Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The President at the Hong Kong International Film Festival

The President's director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (center)
took part in a Q&A after the HKIFF screening of his film
 
The President (Georgia-France-UK-Germany, 2014)
- Part of the Master Class programme
- Mohsen Makhmalbaf, dir.
- Starring: Misha Gomiashvili, Dachi Orvelashvili

In my previous blog entry, I mentioned my walking out of a screening of Frederick Wiseman's overly-lengthy National Gallery in favor of checking out another film screening at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.  For the record: that was the first time I walked out of a screening in over 10 years -- and am I glad I did so, because Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The President is a real cinematic gem!

Set in an unnamed fictional country (but shot in Georgia), the exiled Iranian filmmaker's drama-allegory revolves around a military uniform-wearing dictator (brilliantly played by Misha Gomiashvili) and his prepubescent grandson (the utterly natural-acting Dachi Orvelashvili) who can act brattish at times but also is largely an innocent, unaware for a time as to the terrible deeds that his grandfather has wrought.  
 
Early on in the film, the man even his grandson calls "Mr. President" shows the young boy how powerful he is by demonstrating that the lights of the city his palace overlooks to be switched off and on at his say so. The viewer gets an idea of how casually the dictator sometimes wields his inordinately large amount of power when he allows his grandson to try doing the same.  
 
At first, the boy is delighted by what he's able to do so.  But after his latest command is ignored, there's consternation on the parts of both boy and man -- with the dictator realizing that an uprising has begun against his rule, one that's so major that before night falls the next day, he will have lost control and become -- with his grandson in tow but no one else -- a wanted man with an ever-increasingly high price on his head.

As a denouement of the callousness as well as evil that dictators often embody, The President is masterful in its ability to outline this with swift, sharp strokes.  But in devoting more screentime to the period after the dictator's ouster than his period in power, the film goes beyond depicting a powerful man's depravities to also painfully show how terrible vengeful people can become, and how it's difficult for people "liberated" after a regime's downfall to go ahead or back to having the ideal life they want.

Of course, the particular genius of this tale scripted by Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his wife Marziyeh Meshkiny (whose The Day I Became a Woman bowled me over decades ago in Philadelphia) is the inclusion in this picture of the (ousted) president's grandson.  At one level, the old man's love for him shows that he's not all bad -- but it also gets us recalling such as Adolf Hitler's followers lauding his love for his dog Blondi.  In addition, because the child really is quite the innocent, he ends up asking questions like "What is a terrorist?" that his grandfather has some difficulty explaining to him, especially since, while on the run, they often are in dangerous situations where they are surrounded by the old man's enemies. 

As a postscript: At the post-screening Q&A, Makhmalbaf said that he shot the film in Georgia because that country's authorities were open to his making this film there.  In contrast, the authorities in other countries, including Russia and -- this drew much laughter -- China, were less keen on the subject of The President! :D

My rating for this film: 8.5

Monday, March 30, 2015

Two museum documentaries viewed at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival

A set of paintings I wouldn't be surprised to see in a museum
like, say, the National Gallery but actually is 
currently located in Freiburg's Munster! ;b

The New Rijksmuseum - The Film (The Netherlands, 2014)
- Part of the Portraits of Museums programme
- Oeke Hoogendijk, dir.
- Featuring the staff of the Rijksmuseum, etc.

In what can seem like another lifetime, my ambition was to become a museum curator.  Actually, at several points in my life, I did work in museums and related institutions -- and happily for the most part.  And while I haven't done so for years, I still do retain an affection for museological establishments and happily visit them from time to time -- and also sometimes do get tempted to check out a book or film just because they are about museums (e.g., Dinosaurs in the Attic) or even just because they have the word "museum" in their title (e.g., Art Museum by the Zoo)!

While I've yet to make it to Amsterdam and its Rijksmuseum, this film has boosted my urge to do so.  Somewhat ironically, much of this documentary actually focuses on the problems and difficulties of renovating this grand Dutch museum that was founded in the Hague in 1800, moved to Amsterdam in 1808 and only relocated to its current location in 1885.  At the same time though, what definitely comes across throughout what turned out to be a 10 year renovation that cost 375 million Euros (~HK$3,156,450,000!) is the large amount of thought and care that went into ensuring that things would really be done right.

Shot over a number of years, the documentary begins with Ronald de Leeuw as the museum's general director but sees him give up and resign after a few years, and replaced by Wim Pijbes (who remains the director in charge of the Rijksmuseum to this day).  Both of these men feature in the work, as do a number of other museum staffers -- including Menno Fitski, the curator of Asian art, who comes across as a lovely human being as well as a super dedicated museum professional, thanks to the  sub-story involving two Japanese temple guardians now ensconced at the Rijksmuseum -- along with the architects who designed the renovations, the interior designers, and bicycling activists who had quite a bit to say about the changes to a main passageway through the museum!

With the great bulk of the museum being closed to the public for pretty much 99%  during filming, what largely gets shown in The New Rijkmuseum - The Film is what goes on behind the scenes.  As a former museum worker, it was really nice to see a lot of usually unsung heroes and their work being shown -- people such as the curators but also the restorers, the exhibit designers and also such as the press officer and the people actually doing the painting of the walls along with those who decide what color paints should be put on them.

This being the Dutch equivalent of the Louvre, the documentary also shows us processes such as senior staffers discussing works that they seek to acquire to add to the collection, and then a museum representative going to an auction to see if they can successfully purchase them.  And yes, I think it was pretty interesting to see how things work on that level these days.  

To be honest, this is one of those films that you have to generally be interested in the subject (museums -- thought not necessarily The Rijksmuseum in particular) in order to find the film worth watching.  But if you are, then this superb documentary should prove really enthralling! :)

My rating forthe film: 8.5

National Gallery (France-USA, 2014)
- Part of the Portraits of Museums programme
- Frederick Wiseman, dir.
- Featuring the staff of the National Gallery

Having enjoyed viewing The New Rijksmuseum - The Film, I looked forward the next day to checking out a documentary by a highly respected documentary filmmaker who is a Hong Kong International Film Festival favorite (what with his At Berkeley having been part of last year's HKIFF and Crazy Horse the year before); and this all the more so since the subject of National Gallery is a beloved museum that I've paid a number of visits to in the past.

Sure, this documentary is on the lengthy side -- with IMDB stating that it's 180 minutes long, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival programme having a running time of 174 minutes -- but that's still not even half as long as the 5 1/2 hour long Carlos which I viewed at the 2011 HKIFF!  And it -- along with the other films in Portraits of Museums -- came highly recommended, including by Hong Kong International Film Festival Society executive director Roger Garcia.

Sad to say, however, I found this work to be on the meandering side and to also not tell me that much new -- seeing as a considerable amount of the documentary was shot in the publicly accessible sections of the museum, and shows museum docents and other educators delivering talks and lectures at various segments of the National Gallery's visitors.  (In particular, I think my familiarity with the museum and certain of the highlighted paintings worked against my enjoyment of this film -- for, let's face it, Leonardo da Vinci's The Virgin of the Rocks looks better in real life than on film, and I not only studied Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors but wrote an art history research paper on J.M.W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire!)

Worse, I also found some bits of this documentary repetitive -- with the same painting being used to make different points (something I consider a real shame since this British institution is home to thousands of works of art) -- and certain of the museum staffers to be on the irritating side (including by showing how out of touch they actually appear to be with "the real world" or by not only being allowed to waffle on for minutes but being filmed, sans edits, doing so!).

On the subject of the museum staffers: it would have been informative for them to have been explicitly identified by name and title (as was the case with the equivalent people in The New Rijksmuseum - The Film).  And on a filmmaking note: I can't help but feel that some disciplined editing would have not only considerably shortened this documentary's length but also made it more interesting and focused.   

While I don't think it absolutely horrible to the point that it'll be the 14th worst film I'll watch this year, I will admit to walking out of the screening with about half an hour ago in order to go catch another film at the fest; this because I honestly didn't feel like anything especially exciting or revelatory was going to happen in the final 30 minutes or so of this documentary.  At the same time, because I've seen more than two hours of this film, I feel like I still can give it a rating, so...

My rating for this film: 5.5 (and even so, it's mainly because the subject is a really interesting one!)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Conflagration at the Hong Kong International Film Festival

The fictionalized version of Kinkakuji appears in
Kon Ichikawa's Conflagration

Conflagration (Japan, 1958)
- Part of the Kon Ichikawa: 4 Classics Restored program
- Kon Ichikawa, dir.
- Starring: Raizo Ichikawa, Tatsuya Nakadai, Ganjiro Nakamura, Tanie Kitayabashi

In 1956, Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion was published.  Two years later, Kon Ichikawa made a film with a similar storyline to Mishima's book -- and it's widely assumed that Conflagration is an adaptation of Mishima's novel.  However, there's another school of thought that Ichikawa's film actually is an alternative story of -- and interpretation behind -- how a mentally ill novice monk came to burn down a beautiful Zen temple cum national treasure on July 2, 1950 in Kyoto.

Although I have a copy of Mishima's book in my collection, I have to confess to not having yet gotten to read it.  Perhaps I'd like the book better when I read it.  In any event, going into the screening of Conflagration knowing the bare facts rather than major story details may have allowed me to more greatly appreciate this drama whose protagonist is a novice monk with a stutter but is named Goichi Mizoguchi (rather than Hayashi Yoken, as was the case with the real life arsonist) -- and whose fabled temple is known as Shukaku in the film (rather than Kinkakuji or Rokuon-ji (trans. Deer Garden Temple), the latter of which is the temple's official name).

Conflagration's protagonist is the person that some people'll look down upon and others feel sorry for.  The only son of a consumptive priest of a minor temple in an out of the way village, Goichi (Raizo Ichikawa) had the misfortune not only to have his beloved father die prematurely but also to find out -- along with his father -- that his mother (Tanie Kitayabashi) was having sex with his uncle.  Already socially awkward on account of his having a stammer, these events further make the young man withdraw further into a shell that few people can crack.

After arriving at the fabled Shukaku in Kyoto, which his father loved, and where an erstwhile classmate is now head priest (Ganjiro Nakamura), Goichi does befriend another young apprentice monk.  Fate cruelly intervenes once more, however, when his friend is first called back home because his mother was dying and then dies in an accident himself!  And Goichi's life is further put into a downward tailspin when his hated mother is also taken in at Shukaku and the young man makes the mistake of seeking the friendship of a man with a crippled leg and twisted mind (Tatsuya Nakadai).
 
Something else that is made clear in Conflagration is that Goichi is one of those people who veneration of what they consider spiritual pure can make them unable to deal with the real world and its people being imperfect, sometimes even fundamentally flawed.  Insanity will result if you believe in the existence of perfection, Ichikawa seems to be telling the audience; and this all the more so in times and places when change comes suddenly and dramatically -- as was the case in Japan in the 1940s, a decade that saw Japan go to war and come out defeated and having to adapt (to) what had hitherto been foreign ways.

Although Goichi clearly is shown going along the path to madness, I have to admit to feeling moved by his character.  One reason is because he did genuinely want to do good for a time.  Another is that he was an underdog in so many ways that it seemed like he was unfairly doomed pretty much from the start.  If nothing else, those of us who have at some point in life felt like the gods were against us surely will emphatize and sympathize with at least some of this young's man burdened lot, even if we never ever would carry out as dramatic an action as his with regards to that which he had venerated but then also came to serve as a symbol of much that was wrong with the world!

My rating for this film: 8.5      

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The first film I viewed at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival

An image from the first film I viewed at this year's 
Hong Kong International Film Festival

The 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) kicked off this past Monday with the world premiere of "filmmaker in focus" Sylvia Chang's latest directorial effort, Murmur of the Hearts.  I had the chance to see the film even earlier than that but so far have eschewed viewing it in favor of other offerings -- partly because I don't have the greatest memories of her previous directorial effort before this one (2008's Run Papa Run, which also premiered at the HKIFF) and also because I know that her latest film (in which she doesn't appear on screen) is getting released in Hong Kong next month.

So I began my HKIFF-ing with a film that I don't think will be getting a general commercial release in Hong Kong any time soon... and here's giving advance warning that my Hong Kong International Film Festival viewing choices do tend to be made in terms of opting for the cinematic version of the road less travelled... ;b

The Look of Silence (Denmark-Indonesia, 2014)
- From the Reality Bites programme
- Joshua Oppenheimer, director
- Starring Adi Rukun

Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and an Indonesian filmmaker who's had to remain anonymous to protect his/her safety's The Act of Killing (2012) receive much acclaim for its sensational coverage of the Indonesian massacres of 1965-1966 many decades after they occured that involved the killers openly re-enacting some of the atrocities for the cameras.

If anything, I find this follow-up film -- that now has the Danish-based American filmmaker as its sole credited director but continues the practice of having a multitude of "Anonymous" crew members in its credits -- to be the more powerful work; this in large part because The Look of Silence gives a larger voice to family members of those who were wronged rather than the unrepentant guilty party involved.

The man at the center of this documentary, Adi Rukun, is an optometrist whose brother was killed in a most terrible way by people from the same village, and who the middle-aged man and his parents continue to live amongst.  Born after his brother's death (which gets described in a graphic manner by the actual murderers), Adi is told time and time again by people not to delve too deeply into the past, otherwise -- they chillingly warn him -- the terrible events that occurred then may reoccur again.

Stubbornly (and admirably), however, the soft-spoken man courageously continues with his quest to not only uncover the truth but see if those involved in the massacre of thousands, if not millions of people, feel any regret about the parts they played in the killings; with seemingly only his elderly -- but still very lucid -- mother, who remembers events that took place decades ago like they occured yesterday, and  director Oppenheimer (who more than once is directly addressed by subjects in the film) understanding his need to do what he does. 

Sadly, the bravery of Adi, Oppenheimer and co don't look like it's been really rewarded thus far.  At least Oppenheimer gets critical kudos for his documentary work but he may never feel able to return to Indonesia after making this film. Coming off worse is Adi and his family, who have had to relocate to a different part of the country for their safety.  This because not only are the killers still alive but they are very powerful people or remain backed by them.

My rating for this film: 8.0

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Pat Sin Leng Country Park hike that passed through many villages, some of them abandoned (Photo-essay)

One day, I'll conquer  Pat Sin Leng (Eight Immortals Ridge).  To date, however, I've mainly contented myself with gazing at the formidable northeastern Hong Kong mountain range from such as Tai Mei Tuk -- though it's also true that I've also spend time hiking in Pat Sin Leng Country Park and even been up to Hsien Ku Fung, the 514-meter-high mountain that's the furthest east of Pat Sin Leng's eight peaks.

One cloudy winter's day, I went with a multi-national group of friends (including people from the US, Japan, UK, Taiwan, Germany and Hong Kong) along a hike that began at the Tai Wan (large bay) located in Nam Chung and concluded at Tai Mei Tuk.  Along the way, we stopped at both the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Pavilion and the Spring Breeze Pavilion -- and noticed that there were flowers left at the latter in memory of the victims of the 1996 Pat Sin Leng wildfire.  

Rather than take photos of them, however, I opted to train my camera on other sights -- including those that can be seen in the following photo-essay, and help me to remember a lovely hiking day:-

 The village of Nam Chung Yeung Uk is located in one of the more 
scenic parts of Hong Kong that I've passed through over the years :)

Interestingly, the village's temple is located closer to
Nam Chung Cheng Uk than the village of the Yeungs!

The route our group opted to take that day had us going
along a old stone village path for part of the way :)

The path led us past ruins of a few long abandoned villages

 The ruins help make more an evocative landscape

I wonder how many villages lie under the waters of
Plover Cove Reservoir that is Hong Kong's largest reservoir

These days, the largest settlements in the area are to be found 
-- like Tai Mei Tuk -- on the edge of Plover Cove

 Before heading downhill to Tai Mei Tuk, we paused to admire
the beautiful cloudy sky that the sun was trying to be a bigger part of ;b

*And for those who are wondering: yes, the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival began this past Monday and I do intend to write about what I see there -- but will only do so after viewing more of the fest's offerings first! ;b

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hong Kong lantern display whimsy


Yes, those are anthromorphised sheep couples 
standing atop non-anthromorphised elephants!

 Another sheep couple -- this one atop a building 
and in get ups that get me thinking of Central Asia!

Better late than never?  Since February 12th, there's been a Lunar New Year lantern display at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza over at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.  

Last weekend, I walked by it during the day and it didn't looked all that interesting.  But after attending the Cassandra Wilson concert this evening at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, I decided to return to Hong Kong Island by ferry, and my walking route to the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier involved me passing by the lit up -- and consequently brightly colored and more eye-catching-- lantern display. 

The first figures that caught my attention were ones atop two elephants.  My first reaction on seeing them was "They don't look very Chinese nor lunar new year themed!"  Also, until I read the information on a display panel, I wouldn't have known that the figures are meant to be sheep couples -- but that is apparently what they are!

More specifically, I learnt, "A number of Asian "Sheep" couples dressed in various ethnical (sic!) & traditional wedding costumes would like to invite you to join their happy wedding at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza. Let's celebrate the Year of the Sheep with this spectacular and joyful lantern display!" -- one which actually was on display for the final time tonight!

Oh, and for those who are wondering how come I wrote about seeing goats at the Hong Kong Flower Show yesterday but sheep tonight, it's because the Chinese "yang" (whose year this is) can be translated into English as goat, sheep or ram!  As for why this year's lunar new year lantern display is wedding-  -- as well as sheep- -- themed, that I really have no idea! ;D

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Amusing and aesthetically attractive displays at the 2015 Hong Kong Flower Show

Floral goats on display? It can only be the

I'm not sure what this creature is 
but it sure does look happy! :)

Among the curiosities on show are displays 
which actually aesthetically impress

On a day when Google's commemorating the first day of Spring (and the March equinox) with doodles of flowers on its page titles, it seems appropriate for me to pay a visit to the 2015 Hong Kong Flower Show which began yesterday and runs through to March 29th. 

There are some snobs who think this event's lower class and not all that cool -- this not least on account of admission to it being just HK$14 (US$1.80) and free to senior citizens aged 60 years and above, and also persons with disabilities and their minders.  But I have to say that it's an event I look forward to checking out each year -- not least because I find much fun and amusement along with aesthetic enjoyment to be had from seeing the imaginative floral displays to be found at Victoria Park courtesy of the Hong Kong Flower Show

What with our being into the Chinese lunar year of the goat (or ram or sheep), I expected to see floral goats on display -- like there had been snake-shaped floral arrangements a couple of years ago.  And sure enough, that was indeed the case!  But entering Victoria Park from the Causeway Bay side like I did, I actually saw some other floral creatures first.

The first displays that caught my eye were ones that gave pride of place to female figures with intricate floral gowns, large yellow chicken (a nod to Easter being around the corner perhaps?) and colorful birds in flight.  Also notable were the Housing Authority's display area which featured human-sized anthromorphized -- or, at least, cartoon figure-like -- bees, as floral display and also a costumed character which many people were angling to go pose with.

Most impressive of all for me was a display from one of the district authorities that didn't just incorporate flowers, green plants, bronze sculptures and water but also dry ice as well!  In all honesty, it's quite amazing to see the efforts that some groups and organizations put into the exhibits they set up here at the Hong Kong Flower Show.  And it's only fitting that they attract the attention -- including from enthusiastic shutterbugs -- that they do during these few days that they're there for people to see and enjoy! :)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sunset Peak on the first day of Chinese New Year (2013!) (Photo-essay)

If I told you that this blog entry is of the first hike up Sunset Peak that I went on three Chinese New Years ago, then you'd know how far behind I am in terms of posting my hiking photo-essays!  So here's going ahead and doubling the number of hiking photo-essays that I normally put up in a week... 

And for those who wonder why I bother to put up this photo-essay since so much time already has past since I went on the hike that I'm chronicling: I think the pictures I took back then still are worth sharing -- not least because much of what's in the photos are still there some three years on!  Besides, my memories of this hike up Hong Kong's third highest peak (at 869 meters above sea level) are still pretty vivid -- which says to me that in the grand scheme of things, three years is actually not that long after all! ;b 

The trail up this Lantau Island peak 
is on the rocky and rugged side

On the misty afternoon that a friend and I went up Sunset Peak,
it literally was a trek up to the clouds!

 Midway up the mountain (from our hike start at Pak Kung Au), we spotted
a wild dog which, fortunately, seemed more curious than aggressive!


Whether you start from Mui Wo, Nam Shan or Pak Kung Au, 
it's quite the trek to go up Sunset Peak and also down it!

 On the way down, one has to beware tired legs which can
cause one to slip lest one fall off (not just down) the mountain!

Is that a stone guardian in before me? 

The trees grow taller in the lower reaches of the mountain,
 so the sight of tall trees is a sure sign that the end of the hike is near! :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The "new" Wan Chai Star Ferry Pier

There's still a not-completely-finished feel to the 
new Wan Chai ferry pier

Meanwhile, the pier that it replaced is most definitely gone
-- as this photo taken of where it used to be shows!
 
Some days I feel so unobservant.  This was how I felt when I got off the Tsim Sha Tsui to Wan Chai Star Ferry and suddenly felt disoriented upon discovering that the pier that the ferry had docked at was one I had never been on before.
 
Since my regular work commute takes me past the Wan Chai ferry pier, I've know that quite a bit of land reclamation and construction has been going on in the area over the past couple of years or so.  And I've even noticed a new ferry pier building going up a hundred meters or so to the east of the Wan Chai ferry pier from where I had taken ferries to -- and got off ferries from -- Tsim Sha Tsui.

Somehow though, I had failed to notice when the Wan Chai ferry pier I knew -- and could even say I loved to some extent -- ceased to exist, never mind ceased operations!  One reason, I suppose, is that the tearing down of the building took place behind high fence walls.  But another reason is that I just hadn't noticed -- probably because I somehow was always looking the other way during those particular sections of my commute, or was deep into reading a newspaper or magazine, or just deep into my own thoughts!

After I made my way out of the new Wan Chai Ferry Pier last Saturday afternoon, I texted a friend to ask her when this new ferry pier had come into operation.  Before Chinese New Year was her answer -- but even while she's right, I think she too would be surprised to discover that the old Wan Chai Star Ferry Pier closed its doors as far back as August 29 of last year -- and the new Wan Chai ferry pier began operations the next day on August 30, 2014!

Some time back, an artist friend of mine expressed his distaste for the architectural design of this new Wan Chai ferry pier.  I can't say though that I am aesthetically revulsed by it.  And I'm also glad that this new ferry pier isn't located all that far away from the old Wan Chai ferry pier (which actually was a second generation pier, in operation between 1968 to 1914, that replaced the original pier that was in operation from 1949 to 1968).

On the other hand, I really do miss the old Central Star Ferry Pier (or Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier to give it its official name) which was gone by the time I moved to Hong Kong in 2007 but which I passed through several times when visiting Hong Kong in the past.  In particular, I miss it when the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) is in full swing -- as in the past, its existence made travelling between two major HKIFF venues (i.e., the Hong Kong Cultural Centre over in Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong City Hall in Central) very convenient by Star Ferry!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hiking from Wan Chai to Wong Nai Chung Gap (Photo-essay)

There are people who think a hike's not really a hike if part of it takes place on a paved road.  There also are hikers who aren't happy when the views during a hike include ones of high density urbanscapes.  To those folks, I can categorically: this Hong Kong Island hike which a friend and I went on one winter afternoon is most definitely not for you!

This being said, I actually enjoyed this hike that took us from the heart of urban Wan Chai up to Wan Chai Gap via the paved but also super steep Wan Chai Gap Road, then eastwards to Wong Nai Chung Gap via more conventional (i.e., generally unpaved) hiking paths

As a matter of fact, the Wan Chai Gap to Wong Nai Chung Gap section of the Hong Kong Trail is actually one of my favorite easy option hikes in Hong Kong -- and I've been on it at least four times already, though this was the first time that I added the added challenge and kilometers of an ascent up Wan Chai Gap Road to Wan Chai Gap (since I usually get up there much more easily via a scenic bus ride)! ;b

 Wan Chai Gap Road may be steep but it's still 
pretty popular with people seeking a bit of exercise!

One reason why it's popular is because it quickly gets one from 
the urban sprawl below to the much greener area above

 If one's so inclined, one can fairly quickly go downhill

 On that gray but high visibility day, where one could see
as far away as Lantau Island, never mind Lamma and Aberdeen,
we elected to press ahead to Wong Nai Chung Gap instead!

 Also on view along the hike were Wong Chuk Hang
and Ocean Park -- where I've been to just twice thus far! ;o

 The Hong Kong Police College in Wong Chuk Hang 
is familiar to many Hong Kong film fans 
due to its appearance in movies such as Infernal Affairs

 The only non-human animal I saw on this winter hike 
was this stray tabby cat!

I know golf has its fans (including my mother) but if I could, 
I'd turn this golf course at Deep Water Bay -- and others like it --
into land for affordable housing, and definitely before the country parks!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Great ... if you know (where) to look at the Peninsula Hotel!


I wonder how many people who pass by the area actually spot 
Richard Wilson's art installation up on the Peninsula Hotel! :O

The day before I went to Art Basel - Hong Kong 2015 over on the other side of Victoria Harbour, I happened to be walking about in Tsim Sha Tsui, including in the area where the iconic Peninsula Hotel is located.  As I neared it, I got to remembering that I had read about an art installation involving a bus looking like it was teetering on the edge of one of the hotel's roofs being set up ahead of the launch of this year's edition of Art Basel -- and so knew to look up and look for British artist Richard Wilson's The Italian Job (1969)-inspired work. 

Forewarned to expect to see it, the sight of that incongrous and amusing spectacle got me smiling.  But judging from their bemused reactions, others around me who caught sight of the Hong Kong version of Wilson's "Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea..." piece (whose first incarnation had been at Bexhill during the 2012 London Festival within the Cultural Olympiad) were far less prepared for the sight, and did not have the most positive reactions to it!
 
Then there were the even larger numbers of passers-by who just did not spot the art installation hanging several meters above.  Perhaps the Peninsula Hotel is too much of a fixture on the Hong Kong landscape for most locals to think to glance at it as they walk by.  As for many of the tourists, I gather that quite a few of them make it a point to go have afternoon tea at the hotel, even if they don't stay there, but don't think to pay much attention to the exterior of the building.
 
On a personal note: I've never been to afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel -- and the thought never seemed attractive to me, both in my tourist and Hong Kong resident days.  (Maybe it has to do with my having enjoyed my share of afternoon teas in England -- and Anglophile places like Ye Olde Smokehouse in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands -- already and tending to prefer to partake of dim sum in Hong Kong rather than English-style afternoon tea!)

On a visit to the Big Lychee for the Hong Kong International Film Festival some years back though, two Hong Kong movie fan friends (one from the US and another from Turkey) and I did go and have drinks one evening at Felix . And, for the record: yes, we did go check out its infamous toilets -- male (inadvertently, and thank goodness there were men there doing their business at the time!) as well as female (which have unusual elements of their own but definitely aren't as creatively designed as those for the men)!  

Since moving to Hong Kong, I've only been to the Peninsula for a work function -- and have also dropped in to use its toilets... the one on a lower floor rather than the ones at Felix!  And yes, they are indeed very nice -- though, of course, I wouldn't go out of my way to check them out!!  And -- here's linking back to the subject in the earlier part of the blog -- it's true enough that if you don't know to look for them, you won't spot them as they're not in the most obvious of places! ;b

Sunday, March 15, 2015

At Art Basel - Hong Kong 2015

South African artist Robin Rhode's Balthazar was among 
the works that caught my eye at this year's Art Basel - Hong Kong

 East and west mix at this mega art fair of works by over 3,000 artists
whose exhibitors comprise 233 galleries from 37 countries and territories

At least one artist (Shintaro Miyake) was creating art 
at the art fair rather than just have his work on display there!

 David Klamen's untitled blue meta-painting installation
was, like Rhode's Balthazar, a work consisting of multiple 
images and components that I found interesting and impressive

I wish it was still called Art HK, as was the case when I attended in 2011 and  2012 -- or even the less catchy Hong Kong International Art Fair, like when I first attended in 2009. Also, I wish it would have stuck to its original May slot rather than also wedge itself into Hong Kong's already super crowded March events calendar.  (March, for those who don't realize, being when the Hong Kong International Film Festival traditionally begins, the Hong Kong Arts Festival extends into, the Hong Kong Flower Show takes place and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens too!)    

Still, there's little doubt that as Art Basel - Hong Kong -- as it has been known since 2013 -- Hong Kong's premier international art fair has become a major fixture in Hong Kong culture vultures' calendars.  And while there's no question that its major reason to exist is commercial (i.e., to find buyers for the works of art on display at the fair), it's also true enough that this art fair also represents the best chance each year to view a super large as well as diverse selection of art works under one roof in Hong Kong.

Earlier today, I spent three hours at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre that once more is where Art Basel - Hong Kong takes place.  With so much there to see, I once again, as with previous years, adopted a strategy of walking through as much of the exhibit space as I could and only stopping when something that I considered really extra-ordinary caught my eye -- and in a pleasurable, not just attention-demanding or plain shocking way.  (It used to be assumed that art was beautiful, or at least meaningful, but I often think that more and more, artists just aim to "weird" one into noticing their products, or do so by producing "loud" -- as in super bright or large -- works!)

Walking by hundreds, if not thousands, of works fairly quickly, I found it notable that certain artists really do have such a distinct style that their works -- whether one loves them or not -- are pretty much instantly recognizable as theirs.  (I think here of the contemporary likes of Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Julian Opie and Takashi Murakami as well as now deceased iconic artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Fernand Leger, Marc Chagall and Zao Wou-ki -- all of whom have works on display (and sale) at this year's art fair.)

But while I'm sure the galleries representing them would beg to differ, I felt that a lot of the works that I saw -- or at least glanced at -- at the art fair really weren't that striking, or even all that special.  Still, of course, there were exceptions -- as in works of art that I did think were exceptional.  Thanks to the relaxed photography rules at the art fair, I was able to snap shots of several of these -- and share a few of the images at the top of this blog post.  

Because of my finding enough works of art on show that I consider admirable, I consider the time I spent at this year's Art Basel - Hong Kong to be time well spent; and I have to say that it's made me rue my having missed last year's edition (due to my being away from Hong Kong when it took place).

One final note (at least for now!): Perhaps because I skipped a year, I feel like I've noticed more this time around the lack of noteworthy works from Hong Kong artists at this art fair which may have internationalised at Hong Kong's expense -- or is it because I saw so many more interesting -- and heartfelt and meaningful -- local works on the streets of Hong Kong during that period of time when certain sections of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mongkok were Occupied?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Memories of ferry rides in different parts of the world

Does the sight of a ferry pier gladden your heart?

What's the ferry equivalent of a trainspotter?

 
View on the ferry ride from Chi Ma Wan to Mui Wo

On Sunday afternoon, my heart leapt a little when I spotted a ferry pier near the now disused prisons at Chi Ma Wan.  Yes, catching a ferry from there to Mui Wo saved my hiking friend and I a few kilometers of hiking to the nearest bus stop from where we were.  But, in all honesty, I also like taking ferry rides just for the sake of doing so -- that is, if they don't give me seasickness.

As a child growing up in Penang, the one ferry I knew best was the one that took people and their cars, motorcycles and bicycles between George Town (over on Penang Island) and Butterworth, over on the mainland of Peninsula Malaysia.  And it wasn't until my first visit to Hong Kong, at the age of 11, that I came across another ferry.  (And yes, inevitably, that would be the Star Ferry that crosses the Victoria Harbour, specifically between Tsim Sha Tsui (on the Kowloon Peninsula) and Central (on Hong Kong Island).)

Perhaps because they make such short journeys, I never experienced any seasickness when riding those ferries.  Indeed, I never imagined that I would experience such a thing until I did so on an overnight ferry ride between Japan's Kyushu and Honshu Islands on the first trip to the country that I took back when I was 14 years old!  

And strangely, I don't recall feeling seasick -- only fearful! -- on a super choppy ferry ride between the Channel Islands of Sark and Guernsey one evening when I was in my late teens.  (Maybe it was the adrenaline rush that came from -- and this I vividly remember -- seeing someone who had not fastened his seatbelt being thrown up so high he hit his head on the ceiling during that ride!) 

On the other hand, I definitely remember the ferry rides between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar that I took more often than I would have liked when I lived in Tanzania in what seemed like another lifetime ago -- ones that were so vomit-inducing that they ferry crew would issue passengers with plastic bags to vomit into when they boarded the ferry.  (Needless to say, seeing clear plastic bags filled with vomit is pretty much guaranteed to make one feel nauseous, if one wasn't already; and ditto upon smelling vomit around you!)

For a time, after more than one ferry ride to Macau and Lamma left me feeling rather green, I tried to steer clear of ferries while living here in Hong Kong.  At some point though, a friend of mine suggested that I finally try taking anti-seasickness pills, which I had hitherto avoided because of a fear that they'd make me too drowsy -- and after doing so, I really wanted to hit myself for not having done so earlier!

At the same time, I learnt years ago -- courtesy of a friendly Tanzanian ferry crew member -- that when I am on a ferry (or kaito) where I can be out in the open air and breathe in fresh air, I don't tend to get seasick -- and, in fact, really do enjoy the rides and the feel of such as the breeze on my face along with the sights on view along the way!  So I only take the anti-seasickness pills when I'm going on a ferry where there's enclosed seating areas only.  Still, in any event, it's really good indeed to have that option -- especially when one's living in a part of the world where there are so many ferry services being offered! ;b