Life after …

What is life like to be carefree? For the most part, nothing has changed yet until my bank account runs dry in a few months. It’s just pointless to worry now while I should be enjoying my break. I have left my skeptic part of me behind. That is, if your reading glasses are fogged; why not just take it off until the moisture goes away?

Beach

I realized a few things I hadn’t while I still had my day job.
First, I could enjoy reading books.
Second, I’m so open to try out eateries (on my budget) out of the district.
Third, the city feels so right during the office hours.

Resting Cows

I have stacks of books, food magazines and some monthly art journals on the desk right next to me. It’s not that I do not have time, not that I’m lazy; It’s just that I do not have a proper reading space at home, with all the complicated reasons when living with parents. That proper reading space means everything when it comes to reading. It allows you to concentrate, relax and even indulge by the authors’ writing. I admit i’m only a light reader, but I understand the benefits when reading the right books, and the right topics can learn a few things or two. If the internet/social media is the fast food, then reading a printed publication would be a proper dining experience. Reading is also a great way to tame your patience. 1 hour of quality reading in a park is now what I do in the week days.

Bamboo

Speaking of food, I just want to use it on all the burnt calories over the weekend. It can be boring to eat at the same restaurants over and over again with the same cuisine especially Hong Kong has so many restaurants to choose from. The most difficult part is to walk through that entrance (or settle the bill). I have not cooked (except cereal) for nearly a month now.

Running Men

It does feel guilty to wander around the city during the office hours while everyone is at work. Streets, parks, restaurants, coffee shops are all quiet and mostly empty. I just love to take full advantage during those hours.

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High Island Reservoir

The Plover Cove Reservoir was my longest hike until I tried the High Island Reservoir – with a total of 22km. The most interesting part of this hike was the “internationally rare acidic hexagonal volcanic rock columns”. 3/4 of the hike belongs to National Geographic dream trail – the MacLehose Trail. Like many seasoned hikers have said, they’d do anything to avoid hiking on those routes. I could not agree more as I stepped onto those sections. It must have been widely advertised by the travel agencies since then, there were just a little too many mix of hikers/tourists. Scenery was also average throughout the way. No wonder most guides recommend taking a taxi to the dam where the rock columns are.

The Korean Hikers

I love the part where I completed it and returned to the same spot 8 hours ago. I dislike the part where half of the route was an open concrete road with traffic.

有緣人

Flute music played by a man in the wilderness? It sounded unimaginably crisp and I promise anyone could hear from far away distance. To me, it added meaning to where he was playing – at an abandoned village. The flourishing violet mountain flowers by a roofless house which it all covered by green moss, had all seemed come alive again. Do they call it a full circle?

Untitled

I met a hiker during the journey from Ma On Shan to Wong Tai Sin. By all means he did not look like a hiker just by visually scanning on his outfit and the gear he held. He looked more like a construction worker in his early 50s, with a wooden walking cane and a straw hat. He was singing the Cantonese tunes from the 70s. We greeted each other and he asked where I was heading. It’s not too much of a surprise to end on the same destination. He started telling me the route we were on was a major passage and he described how it was before. The further we walked, the more he explained the Taoism philosophy which he practices in. The idea of the nature correcting itself, how our body repairs, and all the coincidence happens around us are all due to the cause of Yin and Yang. He explained how he found several of his wooden canes. They were all picked up after typhoon or cut down by other men. And the canes he collected had checked out all the requirements – the protruding handle, length, weight, balance and the resemblance of human, buddha and other Chinese mystic creatures (such as dragon).

He then asked if I wished to try an off-the-grid route. I refused at first but as we approached that point, why not! It is one of those loose sand and gravel slope he led me to. I would not know there’s such route existed, as it’s behind a high retaining wall. He has even shared me a few tips when climbing down with a supporting rope.

It’s a compliment from him I supposed, he said he does not often bump into people like me, that’s willing to listen and treat stranger not quite a like stranger. On the other hand, he referred it as our fate.

Deep Thinker

Before we parted ways, he remarked on our society that’s so different from where he used to grow up from. Knowledge and ideas can be passed along to the rest of the family. How many of us know much about the medicinal use of Chinese herbs and common ingredients?  How many of us can address our relatives appropriately (in Chinese it’s more than just cousins, uncles, aunties…). All these names and knowledge, our grandmas and a few other uncles/aunties just know it all, right?

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I’m grateful my 2016 had been an add-on to the previous. Departing from the workspace which I’d stayed for 6 years was a decision that had built up over the course of 6 months. I noticed life can be different if I decided to steer the wheel. How bad can it be when I’ve got nothing to lose. I think it’s worse if I look back one day and say what if.

Abroad

Romancing on the sea waves

Ireland was the first European country I wanted to visit, huge part of it contributes to the natural scenery and the castle remains. I wanted to see the straight high cliff by the frigid ocean and the castles of many types here and there. They were ironically just part of the agenda while the main one was to attend a concert of an Irish singer. It all did not happen.

One of the most beautifully named places on the map of Hong Kong has to be the Cape d’Aguilar. If you do not mention about the location, people would have thought an European destination or even somewhere that produces wine. That’s just the opening words, the attractions there are just as beautiful. It’s located on the southeastern tip of the main island. If I say I’ve found almost everything I wanted to see from the Ireland by a 30-min bus ride, would it be a surprise?

There is our one of our five surviving pre-war lighthouses (since 1875) and there’s the stunning high cliffs by the frigid sea. The cliffs were so high it gave me goosebumps. The other part of the cape is a rocky gulf where huge white waves rush into, creating a scenery where anyone just want to snap happy. And the climbable Crab Cave by the sea was a bonus if you wished make yourself look like a conqueror.

Stairway

The Cape d’Aguilar reminds me of a theme park or an outdoor version of museum. It’s an adventure if you begin the journey from Shek O where it required some climbing/hiking. It’s also known for the grey area for trespassing when reaching the d’Aguilar Peak.  It’s educational as a historic and geographic tour.

It’d be a surprise if you do not wait for the sunset. Well, make sure you have enough time to walk back to the bus stop. There’s hardly any lamp post on the way back.

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My meaning of home has grown stronger and stronger in this past year or so. You have to love and respect of your home and its people. The complaining and comparing just won’t help, especially when annoying the others.

Under the tower

On a recent wedding invitation of an ex-colleague friend in Hong Kong, who we used to worked in the same office during my last few years in the States. We haven’t really contacted for many years. But he knows I love analogue photography and thought I’d be the perfect person to take down some wedding photos on film. I was given one of his 120 cameras to shoot with during the ceremony. That was my first time ever to play with one. 10 frames per roll is totally my thing!

I met my this friend’s sister at the banquet and had a super brief conversation after introducing myself. She realised many of us (HongKongese who had studied abroad) cannot secure well-paid jobs or advance in their field, results into depression. I told her because they’re still mixed up with thoughts of whom they want to be. The advantages the others think we have are not standing out from many many many other graduates from abroad, and that’s staggering year by year adding to those who’d studied international schools, the returning American/Canadian-born Cantonese, and even the expats. I’m unfortunately one of these live cases she’s mentioning (I’m sure she did not mean it). The only difference is I’m satisfied with life just like that at the moment. You just have to accept in order to move on.

Leafless plant

It’s fair to say, studying abroad really means a temporary escape from our existing local system and to possibly delay the anticipated career decision.

Finish Line

Red Maple

2 bottles of 750ml water, a banana and a few of my favorite Taiwanese cookies. That’s what I had during my longest hike 19.7km (7 hrs).

Every other week, I opened up the web and check out this Plover Cove Reservoir route. The reservoir is the largest in surface area in Hong Kong. How large exactly is it? On a relatively clear day, you can hardly see the other end. It was originally part of the sea until in the 60s where the former Head of Water Department visited there on a boat trip and decided this can be the perfect place for a reservoir ( fresh clean water was scarce during those years).

My previous longest hike was 17km (over 6 hours). I knew all I needed was to get up early and everything would go as planned. This day I got up at 6:45am. After breakfast, an hour and a half plus some wait at the bus stop, I arrived at the starting point – Wu Kau Tang.

Plover Cove

There were warning signs saying the route is extremely challenging, steep and unsheltered. Do not walk this trail in hot/unstable weather to avoid heat stroke, lightning and severe cold. Without sufficient equipment, food and water or physically unfit should not attempt.

I was told that the terrain is mainly loose gravel. It’s very slippery even on a dry clear day. I slipped but managed not to fall without a hiking stick (never used them) on my entire trip. Throughout it was a test of my endurance.

The infinite pool

The whole time I was thinking what’s on the other side of this reservoir, where these little islands connected and the longest dam going back to the main island. The dam was so long (2km) that took me 40 mins to walk from one end to another. They were all new to me. All the tiredness were gone when I completed the route.

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Hiking has gotten so popular these days. It has everything to do with the social media and how the city living is changing. Karaoke is no longer a place to hangout, not everyone has the luxury to travel, eating out and sitting at a cafe can be static and boring. So now casual people can go on those family trails, seasoned hikers can go on those off-road trails, or someone like myself who yearn for challenges (while still able) can go for the extreme. My journey so far has been my spiritual communication as much as my written journal of my trips every other week. Maybe the life struggle we see isn’t all that bad. Don’t treat it like a race, whatever comes next, just let it happen. You fall, you get up; you lost, you double back; you tired, you refuel; when you reach the finish line, remember to rejoice!

Finish line

Golden Grass

Golden Grass

Everything seems nicer when the weather is good. Last time on the Lantau Peak, I met a trail runner from South Africa. A very nice gentleman whom we had a brief chat. He’s actually a performer (singer/dancer) for the Disneyland HK. I always wondered what brings these expats to our city when our world is this huge. He did not pick the destination, it’s the job he auditioned that picked him. And what’s even better, his family and relatives are working here in town before he arrives here. As a hongkongese, I’m so glad to hear from a foreigner enjoying life in my home city.

The Trail Runner

That day would be a very memorable one for many years to come. The effort and courage behind the hike, the perfect dry clear day which allowed me to see the spectacular view of Lantau, the waving golden grass which covered along my way down the mountain, they all became part of my stories of 2016.

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What’s next, where’s next? Is our city moving forward by measuring anything but the GDP, revenue of the key financial institutions, number of tourists visited, sales number in the retail sector? These are just formulated numbers that have so little correlation to an average citizen in the city. The numbers only tell a small part of the story. The life quality of a person or even a population cannot be calculated or refer as a series of numbers. I hate hearing the numbers and reports that are in flying colors but the actual well-being of the normal population is unlike what it suggests. Many are still worried about their income, lack of personal space (housing) and a list of things that derive from it.

Believe or not, the grassroots level has been contributing so much without us knowing of, or there’ll be no ‘Sifu’ sustaining our lost arts, nobody would be making our world famous dim sum and stir fry, plus my favorite frothy milk tea. They’re the keepers of the city, the ones that keep our engines running. They’re the solid foundation of the Hong Kong brand image, not those once a year sport events and parades.

Our newly built Kai Tak Cruise Terminal was once again surfaced to the news report due to its under-usage. Many of us knew the location picked by the authorities was a terrible decision (the old airport runway). Just to be fair if I were to choose, I’d likely be picking the same site. It’s also probably the cheapest and easiest way without reclaiming any land along the Victoria Harbor. What it’d inherited from this spot is that, it requires buses, taxis to transport tourists to where they really want to go (ex. Lan Kwai Fung, SoHo, The Peak etc..). The proximity issue is more lean toward us, the actual users for the site when idled (no cruise ships embarked). They can revamp the interior terminal into something more public-friendly. There’s huge demand for more city green, open area, vehicle-free urban space. The East & West Kowloon Cultural District Project is the go-to answer, I have so much faith in this and wish this can bring Hong Kong to a whole new era, the door to the next best thing

Leap of Faith

Looking to Sunset Peak

It was my second attempt on this route. Knowing the fact that I may get lost, I could slip and fall because of steepness and natural of terrain, I could chicken out because of height. The mentality of these half day hike journeys is that once I started, it has to be finished; if I don’t, I’d come back with a much better prep. This route by all means is nothing like the Alps’, but in my heart this is exactly what it is.

I had grabbed on anything that gives me a pull, even I had to crawl to get that grip.

I’d returned to the same spot where I got lost last time at the downhill rocky stream (there should be a way up after going down to certain point). I was really cautious from that point on. Not only because I was not certain with the direction, it’s because I did not know what’s ahead. Would it lead to another route that requires more advance climbing? Would there be wet spots where I would not get any grip on? Would there be cliffs where an excessive amount of courage is needed?

All the above doubts could cloud my judgement. So instead, I only focused on what’s in front of eyes and tackle them one by one.

Waving in the air

Near the last stretch to the peak, I came to a cliff where I had to slide across. On my left side, there was not a landing spot, my right side had a gap (not quite exactly a solid gripping spot) between two huge rocks, and there’s not enough head room to stand. A rather awkward position to manuever. Not only i had to crawl 2 meters on a rock that was only 1-foot wide without a solid grip, I had to switch from that crawling position to uplight position on a 4-inch wide tip of a rock next to nothing. That’s when I really wanted wind to stop for a moment. When all that was over, I said to myself I had completed a stunt.

The sun was right behind where I was climbing, which made it rather cool on a fine 26ºC day. As I was reaching the top, I began hearing chatter of people, I felt the warmth from the sun. The sunlight gradually reappeared as I reached the Lantau Peak (934m).

The Peak

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I considered this trip as a test. When life seems to be not moving ahead, I want to try and prove myself worthy. While It’s not imaginable of what’s ahead, nobody can predict the future, but one can make a huge influence on the outcome.

Days ago it was the HK Food & Culture Book: From Dim Sum to Abalone book launch party, the book that I contributed as a photographer. I’d been thankful enough knowing the team. I invited several other people to celebrate with us. That might be my first time ever inviting people from all different circles. A blogger/world traveller we recently met in person for the first time, we’d been following each other for a while which she just happened to settle in the city for a few years. She’s been really honest in giving me feedbacks on my blog and photography. My former classmate in secondary school. He offers me opportunity in his startup tea business. This was the main reason I learn about Chinese tea. Then there’s my sister who’s willing to be around backing me up. I introduced all of them to each other.

 

Grazie

Chefs

When I wonder what exactly i’ve benefited from my day job in the past few years, I cannot think of a proper answer to that. I got switched to different roles in the company. Throughout, maybe 1% of it was what I considered interesting, the rest are just duties. The first year was most educational, I’d learned all the basics which made me knowledge-wise above an average person. It’s by the way a useful asset. Then in the later years, I was assigned to more operation, marketing tasks. The food/wine trade shows and food travel programs on TV/internet were the update patches when I get no opportunity to travel. The bottom line is I still love food.

It was originally more of a practice session for a side project I help on video shooting. I was able to tag along, to a fine-dining media tasting at a 5-star hotel. I was informed an Italian guest chef (who appeared in Hell’s Kitchen Italia and MasterChef Italia) would be in town for just 3 days. But nobody ever told me we get to eat the full course with wines selected by their in-house sommelier, in an exclusive private room with an open kitchen. Together with the hotel restaurant’s head chef; not only i got the front row seat, some of us went near the chef and get explained what they were doing. There were about 10 other media representatives at the table which they’re total strangers to me. We were treated just like the VIP guests.

They prepare food in style, present it like a show, plate it like an art.

Beef Tartare with Sliced White Truffle

I woke up on the next day still could not believe I had such dining experience. It was just that surreal. I’d been promoting/selling truffled mushroom sauce in my day job for years, but so unfortunate that I’d not seen or eat any fresh truffle. Seeing the real thing is nothing like how I’d normally found on the internet or TV. On the good side, part of what i’ve learned from my job makes me easily to appreciate the Italian food and wine.

These kind of tastings (which i believe may vary in scale) are needed every so often in order to get the wheel spinning for the local dining scene.

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My computer went out of service for over a month until I get a replacement. With all the inconveniences, it was hard to believe I could survive that long without it.

There goes the bad, here comes the good. My work got selected to show on the Slideluck Hong Kong event along with 19 other ‘artists’ (that’s how they put it). It’s my first proper public showcase of my photo series. I cannot be happier to have my alias listed on their event banner!