Monday, January 15, 2018

Penguins, guinea fowl and other birds spotted in South Africa! (Photo-essay)

"Did you go on safari?", an American friend asked me after he learnt that I had been in South Africa recently.  Since that's the Kiswahili word for "trip" or "journey", I technically had been -- but I knew what my friend actually was asking was whether I had gone on tour to see wild animals such as lions and elephants, so I answered in the negative.  

If anything, the closest I had been to visiting a place where wild animals are to be found was the local pond in Durbanville, a suburb of Cape Town where I spent a few days and nights since it's where my South African friend grew up and his mother still lives.  On my final morning in South Africa, we headed over to that idyllic space where a variety of birds make their home.  

At the same time though, there were three sites where I made wild creature spottings that I considered quite a bit more exciting: the waterfront by Kalky's, where I spotted a sea lion; the stretch of garden by my South African friends' maternal grandparents' house, where I spotted a flock of exotic looking guinea fowl; and, improbably, Robben Island, best known as a prison island but also home to penguins(!) and some 130 other species of birds!         

The kind of idyllic place many people would like 
to have in their neighborhood :)
 
A closer look at some of the ducks that have made
the pond their home

A bird whose long, thin legs I found particularly interesting
 
On the other hand, it was this bird's long neck
and thin body which intrigued! ;b
 
I've seen relatives of this heron over in various parts of 
 
Guinea fowl roaming about freely!
 
 Aren't the patterns on this bird's feathers pretty? 
 
Ultimately though, nothing can beat the sight of penguins
in the wild as far as I am concerned! :)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stunning views from Siu Ma Shan on a super high visibility winter day

Not your usual view of Victoria Harbour :)

 Click on the above image to get a seriously impressive 
view of Hong Kong! :b 

This past Monday, it was gloomy and gray, with patches of rain coming down over the course of the day and the temperatures dropping dramatically down below the 10 degree Celsius mark after night fell.  Not only was going hiking out of the question but it felt like quite an effort to leave my apartment and head out for a dinner I had committed to going to weeks ago over in Prince Edward.   
Happily though, after a few depressingly cold and rainy days, the weather has perked up considerably.  And on Thursday morning, I enjoyed the kind of glorious view of the northern section of Hong Kong Island from across Victoria Harbour over in Tsim Sha Tsui that gets you realizing how absolutely beautiful Hong Kong is on a high visibility day.

Yesterday morning, I was back in the same area and enjoying that view that takes in that famous forest of skyscrapers but also green hills and mountains rising behind and above them.  A visitor from the USA standing next to them, visibly stunned, turned to tell me that he considered Hong Kong to have the two best harbor views in the world along with Sydney.  I, in turn, was moved to tell him that before I moved to the Big Lychee, whenever I visited Hong Kong, I'd make it a point to go over to the edge of Victoria Harbour over at Tsim Sha Tsui to drink in the views there at least once on each of my trips here.

But what I didn't have the heart to tell him is that Hong Kong, including Victoria Harbour and the land to its north and south, is so much more beautiful when viewed from the hills rather than closer to sea level.  On a related note: while the views from the northern section of Victoria Peak's circular path can be pretty stunning, I actually prefer the views to be had from less well known hilltops, including those of High West and Siu Ma Shan.  And the top of Siu Ma Shan (and that of nearby Mount Butler) was where I decided to take a Japanese friend on his first Hong Kong hike earlier today!

When I checked the visibility levels on the Hong Kong Observatory website this morning, the readings for Sai Wan Ho was 40 kilometers, so I figured we'd be getting pretty clear views on our hike.  Even so, I was unprepared for how much we had lucked out today -- in that today may well have been the very first time that I could see Lantau Island and also the mountain ranges by the Plover Cove Reservoir way up in the northeastern New Territories from up on Siu Ma Shan! 

Adding to how amazing and unusual this all was is that we're currently in the middle of winter, where the temperatures often can be ideal for hiking but the visibility levels less so.  All in all, today was close to being the perfect hiking day for me, with: temperatures that were cool enough so I didn't sweat like crazy yet warm enough so that I was fine wearing just two layers of clothing on my body along with a pair of long trousers to protect the bottom half of me; the kind of bright blue skies and high visibility I no longer take for granted; and the kind of hike company who could appreciate how beautiful Hong Kong can be like I do even after all these years. :)  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Two signs in South Africa that had me doing a double take! ;)

I bet this South African musician refuses to answer 
to ever be called by his personal name's diminutive ;b

Two surnames few would ever have imagined seeing
placed next to each other not so long ago!
 
When I was a secondary student in Penang, Malaysia, I had a math teacher who went by the title and name of Mr. Kok.  As luck would have it, after I moved on to boarding school in England, I had a P.E. teacher listed on the faculty roll as "Miss A. Chicken".  Cue major hilarity when I told my boarding schoolmates about Mr. Kok and our thinking how absolutely funny it would have been if Miss Chicken had met and then married Mr. Kok!
 
Looking back, it's pretty amazing that my schoolmates both in Malaysia and England and I never associated the name Kok with anything dirty but, instead, fixated on it sounding a lot like a domestic male bird.  In contrast, when I first heard about a South African musician by the name of Richard Cock, I have to admit to thinking immediately of the dirty word that also is the dimunitive form of his first name and which his surname also can be used to mean!  
 
And, actually, my very first reaction was to reckon that the friend who told me about there being a man by that name was pulling my leg -- only for me to get concrete proof of Mr. Cock's existence by way of our a sign posted up by the road that we were driving along announcing a concert in which he would feature while in Stellenbosch.   
 
Another sign I spotted in South Africa that had me doing a double take, albeit for very different reasons, was that which adorns the Mandela Rhodes Building.  Think about it: Nelson Mandela and Cecil Rhodes not only lived in different eras but represent such different political philosophies and ideals, with one being a commited imperialist and the other being pretty much the opposite!
 
At the same time though, they both were South Africans.  And it's pretty interesting to discover that the Mandela Rhodes Building -- which was built in 1902 -- was known as Rhodes House up until 2002, when it was gifted by its owners (De Beers) to the Mandela Rhodes Foundation which has its offices in this historical building.  
 
Co-established by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Rhodes Trust, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation awards scholarships to African students for post-graduate studies in universities in South Africa.  So, rather than it being a joke, the intertwining of the name Mandela and Rhodes in this existence actually turns out to stand for something very cool indeed! :)            

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

My efforts to get dietary diversity in South Africa, where meat is king!

Probably the most balanced single dish I ate in South Africa!
 
Strange as it may seem to (most) South Africans,
I actually generally prefer salads to burgers!!
 
Stranger still to them is the notion that this seaweed is 
actually edible, and can be deliciously so at that! ;D
 
Years ago when I was living in Tanzania, I attended a talk at the National Museum of Dar es Salaam given by a marine biologist friend, during which he told the audience that there was "free protein" on the area beaches, only to see them react with absolute horror upon their realizing that he was suggesting that people pick and eat the cockles found in the sand.  And further shocks ensued when the speaker pointed out that I had eaten cockles and I not only backed his claim but also told the people present that I enjoyed eating boiled cockles dipped in chili sauce.
 
Fast forward to my recent South African sojourn and my suggesting on more than one occasion to various local folks that the seaweed that was floating about in the ocean and washing ashore onto their beaches was not only edible but, actually, pretty delicious.  As with the Tanzanians and their reaction to the idea of cockles being an enjoyable delicacy, the South Africans I told about kombu were pretty skeptical about its being edible.  What's more, as my South African friend had warned me in advance, his countrymen and -women aren't big fans of seafood.  Hence my ending up having only one seafood meal in my more than one week there; and this despite the likes of oysters, abalone and yellowtail being found in the waters of South Africa!  
 
Similarly, despite the locally grown vegetables I tasted there being of generally high quality (with the onions and carrots being sweeter than those from pretty much every country I know bar for Japan), many a South African just don't eat as many vegetables as you'd think they would (and should)!  Instead, the culinary focus is very much on meat, particularly beef -- though I also did have the opportunity to try springbok meat at lunch one day and lamb chops were on offer along with (beef) steaks and boerewors at a couple of braai!
 
Although I do like eating meat,  I also do like eating vegetables a lot -- and make a point to consume at least four different types of vegetables and/or fruits daily as I think it helps make my diet more balanced.  Normally, this hasn't been much of a problem.  But it actually was turning out to be so in South Africa, particularly since for dietary purposes, I consider potatoes as carbs rather than vegetables of the kind that I think I should make sure I eat daily.  
 
So desperate was I to make sure that I had sufficient vegetable intake (and worried that I wasn't having a balanced diet) while there that I started ordering vegetarian dishes as mains at various meals near the end of my South Africa trip!  Thus it was that I found myself ordering a large garden salad while every other member of my party ordered burgers and chips at lunch one day, ordering a dish consisting of flatbread topped with cheese, tomatoes, onions and coriander on another occasion while my South African friend opted once more for a burger and chips, and -- well, I trust you get the picture.  

The heights of hilarious ludicruousness was reached one evening when I made a point to get a large onion to be grilled at a braai along with a large and diverse amount of meats.  Apparently, this was the first time the assembled South Africans -- all of them fully mature adults -- had ever witnessed something that was not meat being grilled at a braai!  While I expected to consume the entire grilled onion by myself, curiosity got the better of a few of the South Africans.  Even more unexpected was their actually liking the taste -- so much so that a couple of them have now taken to including onions among their braai essentials and even sent me photographic proof of this being so some days after my return to Hong Kong! :D

Monday, January 8, 2018

African art at the South African National Gallery and beyond (Photo-essay)

Amidst all the hype about Cape Town's still pretty new -- seeing as it only officially opened its doors to the public on September 22nd, 2017 -- Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (sometimes seemingly much more about the building in which it's housed more than anything else), it's worth remembering that there's lots of art to be found elsewhere within South Africa's "Mother City" and its surroundings.  

Chief among them for me is the South African National Gallery located in the same row of government buildings as De Tuynhuys (which is the office of the South African President) and the country's Houses of Parliament, and whose admission charges I reckon to be a major bargain (especially in comparison to those for Zeitz MOCAA and also when considering the quality of the artwork on show there).  But I also came across cool art works in seemingly unlikely places including in the main buildings of wine estates that I was brought to and also the Pan African Market whose three floors were filled to the brim with all manner of contemporary paintings along with traditional artefacts and handicrafts...

A statue of South African statesman Jan Smuts stands
in front of the South African National Gallery building
 
Ndebele art has pride of place in one of the museum's galleries
 
As at Zeitz MOCAA, the art on display at the South African 
National Gallery comes from all over the African continent
 
When exhibited in an anthropology museum, one will focus
on these objects' cultural import but when you see them in
an art gallery, your focus is on appreciating their beauty
 
Of course, this is not to say that art (such as this political 
cartoon by Derek Bauer that's part of an ongoing exhibition 
at the South African National Gallery) can't also communicate
 
And wow, is this art installation involving pass books and fire
at the Delaire Graff (wine) Estate ever so powerfully evocative!
 
Returning to the South African National Gallery:
I love this Mdolly's name/title as well as the object itself
 
On the subject of dollies: meet Ndbele Dolly, who I saw at 
the Pan African Museum and decided to take home! ;b

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A by-the-numbers-look at my 2017 movie viewing year

On the way to one of the many HKIFF (Hong Kong
International Film Festival) screenings I attended last year

Poster for one of the many excellent films from neither 
Hong Kong nor Hollywood that I viewed in 2017
 
Some of my best film memories of 2017 involve repeat viewings of movies I had previously been introduced to in years past.  Among these are the viewings of Akira Kurosawa's magnificent Seven Samurai (which I had first viewed at college in Wisconsin) and a restored version of Ann Hui's The Secret (which I had first viewed on a video cassette tape in the last years of the 20th century) on a wonderfully large screen in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre, and a re-watch of Yasujiro Ozu's enchanting Late Autumn (which I had first viewed at the 2014 Hong Kong International Film Festival) in the company of four friends, three of them Japanese and one from South Africa.

Still, this is not to say that I didn't check out any noteworthy and notable films for the first time in 2017; and this despite my film viewing numbers having dropped considerably this past year from previous years (including 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006) for a number of reasons, including my having spent more time travelling outside Hong Kong than has been the case for a number of years, and 2017 possibly being the worst year in living memory for Hong Kong cinema in terms of the quality, if not quantity, of its movies produced.  I really do hope that things will improve for Hong Kong cinema in 2018.  As it is, I've not watched a Hong Kong movie since late November (and, for the record, viewed nine films from elsewhere in that time)!
 
1 -- The number of movies I viewed for the first time on home video last year!
 
2 -- The total number of Malaysian films I viewed in 2017 (with Ola Bola turning out to be my favorite Malaysian movie viewed in years and Mrs K proving to be pretty watchable too!)
 
5 -- The number of documentary features I viewed last year 
 
6 -- The number of animated films I viewed last year (including Loving Vincent (UK-Poland, 2017), the world's first fully painted feature film)

6 too -- The number of films (at least partly) set during World War II that I viewed in 2017 
 
8 -- The number of movies I viewed on board a plane last year (with the unusually high number being due to my having spent more hours on board planes in 2017 than I have had in years)
 
11 -- The number of black and white movies I viewed for the first time last year 
 
13 -- The number of films from Japan I viewed in 2017
 
19 -- The number of films I viewed at the 2017 Hong Kong International Film Festival
 
19 too! -- The number of films I viewed for the first time in 2017 that I'd rate as an 8.5 or above on the brns.com scale (with these being 29+1 (Hong Kong, 2017), A Man Escaped (France, 1956), A Night at the Opera (USA, 1935), A Poor Lover's Tears (Hong Kong, 1948), A Taxi Driver (South Korea, 2017), Black Code (Canada, 2016), Darling, Stay at Home (Hong Kong, 1968), Hidden Figures (USA, 2016), High and Low (Japan, 1963), Lion (Australia-UK-USA-India, 2016), Ma' Rosa (The Philippines, 2016), Moonlight (USA, 2016), On Body and Soul (Hungary, 2017), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (USA, 2017), Strangers on a Train (USA, 1951), The Big Sick (USA, 2017), The Hidden Fortress (Japan, 1958), The Rickshaw Man (Japan, 1958), Vampire Cleanup Department (Hong Kong, 2017)

20 -- The number of movies from the USA I viewed last year 
 
20 as well -- The number of bio-pics or non-documentary films based on real-life individuals and/or events that I viewed last year

21 -- The number of Hong Kong movies I viewed for the first time in 2017   

24 -- The number of different territories whose films I viewed in 2017 (i.e., Belgium, Canada, Chad, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Macau, Mainland China, Morocco, The Netherlands, The Philippines, Poland, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Qatar, Taiwan, UK, USA, and the USSR)
 
27 -- The number of 2017 cinematic releases that I viewed in 2017
 
39 -- The number of films first released in their native territory or at a film festival in 2016 that I first viwed in 2017 
 
50 -- The number of non-Hong Kong movies I viewed for the first time in 2017    
 
71 -- The total number of films that I viewed for the first time last year
 
1925 -- The original year of release of Sergei Eisenstein's October, the oldest non-Hong Kong movie I viewed last year

1948 -- The original year of release of A Poor Lover's Tears, the oldest Hong Kong movie I viewed last year

Friday, January 5, 2018

Cape Town's Bo-Kaap and Cape Malays/Muslims, and South Africa's "Coloureds"

One of the exhibit spaces in Cape Town's Bo-Kaap Museum
 
Colorful buildings abound in the Bo-Kaap section of Cape Town
 
Part of a mural in Bo-Kaap which pays tribute to the area residents, 
and their historical and cultural heritage 
 
On my first full day in South Africa, I caught sight of the colorful section of Cape Town known as Bo-Kaap while being driven through the city.  But it wasn't until my final full day in the country that I went for a walk in that area -- and other parts of town -- with my South African friend.
 
Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, this former township is most strongly associated with the South African people who have been variously known over the years as Cape Malays or Cape Muslims.  Tracing their ancestry to the indigeneous populace of maritime Southeast Asia (particularly the parts colonized by the Dutch East India Company that are now known as the independent country of Indonesia) who were brought to this part of the world as political prisoners or slaves, they also are the product of inter-"racial" marriages with such as native Africans. 
 
In addition to strolling along the streets and admiring the colorful houses and commercial buildings (one of which looked like it was a tribute both to Piet Mondrian as well as traditional Bo-Kaap design culture), we also spent time in the Bo-Kaap Museum housed in the 18th century building that is the oldest house in the area that's still in its original form.  Although it's one of the smallest museums that I've ever been to, I consider it worth visiting because it's chockful of information, including on who built Cape Town, and I thought the videos shown in a space made up to look and feel like someone's living room (complete with sofas to sit on), are very much worth watching.
 
Something that really struck me when watching those videos were how some of the Bo-Kaap residents interviewed really looked to me like Malaysian and Indonesian Malays.  In particular, a pair of elderly twin brothers -- both of them retired headmasters! -- reminded me so much of a middle-aged Malay friend of mine who I look forward to meeting up with whenever I return to Penang (and who, as it so happens, is the son of a headmaster)!  Linguistic connections also abounded for me, with this Malay speaker being able to comprehend that a respected area resident's "Tuan Guru" title meants "Head Teacher" and finding it fascinating that the Bo-Kaap's Muslim Cemetery is called Tana Baru (very similar to the Malay "Tanah Baru", which means New Ground").
 
More than incidentally, the Cape Malays/Muslims are part of the section of the population known in South Africa as "Coloureds" (to this day).  And until I started researching in earnest ahead of this recent South Africa visit, I hadn't realized that the "Coloureds" are the largest ethnic/"racial" group in Cape Town -- making up 44.6 percent of the population of the "Mother City" to "Whites"'s 32.3 percent and Black Africans' 15.8 percent

On the subject of "Coloured" South Africans: while he's not a Cape Malay/Muslim/Coloured, the popular comedian-political commentator, Trevor Noah, is considered a "Coloured" in his home country (but "black" in the United States of America, where he now hosts The Daily Show with Trevor Noah).  And as it so happens, I picked up a copy of his autobiographical Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood at a bookstore before I left the country and that immensely enthralling tome was the first book I read (from cover to cover in less than a week too!) upon returning to Hong Kong... :b