Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve Celebration with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra!

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (with guest conductor 
Yaron Traub) at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Concert Hall
 
Soloist Sara Domnajnic also performed at the 
 
This time last year, I was in AmsterdamOn Christmas Eve 2015, I attended a concert at the Concertgebouw with my German friend -- who had met up with me in the Netherlands, as did a friend from the US -- and had been initially taken aback, then highly appreciative to find that photos were allowed to be taken during what turned out to be a curious mix of religious celebration, classical music and pop music.
 
On that occasion, I marvelled at how photography was allowed at such an illustrious musical venue as the Concertgebouw -- which is famous for its perfect acoustics and also offers up lots to visually appreciate.  But after hearing the announcement for the first time ever last night that photography was allowed in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Concert Hall, I'm beginning to wonder whether it's one of the traditional perks of attending a festive concert!
 
Even without that privilege, I felt that last night's concert was pretty special.  With the same light classical music program as this evening's, it's -- as its title announces -- a New Year's Eve Celebration.  And even without resident conductor Jaap van Zweden at the podium (or, for that matter, in the hall as far as I know), the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra -- and, for two pieces, solo violinist Sara Domjanic also -- did an excellent job playing music from Spain (composed by Jeronimo Gimenez and Manuel de Falla), France (courtesy of Maurice Ravel and Jules Massenet), Germany (courtesy of Richard Strauss) and, last but certainly not least, Vienna (composed by Johann Strauss II).
 
Originally from Israel but based in Spain, guest conductor Yaron Traub is the kind of fellow who, even from afar, you know has a twinkle in his eye along with a demeanor that gives you the distinct sense that he loves to dance, entertain and a rollicking good time!  Put another way: he was pretty much darn perfect to direct the orchestra in performing lively works such as Johan Strauss II's Spanish March and Tritsch Trasch (Thunder and Lightning) polka, Maurice Ravel's celebration of Gypsy music that is Tzigane, and both the Dance of the Neighbours and Danza Final from Manuel de Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat Suite!
 
But while certain members of the audience such as the woman sitting directly in front of me literally nodded off during the quieter (more relaxing?) sections of the program, notably Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier Suite and even Johan Strauss II's Künstlerleben Waltz, I actually liked these more lyrical works even more, especially Jules Massenet's Meditation from Thaïs -- which is as lovely to listen to as it was taxing for me to play, even decades ago when my fingers were far more nimble than they now are!  Indeed, I'd go so far as to state that that beautiful, meditative piece was my favorite of the evening along with another classic work -- this one played as the first encore piece -- Johan Strauss II's super recognizable The Blue Danube Waltz.
 
In a year where I've been treated to a number of wonderful musical concerts, both at the oft criticized Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall and the more acoustically sound Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall (and also one very different -- and actually rather moving -- one outdoors in Admiralty), it was lovely to enjoy one final musical evening before this calendar year draws to a close.  On occasions like this, I tell myself I should take more advantage than I've done in recent months of Hong Kong being far from a cultural desert, especially since it actually has not just one but four quality orchestras (with the others being -- in no particular order -- the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra)! :) 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Funassyi mania at the Harajuku Funassyi Cafe! (Photo-essay)

On my first Japan trip of 2016, I got my first taste of bona fide Funassyi mania when I visited the branch of Funassyiland that takes up a good part of the ground floor of Kiddy Land's flagship store in Harajuku.  And on the final full day of my second Japan trip this year, I returned to Tokyo's kawaii capital to another hyper Pear-themed establishment: a limited period Funassyi Cafe that was way more Funassyi-fied than the Wired Cafes in Hong Kong had been when they were having Funassyi Fairs, complete with Funassy-themed food and drinks served on Funassyi-themed tableware!

Alas, unlike on one special day in Hong Kong this past July at the Wired Cafes, the actual Pear was not around when my party visited the Harajuku Funassyi Cafe.  Instead, I had to content myself with doing such as eating Funassyi-themed food, being entertained by the Funassyi-themed decor and Funa's Kitchen video playing on a screen projection on one wall, and hugging an adorable 90cm Funassyi plushie similar to one which visitors were also welcome to touch and pose with at the flagship Funassyiland in Funabashi... ;b    

The Funassyi insanity begins even before
one enters the Funassyi Cafe proper ;b

The genderless Pear can cook! :)

Funassyi figures abound in this cute cafe!

Should anyone wonder: we deliberately went 
during off-peak hours because we didn't want 
to have to contend with a crowd

My towering parfait (in Funassyi colors)
and a friend's can of beer ;b

 Yes, there's (nashi) pear in the parfait, and a Funassyi face!

My other friend's similarly kawaii looking  --
and sweet tasting -- Funassyi Cafe selection

 50cm Funassyi and Puppet Ponyo say
"Farewell and that's all folks, for now"! :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The 47 ronin and Sengakuji

Sengakuji is home to some beautiful trees and buildings

But it's main draw is actually is its graveyard

In particular, there are many visitors to this day to the section 
of the temple grounds where the final resting places of 
loyal samurai, their master and his wife are found

Around this time three years ago, a movie entitled 47 Ronin was given an international release (and even had its world premiere in Japan -- where the eventual box office bomb's story was set -- rather than the USA).  I must admit to being shocked, even horrified, that Hollywood had had the audacity to effectively mess with the true story of the faithful retainers of a feudal lord forced to kill himself after assaulting an arrogant court official who had repeatedly belittled him, who proceed to seek revenge for their master by taking the life of the troublemaking court official; and this especially after great cinematic works about what's also known as the Ako Incident already had been made decades previously by master auteur Kenji Mizoguchi.

One December morning in 1702, a group of ronin led by Oishi Kuranosuke attacked the household of court official Kira Yoshinaka.  After killing the man they held responsible for their late master's death (and disgrace), they carried Kira's severed head several miles to Sengakuji, where their late lord -- Asano Naganori, the daimyo of the Ako domain -- had been laid to rest after his court-ordered suicide.  Upon making this presentation at Asano's grave, the samurai then sat and waited to be arrested for the authorities.

Since they had gone against the law in killing a court official, these 46 "masterless samurai" were themselves sentenced to death by seppuku; with the 47th ronin involved in this revenge plot escaping this sentencing, it is said, on account of his age (as well as because he had been selected to go to Ako to tell the tale of his comrades rather than go along with them to effect the act they all had sworn to do).  Considering that among those sentenced to commit ritual suicide was Oishi's 16-year-old son, that one surviving member of the party must have been pretty young indeed -- or if he was adjudged to be too old to be sentenced to death, then he must have been over 77 years of age as that was how one of the other 46 ronin had been! 

After their deaths, the 46 loyal ronin who committed seppuku were laid to rest in the same cemetery as their late master (whose wife also was buried near him after her death).  And over the years and centuries, many people have gone to their final resting places over at Sengakuji to pay their respects to these honorable men as their deeds have come to be looked upon as exemplifying admirable loyalty, justice and chivalry.

When I visited Sengakuji, I found the temple grounds to be peaceful and serene.  While there were other visitors about, the mood was solemn and respectful.  And although there's a museum attached to the temple, it feels far less commercializing than educative and effective in humanizing the 47 men (and boys) who had sought to avenge their lord -- by doing such as exhibiting personal effects that had belonged to them and figurines bearing their likenesses, and also providing the names, ages, regular positions (including accountant, lord chamberlain and quartermaster, not just more expected ones like guard) and other details about each and everyone of them.

Close to the entrance to the graveyard is a place where one can buy sticks of incense to place before the graves.  It's a respectful gesture, and many visitors do go ahead and perform this ritual.  It can be attributed to the smoke from the burning incense but I don't think it's just that which makes your eyes water when you go about paying your respects to the fallen samurai, their master, and his wife.  For even if you don't think what they did all those years ago was absolutely the right thing, as you pause and place incense sticks at each and every one of those 46 ronins' graves, it will be hard to not realize that each and everyone of these marks the final resting place of people willing to die for what they believed in -- and who once used to be living, breathing human beings like you and me.    

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Chairman rules!

 The pièce de résistance at lunch today

Another delectable seafood dish at The Chairman

Braised layer beancurd and morel mushrooms 
make for an absolutely delicious vegetarian dish! :b

Have you ever had a meal where everything tasted absolutely delicious?  I may have done so at a restaurant here in Hong Kong -- with a reputation for eschewing MSG even while serving traditional Chinese dishes (and also making an effort to focus on seasonal delights and getting fresh products from sources that include its own farm in Sheung Shui) -- which I've long wanted to go to but only finally did so for lunch today. 

Since its establishment in 2009, The Chairman has received rave reviews from trusted foodie friends and food bloggers (including Tom of the sadly no longer updated TomEatsJenCooks, and the writer behind the e_ting blog).  But due to it being the kind of Chinese restaurant where it'd be better to dine at with more people than just one or two (which is the usual number when I have meals), I figured it'd be better to wait to go out with a larger group, even if this meant that I'd have to wait years to do so.

Although some years have passed, during which the initial hype has died down a bit and this dining establishment was awarded a Michelin star one year and then had it taken away another year, I've continued to have it in my sights.  So when I learnt that probably the two most food-loving of my cousins would be in Hong Kong over this holiday period and that one of them would have two friends coming along too, The Chairman was one of the restaurants I decided that we would have to eat at -- and duly booked a table for five there around a month in advance! 

The day before, one of my cousins had been going on about how much he wanted to eat century eggs.  So, of course, we ordered precisely that when we saw them on the menu at The Chairman -- and thoroughly enjoyed not only them but the pickled ginger garnish that usually comes with them but, surprisingly, tasted much more like the sweet ginger served at Japanese sushi restaurants rather than harsher tasting version served at most other Chinese restaurants where we've had this particular delicacy that many Westerners don't seem to care for but which can be akin to comfort food for many ethnic Chinese.

More unusual, to our minds, was the other appetizer we ordered: wild clams cooked in fish broth and sake.  The clams were plump and juicy, and the umami-flavored broth actually tasted far more of sake than anything from the sea.  And although one tends to assume that much of the alcohol dissipates during the cooking process, there still was enough to get one of our party -- who estimates that she maybe drinks alcohol just thrice a year, if that! -- pretty red in the face!

Fortunately, she did manage to stay sober throughout the meal despite the biggest -- as in most substantial as well as star -- dish that we had being the steamed fresh flowery crab cooked with aged Shaoxing wine and fragrant chicken oil, and served with Chencun rice noodles. Again, the flavor of alcohol was quite strong in the dish, yet its overall broth/sauce was delicate-tasting -- as was the meat of its also very fresh-tasting seafood element. 

When ordering the food, our waiter had indicated that we should only order one other main course besides the crab.  Fearing that he had underestimated our appetite, I ordered an extra portion of the noodles.  And boy, was I glad we did after that extra portion was soaked in the crab roe-rich gravy that had been part of the dish but had been placed in a bowl of its own.  Suffice to say that anyone who loves kani miso as much as I do will be in Elysium when lapping up this portion of The Chairman's justly famous signature dish!

Although it was much more modest looking than the crab dish (which was visually stunning as well as truly scrumptious), the mushroom-beancurd dish we ordered turned out to be another winner.  Bursting with umami flavor and texturally interesting, the multi-layered beancurd and morel (along with other) mushrooms are the kind of ingredients that can be enjoyed for their mouthfeel as well as taste.   

Since I forewent the bowls of soup that the others on my table had elected to have earlier on in the meal, I had room for dessert -- and plumped for a scoop of the osmanthus and wolfberry ice cream, which proved delicious and a wonderful end to a pretty great meal.  As we sipped our tea and rested a bit before heading out of the restaurant, comments rang around the table as to how fine -- as in light and delicate as well as simply lovely -- tasting so much of what he had consumed had been.  And yes, I'm sure that mentally, a good number -- if not all -- of us were thinking that we'll have to return to The Chairman for another meal, and hopefully sooner rather than later! ;b  

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Seasons greetings and festive fun! :)

Gudetama and co wish you a Merry Eggs'mas
here in the Big Lychee!

 A more traditional Christmas scene 

This time last year, I was holidaying in Amsterdam with my German friend, doing such as visiting the Rijksmuseum (which, amazingly to my mind, is open on Christmas Day).  One year on, I've spent the bulk of the day showing two cousins -- one visiting from Melbourne, another from Singapore -- and two friends who also came abroad around Hong Kong.

On an unseasonably warm winter day (whose temperature hit a high of 23 degrees Celsius in parts of the territory this afternoon), we feasted on dim sum at Mott 32, and then on goose and more some hours later at Yue Kee over in Sham Tseng.  In between, we walked off some calories -- including that which I added on at a Christmas Eve party at some other friends' yesterday evening -- on a waterfront stroll from Tsuen Wan to Sham Tseng which retraced a route I went along for the first time earlier this year, on what turned out to be Hong Kong's coldest day in over 60 years

As far as I'm concerned: enjoying good food, ample exercise and plenty of laughs with close company makes for a wonderful holiday recipe.  And I'm grateful that I've had so many such days over the years, in places as diverse as California (where I regularly spent Christmas with friends the last few years of my US sojourn) and, in recent years, Amsterdam, Taipei as well as here in Hong Kong. :)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Remembrance and contemplation at Stanley Military Cemetery

There's much room for remembrance and contemplation

Crosses abound at the colonial era cemetery
but not all of the graves are Christian ones

A reminder that not everyone who died during
the Second World War was male or a combatant

Not all of the "glorious dead" whose names and 
sacrifice have been commemorated have graves here  

On a visit to Stanley this past summer, I forewent a visit to more usual destinations such as one of its beaches in favor of a quieter destination which lies close to St. Stephen's Beach and St Stephen's College, an elite secondary school whose alumni includes wing chun master Ip Man.  Although I expected the Stanley Military Cemetery to be over-grown and full of mosquitoes, it turned out to be a well-tended place which felt peaceful, even serene.

Established early on during the colonial British period of Hong Kong's history, the oldest grave at the cemetery dates back to 1843.  Still, in the popular imagination, Stanley Military Cemetery is most associated with the Second World War; and, actually, all of Stanley too since Stanley Fort was where the Allied troops defending Hong Kong against the invading Japanese had their last stand 75 years ago this month, an internment camp (one of whose remaining structures is the School House of St. Stephen's College) was set up there by the Japanese after the Allied forces surrendered over Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941, and the nearby college also was where one of a number of atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army took place

In view of this negative association and the general disinclination of local Hong Kongers to pay visits to cemeteries that aren't home to their ancestors' remains, I wasn't all that surprised to find that the American friend who accompanied me and I were the only people in the grounds when we visited Stanley Military Cemetery that afternoon.  For my part though, I'm glad I went -- as I found the place to be interesting, and the experience of being there actually pretty moving.

Unusually for a military cemetery, the graves of civilian internees who died between 1941 and 1945 and military men (and a few women) are intermingled.  I also found it illustrative -- and here I think of Khazir Khan pointing out at this year's Democratic National Convention that the graves at Arlington National Cemetery aren't only of Christians -- that the graves of non-Christians can be found lying next to those of the Christian faith -- and that there exists a memorial on which is inscribed the names of more than 2,400 Chinese in service with various Allied forces during both the First and Second World Wars, and who have no known graves.

All too often, we tend to fixate on who was the enemy during a war.  I think it actually would be more instructive to consider who one's allies and comrades are during those trying times -- as well as to consider and celebrate how even the worst and most bitter enemies can transform into friends after peace is declared and comes along.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Upper floor sights that reward those who look up!

The upper floor display of an Asakusa geta store
looks downright artistic in the dark! ;b

It may not be as artistic but the front of this upper floor 
British pub located in a Funabashi alley caught my eye too! :)

"Don't forget to look up rather than just at what's on the ground level."  That's a piece of advice I often tender to visitors to Hong Kong, especially those -- the majority of them, really! -- who don't come from a part of the world where interesting shops, bars and restaurants can be found on the upper floors -- and sometimes the basements too -- as well as the ground floor of many a building. 

And this is something I make sure to do when travelling about in Japan -- another territory with urban spaces that tend to be on the high density side.  Even in the older parts of cities, such as Asakusa in Tokyo, there are stores that occupy more than just a single storey and display their wares on the upper floors of shops rather than just over on the ground floor.  In addition, when different establishments are located on different floors of the same building, they may decorate their fronts so differently that it sometimes can seem like two different buildings have been joined together!

One of the things I like about being in Japan, as opposed to Hong Kong, is that the streets and their sidewalks are frequently significantly less crowded than they too often are in the Big Lychee.  Consequently, one feels more able to stop and look up when something that catches your eye as you're walking by.

On the other side of the coin, the upper decks of Hong Kong's doubledecker buses and trams provide great vantage points for looking at the upper floors of buildings (as well as down at the world passing by at ground level).  Indeed, more than once now, I've noticed the existence of a new upper floor shop, restaurant or bar when passing by the building in which it's located on a bus or tram.  

And lest it not be clear: yes, I -- who has happily remained smartphone-less -- do like looking out of the window when on buses and such -- as opposed to the majority of my fellow passengers, who are far more likely to have their eyes glued to the screen of a smartphone, or sometimes even the TV screen inside the buses! ;b

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sensoji after dark appears more attractive than during the day!

Color abounds by Sensoji's Kaminarimon after dark...

...as do a variety of shops and restaurants, some of which 
look significantly older and more traditional than others

Images of Hello Kitty and headscarved Muslim visitors appear 
to be par for the course at this popular Tokyo temple too! ;b

Since Kappabashi and Sensoji are located within walking distance of each other, it made sense to the party I was with to combine visits to those two Asakusa attractions which seem very different at one level but actually both are places where foodstuffs can be found.  Thus it was that after we had checked out Tokyo's Kitchen Town earlier in the day, we made for the Buddhist temple whose origins date back to the 7th century AD (even if the bulk -- if not all -- of its structures having been built after the Second World War, when their rebuilding came to symbolize rebirth and (the return of) peace for the Japanese).

Unfortunately, on account of Sensoji being a mega popular attraction for foreign tourists as well as locals, I found the temple grounds as well as the main temple building itself to be uncomfortably over-crowded as well as not at all peaceful and serene.  And it wasn't until my two friends, my mother and I beat a retreat to a nice nearby café -- whose two other customers left shortly after we sat down -- where I opted for a soothing cup of creamy matcha (and the others in my party refreshed themselves with kakigori even though the weather was on the cold side!) that I got to enjoying my time at Sensoji.

For after we left the café, we found that darkness had fallen and the crowds had noticeably thinned to the point where it was easier to walk about.  With regards to the latter: It's one of those things that one wants to go to famous places on one's travels but would ideally like for those place's fame to not have ruined them through such as too many people being attracted to visit them at the same time!  As for the former: there are places which look more stunning and dramatic after dark than during the day -- and I got to realizing that evening that Sensoji and its environs (which I had only seen in broad daylight on my one previous visit there back in the fall of 2011, when way fewer people were willing to holiday in Japan on account of the disasters that had befallen it earlier in the year) are among them.  

In particular, the scene at the Kaminarimon (which stays open at all hours and consequently actually is a 24 hour attraction) was really attractive; with the gold colored metal bits at the base of its giant lantern and constituting the haloes of the statues placed on either side of the gate looking extra shiny when they reflected the light off such as camera flashes as well as nearby street lamps.  And in the relative dark, the beautiful kimonos worn by some Japanese female visitors appeared more colorful and striking than they already can be during the day! ;b  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Interesting sights on show along Tokyo's Kappabashi

Delectable looking sampuru -- "fake food" (or, as their makers 
prefer to have them be known, sample food that looks oh so real!)

Beautiful glasses for sale for 600 Yen (or circa HK$37 
or US$5) a pop at a store in Tokyo's Kappabashi

Knives for sale at another store --
and a suit of armor too?! ;O

Considering how much of a foodie I am -- and particularly of Japanese food too -- it may come as a shock that I have never been to Osaka's Sennichimae Doguyasuji Kitchen Street, and only visited Tokyo's Kappabashi (Kitchen Town) for the first time ever on my most recent Japan trip this past  November.  I guess it's become I've been more concerned with actually sampling the food and drink available in the Land of the Rising Sun, including its capital city.  Still, I did feel that a visit to Kappabashi was overdue -- and acted on that impulse one afternoon on my most recent visit to Japan.

As might be expected, a stroll along Kappabashi does yield some interesting sights -- and I don't just mean those to be found in the windows of the stores selling very realistic looking "sample food".  And while Hong Kong does have rough equivalents in the form of such as the stretch of Shanghai Street where lots of kitchenware wholesalers can be found, it's true enough the Japanese do seem to take specialization, and diversity within a specific area, to a whole new different level.

Rather amusingly, my mother actually effectively had a hissy fit of sorts on Kappabashi and told me that she found it rather frustrating to see so much that she wanted to buy but felt it would be impractical to do so because she didn't live in Japan.  On the other hand, I was happy to find many items that I decided would make fun and cool gifts for friends in a couple of the stores in this Tokyo "Kitchen Town", and also to see such as certain brands of chewing gum and other candy that sent me down Memory Lane to my childhood, and a time when I loved those particular products without realizing that they hailed from -- and were made in -- Japan! 

If truth be told, despite its reputation as a "must visit" place for visitors to Tokyo, I reckon that there are many more places in the Japanese capital city that are far worthy of the general visitor's attention and time.  Still, when coupled with a visit to nearby Asakusa, Kappabashi is the kind of place where one can easily find lots of things to be fascinated by, and to occupy the leisure time of even those whose kitchens don't have all that many specialist items or any kitchenware in general! ;)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sea squirt, sake and more at Sasagin! ;b

Miso-flavored camembert is amazingly yummy!
 
This especially when paired with nihonshu such
 
Ankimo (monkfish liver) in ponzu is another Japanese delicacy 
I love with nihonshu but I've belatedly discovered that I care much 
less for sea squirt and am glad we just a small portion of it! ;)

How does one top of a visit to Funabashi, during which I sampled sauce ramen for the first time ever and made a pilgrimage to the Funassyiland flagship?  Put another way: how does a day that involved my visiting my favorite gotouchi chara's hometown, during which I got to try one of Funassyi's favorite foods and got myself some choice Funassyi items. get better than it already was?  
 

Whereas I had only ever previously been there with a friend who loves imbibing alcohol as much -- if not more -- than me, this time around, we went to Sasagin with both of our mothers in tow!  And yet -- and this is a measure of how wonderful the place -- we enjoyed being there a lot anyway, and so too did our mothers; one of whom (mine) doesn't drink alcohol as a rule!

Here's the thing: the sake offered up at Sasagin is impeccable; this especially when the bar's owner, Narita-san, has come to know you well enough to feel able to go all omakase on you without your even asking!  But, then, so is the service, and the food -- whose menu includes regular items, regular specials and also seasonal specials.
 
Suffice to say that even while my friend with whom I usually go to Sasagin and I did quite a bit of drinking that evening, we also did quite a bit of eating -- and our mothers (even hers, who does drink alcohol) actually ate more than they drank.  But while pretty much everything we had was delicious (including the miso-flavored camembert that I think makes for a great drinking snack; more so even than ankimo!), there was one item that (even) I thought was too exotic tasting for me to actually really like: sea squirt.  
 
As I recently described to a Japanese friend (who was shocked that I had finally came across a Japanese delicacy I actually didn't care for): it tasted too clearly from the sea for me.  And coupled with its soft, slimy texture, it was all too much -- so that, even while I did eat what I had put into my mouth, I refused to have a second sampling of what is a marine invertebrate that, as far as I can tell, very few peoples in this world consume, never mind consider to be a prized delicacy! ;b

Monday, December 19, 2016

Funabashi's flagship Funassyiland!

The main place in Funabashi that I wanted to go to!
 
Not for sale items at Funabashi's Funassyiland!
 
Among the Funassyi memorabilia on display are items from  

When I visited Japan this past May, I made sure -- as I've always done so each time that I've visited Tokyo -- to go to the Kiddy Land flagship store in Harajuku.  But whereas on previous visits, I would make a beeline for the Studio Ghibli section to look for Totoros and Ponyos, the establishment in recent years of branches of Studio Ghibli's Donguri Republic character shops in Hong Kong has made them easier to come by here.  So, instead, it was Funassyi items that I focused on getting my hands on as paraphenalia featuring the mainly yellow and blue gotouchi chara from Funabashi are still on the rare side in the Fragrant Harbour (despite The Pear having been to this part of the world, including this past July)!  

Despite a good bulk of the ground floor of Harajuku's Kiddy Land now housing the Funnasyiland Select store-within-a-store, I came away from my visit wanting to see -- and get myself -- still more Funassyi items!  And even while I did manage to add to my Funassyi haul by doing such as a getting a Funassyi t-shirt from a branch of Shimamura over in Nagano and a Funassyi charm at Narita International Airport (which, despite serving Tokyo, is actually located in the same prefecture as Funabashi), I hankered to get still more by visiting a larger Funassyiland on my next visit to Japan.

As might be expected, the largest Funassyiland of all is located in Funassyi's hometown of Funabashi.  And while my party didn't head straight there upon arriving in Funabashi (but, instead, went and fortified ourselves first with a bowl of the Pear's favorite sauce ramen), there was no way we would not be spending a significant amount of time at the flagship store located within the LaLaPort Tokyo Bay megamall which the "Boss Pear" can be seen prancing about in one of its music videos!
 
While my mother went and explored other sections of the mall, my fellow Funatomo friend and I set about checking out both the items available for sale and that were not for sale at Funassyiland.  I think on account of it being the first Funassyiland she had ever visited, my friend looked to have been overwhelmed by the amount and variety of Funassyi items on view (which, more than by the way, included packets of instant sauce ramen with Funassyi's visage on it!).  
 
I, on the other hand, have to admit to wishing that the store was larger still, and had a greater choice of Funassyi items for me to choose from!  (Among other things, I wish there had been a better choice of Funassyi t-shirts and sweatshirts, and also would have loved to come by such as a Funassyi-themed mousepad.)  Even so, I have to say that I was not unhappy with my haul which included: a 2017 Funassyi desktop calendar, a copy of the Funa Metal Rock CD and -- woohoo! -- a 50cm Funassyi plush which is super soft as well as absolutely kawaii and comes complete with such details as its own name tag and "Illusion" (neither of which the Sleeping Bag Funassyi I got first -- and still do also love -- possesses)! ;b   

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Camera and hiking update


Yes, Mother Nature played a part in making this picture 
awesome -- but I think my new camera did too! ;b

 A beautiful butterfly (or is it a moth?) spotted while hiking

I admit it: my camera made this shot look far more
dramatic than the reality ;)

It's been a little bit more than a fortnight since my old Sony Cyber-shot HX50V camera gave up the ghost and I replaced it with a new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TX80 (better known in Hong Kong as a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60).  I'm still "playing" with my new "toy" but already, I've figured out certain cool abilities of it, including to take photos like the ones at the top of this blog post!

The first two pictorial offerings were taken on the first hike I went on along the Tung Chung to Tai O route since a different friend and I hiked along the route and came across significant swathes of land where hill fires had raged close to two years ago.  Especially in view of the human-caused destruction that I had saw along the same way less than two years ago, it was lovely as well as a thorough relief to get confirmation once again that Mother Nature is -- through no help rendered by humanity -- far more resilient than we often credit it for.

Meanwhile, the next two snaps were taken while hiking for the first time along the Nam Chung Country Trail that's on the challenging side but yielded some lovely panoramic views and also passed close by watery ways that were on the picturesque side.  But rather than offer up more representative photos from that hike, I've put up a documentation of a critter spotting -- which was on the unusual side given the time of the year -- and also a shot that emphasizes how small and insignificant humans can feel while out in the great outdoors. ;b

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Kawaii art (for a) time in Sheung Wan!

On a Sheung Wan street associated with traditional Chinese
herbal remedies can be found an interesting art gallery...

Within it can be found works by Takashi Murakami

 ...and also Hello Kitty designer Yuko Yamaguchi ;b

Hello Kitty can be -- and has been -- spotted in a lot of places in Hong Kong.  Shopping malls and department stores, Sanrio Gift Gate stores (of course!), herbal tea shops, bakeries, book fairs, Lunar New Year markets, etc.  Even at protest marches and sites!  But earlier this week may well have been the first time that I spotted the cute cat's visage on artwork hanging on the walls of an art gallery.

Until January 8th, 2017, the Ko Shing Gallery is playing host to the Kawaii Exhibition featuring works by Hello Kitty's third and current designer Yuko Yamaguchi and her compatriot, Takashi Murakami (whose smiley flowers I adore and regularly see on display at the annual art fair formerly known as Art HK and now Art Basel -- Hong Kong).  

Located in a quiet Sheung Wan street housing far more herbal medicine wholesalers than anything to do with art, this art space can seem out of place on the one hand but also quirkily original on the other.  And with a storefront composed largely of clear glass that renders the interior contents very visible, it's pretty alluring, especially -- at the moment -- for those whose aesthetics embrace color as well as things kawaii!

Upon entering the art gallery, my gaze immediately went to the wall on which there could be found four Hello Kitty limited edition works by Yuko Yamaguchi, one of which was inspired by Audrey Hepburn's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's (and is the only one with pink as its primary color -- a Hello Kitty design modification which was introduced during Yamaguchi's stint as Hello Kitty's designer).  

For all of their undoubtedly high kawaii quotient, however, I must admit to having been more bowled over by a few of Takashi Murakami's works on display on the opposite wall of the gallery.  More specifically, I particularly like the works from his Kansei series which combined his trademark smiley flowers with distinctly traditional Japanese art elements, notably that from the ukiyo-e genre at which Hokusai excelled -- even while a couple of prints that veered away from his "superflat" tendencies to look well nigh three-dimensional were also pretty impressive!

So enamored am I by those Takashi Murakami works that I'd actually seriously consider getting one for my new apartment.  Something that makes me think twice (and thrice, etc.) about doing so is at least one friend who's been in my place complaining that there already are too many eyes around (admittedly belonging more to plushies and such than visible on works of art)! ;b

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Funabashi sauce ramen at a ramen-ya with Funassyi links

Funassyi on the banner of a ramen-ya!
 
Dairen's specialty is sauce ramen!
 
My first (and hopefully not last) bowl 
of the special-to-Funabashi dish! :b
 
Until I got to watching Funassyi videos on Youtube (a tip: you get more options if you type out Funassyi's name in Japanese, like so -- ふなっしー), I had never heard of sauce ramen, a type of ramen that's specific not only to the city of Funabashi but, in fact, the area around the JR Funabashi station.
 
But especially after I heard The Pear name it as one of the major strong points of its hometown (around minute 3:47 of this video clip showing his famous appearance on the Sukkiri! morning TV show in February 2013 that's one of the few Funassyi ones with English subtitles) -- ahead, host Kato-san noted, of pears(!), I got to thinking that I wanted to try Funabashi's sauce ramen some day; and this all the more so after coming across another video clip, this one showing The Pear taking a visitor to Funabashi to try sauce ramen at what I gathered was/is its favorite ramen-ya.
 
Thus it was that when I finally did make my Funabashi pilgrimage, there were two "must do" things as far as I was concerned: one, visit the first and still main branch of Funassyiland (but of course!); and two, try a bowl of sauce ramen at a ramen-ya close to the JR Funabashi Station! I admit it: the original, vague idea as far as the sauce ramen sampling was concerned was to walk about and look for a promising looking ramen-ya in the area after arriving at JR Funabashi Station.  
 
As luck would have it though, I spotted a sign alerting me to the existence of an area tourist information office nearby, and I duly headed there to get some local ramen-ya recommendations.  And not only was the staff member I talked to nice enough to present my party with samples of Funabashi pear and carrot jelly (whose containers bore the visages of Funassyi and official city mascot Funaemon respectively) but it turned out that the ramen-ya he directed us to was the very one in the video clip that has Funassyi happily partaking of sauce ramen passed through its "Illusion" by a human friend! 

If truth be told, I had lowered expectations re the taste of sauce ramen after reading a negative review of the specialty ramen whose soup is flavored with Worcestershire sauce (rather than the more usual shoyu (soy sauce), miso, shio (salt) or tonkotsu (pork bone), like those associated with Tokyo, Sapporo, Hakodate and Hakata (Fukuoka) respectively) and is served with a breaded meat (rather than the usual marinated pork belly) and an assortment of vegetables that include at least one -- cabbage -- not found in more famous types of ramen dishes.  But Funassyi's right: it is delicious!  
 
Although the aroma and taste of Worcestershire sauce is definitely noticeable, that sauce doesn't actually power everything else in the sauce ramen -- and is far less sour- and far more umami-tasting than I expected.  In retrospect, I should have known I'd love this flavorful dish (which also has sour-sweet notes) since I very much like the other Japanese dishes for which Japanese-style Worcestershire sauce is an ingredient: among them, okonomiyaki, tonkatsu, and kushiage!  
 
So, thank you, Pear, for introducing me to yet another wonderful local Japanese specialty dish and confirming that you really do have good taste!  And, actually, I'd go so far as to say that Funabashi sauce ramen may well be one of my favorite types of ramen (along with Sapporo miso ramen) -- and I wish we had at least one ramen-ya here in Hong Kong serving it as I definitely prefer it any day to any of the tonkotsu ramen I've had both in the Big Lychee and the Land of the Rising Sun!