Monday, October 30, 2023

After dark in Shinjuku (Photo-essay)

On my very first visit to Tokyo back in 1982, I was put up in a hotel in Ginza.  On each visit to the Japanese capital city since, however, I've been based across town over in the Shinjuku.  The first time was not by choice -- since I was visiting with my parents and they were the ones deciding where we would be staying.  But this western section of Tokyo has become one that I do prefer to stay in; this not least since it's become fairly familiar to me and there are things and places there that I do like (including a plethora of eateries and drinking places to check out).
For the most part, however, I've tended to stick to locales to the west and south of Shinjuku Station -- though a friend did once take me and our mothers to Shinjuku Ni-chome, which, in addition to being another part of the area with lots of eateries and bars, is the gay part of town!  This time around, however, I decided to venture out to the eastern part of town to check out the famous Golden Gai and notorious Kabukicho on my first night back in Tokyo; albeit only after I had first had dinner in an izakaya over on the west side of Shinjuku Station and, also, really just to take in the sights and soak in the atmosphere rather than for much more feasting and drinking -- but, truly, that was fine and fun enough as is... ;b
The izakaya I went to on my first night back in Japan
A sign outside another izakaya that, I must admit, did tempt me some! ;b

The nicely lit path to Hanazono Jinja, which the Golden Gai abuts
A giant crab sign for a crab restaurant nearby
can be seen from the grounds of Hanazono Jinja :D
One of the alleys of the Golden Gai
The Golden Gai's establishments appear to be a mix of
tourist-friendly -- even touristy -- ones and those catering to locals
Kabukicho's central road is known as Godzilla Road
In case you couldn't see why in the previous photo... ;b

Friday, October 27, 2023

Back to Japan for the first time in four years!

What I had first as part of my first meal in Japan in four years :)
Straw-smoked katsuo (bonito), served up with two different
sauces and assorted items to top it with :b
In between my previous blog post and this one, I've been away from Hong Kong as well as took some time off from being online.  I'm still catching up on what's been happening in Hong Kong while I've been away and since my return.  So instead of adding my say to that, here's going ahead and blogging instead about some of what I did while away from the number one place I love and visiting the number one country I most enjoy visiting.  For, yes, four years to the month after my previous visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, I made another trip to Japan! 
With so much having happened (in the world at large as well as to Hong Kong) in that time, I did have some pre-trip anxiety as well as excitement.  And because I worried that things there would have changed a lot over there (as well as here), I decided to start the trip of with the familiar: a couple of days in Tokyo, a city I've visited multiple times (the first time back in 1982 and most recently in May 2019).
Upon landing in Japan though, the anxiety melted away.  It helped that I passed through immigration controls both in Hong Kong as well as Tokyo smoothly, and the customs too.  The train ride into the city went smoothly too; ditto check in to my hotel.  It help me to relax too that I had booked in at the hotel that I've stayed the most times in when in Tokyo and that the surroundings were largely familiar -- with many shops and eateries that I knew still being around (though it's also true enough that there were boarded up fronts and empty lots where a few familiar establishments used to be -- including *sob* a favourite sushi place)!
If that sushi place had still been around, it would have been where I would have my first meal in Japan in four years.  Instead, I ended up opting for an izakaya in the area: one which I had never been to previously but, still, was familiar enough in terms of my knowing what to expect there -- including an otoshi (compulsory appetizer) to accompany my first glass of refreshing nama biru (draft beer) to start off and my being able to enjoy the Japanese equivalent of tapas-style dining.    
There was sashimi moriawase (assorted raw fish) on the menu but I opted for the straw-smoked katsuo, a photograph of which had been posted outside the establishment and enticed me to give this particular izakaya a try.  When the dish arrived at my table and I tasted the first generous chunk of the fish, I knew that I had made the right choice -- and, well, let's just say that it was a portend of what turned out to be yet another enjoyable, food feast-filled time in Japan!
Put another way: Japan, I missed you so -- and worried, among other things, that you might have changed (for the worse) and, also, that with each passing day, week, month and year of not visiting, I was over-hyping you up more and more.  But you delivered once again: not only in terms of delicious food and drinks, and interesting sights and experiences -- but, also, with the amazing omotenashi, courteous, gentle and friendly ways that many of your people have. Oh, and than there's things Funassyi... but that I'll talk about more in later posts (though I will state for now that OF COURSE I could not resist visiting Funassyi's hometown of Funabashi once more this time around)! :)     

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Hong Kong sights in 2023 that did not exist back in July 2019 (Photo-essay)

I met up this evening with a friend visiting from abroad who was last in Hong Kong in July 2019.  She told me she had hesitated to visit -- not only because of the pandemic but, also, the national security law but ultimately decided that there was an annual event being held in Hong Kong this month that she simply didn't want to miss for five years running.  She also had feared that the Hong Kong she knew (she's been visiting Hong Kong regularly for decades) no longer existed.
On the eve of her departure, her assessment is that Hong Kong has noticeably changed but much of what she remembered and loved about Hong Kong also still exists.  With regards to the latter: more friends have remained than she expected.  With regards to the former: it's not just that her favourite cha chaan teng has closed down but also what she described as "a general feel".  And than there are the noticeable physical changes -- with the following being the kind of things that did not exist back in July 2019 -- or, at least, one month earlier:
Seemingly strangely laid out brickwork (the result of
hasty patch up work in the aftermath of such as this and this
Covered up (political) graffiti -- I can recall to the day
when I first smelt spray paint and saw someone spray painting
a message onto a wall: August 24th, 2019
Gray blocks (of covered up political graffiti) 
on the road
Pro-democracy messages in what appears to otherwise
be pretty normal eateries, coffee shops and other shops
(i.e., members of the Yellow Economic Circle)
Wire fencing on the sides of many an overhead bridge
that makes them look and feel akin to giant cages
(New) political graffiti -- this one being the Chinese
characters for "freedom" -- that's not (yet) been covered up
Flags on display in, again, unlikely places -- and there
just being a lot more China and Hong Kong flags everywhere
(still, some one and a half weeks into October)!
And, of course, a far greater police presence 
(and variety of police vehicles) than before!

Monday, October 9, 2023

Typhoon Koinu has come and gone, but the political persecution in Hong Kong continues

Storm/typhoon front visibly moving in last Friday afternoon
This is going to sound familiar but... Hong Kong was visited by yet another typhoon in recent days.  The T1 (lowest) warning signal was raised on Wednesday for Typhoon Koinu, became a T3 on Friday afternoon, a T8 at 12.40pm on yesterday (Sunday) and then a T9 at 7pm that same day -- but a T10 was not deemed to necessary.  Instead, Typhoon Koinu was downgraded to a T8 before midnight yesterday before all typhoon warnings were cancelled earlier today.

There's no doubt about it: climate change is real.  At the same time though, I find it... interesting that friends living outside Hong Kong worry more how I'm faring during a typhoon or black rainstorm than, say, when they read news about X getting arrested, Y and Z having HK$1 million bounties placed on their heads, and A getting jailed -- for things that can seem well nigh inexplicable (in terms of their appearing to be so trivial or just, well, not (all that) wrong)!
To be fair, it may well be that a lot of the political prosecution and persecution happening in Hong Kong is no longer making international news -- due to so much bad stuff happening in the world at large and, also, I often feel, because much of the world has written off Hong Kong (or, at least, those who want it to have such as genuine universal suffrage for the denizens of this territory).  In which case, I feel that I should continue to try to draw attention to this on this blog -- which has just a few readers but, well, even a few is better than nothing, right?  To that end: here are three recent cases, all of which are absurd and also sad:  

One involves an elderly pro-democracy activist known as "Grandpa" Chan who many Hong Kongers came to know (about) by way of his involvement with an organization known variously as "Protect Our Children" and "Protect the Kids" that sought "to mediate between police and demonstrators, as well as buy protesters time when the cops start to charge" during the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy street protests of 2019 and 2020.  (Grandpa Chan can be seen in action in Kiwi Chow's protest documentary, Revolution of Our Times.)  
Now approaching 80 years of age (with his age being variously given as 77 and 79 by different sources), Chan Ki-kau hiked up the iconic 495-meter-high Kowloon Hill known as Lion Rock on the eve of the recent Mid-Autumn Festival and had a photograph taken of him holding up two banners with quotes by Chinese literary great Lu Xun on them.  One week later, on October 5th, he was arrested by the police "for "unlawful display of items in a country park."" , for which "[o]ffenders face a fine of up to HK$2,000 and three years imprisonment."  
The second case I think worth highlighting involves a 38-year-old Hong Kong man having been sentenced to four months in prison on Friday "after he pleaded guilty to importing children’s books that were deemed to be “seditious publications""; with the books concerned being the now pretty infamous illustrated tomes produced by speech therapists about sheep and wolves.  Kurt Leung "was arrested in March after he signed for a delivery from the U.K. containing the books."  Incidentally, the number of books he imported: 18 (yes, just 18).
The following are further details of the sentencing courtesy of a Hong Kong Free Press piece: "Taking into the account that Leung was not an “instigator” in the case and did not request the import of the books, [Chief Magistrate Victor] So adopted six months as the starting point of sentence. He granted a one-third reduction because of Leung’s guilty plea. Leung, who has been detained for a month pending trial, was eventually sent to prison for four months." 
(Note: many individuals accused of breaking the sedition and national security laws have taken to pleading guilty -- not because they actually think they are guilty but because they don't think they stand much chance of getting declared innocent and think that they if they plead guilty, they will get reduction of their sentences.)
Amazingly, the visitor who had sought to deliver the denied book to Owen Chow reports that "Owen considers these incidents a kind of training. "These methods don't work on me anyway."" Frankly, people like him and Grandpa Chan leave me in awe.  Their faith is so strong, and persistence inspiring.  And I truly wish more people knew about them, their actions, their sacrifice, and that there remain many people who truly are unwilling to give up in and on Hong Kong.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Checking out the Miss You Much Leslie and other film related exhibitions at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (Photo-essay)

It's been years since I visited the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.  After finally doing so earlier this week, I regret not having done so months earlier; this especially so since if I had done so just a little more than a month ago, I'd have been able to catch the Out of Thin Air: Hong Kong Film Art and Costumes special exhibition which ran for four months.  And having missed out on that, I was determined not to also miss out on viewing the Miss You Much Leslie special exhibition commemorating this year having been the 20th year of superstar singer-actor Leslie Cheung's passing (which is scheduled to end this upcoming Monday (October 9th).  
As it so happened, when I went to the museum, I found some nice surprises!  Firstly, entrance to the museum's currently free! (I recall it previously being HK$10 for general admissions and HK$25 for special exhibitions, like the one on Monet back in 2016 and that on the works of Studio Ghibli back in 2014.)  Secondly, I found that a number of the museum's other exhibitions have film connections too.  
For the record: they don't only include the special exhibition on Bruce Lee and the installation in the Jin Yong Gallery (which I had already seen on a previous visit) but also a special display on Kwan Tak-hing (which opened in May 2021) and the new Hong Kong Pop 60+   permanent exhibition on Hong Kong popular culture from 1945 to the early 2000s (which, as far as I could see, went up to at least 2018, since I saw clips in it from Still Human)...

Outside the Miss You Much Leslie exhibition space
Many of the costumes and photos in the exhibition got me
(fondly) recalling attending a Leslie Cheung concert
in Atlantic so many years ago now...
Really miss you much, Leslie :S
Before Leslie, there was Bruce Lee -- and yes, I must say 
I was surprised to see the colors used (t)here since
they are associated with Hong Kong pro-democracy protests
(along with Bruce Lee's famous "Be water" quote)!
And before Bruce Lee, there was 
martial artist-film star Kwan Tak-hing
Bruce Lee's image also is on the front of the Hong Kong Pop 60+
exhibition (and the exhibition also features Leslie Cheung content)
A display in the music section of the exhibition (Photography 
was not allowed for copyright reasons in the film section :( )
What with many Hong Kong entertainers dabbling in more than
one field though, the music section still had film connections
(E.g., that white gown was worn by superstar singer-actress 
Anita Mui, the subject of the 2021 Anita biopic)

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Stand Up Story is a stand-up film with stand-up characters (Film review)

One of those Hong Kong movies I believe deserves
more publicity and a larger audience than it looks to have had 
Stand Up Story (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Au Cheuk-man, director and co-scriptwriter 
- Starring: Ng Siu-hin, Ben Yuen
Stand Up Story stars a Golden Horse award winner (for Tracey (2018)) in Ben Yuen and, in Ng Siu-hin, an actor I thought was headed for superstardom after viewing his debut performance in She Remembers, He Forgets (2015) and thinking he -- and fellow debutant actor Neo Yau Hok-sau -- out-acted the older likes of Miriam Yeung and Jan Lam in it.  Despite that, it appears to have gone under audience radars and, despite it having opened in Hong Kong cinemas back on September 14th, doesn't appear to have an International Movie Database (IMDB) entry.  I consider this to be a shame because I think this bittersweet dramedy is pretty watchable and ought to be better known.
An admittedly small-scale offering, Stand Up Story revolves around a working-class father and son pair played by Yuen and Ng.  Ah Man is played as a secondary school student, then university student and then university graduate by Ng Siu-hin.  His father, Wah, is played all through the film by Ben Yuen.  For most of the movie, theirs is a household of just two individuals as Wah's wife (and Ah Man's mother) walked out on them when Ah Man was young -- with the reason given being that she was finding it too hard to deal with not just being a mother but, also (and principally), the wife of an intellectually disabled man.
In lesser hands (and by this, I mean not only the actor but also the co-scriptwriters -- who include director Au Cheuk-man along with Lou Shiu-wa and Ng Hoi-man), Wah could come across as a joke or pathetic.  Instead, Wah comes across as a three-dimensional human being who is a loving father, hardworking employee, helpful and amiable colleague, and a pretty admirable person who is able to see the funny side of life and feel a range of emotions.
The character of Ah Man is similarly well-drawn, and portrayed.  The impression one gets is of a youth who has a goofy, comedic side but also a sense of responsibility towards his father that has made him more mature than some of his peers, the university graduate who aspires to be a professional stand-up comedian -- against his father's wish for him to become a teacher -- comes across above all as real.
Something that might be perceived as a weakness of Stand Up Story is that neither of its principal characters and, also, none of its main supporting characters (that is, those appear in more than two scenes) are awful humans .  However, I actually see this as a positive; this not least because it's far easier and common to have a story and film that has tension -- and hold the audience's interest -- by way of conflicts between "good" and "bad" than one peopled by good guys and gals; and this particularly so when the characters in it include, in this instance, the Mainland Chinese immigrant (played by Joman Chiang) who walked out of her marriage and effectively abandoned her young son, and another female character who is a sex worker.
Also, while it's true that there are some "messages" that the movie seeks to impart, Stand Up Story does not come across as annoyingly preachy.  Instead, its makers come across as admirably well-meaning and seeking to tell a good story about good people who those with less kind hearts are apt to look down upon but turn out to be able to have fulfilling lives that also positively impact others.
And for those wondering: Stand Up Story is not overtly political story-wise.  But I think its choice of actors can be quite telling -- especially when one looks at their body of work; which includes a gay drama in the case of Ben Yuen and Ten Years in the case of Ng Siu-hin.  Also, I really appreciated the presence in this movie of Vivek Mahbubani: who became my favorite stand-up comedian after seeing him perform at the Take Out Comedy Club and that he is one more individual who really f**king loves Hong Kong.
My rating for this film: 7.0      

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Looking back at this past long holiday weekend

The nearest I got to the lantern displays at Victoria Park this year I found the large crowd pretty offputting!
As those who read my October 1 blog post know, I did not go out at all all day, never mind that evening.  Instead, I celebrated World Sake Day this year by having quite a bit of sake at home, by myself, in the middle of the day -- something which made me so sleepy, if not super mellow, that I actually ended up in bed for much of the day!
Neither did I venture out the evening before -- although I did go out for part of the day to get prepared for an upcoming festival I'm very much looking forward to.  More specifically, I spent a good chunk of Saturday going about procuring tickets for this year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival screenings.  And the ticketing system being expectedly awful (due in no small part for one month's worth of film festival screenings all going on sale at the same time!), I'd estimate that I ended up spending around 20 minutes queuing for tickets and travelling between screening venues to queue for tickets at their ticketing counters for each ticket I ended up getting!
A quick film diversion: Expectedly, a number of the Hong Kong titles that will screen at the fest feature among the list of nominees for Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards which just came out today.  And yes, they were among the films whose screenings sold out earliest.  Still, the film whose screenings appeared to sell out the quickest was actually Wim Wenders' Perfect Days, thanks to lead actor Koji Yakusho's popularity in Hong Kong and news that he will be coming over to grace this year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival!  (And yes, I think it's safe to surmise that among the Hong Kong film fest crowd, Japanese films rule -- along with local Hong Kong offerings which truly have seen a renaissance in recent years!)
The one evening that I ventured out on this long weekend was Friday: the night of the Mid-Autumn (AKA Mooncake, AKA Lantern) Festival.  Until last year or the year before though, I didn't go to Victoria Park to view the lantern display there -- because I had seen the size of the crowd -- which undoubtedly was swelled by Mainland Chinese tourists here during Golden Week -- on previous nights and found them horrifying.  (I mean: Covid IS still around after all!  Just today, there's news of a new Covid surge in Singapore and I've also read in recent weeks of Japan experiencing a ninth Covid wave!) 
Neither did I end up going to view the Tai Hang Fire Dragon, which actually ventured out into the streets for the first time since 2019.  Ditto re the less well known Pok Fu Lam Fire Dragon which I still haven't caught sight of in real life -- but, hopefully will at some point!  Heck, I didn't even do any moon viewing -- even though this Harvest Moon was actually the last supermoon of the year!    

Instead, I went over on Friday evening to the flat of friends and had a mooncake party that involved our sampling a whole bunch of mooncakes (e.g., traditional lotus seed paste with double yolk, red bean paste with orange peel, trendy lava custard mooncakes, an Earl Grey tea mini-mooncake, a durian flavoured mini mooncake, Haagen Dazs ice cream mooncakes)!  And yes, it was a lot of fun!

So, yes, it's possible to have happy moments in Hong Kong still.  Except, of course, it's also impossible to completely forget that, these days, many Hong Kongers have loved ones and/or friends who are no longer in Hong Kong and/or are currently in jail for political reasons.  Including on Mid-Autumn Festival, which traditionally is a day where families gather and reunite, as well as October 1st, a date which previously would see protest marches take place -- something which I saw as a positive sign that Hong Kong was a free society despite it not having genuine universal suffrage, and during which I was happy to see familiar faces with whom I felt an emotional connection and solidarity. *Sigh* 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Absolutely NOT in a celebratory mood on China's National Day

Yesterday in Hong Kong. (Just imagine how many more
cops there would have been on the street today.)
Any mood one has to celebrate anything quickly dissipates
when seeing the police (vehicles included)
The proverbial "they" say that "A picture paints a thousand words".  I trust that the above images tell you that Hong Kong is NOT back (to normal).  And that the prevailing mood is far more police state than "Happy Hong Kong" -- so much so that when this evening's fireworks display began, my first thoughts involved "Hong Kong is being bombed" and a thunderstorm having arrived to rain on non-existent parades rather than, well, anything festive in nature.  
And oh, I'll spare you the images of tens of thousands of literally red flags on display in various parts of the territory -- including inside a Church of England cathedral! -- as I frankly have already seen enough of them -- particularly after Hong Kong's second, scarier Handover -- to last a lifetime.  This even though I did NOT venture out of my apartment all of today (though some brave, defiant souls did).
Should you wish to view more photos though, here's a link to my blog post from nine years ago today.  Frankly though, viewing that blog entry saddens me more when viewing it today.  Because, well, we had so much hope then... especially compared to now.     
My blog post from four years ago also makes for sad reading (what with it including a report of a young man -- who we now know is named Tsang Chi-kin -- having been shot by the police that day).  At the same time though, re-reading those blog entries only makes me convinced that the resistance needs to go on; this not least because people were indeed right to demand to have genuine universal suffrage and protest against police brutality then, and still are.