Sunday, June 30, 2013

The photographers' as well as filmmakers' delight that is Nam Sang Wai

It was a very hot but also very beautiful
out in Nam Sang Wai this afternoon :) 

 The shade that these photogenic rows of 
eucalyptus trees provided was pretty welcome

Also welcome was this green dragonfly's willingness 
to pose for me after I managed to spot it amidst the grass!

This other dragonfly with strikingly colored and patterned 
wings was more camera shy than the green one, 
so I'm super pleased that I managed to get a shot of it :)

Slowly but surely, I'm continuing my exploration of Hong Kong's wetlands.  First, I visited the Hong Kong Wetland Park that some people find on the sterile side but think can make for a pleasant day's outing and place to take visitors to Hong Kong to introduce them to a greener (though still not too wild for their liking) side to the Big Lychee.  Then earlier this year, I finally made it out to the Mai Po Nature Reserve for a fun afternoon of birdwatching.

Now earlier today, I went to Nam Sang Wai -- a picturesque rectangular area bordered by the Shan Pui and Kam Tin Rivers that lies south of Mai Po, east of the Hong Kong Wetland Park and just a few minutes' walk and a short boat ride north of Yuen Long's main MTR station.  A spot beloved of bicyclists, model plane enthusiasts and wedding photographers, it's also featured in a number of Hong Kong movies including Johnnie To's Election, Wilson Yip's Flashpoint and Juliet In Love, and 1973 Shaw Brothers movie River of Fury.

No lie -- when I saw the first row of eucalyptus trees at Nam Sang Wai, my mind immediately flashed to scenes of Lam Suet in Election but also Monet's paintings of poplar trees and of the stretch of tree-lined road leading to the historic Catholic Mission at Bagamoyo, which I visited a couple of times back when I lived in Tanzania!  What can I say other than all these associations truly reflect my interests and experiences -- that is, Hong Kong films, Western art history and my life in East Africa respectively!!

Speaking of interests and experiences: I found it rather amusing that whereas most other people were admiring the views and taking photos of the landscapes or the people they were with at Nam Sang Wai, I also automatically found myself looking about to see whether there'd be any interesting non-human critters about!  

Although Nam Sang Wai is home to a number of birds between late autumn and early spring, few of those feathered creatures were visible on this very hot summer's day -- and those that were preferred to rest on the wires strung in between utility poles and the higher branches of the trees.  In contrast, some of the butterflies and dragonflies were content to fly and rest lower to the ground -- and I managed to get a couple of satisfyingly clear close-up shots of a couple of beauties as a result. :b

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Citrus and With what do you like to travel (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

When I see or hear the word citrus, I tend to think of citrus, particularly orange, trees and groves in Mediterranean countries and places with a Mediterranean climate like Southern California.  But for this week's Photo Hunt theme chosen by Sandi, I found myself thinking of fruit stalls and Buddhist and Taoist temples as places with citrus connections.

While hunting through my photo archive, I was delighted to find the image at the top of this blog entry -- one of fruit stalls whose offerings include oranges and other citrus fruits, abutting the temple in Sai Kung town that's dedicated to Tin Hau (the Hokkien maiden who became the goddess of the sea) and Kwan Tai (the Han Dynasty general immortalized as the God of War).

Although I didn't venture into the temple that day (since I only happened to be in the vicinity because it was near where I was meeting up with a friend to go hiking!), I'm going to assume that there'd have been offerings of citrus and fruits at the separate altars to Tin Hau and Kwan Tai in that temple.  This is because it's pretty much the norm at Taoist and Buddhist temples -- be they in Hong Kong, Malaysia or, as in this entry's middle photo, Macau. 

More than incidentally, the former Portuguese enclave's is thought to owe its name to Tin Hau (who's called A-Ma in Macau).  In addition, Macau is where I took the final photo in this entry -- one chosen to answer Gattina's Photo Hunt query this week of: With what do you like to travel?  And should it not be clear: the answer is -- my camera, a willingness to try the local delicacies (in this case, Lord Stow's Bakery's fabulous egg tarts!) and -- of course -- my beloved big-eyed traveling companion, Puppet Ponyo!!! :b

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

R.I.P. Lau Kar Leung (1936-2013)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin was just one of 
the many cinematic gems Lau Kar Leung directed

On May 1st of this year, I went to the Hong Kong Film Archive to take in an evening screening of Eastern Condors, a 1987 movie that could be described as Hong Kong's version of The Dirty Dozen. Starring Sammo Hung (who also directed) and his wife Joyce Godenzi, it's one of those entertaining Hong Kong movies with great action and an amazing cast -- that, in this case, included legendary filmmaker Lau Kar Leung (AKA Liu Chia Liang)

On that happy evening, I had zero inkling that less than two months later, Lau Kar Leung would pass away after losing a two decade battle against leukemia.  So I was truly shocked to find out this sad news of his having died earlier today.  

Even as we mourn the man's passing, we still will have many wonderful films to remember Lau the filmmaker and film personality by.  We're talking, after all, of an individual who action directed 164 movies, directed 25 films, produced 1 movie, scripted 5 works and made appearances -- many of them pretty memorable -- in 186 different feature length films.

Among my favorites of the films that the fourth-generation direct disciple of Wong Fei Hung directed are Heroes of the East (AKA Shaolin Challenges Ninja), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Legendary Weapons of China and The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter -- all of which star his (adopted) brother, Gordon Liu. And although Drunken Master II is largely seen as a Jackie Chan movie, Lau Kar Leung officially has directing credit for it as well as makes a memorable appearance in that superb martial arts comedy that had Jackie Chan essaying Wong Fei Hung.

I know I'm really fortunate to have been able to have viewed a number of Lau Kar Leung's films on a big screen, in Hong Kong and also the USA.  Indeed, one of my favorite film viewing experiences ever involved viewing The 36th Chamber of Shaolin with a super enthusiastic full house crowd at the Philadelphia International Film Festival a few months before I returned to Asia.  

Thank you for the memories, Mr. Lau.  And thank you also for helping make me as big a fan of Hong Kong cinema as I've become.  As the Brits would say, you've had a really good innings.  May you rest in peace.

Along Stage 5 of the Lantau Trail (Photo-essay)

Hong Kong's largest island is home to the 70 kilometer Lantau Trail that's divided into 12 stages of varying lengths, a few of which can't be done separately.  For example, Lantau Trail Stages 7 and 8 need to be done together as Kau Ling Chung, where Stage 7 officially ends and Stage 8 begins, is several kilometers away from the nearest road, never mind human settlement.  And the same is true of Lantau Trail Stages 5 and 6, which meet at Man Cheung Po.  

Although Stages 5 and 6 of the Lantau Trail is shorter in length than Stages 7 and 8 which, when done in reverse, takes one from Shek Pik Reservoir around to Fan Lau and then eventually to Tai O, it's actually more demanding -- seeing as it goes up and down a few hills, including one that's 490 meters high and another whose peak is 465 meters above sea level. 

But even when done on a less clear air day than my hiking friend and I would have liked, we still really enjoyed the 11 kilometer length excursion -- and, at the end of it, agreed that it's a hike we'd like to repeat at some point in time, albeit on a clearer air as well as cool day, because it's really quite enjoyable even if also on the challenging side! :)

Right from the start of the hike, we were made
well aware that this would be a arduous one,
with many hills waiting to be scaled up!

 Fortunately the trail really is well constructed 
and maintained -- and the views often scenic! :b

Yes, that's just one of a number hills 
we'd be going up that afternoon!

 Even with less than optimal visibility, one can 
see the trail stretching into the distance

At times, it felt like we were far away from civilization
but at other points, we could see traffic on the road

One of many feral cows spotted hanging out along 
or by the side of the trail that afternoon

 Trigonometrical station and sign on the summit of 

Still one peak over from the end point of Stage 5 -- 
so, yes, still some ways to go to hike's end

To be continued! :)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Excercising mind as well as body -- and being sociable in the bargain! :b

High rise Hong Kong can be pretty attractive
 ...but I truly appreciate that after a half hour ferry ride 
and a couple of hours of hiking, one can be this far away 
from the high density sections of the territory

...and walking on paths that, even while paved, 
have so little traffic that they are safe for a beautiful butterfly
like this one to land on and rest for a bit

For various reasons (including weather conditions and hiking buddy availability), I didn't go hiking last Sunday.  While not venturing out into the Hong Kong countryside for one week was okay, I found myself really yearning to be out in the greener parts of the Big Lychee this Sunday -- and thus was pretty happy when a friend who hardly ever goes hiking agreed to head out to Lantau Island with me this weekend.

I had a bit of a scare though earlier today when she phoned to say that we should call off the hike as rain had been reported in the part of Lantau that we were planning to go hike.  Fortunately I managed to convince her that if it was raining at that point in the day, by the time we headed over to our hike starting point, it'd no longer been raining -- and I happily was proved right when no rain drops were falling when we got to Discovery Bay and, also, when we then headed over to Mui Wo via the trail that passes by the Trappist Monastery before going over an unnamed hill from where one can get some excellent panoramic vistas!  
If my friend had pulled out of today's planned excursion, I'd have gone ahead and hiked on my own -- so desperate was I to temporarily get away from the urban jungle, even if for just a few hours.  For while I remain a believer that one shouldn't hike alone for the most part, I'm now willing to make exceptions for those trails, many of them largely paved, that aren't only on the easy side but that I know from experience are fairly well trafficked.
Still, I really do feel that it is significantly more pleasant to be out hiking with a friend (or two or even three) than on one's own.  Indeed, as I've told more than one person, hiking actually is one of those rare activities that I prefer to do in the company of others. (In contrast, I'm actually pretty okay with going -- and prefer, in many cases to go -- out to a restaurant, bar or cinema by myself.)  
One reason is for safety -- in that it's good to know there's somebody else around should an emergency occur and you need someone else to go look for help.  But it's also true that I favor a more social style of hiking -- one that involves engaging other people in conversation while one's walking.
Back when I was in school in Penang, I'd walk up and down the school field -- all the while talking nine to the dozen with friends -- during recess.  Later, when I attended college at Beloit, at least one friend and I would do something similar and walk from one end of the campus to another after dinner while discussing those topics that concerned and interested us at the time.  
In a way, I guess that many of my Hong Kong hikes are but extensions of those walks I'd take with friends at school and college.  So it might be said that the hikes I go on in Hong Kong help to exercise the mind as well as body -- and also generally get me to be a more social being than I otherwise would be inclined to be! ;b

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Daydream and Sculptures (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Ever since I was a kid, I've dreamnt of visiting foreign lands and having wonderful experiences there.  In my younger days, I tended to look West and daydream about visiting many places in Europe and North America.  But after having ended up spending the majority of my adult life thus far living in Europe (specifically Britain) and North America (more specifically, Wisconsin and Philadelphia), I guess it's inevitable that the past decade or so has seen many of my daydreams centering on the Eastern part of the world -- in particularly, living in Hong Kong and visiting Japan.

Over the past couple of years, I've been based in Hong Kong and made three trips to Japan.  The most recent -- almost a year ago now! -- included a visit to Hakone, with its beautiful Lake Ashi, various cool modes of transportation (including a "pirate ship" and cable car), sulphurus Owakudani, and wonderful Hakone Open-Air Museum which I would love to revisit at some point in time.

I've already highlighted some of the art (particularly sculptures) in a photo-essay that can be found here but this week's choice of Photo Hunt themes by Sandi and Gattina give me the opportunity to draw attention to a few more, including British sculptor Antony Gormley's amusing Close and Hungarian-French artist Marta Pan's Floating Sculpture 3 which I felt had Zen-like qualities, particularly when viewed in the surroundings in which it's been installed at the Japanese museum whose grounds and art cannot but invite daydreaming.

Speaking of daydreams or just dreams in general: I'm sure it's beyond the wildest dreams of many to imagine a museum that's equipped with its own hot spring foot bath.  But the Hakone Open-Air Museum really does have such a facility -- one which I, of course, took advantage of to soothe my footsies made sore by the kilometers and miles of tramping about I did that day and other days on my most recent Japan trip. :b

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Donguri Republic comes to Hong Kong! :)

Opening very soon!

Get ready to grab some goodies...

To be precise -- some Studio Ghibli goodies
 ...because starting this June 21 (i.e., tomorrow),
Hong Kong will officially be home to a branch of
Donguri Republic!!!!! :)

And for the record: of course this doesn't mean I won't want to visit Japan anymore -- not least because there are more places to get my Studio Ghibli character goods fix -- but... it really does make me pretty happy that Donguri Republic's chosen to locate its first store outside Japan in Hong Kong! :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

From Chuen Lung to Shing Mun along the Lung Mun Country Trail (Photo-essay)

In the southern foothills of Tai Mo Shan, there lies a village famous for its dim sum restaurants.  I've been to Chuen Lung a couple of times for dim sum brunch.  But when three friends and I headed there one Sunday afternoon, it wasn't to eat but, instead, to begin a hike along the Lung Mun Country Trail that I had previously been on with two other friends one rainy afternoon.

This time around, conditions were considerably drier and made for a much more pleasant trek.  It was just as well as this turned out to be the real farewell hike with my erstwhile regular hiking companion -- ironically, in the company of my first good friend who left Hong Kong along with a third friend who, happily, has since become a permanent resident and remains here in the Big Lychee... 

Near the start of the hike, we were presented
with a number of optional destinations

Any which way, blue skies beckoned :)

We didn't forget to occasionally look down though -- 
and were rewarded with such as the spotting of 
this interesting critter! :b

A somewhat surreal sight out along the hiking trail
-- it seems that some bird lover takes his pet birds 
(complete with cages!) out for walks in the countryside! ;b

Bamboo growing wildly -- 
in more ways than one! :)

The rare horizontal landscape shot I took along the hike ;b

After arriving at Shing Mun Reservoir, we were still in 
a hiking mood, so strolled over to its Jubilee Dam
where at least one fellow was having fun kite flying

we also noticed that tortoises abound in the area! :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Farewell to a(nother) friend but hopefully au revoir rather than goodbye?

Blue's a beautiful color and can make for a pretty sight...

...but blue is not how I like feeling :S

I'll be honest: This has not been the happiest of weekends for me for a number of reasons.  One of them involves different factors, including the weather, conspiring against my being able to go hiking today.  A second involved an annoying dealing with a bank customer services representative.  But by far the major dampener this weekend stems from my finding out that a good friend is leaving Hong Kong in a few months' time.

It's funny (peculiar, rather than "ha ha").  Pretty much everywhere I've been before, it's been a case of my leaving people behind or at around the same time as a bunch of people (e.g., in the case of college) rather than people leaving before me.  But this friend is the sixth good friend I've made in Hong Kong who'll have left Hong Kong before I do -- an average of one good friend lost each year that I've lived here in the Big Lychee.

I suppose technically, the one I count as the first good friend who's left doesn't count in that we met just weeks before she left Hong Kong -- on a hike from Tung Chung to Tai O -- but we've become good friends in the years since as we've kept in touch and meet up for a meal or hike pretty much every time she visits again -- which is about two or three times a year.  (She's one of those true jet-setters -- an area manager for an international company who spends a few weeks or months in many different places a year.)

On the other hand, my German friend who introduced that first friend to me certainly was someone I became good friends with when she was a resident of Hong Kong and I was pretty upset when I first heard that she was being set back to her fatherland by her company.  Happily though, she returns to visit each year and I've also gone and visited her in Germany.

Two other friends -- a British Chinese pal who I first met when visiting Hong Kong and my Singaporean foodie friend who I used to try out new restaurants and different cuisines (Manchurian, Russian, Mexican, etc.!) with -- have also returned to Hong Kong for at least one visit after they left.  Coincidentally, they now live in New York; one having left after he decided that Hong Kong was not for him, the other because he got a much better job in New York than he had managed to get in Hong Kong (but hopes one day to be able to return for a longer term in Hong Kong as, like my German friend and I, he really has a genuine love of the place). 

Sadly, I've not seen my hiking buddy who I only recently wrote about since she left Hong Kong more than a year ago now.  (Yes, I've way behind with my hiking photo-essays!)  Hong Kong born, her family immigrated to Canada when she was around age 5 before returning a few years ago.  Since she considers herself a Canadian, I guess it was inevitable that she'd head back there some day.  But the major reason why she left when she did was because, like with my Singaporean foodie friend, she got offered a better job (or, at least, better pay and work hours) in Canada than she had here in Hong Kong.

The latest of my friends who has announced that she'll be leaving Hong Kong is another Hong Kong-born Canadian citizen.  She and her widower father and sister are heading back to Canada, she told me, because they've now got way more relatives in Canada than in Hong Kong.  I'm not sure if she'll be returning to Hong Kong for visits after she moves away from Hong Kong for the second time in her life.  I hope so though, of course.  

In any event, I'm going to try to console myself -- as I've done in the case of my other friends who've left -- with the memories of all the good times we've (already) shared even while I can't help feeling blue that there won't be so many opportunities to add to them in the future. :S 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Unknown and Windows (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I like exploring far flung parts of Hong Kong and its countryside by way of hiking.  But although I do it less regularly, I also do enjoy exploring the urban parts of Hong Kong that are largely unknown to tourists and many expats -- places with names like Ma Tau Kok, Sham Shui Po and Shek Kip Mei.

Sure, they are among the less glamorous or upscale looking sections of Hong Kong.  But this doesn't mean they are without attractions, aesthetic and otherwise.  Frankly, I find the street scenes there to be interesting in and of themselves -- what with these areas of Hong Kong being homes to lower rise buildings that often are painted in surprisisingly bright colors and, to my eyes at least, possess more character than many a newer as well as taller and more "international" looking one.

As you can see courtesy of the shots I've chosen for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week, those older buildings certainly don't lack windows!  In addition, for people looking for something to do beyond stroll about and take photos, Ma Tau Kok is home to the Cattle Depot Artist Village, Shek Kip Mei to the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre and Sham Shui Po to such as a bunch of really good eateries, and a street market which these days is my "go to" place to get cargo pants along with other specialist shopping streets.

So why are these places unknown or at least unfamiliar to many Hong Kong residents as well as visitors?  One major reason is because they are among the poorer parts of "Asia's World City".  But in all honesty, I find them as safe to walk around as more affluent sections of the territory.  Another reason is that they are parts of Hong Kong where people are less likely to be able to speak English (and eateries to have English menus, etc.).  But I think that if you really need get help from an English speaker, you will find one there -- and who knows, it may even be me! ;b       

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From Siu Tan to Lai Chi Wo and out to Wu Kau Tang (Photo-essay)

Soon after I started hiking in Hong Kong, I read about Lai Chi Wo and aspired to visit there one day.  However, it wasn't until my 84th hike in the Big Lychee -- and yes, I do keep a hiking diary! -- that I made it out to the Hakka village located out in far northeastern Hong Kong that's famed to this day for its feng shui (alternatively spelt fung shui) woods

A little over one year later, I visited Lai Chi Wo again with three other friends.  But while I took a similar route to Lai Chi Wo on both hikes, this time, instead of heading back to civilization -- or at least, a place with access to public transportation in the form of a green minibus stop! -- via Kuk Po and Luk Keng, my friends and I headed back via A Ma Wat and Wu Kau Tang.  

One reason is because I didn't want to completely repeat a hike but another was that this second route was shorter and I hoped that we'd be able to complete the hike before the sun set.  But the hike had such interesting places that we couldn't help but explore a few abandoned houses and otherwise linger in some of the locations, including Lai Chi Wo itself.  So we did end up hiking the final section of the trail in the dark... Ah well, maybe the third time I visit Lai Chi Wo, it won't be the case! ;b

 Soon after passing Siu Tan, the trail heads to 
-- and skirts -- the coast

The Lai Chi Wo Nature Trail portion of the route has 
informative interpretive panels along it -- like with

Behind this shrine is a tree whose middle portion
looks to me like a sculpture of a kissing couple!

A banyan tree with another shrine in front of it
as well as lanterns hanging from it

 Most of the buildings in this centuries old village look 
dilapidated but there are a handful that look in 
better condition than the others -- and have electricity

Much of Lai Chi Wo has an abandoned air to it
-- but there also were signs about that 
some people return for Chinese New Year 

 A good way to get a sense of the size of the tree 
in the picture is, realize that my friend in
the same photo is around six feet five inches tall! ;b

I admit it -- I couldn't help pausing to take pictures
even as darkness beckoned! ;)