(
A view from Tap Mun's northeast of nearby Kung Chau
(AKA -- I kid you not! -- Lion Rolling a Ball) 

There's a trail there -- the red ribbons say it's so!
Soon afterwards, we got to a section of the trail
that was easier to see and go along, in a part
of the island that lived up to its grassy name

Try as we might though, we couldn't find a way to get
to that rugged bit of Tap Mun in the above picture :S

Monday, February 22, 2016

Stephen Chow's splashy Mermaid (film review)

The Hong Kong poster for Stephen Chow's
enchanting Chinese New Year blockbuster

Mermaid (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2016)
- Stephen Chow, director
- Starring: Jelly Lin, Deng Chao, Show Luo, Kitty Zhang

Last week, this imaginative Chinese New Year film directed and co-scripted (with seven others) by -- but not starring -- Stephen Chow became the highest grossing movie ever in Mainland China.  Shot and set over on the mainland, its four main actresses and actors are native Mandarin speakers (with only one of the three -- Taiwanese singer-dancer-actor Show Luo -- hailing from outside Mainland China). 

At the same time though, there's something distinctively Hong Kong with regards to Mermaid's filmic composition and mixing (even transcending) of genres; and many elements familiar to fans of its Hong Kong-born helmer's made-and-(generally) set-in-Hong Kong movies.  Which, no doubt, is why this cinematic offering that successfully combines fun entertainment with thoroughly pertinent messages about human greed and environmental recklessness also has achieved major box office success here in the Fragrant Harbour.

Before the film's winsome titular character first appears on screen, expectations are lowered courtesy of a scene in an unbelievably schlocky tourist trap that looked to be trying too hard and ones featuring filthy rich people vying to make still more moolah, at the expense of others and the environment, that get the main story off to a bombastic start.  In both cases, ugly vulgarity appears to rule the day, albeit in different forms, with the result that the movie and story looked to be crying out for someone, or something, with a nicer nature to be added to the mix.     

After billionaire businessman Liu (Deng Chao) outbids his competitors (including one played by  Tsui Hark) to secure a prized property (and to make it really valuable, also get official approval to reclaim the surrounding Green Gulf), he throws an extravagant party at which all manner of females, including his ruthless business rival-turned-partner Ruolan (Kitty Zhang) and a bevy of beauties who'd do whatever is necessary to get their hands on something worth millions of yuan, vie for his attention and affections.  

On the face of it, bumbling gate crasher Shanshan (Jelly Lin) has no chance of getting close to Liu.  Still, she does at least succeed in giving him her phone number before she's duly unceremoniously bustled away from Liu's view by his security detail.  And in an eye-catching following sequence, she's shown to not only have hidden talents (that include her being a pretty nifty skateboarder) but, also, a fish-like tail where her legs would be if she were a human rather than a mermaid! 

In another twist in the tale, it's revealed that Shanshan actually is a key individual in her aquatic community's plan to assassinate Liu, in a bid to stop ongoing damage to Green Gulf's environment attributed to him.  Predictably though, she's quickly shown to not be the best candidate for the task; seeing as she lacks such as the smoldering anger of the half-human, half-octopus Brother Eight (Show Luo) and -- in the kind of guffaw-inducing slapstick scene that has been the highlight of many a Stephen Chow movie -- proves super inept at being able to make use of the imaginative array of weapons she was furnished with!

In her first ever film appearance, Jelly Lin makes an impressively big splash, and Mermaid's titular character enchantingly endearing.  So wonderful is the still-teenaged actress in her role that one could argue that her presence in this movie that I actually found heartwarming does quite a bit to elevate it in both the qualitative and lovability departments.  

Although the characters they play in this work are less endearing, Deng Chao, Show Luo and Kitty Zhang are truly fun to watch and able to make good use of the opportunities they are given to individually shine.  So good are the principal members of Mermaid's cast that I actually ended up not minding much at all that Stephen Chow opted to do all his work behind the camera (this time around).  Another way to look at it is that this film shows that Hong Kong cinema's king of comedy is well capable of ensuring that a movie is funny, full to the brim of those of his trademark touches that thoroughly entertain, and also able -- when he wants to -- of stirring consciences and hearts.

My rating for this film: 8.0

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Monkeys behaving badly -- and/or true to their nature?

Spotted at Shing Mun Reservoir this afternoon
A monkey in the water's unusual enough but whither
a monkey wielding a stick against another?! :O
Over on the weather front, we've had unusual sub-zero temperature days when it's been colder here in the Big Lychee than, say, Amsterdam or London -- and at least one day which saw "frost tourists" needing to be rescued from high ground (and their own idiocy) by the emergency services!
And now this afternoon, I was one of the people who witnessed deviant behavior by a group of monkeys that showed them to be genuinely scary and far from attractive wild creatures rather than the cute critters that you'd want a plush toy version of or want to be the lead character in a movie

To cut to the chase: while the two friends I went hiking with today and I were standing on the banks of Shing Mun Reservoir, we noticed a commotion nearby.  Loud screeches filled the air as a group of monkeys came flying into view.  Soon, it dawned upon us there a bunch of monkeys were chasing one of their own, and that they weren't playing games.
In a bid to stop itself from being attacked, the lone monkey that looked to have drawn the ire of the others leapt into the water -- something that members of its species aren't wont to do (bar to escape from predation).  None of its pursuers deigned to follow suit.  Neither did they melt back into the woods.  Rather, they actually lay in wait for the pursued monkey to come out of the water and get back on land.      
In the short time that I -- who was scarcely able to believe my eyes -- watched the drama unfold, the target of the other monkeys' ire tried a couple of times to get out of the water, only to be pounced upon by some of those which seemed intent on murdering, not just maiming.  At one point, it actually looked like the hapless victim was going to be torn apart by two other monkeys.  But somehow, it managed to get away from their grasp and back in the water.
Not wanting to be witness to a death (even of a monkey), I decided that I should stop watching and return to hiking.  Just before I turned away from that scene, I saw something that looked like it belonged more in a movie (like, say, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) than normally occurs in nature: a monkey picking up a stick and wielding it the way you'd expect a human to do so when threatening to beat the shit out of another!

In an introductory physical anthropology course I took at college decades ago, I learnt that the discovery by Jane Goodall in 1960 that chimpanzees use and make tools was so revolutionary that it required a redefinition of humans.  But what struck me when watching that stick-wielding monkey wasn't just how human it seemed but how much of a beast it really was.
One would like to think that if that had been a human group I had seen, eventually at least one individual would see sense, rein in his/her murderous impulse and persuade the others to do the same, so that the situation could eventually be resolved without a fatality.  As it was, I fear that there's no way that little monkey was going to survive for much longer.  Instead, its possible fates -- all of which are bad -- appear to involve drowning, freezing to death (because it actually was pretty cold out today -- as in, I actually had a scarf on for part of today's hike!) or being killed by one or more of its own kind. :(        

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Avian and human visitors to the Hong Kong Wetland Park this winter

Kingfisher at rest at Hong Kong Wetland Park
Larger birds (cormorants?) on a tree in the vicinity
A skyscraper looms over on the Mainland Chinese side of the border
but over in Hong Kong, there's a haven for bird (and birdwatchers!)

On two occasions already this year, I've found myself in the vicinity of the body of water up known in Cantonese as Sha Tau Kok Hoi and in English as Starling Inlet.  On more than one previous occasion, I've spotted egrets and other birds hanging out in the area.  But even though I do make a point to look for them whenever I visit the area, I didn't spot all that many feathered creatures about these past two times.
An early 2016 visit to the Hong Kong Wetland Park also resulted in fewer bird sightings than I think is usual for this time of the year at that location -- and I'm moved to wonder whether the unusual weather/temperatures that Hong Kong (and other climes) has had this winter is to blame for this.  Still, this isn't to say that that Tin Shui Wai facility was entirely bereft of avian critters: for, in all honesty, one really didn't have to look that hard to spot certain winged creatures which, while wild, seem perfectly at home in this part of Hong Kong!  
Although the park's bird hides (particular the one on the edge of a mud flat) most certainly are where one is most likely to spot dedicated bird watchers (many of them equipped with very impressive-looking zoom lens), my bird sightings that day weren't restricted to those made while I was ensconced in one of those shelters.  Indeed, two of my coolest critter spottings of the day occured while I was happily strolling about the area, enjoying that day's good (as in dry and not too cold) weather!
I think here of the beautiful kingfisher that I saw perching atop a stick protruding out of a pond so quietly and for so long that I actually wondered if it was a wooden carving rather than a real bird; that is, before it decided to take flight and go somewhere else.  Then there was the confident grey heron which even some noisy visitors (including a party of schoolchildren from across the Hong Kong-Mainland China border and a chatty old man!) failed to scare away from the part of the Hong Kong Wetland Park which it looked to have made itself very much at home!
More than incidentally, I found it interesting that this Hong Kong facility appears to attract so many visitors from Mainland China (many of whom appear to have been bussed in for the afternoon).  Is it possible that there really are far fewer feathered creatures over on the Mainland China side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border than over on this side?  In any event, I sincerely hope that these people come away from their visits with a greater appreciation of -- and respect for -- nature, and a realization that they have a part to play in ensuring the continued existence of the wildlife on view.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Lantau Island hike that began up in the hills and ended down by the water (Photo-essay)

Years ago while hiking along Hong Kong Island's Dragon's Back, I heard a fellow hiker remark on how wonderful it was to be up on a hill with scenic views of the coastline.  While that is indeed pretty cool, I actually think it neater that often in Hong Kong, one is able to hike from the hills all the way down to the shore.

Among the trails here in the Big Lychee where one can do so is Hong Kong Trail Stage 8, which includes a trip up, down and along the famous Dragon's Back before ending at Big Wave Bay.  Over on Lantau, there's also the eastern section of the South Lantau Country Trail (which I prefer to its western one) when combined with either an old village path to Mui Wo or the portion of Section 1 of the Lantau Trail which actually goes by the side of a main road!  

I just introduced the latter -- which is one of my favorite Hong Kong hiking trails -- to a friend this Chinese New Year period.  But this photo-essay actually consists of snaps I took the previous time I went along this pleasant unpaved trail that goes from Pak Kung Au all the way down to Mui Wo -- which, with its ferry pier, sandy beach and choice dining options, is one of my favorite places in Hong Kong to be at hike's end... :)

At several points along the South Lantau Country Trail,
one is privy to views of the waters off Lantau Island :b
Among the beaches on view are Hong Kong's longest
There are sections of the trail where I'm glad to see
a clear path over the waters of an intersecting hill stream
Less of a welcome sight were these steep steps 
that one has to go up in order to get 
to the trail going down to Mui Wo! ;) 
 The old stone path leading down to Mui Wo
Around greater Mui Wo, there can be seen 
old watch towers along with village houses
My delicious post-hike repast at the China Beach Club
whose food I appreciate along with its beach and sea views :b

There was time to snap this "lights reflecting on the water" 
photo before catching the ferry out of Mui Wo :)