Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A wet and quiet beginning to the new lunar year of the fire rooster (or chicken) over here in Hong Kong

Very "business-y" looking chicken (or are they roosters?)
These floral chicks were among the cutest of the
fowl-themed items on sale there 
...while these chicken costumed sales people get my vote 
for having been the most game (pun intended!) ;b 
As I write this blog post, the dehumidifier in my flat is on at full blast.  All in all, it's been a wetter -- and warmer -- beginning to the new lunar year of the fire rooster (or chicken) than I had thought would be the case; with rain falling on the first day (fortunately only after my beach clean-up crew were safely at a cafe having lunch), second day (for the first half an hour of the hike that a friend and I went on in Lantau that afternoon), yesterday and also today (both of which I spent indoors for the most part).
In contrast, the week before had some really nice sunny days, including Chinese New Year's eve -- which (Puppet Ponyo and) I took advantage of by going on a lovely hike -- and the day that I went and checked out the Lunar New Year Flower Market over in Causeway Bay's Victoria Park.  And the next couple of days or so are supposed to be dry too -- but that's what the Hong Kong Observatory also had forecasted for the first couple of days or so of Chinese New Year! 
The next couple of days also will see Hong Kong returning to normal in terms of shops and businesses that closed for the holidays re-opening their doors.  More than incidentally, potential leisure visitors to the Big Lychee are hereby served notice that Chinese New Year is probably the worst time of the year to be here as much of this usually loud and lively city shuts down so that the locals can partake of the most important festival in the Chinese calendar.   
As an example: a friend of mine wanted to buy some bread yesterday evening and got to belatedly realizing that every single bakery in her neighborhood and the neighboring one was closed!  And while it's expected that many non-chain Chinese businesses will close for the first few days of Chinese New Year, it's worth bearing in mind that the Koreans, Thais and Vietnamese also celebrate the lunar new year -- and even such as my favorite sake bar closed for Chinese New Year's Eve and the first four days of Chinese New Year so that its Japanese proprietor and her staff (a couple of whom are local Hong Kongers) could enjoy a long -- by their standards -- holiday break!  

Monday, January 30, 2017

My top nine Hong Kong movies of 2016

The subject of my favorite Hong Kong film of 2016

One evening last week, I strolled down Memory Lane with a fellow Hong Kong film fan whose favorite era(s) of Hong Kong cinema were the 1980s and 1990s.  As we reminisced about movies we loved, some classic titles like Chungking Express (1994) and The Killer (1989) were bandied about but so too were lesser known films like Boys Are Easy (1993), Beyond Hypothermia (1996) and Girls Without Tomorrow (1992), which are less well known but did do their part to make us the major Hong Kong filmophiles that we became. 

That conversation also got me feeling that even though I watched fewer than twenty 2016 Hong Kong movies (to be precise, 17 in 2016 itself, and two more this month!), it still might be good for me to do my part to help spread the word about some films I actually like quite a bit -- and think are worth checking out -- that might otherwise escape people's attention.  And this particularly so in the case of my favorite Hong Kong film of 2016: which -- unlike any of my favorite Hong Kong films of 2015, including the now infamous Ten Years --- has thus far only had a handful of screenings in its home territory, none of them in a regular cinema...

At 117 minutes in length, it may not be the lengthiest Umbrella Movement documentary that I've seen, with Chan Tze Woon's Yellowing, which is variously listed as being 128 and 133 minutes long, and Film 75's 75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness (Extended version) clocking at 130 minutesBut Evans Chan's Raise the Umbrellas feels the most comprehensive as well as considered of the films about the street action and political protests that shook Hong Hong in 2014, and continues to have a significant impact on people's lives and thoughts, whose very making and screening often seen like political actions in and of themselves.

A friend and I who attended one of its (thus far) all too rare screenings here in Hong Kong couldn't help but nudge each other from time to time when seeing or hearing something that got us remembering how we felt and what we did over the course of the 79 days when parts of Admiralty, Mongkok, Causeway Bay, Central and -- for a few short days -- Tsim Sha Tsui were "Occupied" by regular folks rather than just ultra experienced political activists.  To those who weren't there but would like to get a good sense of what things were like on the relevant streets of Hong Kong for much of the last quarter of 2014, and also for those who seek an intelligent overview of the political situation in Hong Kong: Raise the Umbrellas gets my vote as the Umbrella Movement film you ought to check out.    

I saw two Milkyway Image movies in 2016: one superb, the other less so; one directed by Johnnie To, the other by three relative unknowns (two of whom were making their helming debuts, the other of whose previous directorial credit was a segment of Ten Years).  Unexpectedly, it was the film helmed by the neophyte directors that had the honor of opening the 2016 Hong Kong International Film Festival.  And Frank Hui, Jevons Au and Vicky Wong's Trivisa it also was which was the film that had substance as well as style, a sure direction, and memorable performances by a trio of lead actors who show that they can do far more than they often get credited for.

Johnnie To's Three may have had the bigger stars but Trivisa had the more entertaining, yet also believable, characters and a story that's full of resonance for contemporary Hong Kong despite being set in the 1990s and being about three real-life felons active in that era.  On a cinematic note: it's thoroughly encouraging to see the emergence of a new generation of Hong Kong filmmakers who clearly have got it, and "get" that truly good films appeal to the heart and mind, not just eyes and ears.       

He was responsible for one of the major disappointments of 2013 (White Storm, if you're wondering) but Benny Chan made amends in 2016 with a period actioner that felt like a welcome blast from the past: specifically, 1990s Hong Kong cinema.  Shot in Mainland China and set in that period of Chinese history where warlords threatened and ruled, Call of Heroes is the kind of movie where it's easy to figure out who are the good guys (and gals) and who are the dastardly villains.  

But even while its makers wears their hearts on their sleeve in terms in letting audience members know who they should root for, it's also the kind of film where death can come suddenly as well as super violently, and no one -- children or women as well as men -- is safe from harm.  Once you realize this, the tension levels rise, and so does the entertainment quotient; and this particularly when you get to realizing that Call of Heroes is also pretty equal opportunity when it comes to having representatives from both sexes who are able to kick ass!                      

I normally try to avoid viewing movies in 3D but I'm actually glad that the screening I attended of Derek Yee's remake of Death Duel, the 1977 Shaw Brothers movie in which he starred, was in that format. In all honesty. it is one of the most visually impressive Chinese language films I've ever seen, with a plethora of scenes whose every frame -- as has been said of Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time -- is so beautiful that you'd want to frame them and hang them on the wall as works of art.

In many ways, Sword Master comes across as the wuxia work that the likes of master filmmaker Chor Yuen (whose swordplay fantasies for the Shaw Brothers include The Magic Blade and Clans of Intrigue along with Death Duel) would have made if he had been able to call upon the technical capabilities filmmakers have now back then.  And as far as this Hong Kong movie film fan is concerned: that's very high praise indeed!     

5) Mermaid

Stephen Chow is seen by many long-time fans of Hong Kong cinema as the undisputed king of comedy but I didn't immediately warm up to him -- and to this day, prefer his post 1994 works, such as Forbidden City Cop and Shaolin Soccer, to those made before then, including Love on Delivery.  Similarly, it took me a while for Mermaid -- which he directed and co-scripted (with seven others) but didn't star -- to click with me but once it started doing so, it really did provide me with a barrel of laughs, even guffaws, along with a heartwarming ending that left a significant lump in my throat.

6) Yellowing

2016 was the year when not one but several feature length documentaries about (various aspects of) the Umbrella Movement finally got to see the light of day.  Made by 29-year-old Chan Tze Woon, Yellowing is one of those works made by a filmmaker turned accidental activist who got to realizing that he couldn't be just a bystander as unrest and divisions became all too visible in the city he loved, and that his camera would not be able to protect him from police violence.  What his camera did though was to capture lots of valuable as well as interesting footage at the "Occupy" sites and beyond, and provide a personal take and view on political subjects that can be affecting as well as involving.

7) Weeds on Fire
The opening and closing scenes of this film from first time director Steve Chan Chi Fat (who also co-wrote the script with Wong Chi Yeung) take place at Umbrella Movement protest sites but Weeds on Fire is more of a coming-of-age tale cum sports movie than out-and-out political offering.  An uninhibitedly local movie, I think it's safe to assume that it was made with a not particularly big budget by people with their hearts in the right place.  Consequently, it tends to attract goodwill, with the result being that its weaker sections are more likely to be overlooked or forgiven than less well-intentioned -- and more outwardly commercialistic -- others.

8) The Mobfathers

Not so long ago, it seemed as though there would come a time in the near future when there would no longer be distinctively Hong Kong movies, only Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese co-productions.  But in 2016, I saw a number of Hong Kong films that most definitely were not intended to be screened on the Mainland Chinese side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border.  Among the most emphatically -- defiantly even -- Hong Kong films was this Category III-rated triad drama made by the HK Film Company.  The Mobfathers may not be a masterpiece of cinema by pretty much any objective measure but I, for one, was entertained by it and am glad of its existence! 

9) Snuggle

The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals is not the first organization that comes to mind when you think of granters of film commissions but this charitable organization did indeed commission the making of this documentary work that gives an unvarnished look into the lives of elderly people with not long to live and those of their (also suffering) family members who continue to interact the most with them.  JC Wong's film is hardly an easy watch but should you decide to check it out, you surely will find yourself feeling for the people who are the focus of this film, and come away with a good sense of our collective humanity as well as mortality. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Chinese New Year hike along the Keung Shan Country Trail

It sure was misty in the part of Lantau that
a friend and I went hiking in this afternoon! :S
And during those few moments when visibility w
as higher, I often was too afraid to look over 
to my side at what was far down below ;(
Shortly after the friend I went hiking with today and I got off the bus close by our chosen trail head for this afternoon, she felt some rain drops and I spotted their splashes on the ground.  Ironically, just yesterday, another friend had asked me whether I hike if it's rainy -- and I had told her that while such conditions certainly not ideal, I do indeed some times feel undeterred by a fair amount of precipitation and decide to venture into the great outdoors even at the risk of getting pretty wet!  
As it so happens, to get to the particular hiking trail that we wanted to go along on the second day of Chinese New Year, my friend and I first had to walk for about 45 minutes along the fairly flat side of a catchwater -- and it only rained for the first half hour or so after we got off the bus.  So by the time we got to the end of the Keung Shan Country Trail that we had opted to start at, conditions were good enough that we decided to go ahead and venture along the 8.2 kilometer route (which, when coupled with the walk needed to get to it, probably ended up being close to 10 kilometers, maybe even 11).
When looking at my Countryside map for Lantau, it looked like the initial stretches of the Keung Shan Country Trail (leading up to marker C1302) would be the most difficult since it involved a pretty vertical ascent up a couple of hundred meters.  As it turned out though, while it's true that the climb did involve some huffing and puffing on my part, the hairiest sections of the trail for me turned out to be the sections that followed: which were on the side of high hills with lots of streams to cross, rocky sections to pass by and whole kilometers where there was a sheer drop on the immediate right side of the trail, just inches away (or sometimes less) from where I was stepping!
As I told the friend I was with midway through today's hike, I've a good mind to write to the people responsible for the Countryside maps and tell them that the section of the Keung Shan Country Trail between marker C1302 and C1307 that is shown as a solid line, denoting easy walking, really should be redrawn as a dotted line, denoting that the trail is difficult, even at times indistinct.  Granted that my fear of heights contributed to my feeling a need to "butt it" along the trickier bits but even my non-acrophobic friend uttered a loud "Oh my god" at one point in the hike upon coming across an intimidating rocky section where our path ahead was far less clear than we would have liked!
In retrospect, our nerves were further put on edge by the knowledge that in 2009, sections of the Keung Shan Country Trail had to be changed after major landslides pretty much destroyed portions of the original route.  And walking along that segment of the current trail that's literally on the side of mountains, I could very easily imagine how another major landslide could wash it away without much of a trace.
So it was quite the relief when the trail turned inland after C1307 and my only regret when we got to the scenic area known as Man Cheung Po which I had previously passed through when hiking the Lantau Trail's Stage 5 and 6 was that it was too misty to see all that far around.  (Incidentally, we noticed mist forming and rising pretty much around the time that the rains stopped but it fortunately never got too bad that we felt that our view of the trail ahead were terribly obscured by the mist.  Otherwise, we most certainly would have not pressed ahead along the pretty challenging Keung Shan Country Trail today!)
In contrast to the first two thirds or so of the trail, the last third was a breeze.  So, I told my friend, when we next venture to Man Cheung Po and its surroundings, we should do so from the entrance to -- or, in our case today, exit for -- the Keung Shan Country Trail that's closer to Tai O Road.  And if we then follow the section of the Lantau Trail that goes down from there to Tai O, we'll have a hike route that's considerably easier than the one we went on today, never mind the hike along the Lantau Trail that took me into this splendid -- yet seemingly often overlooked by hikers -- area of Hong Kong years ago!   

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mythical creature spottings on Lantau on the first day of Chinese New Year!

Mythical creature spotting #1 in Lantau earlier today!
And then there was the dancing lion with 
the Adidas-kitted front legs and paws... ;D
I know it's not the kind of activity that people usually engage in on the first day of Chinese New Year.  But what with the first day of the new lunar year of the rooster falling on the last day of this month in the Gregorian calendar, I spent a good part of today taking part in yet another beach clean-up at Lantau's Chi Ma Wan peninsula along with eight other game volunteers (including two local Hong Kongers as well as Hong Kong residents whose original countries of origin include France, the US, Singapore and the Philippines).
After cleaning one of the beaches by the now disused Chi Ma Wan Correctional Institution and Chi Sun Correctional Institution, our group trekked over to Pui O for lunch and a bus that'd either take people to Tung Chung (from where we were able to connect to other parts of Hong Kong by MTR) or Mui Wo (where there's a ferry link to Central).  As usual, we spotted some feral buffalo along the way.  And since it's Chinese New Year, after all, we shouldn't have been surprised to hear drumming at one of the villages we passed by and spot a colorful creature that I'd expect to be a dancing lion but, upon a closer look, reckon might have been a parading unicorn (i.e., qilin)!   
During lunch at Pui O, the sounds of more drumming heralded the arrival of what I'm more certain this time was a dancing lion.  Amusingly, this particular local representative seemed to have some of the smallest as well as youngest people entrusted with bringing it to festive life.  In addition, this may actually have been the first lion dance troupe I've seen where females were allowed to "animate" the lions, not "just" beat out the rhythm on the drums.    
Yet another unusual aspect of the dancing lion we saw in action was that, at times, its front legs had the Adidas brandname prominently displayed on it courtesy of one of the troupe members appearing to have neglected -- or plain forgotten! -- to put on the more standard pair of trousers worn by lion dance troupe members.  But even while some of us who spotted this could easily imagine that particular lion dance troupe member getting told off by his senior(s), I must admit to thinking that there's something charming to that lack of professionalism.
Put another way: the sense I got was that what we saw today in Lantau was a Chinese new year tradition being enthusiastically -- even if not entirely flawlessly -- enacted by regular folks for the pleasure of other regular folks, many of whom are family members, friends or neighbors of the performers.  Consequently, there was a sense of community rather than "community theater" to it all, along with enjoyable dollops of serendipity in terms of the non-Lantau residents among us being at the right place at the right time to catch sight of the local festive color that's part of the living culture of the area. :)     

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Chinese New Year eve hike with Puppet Ponyo in tow ;)

Puppet Ponyo on a cliff close to Victoria Harbour! :)
Puppet Ponyo posing inside the ruins of 
the Qing Dynasty watchtower on Mau Wu Shan!
The day before Chinese New Year, many workers in Hong Kong get to leave work early.  And the way the air looked earlier today (i.e., clearer than it's been in recent days), it appears that many workers over on the other side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border got to go on holiday already yesterday -- or even earlier than that!  
Throw in pleasant temperatures that were in the high teens and early 20s on the Celsius scale and beautiful blue skies into the equation, and the result is that the likes of Puppet Ponyo decided that she simply had to spend some time outdoors today.  More specifically, this afternoon, the incorrigible one first took a scenic ferry ride from Sai Wan Ho on Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour to Sam Ka Tsuen, then went up and down a number of hills (including Devil's Peak and Black Hill) before taking a ride on a green mini bus and returning later in afternoon to Hong Kong Island on another ferry (this one plying the Kwun Tong to North Point route).     
For the first two thirds or so, today's hike route went along Stage 3 of the Wilson Trail.  But instead of descending down to Ma Yau Tong from Black Hill, the (human) friend I was with and I opted to head over to Mau Wu Shan to look for a (ruined) stone watchtower thought to date back to the Qing Dynasty
Although it's been accorded a Grade I heritage listing by the Hong Kong authorities, the location of the cylindrical observation post that some people have described as a "castle" is not marked on the relevant Hong Kong Countryside map -- unlike, say, the ruined redoubt atop Devil's Peak.  However, some nice souls have taken it upon themselves to indicate the way to it from Black Hill by doing such as writing out signs (in Chinese) for it on tree trunks at various points along the relevant trail and such.
In all honesty, there were times during the hike where I was unsure if we'd manage to get to the watchtower -- and this particularly so after the trail started to lead us several meters downhill.  As it turned out though, I found that I was mistaken in my assumption that -- like the redoubts at Devil's Peak and on the other side of Lei Yue Mun, on the site of what's now the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, this presumably military structure would be located at the top of a hill.  Instead, it lies on the side of Mau Wu Shan closest to Tseung Kwan O's town centre, not far from the Haven of Hope Hospital (where one can conveniently hop on a green minibus taking one back to urban Hong Kong)!
On a day when -- and trail on which -- we enjoyed some scenic vistas, I must say that the hike highlight for me (and possibly Puppet Ponyo too!) was the visit to the modest sized but still atmospheric historic structure on the side of Mau Wu Shan.  After all, it's not often that one gets to visit an over-hundred-year-old building in Hong Kong, ruined or otherwise; and this especially so if it's not a place of worship -- since these appear to be the type of structures that are most able to withstand the urges of those for whom pretty much nothing should stand in the way of money-making by way of replacing old buildings with new, taller ones with way higher square footage!  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pre-Chinese New Year shopping frenzy

Chinese New Year essentials on sale at the local market
 There's plenty of room too for the regular staples,
especially if the stalls get to flow out into the street ;)
And yes, it's crowded but there's still room 
for trams to pass by from time to time! ;b
Earlier today, I passed by Victoria Park and, upon seeing how packed it looked, counted my lucky stars that the crowd was considerably thinner when I went and checked out this year's lunar new year flower market earlier in the week.  As a friend of mine observed, the closer one gets to Chinese New Year, the more people will flock over to those festive markets.  
But even while I've heard that major bargains are indeed to be had in the last few hours before Chinese New Year comes along, a claustrophic fear of getting crushed by my fellow humans makes it so that I will never be able to personally verify this being the case!  Also, I get the feeling that it's very likely too that many people get caught in a buying frenzy and end up making purchases that, in the cold light of day, they'll realize was actually unneccesary and maybe even not particularly wise!
Even at the regular wet market this evening, the shopping seemed on the manic side.  What with it being just one day before Chinese New Year's eve dinner comes along, people were out in force to get the necessary ingredients for what some families consider to be the most important meal of the year to have together as well as Chinese New Year essentials including auspicious flowers, plants, other decorations and foodstuffs (including fruits).  
And what with it being less than 36 hours before the dawning of the first day of Chinese New Year, the usual rules look to have been relaxed so that the wares at regular stalls were allowed to spill onto the sidewalks and into the street itself, and other folks were able to set up temporary stands here and there.  At the same time though, it was clear enough that the trams would still be running through the middle of the road.  And while some people did feel at liberty to walk in that space in the intervals during which no "ding ding" could be seen or heard, whenever a tram rounded the corner and into this market street, the crowd would part for it to go through pretty much unimpeded.

For those who are wondering: there are a number of street markets within walking distance of the tram route on Hong Kong Island but there's just one wet market whose stalls are located on both sides of a street that the trams regularly pass along.  Chun Yeung Street is the market in question and, as you can imagine, it's featured in a number of Hong Kong movies (including Soi Cheang's Accident) and is one of those locations in the Big Lychee that makes me feel like I'm in a movie -- or, at least, a movie set -- whenever I am in the area, even if it really is just to shop for fruits and vegetables of the pretty mundane kind! ;b

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Off the beaten track on Lamma Island (Photo-essay)

At 13.3 kilometers in length and passing through hilly terrain, the Lamma Island Family Walk can be a bit much for many adults, never mind younger folks.  Indeed, most people I know who go walking in Lamma tend to focus only on the section of the family walk that takes one from the village of Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan (or vice versa).  

While I, too, tended to favor this section of trail early on in my Lamma exploration, I've developed a preference in recent years for the quieter southeastern section of the island.  (This despite having come across a whole bunch of pretty large spiders the first time I ventured into that area some time back!)  So when two friends visiting from South Korea expressed some interest in checking out more peaceful and less built up sections of Hong Kong, I figured (correctly) that a hike in that part of the Big Lychee would be just the ticket as far as they were concerned... ;b

Perhaps on account of its ascent involving a number of 
flights of steps, Ling Kok Shan is one of those hills where 
one seldom comes across other people ;)
Sections of Hong Kong Island are visible from 
near the top of this southern Lamma Island hill
There also are ample views to be had from 
Ling Kok Shan of green (and rocky) Lamma
There are indeed quite a few of them but the steps are 
laid out well, in good condition and sometimes even have 
railings running along one side of them to hold on to
 Along Shek Pai Wan was a stretch of land 
wherebutterflies galore looked to be at home :)
 Ruins of early 19th century houses lived in by members of the 
Chow clan (whose most famous representative is Chow Yun Fat) 
remain at the old, now abandoned village of Yung Shue Ha
Not too far away is the new village of Yung Shue Ha
that's located closer to the sea
Another building that looks to have been abandoned
some time back -- but artistically repainted fairly recently!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Flora, fowl play and political fundraising at the lunar new year flower market

 Flowers -- particularly orchids --

So too do chicken- and rooster-shaped plushies and toys this year!

And a lunar new year flower market's no longer complete 
without some anti-government political satire ;b
The 2017 lunar new year flower markets opened for business yesterday at 15 venues across Hong Kong but I didn't make my way to Victoria Park -- home of the largest of the festive markets -- until today for fear that it would be super crowded on a Sunday as well as the actual opening day.  A couple of friends who did go yesterday told me that the place hadn't actually been all that packed though, and when I finally did go and check things out myself earlier today, it all did seem to be on the quieter side than I've come to expect. 

This state of affairs may not please the stall owners but it actually made my experience more pleasant since there was ample space for me to stroll about at my own preferred pace and it was easy enough to get unimpeded views and photographs of sights that caught my eye -- be they colorful flowers, chuckle-inducing chicken- and/or rooster-themed paraphenalia, barbed political humor or something else altogether.  And maybe because I consequently felt more relaxed today than when I visited the lunar new year flower markets of previous years, I actually ended getting into a buying mood and mode!
Still, although there were flowers on sale that I did think were really beautiful, I still think that I'm most appreciative of flowers found in the wild, such as the Chinese New Year flowers that I very much look forward to catching sight of when out hiking at this time of the year.  Also, I have to say that none of the chicken- or rooster-themed items I saw on sale at the festive market -- be they plushies, toys, cushions or tote bags -- truly tickled my fancy. 
Instead, the two items that I came away with were political, rather than fowl, themed.  The first of these is a T-shirt with the message "Being born in uncertain times carries certain responsibilities" printed out in English and (Traditional) Chinese.  The second is a yellow umbrella -- to replace the umbrella that was "volunteered" and "sacrificed" to defend people being pepper sprayed by the police on the evening of November 6th of last year, when an #Oathgate protest march turned ugly after our way to the Liason Office was barred when we were just meters away from our planned destination.
And yes, this pair of items were indeed purchased at stalls run by pro-democracy political parties, and it is assumed their sale are part of fundraising efforts.  And while there may have been a time when I wondered whether a festive flower market was an appropriate place for politics to be present, these days, the sight of the stalls run by the likes of Demosisto, the Civic Party, the Democratic Party, the Labour Party and the League of Social Democrats to be a cause of celebration; this since it shows that protest still is allowed in Hong Kong and, frequently too, that people still are able to laugh at -- not just depressed about -- those who believe they know best for Hong Kong, yet are so demonstrably out of touch with ordinary people and, frequently, everyday reality too!         

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Critter spotting highlights while hiking in a (now very) familiar part of Hong Kong

Not the usual perching pose one expects to see of a butterfly!
Earlier today, I saw a butterfly flit by while I was walking in Hong Kong.  While this is to be expected when hiking in the countryside on a summer afternoon (or even in the spring or sometimes even fall), it's not my usual experience when strolling about in a decidedly urban part of the Big Lyche on a winter's day, as was the case today!
And while we're talking about unusual: even though it's located on Hong Kong Island and one of the access points to it is within walking distance of not just one but two different MTR stations, Tai Tam Country Park (including its Quarry Bay Extension) actually is home to a number of wild creatures: some of which one simply doesn't expect to see so close to the city, and others of which are of the kind whose subspecies I didn't know existed -- period! -- until I cast my eyes upon them within this particular country park's borders!

As improbable as it may sound, I once saw -- but was unable to photograph, before it moved away -- a pretty large lizard (like the one I saw up on a tree over in Sai Kung East Country Park some time later) basking in the sun on the banks of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir.  Then there were the pair of copulating stink bugs (whose female member seemed intent on eating at the same time as making whoopie!), the crabs that I initially thought must have been dropped so far uphill by birds or some such creatures (but found out via a blog visitor actually have the woodlands as their natural habitat!), and such as the brightly colored, long-tailed lizards that I got to learn are called skinks

All in all, because the landscape of Tai Tam Country Park has become pretty familiar to me over the years, it's frequently the case that this or that cool critter spotting ends up being the highlight of my hike in this part of Hong Kong.  Of course, this is not to say that I have become immune to the scenic beauty of such as the Tai Tam Reservoirs or the views to be had from Violet Hill or Siu Ma Shan and Mount Butler.  But when you do such as cast your eyes for the first time on a type of creature you previously had not known existed, or even see a critter you're familiar with doing something you didn't expect, it really can feel pretty special and particularly cool! ;) 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Rising Above in Hong Kong

Rising Above in Hong Kong!

Inside the first ever exhibition of African American
history and culture in Asia 

In his acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for Best Original Song (along with John Legend) back in January 2015 for Selma's Glory, the artiste best known as Common (but named at the Academy Awards ceremony as Lonnie Lynn) gave a shout out to "the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy".  Maybe therein lies the reason why the Big Lychee also was given the honor of hosting the first ever exhibition of African American history and culture on the Asian continent. 

On since December 9th, 2016, Rising Above: The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection runs through February 26th of this year at the University of Hong Kong's University Museum and Art Gallery and features more than 120 items collected by philanthropist-entrepeneur Bernard W. Kinsey and his educator wife Shirley Pooler Kinsey that document and tell of African American struggles, tragedies, triumphs and contributions from 1604 through to the present.  

Among this special exhibition's artifacts that chilled me to the bone were a pair of iron shackles that had actually been worn by female slaves.  Also painful to behold was a letter from a slave owner about a young female slave he was selling -- and, in the process, separating from her family -- in order to have money to build stables for his horses; this especially when he disclosed that he had not told her what had happened, and also had asked her to carry and deliver it to her new owner.  

In addition, it's surely well nigh impossible for those who have viewed 12 Years a Slave to not recall heart-wrenching scenes from that fact-based film upon casting their eyes on an old, battered copy of Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir in the Kinsey Collection.  And powerful too -- and empowering as well? -- was the sight of Ava Cosey's Ancestor's Torch, which beautifully documents the many, many inventions by African Americans, which include the carbon filament for the light bulb (Lewis Latimer), the modern-day fireproof safe (Henry Brown), the modern-day gas mask (Garrett Morgan), mobile refrigeration (Frederick M. Jones) and potato chips (George Crum).

Rising Above: The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection is to be applauded for shedding light on the African American experience.  Admirably, those behind it also look to make connections with other communities.  As the museum's director, Florian Knothe, outlined in his foreword to this special exhibition: "rising above adversity is not a localised historic phenomenon but one as much known in Asia as in America."  

And while it was left officially unsaid, it surely is not entirely coincidental that the University of Hong Kong happens to be where the likes of Benny Tai are employed, and Yvonne Leung -- and further back in the past, no less a personage than the man who led a revolution that succeeded in overthrowing an imperial dynasty, Dr Sun Yat Sen -- studied! 

Friday, January 20, 2017

A message to my American friends on Donald Trump's inauguration day

This steep, granite stone-paved street in Central used to be 
the boundary between the parts of Hong Kong where white people 
were allowed to venture and Chinese people could live...

 Not so long ago, large swathes of the land one now is
able to look out at from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Building Observatories would have been bombed out and ruined...

Nothing is forever and this too shall eventually pass... In the meantime, fight the good fight, help to save our planet, and tell yourself that at some point, that man who's improbably become the 45th president of the United States of America -- and consequently also a man who holds the fate of thousands, if not millions, of people, Americans and non-Americans alike, in his hands -- will be unseated, and hopefully before too long!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Caught in anthropological webs of significance to this day ;)

A bunch of old posted ads caught my eye while
walking on a quiet Macau street one evening
The arrangement looked so photogenic I got to wondering
if it was an artificially crafted photo spot for tourists
But after looking up and seeing the state
of the building that it fronts, I think not! ;b
In what can seem like another lifetime, I studied anthropology and even thought for a time that I'd be a professional participant-observer for pretty much my whole life.  But while I've long left the groves of academe and feel obliged to confess to not having read -- or even re-read -- a serious anthropology tome for quite a few years now, I actually do believe that quite a bit of what I previously learnt from, and of, that humanistic social science has continued to stay with me.
For one thing, anthropology has made me see that race is not a biological fact but, instead, a socio-cultural construct, and this idea has very much affected the way I see the world and humanity in general, and interact with my fellow humans.  For another, it's given me the tools to feel at home in societies and cultures in which I wasn't born, and also ones to help me more deeply -- and sometimes also dispassionately -- analyze them as well as those into which I grew up in.  In so doing, I sometimes am able to see problems where others may not, but also appreciate -- and sometimes, even plain notice, and see interesting things in -- a lot of sociocultural elements that others don't.
For better or worse, this sometimes can make me feel different from people around me.  On a lighter note: my anthropological knowledge also can bring about moments, like earlier this evening, when I was watching Arrival, the cerebral sci-fi movie in which actress Amy Adams portrays a linguistics professor tasked with finding out how to communicate with mysterious aliens who have arrived on Earth, and her character and another discuss the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis -- and I got to getting the distinct feeling that I was the only person in the cinema who was familiar with it and even knew the full names of the two linguistic anthropologists it's named after!
And although I did blog about it years ago (and now belatedly realize that my blog's more than 10 years old after seeing how old that blog post now is!), I think it worth pointing out again that this very blog's title actually also has an anthropological connection: in that, it's inspired by a quote by the great cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz that "Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun..." which I very much believe to be true. :)