Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Housing eccentricities and downright madness!

The Yick Fat Building has appeared in many movies but 
it's a real life place rather than a made-for-movies set! :O
Perhaps more amazingly is that there are buildings
similar to it located in the vicinity!
Often times, when I tell people that I spent two years of my life in East Africa, they have visions of me living in a mud hut in the middle of nowhere and are kind of disappointed when I tell them that, actually, I lived in homes located in an urban space.  At the same time though, I consider some of them to be among the most "exotic" in which I have spent time in.  
We're talking, after all, of such as a place in Zanzibar Stone Town whose directions for visitors to find it ran along the lines of "Go to the Anglican Cathedral and stand near the baobab tree nearby.  Look for the bicycle mechanic shop.  The house I'm living in is located behind it!".  Oh, and there was the fact that another of my Zanzibar Stone Town residences was located in the grounds of a graveyard and had bush babies living on the roof!
In addition, as far as physical amenities were concerned, all of the places where I lived in Zanzibar (I bounced around for a bit there and stayed in four different places over the course of nine months or so) didn't have hot water to bathe with, and three of them weren't equipped with fridges (which necessitated my having to go to the market pretty much daily, like most Zanzibaris!).  Still, living conditions weren't half as spartan as when I attended archaeological field school in the Four Corners region of the US my sophomore summer and spent the bulk of my nights sleeping in a tent!

Such experiences along with that of having been a graduate student, I reckon, have made me more able to tolerate poor housing conditions than many other folks.  Yet it also is the case that there are tons of places here in Hong Kong that I simply would never ever want to have to call home.  And I'm not just talking here about the cage homes and tiny subdivided flats that I consider myself immensely fortunate to only have been in courtesy of the Society for Community Organization (SOCO)'s Life in West Kowloon exhibition in a Sham Shui Po tong lau but also the actually pretty high priced microflats that Hong Kong developers seem more and more intent on building.
A few years back, Queen's Cube was criticized for having flats with listed gross floor space of 400 square feet that actually had only 275 square feet of "saleable" (or "usable") space -- and went on to inspire the production of a clever "King's Cube" parody video.  But its flats seem palatial now in comparison to those in Henderson Land's One Prestige (the smallest of which are just 163 square feet).  And the madness has continued with an announcement today that Swire -- which is widely considered to be the best housing developer in Hong Kong -- will be making available studio apartments that are just 142 square feet in size later this year!
Again, bear in mind that I am someone who has lived in housing that a fair few people would not feel comfortable in.  (In addition to the Zanzibari and Four Corners examples, I've also done such as lived in a group house with four other people in Philadelphia, and attended boarding school in England back in the days where the bulk of the money went to education rather than accomodation!)  And yet, I think that 163 and 142 square feet flats are a bridge too far; especially at their price -- which in the case of One Prestige was close to HK$4 million (~US$515,670) to purchase and in the case of Swire's Star Studios, is looking to cost HK$12,780 (~US$1,648) a month to rent! :O

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Hong Kong Island hike with plenty of critter spottings, including those of the camouflaged variety (Photo-essay)

The first couple of years that I went hiking here in Hong Kong, I tried very hard to avoid going on trails more than once.  After all, one of my reasons for venturing into the Hong Kong countryside was to explore the territory -- and I know that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of trails here to go on.

But the more I've hiked in the Big Lychee, the more I've come to have favorite trails that I am happy to do repeat runs on.  One reason is that I've come to discover that the same section of land can look so very different at different times of the year.  Another is that these days, there are such as critter spottings to look forward to rather than solely scenic vistas on a trek.  

In addition, there are certain trails that I like so much that I want to take other people along; with one of them being the agreeably walkable section of the Hong Kong Trail that takes hikers from Wan Chai Gap over to Wong Nai Chung Gap that I've been on more than five times, and with at least five different friends now!  And of course it helps that it almost always yields interesting sights, including of the kind of camouflaged creatures that I'd have been hard pushed to spot when I first began hiking regularly here more than eight years ago now! ;b

A tame looking hill stream that I now know is capable

A mystery bug whose legs look disproportionately longer 
than one might expect, given the size of the rest of it!

A butterfly that could easily be mistaken for a leaf
if one were to walk quickly by it ;b

Shiny fluffy material that got me 
thinking it came from fairyland! :)

 But, of course, the reality's more mundane... ;)

Doesn't this brown grasshopper look like 
it was fashioned out of wood? :O

 I love spotting stick insects because it feels like
such an achievement when I'm able to do so ;b

Your eyes are not deceiving you: that Golden Orb Weaver's 
prey includes a pretty large butterfly!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Up hill and down dale in urban Hong Kong

Some streets in Hong Kong are only accessible on foot

Not a car in sight despite this photo having been 
taken in the heart of the city! ;b

Considering that two typhoons passed close enough to Hong Kong this week that typhoon signals were raised on a number of days, I'm actually pretty amazed that I managed to spend as much time outdoors as I did.  And while I haven't gone hiking in the Hong Kong countryside in more than a week, I still reckon that I've actually gotten in quite a bit of a workout by way of having done quite a bit of urban walking over the few days; this particularly so since one frequently finds oneself going up and down slopes -- rather than just moving about on flat land -- in these parts.

On more than one occasion, I've had a friend jokingly complain to me when I've suggested that we have a meal and/or drinks in Central or the section of Sheung Wan adjacent to it about this meaning that we have to get in a bit of hiking before and after meeting up; and this particularly when the designated restaurant or bar is located in Soho or nearby "PoHo".  But I figure that places like Little Bao and Yardbird -- not to mention For Kee and Sing Heung Yuen -- are worth the climb (along with the wait that's often required in order to snag a seat at these dining establishments)!

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before on this blog but the first place I actually ever stayed in after moving to Hong Kong back in May 2007 was located in Soho.  And should anyone wonder: yes, I did think that it was pretty cool to be living in the same part of Hong Kong that Tony Leung Chiu Wai's Chungking Express character was shown doing -- and the film's cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, did in real life! -- and to head to work and back home daily along the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator/Travelator which I will forever associate with that 1994 Wong Kar Wai movie.  Also, even with what can seem like over-gentrification in the area, it's true enough that this part of Hong Kong still does have a particular visual charm.

Nevertheless, I have to admit to not wanting to live in this elevated section of the Big Lychee these days.  Instead, my residential preferences involve prioritizing being closer to an MTR station and this generally means that one will be on level ground closer to sea level.  And even though it's true enough that the particular area of Hong Kong which I've chosen to make my home for some nine years now -- and counting! -- is not as picturesque as these other parts of the territory, it's got enough (local) color and attractions as far as I'm concerned! ;b 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness is disturbingly overly dramatic in its portrayal of the Umbrella Movement (film review)

The peaceful norm in "Occupied" sections of Hong Kong 
during the Umbrella Movement

75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness (Extended Edition) (Hong Kong, 2016)
- Film 75, directors, cinematographers and editors

It's taken a while but a spate of documentaries on the Umbrella Movement which took place in the fall of 2014 here in Hong Kong have finally started to see the light of day.  Following such as the appearance of Umbrella Movement/Revolution music videos on Youtube and Umbrella Movement short films (a selection of which were screened at the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival last year) have been the likes of Evans Chan's thoughtful Raise the Umbrellas (which screened in "work of progress" form at the Asia Society last December along with his insightful 1992 political drama, To Liv(e)), and a number of entries in this year's recently concluded Chinese Documentary Festival.   
Faced with a wealth of choices, I opted to check out a 130 minute documentary that I was hoping would have the broadest view of things on account of it having been made by a group of filmmakers rather than have just one or two directors as well as possess a less specialist focus -- unlike, say, Tim Cheung King Si's More than Conquerors, which looked at a group of Christians who took part in the Umbrella Movement, or Kanas Liu's 2 Van Drivers, about van drivers who volunteered to distribute and transport donated supplies during the Umbrella Movement, and even acted as first-aiders and drove the injured to hospitals when needed.

Especially in view of another film screened at the festival -- Chan Tze Koon's Yellowing -- having earned a Golden Horse nomination for best documentary and favorable reviews from the likes of David Bordwell, I think I made the wrong choice in going for 75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness (Extended Edition).  And in retrospect, I should have considered the possibility of the film containing, if not misrepresentations exactly, then a portrayal that doesn't jibe with many others' perspectives of the events that have radically changed Hong Kong's political landscape since, unlike the normative view of the 2014 Hong Kong protests having lasted 79 days, the documentary's makers appear to consider that it lasted just 75 days. 

On a positive note: I like that 75 Days includes film footage shot during the night as well as day at Occupy Mongkok and Occupy Causeway Bay along with Occupy Admiralty. I also very much appreciate that members of Film 75 were on the ground and recording what was happening pretty much right from the start, and captured such as the protests that took place back on September 28th, 2014 and the disproportionately violent police response to them that culminated in an unprecedented 87 cannisters of tear gas having been fired into the crowd.

All in all, the strong impression I had is that members of Film 75 collectively spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours at the Occupy sites and have a wealth of film footage of what took place, particularly over in Mongkok and Admiralty.  It's just such a pity that, when choosing what to include in 75 Days, they ended up disproportionately featuring dramatic, confrontational moments during the Umbrella Movement; and, in so doing, ended up giving an overly aggressive view of what actually were generally extremely peaceful, non-violent -- and polite and civilized even! -- protests.

During the post-screening discussion of the film, a member of the audience shared his dismay at precisely this and said that he wouldn't want 75 Days to be seen by his friends who hadn't been at the Occupy sites themselves because they may get the wrong idea of the Umbrella Movement upon doing so.  I totally agree with him about this; which is particularly sad in view of my (still) getting the sense that members of Film 75 actually are Umbrella Movement supporters themselves or, at the very least, actually wanted to present a balanced view of what the protests.

Here's the thing: I think the members of Film 75's wish to ensure that their work was interesting and dramatic inadvertently resulted in their favoring those moments they captured when people behaved violently and in other stupid ways that sometimes disturb and other times actually (just) amuse.  And even while a large proportion of the bad behavior shown was committed by individuals against the Umbrella Movement, I actually came away from viewing 75 Days with the fear that this film could easily be made use of by the Umbrella Movement's opponents and detractors.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Friday, October 21, 2016

Typhoon Haima came close enough to Hong Kong to shut down the city for the greater part of today!

Less vehicular traffic than usual in Causeway Bay 
earlier this this evening

Noticeably less foot traffic too at the usually super busy
Over the course of just a few days, Hong Kong has seen warning signals raised for not one but two typhoons passing nearby.  Earlier this week, Typhoon Sarika caused typhoon signal number 3 to be raised -- and also brought about Black Rainstorm-class torrential downpours that caused several sections of the city to dramatically flood.  Still, it didn't cause the Big Lychee to shut down the way that Typhoon Haima did earlier today after it came close enough to Hong Kong to prompt typhoon signal number 8 to be issued at around 6.10am and stay in effect for close to 12 hours.
More than 740 flights scheduled to depart from or arrive at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport were cancelled and 156 trees were felled by the third typhoon to come near Hong Kong this month.  For my part, I got an inkling that Typhoon Haima was a more serious storm than Typhoon Sarika last night when I felt significantly stronger winds than usual blowing and the barometric pressure changed so dramatically that my back started aching and I actually came down with a migraine attack so bad that not only was my head thudding but the very act of sipping water -- to help me swallow some ibuprofen -- caused me to feel nauseous! 
Although I woke up later than usual this morning, the sky was so dark that it looked like I had woken hours earlier than was actually the case.  Even before getting confirmation when I checked the Hong Kong Observatory website, I knew that the Typhoon Signal Number 8 had already been raised due to it being way quieter than usual outside as a result of such as the buses not running and the majority of stores on the road where I live not having opened for the day.
Although it didn't actually rain as hard for much of today as it had done on Wednesday afternoon, I opted against venturing out from my home until Typhoon Signal Number 8 had been downgraded into Typhoon Signal Number 3 and things felt like they had settled down somewhat.  Deciding to reward myself with a sushi dinner in Causeway Bay, I headed over there on a tram which had resumed service -- and found that normally super busy part of Hong Kong to be way less crowded (and consequently more peaceful) than usual.  
While strolling about the area, I discovered that such as the Causeway Bay branches of the Apple Store and Sogo Department Store were closed despite Typhoon Signal Number 8 no longer being in effect.  On the other hand, many restaurants, bars, pharmacies and such had opened for business.  Indeed, I found out just this evening from a restaurant manager that branches of Senryo actually stay open during Typhoon Signal Number 8; what with the management perhaps anticipating that some lovers of sushi really won't let major typhoons get in the way of their craving for this popular Japanese food which definitely has many fans here in Hong Kong! ;b

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Meeting with Bodhisattva doesn't get the spirit soaring (film review)

A Bodhisattva on Ngong Ping

Meeting with Bodhisattva (Taiwan, 2016)
- Kuo Shiao Yun, director and co-editor
Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by drums and drummers.  And while early on in my life, I only knew of Western drummers like Ringo Starr and Karen Carpenter, the drummers whose music has really made my heart pound with excitement in recent times have been East Asian percussion ensembles such as Japan's Kodo group of taiko drummers and Taiwan's dramatic U-Theatre.  
In addition to having been privileged to witness live performances by these drum troupes here in Hong Kong, I've also seen U-Theatre prominently feature in a 2007 drama directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Kenneth Bi's The Drummer.  Playing a fictional troupe which nonetheless are closely modelled on their real selves, its members awed me with their zen style of drumming but also the spartan lifestyles and disciplined routines adhered to at their Taiwan mountain base.  
If truth be told, I'd have been satisfied if Kuo Shiao Yun's documentary about this artistic troupe -- which screened at this year's Chinese Documentary Festival -- had pretty much just concentrated on bringing U-Theatre's musical performances to the silver screen.  But Meeting with Bodhisattva -- which takes its title from the troupe's work "inspired by humanistic and Buddhist wisdom on the aspiration of strength and bravery in life" -- actually spends more time on the social work enacted by, and spiritual dimensions of, U-Theatre than the troupe's music-making efforts per se.
In particular, the film looks at U-Theatre's interaction with recently released inmates at Taiwan's Changhua Prison who had participated in its dharma drum training and subsequently were invited to embark on a close to 400 kilometer walk from the southern city of Pingtung to the Taiwanese capital of Taipei along with U-Theatre troupe members and a group of young students from the countryside who also had trained with U-Theatre.  
Early on in Meeting with Bodhisattva, one is given the sense that U-Theatre's founder and artistic director, Liu Ruo Yu, had this idea that walking can get one in a meditative state of mind and help people to focus on following the path towards righteousness.  As we proceed further along into the film, however, not only does this particular viewpoint end up being challenged by such as the errant behaviour of some of the walk participants but the documentary itself seems to lose its way.
By film's end, it feels like the idealists of U-Theatre have been brought down to earth.  And although I don't think this is what the people behind this documentary actually had sought to do, it felt like they effectively revealed the subjects of their film to be less, well, magical and extraordinary than they previously had seemed.  
On one level, there's nothing wrong with that.  But I can't help that Meeting with Bodhisattva consequently ended up disappointing its core audience: those of us who have been thrilled in the past by the music of U-Theatre but also been impressed by -- even if not totally subscribing to -- their philosophical ideals and spiritual beliefs.
My rating for the film: 6.5

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From Siu Sai Wan to Big Wave Bay via Leaping Dragon Walk and associated paths (Photo-essay)

"Here be dragons" is the phrase famously associated with unmapped areas of the world in days of yore, and which does appear in Latin on a 16th century copper globe.  Increasingly though, I think that Hong Kong is the place where dragons are to be found -- or, at least, dragon-themed place names such as Kowloon (taken from the Cantonese kau loong, meaning "nine dragons), the Lung Yeuk Tau ("Mountain of the Leaping Dragon") Heritage Trail, and the Leaping Dragon Walk which I went on one sunny and super high visibility afternoon (very unlike today's, with its torrential "black rain" and all!) not so long ago. 

Leading from Siu Sai Wan up to the northern end of the Pottinger Peak Country Trail, one can cobble together a nice hiking route that covers the entirety of the paved path, part of that country trail and an unnamed trail that leads down to Hong Kong Island's Big Wave Bay.  While in the area, one might be tempted to detour along the approximately half kilometer long Cape Collinson Path to check out the lighthouse over at Cape Collinson.  If you do so though, go more for the sea views and critter spottings (including camera-shy squirrels!) than for the lighthouse itself -- which, disappointingly, one can't get all that close to courtesy of locked gates! ;S

One can easily get tempted to tarry a while at 
Siu Sai Wan's scenic waterfront promenade
 The closest I got to the Cape Collinson lighthouse :(

Maybe I'd have better luck if I went along this roped path
but I wasn't feeling daring enough to do so! ;S

Back on the Leaping Dragon Walk, one eventually gets
sufficient elevation to get impressive views like this :)
Just past the "Do Not Feed Wild Animals" banner is
a shrine where humans can get some tea to drink ;b
But it's the unnamed section of trail leading down to Big Wave Bay 
that offered up the hike's most spectacular views to my mind!
On a high visibility day, one can see Joss House Bay's Tai Miu 
from this eastern Hong Kong Island hiking trail! 
Looking southwards, and much closer to get to,
was Big Wave Bay, where I concluded the hike :)