Monday, May 7, 2018

Off the beaten path near far more touristy parts of Hong Kong! (Photo-essay)

Many years ago, I had a conversation with someone who, after visiting Hong Kong a couple of times as a tourist, claimed to know it like a native.  "How different can the local and tourist views be?", he challenged me to tell him at one point.  Among the things I went ahead and pointed out to him was that there is so much more to Hong Kong than what appears on tourist maps.  Something which I didn't even get to telling him was that, even in the areas covered on tourist maps, you can turn a corner or veer off the beaten path and suddenly find yourself on the road less travelled, especially by tourists.   

Take, as an example, the Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau Island (as opposed to the less well known Ngong Ping plateau in Ma On Shan Country Park).  Home to the Big Buddha, it is accessible via a number of hiking trails as well as (more easily) by bus and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride.  But while the areas near the Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping 360 Village (which is much less of a real village than artificial tourist trap) are often full of tourists, once you get on a hiking trail just steps away from them (including that which leads all the way down to Tung Chung), the crowds will suddenly become non-existent and you'll feel as though you've entered a different, more enchanting world... :)

Hike a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of
the touristy parts of Ngong Ping and you'll be here... ;b

It can be as quiet at ground level in this area of Hong Kong
as it is several meters above it in a cable car ;b
On the way downhill, one passes by quieter monasteries 
and spaces set aside for spiritual retreats
One of the rubber gloves set out to dry atop a fence by a farm plot 
seems to be seeking to assure us that everything's A-OK!
Most definitely not your usual Hong Kong abode
Lotus pond in the grounds of the appropriately-named Lotus Pond Temple
On this hike, I was happy to find a colorful dragonfly
that willing to pose for photos too :)))

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A scenic urban walk on a late spring day

I found myself looking up a lot early on in today's walk :)

One reason for this: the reflections on the glass surfaces
of a number of the high rise buildings I passed along the way!
Later on in the walk, it was the clouds 
that particularly caught my eye ;b
Today was one of those days where the blue skies and high visibility Hong Kong enjoyed made it so that I was loathe to not spend some time outdoors but, at the same time, didn't feel like a strenous hike on account of the temperatures and humidity levels being among the highest we've had in quite a while.  So rather than head out to one of Hong Kong's 24 country parks or 11 designated special areas, I went on a long urban walk that took me past six MTR stations instead!
As is to be expected of pretty much any walk in a city that has the most skyscrapers in the world, my route took me past several high-rises.  While I've generally become pretty blasé about their existence, today was one of those days where quite a few of them -- particularly those whose exteriors are almost entirely covered by reflective glass -- caught my eye on account of the images of bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds that appeared on them, and got me thinking that Hong Kong really can be so beautiful on fine weather days.      

At North Point, near the government offices where Infernal Affair's rooftop scenes were shot, I got on to the popular waterfront promenade that stretches over to Shau Kei Wan, broken only over a short stretch at Sai Wan Ho, just as a large cruise ship sailed by.  Also making waves in Victoria Harbour this afternoon were a number of junk boats laden with revellers returning from a day out that I'm sure included quite a bit of boozing and feasting along with water sports!    
With the water looking on the choppy side due to there being quite a strong breeze blowing, I was happy to be on land rather than on a boat this afternoon.  Walking along the harborfront, I also was privy to some really splendid views of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon (including several of its hills) that were made all the more striking on account of the sky containing many fast moving as well as voluminous clouds.
Although some of the clouds looked on the threatening side, no rain fell while I was outdoors this afternoon.  So the only reason why my clothing was on the damp side by the end of the walk was because of the perspiration I had shed along the way, and got me feeling that I had got in a healthy amount of exercise even without hiking up and down any hills this late spring day! ;b 

Friday, May 4, 2018

What I couldn't do this past week after having wisdom tooth surgery!

The kind of food I've been pining to eat this past week
but haven't felt able to do so...
I ate this happily this past Monday though! :)
One week ago today, I had emergency wisdom tooth surgery, and only finally got the stitches put in last Friday removed this afternoon.  While the dental procedure itself took around just 30 minutes, the trauma of not being able to eat (and drink) a whole bunch of stuff lasted much longer.  Indeed, although I was told that it was okay for me to consume rice along with other soft foods after the local anaesthetic had worn off and my mouth stopped bleeding (which, by the way, took a few hours longer than the estimated one hour or so after the operation), I actually only finally felt confident enough to do so this evening (and proceeded to have an unagi don (eel rice bowl) for dinner!).
With my dentist having been fairly casual about post surgery procedures, I honestly thought that it all wouldn't be too traumatic -- or, at the very least, that the worst thing about the removal of my wisdom tooth would be the surgery itself.  So imagine my shock when I set about consuming a dish of soft-boiled eggs for dinner the first evening after my wisdom tooth surgery, only to discover that even that apparently "safe" food caused part of my mouth to sting like the blazes -- and this despite my being on painkillers along with two different types of antibiotics and "anti-swelling" medication!
Determined not to have any more unnecessary shocks, I went and searched for information online about what one can safely and comfortably eat post wisdom tooth surgery, what to generally expect in the coming days, etc.  And yes, I know that one should not and cannot believe everything one read on the internet but I have to say that I did come across my share of useful information that must have been correct since I've now been told, one week after following them, that my mouth is healing nicely (though, my dentist has belatedly informed me, full recovery will come only after two months!).
For those of you who want to be better prepared prior to going through the experience, the following are a few essential "must not dos" that I adhered to this past week: Do not eat hard -- especially crunchy but also spicy -- foods; do not eat small foods (like poppy seeds, sesame seeds or even rice) that can get in the empty tooth socket; do not brush your teeth for 24 hours (and while it's okay to generally do so afterwards, make sure to steer clear of the newly empty tooth socket); do not gargle hard or with regular mouthwash (like Listerine) for at least the first few days; and do not drink carbonated as well as alcoholic drinks.  And, actually, if you're given metronidazole as one of your antibiotics (as I was), don't drink any alcohol until at least 48 hours after you stop taking it; and if you're given tinidazole, make it so that you don't consume any alcohol until three days after you stop taking it.
Despite my fondness for a tipple (particularly sake), I've actually missed drinking alcohol far less than being able to eat hard, crunchy snacks like nuts, crisps and rice crackers, and spicy foods.  (Also, while I craved land meats the first few days, that craving actually went away over time even while the craving for crunchy snacks stayed and even increased!)  In addition, the "no carbonated drinks" rule was also difficult for me on account of my fondness for sparkling as well as still water.  So after I got my stitches out this afternoon, I decided to celebrate by eating a pack of crunchy sesame seed biscuits (cookies in American English) and a bottle of peach soda! 
Something else that those who have had wisdom tooth surgery are recommended to do is to take things easy for the first day or two afterwards.  For many, going and taking part in a beach clean-up which includes a 45 minute hike to the beach and another 45 minute hike out might be considered too strenous an undertaking during this period.  But, well, I did it (and also a more demanding hike a few days later) and wasn't any worse for doing so -- for which I'm very glad! 

Should anyone wonder, I was inspired to write all this by my coming across a blog post entitled Things People Never Tell You When You Go For Wisdom Teeth Extraction and finding it helpful and interesting.  For, among other things, I'm so in agreement with that blogger about people tending to focus on the wisdom tooth surgery but not what comes after (aka "the healing part") -- which, frankly, ended up being far more worry-inducing (think dry socket fears galore!) than I realized would be the case! ;S

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Nature's beauty and a pox on those who despoil it!

Not all Hong Kong beaches are super filthy!

Creators of mess in public areas ought to be punished!

Early last week, I took two visitors from England on a whirlwind tour of Lantau Island that included a ride on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car and time out at the Ngong Ping plateau and in the village of Tai O.  At the last destination, I figured that the Yeung Hau Temple would make for a visual highlight -- only to find that the splendor of its surroundings on the edge of the water was somewhat negatively affected by the beach nearby having quite a bit of trash strewn about it.

Elsewhere in the village, we also came across unsightly amounts of rubbish by the banks of the waterways that course through a good part of Tai O.  And, as I documented in my post last Saturday about how doing beach clean-ups can feel like embarking on a Sisyphean task, I came across still more -- and, in fact, even worse -- garbage-strewn sights at Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Tsai (Coral Beach) over the weekend.  

So I must say that I was expecting to encounter a pretty ugly scene over at Lo Kei Wan, a beach with a camp site located pretty close to Section 9 of the Lantau Trail that a friend and I hiked along yesterday; this particularly after my friend mentioned earlier on in the hike that she had read of Hong Kong's public beaches having been invaded by Mainland Chinese tourists over the weekend.  And the portends were indeed not too good as we approached that section of Lantau South Country Park, with strong smells emanating from the public toilet located there and there being campers lolling about in the area.

But while the beach at Lo Kei Wan was not quite pristine, it actually was far cleaner looking as well as uncrowded than I had expected that it would be!  Something else that I couldn't help but notice was how beautifully fine the sand on it was.  As for the views from there: my friend was moved to suggest that it compared with some over in the South Pacific! 

In a perfect world, the fact that Hong Kong that has such natural beauty should inspire and move people to go out of their way to ensure that their environs be as clean as possible.  But in our far from perfect world, it seems not to be in the nature of many people to actually care about the environment and make a point to not despoil it.  

Here's the thing: I know it's difficult to get people to clean up messes, even those of their own making.  But, really, is it too much to ask the powers that be to educate folks to minimize their creating the messes in the first place -- and if even that proves too much of an ask, how about the authorities having a will as well as way to hunt the litter bugs and polluters down, and penalize and punish them in a way that actually will deter them from doing so again as well as others from adding to the already too large amount of garbage in our world?!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A memorable Lantau hike on the 11th anniversary of my move to Hong Kong :)

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Eleven years ago today, I moved to Hong Kong to work and live.  One reason why it's easy for me to remember the date of my arrival in the Big Lychee is that May 1st is a public holiday in this part of the world.  In contrast, I have little memory of what the weather was like on May 1st, 2007.  But thanks in part to this blog post, I'm going to remember that May 1st, 2018 was a beautiful weather day: warm and humid but largely sunny, with high visibility levels and bright blue skies!
After I underwent wisdom tooth surgery last Friday, I was not sure for a few days whether I'd feel up to go hiking on Lantau Island this May Day as planned with a friend.  Happily, when the day I arrived, I felt able -- and indeed eager -- to trek from the eastern end of Shek Pik Reservoir's dam over to the village of Shui Hau along Lantau Trail Section 9.    
Like much of the rest of the Lantau Trail, Section 9 offers up a number of pretty scenic views along the way.  And like virtually all of the sections of this 70 kilometer hiking trail crossing Hong Kong's largest island that I've been on (bar for that which takes one up and down Sunset Peak), it can be surprisingly bereft of other people -- even on a day when much of the populace don't have to work -- which, of course, adds considerably to its charm.
Indeed, if I were to exclude from my tally the folks who were camping at Lo Kei Wan this holiday, it really was the case that I saw far more butterflies, moths, crickets, cicadas and other bugs than fellow humans while out hiking on that particular section of Lantau this afternoon!  And this particularly so since on two occasions during today's excursion, we came across swarms of the colorful yellow moth known in Latin as Obeidia tigrata and in English as Orange Magpie Moths!
On most other hikes, coming across those two moth swarms would be my top critter spotting experiences for the day.   On this day to remember, however, I would like to gleefully report that I also came across a pair of long-legged crane flies unashamedly going at it and consequently was able to add to my already pretty diverse "doing what comes naturally" photo collection which began several years ago with a pair of Orange Magpie Moths which were lying so still I initially thought they were dead before my much more knowledgeable mother informed me otherwise! ;b 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Safety and activity in Victoria Park after dark

Moon spotting from Victoria Park last night
A more close-up shot of the close-to-full moon
Closer to the ground sights at Victoria Park last night

I decided to go for an evening walk last night that took me through and around Hong Kong Island's largest urban park.  Soon after I moved to the Big Lychee close to 11 years ago, I discovered to my great surprise that Victoria Park's open 24 hours and that it really is perfectly safe to spend time in it late at night; something that I would never think could be the case in any public park in Philadelphia, the other big city where I have lived for more than a decade.  
Similarly, while I had spent many happy hours in various parks in London, the third large city where I've spent a not insubstantial amount of time, they were always during those parts of the day before the street lamps came on.  And this was decades ago, when the British capital was considerably safer than it is now; a point brought home to me by a friend visiting from England a few weeks ago mentioning -- as we were strolling through Victoria Park, as a matter of fact, albeit during the day! -- that London's murder rate thus far this year has been higher than New York's.
Glancing about at the scenes that unfolded around him as we approached the park's model boat pool area, my English friend was moved to express his amazement that no one around us, including the folks manouvering their remote-controlled boats at high speed around the pond and the many others happily watching their actions, seemed to have any concern about threats to their personal safety, be it from pickpockets or terrorists.  At moments like this, I realize how this kind of situation looks to be increasingly uncommon in the rest of the world -- and how lucky I am that it is the norm in Hong Kong.
When I told my English friend that I regularly walk about in Victoria Park (as well as the streets of Hong Kong) after dark, I think he was rather disbelieving; and this especially when I added that I have seen senior citizens out doing tai chi in the park at night as well as younger folks playing basketball and football.  And I wonder what he'd have made of such as the family I spotted out for a stroll last night (complete with a grandparent in a wheelchair), the woman working on her notebook computer on a park bench and the man enjoying singing Cantonese opera along with the voice coming out of his radio while getting a bit of light exercise who I passed by while strolling in the park last night!
Something I myself was somewhat surprised to come across on my stroll yesterday evening was what appeared to be a little craft market, complete with Canto-pop performing buskers, on one corner of the park.  Another unexpected sight last night came in the form of a noticeably bright as well as close-to-full moon in the sky -- and as you can see from the photos at the top of this blog post, I was moved to snap shots of it as well as stand there to appreciate its beauty. :)     

Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Sisyphean task that still needs to be done -- and is worth attempting month after month

The kind of sight you don't want to see at a beach

A more close up shot of some of the debris brought in by the tides

On days like this, efforts to clean up the beach can feel like 
a Sisyphean task -- but some of us try to do so just the same...
A terrible sight greeted today's beach clean-up crew when we got to Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Tsai (Coral Beach) earlier today.  For the tides had washed up so much trash in the one month since my group was last there -- and, I have been told, another beach clean-up event had been separately effected -- that it was hard to believe that this was the same beach that I've been organizing monthly beach clean-ups of and at for some time now.

I had prioritized picking up broken pieces of glass along with pieces of styrofoam and plastic items earlier on when taking part in beach clean-ups (on Cheung Chau and also Lantau Island's Chi Ma Wan Peninsula).  But the sheer amount of styrofoam and other plastics found on Tung Wan Tsai since my beach clean-up group returned to concentrating our efforts there has prompted a narrowing of my focus to clearing those particular types of trash off the beach, and preferably before they disintegrate into pieces so small they're hard to separate from the sand and pick up.  

Today, there certainly was no lack of still whole plastic items (including -- but by no means restricted to -- drinks bottles) along with fairly large pieces of styrofoam and so much more strewn about the area.  What's more, during the time that my group was working away on Tung Wan Tsai, the tide kept on bringing up more and more trash; making an already formidable task feel truly Sisyphean!

Adding to my frustrations on this occasion -- and further threatening to make me lose my faith in humanity -- was that today's beach clean-up event had an over 50 percent rate of "no shows" among the registered participants.  I guess those folks who didn't turn up thought it was going to rain during the beach clean-up because it was indeed pretty gray this morning.  The fact of the matter though is that it didn't (as correctly forecasted -- for a change! -- by the Hong Kong Observatory). 

On a more positive note: this makes me even more grateful to the valiant few who did turn up to do their bit, beach clean-up veterans and newcomers alike.  Also, for the first time ever, two strangers who happened to be passing by stopped mid-hike to help clean the beach for a time!  

Don’t say ‘this is all I can do’‬
No matter how small, no matter how little
If we can keep supporting each other
This year and next year and after that too
That would be a good thing nassyi. (。゜▽゜)
To not forget is important too nassyi~*

Words to live by (including for beach clean-ups), I reckon... for humans and pear fairies alike!  So, while it certainly does have its demoralizing moments, I intend to keep organizing and taking part in beach clean-ups for a while to come!
*For those who didn't realize: Funassyi has a tendency to end sentences with the Japanese word nassyi (Pear) on account of its being a Japanese Pear Fairy ;)