Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some reasons why I loved my time in Takayama so very much! (Photo-essay)

If it's not already obvious: I really loved my time in Takayama.  The other city I spend a significant amount of time in on my Japan visit earlier this month, Nagoya, may have a Funassyiland and great food -- but, in all honesty, I enjoyed my time in Takayama so much more.

An atmospheric mountain town with interesting architecture, it also was there that I met some really amazingly hospitable, friendly and outright kind people and ate my share of good food.  This time around, I spent four nights and good part of five days there, and saw quite a bit of the town and surrounding area.  And yet I would like to go back again before too long.  Hopefully this photo-essay helps explain why...

 No one posed for this photo taken in the old part of Takayama town!

Did I mention that a number of the old wooden buildings
(with sugidama hung above their main entrances) in the 
old part of Takayama town are home to sake breweries? ;b

So much of the town looked like a movie set (except if you peeked into 
the windows, you saw working establishments -- e.g., the building 
with the bicycle in front is home to a working barber shop)!

Wandering about the city after dark, you can come across a place 
where you can shoot arrows, and an ace female archer coolly 
hitting the target time after time while a quiet crowd watches in awe! :O

At a street corner, you'll suddenly come across a row of bibbed 
and headgear-weraing Jizos and an area full of Sarubobo dolls
which Puppet Ponyo feels comfortable around

 In the grounds of Takayama Jinya, Japan's one remaining major Edo-era 
government building, can be found this heartwarming sign

 The trunk of the tree in question -- which I touched
and also proceeded to hug!

The icing on the cake: a handmade note made for me by
a friendly Takayama Jinya ticketing office staffer after she 
ascertained that I was a genuine fellow fan of Funassyi :))))))

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Takayama morning river sights

The Miyagawa flows through the center of Takayama
Swimming in its clear waters are lots of koi!

On one side of the river early in the day can be found 
Open daily from 7am for most of the year (and an hour earlier in the summer), the Miyagawa Morning Market was where I headed on my very first morning in Takayama.  The first stalls I saw hawked trinkets and tourist-friendly items (like Hello Kitty goods) but as I ventured deeper into the market, food stuffs became the dominant wares being offered up by the vendors at portable stalls on the side closer to the rvier as well as stores on the other side of the narrow path along which shoppers and gawkers alike walked. 

Like at Kyoto's Nishiki Market, there were many different types of tsukemono (pickles) on offer.  There also was quite a number of stores selling miso paste, which is to be expected in view of the area being known for its miso as well as Hida beef.  And while there were stores that sold Hida beef and shika (deer) sausages and jerky, vegetables and fruits predominated rather than meat or -- unlike at Tsukiji -- seafood.   

Some of the vegetables stood out in terms of their unusual appearance (this particularly certain of the mountain vegetables I'm not all that familiar with), others because of their unexpected appearance (like the strings of chili peppers that I don't tend to associate with Japanese cuisine).  Then there were the matsutake mushrooms that stood out because of their prices.  Among the cheaper ones I saw on sale were those going for around the 4700 Yen (~HK$327 or US$42) mark; with the highest priced mushroom I saw being individually priced at a whopping 13,000 Yen (~HK$904 or US$115)!  

In this context, 4300 Yen (~HK$299 or US$38) can seem quite the bargain for a box of 13 or 14 big and beautiful Shinshu apples.  Even so, I did not bite -- though I did succumb and buy one 200 Yen apple to eat on the train journey back to Nagoya a few days later (and, for the record, that was one very juicy and sweet-tasting large apple that I had there)! 

While walking in the market area, I noticed that there were steps leading down to where one could get very close to the Miyagawa and that there were things in the river that were attracting the attention of some people.  Curious to find out what this was, I made my way down to the riverside and saw lots of colorful koi swimming in the splendidly clear waters of the Miyagawa (as well as the occasional ducks paddling about).  

With sunlight glistening on the water's surface and beautiful blue skies up above, it really was quite the scenic sight.  While not as spectacular as the sunset which greeted me the day before, all this did help contribute to my feeling that Takayama was a pretty magical place, one which I never quite lost in all the time that I was in this central Japanese mountain town. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Feasting on Hida beef in Hida-Takayama

A slice of Hida beef sushi
The portion of pre-cooked Hida-gyu that was part of 
a lunch set I ordered while in Takayama :)

The substantial Hida-gyu course of a multi-course meal
I had at a Takayama ryotei founded in 1794

For my first meal in Takayama (aka Hida-Takayama), I opted to dine at a sushi-ya recommended in my Frommer's Japan guidebook.  For the most part while I was in the mountain town though, I stuck to eating land animals along with vegetables and other plants.  And even at Matsuki Sushi (where I was befriended by an amazingly nice family with roots in Takayama, though three of the four members I met now lived in Nagoya), I got to get my first taste of the famous Hida beef that was one major reason behind my wanting to visit Takayama!
Almost needless to say, that first, small taste of Hida beef -- in the form of a seared slice of sushi -- left me hungering me for more of one of the top types of wagyu (Japanese beef).  So, for lunch at Aji no Yohei, a restaurant affliated with the Funasaka Sake Brewery (that's one of a number of local sake breweries located in Takayama), I ordered a set meal whose main component was a beautiful-looking portion of beautifully marbled Hida-gyu lunch that I had to grill on a teppan by myself like with the Omi beef I ate in Hikone and the Yamatogyu I ate in Nara this past January.
So delicious was that Hida-gyu I ate that I found myself thinking that I might actually want to eat it every day that I was in Takayama!  And even while that didn't end up being the case, I did go and make a booking that very day to have a kaiseki dinner at a ryotei which would feature a Hida beef steak course on my last night in town!
On the day that I was going to dine at Ryotei Susaki, knowing that a kaiseki dinner would involve a whole lot of (good) food, I made sure to get a lot of exercise in earlier in the day by venturing along the 5.5-kilometer-long Higashiyama Walking Course.  Even so, when I saw the generous amount of Hida-gyu that I was serve that evening -- and this after having already eaten a number of courses featuring a whole host of other ingredients -- I found myself gasping in shock as well as awe!
I have to be honest: while I thoroughly enjoyed the first three or four chunks of Hida-gyu at dinner that evening, the ultra-fattiness of this super premium wagyu actually make that particular dish feel way too rich and hard to completely devour.  Indeed, so much of a struggle was it to finish up the dish that I actually started sweating and had to ask for ice water and also request that the temperature of the room that I had all to myself at the ryotei be lowered!
It took quite a bit of an effort but I did manage to eat every thick chunk of the Hida-gyu I was served that evening, even if I ended up having to cut the last few chunks into two to make the portion more palatable!  I just knew I had to because to not do so would feel like a crime because the beef actually was really delicious, just incredibly fatty and consequently rich tasting.
And believe me when I state that that Hida-gyu will live long in my memory.  Actually, because I still can taste that meat some two weeks on from that dinner, I haven't felt able to eat any beef in the time since: with one reason being that I still feel full at the memory of it and another being because I can well imagine that no beef is going to taste good for a time because I'll be mentally comparing it to the Hida-gyu I ate in Takayama!
So here's a hopefully not too facetious thought with regards to the suggestions that it would be good for the environment for us to eat less beef: if more fatty beef were served up than the leaner meat that is regularly eaten in the likes of the beef-loving USA, might it encourage people to eat less -- as well as higher quality -- beef?  And this idea doesn't even take into account that famously fatty wagyu -- especially the bona fide produced in Japan variety (for the record: wagyu means Japanese cow/beef in Japanese!) -- is quite a bit more pricey than the leaner meats that is the norm in much of the rest of the world! ;b    

Friday, October 26, 2018

A gorgeous sunset viewed on my first evening in Takayama :)

The sky over Takayama minutes after I got into town
Light show at sunset!
I can't decide whether I prefer the vertical 
or horizontal shot more, so here's sharing both :)
The day that I got on the Hida Limited Express train that would take me from Nagoya to Hida-Takayama, I decided to opt for the one that began its journey at 2.48pm and arrive at my destination at 5.10pm.  This way, I could get in an extra meal in Nagoya (that would consist of hitsumabushi at the branch of Maruya Honten located within Nagoya's JR railway station) before my departure.  In addition, the timing would ensure that I'd be making what I knew would be a scenic train journey in broad daylight and would also be arriving at a town I had hitherto never been to before dark (which is something I think helps me in getting my bearings).
What I hadn't actually thought about but turned out to luck upon was my being in Takayama to view an absolutely gorgeous sunset -- one that rivals the memorably beautiful sunsets I've witnessed in places like Matsue (where sunset viewing is a seriously popular activity), Hong Kong and, in my youth, from a beach on Malaysia's Pulau Langkawi!  Shortly after arriving in the Hida mountain town, I noticed a couple of people standing in front of the train station with cameras aimed at the sky.  Upon following their gaze, I let out a gasp and hurried to go check in to my hotel (which was just across the street from the train station) -- and, upon doing so and looking out a window, saw that the sky had become even more beautiful than just a few minutes previously. 
Fishing out my camera out of my backpack, I started taking shots of the sky -- and I'm ever so glad that I managed to capture how it looked for just a few minutes on my first evening in Takayama.  Here's what makes it more precious: though I did make a point to look the next few days, nothing approaching the beauty unfolded at sunset because the sky was way too cloudy or for some other weather-related reason!  So am I really glad that I arrived at Takayama on the day as well as the time that I chose to do! :)  

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A wonderfully scenic train journey between Nagoya and Takayama (Photo-essay)

I love riding on trains -- especially those where one gets to view the world going by along the way.  This is something I get to do a lot whenever I'm in Japan; with the added bonus of Japanese train passengers tending to be on the quiet and generally well-behaved side, and talking on mobile phones still being frowned upon in the Land of the Rising Sun (unlike in too many other parts of the world).  

As a matter of fact, I'd go so far as to say that I often find myself enjoying train journeys as much as the time spent at the destinations they take me!  And if you're this way inclined too, chances are high that you will love travelling on the Hida Limited Express train service between Nagoya and Takayama (aka Hida Takayama) the way that I did.  

Also known as the "Wide View Hida", the train's carriages have extra large windows that allows one great views of the scenic countryside one passes through, especially the leg of the journey between Mino-Ota and Takayama.  I spent pretty much all of the two and a half hour journey from Nagoya to Takayama looking out of the window (and yes, I made sure to get a window seat for this particular train ride) and did the same again on the journey back to Nagoya from Takayama five days later.  And after seeing the following photo-essay, I trust that you'll understand why this was the case... 

 Sometimes, there's a road between the train track and the often 
fast moving Hidagawa (Hida River); other times not! 

The train travels through several tunnels burrowed through hills 
and mountains, and so do the cars travelling along the road 
connecting the mountainous Hida region to the neighboring lowlands 

Both the train line and the river pass through 
the hot springs resort town of Gero Onsen
Even on a gray day, I found the passing views often stunning!
On the return trip, the sun was out and really brightened things up!
Many of the towns the train passed by seemed like model communities 
-- and I sure do hope that's indeed the case :) 
Rice fields and Shinto shrines are regular 
and pleasing sights in rural Japan
One of a number of dams along the Hidagawa that's been 
rather fancifully described as the Rhine of Japan :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Cochin chicken, hitsumabushi, kishimen and more in Nagoya!

Enticing sticks of yakitori being grilled before me at Tetsuemon

  The bowl of kishimen that was part of my hearty as well as
super economical breakfast set at Ekikamakishimen
On the flight to Nagoya that I took a fortnight ago now, I viewed a documentary about ramen and its often surprisingly serious and deep-thinking purveyors.  More so even than Tampopo or The God of Ramen, Ramen Heads had me seriously hankering to eat a bowl of ramen.  So after I got in Nagoya, I went to a restaurant and ordered myself a bowl of ramen which came with -- and in retrospect, I think this says much about Japan's fourth largest city -- slices of chicken rather than the usual pork.  Feeling ravenous after the day's travels, I also ordered a couple of sticks of yakitori (grilled chicken) -- and upon eating them, got to marvelling at how truly tasty they were.    
Figuring that what I had been eating was Nagoya's famed Cochin chicken, I decided that I definitely wanted to have more of this bird whose various parts, not just flesh, tastes way juicier than regular chicken -- and that I wanted to eat it at a Nagoya chicken specialist.  So, for dinner the next day, I went to Tetsuemon, a chicken specialist that does yakitori (though sadly not bonjiri nor misaki) but also dishes such as chicken liver sashimi and chicken skin with ponzu sauce -- both of which I happily ordered and devoured!
I enjoyed dinner at Tetsuemon so much that I actually ended up going there twice during my visit.  I must admit that one big reason for this was that it serves the sake with the French name of Eau du Desir (and Japanese name of Kamoshibito) that I first tasted some years back at Sasagin (and wish was as easy to find in Hong Kong as its native Aichi prefecture).  But, in all honesty, the chicken really was pretty good there too.  In addition, this chicken specialist also was where I discovered Nagoya miso and how absolutely fantastic it is when slathered over skewers of grilled eggplant (aubergine) or deep fried, breaded chicken!
If I had more time in Nagoya, I would eat eel there more than once too.  As it was, I treasure my memories of eating unagi (freshwater eel) hitsumabushi at Nagoya unagi specialists Maruya Honten.  Having tried eel several ways now, I will say that the usual method of eating unagi just with white rice is pretty good but it can be nice to be able to freshen things up by adding the likes of slices of seaweed, negi and shisho to the classic combo, and that adding dashi to the mix can make for a dish that's like a luxurious chazuke.  And while I normally prefer anago to unagi, especially at sushi-ya, I might well change my mind if I had regular access to Nagoya unagi: it really did taste that good!

With so many specialty Nagoya foods to try and so little time allocated there, I had to give quite a few a miss.  On the final day of my recent Japan trip though, I had kishimen for breakfast in a bargain 600 Yen set that also included a bowl of rice to be eaten with natto (which I happen to like a lot), and a glass of green tea.  If truth be told, I was less excited by this Nagoya dish that I had at Ekikakishimen than the others I tried -- thinking that it's pretty much just fettucine-shaped udon.  Add some miso broth to turn it into misonikomi though and I think you'd get a dish that definitely was more special -- but for some reason, its makers tend to go for udon rather than kishimen instead despite being from Nagoya like the creators of kishimen! :O

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

In Pear (Fairy) heaven but also exercising self-discipline at the Nagoya Funassyiland!

120cm Funassyi makes all the other 
Funassyis in the store look ever so small ;(
Funassyi's ready for Halloween!
Around two and half years ago, I walked into the Funassyiland in Harajuku, Tokyo.  Since then, I've also been to the flagship Funassyiland in Funassyi's hometown of Funabashi and also more than once to the Funassyiland in Osaka.  Now, on my most recent Japan trip, I've visited the Funassyiland in Nagoya -- and thus been to every one of the four permanent physical Funassyilands where one can pay homage to the super lovable unofficial mascot of Funabashi and come away with a variety of items bearing its likeness, that currently exist!
The smallest as well as youngest of the four permanent physical Funassyilands established by the 1,880-year-old Pear Fairy who came down to Earth six years ago to make people happy, the Nagoya Funassyiland still has quite a number of items that will appeal to fans of the hyperactive Pear whose antics get people smiling and laughing.  I managed to control myself and come away with just four items from there (including a Funassyi t-shirt with the exhortation that "You'll never find a rainbow if you're looking down.  Have a nice day!" along with the 2019 Funassyi desktop calendar whose proceeds, like previous years' calendars, will go to charity). 
Close to one week after my final visit to the Nagoya Funassyiland (I ended up being unable to stop myself from visiting more than once when I was in the area), I actually find myself rueing my having exercised as much self-discipline as I did and not bought more Funassyi-themed goods than I did; and this even though I ended up supplementing my Nagoya Funassyiland purchases with area-specific Funassyi charms that I found in souvenir shops in Takayama (where I spent the bulk of this recent Japan trip) and also a Funanomics 4 DVD I got at a branch of Tower Records in Nagoya!

More specifically, the more I think about it, the more I find myself pining for the Funassyi-themed Hawaiian shirt on sale at Nagoya Funassyiland and thinking perhaps I shouldn't have been so picky in terms of deciding that there could be better patterned Funassyi-themed watches and sweatshirts than the options available at the store when I visited.  And it probably is a good thing that the 90cm pajama-wearing Funassyi on sale online to those with Japanese credit cards (and/or addresses) was not on sale at the Nagoya Funassyiland.  Otherwise, I might not have been able to help myself -- and would have come back from Japan with it (and a new larger suitcase than the one I went to Japan with)! ;b

Monday, October 22, 2018

At Museum Meiji-Mura, Inuyama's mega open air museum (Photo-essay)

Light rain fell for a couple of hours when I was at Museum Meiji-Mura and the sky was cloudy and gray for much of the time I was there at the open air museum dedicated to preserving and exhibiting Meiji era architecture on the edge of the central Japanese castle town of Inuyama.  Maybe the weather was what kept the crowds away the week day I was there but it didn't affect my ability to appreciate what must be one of the largest open air museums in the world -- whose size and scope I ended up underestimating. 

My usually trusty Frommer's Japan guidebook had said to budget to spend at least three hours at Museum Meiji-Mura. I was there for 4 hours -- and would have happily continued wandering about and exploring the 100 hectare (250 acre) site for another couple of hours if closing time hadn't come along so quickly!  Looking back, the problem was that the journey there from Nagoya had taken longer than expected: half an hour by train to Inuyama, followed by a half hour bus ride to the open air museum itself (and that didn't include the time spent waiting for the bus to arrive after arriving in Inuyama).  Ah well, I guess I just have to add this museum to my list of places in Japan I need to return to again some time...

Not how I imagined the reception hall of 
a Japanese marquis' residence would look like! 

 Just a small section of by far the largest open air museum
I've ever been to anywhere in the world!

The lighthouse in the above picture is 150 years old,
and the oldest Western-style lighthouse in Japan!

In a nearby building can be found displays of 
lighthouse lamps whose lights really do shine very brightly

 The Museum Meiji-Mura also is home to a Meiji period
iron bridge, steam locomotives, streetcars and buses

  This building served as the premises of a Japanese 
Evangelical Church in Seattle, Washington, USA!

 It may not be much to look at but I consider it a major marvel
that this house which used to stand in Registro, Brazil, now
is to be found in a corner of central Japan!

The St. Francis Xavier Cathedral which originally stood in 
Kyoto was the first Christian building that Puppet Ponyo

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Movie-inspired Japanese dining choices!

The first food dish I ordered on my most recent Japan visit!
What I had for lunch the next day :b
Ask me what Japanese noodles I'd choose to eat and I usually am far more likely to opt for soba, udon, somen and tsukemen over regular ramen.  The power of film being what it is though, after viewing Ramen Heads on my flight from Hong Kong to Chubu Centrair International Airport, I found myself ordering a bowl of ramen for my first meal after landing in Japan once more a little more than a week ago now. 

To be sure, the ramen I had the branch of a national chain of Japanese izakaya was pretty different from any of the varieties of this actually pretty diverse food item highlighted in the latest of a trio of ramen-focused movies I've viewed that began with Tampopo (1985) and also includes The God of Ramen (2013).  Served chilled rather than hot, and with slices of chicken rather than the more classic chashu, it also was very different in style and content from the first bowl of ramen I had in Japan: one of Funabashi's sauce ramen, whose existence I got to know about thanks to a certain Pear (Fairy) who hails from -- and is the unofficial mascot of -- that Chiba prefecture city!

With kimchi, a half of a boiled egg and thin slices of cucumber among its other toppings, this particular bowl of ramen that I had on my first evening in Nagoya got me thinking that it was the ramen version of Korean naengmyun.  In any case, it was pretty delicious as well as refreshing -- and I hope that I'll see it again on another menu in the future, particularly on a hot day when cold noodles dishes are eminently preferable to bowls of hot noodles!

As it turned out, my lunch the next day also was one that was movie inspired.  More specifically, after viewing Hirokazu Kore-eda's sublime Our Little Sister on a big screen for the third time a few months back, I've been hankering to eat some Japanese curry rice.  Unfortunately, the Japanese curry rice place that was supposed to be the best in Hong Kong closed down some time back and I have it on good authority that the Hong Kong branches of Coco Ichibanya are a pale shadow of the ones in Japan.  So it wasn't until I was back again in Japan that I felt I could get a helping of this dish which apparently was introduced to Japan by the British navy during the Meiji era

It thus seemed rather appropriate when visiting Inuyama's Museum Meiji-Mura, on the second day of my recent Japan trip, to order a (Japanese) curry rice set lunch at one of the yoshoku-themed restaurant located in the Meiji era-themed open air museum.  And for the record: it was absolutely satisfying fare on what actually was a rather cool and drizzly afternoon; and, as it so happens, actually the first time ever that I've eaten any sort of curry dish on Japanese soil! ;b

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A land where it can simultaneously feel like time flies by too quickly and stands still! ;D

Schoolboys cycling through town in contemporary Japan
A peaceful corner in the Land of the Rising Sun
View from a train in central Honshu
Yesterday evening, I returned to Hong Kong after spending a little more than a week in what's been my favorite country to visit for some years now.  Almost needless to say, I had a great time once more in Japan: a land with great food and alcoholic libations, beautiful rural scenery, well-equipped cities that are full of interesting sights, and some of the most courteous -- if not outright kindest and friendliest -- people in the world.
More than one friend has asked me now whether I have plans to move to the Land of the Rising Sun.  My answer is that I tend to think of Japan primarily as a place to visit -- rather than (re-)settle in -- because I actually enjoy exploring different parts of it, as opposed to regularly return to visit the same city or town there.  And on this most recent Japan trip, I actually didn't spend time in any place that I had set foot in on a previous visit to this country which had so many nooks and crannies that I want to check out!
For the first time ever, I flew into -- and subsequently out of --  Chubu Centrair International Airport, and spent time in Nagoya, nearby Inuyama, and the Hida mountain towns of Takayama (aka Hida Takayama) and Hida Furukawa.  I came away from three of these places wishing I could spend more time in them -- and the only reason I didn't feel that way about the fourth is because it was so small that I felt like I got to see everything I wanted there in just half a day!
In short: like pretty much every Japan trip I've been on, it all ended up feeling too short a visit.  As the proverbial "they" say: time flies when you're having fun.  And in the Land of the Rising Sun, I really manage to have fun -- and in so many ways -- that time does seem to go by extra quickly when I'm there; this even while I am beholding scenes and scenery which get me thinking that time has stood still! ;b

Monday, October 8, 2018

Jevons Au's Distinction is deserving of special attention (film review)

 Award-winning filmmaker Jevons Au's 
first solo directorial effort
Distinction (Hong Kong, 2018)
- Jevons Au, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Ashley Cheung and Chung Chui Yi)
- Jo Koo (aka Jo Kuk), Jennifer Yu, Kaki Sham, Tse Ka Long, Rain Lau, Dominic Lam, Cecilia Yip, Chung King Fai
Hong Kong cinema is not a genre!  This is something I had to tell many a friend when I was living in the US who mistakenly -- and disparagingly -- assumed that my Hong Kong movie diet was limited to "chop-socky".  And this is something I was shocked to have to point out just a couple of weeks ago to an expat friend of a friend who somehow has managed to be a resident of the Big Lychee for 14 years, yet not realized the variety and quantity -- never mind quality -- of cinematic offerings that have been produced by Hong Kong filmmakers for so long now.  
To be sure, Hong Kong cinema has produced lots of martial arts movies and crime dramas/actioners/action-dramas over the years. But its output also includes Chinese New Year comedies, gigolo comedies and prostitute dramas -- distinctive sub-genres that seem specific to this film territory -- along with film that fit into more conventional categories!  And in recent years, it seems like education-centric offerings also may be becoming a thing -- with the makers of such as My Voice, My Life (2014), Little Big Master (2015), Big Brother (2018) and now also Distinction electing to shine a light on students, teachers and the flawed local education system.
After working on a dystopian drama (Ten Years) and a dark crime drama (Trivisa) which led to his being described as both a critic of Hong Kong as well as one of its most fearless advocates, Jevons Au has produced a solo directorial debut effort which shows how much he worries and cares about his home city.  A social drama about a bunch of individuals coming together to put on a school musical, Distinction delves deep to examine Hong Kong's distinction-chasing -- but at what cost? -- educational system but also local socio-cultural attitudes that lead to people often under-valuing the abilities of mentally challenged people and others who think outside the very small box that's deemed to be "normal" and "proper" in a city where consumerism and the seeking of material success is rampant.
Jo Kuk headlines the movie as Grace Chui, a teacher in a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school tasked with organizing a musical to showcase her school's students with the help of volunteers, including students from other schools, some of whom approach the project with better attitudes than others.  Shown early in the film seeking jobs in more "regular" schools, she is an all too human character rather than saintly teacher who threatens to break your heart both when she tells her husband why she doesn't want to have children and, also, after she finally starts to believe the sentiments expressed in the lyrics she composes for the musical.   
Although they are among the group of students who are supposed to help with this project rather than be helped, hard-working Elite School student Zoey (Jennifer Yu) and tough-acting Band 3 school student Ka-ho (Kaki Sham) are soon revealed to be have problems of their own; with their well-meaning but mis-guided parents often contributing to their offsprings' troubles.  The further one goes into the film, the more the both of them will win your heart -- and the more you hope and wish that they will follow their dreams and be rewarded, rather than penalized, for doing so as well as being far more open-hearted and -minded people than many others would be in their circumstances.
I hope that Jennifer Yu and Kaki Sham will continue to get meaty parts like the ones they had in Distinction because they've shown here how good, not just promising, they are already (in Jennifer Yu's case, by portraying a character here who's well nigh unrecognizable from the one she essayed in Men on a Dragon).  And while pretty much everyone in this cast (who included the veteran likes of Cecilia Yip and Chung King Fai as members of Zoey's family, and Rain Lau and Dominic Chan as Ka-ho's parents) did yeoman work, special mention needs to be made of amateur actor Tse Ka-long, who absolutely melts hearts -- and got tears pouring down my cheeks on a couple of occasions -- as Ka-ho's younger, special needs education-requiring brother who can teach others some valuable lessons about life and humanity if they just pay attention.
My rating for the film: 8.0