Sunday, December 31, 2017

Stellenbosch University graduation ceremony thoughts

At a Stellenbosch University graduation ceremony
Masters degree awardees waiting their turn on the staircase
On the fifth day of my visit to South Africa earlier this month, I spent several hours on the hottest day of my vacation (with temperatures rising up to 38 degrees Celsius) in a hot hall within Stellenbosch University that's normally used for sporting events such as basketball games but, on the day, was serving as the venue for the institution of higher learning's graduation ceremony.  Along with several hundred family members and friends of various degree and diploma recipients, I was at the kind of event that, upon leaving the groves of academe early this century, I had thought I'd not be witnessing again -- and definitely never thought that I'd be attending in South Africa, on the campus of an erstwhile bastion of Afrikaner culture and the Afrikaans language.
The joint oldest university in South Africa and the oldest extant university in Sub-Saharan Africa (with the University of Cape Town), Stellenbosch University was founded in 1866 as the Stellenbosch Gymnasium and went on to attain university status in 1918.  For a good part of its history, its primary medium of instruction was Afrikaans, and its student population and faculty composed only of people classified as "white" under South African Apartheid law.   
And although Apartheid had been abolished by the time the Afrikaner friend I was there to see get his Master's Degree was a Stellenbosch University undergraduate, I still was able on this trip to get a good idea of what he meant when he told me that for much of the time that he has lived in South Africa, he's not been spending much time with non-white people: not because he went out of his way to avoid doing so but because there really weren't that many non-white people around where he lived, studied and worked.  Put another way: much of the country remains segregated -- along economic lines that also often still mirror old "racial" ones.
At the graduation ceremony I attended at Stellenbosch, it was pretty noticeable that the majority of the people -- be they graduating students, their family members and friends, and the university faculty -- present in that hall were "white".  In addition, a glance at the names of the honorees also clearly revealed that there were more Afrikaners in the mix than, say, those of British descent or those who are more recognizably African in the eyes of many people.
Equally though, it was noticeable to me that Stellenbosch University had moved pretty far away from its "cradle of Apartheid" past.  Just two years after student protesters won the right to be taught in English at the university, English featured more prominently than Afrikaans in the speeches given at the graduation ceremony I attended, its program featured the use of all three official languages of the Western Cape: i.e., English and isiXhosa as well as Afrikaans, and I heard everyone around me singing -- with gusto -- the super beautiful and touching South African national anthem whose first two lines are in isiXhosa before continuing in Zulu, Sesotho and Afrikaans before concluding in English.
Beyond the multi-lingualism at the ceremony, I also found it really cool that the university's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, a man with the distinctly Afrikaner surname of de Villiers, not only (largely) spoke to the assembled audience in a language that wasn't his native tongue but also gave a speech that did such as reference and include a quote from a book by "British Nobel-prize-winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro".  In addition, I must admit to having been  rather surprised to see people of East Asian descent being among the degree recipients along with various individuals who are identifiably part of  "the Rainbow Nation", all of whom uniformly looked radiantly happy when accorded their moments of glory in front of a good-sized crowd of proud mamas, papas and the like! ;b

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fish and chips at -- and a sea lion spotting near -- Kalky's! :)

The one seafood meal I had while in South Africa!
Kalky's location is pretty hard to beat!
The sea lion that hangs out near the restaurant ;b
"South Africa is not famous for its food," my South African friend warned me prior to my heading over to his home country earlier this month.  But after issuing this caveat, he went on to tell me there are some foods and places that I should try during my visit; with the fish and chips at Kalky's over in the Kalk Bay suburb of Cape Town being at the top of his list.
A casual dining spot located right next to Kalk Bay's working harbor, Kalky's feels wonderfully unpretentious and, also, uncommonly for Cape Town, multi-ethnic as well as multi-generational in terms of its clientele.  When my friend and I were there for lunch, our fellow diners included an elderly white couple at one table and a "Coloured" family with young kids at another -- and I got the distinct impression that everyone one of them were regular patrons of this dining establishment.
Although he had gone on quite a bit about Kalky's fish and chips, my friend ended up ordering fried calamari to go with his chips when we were there even while making sure that I got the classic fried fish and chips!  To be fair though, he did allow me to try some of his portion of what turned out to be some really delicious calamari.  Also, the hake that I ordered -- with my other option being the more exotic and oilier snoek -- actually was pretty outstanding and may, in fact, have been the freshest fish I've had as part of a fish and chips dish ever! 
In addition, as strange as it may sound, my favorite part of a fish and chips dish often is the chips rather than the fish.  And so good were the chips at Kalky's -- especially after having copious amounts of malt vinegar and also the sweet chili sauce that I've come to associate with South Africa even while reminding me of Thai sweet chili sauce slathered over them -- that I really would have been happy to have had a chip butty for lunch there!  
While the food at Kalky's did leave me pretty happy, I felt at the end of our lunch that something was missing.  The thing is that when he first told me about this iconic dining establishment, my friend had mentioned that sea lion spottings were pretty much part and parcel of the Kalky's experience.  But I didn't see any of this creatures in the area... until we went for a walk around the harbor after lunch and lo and behold, we saw an actual sea lion swimming in the water before coming ashore just a few meters from the restaurant! ;D

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas in Hong Kong, with parachuting Santas in particular vogue this year ;b

Parachuting Santas look to have been the "in" thing 
this Christmas season in Hong Kong!
Rest assured though that there's quite the variety available
as far as Chrismas decorations go... ;b
It should be noted though that the seasonal decorations do 
focus more on snow than noticeably Christian motifs ;D
This time last year, I played host to two cousins -- one visiting from Singapore; the other from Australia -- and friends of one of them.  When they told me about their plans to come over to Hong Kong, I was actually rather surprised; this not least since this time of the year is when flights to (and out of) the Big Lychee and hotel accomodation here is at their most expensive.
Also, despite the city regularly seeing a big outflow of expats home for the holidays and also locals off on holiday in some other part of the world, there's a big enough inflow of visitors to make it so that tables at the more famous and popular restaurants can be hard to come by.  Consequently, I considered it quite the achievement last year to secure us reservations over the holiday period at eateries such as Mott 32 and The Chairman (the latter of whom's signature crab dish I still find myself thinking about fondly and pining for from time to time).
The thing that I found the most hilarious -- and also greeted with some incredulity -- was that my Melbourne-based cousin had told me that one major reason why he had thought it'd be great to visit Hong Kong this time of the year was so that he could see the Christmas lights.  For one thing, Hong Kong has light shows all year round.  Then there's the fact that the Christmas decorations are installed whole weeks before Christmas in this part of the world.  Indeed, this year, I actually caught sight of them as early as the week after Halloween!
When one considers that there aren't that many Christians in Hong Kong (with the Catholic congregation estimated at 379,000 and the Protestant population at 480,000 in a territory of some 7.3  million people), it's actually pretty amazing how ubiquitous Christmas decorations are in Hong Kong as well as how far in advance before Christmas they get put up.  Or maybe not when one considers that much of what passes for Christmas decorations here tend to be far to do with the birth of Jesus Christ and more to Santa Claus and winter -- so it's probably more accurate to describe the decorations as being festive and seasonal than Christmas ones per se.
Take this year's popular "Parachuting Santas" (which I first caught sight of while wondering around Sham Shui Po early last month), as an example: Honestly, now, what do they have to do with Christmas?  Actually, are parachuting Santas popular anywhere else than Hong Kong?!  I suppose than in a part of the world without chimneys and fireplaces, it makes more sense of Santa Claus getting into homes by parachute rather than down a chimney.  As for Santa Claus' popularity: I can't help but think that his being dressed in red -- a festive and auspicious color as far as ethnic Chinese people are concerned -- has something to do with it... ;b    

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Enjoying the Cape Winelands despite not being all that partial to wine! (Photo-essay)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I've been known to imbibe an alcoholic drink or two (or more!).  Indeed, I have to admit to wondering and worrying every once in a while if I have alcoholic tendencies.  However, a friend of mine who should know about this kind of stuff (since he started drinking at a young age and actually decided to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the age of 21) has assured me that this is not the case.  

After all, as he pointed out, I am able to stop after just one drink on more than one occasion.  Also, I actually taste my alcohol -- and actually dislike the taste of certain alcoholic beverages even while liking certain others very much.  And while I do love certain beers  and Japanese sake (aka nihonshu) very much, I reckon that wine is something I can take or leave for the most part.  

All this despite the efforts of such as a local South African wine conoisseur, who took me to five different wineries and got me to try more than 20 different wines over the course of just two days when I was in that major wine-producing country!  On the other hand, I did enjoy our drives around Cape Town's Constantia Valley and the Stellenbosh Winelands in our pursuit of fine wines.  And it's also true that many of the wineries that we visited are pretty enjoyably scenic in and of themselves, with the kind of surroundings that gets one thinking that nature and culture really can combine to produce something (visually) wonderful... ;b

The views at Constantia Glen really were ones to savor
(even if the wines didn't excite me so much)

Puppet Ponyo deemed this a pose-worthy location :)
The bar area at Steenberg Vineyards was 
aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to hang out at

And the views to be had there had one thinking
that this was/is what luxurious living was about!

Scenic view from the super bling Delaire Graff Estate

 Art and greenery abound in its expansive grounds

 Winelands abound at Tokara Wine Estate!

On the right occasion, and with the right company,
this could all seem close to paradisiacal... ;b

Friday, December 22, 2017

A scenic car ride along Chapman's Peak Drive and more!

On the Chapman's Peak Drive looking back at Hout Bay

 View of Hout Bay which takes in The Sentinel 
standing guard at its western mouth

 A view of Chapman's Peak and the spectacular ocean road 
which hugs the mountain's near-vertical face

Years ago, while my then regular hiking companion and I were on Hong Kong's Dragon's Back, we heard a fellow hiker exult as to how wonderful it was to be able to gaze down and out at the sea from atop a mountain; whereupon we beamed at each other and recognized, without having to say it out aloud, that it did feel pretty special to be able to have that experience along with those views.  

More than once when I was in South Africa, I found myself wishing I could go hiking up a mountain or two.  And while my top choice of mountain to ascend before my visit to that country would have been 1,085-meter-high Table Mountain, I now think that if I ever do return to do some hiking in that part of the world, my first choice peak to hike up would now actually be a less internationally renowned one located just a few kilometers away and is about half its height.

On this visit, I got to know of Chapman's Peak by way of being driven along the winding road carved into one side of this 593-meter-high southerly extension of the mountainous Constantiaberg section of the Cape Peninsula.  And almost needless to say: I'm so glad I wasn't behind the driver's wheel of any vehicle going along this roadway with 114 curves along its nine kilometer length.  

For one thing, close to every single one of those bends are on the hair-raising side.  For another, not having to concentrate on driving along them freed me up to enjoy the series of views which unfolded as the car I was in made its way along Chapman's Peak Drive!  And no, it's not hyperbole to state that these range from the splendidly scenic to breathtakingly spectacular -- and provide enough clues as to how absolutely incredible the vistas would be from atop the eponymous peak.

Adding to the wonder of it all is that even before the car got onto Chapman's Peak Drive, I already had felt that I was getting a serious visual treat on this particular car ride for Cape Town to Fish Hoek.  "You haven't got to the scenic part yet," the Capetonians in the car kept on telling me as I oohed and aahed at the sight of such as the beautiful beaches at Clifton and Camp's Bay, the granite formations off Llandudno, the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, whose waves were white tipped that windy afternoon, and the imposing mountain range known as the Twelve Apostles despite their having more than 12 buttresses as we went along Victoria Road!

Having now completed that entire ride, I now feel that I'm entitled to say that they're wrong.  Because the truth of the matter is that pretty much every part of the journey was scenic -- and do I feel ever so privileged and blessed to have been able to view it all! :) 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Critiquing Cape Town's Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

is a mesmerizing digital video installation piece
 Beer bottles prominently feature in Lungiswa Gquanta's 
works, including Divider installation at Zeitz MOCAA
 Julien Sinzogan shows with works like Choc des Cultures --
Bon Vent that figurative paintings still can make a big impact

Take a look at, never mind actually pay a visit to, Africa's largest contemporary art museum and it becomes abundantly clear that the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (aka Zeitz MOCAA) is located with an amazing building that's made all the more so by the makeover given to the former grain silo complex by British architect Thomas Heatherwick.  But what of the art on display within its walls, a good part of which is actually owned by ex-Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz?
While three out of four people I visited the museum with pronounced themselves wholeheartedly impressed, I got the sense that the fourth was less so -- and my own feelings were decidely mixed about what is a pretty diverse collection of art works, many of which appeared to be designed more to provoke and even disturb than to be, well, beautiful.  
Some would say that's par for the course with regards to contemporary art.  It's also true enough that: a number of the featured artists at Zeitz MOCAA are clearly still intent on showing that many wrongs that took place over the course of the continent's history have left much of Africa scarred to this day; and the sight of such as nooses and shackled people have an innate, visceral ability to chill and horrify, especially in a land whose history includes the enslavement and killing of tens of thousands, if not millions. 
But I also wonder how much of my emotional reactions to many of the works -- by artists from the African Diaspora as well as Africa itself -- came from my having to rely on my gut and heart to "get" their power and message because insufficient effort was made to help me intellectualize and understand what was on display in the galleries.  Put another way: even while much of the art on display seemed cutting edge, the exhibit style is decidedly old school in terms of little information being provided about the works of art beyond the name, birthdate and nationality of their creators, their medium and size, and who are their owners/donors.  
Back when this was the norm in art museums, the assumption often was that the only people who visited these establishments were cultural elites who shared the same culture -- and thus knowledge -- as the artists whose works had been deemed worthy of a place in these elite/elitist institutions.  But in the years and decades since, many art museums (including Amsterdam's amazing Rijksmuseum and Cologne's super-informative Wallraf-Ritchartz Museum) have come to collect and display art from more than one culture, society and civilization, and also have sought to attract a broader and wider audience than previously; and over the course of doing so, they have got to realizing that explanatory and interpretive labels -- and, in some cases, guided tours of the collections by art historians -- are often necessary as well as much appreciated.  
Something else that I found rather disconcerting during my visit to Zeitz MOCAA was how every visitor I saw there was "white" even while the vast bulk of the art works that they were checking out had been created by "black" people.  Perhaps the visitor composition is markedly different during those three hours a week when the museum's 180 Rand (~US$14.50 or HK$111) entry fee is waived for citizens of African countries or those special Museum Nights when admission is free to all.  But I have a feeling this might not be the case, given the entirely privately funded institution's location far from the areas of Cape Town where the bulk of its black African population reside (with distances made to feel even further due to the lack of good public transportation).
Amidst all this though, it's also true enough that I did find myself feeling drawn to, and touched by, a number of the works I saw at the museum.  In particular, I found William Kentridge's More Sweetly Play the Dance to be the rare video installation that I was happy to watch in its entirety, felt compelled to read every word in Glenn Ligon's Runaways series of lithographs which hauntingly imagines how the artist himself would be described on runaway slave posters, and loved how Lungiswa Gquanta made clever use of a number of empty beer bottles in more than one of her works.
For sheer emotional and intellectual impact though, the works of Julien Sinzogan are hard to beat.  His La Jetee illustration of multiple long rows of enslaved men, women and children headed towards big sailing ships bound for the other side of the Atlantic Ocean threatened to break my heart while his Choc des Cultures --Bon Vent hammered home the technological inequality that existed early on during the European-African encounter but, simultaneously, seemed to pay tribute to the resolve by the underdogs to nonetheless try to defend themselves even when the odds were greatly stacked against them.

Monday, December 18, 2017

From grain silo complex to Cape Town's Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCAA)

This former grain silo complex is now home to 

The startling sight that greets you upon your entering
The rooftop sculpture garden is one of the"must visit"
sections of the museum (aka Zeitz MOCAA)
The Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town is viewed by some people as a top visitor attraction and others as a major -- and over-priced -- tourist trap.  Since it's where the Nelson Mandela Gateway from which one boards the ferry to Robben Island (and one returns post tour) is located, I knew that I'd be spending some time there when in the city.  And as it so happens, this area also is now home to the largest contemporary art museum in Africa, hailed even before it officially opened its doors to the public on September 22nd this year as "Africa's Tate Modern"
Like the modern art branch of the Tate Gallery over in London, Cape Town's apparent answer to it is located in a local landmark that managed to survive years after its original purpose had come to an end.  Whereas the Tate Modern has its home in a former power station, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art is housed in a former grain silo complex which was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first four decades of its existence.  And even with its sharing several floors of space with a luxury boutique hotel, there's ample room for the expansive display of art works in the previously derelict building whose grand transformation cost more than 500 million South African Rand (~US$37 million at today's conversion rate).       
The addition of some 96 large geodesic windows on the top five floors of this largely concrete 1920s structure has glamorized its exterior quite a bit.  But the complex's truly mind-blowing visuals can only be seen after one enters it; starting at the museum multi-storey atrium that's home to Nicholas Hlobo's eye-catching Iimpundulu Zonke Ziyandilandela ("All the Lightning Birds Are After Me", in his native Kixhosa) and whose space feels simultaneous cathedral-like and organic in nature.

There's no two ways about it: as re-created by architect Thomas Heatherwick, the building that houses various artworks is itself a major work of art; and so much so that there is a real danger that the transformed monumental structure could overshadow the paintings, sculptures, photographs, video works and other, physically way smaller creative works on display in its nearly 20,000 square feet of exhibit space.  And, as a matter of fact, I did find myself far less interested in the sculptures installed in the sculpture garden on the top floor of the museum than the design components of that particular space -- and also the views to be had from there. 
On the other hand, I found myself mesmerized both by the art installed in the Dusthouse section of the former grain silo complex, Yinka Shonibare's dramatic, operatic Addio del Passato video work, and the cavernous four-storey "found space" where hazardous chaff was filtered from the adjoining industrial structures itself.  Furthermore, there were indeed many instances in which I could clearly see that the curators and exhibit designers had made great use of certain spaces within the museum as well as those where the art on display sucked me into the worlds they depicted and ensured that all of my focus was on them rather than their surroundings.  
To sum it all up: The Zeitz MOCAA is a museum where there's so much to be see -- and even be awed by; starting with its architecture but also including a good amount of the works (by, as it turns out, artists from the African Diaspora as well as the African continent itself) on display within the physically impressive complex's 80 white-walled gallery spaces.        

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Musings on a visit to Robben Island

The tiny cell on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela 
was confined for thousands of days and nights 
A former political prisoner tells visitors to the Robben Island Museum
about life and deprivations at the island's former maximum security prison
Lest we forget...
When I think of South Africa, I think of Nelson Mandela.  One of the world's very few genuinely great political leaders in recent memory, he's someone I felt -- and, actually, continue to feel, even after his death -- much admiration, respect and affection for.  So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the number one slot on my "must go to while in South Africa" list belonged to the island that was home to the maximum security prison where Madiba spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner.
Located just 11 kilometers or so from Cape Town, Robben Island is a small, fairly flat and rocky island in Table Bay that's home to more than 130 species of birds (including African penguins!) but doesn't have any trees indigenous to it.  And while generally accessible these days by way of an approximately 30 minute ferry ride from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the city's Victoria and Alfred waterfront, the ride can be a choppy one even on a fine day due to its waters regularly being subject to rough Atlantic swells.
The usual arrangement these days is to go on an official tour of what's now the Robben Island Museum that includes a bus tour to see various parts of the island (including what's left of a former leper cemetery, the house where Robert Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement for years, and the limestone quarry where political prisoners were required to work for at least six hours a day) and a guided tour of the former facility where Nelson Mandela and a number of other political prisoners -- including Walter Sisulu, Ahmad Kathrada and Tokyo Sexwale -- were locked up for thousands of days and nights by a former political prisoner.  

Something that's made patently clear over the course of the tour is that Robben Island has long housed individuals that ruling regimes felt a need to isolate from the rest of society, for one reason or other.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch sent political prisoners from their various colonies (including religious leaders from the former Dutch East Indies (contemporary Indonesia)) there.  In the 19th century, it was the turn of the British: who banished rebellious Xhosa rulers to the island and also established a leper colony on it.  And in the 20th century, the "whites only" government of South Africa set up prisons there, the last of which only closed down in 1996 -- five years after the fall of Apartheid and two years after Nelson Mandela became the country's President.
Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, Robben Island is -- like Hiroshima's Genbaku (aka Atomic Bomb) Dome -- a place where there are physical reminders of humanity's ability to inflict much suffering on others, yet also stands to remind us that people can triumph against much adversity and also can have a surprising, almost miraculous, ability for goodwill even for those who some might think would be their natural enemies based on their actions and/or those of their forefathers.
In particular, I can't help but think of Nelson Mandela: imprisoned in a tiny and very spartan cell for years on end, his eyesight damaged by the dust and glare of the sunlight when he labored in the lime quarry, subjected to various humiliations and other psychological stresses as well as physical discomfort, he managed to emerge from a total of 27 years of imprisonment with his sanity, intellect and humanity intact.  As the (white) South African friend I went to visit Robben Island with remarked: "We were very lucky".  As for me: suffice to say that I came away even more impressed by, and in awe of, the greatness of that man.       

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The gem of a local haunt that is Fish Hoek Beach (Photo-essay)

On the very first morning of my South Africa visit, I went to the local beach in the southern suburb of Cape Town that I stayed in for the first half of the trip.  Located approximately 34 kilometers away from the center of the Mother City, the 1.5-kilometer-long beach at Fish Hoek, the waters going up to it and the area surrounding it are quite the sights to behold.  In fact, so lovely did I find it that I ended up going there twice more before I left the area! 

Although it's already summer in South Africa, it most definitely was not warm enough for me to be willing to do much more than dip a few centimeters of my feet into the water.  Instead, I was content to stroll along Jager's Walk, the path leading around the side of the beach, and also set foot for a bit on Fish Hoek Beach's wonderfully fine sands -- unlike the intrepid (and insane?) women and men (the majority of them past retirement age!) who braved the cold to swim in the waters of False Bay, even during windy conditions that accompanied temperatures low enough for me to consider it flannel shirt weather...

Early morning at Fish Hoek Beach but the sun was 
already high up in the sky and shining very brightly

So strongly did the sun shine that when I aimed my camera
directly at it, it turned color into black, white, silver and gray! 

Rest assured though that I did manage to snap
some colorful shots of the surroundings ;b

So you, too, can marvel at how blue 
and clear the waters were! :)

The second morning I went to the beach, 
Puppet Ponyo made sure to tag along :)

With the tide on the low side, there was lots of beach to 
walk on -- and admire the views from it -- in the morning 

At "golden hour", I loved the look of the silhouettes in the distance

 I also enjoyed the different colors that I can't actually
decide look cool or warm, so I'll say that they were both ;b

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Back to Africa again after all these years... :)

Panoramic photo taken on my first morning in South Africa :)

The kind of amazing vistas I was privy to on a road trip
on day six of my recent South Africa visit :b

Lest there be any doubt, of course Puppet Ponyo
was there for the ride and experience ;b
Back in the summer of 1986, I went to Africa -- specifically Kenya, the home country of a boarding school friend -- for the first time.  In the decade after, I'd go on to re-visit that East African country, and also spend two years in Tanzania as well as set foot in Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Since 1996, however, I had not been back on the African continent: that is, until a week and a half ago.
As with my first visit to Africa, I had the good fortune to be invited to accompany a friend on a visit back home.  After many years of hard work, my regular drinking buddy here in Hong Kong had finished his Masters degree studies and was headed back to South Africa to receive his degree and spend time with various members of his family.  And at Sake Bar Ginn one evening a couple of months ago, he asked if I'd like to go with him on this trip.  
Before he had the time to change his mind, I quickly said "Yes, please!"  The truth of the matter is that South Africa is one of those countries I've long wanted to visit -- not least because Nelson Mandela was/is one of my greatest heroes -- and my South African friend's home city of Cape Town just happens to be the number one part of the country that I wanted to spend time in.
Before the trip, my friend and I had a number of conversations as to what I wanted to do there, what he wanted to show me as well as were "must do"s as far as he was concerned, and what to expect while there -- bad and good.  Post visit, I will say that I actually didn't get to see or do everything on my list but I also got to see and do a lot more than I had thought would be the case.  
Put another way: I ended up going to some famous places but also a number of gems that are beloved by locals but (for some unknown reason or other) haven't been covered much -- if at all -- in tourist guides.  And, as those of you who deign to check out the blog posts I'll be offering up in the next few weeks should soon realize, I really do consider my South African trip to be one of those trips of a lifetime that's chock-filled with the sort of sights and experiences that will stay long in my memory. :)       

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hong Kong is beautiful, especially on high visibility days

Panoramic view from Devil's Peak one day in late November

 Panoramic view from the edge of Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter

Some years ago, I happened to be in Hong Kong when the air pollution was so bad that I seriously wondered whether I could ever live here.  Making things worse was that this was back when smoking was still allowed in restaurants and bars in the territory; and at one old school Chinese restaurant that I was taken to by a family friend, the air was so smoke-filled and well nigh unbreathable that I actually got nauseous and had to stagger out of and leave the place midway through dinner!

Happily, Hong Kong enacted a smoking ban in indoor public spaces on January 1st, 2007; and four months after that happening, I moved to the Big Lychee.  Over the more than 10 years now that I've been here though, there still have been times when I've found myself in a nicotine smoke-filled bar since it seems that certain local bars are happy to flout the law and don't seem to have been shut down or otherwise heavily penalized for doing so.  Still, it does please me tremendously that there now is a wide choice of bars and restaurants for me to spend time in without inhaling second hand cigarette smoke and having the clothes I wear into them smell rank for days afterwards.  

Unhappily though, there still are days when the air pollution levels here have been on the dismal and even alarming side; often thanks in no small part to the north winds blowing polluted air from Mainland China over here (though it's not like there aren't such as coal-powered power stations, sulphur-emitting container ships and thousands of petrol- and diesel-fueled vehicles on this side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border).  Often, the powers-that-be seek to pin the blame on typhoons for the hazy and smoggy conditions that regularly precede their arrival but what of those other days when the smog levels are high but there are no typhoons any where near Hong Kong?

As I've stated before on this blog: beautiful (blue) skies should not be uncommon sights in Hong Kong.  But because they can't be taken for granted in this part of the world, especially in the cooler months of the year, I've become one of those people who can get uncommonly happy when beautiful bright blue skies are seen over the Big Lychee -- as has been the case several times these past few weeks despite it now being officially autumn, if not winter here in Hong Kong!

Honestly though, when you see sights like those in the panoramic photos at the top of this blog post (which, more than by the way, can be enlarged by clicking on them), it can be difficult to stop oneself from beaming broadly and feeling like so much is right with the world.  Put another way: Hong Kong really is beautiful, especially on days with visibility so high -- since the air pollution's low -- that you can clearly see that it is so.