Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Wong Nai Chung Gap towards The Twins (photo-essay)

Standing as they do at 363 and 386 meters above sea level, Hong Kong Island's The Twins are some ways from being Mount Everest. But from when I first spied them back on what was only my fourth hike after moving to Hong Kong (back in September 2007), those twin peaks -- with their some three thousand steps -- have represented a challenge that, if I were to successfully rise to them, would make me feel more like a bona fide Hong Kong hiker.

Finally, one beautiful November day last year (and some forty-three hikes on), I decided that the time had finally come to tackle The Twins. To help me prepare for the ascent, I -- and my regular hiking companion -- got to Repulse Bay Gap (AKA Tsin Shui Wan Au) from Wong Nai Chung Gap not over Violet Hill but via the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path that I have hiked with my mother, among others, that is scenic even while being fairly easy going -- especially on a day such that during which the following photos were taken:-

Near the hike's start at Wong Nai Chung Gap --
looking eastwards towards the luxury apartments

that are infamous for being where the
Milkshake Murder was committed

Also near the hike's start -- this time
looking northwestwards towards
Mount Nicholson

Some of the flowers that are to be found
in the vicinity of the aptly named Violet Hill

One of my first glimpses of The Twins while
heading southwards from the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path

Repulse Bay viewed from
a couple hundred meters or so above sea level

What one of the wider and shadier
sections of
the path looks like

And to compare: here's one of the more
narrow and open sections of the trail

Should there be any doubt: yes, that's the first,
more northern Twin ahead...

To be continued... (but of course!)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another Day in Movie Mecca

A mall made special by its being the location
of a most exciting movie scene

For much of this week, I had been looking forward to spending today at the beach but, alas, the weather proved to be most uncooperative. Still, rather than stew and sulk about this weekend having been been more rain- and thunderstorm-filled than I would have liked, I went ahead and made alternative plans to do such with friends as go and view Yoji Yamada's affecting About Her Brother (whose title recalls Kon Ichikawa's half century older Her Brother (1960) but whose eponymous male character brought to my mind Yamada's own Tora-San) and, on the way to dinner, realizing anew how one often is surrounded by so much that gets me recalling this or that movie here in Hong Kong.

As a further reminder -- to myself as well as others! -- of this state of affairs, here's putting up a photo I took some time back inside a now rather unfashionable and somewhat run-down shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui East -- one that most people wouldn't take a second look at, never mind think to enter. But if they are fans of Hong Kong cinema, then I'd wager that once they realize that Wing On Plaza is where the mall scene in Police Story (yes, that Police Story which saw Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk in action in the mall) took place, they'd understand why it's a place I thought worth visiting and even taking a photo of for posterity -- right?! ;b

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Purple (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

After a few weeks of Photo Hunt themes that I have found on the difficult side (and I know I'm not alone in this because of such as Carver's comments on my Photo Hunt entry last week), there has come one for which I have a plethora of photos and creative options.

One of these was to illustrate the purple theme by looking to nature and offering up some photos of beautiful wild flowers seen on hikes in Hong Kong (including one that took me up and down the appropriately named Violet Hill). But after hunting through my photo archive, I've opted for three photos that are more along the cultural side of the equation.

The first is one of many photos I can't find myself resisting taking while on the ferry crossing Victoria Harbour; one which I particularly like because it shows how red and blue bring about purple -- one of those unforgettable lessons learnt in art class as a kid.

The middle photo was taken at a free evening concert in the unlikely setting of the Tai Po Waterfront Park that included a range of performances including taiko drumming by students of the Tai Po-based Japanese International School and of excerpts from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons by the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong.

And the third photo, taken when I was at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts for a cultural performance, provides further evidence that Hong Kong is: a) not a cultural desert; b) definitely has its share of culture vultures; and c) seems to have a liking for the color purple in terms of artistic color scheme! ;b

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kap Lung Forest Trail (Photo-essay #2)

And so it goes... my chronicling via photo-essays of hikes I've gone on in the unlikely hiking paradise that is Hong Kong -- with this installment being the second about the Kap Lung Forest Trail that is but one of many official trails to be found within the 5,370 hectares of Tai Lam Country Park out in the western portion of the New Territories.

What with it being true to its name in mainly passing through forest area, I'd recommend this 6 kilometer trail as a hike option for days when one would like to have some natural shade. But because it's a downhill trail that can be quite steep in parts, I'd also most definitely point out that this is one of those trails that shouldn't be attempted on days when the ground is wet and slippery. Which is why I made sure that even while the day that my hiking companion and I went on the forest trail wasn't all that sunny, it actually was one for which the weather forecast most definitely did not include rain...

Is there iron in those rocks, I wonder?
(And if not, what makes them -- and
some of the soil about them -- so orange?)

Further down along the trail, however,
things got quite a bit grayer

...indeed, I'd even say that it felt eerily so

The spookiness quotient increased when
my hiking companion and I spotted this
wad of paper complete with stone paperweight

...because it got us realizing that we were near someone's
grave (in this case, someone important enough to have
merited a final resting place so high up a hill)

Before it all got too scary though, we found our paths
crossing such as this beautiful, living butterfly

Near hike's end -- signs of human habitation

Signing off with a bit of whimsy --
yes, I know I'm anthromorphizing but
doesn't this military building look a tad unhappy? ;(

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In praise of food

A delicious razor clam dish I've had on more
than one occasion at Tung Po Seafood Restaurant

Scene from a hot pot feast that several friends and I
partook of one evening this past February

At lunch today, I observed to my lunchmates that since coming to Hong Kong, my stomach visibly looks to have grown bigger even while -- thanks to hiking and other exercise -- such as my calf muscles have considerably developed and my general health has improved. This is because -- and there's no two ways about it -- I've been eaten plenty of delicious food over the past three years or so.

Back when I was living in Tanzania, I got to realizing that some people eat to live but others live to eat. Tanzanians, I decided, fall into the former category as surely as Malaysians fall into the latter category. And based on what I've observed here in the Big Lychee, most Hong Kongers also tend to fall into the culinary hedonist side of the eating equation.

What of the rest of the world -- and this blog's readers? To help you decide which side of the equation you fall, here's sharing with you the following: that is, that this evening, I left work feeling so blue that I actually thought that I had (temporarily) lost my appetite and contemplated skipping dinner. But figuring that was not a healthy state of affairs, I "forced" myself to try out a sushi restaurant in Causeway Bay that had got some positive reviews.

Suffice to say that the experiment was a success... with my not only having had a pleasing meal there (topped by mentaiko nigiri sushi that was to die for) but a dinner that was so good that it actually changed my mood into a significantly happier one! Put another way: yes, a delicious meal really can make me happy -- and my day. (And no, it doesn't have to be exquisite sushi either although this evening, that most definitely did do the job!)

So... can a wonderful meal -- or even one dish within a meal -- change your mood for the better? And if so, are there any foods in particular that can pretty much be guaranteed to do so? For myself, the answer to the first question is an emphatic "of course"! As for the second... wow, there's so many... that they might have to be the subject of another post... if there's enough interest, of course! ;b

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beach weather's here!

Lamma Island's Hung Shing Yeh Beach

Beaches and surroundings at Hoi Hai Wan
in the northern Sai Kung peninsula

For the second Sunday in a row, I didn't go hiking. Last week, it was because I had a "date" with an over 9 hour classic of cinema. This time around, my "excuse" was that I had a friend's wedding to go to in the afternoon. (The second time that I've been invited to such a festive occasion in Hong Kong!)

But if truth be told, I would have thought twice about going out on a hike today even I hadn't had that wedding invite -- because this weekend, with the temperature rising over 33 degrees Celsius in some places, was the hottest thus far in 2010. Indeed, so hot was it today and yesterday that I got to thinking that a leisurely day out at a beach might just be the ticket next weekend if the high temperature (and humidity -- but minus actual precipitation) continues.

Now to figuring out which beach would be a good one to head out to because I'm actually spoiled for choice out here in the Big Lychee as there are quite a number of beaches that the general public have access to. And to think I've only been to a smattering of them thus far... and quite a few times only because they were along trails I hiked, actually!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Six (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

The Tian Tan Buddha -- popularly known as The Big Buddha -- up on Lantau Island's Ngong Ping plateau is one of Hong Kong's most iconic sights -- along with such as the view from Tsim Sha Tsui across Victoria Harbour to the northern section of Hong Kong Island -- and popular tourist attractions.

The last time I visited close to a couple of years ago, I actually went there to temporarily escape the at times oppressive high summer heat and humidity as the 450 meter Ngong Ping plateau regularly is one of the coolest places in Hong Kong. But once I got up there (via a Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride), I couldn't but help but succumb to my shutterbug cum tourist instincts and take a whole bunch of photographs of the Big Buddha.

For the most part, most of these photos have since been just shut away in my computer memory. But I figure that this week's Photo Hunt would be a good opportunity and time to share six of those shots with others by putting them up on this blog. (This particularly since the photos I have with the number six or six distinct items in them just aren't as eye-catching as any of my six photos of a statue that I do find visually impressive on its own as well as because of its particular setting -- and thus reckon is worth more than one, two or even three looks! ;b).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kap Lung Forest Trail (Photo-essay)

As I write this blog entry, the Hong Kong Observatory is reporting that it's 30 degrees Celsius outside and the relative humidity is at 82 per cent. Although I can't remember what the precise temperature and humidity level was on the day last November that my regular hiking companion (the self-named fuzzyflyingbunny) and I went on the Kap Lung Forest Trail, it must have been pretty hot and humid for my notes about it in my Hiking Diary (yes, I have one!) to include comments about this hike being notably for being "humid" as well as our seeing a lot of "green" and "gray skies" on it.

Something else I remember is that we went for long stretches during the downhill path without taking photos -- not because there was nothing worth catching our eye per se but because the path was so slippery and covered with tree roots and such that we had to pay close attention to where we were going. Still, as the following photos should hopefully show, we did stop every once in a while to enjoy being out in nature and viewing the kind of scenery that most people don't associate with Hong Kong and to take photographic records of it... ;b

Unmistakable signs at the start
as to what this particular trail was

Believe it or not, sections of this trail -- including
this descending part -- actually are open
(and thus shared by) mountain bikers along with hikers

Plenty of green on view indeed on this forest trail!

So... pray, tell: what's so scary about pedestrians
-- including this one? ;b

Berries so brightly colored like these purple ones
must be poisonous, right?!

Mist in the hills to the east

Wild flowers added welcome splashes
of color
along the trail

Looking down towards the populated plain below

To be continued...! :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Human Condition (film review)

Publicity banner hanging outside
the Hong Kong Arts Centre

As many of my friends (including visitors to this blog) know, movie going is something that I do pretty regularly -- on weekends as well as week day evenings. However, it's been a while since I spent more than nine in forty-eight hours viewing movies -- and unprecedented outside of a film festival.

But that's exactly what I've done this past weekend: that is view Masaki Kobayashi's entire 579 minute-long The Human Condition in three parts (with the first screening taking place yesterday afternoon, the second yesterday evening and the third and final screening earlier today). And while I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'd do it again, I honestly have to say that so much of it was so enthralling that the time didn't feel wasted and it all didn't feel as much like a marathon as one might expect -- with the reason for this hopefully becoming apparent upon your reading the following reviews of all three sections of this masterful film trilogy:-

The Human Condition: Part I -- No Greater Love (Japan, 1959)
Masaki Kobayashi, director
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, So Yamamura, Akira Ishihama, etc.
Length: 208 minutes

When we first meet the protagonist of this film adaptation of Jumpei Gomikawa's novel that also draws from director Masaki Kobayaki's World War II experiences, Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a 28-year-old white-collar worker in Japanese-controlled Manchuria (Manchukuo). After his supervisor reads a report the idealistic researcher wrote about how to get the best out of laborers, he decides to challenge the young man to see whether his principles can prevail out in the field (or, more accurately, a large mining operation located in a spartan backwater known as Loh Huh Liong).

Lured in part by the promise that becoming labor supervisor at Loh Huh Liong will exempt him from being drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army, Kaji heads there with his new wife (Michiko is essayed by Michiyo Aratama) in tow. But this being 1943, he finds that he's unable to completely escape the war -- with the work going on in the mines being seen as important to the war effort and his arrival there being followed not long afterwards by the Kempeitai offering up some 600 prisoners of war as slave labor for the company.

Kaji's efforts to improve conditions for the workers, including the prisoners of wars -- and often at his own expense and great detriment -- are the focus of a large part of No Greater Love; so much so that I think the message is that there's no greater love than the love a humanist has for his fellow men and women. At the same time, it also is made clear that the love between Kaji and Michiko is great indeed -- with the two showing each other much touching affection but also loving care of the kind that can seem jarringly at odds with the rest of the film in terms of tone yet, at the same time, act as a counter to the brutal inhumanity that so many other people have little exhibition exhibiting.

My rating for this film: 10 (Yes, really 10 out of 10!)


The Human Condition: Part II -- Road to Eternity (Japan, 1959)
Masaki Kobayashi, director
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Kei Sato, Kunie Tanaka, Michiyo Aratama, etc.
Length: 176 minutes

Because of his actions that could be described as being the opposite of crimes against humanity (but, among other things, have him painted as a "Red" (Communist) and even his Japanese-ness called into question) that were chronicled in Part I of the The Human Condition, Kaji's draft exception is withdrawn and Part II sees him as recruit being subject to harsh training by his seniors in the Imperial Japanese Army.

Physically separated from his beloved and loving wife (for all but a few hours when she battles against odds herself to visit the far away training camp and win permission to spend some precious time with him), our hero nonetheless hasn't lost his humanistic ideals. Predictably, the latter gets him into trouble in the military -- and it doesn't help that he already has a suspect reputation based on his past actions as labor supervisor. So much so that even his turning out to excel in many training activities -- including shooting and marching -- cannot completely redeem him in the eyes of many.

Even after he completes his training days and meets up with an old friend who now is an officer, Kaji can't help but get into trouble. As we saw in Part 1, this is a man who is willing to take much physical and other punishment in order to protect those of his fellow men less in a position to help themselves, never mind others. This time around, it first is weak fellow recruits and then a new group of recruits -- who provide evidence for Japan's increasing desperation by including older men not in the best of the health and increasingly raw youths -- placed under his care.

For all this, and while some people can't survive even past this stage, it would seem the real tests lie ahead. For it's only in the latter parts of Part II that Kaji and co see direct action against the enemy -- one that is much better armed than the increasingly retreating Japanese...

My rating for this film: also a 10 (Yes, really!!)


The Human Condition: Part III -- A Soldier's Prayer (Japan, 1961)
Masaki Kobayashi, director
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Yusuke Kawazu, Taketoshi Naito, Hideko Takamine, etc.
Length: 188 minutes

Released two years after the two other parts of The Human Condition, Part III is so stylistically different that it at times feel like it was helmed by a different director from the others. Among other things, there is an unsettling increase in the use of voice-over monologues and even while there continues to be a lot of "action", so much seems to be preached through words about rather than actually shown being done. Additionally, while I understand that the plot calls for it, there really are so many long walking scenes in the film as to make it sometimes recall my viewing of Bela Tarr's The Werckmeister Harmonies more than the previous day's viewings of the earlier parts of this Masaki Kobayashi saga.

Then there are the changes in tone and message: for inasmuch as Kaji's main battles in No Greater Love and Road to Eternity were to be human in the face of great inhumanity and brutality, in A Soldier's Prayer, his greatest battle appears here appears to involve trying to stay alive in the face of his unit having been wiped out in a Soviet attack so that only he and two others survived that veritable massacre of a front-line battle. Alternatively put, rather than try to live by his principles, Kaji has been reduced to just trying to survive.

Granted that he does do some soul-searching from time to time and, in one notable scene, makes a fateful decision against himself in favor of saving a settlement of one old man and many helpless women. But the protagonist in Part III is no longer the man he was in Part I or even Part II. Although still filled with grim resolve, he has seen too much to remain as much of an idealist as we -- and doubtless he -- would like. And even though there are opportunities for Kobayashi to go with more ultimately optimistic plot paths, the saga ends in a way that I can't help but consider disappointing as well as downbeat.

Still, through it all, one cannot help but be bowled over by the bravura film-making of Masaki Kobayashi, his daringly damning indictment of the values and mores of whole generations of his fellow countrymen (and women), and the powerful performance of lead actor Tatsuya Nakudai who truly convinces in his role of a Japanese man unfortunate enough to be an idealist with a strong sense of justice and love of humanity at a time and in places where those very attributes led him into harm's way with a vengeance.

My rating for the film: 6.5

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bubbles (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

"Tiny bubbles... make me happy, make me feel fine." Of course Don Ho was singing about the tiny bubbles in the (sparkling) wine -- champagne? -- but those to be found at the top of this Photo Hunt entry, and the memories of the occasions at which those photos were taken, make me feel happy and fine just the same.

The first of the pair was shot at a free, outdoor, all-day art event called Sculpture on Hong Kong Sea which took place last November 29th (and from which I've previously shared other photos on this blog (see here, here and here)). Exercising my own artistic impulses, I zoomed in for a close-up shot of the center of Hugo & Orrizonte's Illusory Chinampa which had tiny live fish swimming in water that was full of tiny bubbles in a triangular shaped container placed on the shore of Repulse Bay beach.

The second photo was taken at dinner one evening while my mother and I were on vacation in Korea last fall (for a sample photo-essay, go here). Strolling around the area near our hotel, we decided to dine at one of the many specialist beef restaurants that we saw. But although I thought I had ordered a barbecue dish, what we got served had quite a bit of liquid in it -- liquid which was full of tiny bubbles as the dish slowly but surely cooked in front of us.

Put another way, instead of the conventional, drier bulgogi I'm used to, we had bulgogi stew. Still, even while it wasn't what we had had in mind, trust me when I say that the food was really delicious. So much so that my mother and I had absolutely no problems devouring pretty much everything that was presented to us at that restaurant that evening, main dishes, accompanying banchan, rice and all! :b

Friday, June 11, 2010

Football in focus

Southorn Playground football pitch in wet weather
(and viewed through a window at
the first office I worked in in Hong Kong)

As I write this blog entry, billions of people around the world, including Hong Kong, are tuning in to watch the first match of the 2010 World Cup Finals hosted by South Africa. But I'm not among them.

For although I am the biggest football fan that many of my friends know, the truth of the matter is that I'm more of an Arsenal than general football fan. Consequently, I tend to view this global sports event in terms of hoping that the ten Arsenal players involved in it will end the tournament physically fit and in good spirits -- and raring as well as able to play well for the Gunners in when the next English Premier League season kicks off in August.

Still, it's hard not to ignore the fact that the World Cup Finals will be taking place the next few weeks. So in honor of that, here's putting up my first football-themed blog entry since October 10th last year (though to see a completely football-themed entry, you'd actually have to go back to July 12th 2008)! ;O

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yesterday Today Tomorrow (film review)

Film programmers, please take heed:
There is an audience for "old" Hong Kong movies!

I know, I know... I was supposed to be back to fairly regularly reviewing movies I had seen as of a few months ago. Instead, it's been close to a month now since I last did so (for Taiwan's Monga). But as John Lennon sang, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans". And, among other things, my mother came for a visit and work has been on the stressful and tiring side lately, alas...

Still, all is not lost. For here's going ahead and serving up another review this evening -- of a film I viewed more than a month ago. So please don't mind too much if I'm on the fuzzy side as far as certain details are concerned! ;S

Yesterday Today Tomorrow (Hong Kong, 1970)
- Patrick Lung Kong, director and scriptwriter
- Starring Paul Chang Chung, Chang Yang, Nancy Sit Kar Yin, etc.

Some years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia, I attended a Hong Kong Cinema conference at Columbia University that featured such as rare screenings of Cecille Tang Shu Wen's The Arch (1970) and King Hu's Raining in the Mountain (1979) -- and guest appearances by the likes of Cecille Tang and another ex-Hong Kong filmmaker who had migrated to the US (and was introduced as the director of The Story of a Discharged Prisoner -- i.e., the film that A Better Tomorrow had been a remake of).

Thanks to the Hong Kong Film Archive's recent Hong Kong Auteur, Lung Kong retrospective programme, I've gotten to watch more Patrick Lung Kong films in 2010 than I had watched in all of the rest of my living years combined. And over the course of doing so, I've come to realize that even this individual who last directed a film in 1979's box office failures, such as Yesterday Today Tomorrow, definitely are neither without merit or socio-cultural as well as cinematic interest.

Attacked by political ideologues when it was first released, this loose cinematic adaptation of Albert Camus' The Plague only exists in the form of a compromised, via censorship, copy that is only 72 minutes in length -- short in duration even for your average Hong Kong film. And doubtless because of it, there's a distinct lack of imbalance in proceedings that, among other things, makes a lot of characters more one dimensional than they might have been been and results in quite a few of the existing scenes that might be read as attempts to flesh them out paradoxically come across as unnecessary as well as overly-melodramatic.

For all this, however, I do believe that enough of the film exists for it to paint a pretty powerful portrait of a society that may be bustling and going great guns in certain areas but, also, possess a situation in which certain good people are not only consigned to poverty but living in squalor and unhygenic conditions that, if not dealt with, can threaten the society as a whole. (And what's even more damning is that although the film was made in 1970, so many of its points remain valid four decades later in 2010.)

Seven years after SARS hit Hong Kong (and one year after the swine flu outbreak among humans came to the territory), it really is mind-blowing to find that Lung Kong envisioned something similar happening in this forty year film about a mystery illness besetting a society and causing it to come close to a standstill; and that he "chronicled" it all so well.

At the same time, it's rather assuring to find that however strident and sensationalistic some of his social criticism can be, the Hong Kong filmmaker didn't seem to believe that people would descend to the levels of barbarism and inhumanity that was posited in such as Fernando Morielles' Blindness (2008). So that, ultimately, individual sacrifices were not in vain and hope remains for the human race general along with the affected society itself.

My rating for this film: 8

Monday, June 7, 2010

My fourth and final Po Toi photo-essay

The proverbial "they" say that time flies when you're having fun. While that may be true, it's also the case when time flies when you're busy. In any event, it's with a bit of a start to realize that it was close to a month ago now that I started putting up my Po Toi photo-essay series. So, however many and wonderful are the photos I have from my trip to that southern Hong Kong island last November, I think this had better be the final as well as the fourth photo-essay about it:-

First, a quick visual reminder that Po Toi
is one
rocky island -- and that the day I visited
was one with wonderfully blue skies

If it hadn't been signposted, I'd have not spotted
the natural formation known as Coffin Rock

...and this especially as scenic views like these
were to be had as one came down
the 188 meter hill
one previously ascended from the other side

Another scenic view from along the same trail
but from
closer to sea level

One last interesting Po Toi rock formation --
conch rock (which looks more like a snail to moi)!

As one might expect (given its fishing community),
Po Toi is yet another Hong Kong island

with a
Tin Hau Temple

Another view of Po Toi's
Tin Hau Temple
and other sections of the island

As the day drew to a close, it came to be time
to bid au revoir to this wonderful island
(not least since the island's ferry service
doesn't run as frequently as one might like!)

...but we'll be back before too long, I'm sure! ;b