Friday, September 23, 2016

Scenic views from The Peak just before and after sunset

Looking northwards from The Peak minutes before sunset
A view from The Peak minutes after sunset
Whenever I go hiking in the vicinity of Victoria Peak, it's almost always in bright daylight.  And although I've been up on The Peak at night a few times, I had never been there at sunset until today -- when I decided to go up there an hour or so before I was due to meet a friend for dinner at a restaurant in the Peak Tower (which, if truth be told, was so mediocre that I can't be bothered to name it!) to enjoy the views from a northern point in the Peak Circuit trail which offers up panoramic views of the city below, Victoria Harbour and the area to the north of that iconic body of water.
As luck would have it, the sunset was not particularly spectacular today.  I heard a couple of people blame the air pollution for the lack of a visually striking sunset; which I found rather funny, since when I went to college in Beloit, Wisconsin, years ago, the beautiful orange-red sunsets that one regularly caught sight of there -- along with the significantly less pleasant "cheese breeze" -- tended to be ascribed to the big presumed-to-be-majorly-polluting Frito-Lay factory across the river! 
With time to spare, I decided to hang about to see if the views would get more glorious after sunset.  And so it proved, with the switching on of each light inside and outside a multitude of buildings below adding a bright spark to the overall visual display.  
In all honesty, so beautiful was the sights that lay there before me that if I hadn't had that dinner date with my friend, I could easily have spent 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes enjoying gazing out and down at the sprawling urban landscape below; and this without the artificial -- and, to my mind, really unnecessary -- addition of the Symphony of Lights, the daily light and sound show that the tourism folks make quite a big deal of but I've never felt inclined to go and check out! ;b

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Seasonal musings on autumnal equinox (in the northern hemisphere) day

A beautiful day for windsurfing in Long Harbour
(and hiking along the nearby Tai Tan Country Trail!)
Insects like this damselfly are still out and about -- but I reckon
it's noticeably, even if slowly, changing from summer to fall
According to the Chinese lunar calendar, it was already mid-autumn last week.  But according to the Gregorian solar calendar which much of the world now uses, the autumnal equinox (and thus the first day of the fall) for the northern hemisphere only arrived today.  And although the maximum daily temperature still is around the 30 degree Celsius (~86 degrees Fahrenheit) mark here in Hong Kong, I've begun to get the distinct feeling that summer is -- if not completely over just yet in this part of the world, then at least winding down at long last. 
For even though I'm still feeling a need to have the air conditioning on for at least a few hours of the day and/or night in my apartment, I've got to noticing a nice cool breeze blowing every once when I'm outdoors, in urban as well as rural areas.  And more welcome still is the air feeling noticeably less thickly humid these days; making it noticeably easier to breathe when one's out exerting oneself by doing such as hiking up and down hills! 
Best of all is that I no longer get invariably bathed in sweat from just standing out in the sun waiting for the bus or going for a bit of a stroll (never mind an actual hike).  And the difference that just a few weeks can make became patently clear to me when I went hiking along the Tai Tan Country Trail with a friend a few days ago: for while I wore the same pair of olive green shorts that were so very badly stained with sweat the day that two other friends and I hiked up Siu Ma Shan and Mount Butler, that same piece of cotton clothing didn't look all that much worse for wear at the end of my most recent hiking excursion!
Although it still may be too hot for quite a few people to want to go hiking just yet, I think we're actually hitting a really nice time of the year to do just that.  For on one hand, we still have the beautiful blue skies and high(er) visibility days along with prime critter spotting opportunities that are associated with the summer while on the other, things are not longer as super hot and humid as they were even just a few weeks ago.
And even while the season to do such as tackle Sunset Peak again or try a "new" hard hike -- both of which are things I tend to reserve for when it truly feels like we're into fall or winter here in Hong Kong -- may not yet be upon us, I do feel more assured than just a week or so ago that it really soon will be upon us; so that just a few months from now, we'll be commenting and even complaining once more about it feeling too cold rather than too hot (and also wet) for our liking! ;)   

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Partaking of regional specialities at Sake Bar Ginn's Toyama Night :b

Three of the sakes I tasted at Sake Bar Ginn's
Toyama Night special event :)

Dried firefly squid snacks, complete with eyeballs!

A raw egg went very well with the Himi udon
that's a speciality of Toyama prefecture! ;b

Although I've been told by a few Japanese friends that I've been to more Japanese prefectures than many Japanese people, there still are a fair few which I've yet to set foot in.  Among the Japanese prefectures I've yet to visit is Toyama: whose western border abuts the Japan Sea, and is best known for its industrial activities, yet also has sake breweries and food products to be proud of.

At Sake Bar Ginn's this evening, I got to taste five different sake and six different food dishes from Toyama.  Like at this past March's Tokushima Night, the food and drink on offer are regional specialities which one doesn't often see at the venue along with other Japanese dining and drinking establishments in Hong Kong.  So it really did feel like a special treat to get to try them tonight.

As the Toyama Prefecture representative present at the event informed me, the Toyama sake made available this evening came from five of the prefecture's nineteen sake breweries, and the ones I tasted included a variety of grades and types of the Japanese alcoholic drink: namely, junmai daiginjo, junmai daiginjo nama, junmai daiginjo, junmai ginjo nama genshu, and tokubetsu junmai.  And true to form, my favorite of these was the junmai daiginjo: specifically, the Haneya Junmai Daiginjo Tsubasa Nama from Fumigiku Brewery which I felt was pleasantly delicate, yet flavorful.  

Although Toyama actually has mountainous inland areas, seafood dominated its culinary offerings right from the start, with the first dish I was served being while hotaru (firefly) squid served three ways!  Squid also figured in two other dishes on offer this evening: an oden-like offering which also included balls of potatos and taro (yam), mushrooms and slices of carrots; and the Takaoka-style black croquette with a center made up of rice, onions and potatos cooked in squid ink and consequently very black looking! 

Two other seafood dishes included in the mix were a tororo kombu (seaweed) rice ball, and a yellowtail miso soup.  (And for those who wondered: yes, I did type "tororo" as Totoro the first time! ;b) So it may be rather ironic that my favorite dish on the special Toyama Night menu was the sole one that wasn't a seafood dish!  And while the Himi udon may not look like anything special, let me emphasize how wonderful this chewy wheat noodle's texture was -- and how much of a treat it was to feel safe to eat the rich-tasting Toyama egg -- with its big and bright yellow yolk -- that came with it raw! ;b

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wong Kwok Fai's The Moment is an imperfect movie which still does have its moments (film review)

An iconic Hong Kong sight which can be seen 
in more than one scene in The Moment

The Moment (Hong Kong, 2016)
- Wong Kwok Fai, director
- Starring: Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Poon Chan Leung, Eric Suen, Carman Kong, Kelvin Kwan, Dada Chan, Eric Kwok, Grace Ip
Pretty much every time I venture along the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator or catch sight of -- never mind venture into -- Chungking Mansions, I get to thinking of Chungking Express.  But while director Wong Kwok Fai's first feature film is nowhere near the same level as Wong Kar Wai's magical whimsical romantic classic, it's also true enough that I will get to thinking of The Moment now whenever I see a Mobile Softee ice cream truck!

And even though it's also the case that this ensemble drama which ambitiously seeks to tell and link together the stories of four different pairs of individuals is nowhere near to being a cinematic masterpiece, it admittedly does have its moments (pun intended!).  Furthermore, this offering -- which happens to share the same English title as a 2014 Taiwanese documentary but is otherwise very different -- endears itself to me for happening to be one of those increasingly rare Hong Kong movies whose cinematographer and location scout(s) look to be utterly willing to take advantage of the territory possessing some very photogenic as well as culturally iconic spaces and structures (including mobile ones).
The Moment also makes good use of character-filled interior locations -- notably the vintage photography studio which the socially awkward Chan Kar Fai (Gordon Lam Ka Tung) appears to have spent a good bulk of his life, and is extremely reluctant to let go of despite a persistent property agent, Lee Chi Kin (Poon Chan Leung), insisting that Fai's father (Richard Ng) had agreed to sell the place before he suffered the stroke that's left him hospitalized and unable to speak.  
As it so happens, the best ever portrait that Fai may well have taken was of Kin when the two of them were at school together and fast friends.  And even while they fight over what's to happen to the property in which the photography studio is located, Kin -- somewhat unbelievably but also at times amusingly -- ends up posing again for Fai, and even striking the same poses in the original photo taken decades ago!
Among the many other individuals who have had their pictures taken in that photography studio over the years are Hin (Kelvin Kwan) and Yin (Dada Chan), a pair of thespians who used to be a real life romantic pair but now are only playing a couple in a movie currently being filmed.  More recently, Wai Man (Eric Kwok) had a series of photos taken of himself in the same photography studio which were revealed on the occasion that he asked the woman he loved (played by real-life wife Grace Ip) to marry him.  
But while Ah Yo (Carman Kong) does venture into the photography studio, she dejectedly leaves without Fai carrying out her request to photoshop a picture of her father (Eric Suen) taken in Hong Kong along with one of a snap of her mother and her taken over in her native Canada.  And even sadder still is how clunkily contrived all of The Moment's four tales turn out to be; with their credibility quotient not being helped by the way that many of their scenes have been visually arranged, and a number of these characters being prone to express themselves by way of long, uninterrupted monologues that come across as extremely stagey as well as overly-theatrical.     

For all this though, all bar one of the film's quartet of stories did have at least one moment that moved.  In addition, this viewer did get the sense that this film's makers do have their heart in the right place, even if their storytelling abilities haven't reached the requisite level to compellingly relate the complicated narratives they have attempted to do so.  Consequently, The Moment's messages about the possibility to make amends and start all over again are ones that I'll take as encouragingly uplifting rather than completely corny.   
My rating for this film: 6.0

Monday, September 19, 2016

The easy way by foot to Stanley (Photo-essay)

When people talk about hiking to Stanley, they tend to assume that it involves a climb up and over The Twins, a pair of Hong Kong Island hills that take more than 1,000 steps straight uphill to mount.  An easier but less well known option is to go along the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path which hugs the western side of Violet Hill and the Twins, and follows a catchwater for much of the way.  And even easier and less well known still is a trail located far closer to the water and sea level that lies just off Island Road near the Hong Kong Country Club.

After getting off at a nearby bus stop, I went along an elevated walkway that's known as the Mills & Chung Path to Deep Water Bay Beach, then along the Seaview Promenade from there to Repulse Bay (both of which I first visited when attending the Sculpture on Hong Kong Sea 2009 event).  Then after spending time checking out the colorful Kwun Yam Shrine at Repulse Bay, I continued my trek initially along the side of a road before connecting to a shaded trail I hitherto hadn't realize existed, and which eventually took me to Stanley via Ma Hang Park

Although this excursion is too urban for the most part as well as easy to really feel like a genuine hike, it still can be quite a workout on a hot summer's afternoon; with my pedometer showing that I had taken close to 18,000 steps after I got home that day.  Also, much to my surprise, I did actually get in some critter spotting along the way.  So I guess I did get close to nature to some extent after all on this outing! ;b

Ocean Park's cable car ride and rollercoasters are visible 
on a fine day from the Mills & Chung Path
Looking back from the Seaview Promenade at
Deep Water Bay Beach and the surrounding hills
Looking out across the water to Middle Island, home to 
clubhouses belonging to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and 
less prestigious -- but reputedly friendlier -- Aberdeen Boat Club
My praying mantis photographic subject stopped and 
stared boldly at me and my camera! ;b
On the way to Repulse Bay, I caught sight of The Twins
and felt so good to be able to say I've been up those twin peaks!
Can you spot the brown stick insect?
This considerably longer green stick insect
should be much easier to catch sight of! ;b
Yes, there were some stairs to go up --
but they were way fewer than if I had
gone to Stanley via The Twins! :)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

An unexpectedly sanitized Hong Kong EcoPark visit

Not a sight many people want to see or imagine
All the more reason then that we should recycle
Early yesterday morning, I made my way to Tuen Mun to meet up with the friend who organizes beach cleanups and fellow "sustainability heroes" (as Rija refers to the members of his Green Sustainable Living HK meetup group).  In the first year or so after moving to Hong Kong, I tried to get to know the lay out of the land better by doing such as taking long bus rides and ended up in this new town in the western New Territories on at least one occasion.  And more recently, I've been over to this part of the Big Lychee to begin hikes along such as the final stage of the 100-kilometer-long Maclehose Trail.        
While I get the feeling that there were a few hiking enthusiasts in our party yesterday, our actual aim was to pay a group visit to the EcoPark set up by the Hong Kong government.  But although we went all the way to that remote recycling facility which occupies some 200,000 square meters of land near the Tuen Mun Area 38 fill bank, we ended up only touring the EcoPark's spick and span visitor center rather than any sections where actual hands-on work was being carried out.
At the risk of sounding ungrateful to such as the polite guide assigned to show us around, my distinct feeling was that we were provided with a pretty sanitised view of goings on at the EcoPark along with waste management efforts in Hong Kong as a whole.  And not only did a great deal of what we were told sound like propaganda designed to assure us that official actions to deal with the mountains of waste that have been -- and continue to be -- generated are going well but it seemed to be targeted towards individuals younger than the members of our group; which makes sense when it sounds as though the majority of visitors to the EcoPark (specifically, its still "like new" visitor center) are members of school parties.   
On the bright side: I truly welcome any attempts to educate Hong Kongers from a young age about the importance of recycling along with reusing items and reducing their consumption of goods.  And, at the very least, the message was not sugercoated that, to quote one of the text panels at the visitor center: "When the people enjoy the seemingly endless consumption of new goods by discarding the old ones, they are producing more and more garbage. Our city is drowning in the sea of garbage as we speak..." 
At the same time, as Rija pointed out, the fourth "R" (repair) appeared to have overlooked.  Worse is my fear that the educational messages being offered up come across as mere platitudes with little substance to them, and there also being little sense that what you do could actually have any actual effect on a large-scale matter and mess.
Still, while the text on the displays and the words we heard being uttered in the short video that we were shown may not make much of an impact, hopefully the sight of a remarkably large and detailed mockup of a section of landfill will get people vowing to be less wasteful in their daily life.  And in this particular case, I am indeed grateful that the mountain of garbage we saw wasn't only not real but also didn't smell and doubtlessly be home to myriad annoying bugs like it'd be the case with the genuine article, which sees some 13,800 tonnes of waste being added to them each day and are coming close to reaching capacity any day now.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Succumbing to the siren call of the Japanese golden peach

An overexposed Puppet Ponyo in the Room of Peach
at the Kobuntei in Mito's Kairakuen

 The priciest peaches I've ever seen, 
paid for and eaten! ;O

How much would you pay for fruit?  I know people who'd pay a premium for excellent sushi, top notch steaks (and just about anything wagyu) and refined alcoholic beverages (such as the bottle of the Daishichi Sake Brewery's Myouka Rangoku which reportedly has a retail price of around HK$10,000 (~US$1,288) and I feel very privileged to have drank part of!) but would not consider doing so for any melon, peach or other fruit -- even highly valued ones from Yubari, Furano and other regions of Japan known for producing what in all probability are the best fruits in the world, and certainly the most expensive.

Maybe because I come from a part of the world whose most prized -- and priciest -- delicacy is a spiky fruit, I might be more susceptible than others to answer the siren call of certain fruits (and I don't (just) mean a certain lovable dancing and singing Pear either).  In any case, after recently reading about Japanese peaches that tasted like "the nectar of the gods", I decided that I really wanted to try this golden version of what is in fact one of my favorite fruits (alongside durian and mangos).

To be sure I'd get the good stuff, I went to the food hall of Sogo's Causeway Bay flagship store to get what turned out to be two golden peaches rather than just the one I had wanted to just try -- because it turns out that they're packaged that way.  More precisely, the golden peaches are not only wrapped in plastic but also are encased in the fruit version of cushioning to prevent bruising and such -- and they turn out to cost HK$148 (~US$19) for two, or HK$74 (~US$9.50) each!

Despite my having gone to Sogo this afternoon expressly to buy this particular Japanese fruit, I have to admit to baulking for a bit before deciding to bite the bullet and get by far the most expensive -- and, as it so happens, largest -- pair of peaches I've ever bought in my life.  But after going ahead and eating one of them earlier this evening, I can confirm that it is easily the most delicious peach I've ever tasted in my life: sweet, juicy and smacking of wholesome goodness!  

While it's true enough that I won't be making a regular habit out of buying and eating these very precious fuzzy fruits, I totally can see myself getting them as presents for good friends on special occasions such as their birthdays.  At the same time though, those friends would have to be fellow foodies -- otherwise, they probably will not really appreciate the gesture, and the peachy fruits themselves! ;b