Tuesday, January 29, 2019

10 highlights of my 2018 year

An image that brings back fond memories 

Puppet Ponyo posing in front of a temple in

The proverbial "they" say that time flies when you're having fun.  If so, I must have had a lot of fun in 2018 -- and in the similarly fast passing first month of 2019!  So it really would be a crime to not note down 10 highlights of the past year for the record to add to my previous posts for 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 (the last of which was the year that I began this now over 12 year old blog) -- and preferably before the second month of 2019 comes long!  So, without further ado...

Best book: It's been decades since I last set foot at my beloved undergraduate college but, as a recent blog entry shows, I still find myself fondly recalling my experiences there from time to time.  Perhaps for this reason, I still enjoy reading stories that take place, even if only partly, in college settings.  So when I saw a copy of J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement for sale at the local Salvation Army thrift store for HK$25 (~US$3.18), I bought it despite being unfamiliar with the author or book title.  Post reading this 2009 novel, I now realize what a bargain I got -- since this gem of a book is one that I can easily foresee myself re-reading again more than once in the future! :)    

Best concert: I went to a number of classical music concerts in 2018 that I thoroughly enjoyed, including yet another Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra concert which had my favorite classical musician, Ning Feng, as the featured artiste, and a Hong Kong Sinfonietta concert with a movie-themed program.  However, none of them got me beaming from ear to ear all evening that the Hong Kong leg of Charamel's Splash Tour did!  There's no two ways about it: my favorite pear fairy and its band really rock, and are super entertaining and fun to watch as well as listen to! :)   

Best decorated building (complex): I visited many buildings in 2018 whose decorated interiors as well as exteriors had me gasping at their sheer beauty, and filled with awe at the mastery of the artists and artesans whose creations remain amazing centuries after they were made.  This was particularly the case in Spain, a country whose past glories have left it with a number of really incredible works of art, including architecture.  In Segovia, I was so busy admiring the buildings seemingly everywhere around me that I literally fell down in the street.  In Sevilla, I was bowled over by Christian cathedrals along with Mudéjar artistry.  But it was Granada's Alhambra, particularly its Palacios Nazaries, which I found truly heavenly -- and I count myself very blessed to have been able to see its beauty up close and with my own eyes.   

Best exhibition: After visiting in Hiroshima in October 2017 and discovering that the area's oyster season hadn't begun yet, I vowed to return there soon to feast on fresh and raw Hiroshima oysters.  Upon doing so early last year, I not only was able to do that but I also got to check out a special exhibition of works by the great ukiyo-e artist, Hiroshige, at the Hiroshima Museum of Art which ran there for less than two months.  Although the art history classes that I took at college in Wisconsin focused by and large on Western art, this former art history and anthropology double major (and museum studies minor) still is able to appreciate masterworks from the Land of the Rising Sun which may use different aesthetics but depict scenes that I increasingly find familiar rather than super foreign, and feel an emotional as well as intellectual connection to.

Best hike: For a number of reasons, I didn't hike as much in 2018 as in previous years.  At the same time though, I was able to get in a number of hikes outside as well as in Hong Kong -- sometimes on my own but also often in the company of friends; with my favorite being a hike in southwest Lantau on the third day of Chinese New Year in the company of two good buddies who I've done a lot of hiking with over the years and are always fun to be around both on a trail and off it.  On that particular excursion, we got to see lots of great views (and Chinese New Year flowers) and also get to talking about a wide range of subjects -- the kind of ingredients enjoyed by people who go for the kind of "non-competitive hiking" that we all like to do! ;b 

Best meal: The category with the most candidates by far; something which should come as no surprise considering how much of a foodie I am and that the territories I visited in 2018 include Japan, Penang, Spain and Jeju!  This past year, I also dined at a couple of three Michelin-starred restaurants (8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo and Lung King Heen) here in Hong Kong.  The more I think about it though, the more I return to my most recent meal at zero Michelin star Godenya -- which I actually am a bit shocked to realize that I didn't blog about.  Many months later, I still can almost taste the incredible kabogani (female snow crab) risotto, the inspired combination of sweet potto, beets and century egg, the rich-tasting abalone and shirako combo dish, and the amazingly delicious pistachio and sake dessert -- and their memory is getting me thinking that another visit to that sake-food pairing specialist is overdue! 

Best museum: Last year, I achieved a dream I've long had of visiting Spain's Museo Nacional del Prado.  But as it turned out, my favorite of the museums I visited in 2018 actually was another Madrid museum: the, to my mind, better designed and curated Museo Arqueológico Nacional which came across as well as innovative as well as interesting and informative, filled with lots of impressive artefacts and also possibly the best multimedia displays that I've ever seen in a museological institution ever!

Best sunrise: Being far more of a night owl than early bird by inclination, it's extremely rare for me be awake at sunrise, never mind wake up to hike up to a high vantage point from which to watch the sun rise.  Thank goodness that the views from the top of Jeju's Seongsan Ilchulbong were absolutely worth it -- and the sunrise I viewed there may well be the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen, never mind for the year 2018, which is saying something since the previous year, I had seen the sunrise from atop Indonesia's Borobudur!  

Best tour: If I could only choose one alcoholic beverage to drink, it'd be sake (yes, rather than beer!).  And if I could only drink one brand of sake, the Asahi Shuzo Company's Dassai sake would be it.  With this in mind, I hope you can get a sense of how much of a thrill it was for me to be accorded a personalized tour of the Asahi Shuzo Company's brewery: one which included visits to a rice milling factory and various rooms in the main building including one where the koji was being sprinkled onto the rice along with my third meeting with company president Kazuhiro Sakurai (and the first in his home country) and complimentary glasses of the three sakes at the top of the Dassai range.  In addition, so amazing was the hospitality that I will feel forever in the Sakurai-san's debt -- one which I guess I can only repay by making sure to imbibe a lot of Dassai sake in the years to come! 

Best town/city visited: There are many towns and cities in Japan, my favorite country to visit, that I've been charmed by over the years -- places where I've seen beautiful sights, tasted good food and had great encounters with local folks.  Nonetheless, Takayama, which I visited for the first time this past year -- and certainly want to return for another visit at some point -- really did feel especially wonderful.  In just a few days there, I got to see a seriously gorgeous sunset, had daily encounters with super friendly people, enjoyed a lot of good food and loved the sights found in its streets so much that I spent many hours doing nothing more than strolling around the town that I would go so far as to say that I fell in love with... :)           

Sunday, January 27, 2019

An enjoyable, even if physically demanding, day out in the Sai Kung Peninsula

I don't want to know how many uphill steps
I went up this afternoon... ;( 
These Chinese New Year flowers signal that
Chinese New Year really is not far away!
Beautiful day for a hike in the Sai Kung Peninsula :)
I spent a good part of last weekend indoors in urban sections of Hong Kong, doing such as having dim sum lunches two days in a row, attending a seasonal sake event at Sake Bar Ginn and attending a screening of a beautifully restored version of Yazujiro Ozu's Floating Weeds (1959).  In contrast, a good part of this weekend's daylight hours have seen me outdoors in the less built up sections of "Asia's World City": on Cheung Chau taking part in one more beach clean-up yesterday; and out hiking in the Sai Kung Peninsula this afternoon.
And just like it's not at all usual for me to have dim sum for two days running, I don't usually go hiking two days in a row -- but ended up doing so this weekend!  Granted that the journey to and from Tung Wan Tsai (aka Coral Beach), where the beach clean-ups regularly take place, from Cheung Chau's ferry pier (which I take a ferry to from Central) are not more than one hour long each way -- but they still count as hikes, even if short ones, to me.  At the same time though, I don't think anyone is going to dispute that a trek along the Maclehose Trail's Stage 3 is not a proper hike; and this even if we take detour midway along it to the Lady Maclehose Holiday Village rather than continue up and then down Kai Kung Shan to entirely follow the official route!
One reason for this is that this route involves one pretty physically demanding uphill stretch very early on in the hike.  For another, unlike Stages 1 and 2 of the Maclehose Trail, Stage 3 is one of those increasingly rare sections of major Hong Kong trails that's entirely unpaved.  Furthermore, even with the detour, I easily took over 10,000 steps -- and many of them uphill ones too! -- on today's hike (and had over 14,700 steps recorded on my pedometer when I got home this evening).
I think one of the three people in my hiking party today was not completely prepared for how tough today's hike would be.  But after seeing the splendid views and other cool sights frequently on offer over the course of today's Hong Kong country park excursion, I trust that she is agreement with everyone else in the group that today's was a really enjoyable hike.
Among today's hike highlights: feral cow spottings (including right by the trail head!); seeing a paraglider in glorious flight; and the sight of clump upon clump of beautiful Chinese New Year flowers!  And, of course, there were the views of land, water and sky -- with far more hills than buildings visible for the great bulk of our hike and sections of cloud-filled skies whose sight I enjoyed so much that I ended up gazing skywards more frequently than I regularly do on a hike, never mind while strolling in the more urban parts of the Big Lychee... :)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Memories of riding (pillion) on a motorbike in Malaysia, Zanzibar, and Beloit

Car and motorbike show in Central this past Sunday

Biker types hanging out near their dream machines

My choice for the most beautiful vehicle at the show ;b

After having my second dim sum lunch in two days last Sunday, I decided to go for a stroll that took me from Sheung Wan (where the eatery I had been at with my friend is located) to Central and beyond.  Near the IFC (International Finance Centre), I came across a car and motorbike show featuring some pretty eye-catching vehicles, including a number of big bikes along with sports cars and antique automobiles. 

I get the feeling that most of the people present were particularly impressed by certain of the cars (including Lotuses, Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches and such) on show.  By my reckoning though, the most aesthetically pleasing machines on display were the large motorbikes -- all of them Harley Davidsons that were so shiny and well looked-after that I have to admit to wondering if they spend much time being ridden on actual roads!

Although I am a big advocate of public transportation (and have voluntarily gone through all but two years of my life -- when I lived in Kuala Lumpur, whose public transportation system leaves a lot to be desired -- without owning any motorized vehicles), it's also true enough that I have fond memories of riding (pillion) on a motorbike.  Of these, the earliest involved going on joy rides on the backseat of a bike belonging to a then 20-something-year-old aunt who regularly rode around town on a machine that may seem pedestrian in type and light on power but still seemed cooler to my preteen mind than those of her siblings who drove about in cars instead!

Then, when I lived in Zanzibar, I had a motorcycle-riding Italian doctor friend known to all and sundry as Dr Mario with whom I shared a common love for the beers produced by Malawi's Carlsberg brewery.  Whenever he managed to get a few bottles of their brew, he'd send word to me to drop by his clinic after work and after his own work day ended, I'd get on the back of his motorbike and he'd take me back to his place to enjoy a few beers and a feast that invariably included items -- such as salami and other preserved meats -- from care packages that his mother would send him from Italy along with fresh bread from a local bakery! 

Later in the evening (yes, after he and I had imbibed quite a bit of alcohol), he'd take me back into town.  I think in part because traffic tended to be on the light side and in part because I had got quite a bit of Dutch courage, I never feared that we'd come a cropper on those late night motorbike rides.  Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed the rides back into town as much as the rides to his place, the brewskis, the food, and viewing one of the only two video tapes he owned: the more frequently watched of  which was The Beatles' Yellow Submarine; the other of which was a documentary about giant whales!    

Probably my best memories involving riding on (the back of) a motorcycle though are those involving a beloved college professor and his beloved motorbike.  Although Dan Shea was born, went to school, taught and lived pretty much all his life in the state where the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was founded, his choice of vehicle was a British Norton bike that, after we had become friends, he'd take me on joy rides along beautifully long and lonely Wisconsin roads that went through farm land on which cows roamed or wheat grew in abundance.

I remember once telling Dan he should take prospective students on these bike roads as I figured it'd get them deciding they'd want to attend Beloit for sure, whereupon he laughed and pointed out that if he had an accident while doing so, he'd have the pants sued off him!  Since I wasn't thinking at all like a college administrator, I replied that I figured that it'd be worth the risk -- because, in all honesty, I think the experience showed how, at Beloit, professors and students didn't just interact in classrooms and actually could become friends who could have fun times (as well as seriously educational ones) together!

On June 19th, 2012, Dan Shea died of accidental causes while in Chile conducting archaeology field school.  A friend who's a fellow Beloit alum and friend plus fan of Dan broke the news to me a few days later.  I think I was so shocked by it and in denial that he was no longer of this Earth for so long that I couldn't write about his passing until now.  At the same time as I still feel sadness about his passing, I have got to realizing how many good and fond memories I have of the man that remain unsullied by his death and also still very strong, and how such as the sight of a beautiful motorbike parked in a central part of Hong Kong can get me thinking of him.         

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Air pollution levels ill-fitting a place with claims to being "Asia's World City"

The kind of (clear air) day I'd love to see Hong Kong having more of

The kind of gray, polluted air vista that threatens to make me blue

Until a few weeks ago, I've actually been worrying more about water pollution -- and trash being dumped by the tides onto beaches -- than air pollution in Hong Kong in recent months.  Since the beginning of this new year though, there's been a number of worryingly super high air pollution days that the surprising number of beautiful blue sky days in the same period have not been able to mitigate.   

On at least a couple of occasions now, I've abandoned -- or at least postponed -- plans to go hiking because of how visibly bad the air looked.  And on days like today, I really do feel less healthy after venturing outdoors for even a short walk than if I had stayed indoors and not exercised all day since I got back from my brief time outdoors this afternoon still with a sooty smell in my nose and inclined to sneeze a bit because of the dust that went up my nose and into my airwaves.

To be sure, I've not felt that the air pollution in Hong Kong has been as bad as the haze that envelopes Malaysia that comes from the annual burning of forests by Indonesian "slash and burn" agriculturalists.  (I particular remember the haze that I experienced in Kuala Lumpur in August 2005 in the days before I left that Malaysian city, when the air smelled of burnt rubber -- even in air-conditioned indoor spaces -- and my skin would itch when I perspired as a result of my sweat and whatever particles floating in the air lending and sticking on it.)

Even so, one would hope -- and should expect -- that Hong Kong's air pollution situation will improve rather than get worse in the ensuing days, weeks, months and years.  Frankly, it's long been one of my frustrations that the government of "Asia's World City" doesn't seem to care and do more to combat environmental problems and, in fact, can seem to allow and even advance it as a result of certain of their actions as well as non-action

My distrust of the Hong Kong government extends to its Environmental Protection Department's Air Quality Health Index.  Frankly, I think the readings I see for Hong Kong on the World Air Quality Index are far more truthful as well as reliable.  (For the record, as I write this, the Hong Kong government's air quality health index has the air pollution levels in my area of the territory being "moderate" while the World Air Quality Index real-time air quality index marks it as "unhealthy for sensitive groups".)

In view of its (lack of) general air quality, it is really amazing to find that Hong Kongers lead the world in life expectancy.  But rather than marvel at both female and male Hong Kongers have the highest longevity rates in the world, perhaps it's worth pondering how much longer -- and healthier -- many people could be if the city they lived in had higher air quality?  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

My dim sum lunch-filled weekend!

Piggy-shaped barbecue pork buns and goldfish-like har gow
can be found when having dim sum at Yum Cha ;D

Lung King Heen's baked barbecue pork buns are less cute
but will bring a smile to the faces of those who taste them!

Ditto re these rice rolls whose delicious content combo 
may well be found only at Lung King Heen...

I love eating dim sum in Hong Kong -- heck, I even enjoyed going out for dim sum on my forays into London when I lived in England, and when I lived in Philadelphia too! -- but don't have it as often as I would like.  One reason is that there is so much delicious fare on offer in the Big Lychee.  Another big reason is that dim sum is one of those kinds of meals that's better in the company of others -- and the more people the better -- than on one's own and not all my friends are as big fans of dim sum as me (yes, shocking I know!).

This weekend though, I had the rare experience of having dim sum both for Saturday and Sunday lunch!  The Saturday lunch had been planned for as far back as a couple of months ago -- because that's how far in advance one usually has to book a table for weekend lunch at three Michelin-starred Lung King Heen.  And even after having pigged out once again at the only three Michelin-starred restaurant that I've happily returned to more than once now, I happily chose the dim sum option after a friend visiting from Japan who used to live in Hong Kong told me he'd be happy to go for either dim sum or Korean barbecue!  

My usual practice when eating dim sum with friends is to have it so that each of us in attendance gets to order two dishes of their choice.  With four people at the table at Lung King Heen yesterday, we ordered eight dishes (taking care to make sure that its stellar baked barbecue pork buns was among them -- though yesterday, the star of the show actually may have been the steamed lobster rice rolls!) and then ended up getting unexpectedly given a complimentary round of super delicious mango pudding along with the restaurant's customary petit fours

At lunch at Yum Cha -- another restaurant offering dim sum that I've happily returned to more than once now -- today, my table also followed the "two dishes per person" rule.  But since there were just two of us at the table, we had just four dishes.  Also, because, as I told the friend I was dining with, I would have a lot more chances to eat dim sum than him in the next few days, weeks and months, I let him pick the majority of the dishes we had.  

I must admit that I was curious to see what kind of dim sum dishes a Japanese person like him would like.  As it turned out, his selections were pretty conventional in that they included one type of rice roll and also an order of steamed barbecue pork buns.  The thing though is that at Yum Cha, the latter are shaped like little pigs -- and together with my choice of har gow which were colored to resemble goldfish, made what was put on our table more unusual looking than usual! ;D

Friday, January 18, 2019

Time again for piggy-themed Chinese New Year decorations -- in Hong Kong, at least!

Piggy-themed Chinese New Year decorations 
can already be found all over Hong Kong!
 Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie -- the latter with 
a pig in hand -- on Causeway Bay's Fashion Walk :D
A Massachusetts-based friend posted a photo on Facebook a week ago that featured a Christmas tree that was still standing after all 12 days of Christmas had long passed.  Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Christmas decorations already started making way for Chinese New Year ones as far back as a fortnight ago.  

Maybe it's because I lived in Malaysia's one ethnic Chinese majority state when I was a child -- or maybe it was due to that now past time having been a more liberal one -- but I remember having seen quite a few porcine-themed decorations for Chinese New Year(s) of the pig when I was growing up in Penang.  In addition, my impression back then was the prejudice that people had about pigs wasn't as  strong as that of the mouse or rat (which also is one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac)!
As a matter of fact, while I can't recall Chinese New Year decorations meeting with much controversy in previous pig years, I remember many people being loathe to have rat or mouse-themed decorations adorning their house, store or other business premises when the rat year came along: that is, until some bright spark decided to co-opt Mickey Mouse into helping celebrate Chinese New Year!  (And for those who're wondering: there is no distinction between rats and mice in the various Chinese dialects.  Put another way: the same word is used for both these creatures that are quite distinct to English speakers!)
With McDull being a beloved local character, I wouldn't be surprised to see the porcine cartoon character pop up all over Hong Kong in the next few weeks the way that it (and its cousin, McMug) did the last time the year of the pig came along.  Thus far though, I've only see a whole host of Chinese New Year decorations featuring pigs that resemble McMug without actually being McMug.  Oh, and -- while walking around in Causeway Bay last night -- statues of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie with a pig in one hand and a Chinese New Year greeting in the other for some reason! ;b

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Dearest Anita is a loving fan tribute to an admirable personality (Film review)

Poster for the first Hong Kong movie 
I viewed in 2019
Dearest Anita (Hong Kong, 2019)
- Clifton Ko and Leung Pak Ho, co-directors
- Starring: Sonija Kwok, Myolie Wu, Paris Wong, Alex Lam, Yuki Fong, Elvina Kong 
Have you ever been touched and/or inspired by a star, sent him or her fanmail or presents, met your idol and even been a friend before you became a fan?  If so, you should be able to relate to the main characters -- all purportedly based on real people -- in Dearest Anita, a loving cinematic tribute to the late Anita Mui Yim Fong conceived by her dedicated fan club, Mui Nation, that was released just a few days after the 15th anniversary of the singer-actress' death.
Back in late 2013, a number of personal items belonging to Anita Mui were auctioned off by the late star's estate (against the will of her mother, among others).  At the auction, die-hard fans of the entertainment idol often referred to as "Mui Chea" (Elder Sister Mui) successfully outbid others seeking to get their hands on those items.  In addition, as Dearest Anita shows, they also managed to salvage a good percentage of those of Anita Mui's belongings that had been declared not valuable enough to auction off and consequently thrown away as trash.  

Among Anita Mui's possessions rescued from a dumpster and found in large bags at a nearby secondhand store by the team of fans headed by Edith (Sonija Kwok) were items given to the star by her fans.  While most entertainment luminaries didn't care for -- and tended to readily discard -- their devotees' offerings, it appeared that the object of the Mui Nation's affection was very different -- and, in fact, kept every single item that those who adored her sent to her in a room in her home in Shoushon Hill.
Rather than sell them or keep them for themselves, Edith and co go about returning those gifts -- be they a letter, a photograph in a handmade frame, a script for a play about Anita Mui or something else altogether -- they had managed to salvage to the fans who had sent them to their idol.  Over the course of doing so, they connect with other Anita Mui fans who, grateful and happy that the woman they adored had cared enough to see those offerings as the tokens of affection that they are, recollect and share their warm memories and often moving stories of Mui Chea (portrayed in the film by Elvina Kong, whose shot in such a way that her face is never seen and/but whose speaking voice sounds remarkably like Anita Mui's).
Almost needless to say, Dearest Anita will appeal most to fans of Anita Mui.  At the same time though, those who weren't her fans at the beginning of the film might well be by the end of it.  For one thing, the movie shows how Mui Chea helped a young man (played by Alex Lam) who lost his father to SARS to continue to pursue his goal of becoming a professional musician.  For another, it also shows how good she was to her friends (including one played by Myolie) and fans (including one played by Yuki Fong). 
If nothing else, Dearest Anita makes clear how Anita Mui could come to be seen as a noble "Daughter of Hong Kong" and the kind of figure that a teacher (Paris Wong) could be inspired to write and stage a play about.  And even if this movie can undoubtedly appear to be on the hokey side at times, it's also true that a number of its more touching scenes are well capable of moving people (like me!) to tears. ;b
My rating for this film: 7.0 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Evocative and amusing Jeju images (Photo-essay)

It's been more than two months since I was on Jeju; so I really should wrap up my series of posts about my visit to that South Korean island where I got to see a lot of truly scenic sights and eat a lot of wonderful food.  But since I still have a number of photos from the trip which my mother and one of my friends -- both of whom are major Korean drama fans -- had proposed that we (along with one other friend and Puppet Ponyo) go on together, here's sharing this photo-essay that, together with my other Jeju posts, will undoubtedly evoke happy memories when I look at them later on... :)

 Admiring the sunrise at Seongsan Ilchulbong
Warning signs galore at Sangumburi
Yes, I did try some local craft beer while on Jeju ;b
I am happy to report that I never was in such a state
when looking for toilet facilities on Jeju! :D
Drying squid that will be snacks before too long!
 I saw a lot of windmills on the island 
I also saw lots of orange trees on Jeju and oranges
for sale -- some for pretty high prices! 
One last photo of Puppet Ponyo 
on a cliff by the sea on Jeju :)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

My top ten 2018 Hong Kong movies list

Poster for my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2018

A grand total of 53 new Hong Kong movies were released in local cinemas in 2018; the same as in 2017.  Quantity wise, then, things look as disappointing for last year as they did the previous year to those who remember a time not so long ago when more than 300 films a year were made in Hong Kong and didn't realize that the Hong Kong film industry was punching way above its weight relative to such as the size of its local population and physical territory.  

And while there may be people who think otherwise, I actually think that 2018 saw a general improvement of the local cinematic output.  Consequently, not only did I view more contemporary Hong Kong movies in 2018 than 2017 but I also feel able -- for the first time in three years -- to get back to compiling a top ten Hong Kong movies list for the year.  So, without further ado... 

I count myself very lucky to have caught a screening of this heart-warming social drama that revolves around a Filipina domestic worker and the Hong Kong man paralyzed from the waist down who she goes to work for at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival for many reasons.  For one, there was a post-screening Q&A which was attended by its director (Oliver Chan Siu Kuen), lead actor (Anthony Wong Chau Sang), lead actress (Cristel Consunji) and a third cast member (Wong Ting Him).  For another, the film still hasn't gone on general release in Hong Kong (and may not do so until April 2019!).  

Then there's the fact of this movie being one of those works that really just is a superb watch.  Deeply moving, yet imbued with a generous sense of humor, it is pretty close to miraculous how good Still Human is when you consider that its director (who also scripted and edited the work) and female lead are feature film debutantes!  Along with a bonafide super star actor in Anthony Wong Chau Sang, these folks -- and, actually, pretty much everyone involved in the production -- never seemed to put a single foot wrong as they went about producing this big-hearted work that had me laughing out loud, weeping a lot and also smiling pretty broadly over the course of my viewing it.

There are films so sad that my heart threatens to break when viewing them.  Ying Liang's A Family Tour is one of those films.  And the degree of upset I feel increases upon realizing that this very personal drama centering on an exiled filmmaker is a semi-autobiographical work.  Intelligent and thought-provoking, its story of a now Hong Kong-based filmmaker who goes with her husband and young son to Taiwan to temporarily unite with her Sichuanese mother -- ostensibly there for a group tour -- also tugs at the heart by showing how much love people forced to live apart, and in stressful conditions, continue to have for each other.  

In a perfect world, the family of Ying Liang could and would live happily together in a place of their choice.  As shown in this film, even if its members can't do so though, they will never stop loving one another even while also continuing to adhere to those principles that more honorable governments than Communist China's would respect and reward rather than resent and seek to reverse.

I viewed a number of old film favorites (a few of them starring my favorite actress of all time) in 2018.  And there also were a couple of 2018 releases that I viewed more than once at the cinema.  The first of these was Crazy Rich Asians; the second was Jevons Au's Distinction.  And for the record: yes, I did get much out of the repeat viewings and actually did enjoy my second viewings of both of those movies more than the initial ones!

With the Hollywood movie: I was able to catch and appreciate the background details more the second time around.  With the Hong Kong film: I found myself admiring all the more how great the director was at getting super naturalistic performances from the cast members, regardless of their age, acting experience and actual mental conditions; and feeling my appreciation of how heartfelt and informed is its account of the challenges and pressures faced by too many local students and teachers.            

In retrospect, I think my inkling that 2018 was going to be a satisfying Hong Kong film year for me came when I found myself really enjoying watching one of the two Chinese New Year movies I chose to check out this past year.  Super star-studded and offering up plenty of laughs, A Beautiful Moment benefited enormously not only from headliners Carina Lau and Simon Yam's star power but also their great onscreen chemistry -- and some times (particular during the Chinese New Year movie viewing period), that really is all a Hong Kong movie fan girl needs! ;b

I didn't write a top ten 2017 Hong Kong movies list but if I had done so, Vampire Cleanup Department would have been at the top of it.  And in 2018, its director (and co-scriptwriter), Yan Pak Wing, came up with another quirky supernatural winner as far as I was concerned in Hotel Soul Good.  The kind of film that's quite a bit better than its (English language) title and premise makes it sound, it's also the kind of genre-transcending movie that Hong Kong cinema used to be famous for and -- so long as people like Yan Pak Wing are given a chance to do so -- still produces against the odds.

Those readers who are familiar with my Hong Kong movie tastes will know I prefer local Hong Kong movies to Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese productions.  They also will know that I'm hardly a big fan of Aaron Kwok -- and that even while I like Chow Yun Fat, I don't adore him like many Hong Kong movie fanboys (and girls) do.  Considering all this, it's pretty miraculous that Project Gutenberg was able to entertain me as much as I do.  The thing though is that, in this case, the co-production arrangements allowed for an ample enough budget to make this globe-trotting effort look super slick and sophisticated, and director-scriptwriter Felix Chong was wise enough to provide Chow Yun Fat with the best role he's had in years as well as strong enough to get Aaron Kwok to rein in his ego and over-acting in a surprising restrained second fiddle role!   

When you see the name Yuen Wo Ping attached to a movie, you know that it's going to contain some genuinely exciting fight scenes.  Happily, Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy doesn't disappoint in that regards.  And even better is that this spin off from the Ip Man movies starring Donnie Yen also has powerful dramatic moments, interesting characters, and capable actors and actresses who can pull off dramatic roles as well as action ones.  Also gratifying is how there are formidable females as well as males in the movie -- but you could say that should be expected in a film whose helmer's directing -- not just action directing -- credits does include Wing Chun! ;b    

This dramatic offering screened at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is a bit of an oddity in that it's actually a video recording of a theatrical production: specifically, the 2017 revival of Pants Theatre Production's dramatic documentary theater retelling of the riots that broke out in Hong Kong in May 1967.  Created from interviews, news clips and other found documents, the theatrical work premiered to great acclaim in 2014.  Recorded on film, I found the performance that I got to see creative and also informative; the latter not least because the 1967 Hong Kong riots is a subject not often covered in films and, for that matter, in or by other media.

9) Tracey           

This drama from debutant director Jun Li has attracted much attention and publicity for being Hong Kong's first film centering on a transgender individual.  Where Tracey derives its greater power and resonance as far as I'm concerned though is by it actually having a wider focus than may be realized.  Put another way, it's an affecting story not only about one person but also that individual's loved ones, including family members and good friends -- all of whom are portrayed by capable thespians, among whom Kara Hui Ying Hung (aka Kara Wai) and Ben Yuen in particular provide standout performances.   

The second film produced by Donnie Yen on this list, Big Brother also sees the action superstar in front of the camera playing a crack soldier turned dedicated educator.  Almost as improbable as his character is how this movie actually is a serious social drama in parts as well as an entertaining comedy and exciting actioner!  Much less of a vanity project and more of a labor of love, this earnest little movie has its heart in the right place -- and so does the main man behind it. :)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

An unlikely haven for lovers of nature in Hong Kong

At Sham Chung this afternoon

Blue sky, green countryside and clear water in Hong Kong!

 Photo of a friend photographing a lizard spotted
on our Sham Chung hike ;b

My heart sank when I walked out of my apartment this morning and saw how polluted the air looked -- about as bad as last Saturday, as a matter of fact.  Having arranged a couple of weeks to go hiking with two friends in the Sai Kung Peninsula, I pressed ahead with my journey to Sai Kung town.  

After meeting up with then though, we quickly agreed to change our hiking plans.  More specifically, we decided to save Tai Long Wan for a clearer day and venture instead on a largely inland route from Pak Sha O to Sham Chung that would offer up plenty of cool close-up sights as well as be less physically demanding.

Early on in the hike, I mentioned to my friends -- who had never been to this part of Hong Kong despite being long-time residents of this territory -- that I liked going along this route in warm weather as certain sections of it can seem like a veritable bug highway.  And while we didn't spot as many bugs out today as on other times that I've been this way, it's worth noting that it's supposedly to be currently the middle of winter in the Big Lychee!

Still, it's also true that today was an unseasonably hot day -- with maximum temperatures of 27.3 degrees Celsius having been registered in Pak Tam Chung this afternoon!  So I guess it shouldn't have been all that surprising that we did spot some butterflies, a couple of dragonflies and at least one long-tailed lizard as well as quite a few birds about the place!

Actually, the sight that I really was surprised to see today was beautiful blue skies over Sham Chung on a day when much of the rest of Hong Kong was enveloped in haze.  Coupled with the clear waters to be found in Sham Chung Wan, I felt like I was in a most unlikely haven in Hong Kong; one I sincerely hope will not be a case of Paradise lost -- be it as a result of greedy land owners, property developers or the government -- any time soon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The seafood feast that was the best meal we had on Jeju!

The main dish we ordered at dinner 
at a Jeju City seafood restaurant :b

The second dish we ordered for that meal :)

A partial view of how our table for four ended up looking! :O

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Seongsan Illchulbong and the rest of eastern Jeju.  But before we bid farewell to the southern Korean island where we had had such a good time, my party of four first drove back to, and spent the evening and night in, Jeju City.
When scouting for restaurants to eat at near our hotel, I noticed a preponderance of Korean fried chicken and barbecue places.  I'm not sure if the rest of Jeju's provincial capital is like this but the sense I got from my neighborhood recce was that Jeju City felt more typically Korean -- at least in culinary terms -- than the rest of Jeju.  

While I have nothing against "regular" Korean food (and, in fact, am a big fan of it!) or, for that matter, the meat of land animals, my party nonetheless unanimously agreed that we'd like to have one more seafood dinner in Jeju before we bid farewell to the island and also different members of our quartet.  

So we ended up going to one of just two seafood restaurants I had seen on my neighborhood recce: an establishment which felt like a truly local family as well as thoroughly unpretentious place in that it came complete with a playpen to one side of the dining area for the restauranteur's children that one cheeky member of our quartet joked was where we could make "picks" the way some people like to do with seafood in restaurant aquariums! 

With two members of our party being non-Asians, we caused quite the stir when we first went into the restaurant.  But once we started ordering food and drinks (beer and soju as well as both cold and lukewarm water) in a manner that assured them we knew what we were doing, and especially after we started tucking into the food laid out in front of us with obvious relish and enthusiasm, everybody relaxed and things got really comfortable and super enjoyable.

At the end of it all, every member of my party decided that this was the best meal that we had in Jeju -- which is saying quite something since we had a lot of good meals and food over the course of our all too short time on the island!  Here's the thing: the main dishes we ordered (a seafood hotpot that came topped with large abalone that were still alive and moving(!), and a large grilled mackerel) were really delicious but what truly made the whole affair so outstanding was the banchan that we were served.  

In addition to the regular kimchi and vegetable banchan, we also were given a big bowl of soup/stew, a grilled fish dish that I initially mistook for the grilled fish we had ordered (to the point of whispering to the friend closest to me that we might have mistakenly ordered grilled saury rather than grilled mackerel) and a pickled/marinated crab dish that more than one of my party later said that we would have been happy to order and pay for if we had seen it on the menu! And, amazingly, after we devoured all the ganjang gejang laid out before us, the waitress came over to our table and asked us if we'd like a refill of that particular banchan -- to which we all told her "yes" most emphatically! 

One member of our party pronounced mid-meal that she would have been happy if served just that pickled/marinated crab dish and soju alone for dinner.  Another laughed and pronounced her a cheap date but I think we all were agreed that it was absolutely delicious.  Even now, when writing about it, my mouth is actually watering at the memory of this dish -- which is similar to a Teochew (aka Chiu Chow) marinated raw crab dish that I've had before and equally delectable to my mind!  And for the record: I thought those super fresh abalone were pretty good too! ;b