Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From Discovery Bay to the Trappist Haven Monastery (Photo-essay)

One Sunday last summer I forgot to bring my camera along on a hike. Upon discovering that I didn't have my camera with me that day, I tried to console myself by noting that the sky and air was not super clear, so I wouldn't have been able to take great scenic shots. Also, that this would help hurry my photo-essay schedule along -- what with my getting to skip one hike's worth of photos!

At the same time though, I told myself to make sure that I had my camera in my backpack on future hike days.  And after viewing once again the photos I was able to take while venturing from Discovery Bay to Mui Wo (along a trail that went by the Trappist Haven Monastery) with my hiking companion one beautiful Sunday afternoon, I am indeed happy that I had my camera with me on that particular day... ;b

 The trail my hiking companion and I went on that 
beautiful but hot and humid afternoon hugged the 
coastline for a while, including near Nim Shue Wan

 Shortly after the trail started going uphill, 
we found ourselves in big spider territory :O

 Looking back to where we began our hike and 
seeing how far we had gone (even while also knowing
we still had far to go before the hike's end)

Another big spider -- this one with food 
it had wrapped up

Stations of the Cross markers -- as well as large 
spiders and their webs -- dot the way up to the 
Trappist Haven Monastery that lies close to this path

 On the approach to the monastery, one passes by
this archway bearing the Latin words Pax Intrantibus (which 
translates into English as "Peace to those who enter")

If you choose to pass under that archway, you will
 find yourself in an outdoor area physically 
dominated by this Chinese-style Virgin Mary shrine

 A sign found in the area provides testimony of the  

To be continued...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunny Sunday Tai Mo Shan excursion

View of Tai Mo Shan's peak from near
where two friends and I started today's hike

 This photo -- with a bit of mist drifting in on the right 
for good measure -- gives a good idea of how close we got
to the very top of the 957 meter high summit this afternoon

What a difference a week makes!  Last Sunday, I encountered strong winds and heavy rain when out hiking on Hong Kong Island with two friends.  In contrast, this afternoon's excursion up (and then back down) Tai Mo Shan was mainly done in sunny conditions, with skies that were bright blue where they weren't covered by large puffy white clouds -- and the refreshing breezes my hiking party today were treated to while on the upper sections of Hong Kong's highest mountain were way more gentle than those encountered last Sunday on Violet Hill

Today's fine weather was really appreciated in view of much of this week having seen Hong Kong battered by Typhoon Vicente and a couple (more) days of heavy rain in that typhoon's wake. And because the territory had been subjected to so much rainfall and strong winds in the past few days, I had decided that it'd be a good idea to avoid sodden and waterlogged trails (along with uncleared typhoon debris) by opting for a hiking route that was actually completely paved.

While the most serious hikers tend to have a strong hatred of paved paths, my feeling is that there are times when they have their use. Also, just because a hiking path is completely paved doesn't necessarily mean that it's to be completely dismissed or scoffed at since, as was the case with today's trek, the path -- road, really -- that we opted to take led us more than 500 meters from the hike's starting point up to as close to the top of Tai Mo Shan as was allowed (i.e., the parts not declared off limits due to it being home to a government weather radar station) -- and on a hot summer's day to boot!

Alternatively put, all three members of today's hiking party agree that we got a good amount of exercise -- along with a nice sense of achievement at having more or less "conquered" Hong Kong's highest mountain -- this afternoon. Couple that with the grand views we got from the upper parts of Tai Mo Shan that stretched into the distance as far as Lantau Island to the west, Hong Kong Island to the south, the Sai Kung Peninsula to the east and mainland China to the north and it really did make for a pretty cool way to spend a Sunday as far as all three of us were concerned! :)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Jokester and Paintings (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Art can inspire, art can provoke, and art can also make one smile, grin, chuckle, giggle and even laugh out loud. These are things I realize pretty much each time that I go check out works at an art museum, gallery or fair such as the Hong Kong International Art Fair, also known as Art HK (which I've been attending since 2009).

For the past few years now, Japanese jokester-artist Takashi Murakami's paintings of smiley flowers (see a previous year's example here) have never failed to bring smiles to my face along with that of many other Art HK visitors. At this year's Art HK, I also found myself smiling (back) at American artist Jeff Koons' monkey paintings (or are they prints? Ah well... let's just call them paintings to fit better with both Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week! ;b).

If truth be told though, I often find more jokesters among the ranks of sculptors than painters and artists working in other media. And while it's true that Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has created paintings as well as other types of art, it was her Flowers that Bloom at Midnight sculptures that caught the eye the most at Art HK this year.  

Seeing the obvious enjoyment and pleasure that many people -- especially children -- get out of Yayoi Kusama's works, it comes as a bit of a shock to realize that the artist is 83 years old this year.  Then there's the fact that she has been voluntarily living in a mental home since 1977... all of which gets me thinking that while some people believe that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, sometimes a little bit of madness helps too!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

From Siu Ma Shan up to Mount Butler (photo-essay)

Returning to regular programming after the typhoon interruption: here's continuing documenting via photo-essay the hot summer's day excursion that took my hiking companion and I on a circular route from Mount Parker Road up to Siu Ma Shan and then to neighboring Mount Butler (which the Hong Kong Survey and Mapping Office Lands Department's Hong Kong Island & Neighbouring Islands map has as being 417 meters high but Wikipedia has as being 436 meters high) -- where cool scenic views are to be had -- before descending down Hong Kong Island's Jacob's Ladder to Quarry Gap and back down to Quarry Bay via Mount Parker Road:-

Great harbor and urbanscape views to be had 
from a hillside deep inside a neighboring country park

 Looking westwards to Causeway Bay, Wan Chai,
Central, The Peak and beyond

Yes, Hong Kong does have beautiful blue skies
-- particularly on hot summer days! :)

Next up along this hike: the peak on the left -- Mount Butler

Along the way, one can't help but pause to drink in
scenic views like this one looking southeastwards
to Tai Tam Bay, the Redhill Peninsula and beyond

The trigonometrical station and wooden sign that lets you know
that you are indeed up on the top of Mount Butler :)

 A Mount Butler vista that includes views of 

 And yes, this is indeed the kind of spot where one is tempted
to linger for a while to admire the views and more... :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Typhoon Vicente paid a visit

Two green mini bus stop signs felled by the might

 The strength of the first typhoon 10 to hit Hong Kong 
since 1999 also uprooted and otherwise damaged 
large numbers of trees in the territory

When I wrote the blog entry before this one, typhoon standby signal number 1 was in place. And so it is again this evening as I write this latest entry to my blog.  But in between, first strong wind signal number 3 and typhoon signal number 8  were raised -- and, then, late last night, increasing gale signal number 9 and hurricane signal 10 as well.

To quote the Hong Kong Observatory, "It is not very often that one sees the issuing of the ultimate tropical cyclone warning signal of No.10." Up until last night, the last time that that signal had been issued was in 1999 when Typhoon York blew into town.

This time around, Typhoon Vicente came to visit. On Monday morning, most of us went to work with little inkling that the typhoon warning signals would increase past 3.  But by mid afternoon, people starting getting the sense that maybe this was no ordinary summer rainstorm.  

Still, my company didn't provide emergency shuttle buses to get its employees nearer home until just a half hour before the usual end of our work day. And many of us were still on our respective buses when the warning signal went up to number 8 -- and we saw ample evidence outside our bus windows of strong winds as well as lots of rain lashing much of Hong Kong.

Fortunately, the vast majority of us were safely in our homes in the wee hours of the night when the typhoon was at its strongest. And I was close to being asleep when a friend texted at around 1 am to tell me that the signal had been raised to the maximum number of 10. 

The next morning, before my clock alarm went off, another friend-colleague texted to ask about company shuttle bus arrangements for going to work if typhoon signal number 8 or higher was in effect.  But what with Typhoon Vicente seeming aiming not to inconvenience businesses and such, the typhoon was downgraded to level 3 by around the start of the work day.

At the same time, Typhoon Vicente sure did create a lot of work for those charged with keeping Hong Kong clean and orderly looking -- what with storm damage visible over broad swathes of the territory even as late as this evening. And after two recent years of relative quiet typhoon seasons (in contrast to those of such as 2008 and 2009), we have been served notice once again of the power of typhoons in particular, and nature in general. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This weekend's changeable weather

Check out the dark gathering clouds in (along with 
other aspects of) this photo that was taken atop 
the highest of Violet Hill's three peaks earlier today!

 Though a bit of blue sky and sun still were about,
the big, graying clouds prompted us to get down past
the more challenging parts of the hike posthaste

 As this photo shows full well, we were unable to
out-run the (torrential) rain but at least we were 
already down at Tsin Shui Wan Au when the storm hit!
This weekend has been an interesting one weather-wise.  Parts of yesterday were the hottest it's ever been since I've moved to Hong Kong -- with the Weather Underground of Hong Kong website recording a maximum temperature of close to 40 degrees Celsius in Sheung Shui and Happy Valley. With high humidity and stiflingly still breeze-less air added into the mix, it really made for the kind of weather which makes many people want to stay inside all day in air-conditioned rooms. (And oh, here's also adding that Typhoon Standby Signal 1 also has been up for much of the weekend!)

By the time I ventured out in the early evening to catch a screening of a 1980 Ann Hui movie at the Hong Kong Film Archive though, the temperature had dropped to more acceptable levels thanks to some rain falling in parts of the territory.  And as I walked towards that invaluable film facility, I was treated to the sight of a beautiful rainbow over Sai Wan Ho.

Feeling assured that the weather for this Sunday would be better than Saturday's, I went ahead and told two friends last night that I was up for hiking this weekend after all.  And sure enough, the temperatures -- as well as the humidity level -- this afternoon were lower than yesterday's.  In addition, for considerable portions of today's hike, it was pleasantly breezy and sometimes even excitingly windy, including when we were atop the two highest of Violet Hill's three peaks (one of them, at 436 meters high, was 3 meters higher than the other peak that's more frequently climbed because Stage 1 of the Wilson Trail passes through it).       

As we enjoyed the views and refreshingly windy conditions while perched atop Violet Hill's 436 meter high peak though, my friends and I could not help but notice that dark storm clouds were gathering in the sky.  And while we reconciled ourselves to getting rained on before we reached hike's end, we also did figure that it'd be best to make sure that we would get down to at least the section of the hill that had concrete steps before it started pouring.

As it turned out, we had made it all the way down to Tsin Shui Wan Au before the heavens opened. Thank goodness, because the rain was impressively torrential in nature and well capable of turning sections of hiking paths into temporary streams and waterfalls!

Rather just stand for long under the limited cover offered by the roof of a country park information board, my two friends and I opted after the brunt of the storm looked like it had passed to continue our hike in the rain.  Though unpaved, the 2 kilometer or so path from Tsin Shui Wan Au to Tai Tam Road that we opted to take was on the flat side. And we were soon at hike's end -- having had a spell of no rain followed by a patch of more rain along the way!  

Still, lest anyone think otherwise, we actually enjoyed our hike this afternoon.  For in addition to the interesting (to say the least) weather experiences, we did get our share of grand views and, yes, cool critter spottings along with good exercise, conversation and company into the bargain! :)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Song and Music (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

I'm listening to a CD of Dinah Washington songs -- that includes one that I will forever associate with Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express -- as I write this week's entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts.  However, it's the music that I associate with other Hong Kong movies -- such as Shu Kei's Hu-Du-Men -- that is the focus of this blog entry.

The music of Cantonese opera is one that quite a few people find discordant rather than tuneful but this traditional Chinese art form really does have its dedicated fans here in Hong Kong along with venues dedicated to hosting performances of it (notably the Sunbeam Theatre that has kept on going despite numerous closure threats along with the Ko Shan Theatre and the newly re-opened Yau Ma Tei Theatre).

Cantonese opera also is performed in temporary structures -- known as bamboo theatres -- that are regularly erected on occasions of Chinese festivals such as Taoist deity Tin Hau's birthday.  While visiting Cheung Chau -- a charming outlying Hong Kong island where movies such as the very sweet Just One Look were set -- a few days before Tin Hau's birthday this year, I came across a large bamboo theater located by a seaside temple and, upon stepping inside, found a performance in progress and an audience for it made up of people young as well as old.    

For my part, I have to admit that I appreciate Cantonese opera's cultural components -- and such as the costumes, hand-painted backdrops and the accompanying percussion music -- more than the actual singing and songs. At the same time though, that's truly been enough to keep me entertained through a couple of more than 3 hour long shows that I've attended!  Also, I have grown to enjoy the sound along with sight of middle-aged solitary hikers out in the Hong Kong countryside who often have a portable radio blaring out Cantonese opera music as they make their way along a trail -- and reckon that they add something colorful and special to the overall landscape of the Big Lychee when doing so! :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Colorful White

Hong Kong show, audience members were allowed to 
take photos inside the black box theater that had been 
transformed into a largely white space for the production

The cast members comfortably posed for pictures and 
interacted with many members of the show's 
predominantly young but very enthusiastic audience :)

As those of you who know me realize, I'm not someone who tends -- or loves -- to be surrounded by children.  But a few times each year since moving to Hong Kong, I happily acquiesce to being in an audience composed mainly of preteens; with many of these occasions coming by way of the annual International Arts Carnival that is Asia's largest family-oriented arts festival.

Last night, an adult friend and I went to -- and were splendidly entertained by -- the China National Acrobatic Troupe at Sha Tin Town Hall. (Highlights of the 2 1/2 hour show included incredible plate spinning, gravity-defying hoop tumbling and a man who performed all manner of jaw-droppingly astounding feats on a slack wire (as opposed to tight rope).)  And last Saturday, I went on my own all the way to Kwai Tsing Theatre to watch a 45 minute show that was officially geared for children aged 2 to 4 years. 

A playful drama revolving around a stocky good-natured fellow called Cotton (portrayed by Ross Allan) and his older as well as thinner colleague Wrinkle (essayed by Sean Hay) charged with looking after eggs in a super clean, white world, White had its world premiere and won several awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010. Mindful of a number of acts from Europe (and North America) having performed below expectations in Hong Kong, I tried to go into this Scottish production not expecting much. But upon walking into the black box theater and finding it to have been beautifully transformed into the kind of space where one could believe that dreams would come true, it was hard not to think that the show's audience would be in for a special treat that afternoon.

And sure enough, that did turn out to be the case as the Catherine Wheels Theatre Company proceeded to awe and inspire audience members young and old(er) (but still young at heart) with a presentation that showed how colors can add something extra to an actually already pretty happy world.  (N.B. It's not a major spoiler to tell of the arrival of lots of colors into a previously predominantly white world in White but I do reckon that how this state of affairs comes about is better left undescribed!)

All in all, I liked how the show enthralled throughout and made me smile, and ooh and aah with wonder several times in less than an hour.  Something else that I appreciated is how, like with Hayao Miyazaki's sublime My Neighbor Totoro, some dramatic tension and excitement managed to be creatively introduced into a beautifully imagined world that's actually without any bad guys (or gals -- for White is a two-hander with no female cast members!).  

At the end of the show, audience members were free to take photos and go meet and interact with the show's pair of actors.  As evidenced by the two photos at the top of this blog entry, I happily took a few shots inside that black box theater.  I also am happy that before I took my leave, I also was able to go up to one of the cast members to say "Thank you" for having put on such a lovely show. :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

From Mount Parker Road up to Siu Ma Shan (and beyond) (Photo-essay)

For those who saw my recent Lantau and northern New Territories critter spottings-themed blog entries and wondered if (m)any critters can be spotted while hiking on Hong Kong Island, let me assure you that this indeed the case.  Indeed, the only time I saw a cobra in Hong Kong was while hiking in Tai Tam Country Park.  And it was on a hot summer day's hike in that same Hong Kong Island country park that my hiking companion and I came across a really big snake right on Mount Parker Road (a road that leads from busy King's Road in urban Hong Kong up to Quarry Gap deep within Tai Tam Country Park).

Unbelievably, my hiking companion actually ran towards to the big snake in the hopes of being able to take a photo of it!  Even more unbelievably, the big snake reacted by moving quickly into the bushes... and it really was scary to see not only how fast it moved but also how well camouflaged it was amidst the natural greenery!  

In a way, it could be said that everything that came afterwards was sort of anti-climactic... except that the truth of the matter is that that day's hike which involved a circular route that took us up the the peaks of 424 meter high Siu Ma Shan and its 436 meter high neighbor, Mount Butler, did turn out to be a generally excellent one -- full of interesting sights (though, thankfully, with no more snake spottings) as well as one that was very satisfying in many other ways!

 A well maintained shrine passed by early on the hike

 A closer view of the statue of the Goddess of Mercy 
holding a child that can seem like the East Asian version 
of Western Christian Madonna and Child sculptures

 The sky over Hong Kong looked lovely 
on that hot but beautiful summer's day

 The view of urban, high density Hong Kong from a much 
greener -- yet not so distant -- part of the territory 

One of the hike's more easily recognizable landmarks --
Mount Butler H. F. Radio Receiving Station

A scenic view not far away from the receiving station
that includes what used to be the landing strips 
of Kai Tak Airport, the newer and very red 
Megabox and Kowloon Peak

 View from close to the previous point looking west
all the way to Victoria Peak

A view of the trail that we were on that day  -- and yes, 
some parts of it were by no means covered with 
concrete (like some people would have you think
that most Hong Kong hiking trails are)!

Very rare butterfly spotting! :)

The clearest photo I managed to take 

On Sunday, when I looked through the photos I took over the course of a Plover Cove Country Park hike that a friend and I went on earlier in the day, I opted to highlight three shots of dragonflies that I had managed to snap.  But while they are ones that I feel really happy to have got, I've subsequently learnt -- after checking out a page about the first butterfly survey done in the Sha Tau Kok Closed Area -- that I actually managed to take photos as well as make sightings of a very rare species of butterfly!

Perhaps the rarity of that which is known as the Shiny-spotted Bob (as well as Isotoneinon lamprospilus) may be seen in there not (yet?) being a Wikipedia entry about it!  For the record, a Google search didn't unearth all that much information about it either.  Still, there are enough details (i.e., a skipper type butterfly that appears in the summer, flies at high speeds, is about 2.6 to 3.5 centimeters long and has white shiny spots on its wings) and photos about online for me to be pretty sure that I have my own photos of that which has been classified as "very rare" -- at least in Hong Kong!!! :)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dragonflies spotted on a hot day's hike in Plover Cove Country Park

The kind -- and color -- of dragonfly I see most frequently
when out hiking in Hong Kong

But earlier today, I also spotted a few other species 
of dragonfly including this red and black beauty

And although I had my doubts, internet research
yields the info that this bug also is a dragonfly --
one specifically known as a Russet Percher! :)

Today looks to have been Hong Kong's hottest day thus far this year -- with temperatures in Sheung Shui going all the way up to 35.4 degrees Celsius (and up to 34.4 and 34.3 degrees Celsius in Sai Kung and Wong Tai Sin respectively) according to the Weather Underground of Hong Kong website.  But lured by such as beautiful blue skies and visibility that extended for many kilometers (so unlike the day that I snapped my first dragonfly photo in Hong Kong), my hiking friend and I opted to go on a hike that took us up to a fire lookout perched atop a 300 meter hill in Plover Cove Country Park and all the way from Wu Kau Tang to Luk Keng via Kuk Po.

Our afternoon's excursion lasted 3 1/2 hours and got us sweating buckets and, in my case, drinking all of the 1.5 liters of water I brought with me and quite a bit more.  (About two thirds along the hike, we came across a place serving food and drinks -- and the cold can of Pocari Sweat I got there tasted like the most heavenly nectar!  In addition, near where we ended the hike, I had double the amount to drink than what I usually have with my early dinner!!)

But my friend and I agreed that all the effort and sweat shed was worth it because today's hike really was a a pretty good one -- including in terms of scenic vista viewing and -- yep, you guessed it -- bug spotting!  Among the insects we spotted -- but I unfortunately was unable to take photos of -- were black butterflies that were the size of small birds, a truly exquisite green butterfly, and a purple and brown butterfly that was pretty eye-catching too (since they preferred to just flutter by us rather than stop and land some place for even a few seconds).

Happily however, I also succeeded in taking a few photos of insects -- including the trio at the top of this blog entry.  Although I was able to get closest to the blue dragonfly, I do derive greater satisfaction from having taken photos of the two other dragonflies -- which, as it so happens, I spotted perched on the very same thin branch (or is it so thin it's actually but a twig?) but were not doing what I saw another pair of dragonflies doing last summer!

With regards to the Russet Percher: The way it flew made me think it was a dragonfly but when I looked at my photos of it, I began wondering if it wasn't some other type of insect.  After ascertaining what it is by way of a Google search though, I have to say that it really helps shows the wide range of Hong Kong's 117 dragonfly species -- an amazing more than 10 of which were new to science when they were first discovered and recorded here in this part of the world that many people still do not realize has any countryside, never mind a pretty diverse wildlife! :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dance and Metal (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

If only I went to heavy metal music concerts... was my thought when I looked at this week's themes for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts.  But since I don't, I'm going to have to stretch things a bit -- or call it thinking outside the box! ;) --and am offering up images of a festive parade along the streets of Shau Kei Wan that featured such as meters-long "dragons" "dancing" about as they chase after ornamental balls stuck atop metal poles along with "dancing" lions and unicorns.

From such as the story of Saint George and the dragon, I get the feeling that dragons often have negative associations in the West (though, of course, the European blogger behind Dragon Days might disagree!).  Not so the Chinese dragon.  Consequently, its appearance at festivals (including the Tai Hang Fire Dragon festival/parade) tends to be greeted with joy along with excitement.

They may not be unique to Hong Kong like their fiery Tai Hang equivalent but I do like catching sight of the dragons that dance about during to celebrate the Taoist god Tam Kung's Birthday at Shau Kei Wan each year. For one thing, they truly make for a colorful sight. For another, I appreciate the teamwork as physical effort that goes into successfully staging these dragon dances. In addition, I see them as positive signs that cultural traditions -- a distinct cultural identity -- remain very much alive in "Asia's World City"; and that these simultaneously have distinctively local as well as general Chinese elements.