Sunday, July 31, 2016

Chillin' out on a hot afternoon at the Lan Kwai Fong Beer and Music Festival :)

There were beers and stalls that relied on good-looking women 
to attract people at the Lan Kwai Fong Beer & Music Festival...

...but there's no question that there also were 
some tasty brews out there...

...and some fun company too! ;b

Not too long ago, I made a point to steer clear of what's considered to be Hong Kong's Party Central.  But that was before I became a regular at Sake Bar Ginn -- and also after Lan Kwai Fong passed its partying mantle to other parts of Hong Kong (including nearby Wyndham Street).  Nonetheless, Lan Kwai Fong's not giving up its claims to being a majorly boozy part of Hong Kong without a fight.  Hence its continuing to play host to an annual beer and music festival that may well be the Big Lychee's closest equivalent to an alcoholic block party.

After attending what may well have been the most demanding beach cleanup that I've taken part in yesterday on account of the temperatures being on the super high side and learning that the weather was forecast to be on the unpredictable side on account of an incoming typhoon, I decided to opt against going hiking today in favor of going for the first time ever to the Lan Kwai Fong Beer and Music Festival.  Expecting things to be crazy after darkness falls, I chose to go in the middle of the day, when the sun was shining and the crowd (hopefully) would be on the thin and mellow side.  

A few minutes after I arrived at the fest, I saw a friendly as well as familiar face.  And as it so happened, I ended up hanging out with a few chef friends (including the genius responsible for creating such as a pie to die for with shirako in it at Godenya) over at the stall manned by Sake Bar Ginn stuff that was selling takoyaki (octopus balls) and a slushy sake cocktail along with draft Kirin beer.

Without going out of their way to do so, I felt that they ended up recreating a corner of Odori Park, where my mother and I spent some enjoyable hours in one beery summer in Sapporo.  For even as the alcohol flowed, the mood was mellow, the attendees included a couple whose six-month-old baby happily smiled, gurgled and otherwise acted cute for the entire time that they were there, and far from completely soused adults regressed to childhood by playing with a kendama as well fixating on Pokemon Go!

All in all, I had a better time at the Lan Kwai Fong Beer and Music Festival, and spent more time (and money!) in Lan Kwai Fong this afternoon, than I expected.  And while it's no Beertopia in size and beer quality, the truth of the matter is that I did find sufficient drinks (along with food) to keep me happy for a few hours: including an unusual seasonal mint beer from Mak's Brewery, and a tasty peach cider by local micro-brewer David Leung that seems to be pretty experimental -- as in not yet available in any bars but hopefully will be before too long! :)

Friday, July 29, 2016

No regrets post viewing No Regrets for Our Youth (film review)

The luminous star of Akira Kurosawa's
No Regrets for Our Youth

- Akira Kurosawa, director
- Starring: Setsuko Hara, Susumu Fujita, Denjiro Okochi

Mention the name Akira Kurosawa to the average cinemagoer and chances are that, if they know any works by this great filmmaker, it'll have samurai in it.  But even though the first Akira Kurosawa movie that I viewed did indeed have samurai in it, I've also seen my fair share of films by this cinematic giant that don't -- including the elegiac Rhapsody in August along with his two directorial efforts that I've had the privilege and pleasure to view on a big screen in recent months.   

A few weeks after I caught a screening of Sanshiro Sugata, Akira Kurosawa's stunning debut directorial effort which tells the story of a powerful young judoka of the Edo era, I was able to attend a screening of a very different work which he helmed just three years later.  The first film that the master director made after the Second World War, No Regrets for Our Youth is an ambitious drama with important political messages whose protagonist is that very rare thing in an Akira Kurosawa movie: female!

Based loosely on real-life events which took place in the years leading up to and during World War II, its stirring story begins in 1933, when the film's lead character, Yukie Yagihara (played throughout the movie by Setsuko Hara), was still a sheltered schoolgirl, dotted upon by her Kyoto University professor father (Denjiro Okochi)'s senior students as well as her loving parents.  All too soon, however, Yukie's private idyll is shattered by the rising militarism besetting her nation; whose consequences include her father being suspended from teaching because of his anti-fascist views, and the subsequent university-wide protests against the curtailing of academic freedom organized by students sympathetic to her father being put down by armed government forces.

Although her instincts looked to be to bury her head in the sand, Yukie's eyes get opened to the political problems enveloping the country by events that practically affect her nearest and dearest.  At pretty much the same time, her heart gets won by Noge (Susumu Fujita), the strongly idealistic leader of Professor Yagihara's senior students whom she had spent a good bulk of the time heatedly arguing with but, it turns out, also actually seriously paying attention to.

More domestic and overtly political than many other Akira Kurosawa films, No Regrets for Our Youth really takes off in earnest after Yukie and Nogie meet as adults years later in Tokyo, and soars onto a seriously high plain after she goes to Noge's home village to help out his suffering peasant parents.  And perhaps its makers' greatest strength, if not outright genius, is to decide to show political oppression and resistance through the eyes and experiences of not the usual mature male suspects but, rather, a female in the flower of youth who voluntarily opts to make great sacrifices that result in major changes to her life, status and circumstance -- all the while determined to have no regrets for what she feels compelled to do as a result of romantic love and personal duty.

Also absolutely inspired was the choice of Setsuko Hara to play a character who goes over the course of this film from privileged schoolgirl to a noble woman doing back-breaking work out in the muddy fields for hours on end.  Susumu Fujita impresses too with his ability to breathe life in a character that, in less capable hands, would be too admirable to be believable.  But there's little question that it is its lead actress' bravura performance which is the dramatic anchor of No Regrets for Our Youth, and adds considerable poignancy to a powerful story for the ages.          

My rating for this film: 9.0    

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Critter spottings in Balik Pulau, Penang

What are you looking at? ;b
A dragonfly of a different color from the blue 
and gold ones I usually see in Hong Kong 
There are many reasons why I love the hiking I've done in Hong Kong.  Something I really appreciate is how it looks to have honed my senses and made me more observant about the natural life around me when I venture into the countryside; with one sure way in which I can gauge this augmented awareness being the increased critter spottings I've been able to make over the years -- not only in Hong Kong but on visits to other territories, including my recent trip back to Penang
Probably the most notable of the critter spottings I made during my most recent week back in the Malaysian state where I was born involved my seeing a snake curled up on a branch of a tree of the farm in Balik Pulau where my mother, two friends and I had feasted on durian.  What with Penang being home to an actual Snake Temple, that green eyed creature was far from the first member of that particular branch of the reptile family I had ever seen in that part of the world.  Rather amazingly though, it happened to be my second consecutive snake-on-a-tree spotting -- after the one I saw at the Daio Wasabi Farm in Hokata on my recent May trip to Japan -- and, actually, also only my second snake-on-a-tree spotting ever!
Then while waiting for my food to arrive on the table over at RB Mama Mee Udang on my second Balik Pulau excursion of the trip, I went for a short stroll by the riverside nearby -- and saw a number of creatures (but thankfully not another snake!) about there.  And even while it could be argued that the bright colors of some of the pretty dragonflies and butterflies in the vicinity render them hard to miss, who's to say that in previous years, I'd have thought that there might be some interesting sights to catch over by the riverside and consequently ventured over there for a look? ;)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Halal food I love to eat in Penang

Yummy and halal!

 The same with this plate of mee udang (prawn noodles)! :b

A few days before I went back to Penang for a visit, a Singaporean friend of mine who happens to be Muslim came over to Hong Kong.  Every time she and I plan to have a meal together, I get to realizing how few halal options there are here in the Big Lychee -- where pig is the favorite animal to devour for the vast majority of the inhabitants; especially relative to Muslim-majority Malaysia. 

On my recent trip back to Penang, I found myself reflecting some more on this state of affairs; this not least because I had so many delicious halal meals in my one week or so back home.  For starters, consider the durian feasts I had on this trip -- which all weren't only halal but also entirely vegetarian!  In addition, there was the Mamak mee rebus (boiled egg noodles) I love to eat at the stall in Gurney Drive whose offerings I regularly partook of decades ago when its Indian Muslim proprietor was operating in Edgecumbe Lane.

Then there was the nasi campur I went to eat not just once but twice at Malay stalls in Tanjung Tokong.  Sadly, on both those occasions, I didn't see my absolute favorite pineapple chunks in curry among the offerings.  Still, there were plenty of goodies that I could happily choose to ladle onto my plate of steamed white rice: including, on one wonderful occasion, some spicy wingbean salad, tangy green mango salad, curried fish roe, spicy cuttlefish, and beef lungs covered in an incredible sweet dark sauce.  In all honesty, my mouth is watering just at the memory of that meal which -- complete with a glass of rose syrup and lime -- cost around just RM12 (~US$2.94 or HK$22.80)!

For my final lunch on this recent Penang trip, my mother took me once again to Balik Pulau -- this time to a mee udang place she had heard good things about from friends.  RB Mama Mee Udang has a Facebook page and is housed in premises that are considerably newer and larger than other mee udang places I've been to.  But, as with the other warung mee udang I had previously been to, it's located by a river -- with the implicit suggestion being that there's where the udang (prawns) in the dish comes from! -- as well as in a rural section of the state, and offers up unpretentious, "down home" cooking that comes across as genuinely tasty as well as unarguably "authentic". 

Although I never made the connection until the "mama" I think the stall is named for stated it, mee udang is effectively the halal Malay version of the famous (non-halal) Penang Chinese noodle dish known as Hokkien mee in Penang -- and har mee (i.e., prawn egg noodles) in other parts of Malaysia -- whose main ingredients are indeed egg noodles and prawns along with a spicy soup.  Granted that there are some differences; including in the preferred size of the prawns in the dishes -- with the Malay version featuring noticeably larger prawns than the Hokkien version -- and the Hokkien version containing pork and therefore definitely being something that my Muslim friends cannot eat.

But even while the Malay mee udang is sweeter and more tomato-ey tasting (without the pork stock to "cut" up/add to the flavors), I have to say that I am partial to (Malay) mee udang as well as Hokkien (prawn) mee.  And it's culinary offerings like mee udang -- as well as nasi campur and Malay assam laksa -- that have me maintaining once more that the otherwise wonderful Anthony Bourdain looked to have missed a trick by not featuring Malay food as much as he did Malaysian ethnic Chinese and Indian foods on the Penang episode of No Reservations!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

High points of a hike on Lantau's Chi Ma Wan peninsula (Photo-essay)

Whenever I get to the top of a Hong Kong mountain and hill, I expect to find a trigonometrical station atop it.  Over the years, I've also come across signal stations, fire lookouts and even old military installations such as the ruined redoubt on Devil's Peak adorning a Hong Kong hill- or mountain-top.  But up until I hiked up to the highest points of Lantau's Chi Ma Wan peninsula, it had only been in Japan where I saw shrines adorning the top of a hill.

What with the afternoon's hike route also taking the friend I was with and I past a small reservoir and a couple of disused prisons as well as yielding up some cool critter spottings and scenic vistas, there really were plenty of interesting sights to be had.  So suffice to say that I was clicking away quite a bit with my camera while on Chi Ma Wan peninsula -- and, actually, was doing so on the 30 minute or so trek from the nearest bus station to the beginning of the trail that took us to this remote section of Hong Kong! ;b    

Atop the rocky hill pictured above is a shrine...
Many scenic vistas are to be had on the way up 
the Chi Ma Wan peninsula's second highest hill :)

There's a trigonometrical station along with a shrine
up on 301-meter-high Miu Tsai Tun

On an afternoon where the clouds were on the low-lying side, 
I was glad we weren't climbing to much higher ground that day
 I must admit to not being too happy to discover 
that we actually had go down many steps before 
we could begin our ascent up the neighboring hill! ;(

The fire lookout on 303-meter-high Lo Yan Shan
doesn't look like it's manned all year round...

...and it also is one of those parts of the Big Lychee
where skink spottings can be made! :)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Serious and light fare at this year's Hong Kong Book Fair

Both the political and kawaii are to be found at
this year's Hong Kong Book Fair
Tomes for sale at the Hong Kong Book Fair that
I'm sure would not be allowed in to Mainland China
Perhaps Mainland Chinese bibliophiles could content
themselves with these works instead? ;b
Chinese martial arts literature was the designated theme of this year's Hong Kong Book Fair, with a dedicated zone for wuxia novels by the likes of the great Louis Cha (aka Jin Yong), Gu Long and Ni Kung -- many of whose works have been adapted into films such as the Swordsman trilogy, Ashes of Time, and Butterfly and Sword -- and their fellow producers of tales of martial arts rivalry, chivalry, brotherhood and such.  But when I wandered about the vast halls of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre which hosts this mega book fair for a few days each year, I found a whole lot of tomes -- and ended up making a number of purchases -- about a range of other subjects. 
What with books being strongly associated with education, it's only to be expected that there are lots of educational books on offer at the book fair; among them learning books for children, college guides and exam guides, and academic tomes (including those published by various local university presses).  Also taking lots of floor and shelf space were business books, self-help books and biographies of famous and/or successful people like Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Sir Alex Ferguson, Hilary Clinton and, erm, Donald Trump.
Also to be expected for Hong Kong was that the vast majority of books on sale are written in Chinese.  However, the English language section of the fair actually was larger than I -- who was checking out this popular annual event for the first time ever -- expected; with quite a number of stalls that weren't set up along the designated "English Avenue" (including those of local publishers such as the Commercial Press, Joint Publishing and the University of Hong Kong Press) stocking some English as well as Chinese language tomes.
And while I wish more of them were available in English rather than "just" Chinese, I was seriously glad and heartened to see a number of books on sale at the Hong Kong book fair that couldn't be if "one country, two systems" were not (still) in place.  Among these are a collection of essays by the late Chinese premier turned reformist icon Zhao Ziyang along with various books about the Umbrella Movement, and at least one work which explicitly draws links between key events that occurred in this part of the world in 1967, 1989 and 2014.  
In view of colors taking on political significance during the Umbrella Movement, it was interesting to note that the predominant colors on the covers of many of the political tomes appeared to be yellow (the color most associated with the Umbrella Movement), black (a popular color among pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong) and red (which is traditionally associated among the Chinese with good luck and happiness but nowadays also tends to bring to mind Communist China, anger, blood(shed) and aggression).
On a lighter note: yellow also is the color of Gudetama, the lazy egg that's the kawaii character du jour here in Hong Kong.  And this being Hong Kong, Gudetama sightings also were made at the book fair along with fellow Sanrio character, Hello Kitty -- whose likeness appeared on items for sale at the stall located right next to that of an organization whose advertising references the Umbrella Movement and the "fishball revolution" along with regular Hong Konger/human activities like shopping, sleeping, travelling, "Facebooking", and reading! ;b

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Enjoying hiking in a well forested part of Hong Kong on a super hot day

How cool is it that one can see clear across to Shenzhen from 
Tai Lam Country Park on super high visibility days? :)
 On the hiking trail itself, one may spot cool critters
like this beautiful blue-tailed skink :b
 I also love that I was able to snap this photo of
this dragonfly resting on an unopened lily flower :)
Despite my best intentions, I haven't hiked as often as I would like -- and probably should -- this summer for one reason or other.  But I think I went some ways to rectifying the situation by spending a good part of this afternoon happily tramping about in Hong Kong's second largest country park with a friend this afternoon even though the mercury ended up rising to 36.5 degrees Celsius in some parts of Hong Kong. 
One reason why I was more willing to venture out into the countryside today than in previous weeks was that the air felt considerably less polluted than when Super Typhoon Nepartak was in the neighborhood.  And even though it was still super hot this afternoon, the air didn't feel as thick (as well as dirty) as a few weeks ago and the humidity levels didn't seem as terrible.  Consequently, it actually didn't feel at all unpleasant in the shady areas -- of which there is a lot of in this well forested part of Hong Kong (where afforestation measures have been put into practice as far back as 1952).
Although there was lots of tree coverage for much of the hike, there still were sections of the trail where wonderful vistas would open up and give us a good taste of how far we can see -- and how beautiful Hong Kong is -- on a super high visibility day.  Actually, at various points in the hike, one also could peek through branches and catch sight of Shenzhen to the north when walking along the ridge that cuts through the country park as well as various sections of the Big Lychee (including Tai Mo Shan, various Kowloon hills (including the very distinctive Lion Rock), a good part of Hong Kong Island, Castle Peak and even the peaks of Lantau). 
In addition, there were the cool critter spottings I've come to expect of a summer hike in Hong Kong.  Not only were many varieties of butterflies and dragonflies out in force today but I also caught sight of large and small spiders galore, reddish as well as green grasshoppers, a beautiful blue-tailed skink, and a stick insect whose attempts at camouflage wasn't as good as the numerous leaf insects that I'm sure reside in Hong Kong but which I don't have too much success spotting in the wild!  

And lovers of water lilies should make a beeline for Parents Farm over in the village enclave of Tsing Fai TongThe very first time I visited this picturesque spot around nine years ago now, I was floored by the lily-filled ponds I found there.  So imagine my disappointment when I passed through that same area a few years later and found the place seemingly abandoned and overgrown; and then imagine how happy I was to discover on more recent hikes to this part of Hong Kong that someone looked to have revived the place -- and made it a welcoming spot complete with a cafe offering drinks and snacks, some signs of agricultural work being undertaken and ponds full of lilies once more -- which, as a photographic bonus, seem to attract their fair share of dragonflies.
However bucolic Parents Farm looks, I must confess to not lingering that long there though -- because at that point in the hike, I tend to fixate on making it downhill to Sham Tseng, where delicious dinners are to be had.  Almost invariably, my party will head for Yue Kee for a meal that includes some goose.  And while mine may well have been the only table that didn't have goose meat on it this evening, we did have a plate of goose kidneys (yes, really) along with two other non-goose dishes -- all of which I reckon were pretty yummy and satisfying, actually! ;b

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A way of eating durian that many people seem unfamiliar with

Behold these ingredients for a delicious meal!

Now this is what I consider to be a yummy combination :b

On my recent visit to my home state of Penang, I got to talking to a fellow durian lover who's a medical doctor.  In addition to completely understanding my need to fly back to feast on the "king of fruits", he got to extolling this delicious food item's high nutrition value.  

Although he didn't specifically say so, I got the feeling that he's one of those durian purists whose preferred way to eat durian is the plain way: i.e., fresh and on its own.  Alternatively, I've long enjoyed durian ice cream (for yes, durian is a fairly common ice cream flavor in Malaysia -- more easily found, actually, than, say, pistachio or even mango!).  Also, I've been pretty happy with the durian pancakes and durian mochi that I've come across in Hong Kong dessert shops .  

In addition, I've been known to make durian the centrepiece of an actual meal -- rather than just snack or dessert course -- by eating this meaty as well as creamy fruit with rice bathed with santan (coconut milk) and sprinkled with gula melaka.  As you can imagine, it's actually a pretty rich tasting meal -- and one that's pretty much guaranteed to leave me feeling full as well as very satisfied!

Although I've long thought that this was a traditional Malaysian way of eating durian, I've since come across a number of fellow Malaysians who weren't familiar with it.  So maybe it's more a Nyonya Baba way of eating durian than anything.  Also, my mother -- whose mother, like my paternal grandmother, dressed in Nyonya kebaya rather than, say, cheongsam -- associates this dish with my father's side of the family; with her side of the family tending to prefer to eat their durian with salt -- rather than black sugar -- along with santan and rice!

Furthermore, while there are times when I want to just dig into this durian rice dish with my hand, I've also been known to opt to use a fork and spoon -- not because I want to be dainty but, actually, so as to not have the strong smell of the fruit linger on my hands the way it would if I were to handle the flesh of the durian!  And yes, I realize that this is a far from usual, never mind traditional, way of eating durian.  Still, I think my mother's way of eating durian will seem even more unlikely to most people since she actually uses chopsticks when eating this fruit whose aroma really can linger on anything its flesh comes into contact with much more than one would like! ;S

Friday, July 22, 2016

"No name" vs "name" durian, and durian sellers :)

During durian season in Malaysia, temporary stalls
set up to sell the fruit pop up on the side of many a street
A close up look at some of the varieties on durian
on offer at a stall in the Penang suburb of Fettes Park
A couple of days after I feasted on durian at a farm in Balik Pulau, I informed my mother that my appetite for the fruit had not yet been completely satisfied.  Rather than make another long -- by Penang standards -- journey to "the back of the island", my mother decided to try the offerings at a stall recommended by a friend that's situated closer to my family home.
After being told by her friend that the stall to go to was located in front of a particular bank in Fettes Park, my mother found a woman selling durian at that very location and promptly went about making some purchases, especially upon finding that the fruit were being offered for a bargain RM8 (~HK$15.28 or US$1.97) or so each.  But before the deal was finalized, we got a bit worried when the woman decided to announce, unprompted, that this was the first day that she was selling durian -- and thereby got my mother figuring that hers couldn't possibly be the durian stall that my mother's friend had recommended!
Upon asking around, my mother got to realizing that the more established stall in question was actually a few feet away -- and on the side of the road on which the bank was located rather than right in front of the bank like the stall we were patronizing was.  And as it so happened, my mother's friend was actually at that other stall buying some durian at the same time that we were over at the stall that we had mistaken for the recommended one!
Rather than settle for the seven durian we already bought from the neophyte durian seller (who volunteered the information that she normally sells baked goods!), my mother and I decided to scurry over to the other stall and have a look at what was on offer there.  After a quick look confirmed that it was a far more professional setup (despite being another temporary, seasonal affair), with this other durian seller being able to identify the varieties of durian he had on offer (among other things), we decided to get one more durian: an ang heh (red prawn) that was considerably bigger and more expensive (at around RM45 (~HK$85.86 or US$11.08) for just one fruit). 
Also, in contrast to the other durian seller, the guy at this more established stall happily opened up the ang heh we bought and proceeded to fill up one and a half plastic containers with the fruit's beautifully orange-colored flesh!  As I told a friend living in Hong Kong (where I've never seen such a thing being done at the time of purchase), this action essentially guarantees that the seller's not cheating you -- and that he or she is fully confident about the quality of his or her wares -- since you're being shown there and then what (and how much) you have bought.
As it turned out, the flesh of the seven other durian we bought that afternoon ended up filling two other plastic containers of around the same size as the ones into which the flesh of the ang heh had been loaded.  So, quantity wise, the purchases from the two stalls proved to be about the same value.  As for quality: I have to say that I did prefer the taste of the ang heh (which probably are my favorite variety of durian along with the D24 -- though I have to qualify this by pointing out that I've yet to have fresh versions of the super expensive Musang King or Black Thorn); but both my parents actually preferred the "no name" durian from the first time durian seller which they reckon were "kampung durian" from old trees.

Maybe the kampung durian represented a taste of nostalgia for my parents, who had many of those in their youth as well as over the years.  The point though is that these "no name" durian really ought not be sniffed at (no pun intended!) when they are the fruit of old trees -- since it's often believed that older is better when it comes to the fruit of durian trees.  And as a matter of fact, one of the tastier durian we had over at the farm in Balik Pulau was a kampung durian from an old tree which the farmer looked to have considered to be of equivalent quality to the "name" durian (including an ang heh) that he had put on our table! ;b

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Durian -- the seasonal fruit that got me flying thousands of miles to feast on!

Yes, there really is such a thing as durian tourism!

The very first durian I had on my recent trip back to Penang

In what can now seem like another lifetime, I lived for a time in Dar es Salaam with a Tanzanian family, the majority of whose members were born and raised on the Tanzanian mainland -- and consequently had little love for the fruit known in Kiswahili as duriani and Bahasa Malaysia as durian, unlike this Malaysian and the sole member of the family who hailed from Zanzibar (where durian grow wild).

Naturally, when durian season came along, the Zanzibari-born member of the family and I decided that we had to have ourselves some durian.  Equally expectedly, the durian-hating family patriarch ordained that no durian could be brought into the house, never mind be opened and eat there -- and there any one who wished to partake of the admittedly strong-smelling fruit would only be allowed to do so away from the house, at the far end of the garden!

Undeterred, the one lover of that fruit in that family and I went on to do precisely that.  And if truth be told, I actually do think that durian are best eaten out in the open air -- or, at the very least, some place where their unique aroma can waft freely and spread out rather than be trapped and thicken in air-conditioned surroundings!

Put another way: I love the taste of durian and am okay with its natural smell -- but feel that its aroma gets unnaturally as well as overly intense in such places as Hong Kong's air-conditioned supermarkets!  Indeed, I've been known to literally hold my nose when I smell durian in air-conditioned supermarkets, and even feel like gagging on some occasions.  Yet, against the odds, the very regular sight of the fruit that's the source of those intense odors in recent months caused me to yearn to feast on them so much that I ended up booking a trip to a part of the world where some of the best durian are to be found!

As it so happens, Penang also is where I was born and my parents still live.  And it was in the company of my mother and two friends that I drove all the way to Balik Pulau (whose name translates into English as "the back of the island") a couple of days after I arrived back to my home state for some durian in the front yard of a farm whose offerings include fresh eggs along with fruit such as -- when in season -- the much sought-after durian!

My mother had called ahead to reserve five durian -- and a good thing she did too, as it turned out that every durian at the farm that day had been spoken for!  So even though we actually would have liked to have eaten more durian, we had to content ourselves with the five that had been pre-ordered (and content ourselves with heading over to Kim Seng Kopi Tiam afterwards for some assam laksa for "afters")!

Still, although the quantity was less than we would have liked, we really couldn't complain about the quality of the durian we were allocated -- and also the diversity, since the farm owner made sure that we had five different varieties of the fruit: which ranged in flavor from sugary sweet to creamy rich (my favorite) to bitter sweet (the preference of one of our party); whose texture ran the gamut from soft and sticky to thick and firm; and whose pulp's color ranged from lightish yellow to bright yellow to reddish yellow (as can be seen by certain durian being known as ang heh (red prawn), ang sim (red heart) or ang jin (red egg yolk)).

And although Malaysian durian are known to be stronger smelling than, say, Thai durian, I wasn't bothered at all by the aroma of the durian I ate that day in Balik Pulau.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I could hardly smell the durian around me at all!  I think one reason for this was because our feasting took place in the open air but it's also highly probable that the durian didn't appear to smell all that much because I was so focused on devouring my share, and all of us ate ever so quickly -- because, well, the king of fruits lived up to its billing in terms of its tasting so very good! ;b

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hong Kong from above

A scenic view of Tai Mo Shan from up high
On a clear day like today, passengers are treated to a veritable
view bonanza as their plane flies into Hong Kong :)
As regular visitors to this blog will no doubt have surmised, the recent lack of updates was the result of my having gone travelling once again.  Over the next few days, I'll reveal where I've been over the past week and also some of what I've been up to.  For now though, please enjoy -- via my photos -- the kind of views one is privy to on sunny days when seated by the window on a plane flying into Hong Kong... :) 

Monday, July 11, 2016

By foot from south of the Kowloon Hills to the outskirts of Sai Kung (Photo-essay)

The first year I was in Hong Kong, I went on what I've come to think of as the hike from hell -- during which I wondered whether I'd need to get a helicopter to come and rescue me.  Before I got to the stage of the excursion where exhaustion and terror began to kick in though, I remember reaching a point in the hike called Buffalo Pass and thinking it was a lovely place that I'd like to go back to at some time in the future.

But because that part of Hong Kong is pretty remote, it wasn't until years later that I was in the area again.  And as it so happens, it was on a hike that began at the foothills of Tsz Wan Shan and only ended at Mau Ping New Village at the southeastern end of the Ma On Shan Country Trail, on a day that saw me record more than 25,000 steps on my pedometer!  But even though it was a lengthy and exhausting trek, it really felt worth it this time -- and enjoyable too; what with the diverse scenery we passed through and viewed along the lengthy way that grayish but still pretty pleasant afternoon... ;b

From the Kowloon Hills, one gets a pretty good idea when
gazing southwards of how densely urban parts of Hong Kong is!

At the same time, on the trail itself, one is liable to
spot -- and, if not, accidentally step on! --
delicate winged creatures like this one ;b

Part of the route my hiking buddy and I went on that afternoon
overlapped with the War Relics Trail, along which could be seen
such as some caves that the Japanese military had dug in the woods

As the trail wended its way northeastwards, great views 
like this of Shatin and the surrounding hills revealed themselves :)

 In just a few hours on this hike, we had gone from 

As we approached Buffalo Pass, we caught sight of these
rock formations that looked rather intimidating!

At the same time, when looking back, we already felt 
quite a sense of achievement from realizing 
how far we already had gone at that point :)

Upon catching sight of yacht-filled Hebe Haven
-- and close to the hike's end :)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Park Chan Wook's artfully deceptive The Handmaiden's Tale (film review)

A refined and restrained looking version
of advertising for Park Chan Wook's latest film

A more licentious poster advertising the
same Korean movie! :O

The Handmaiden (South Korea, 2016)
- Park Chan Wook, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Jung Seo Kweong)
- Starring: Kim Min Hee, Kim Tae Ri, Ha Jung Woo, Cho Jin Woong 

When I was a young girl in Penang, Malaysia, an aunt of mine had two South Korean friends: siblings named Chang Im and Chang Wook.  Maybe this has subconsciously pre-disposed me to like pretty much every film I've seen by the similarly named South Korean filmmaker, Park Chan Wook; this even though his works have varied so much, and include a drama about the divides and ties between the two Koreas (Joint Security Area), a vampire movie (Thirst), and ultra-violent vengeance films (including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). 

And then there's his latest, visually stylish interpretation of British author Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, which transposes her tale from Victorian Britain to 1930s Korea.  The Handmaiden had its world premiere at Cannes this past May, went on general release in its native South Korea on June 1st and began its Hong Kong theatrical run on June 30th.  I doubt though that it will ever be screened in territories like Malaysia because of the copious amount of sex and nudity in the film that earned it a Category III rating here in Hong Kong!

Those who seek to view this erotic thriller primarily for titillation should bear in mind, however, that the multi-layered cinematic offering has a running time of 144 minutes and takes a longer time than one might like to warm up and really get going.  Also, director and co-scriptwriter Park Chan Wook has audaciously opted for a Rashomon-style telling of its tall tale that's full of twists, turns, deceptions and betrayals, and may challenge viewers' patience along with ability to keep things straight in their minds by repeatedly going back and forth in time and replaying more than one scene from a different angle.

Still, this much is clear from early on in the film: a Korean con artist masquerading as a Japanese Count (Ha Jung Woo) gets young pickpocket Sook Hee (Kim Tae Ri) to infiltrate the household of a super wealthy ethnic Korean Japano- cum Anglophile who prefers to speak Japanese and be known as Kouzuki (Cho Jin Woong).  Pretending to be a servant called Ok Ju (who is then given the Japanese name of Tamako when she begins her latest employment -- an act of cultural colonialism that's not entirely unexpected in Japanese-ruled Korea), she is made the personal maid of Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee), an aristocratic orphan who is both Kouzuki's ward and the woman he plans to marry -- despite being old enough to be her father.  

Despite Lady Hideko being lovely to look at, the swindler vows that he's really only after the substantial fortune she stands to inherit -- and tells Sook Hee she will get some of it if she uses the considerable influence that personal maids actually have to help get Lady Hideko to fall for him.  But complications ensue when, among other things, Sook Hee develops certain feelings for Lady Hideko that, even if never explicitly named as such, comes across very much as lesbian pinings and actual love.

When the sex scenes finally do take place, they are artistically shot like the rest of The Handmaiden; and artfully to, in order to ensure that even while there's pretty much full female (and some male) nudity in the film, not a strand of anyone's pubic hair is visible on screen.  At the same time, perhaps because some of the scenes and emotions seem to get so overwrought, I have to admit to being unable to keep from smirking, snorting and even laughing out loud at various points of what turned out for some viewers to be an at times unexpectedly -- and perhaps inadvertently -- funny movie! 

Looking back though, the first few minutes of The Handmaiden does seem to provide some indications that it was never meant to be an entirely serious drama.  Among other things: there's a larger to life quality to many of the characters, a wicked playfulness to at least one key player in the proceedings and a baroque fantasy feel to a great part of the movie.  In conclusion then: its high production values may deceive people into thinking it's a prim and proper period piece but Park Chan Wook and Co easily ensure that this daringly entertaining -- and unabashedly naughty -- offering is very far from being that!     

My rating for the film: 7.5