Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wagyu heaven in Hong Kong as well as Japan!

Sukiyaki mountain at Sukiyaki Mori!
Every once in a while, I have a conversation with a foodie friend that involves are deciding what food group we've most be able to give up.  As someone who really loves seafood (particularly in the form of sushi) and has been known to voluntarily dine on vegetarian food (and is aware of the high nutritional value of vegetables), I reckon that I'd be most willing to give up eating land meats.  
At the same time though, not all land meats are equal to my eyes (and taste buds).  For example, I must admit to not yet having been blown away by any of the venison that I've had and really don't care much for ostrich meat at all (despite having tried it in various forms, including as a grilled steak and also in hotpots).  And while I do get yearnings to eat yakitori every once in a while and do adore the roast goose at Yat Lok, I think that I'd be far more willing to give up eating fowl over mutton (be it from lamb, sheep or goat), mutton over pork, and pork over beef.  
In short: beef is my favorite land meat by quite a long chalk; and this especially so if it's genuine wagyu -- that is, Japanese beef!  So I count myself very fortunate to have sampled wagyu in Japan, including Shiga Prefecture's celebrated Omi beef at a restaurant in Hikone this past January, and also as part of an absolutely delicious kaiseki dinner at the wonderful Gora Kansuiro ryokan in Hakone a couple of years ago.      

It also is no small thing to me that when I get the urge to feast on some wagyu in Hong Kong, there actually are places where I can do so deliciously.  Adding to the pleasure is that the likes of Sukiyaki Mori and 298 Nikuya Room actually serve up pretty generous portions of juicy beef flown in from Japan at pretty competitive prices if you go there for lunch.  Indeed, even while it's true enough that there were vegetables under them, my friend and I couldn't help but gasp when beholding the sight and size of the meat-covered sukiyaki dish she was presented with at our most recent lunch there! ;b

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Enjoying kaito rides in different parts of Hong Kong

An idyllic kaito ride in Hong Kong

The kind of scenic views to be had while riding a kaito 
Rural Hong Kong can feel like a world away from urban Hong Kong :)
Just as many visitors to Hong Kong don't realize that there are more ferries in the Big Lychee than just the Star Ferry, many of those folks who live in Hong Kong but don't venture out much beyond the sections of the city covered in tourist maps aren't aware of the existence of kaito which usually serve the more remote parts of the territory.  
This seems a great pity to me because, apart from being the only mode of transportation to some of the most scenic locales around (e.g., Hong Kong's southernmost island of Po Toi, and also the similarly named -- but actually pretty far apart from each other -- Tung Lung Chau and Tung Ping Chau), leisure rides of these small vessels, whose at least partially-open-to-the-elements top decks are great spaces for catching breezes as well as drinking in the passing scenery, can be such a pleasure on days of beautiful weather.
There have been occasions when I've been inclined to consider the short kaito ride from Chek Keng over to Wong Shek Pier to be the highlight of a day which also invariably included a hike through a scenic part of the Sai Kung Peninsula.  I also think highly of the kaito rides to be had between the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula (where I've gone for beach clean-ups as well also to do some hiking) and Mui Wo, and enjoy those between Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau even though they last just a few minutes.
Each additional time that I've been on it though, I've come away thinking that the kaito ride from Sham Chung to Wong Shek Pier is my favorite of the kaito rides still on offer in Hong Kong.  Lengthier than my other favorites, especially when the tide is strong and going against this vessel whose motorized engines can seem to be not particularly super horsepowered, the best thing going for it is that it takes one through parts of Hong Kong that one otherwise would not be privy to if one doesn't own one's own private boat!
If one is so inclined, one can stop off -- or pick the boat up -- at Lai Chi Chong, Tap Mun, Ko Lau Wan or Chek Keng on the way from Sham Chung to Wong Shek Pier.  Actually, one could even board the kaito over at the pier at its starting point over at Ma Liu Shiu, close to the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  Thus far, I have yet to do so but maybe one day before too long, when all I want to do is take a scenic kaito ride just for the hell of it -- as opposed to hike and then ride back to "civilization" -- I will! ;b    

Friday, April 20, 2018

Announcing the end of an era at Arsenal Football Club and sharing hopes for way better days to come!

The old Arsenal crest I way prefer to the current one

For most of this blog's existence, I had included a "Gooner since 1978" line in my "About Me" profile.  A year or so ago though, I deleted it as a statement of how I had ceased to look forward to watching The Arsenal "live" on TV (since, for much of my life, I've not lived on the same continent, never mind in the same country as the football team/club I've supported for the better part of my life) and decided to stop doing so after realizing that it often was causing me a lot more stress and anguish than much of the rest of my life.

While my frustration and ire during matches were often caused by the actions of individual players, I got to realizing with each passing year that the bulk of my agony and anger in recent years stemmed from the actions, policies and ideas of the manager of Arsenal Football Club since October 1st, 1996: one Arsene Wenger, whose reign had initially brought Arsenal F.C. so much success and fans like myself so much joy.  So it was great delight, even euphoria, that I learnt earlier today that Arsene Wenger will resign from the post that he's held for close to 22 years now at the end of this season

Here's the thing: Arsene Wenger did Arsenal a lot of good in the first decade or so that he's been at the club.  (We're talking here of double-winning seasons in 1997-1998 and 2001-2002, and a whole entire season unbeaten in the English Premier League in 2003-2004, among other things!)  But he also looks to have done much damage to the club in the past decade or so -- with Arsenal's Arsene Wenger-instigated move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium not having yielded the footballing dividends it was supposed to even after all these years, and a change of football tactics and player recruitment effected to give Arsenal greater European success not only not having yielded success in Europe but also causing the team to fare less well against domestic opposition.

Between the FA Cup wins of 2005 and 2014 were frustratingly fallow years where Arsenal not only didn't win any trophies but gradually ceased to play with the élan we had come to expect of teams managed by Le Boss.  And while Arsene Wenger did manage Arsenal teams to FA Cup victories in 2015 and 2017, he really should have gone after winning the FA Cup in 2014 -- and I reckon that if he had done so, he really would have been looked upon far more fondly by Gooners than he has been for the past four years.

As it is, it can feel like people's respect and affection for Arsene Wenger have increased exponentially in the hours since he announced his impending resignation; not least because they can finally see light at the end of the tunnel for a team and club that they follow, and may passionately love once more with a new man at the helm rather than what has felt for some time now like a dead man walking.  For my part, I want to say to him: thanks for some really great memories but I now look forward to a brand new era at Arsenal Football Club, and sincerely hope that it'll bring far more success to the Emirates Stadium than Arsene Wenger has managed to do.         

Thursday, April 19, 2018

From Pak Sha O to Sham Chung one fine spring day (Photo-essay)

I know people for whom spring is their favorite season of the year.  None of these people live in Hong Kong though -- and given how short and unpredictable weather-wise the season is here, and also how it invariably gives way to a long, super hot and humid summer, I reckon there are solid reasons why this is so.  

Every so often, however, we get a fine spring day: with bright blue skies, high visibility levels, temperatures that are cool or warm (rather than uncomfortably cold or deathly hot) and humidity levels that are acceptable (in that you won't feel like you've been rained on after walking outdoors for about 10 minutes).  Throw in the prospect of cool critter spottings galore and that's a pretty ideal hiking day as far as I'm concerned! 

And it was on one such bonus of a spring day, a friend and I took advantage of the pleasant weather conditions to repeat a Sai Kung Peninsula hike I've done a few times before and really enjoyed.  Going from the still occupied village of Pak Sha O over to the largely abandoned village of Sham Chung (where kaito still stop to pick up as well as drop off passengers), we passed scenic countryside -- and, yes, did catch sight of a number of pretty interesting bugs... ;b

 Cultivated fields at Pak Shao O 
(Yes, there still are farmers in Hong Kong!)

Not the usual pose that I see dragonflies in :)
Light reflections on stream water
A spidery predator and its butterfly victim :O

A rugged section of hiking trail
The kind of view worth scrambling uphill to see --
especially when it reveals that our destination is within sight :b 
previous Sham Chung excursion, I never imagined (never mind knew) 
this type of creature existed until I caught sight at it mid hike! :O
Our hike's end: a beautiful place which a lack of vehicular
access has thus far managed to keep pretty idyllic :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Last Recipe touches the heart as well as whets appetites (film review)

The Hong Kong poster for Japanese film
Rasuto Reshipi: Kirin no Shita no Kioku 

The Last Recipe (Japan, 2017)
- Yojiro Takita, director
- Starring: Kazunari Ninomiya, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yoshi Oida, Wakato Kanematsu, Aoi Miyazaki, Go Ayano

After I viewed Yojiro Takita's Oscar-winning Departures some years ago, I found myself filled with a desire to try a delicacy I saw being prepared in the movie -- which I later discovered to be fugu shirako.  Put another way: despite it being a drama about a cellist turned undertaker, I came away from a viewing of that sublime movie wanting to eat blowfish sperm!  

So when I learnt of the same filmmaker's latest offering being a drama revolving around a gifted chef able to re-create any dish he's tasted even just once, I figured that The Last Recipe would be the kind of movie that would be filled with lots of appetizing food scenes and get me hurrying off to a restaurant post-viewing even if I went into the screening with a full stomach!  And so it proved, and quite a bit  more.

After his extreme perfectionism causes his foray into the restaurant business to fail, Mitsuru Sasaki (pop idol-actor Kazunari Ninomiya) turns to personally cooking up meals for people, including those on their deathbeds, who are able and willing to pay 1 million Yen for the privilege.  Willing to travel anywhere to do so, he goes to Beijing after being offered 3 million Yen -- only to encounter an elderly man named Yang Qingming (Yoshi Oida) who tasks Mitsuru with finding the recipes for, and recreating, an over 100 dish legendary Great Japanese Imperial Feast concocted in 1930s Japanese-ruled Manchukuo by a former Japanese Imperial Household chef named Naotoro Yamagata (Hidetoshi Nishijima). 

The assignment leads Mitsuru to different parts of Japan and also over to Harbin, China, where he meets with various individuals with ties to Naotoro Yamagata.  As they take it in turn to relate key information about the chef celebrated for being able, like Mitsuru, to re-create any dish he had tasted, the chef turned sleuth gets to realizing that the ethnic Manchu Yang Qingming (played as a young man by Yoshi Oida) was one of Naotoro's two assistants in Manchukuo and that there are important secrets that he's being used to unearth, some of them unsavory.

In an interesting departure from convention, The Last Recipe's nominal main character may actually be its least sympathetic for much of the film.  Perhaps due in part to this, its contemporary scenes initially are much less absorbing than those set in 1930s Manchukuo, which not only feature a number of compelling characters -- including Naotoro's wife, Chizu (Aoi Miyazaki), and young Japanese assistant, Shotaro (Daigo Nishihata) as well as Naotoro and the young Yang Qingming -- but also the bulk of the movie's seriously food porn-ish cooking and dining scenes.

It's also interesting to note that a good bulk of this film is set in a place that may have been a Japanese puppet state but really was much more culturally and geographically Chinese.  And while there may be fears that its filmmakers are not sensitive of the fact (due to such as a key Chinese character being portrayed by Japanese actors), their turning out to actually be is one of the things that makes The Last Recipe genuinely moving as well as appealingly bittersweet.

My rating for the film: 8.0

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A threat of drought in Hong Kong's future?

The water level is so low at Tai Tam Upper Reservoir
that it's off the scale! :O

Even more eye-opening is how people can walk on dry land
that's usually underwater over at Aberdeen Lower Reservoir! 
In recent months, I've been hearing from various friends about how the weather has been on the weird side in their parts of the world; with those living in various parts of Japan, London, New York and even Chicago complaining about how they've been getting much more snow than usual.  In turn, I've reported about how we've been having unusual weather in Hong Kong too; with it having been a good deal drier this spring as well as recent winter than I'm used to.        
There are those who'd argue that I shouldn't complain about getting finer weather than usual -- and it's true enough that I've felt rather blessed at times by how many sunny days of (relatively) low humidity Hong Kong has had thus far this calendar year.  But while out hiking in the likes of Aberdeen Country Park and Tai Tam Country Park in recent months, I've been shocked to discover how low the water levels of the reservoirs within those country parks have got -- and reckon that this is something people should be concerned about.
If Hong Kong were still largely reliant on the reservoirs for its water supply, then we would be in deep doo-doo.  Even so, there is a sense that something's seriously wrong when one sees how low the water levels are at the likes of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir -- and also how dirty brown-looking the water there has become.  
So low have the water levels gotten in such as Aberdeen Lower Reservoir that sizable sections of dry bed have now been exposed -- which people have taken to feeling that they can safely as well as casually walk onto!  When doing so, it still feels rather novel -- and I hope that this remains the case.  Put another way: It surely would not bode well for Hong Kong if one of the consequences of climate change is for there to be drought in this part of the world since, among other things, it's not as though the territory is getting water from places so far away that they won't be similarly affected like the Big Lychee!     

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A rare as well as seasonal sighting of a flowering Birdwood's Mucuna! :)

Birdwood's Mucuna buds and flowers
The kind of sight that makes admiring
nature lovers stop and stare :) 
With the blossoms turning brown-black after just a few hours,
the white flowers really are a pretty rare sight!
As pretty much every Hong Konger as well as Japanese person appears to know, it's currently sakura season in the Land of the Rising Sun.  And around this time of the year, especially over the Easter holidays, it can feel like half, it not more, of Hong Kong is over in Japan taking photos of cherry blossoms (and sharing them on Facebook -- which I finally joined a little more than a year ago).
As yet, however, I've not seen a single photo shared on that social media platform of flowering Birdwood's Mucuna, a large vine native to Hong Kong whose flowering season takes place around the Ching Ming festival (which tends to fall close to Easter every year) -- and whose buds as well as blossoms can present quite the sight, should you be fortunate enough to be in a part of Hong Kong where the plant is in bloom.

Real life sightings of Birdwood's Mucuna flowers and buds have been almost equally as rare for me.  In fact, until I came across a veritable treasure trove of them along Mount Parker Road in Tai Tam Country Park a week before Ching Ming fell this year, I had only caught sight of them when hiking around Ho Pui Irrigation Reservoir with my mother way back in 2009!

On that earlier occasion, I must admit to having found them to be on the creeepy side since they are pretty distinctive looking and unlike few other flowers and buds I've ever seen.  Indeed, descriptions found in one of the two books I own on Hong Kong wild flowers make the Birdwood's Mucuna's blooms sound more like fauna than flora.  To wit: "Appearing in varied postures, the flowers have an extremely animated look.  The buds look uncannily like chicks waiting [to] feed, while [the] flowers look like brds fluttering in preparation for flight" -- and, if anything, I actually find the buds to resemble claws more than cute chicks!
Still, I count myself very fortunate to have come across an elderly man happily clicking away at the flowering plant lodged in the shadow of a clump of forest trees while out hiking one afternoon late last month.  Otherwise, like those people walking briskly past us along the popular trail, seemingly without any interest in what had caught our attention, and caused us to stop and fish out our cameras, I'd have missed out on the sight of this actually rather rare sight; not least because flowers only appear on Birdwood's Mucuna that are over 30 years old and its creamy white blossoms turn brown only a few hours after blooming!