Thursday, May 31, 2018

Crazy luxurious decor at Madrid's Palacio Real that I wish I could have photographed (and need to be seen to be believed!)

View of Madrid's Palacio Real (Royal Palace) 
from its Plaza de la Armeria

 One of the first sights to greet visitors
entering into the palace proper
The Guard Room is the only room in the palace where 
photography is allowed -- probably because it's one of the
more modestly decorated rooms in the complex!

It used to be that photography was not allowed in museums.  But in recent years, I've seen photography -- so long as it doesn't involve the use of a flash, and, increasingly, tripod or selfie stick too -- to be allowed in museums as celebrated as Amsterdam's amazing Rijksmuseum along with various museums in Spain, Norway, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan and elsewhere. 

I've also been allowed, to my surprise, to take photographs in Amsterdam's royal palace.  So part of me was expecting to be allowed to take photographs in the sections of Madrid's royal palace (palacio real) in which visitors are allowed (albeit for a fee, of course), only to find that was sadly not the case.

Although a part of me wonders if this is for the security reasons, a larger part of me suspects that this is the case in order to encourage the purchase of souvenir photobooks: both because of the commercial nature of the website of the state agency which administers this and other Spanish royal palaces and sites, and the incredible eye candy offered up in many of the rooms of the largest palace, when measured by floor area, in Europe.

Built on the site of a Muslim fortress, construction on the Palacio Real took place in the middle of the 18th century and it was the royal residence of Spanish monarchs up until the great-grandfather of the current Spanish king who, like his father before him, prefers to make his home in a more modest palace on the outskirts of Madrid.  And while it can seem kind of wasteful for the Spanish royal family to live in another royal palace (that the state presumably then also has to pay to maintain), I could imagine people going crazy (a la Bavaria's Mad King Ludwig) if they were to spend a large amount of time in the kind of over-the-top surroundings I saw on my visit to the Palacio Real.

For me, absolutely the most insane looking space of all was the room in which Charles III (1716-1788) dressed and received special audiences.  Known as the Chamber of Charles III (or the Gasparini Room, after its Neapolitan designer), the entire room was done up in the late Baroque-Rococo style and designed as a single, super ornate gold-green-pick ensemble, complete with detailed stucco work (including of "Chinese people" in the corners of the ceilings) seemingly in every bit of space not filled by ceiling frescoes, marble furnishings or silk embroidery!

If there was one room I could photography, it would have been it.  Meanwhile, my German friend appeared most taken by great hall of the palace's armory in which was displayed the massive personal armor wardrobe of not one but two Spanish kings and much more besides.  It's hard to imagine that items whose primary purpose was related to warfare can be so ornately designed and decorated.  But, then, the fact of the matter is that they were made for royalty after all, and often came to be worn at ceremonies rather than (just) the battlefield.

At one point during our visit, I shared with her that I could easily see the royals who lived in places like this thinking that they were an entirely different species or breed, not just class, of being from the hoi polloi.  To which she added the suggestion that this would be such a dangerous disposition in leaders and why she, for one, is happy that her country has done away with royalty.

Something else that I came away from there (and the likes of Versailles) thinking is that seeing crazy luxurious stuff like this makes me understand better why the French Revolution happened, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoniette were accorded such violent ends.  Still, I know others have different thoughts and reactions when seeing unabashed luxury like this.  After all, the week that I visited the Palacio Real, the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took place and was accorded major news coverage not only by the British media but also the likes of CNN and newspapers in Spain!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Encountering the historical, charming, tacky and more while walking through central Madrid (Photo-essay)

On the morning of my second full day in Madrid, my German friend and I decided to walk from out hotel by the Spanish capital's museum neighborhood (where such as the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza are located) over to the center of the city.  Our primary destination was the Palacio Real but we took our time getting there, making sure to choose a route that'd take us past some major landmarks. 

After spending a few hours at the official residence of the Spanish royal family and another couple of hours or so enjoying a big and leisurely lunch at the nearby Plaza de Oriente, we meandered back to our hotel via a different route.  In the process, we got to see quite a few sights -- some of which impressed me, others less so...

The Plaza Mayor is large as well as visually impressive
(and I bet it'd be even more so if there hadn't been a bunch of
portaloos placed in the center for use by open air concert attendees!)
Puppet Ponyo poses in the center of the square
with the equestrian statue of Philip III :)
I found the smaller Plaza de la Villa nearby to be far less 
crowded and, consequently, tranquil and charming 

Having taken 100 years to build, the Almudena Cathedral
located next to the Palacio Real (and on the site where a mosque
once stood), was only consecrated in 1993
On one side of the church of San Ginés at Calle de Arenal
is a bookstore that's been there since 1650! 
As far as I'm concerned, the super crowded Puerta del Sol is 
touristy, tacky and the kind of place where pickpockets thrive
 I was so out of there soon after snapping this photo
of the back of an Uncle Sam-costumed Mickey Mouse
carrying Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty balloons in its hands!
Meanwhile, demonstrators, including those calling for the protection
of marine life, clogged up yet another of Madrid's many plazas

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Caring for and thinking about the environment while at the beach

Beach clean-up on Lamma on Sunday
View from the beach at Cheung Chau yesterday
Late last week, I returned from Spain to a Hong Kong experiencing a record-breaking heat wave -- and although I wish it wasn't the case, the "very hot weather" warning days have continued into this new week.  Having already decided some months back that I'd halt the monthly Cheung Chau beach clean-ups I've been organizing for the past year or so (and taking part in for even longer) when summer came along, I ended up also cancelling this month's beach clean-up after foreseeing a low turn-out, given the demanding conditions, but also because I had signed on some time back for another beach clean-up the same weekend over at Lamma.
Organized by (some of) the same folks behind the emergency beach clean-ups prompted by the palm oil spill last summer, the long planned event in aid of the green turtles which have been known to nest on Lamma's Sham Wan beach attracted over 2,000 volunteers, many of them Filipina and Indonesian helpers on their Sunday off, despite the searingly hot temperatures.  
Although we were originally scheduled to clean the beach at Sham Wan, it seemed that the government had been freaked out by the idea that so many civilians would descend on that sandy beach -- and probably more so, at the thought that we'd find it a mess rather than that we'd make it so -- that on the day itself, it deployed some 100 Marine Police to clean the beach and also had been having others going hard at it for the two weeks immediately before that!
Rather than decide that there no longer was anything we could do, the participants of the #cleanforturtles event went ahead and set to cleaning up the beach next to Sham Wan.  Shek Pai Wan, about an hour's hike away from the main Lamma ferry pier, was scoured for trash, in particular  microplastics that newly hatched baby turtles often fatally mistake for nutritious food and end up ingesting early on in their consequently prematurely shortened lives.      

As one of the event participants remarked: you think the beach is clean but it turns out to not be so when you look closer.  So often what looks like sand turns out to be a plastic microbead or a kernel of styrofoam -- and I speak from experience when I tell you that they can be more difficult to pick up and get rid off as well as spot than larger items of trash such as the plastic bottles and styrofoam boxes that I must admit to being really upset by when I see them strewn about a beach that could otherwise be oh so beautiful.
One day later, I took a friend visiting from the US and her 10-year-old son over to Cheung Chau.  Learning from the previous day's experience, we planned our excursion for the latter part of the day, when things were a few blessed degrees cooler than a few hours before.  With the added pleasure of sea breezes helping to fan the island at times, Cheung Chau managed to charm once more. 
Spying the beach and water early on during our visit, it was inevitable that the boy would end up happily splashing about in the sea for the greater part of an hour while his mother and I watched from the shore (though it's also true enough that his mother also would be unable to resist going and dipping her toes -- and a bit more! -- in the water for a few minutes).  And this especially since the mother had remarked on how clear the water was and we had seen the sign pronouncing that the beach water quality was indeed optimally high there that day. 
Sitting on the beach that's among those looked after by the Leisure and Culture Services Department (LCSD), I tried to enjoy myself too for the most part but couldn't help noticing the microplastics, pieces of glass and cigarette butts that still could be found on Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Beach.  To be sure, much of it wasn't all that obvious unless you made a point -- like I had done -- to look.  Even so, I wish it wasn't the case: that is, that we don't usually think something is a problem unless we actually notice it as well as that we don't seem to care that much for the environment in which we live, play and move about, and -- this with regards to the air -- breathe.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Color, revelation and drama at Madrid's Museo Nacional Thyssen-Borenemisza

It's not only the art on display at Madrid's 

Not the type of image that comes to mind when
one thinks of works by Pablo Picasso, right?

Also, this is not your typical painting of a saint, right? :O

For first-time visitors, Madrid can feel overwhelming.  It's not just that the Spanish capital is one of Europe's largest cities but the fact of it having some really wide thoroughfares along with narrow streets that can seem more like lanes or alleys, some thoroughly impressive -- and imposing -- looking architecture, and a reputation for being where many pickpockets lurk.  Throw in a disconcertingly sizable population of outright beggars along with buskers and one can feel rather stressed and intimidated when walking about the city.

In situations like this, I often resort to going to place where I feel comfortable and safe, and which can introduce me to the city's cultural riches and heritage.  Put another way: I make a museum my first port of call in the new city -- and in the case, I chose a doozy in the form of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Opened on October 8th, 1992, this art museum located across the street from the Museo del Prado is very much the younger and smaller sibling of the behemoth established close to two centuries ago.  But I found this over 50 room museological establishment very much a visit and ended up spending almost the whole day in there!

Putting on my museologist hat: I really liked that this modern museum opted to have quite a bit of color on its walls, and sometimes on its floors and ceilings too, rather than just go for the "white cube" look favored by many contemporary art galleries.  Rather than diminish the art on display within the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, I reckon that the often warm colors in the background often made the paintings foregrounded on them -- especially those with darker hues favored in certain periods of art history -- feel warmer, more vibrant and accessible.

Moving on to the paintings: I found myself being intrigued by the early works of Pablo Picasso on display in the museum, including the Harlequin with a Mirror painted in 1923.  To those who are familiar only with the artist's later works and think that he produced those Cubist and abstract works because he couldn't create realistic representations: just check those early works out to see how wrong you are -- but know that, at the same time, I'm with you in reckoning that he maybe should have stuck with realistic depictions as those that he produced are really beautiful indeed!

Another, much older painting that caught my eye early on during my visit to the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza was The Beheading of Saint Januarius by Italian Baroque painter Mattia Preti.  For one thing, it's not all that common to see a black person in a painting by a European artist, never mind being depicted as a saint rather than servant or slave.  (In comparison: I actually can't recall seeing a single Asian individual depicted in a work on display at the museum -- although, funnily enough, there were quite a few books about Asian artists and art, including Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Ozu's Tokyo Story.)

Then there's the dramatic subject of the painting -- though, as I continued moving through the museum and also came across such as Bernini's sculpture of Saint Sebastian, I got to remembering the predilection of whole eras of European artists for depicting various martyred saints along with tortured Christs.  Indeed, if I had known how many depictions of terribly tortured saints along with Jesus Christ that I'd cross paths with in many a Spanish church or cathedral as well as museum... Well, let's just say at this point that I ended up seeing my fair share and leave it at that!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Out-Spanishing the Spanish on our first night out in Spain?

The first dish I ordered in Spain

My second dish at the same restaurant

What I had for dessert that evening ;b

Essentially, whenever I journey to another continent, I mentally write off the first day that I'm in the country I've flown to as my routine involves resting, if not outright sleeping, for much of it in a bid to overcome jet lag.  So, after flying into the country and getting over to my accomodation from the airport, pretty much the only other time I actually am out doing anything fairly active on my first day there is when I go out for dinner.  

In the case of my recent Spain trip, since my German friend was familiar with my intercontinental routine, she made a point to arrive late enough on my first day for me to have had a good amount of rest but in time to meet up with me in time for what would be a late dinner by our usual standards but was a regular time for the Spanish.  More specifically, it was after 10pm when we finally set off to dine at a restaurant in what turned out to be a great tapas row near our Madrid hotel.

At Taberna Maceira, a rustic eatery serving up Galician specialties that looked welcoming enough that evening, we settled down for the first meal of our Spanish holiday.  After ordering a glass of beer (which I found to be pretty palatable for the nice low price charged!), I decided on a dish that I read about in Pete Brown's entertaining Three Sheets to the Wind.

Pimientes de Padron supposedly consists of a few hot green peppers nestled among a largely not hot bunch.  However, neither my German friend nor I found any green pepper that had a heat level that bothered us -- or, more pertinently, rivalled any chili pepper we've encountered in Asia.  Still, it was an enjoyable enough appetizer that we were both happy to dig into.

In contrast, I was my own for the two other dishes of the night that I ordered.  If my friend were less leery of eating shellfish, I think she also would have enjoyed the navaras (razor clams) served up at the restaurant.  Garnished with garlic and parsley, rather than chilis and black bean sauce more favored by the Cantonese, it was a nice treat -- and gave me an inkling that the Spanish like to eat a lot of things (shellfish, pig and innards come to mind) that are not unlike the Chinese!  And while my friend's not averse to eating cheese, her sweet tooth made her opt for a sweeter dessert than mine, even though my cheese actually ended up being novelly drizzled with honey!    

While savoring our desserts, my German friend and I got to realizing that we were the only customers left in the restaurant.  Somehow, on our first night in Spain, it seems that we had gotten to out-Spanishing the Spanish as far as eating dinner late was concerned without even having tried all that hard to do so! ;b

Friday, May 25, 2018

First blog post after my first trip to Spain!

The kind of scenery that's par for the course 
when travelling from one part of Spain to another
Bucolic scene seen from a bus window
A government building in Madrid
I returned to Hong Kong yesterday afternoon from a trip that took me back to Europe for the first time since early 2016 (which saw me spending the New Year that year as well as Christmas 2015 in the Netherlands).  Like on that previous vacation, I changed planes on both my way from and back to Hong Kong in German airports.  So, thanks to the Schengen set up, the first two stamps on the new passport I got a couple of months ago bear German imprints even though I actually was visiting Spain this time around rather than Deutschland!
Although I had never set foot in Spain before this trip, I already was familiar with a number of Spanish words (including the important gracias (thank you) and cerveza, por favor (beer, please)!) and, also, as befits the country having been a major cultural as well as political power in centuries past, was familiar with the names and works of personalities such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velazquez and Francisco Goya.  Actually, at my undergraduate college, I not only learnt to appreciate the works of a number of Spanish master painters in art history classes but I actually also had taken a couple of Spanish language courses!
In view of my love of art and museums, and preference for pre-20th century art rather than the more modern stuff, Madrid, with its Prado, most definitely was on my list of places in Spain that I considered a "must visit".  After discussions and negotiations with my German friend (who I've travelled with to Indonesia, the Netherlands and Luxembourg with as well as hung out with in Germany, Malaysia and Hong Kong), we also agreed to spend time in the Andalusian cities of Cordoba (whose Mezquita we wanted to check out), Sevilla (which a Spanish colleague of hers had highly recommended visiting) and Granada (whose Alhambra may well be the single most famous historic site in the country).
In addition, I ended up going by myself on day trips to the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo at El Escorial and Segovia, which the blogger behind the great Paul's Travel Pics had named as his favorite Spanish town.  In the process, I ended up visiting five of Spain's 40 UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites in the little more than a fortnight that I spent in that cultural heritage-rich country (as well as taking four long journey train rides and another four bus rides that took me from Madrid to places not that far away geographically, yet often felt like different worlds)!
All in all, I managed to see quite a bit more of Spain than I thought I would be able to do on this one trip there.  And despite fears (mainly, if truth be told, on the part of my German friend) that all seats would be booked up way in advance on the transport that we wanted to take, we not only managed to make the reservations we wanted and I actually was able to buy bus tickets on the day of my travels.  In addition, thanks in part to tips doled out in Rick Steves' trusty Spain guidebook, we were able to beat the crowds for the most part -- though it's also true that the terrible throngs we encountered in Cordoba played a big part in my ending up deciding to forego visiting Toledo (despite my passion for El Greco) for fear that that ancient city would be the most packed with tourists of all.  
On a food note: Spanish food is one of those cuisines I found myself happy to eat day in, day out for more than two weeks -- and yes, I did go ahead and order Spanish jamon (Serrano, Iberico and even Iberico de Bellota) on several occasions!  Even larger than my jamon consumption was my consumption of Spanish beer.  And yes, I admit it: I do count it as one the highlights of the trip that draft beer is available so readily and cheaply in that part of the world! ;b

Monday, May 7, 2018

Off the beaten path near far more touristy parts of Hong Kong! (Photo-essay)

Many years ago, I had a conversation with someone who, after visiting Hong Kong a couple of times as a tourist, claimed to know it like a native.  "How different can the local and tourist views be?", he challenged me to tell him at one point.  Among the things I went ahead and pointed out to him was that there is so much more to Hong Kong than what appears on tourist maps.  Something which I didn't even get to telling him was that, even in the areas covered on tourist maps, you can turn a corner or veer off the beaten path and suddenly find yourself on the road less travelled, especially by tourists.   

Take, as an example, the Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau Island (as opposed to the less well known Ngong Ping plateau in Ma On Shan Country Park).  Home to the Big Buddha, it is accessible via a number of hiking trails as well as (more easily) by bus and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride.  But while the areas near the Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping 360 Village (which is much less of a real village than artificial tourist trap) are often full of tourists, once you get on a hiking trail just steps away from them (including that which leads all the way down to Tung Chung), the crowds will suddenly become non-existent and you'll feel as though you've entered a different, more enchanting world... :)

Hike a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of
the touristy parts of Ngong Ping and you'll be here... ;b

It can be as quiet at ground level in this area of Hong Kong
as it is several meters above it in a cable car ;b
On the way downhill, one passes by quieter monasteries 
and spaces set aside for spiritual retreats
One of the rubber gloves set out to dry atop a fence by a farm plot 
seems to be seeking to assure us that everything's A-OK!
Most definitely not your usual Hong Kong abode
Lotus pond in the grounds of the appropriately-named Lotus Pond Temple
On this hike, I was happy to find a colorful dragonfly
that willing to pose for photos too :)))

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A scenic urban walk on a late spring day

I found myself looking up a lot early on in today's walk :)

One reason for this: the reflections on the glass surfaces
of a number of the high rise buildings I passed along the way!
Later on in the walk, it was the clouds 
that particularly caught my eye ;b
Today was one of those days where the blue skies and high visibility Hong Kong enjoyed made it so that I was loathe to not spend some time outdoors but, at the same time, didn't feel like a strenous hike on account of the temperatures and humidity levels being among the highest we've had in quite a while.  So rather than head out to one of Hong Kong's 24 country parks or 11 designated special areas, I went on a long urban walk that took me past six MTR stations instead!
As is to be expected of pretty much any walk in a city that has the most skyscrapers in the world, my route took me past several high-rises.  While I've generally become pretty blasé about their existence, today was one of those days where quite a few of them -- particularly those whose exteriors are almost entirely covered by reflective glass -- caught my eye on account of the images of bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds that appeared on them, and got me thinking that Hong Kong really can be so beautiful on fine weather days.      

At North Point, near the government offices where Infernal Affair's rooftop scenes were shot, I got on to the popular waterfront promenade that stretches over to Shau Kei Wan, broken only over a short stretch at Sai Wan Ho, just as a large cruise ship sailed by.  Also making waves in Victoria Harbour this afternoon were a number of junk boats laden with revellers returning from a day out that I'm sure included quite a bit of boozing and feasting along with water sports!    
With the water looking on the choppy side due to there being quite a strong breeze blowing, I was happy to be on land rather than on a boat this afternoon.  Walking along the harborfront, I also was privy to some really splendid views of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon (including several of its hills) that were made all the more striking on account of the sky containing many fast moving as well as voluminous clouds.
Although some of the clouds looked on the threatening side, no rain fell while I was outdoors this afternoon.  So the only reason why my clothing was on the damp side by the end of the walk was because of the perspiration I had shed along the way, and got me feeling that I had got in a healthy amount of exercise even without hiking up and down any hills this late spring day! ;b 

Friday, May 4, 2018

What I couldn't do this past week after having wisdom tooth surgery!

The kind of food I've been pining to eat this past week
but haven't felt able to do so...
I ate this happily this past Monday though! :)
One week ago today, I had emergency wisdom tooth surgery, and only finally got the stitches put in last Friday removed this afternoon.  While the dental procedure itself took around just 30 minutes, the trauma of not being able to eat (and drink) a whole bunch of stuff lasted much longer.  Indeed, although I was told that it was okay for me to consume rice along with other soft foods after the local anaesthetic had worn off and my mouth stopped bleeding (which, by the way, took a few hours longer than the estimated one hour or so after the operation), I actually only finally felt confident enough to do so this evening (and proceeded to have an unagi don (eel rice bowl) for dinner!).
With my dentist having been fairly casual about post surgery procedures, I honestly thought that it all wouldn't be too traumatic -- or, at the very least, that the worst thing about the removal of my wisdom tooth would be the surgery itself.  So imagine my shock when I set about consuming a dish of soft-boiled eggs for dinner the first evening after my wisdom tooth surgery, only to discover that even that apparently "safe" food caused part of my mouth to sting like the blazes -- and this despite my being on painkillers along with two different types of antibiotics and "anti-swelling" medication!
Determined not to have any more unnecessary shocks, I went and searched for information online about what one can safely and comfortably eat post wisdom tooth surgery, what to generally expect in the coming days, etc.  And yes, I know that one should not and cannot believe everything one read on the internet but I have to say that I did come across my share of useful information that must have been correct since I've now been told, one week after following them, that my mouth is healing nicely (though, my dentist has belatedly informed me, full recovery will come only after two months!).
For those of you who want to be better prepared prior to going through the experience, the following are a few essential "must not dos" that I adhered to this past week: Do not eat hard -- especially crunchy but also spicy -- foods; do not eat small foods (like poppy seeds, sesame seeds or even rice) that can get in the empty tooth socket; do not brush your teeth for 24 hours (and while it's okay to generally do so afterwards, make sure to steer clear of the newly empty tooth socket); do not gargle hard or with regular mouthwash (like Listerine) for at least the first few days; and do not drink carbonated as well as alcoholic drinks.  And, actually, if you're given metronidazole as one of your antibiotics (as I was), don't drink any alcohol until at least 48 hours after you stop taking it; and if you're given tinidazole, make it so that you don't consume any alcohol until three days after you stop taking it.
Despite my fondness for a tipple (particularly sake), I've actually missed drinking alcohol far less than being able to eat hard, crunchy snacks like nuts, crisps and rice crackers, and spicy foods.  (Also, while I craved land meats the first few days, that craving actually went away over time even while the craving for crunchy snacks stayed and even increased!)  In addition, the "no carbonated drinks" rule was also difficult for me on account of my fondness for sparkling as well as still water.  So after I got my stitches out this afternoon, I decided to celebrate by eating a pack of crunchy sesame seed biscuits (cookies in American English) and a bottle of peach soda! 
Something else that those who have had wisdom tooth surgery are recommended to do is to take things easy for the first day or two afterwards.  For many, going and taking part in a beach clean-up which includes a 45 minute hike to the beach and another 45 minute hike out might be considered too strenous an undertaking during this period.  But, well, I did it (and also a more demanding hike a few days later) and wasn't any worse for doing so -- for which I'm very glad! 

Should anyone wonder, I was inspired to write all this by my coming across a blog post entitled Things People Never Tell You When You Go For Wisdom Teeth Extraction and finding it helpful and interesting.  For, among other things, I'm so in agreement with that blogger about people tending to focus on the wisdom tooth surgery but not what comes after (aka "the healing part") -- which, frankly, ended up being far more worry-inducing (think dry socket fears galore!) than I realized would be the case! ;S

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Nature's beauty and a pox on those who despoil it!

Not all Hong Kong beaches are super filthy!

Creators of mess in public areas ought to be punished!

Early last week, I took two visitors from England on a whirlwind tour of Lantau Island that included a ride on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car and time out at the Ngong Ping plateau and in the village of Tai O.  At the last destination, I figured that the Yeung Hau Temple would make for a visual highlight -- only to find that the splendor of its surroundings on the edge of the water was somewhat negatively affected by the beach nearby having quite a bit of trash strewn about it.

Elsewhere in the village, we also came across unsightly amounts of rubbish by the banks of the waterways that course through a good part of Tai O.  And, as I documented in my post last Saturday about how doing beach clean-ups can feel like embarking on a Sisyphean task, I came across still more -- and, in fact, even worse -- garbage-strewn sights at Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Tsai (Coral Beach) over the weekend.  

So I must say that I was expecting to encounter a pretty ugly scene over at Lo Kei Wan, a beach with a camp site located pretty close to Section 9 of the Lantau Trail that a friend and I hiked along yesterday; this particularly after my friend mentioned earlier on in the hike that she had read of Hong Kong's public beaches having been invaded by Mainland Chinese tourists over the weekend.  And the portends were indeed not too good as we approached that section of Lantau South Country Park, with strong smells emanating from the public toilet located there and there being campers lolling about in the area.

But while the beach at Lo Kei Wan was not quite pristine, it actually was far cleaner looking as well as uncrowded than I had expected that it would be!  Something else that I couldn't help but notice was how beautifully fine the sand on it was.  As for the views from there: my friend was moved to suggest that it compared with some over in the South Pacific! 

In a perfect world, the fact that Hong Kong that has such natural beauty should inspire and move people to go out of their way to ensure that their environs be as clean as possible.  But in our far from perfect world, it seems not to be in the nature of many people to actually care about the environment and make a point to not despoil it.  

Here's the thing: I know it's difficult to get people to clean up messes, even those of their own making.  But, really, is it too much to ask the powers that be to educate folks to minimize their creating the messes in the first place -- and if even that proves too much of an ask, how about the authorities having a will as well as way to hunt the litter bugs and polluters down, and penalize and punish them in a way that actually will deter them from doing so again as well as others from adding to the already too large amount of garbage in our world?!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A memorable Lantau hike on the 11th anniversary of my move to Hong Kong :)

Click on the above picture to get a better view of 
 Click on the above image to view the latest addition to 
Eleven years ago today, I moved to Hong Kong to work and live.  One reason why it's easy for me to remember the date of my arrival in the Big Lychee is that May 1st is a public holiday in this part of the world.  In contrast, I have little memory of what the weather was like on May 1st, 2007.  But thanks in part to this blog post, I'm going to remember that May 1st, 2018 was a beautiful weather day: warm and humid but largely sunny, with high visibility levels and bright blue skies!
After I underwent wisdom tooth surgery last Friday, I was not sure for a few days whether I'd feel up to go hiking on Lantau Island this May Day as planned with a friend.  Happily, when the day I arrived, I felt able -- and indeed eager -- to trek from the eastern end of Shek Pik Reservoir's dam over to the village of Shui Hau along Lantau Trail Section 9.    
Like much of the rest of the Lantau Trail, Section 9 offers up a number of pretty scenic views along the way.  And like virtually all of the sections of this 70 kilometer hiking trail crossing Hong Kong's largest island that I've been on (bar for that which takes one up and down Sunset Peak), it can be surprisingly bereft of other people -- even on a day when much of the populace don't have to work -- which, of course, adds considerably to its charm.
Indeed, if I were to exclude from my tally the folks who were camping at Lo Kei Wan this holiday, it really was the case that I saw far more butterflies, moths, crickets, cicadas and other bugs than fellow humans while out hiking on that particular section of Lantau this afternoon!  And this particularly so since on two occasions during today's excursion, we came across swarms of the colorful yellow moth known in Latin as Obeidia tigrata and in English as Orange Magpie Moths!
On most other hikes, coming across those two moth swarms would be my top critter spotting experiences for the day.   On this day to remember, however, I would like to gleefully report that I also came across a pair of long-legged crane flies unashamedly going at it and consequently was able to add to my already pretty diverse "doing what comes naturally" photo collection which began several years ago with a pair of Orange Magpie Moths which were lying so still I initially thought they were dead before my much more knowledgeable mother informed me otherwise! ;b