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!

The Backyard

White Flowers

It has been my third hike since the my last punishing climb to the highest mountain in Lantau Island. I intentionally picked these routes on Lantau Island. I wished to remind myself that I’ll return for the challenge.

I never bother to know about the island until recently. Now, I could at least confidently point out some of the attraction sites on a map.

Lantau is the largest island in Hong Kong. It’s one of the rarest location where not a lot of urbanization can be found, especially on the south and west ends. It’s mountainous and so it was designated for the country parks and conservation zones. There’s limited access to the public with only public transportation allowed (buses and taxis). A special permit is needed for the in order to drive on the closed roads which connects most attractions of the island. Only a quota of 25 would be given on each day and applicants can only apply once a month. No wonder the air feels so much fresher here!

Me, at a peak

Our famed Tai O Village in Lantau (famed as the Hong Kong version of Venice) is popular for most Hong Kongese to visit on the weekends. To me in many ways, It’s similar to most other Outlying Islands, shops, eateries, settings, etc. It gets crowded due to the limited transportation connecting back to the city and its remote geographical location (west end of Lantau). Queues are painsickening from Tung Chung after 11am and 5pm on the way back. Good thing is It’s totally avoidable if you research a little more.

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Just when you thought this much-protected island is so sacred out of our precious land or we like relating it as our ‘backyard’. Our Government has in fact rolled out a long-term proposal to develop Lantau as an outdoor activity hub. To most of our wiser minds, we quickly decoded the outdoor activity hub as a smoke screen. Obviously they intentionally leave out the housing plans (which our government is desperately needing flat lands) at this stage yet due to the opposing voice.

Sea of Mountains

It’s fair to say the face of Lantau will in stages evolve into something else. There will be more land reclamation, concrete buildings, open traffic in the coming days. There’re two questions we must ask are – ‘Are we ordinary citizens wanting all these changes?’ , ‘Is the greater good only for the large corporates, real estate developers, the wealthy elites?’

Behind the Greater Good

Taste it

The Individual Visit Scheme (multiple-entry individual visit scheme) was launched to boost the Hong Kong economy after the devastating SARS. It was a crisis and an aftermath and the scheme was not all that annoying until last few years’ parallel trade activities near our border districts. Lots of shops closed down and replaced by pharmacies that sells daily necessities. Train stations filled with these traders packing and lining up to the platform. Clearly, it’s a supply and demand business equilibrium until it affected the districts’ residents. That had caused our local shortage in baby powder, the government had even placed a restriction to no more than carrying 2 cans out of the border after this incident when critically complained by the public.

The swamp of Mainland tourists on Canton Road (The Fifth Avenue of HK) while it’s not as sickening as it’s away from residential districts. It’s mostly avoidable. Franchises such as the luxury fashion brands, electronic retailers and pharmacies have took over most ground level shops in many hotspots in town. Maybe it’s good for the retail and perhaps the overall economy; but as a general citizen who just wish to wonder in town, it gave up our choices, possibilities and rights.

I agreed for the greater good, some of us may need to sacrifice; only when we all know where to draw that line. Our conscious community have been reacting to it by holding rallies, touring through various districts. It’d gotten worse in 2013-2014. I was at first annoyed by it very much. Until recently I realized all that had to be done by these concern groups and political parties, in order to alarm our slow reacting government or the situation would continue to get worse. You may argue there has to be another way. I believe nobody wanted the ‘angry’ way, it’s clear that it’d brought noise and concern to the authorities a lot quicker. It had then stirred up debate in the city.

Last year the authority had finally revised the scheme to become “single visit per week”. It was to respond the public concern and officials finally recognized it as an issue.

A world we see

The bigger picture we now look at is, for the past 12 years we had no have any new major tourist spots being developed. We had relied so much on the mainland tourists for quick turnovers and ignored the quality world tourists we should also cater. Many mainlanders only visit Hong Kong for consumer goods, there aren’t much for them to see here. “There’s a huge distinction between consumer and tourist.” (Reference: A short documentary in Cantonese)

The city’s development had inevitably wiped out many architectural heritage we once had. It’s important to not only conserve and restore the remains in full scale, we need to embrace it as our history. There’s history in Hong Kong, we cannot put all these behind and shove them in the museums. Not only they can be a visual landmarks, it’s a respect to our land and facilitates our sense of belonging. Unfortunately, the respect to our land is only tied to money – government revenues as land auction to the property developers.

Maybe the still yet-to-be-developed West Kowloon Cultural District is the major (long-term) tourist attraction in the city. I do very much look forward to it after visiting the equivalent project in Taipei, but for now we could just wait and wait some more. We’re at least 10 years behind from the original timeline and the second phase is even pushing longer until 2026-2030. I hate to see it become just another random public parks or shopping malls.

Struggled in the Stream

In the Stream

“I stepped out of a mini-bus with my tiring legs and body, dragging myself to the nearest 7-eleven. I wanted any chilled beverage so bad. I gobbled up half of a bottle in just 2 seconds. That moment on I realized I was dehydrated. I looked at my arms each with no less than 12 minor scratches. I was lucky this time.”

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From my 9 months of experience, I had climbed peaks or sorts, I have seen the prettiest coastlines with waves hitting through it, nothing but the sea and sky. I’ve been to the widest beach on the hottest day of the summer. I was at the marine conversation zones where the water was so sparkling clear. I’ve seen the longest waterfalls here. I’ve experienced the non-stop wind in under 5 meters of visibility. They’re all some fond memories just by myself.

This hike I’d done recently to Lantau Peak could be the wildest wilderness experience I’ve ever had. It was the longest climb 450 meters in height and most spots required the use of hands. You may think it’s only physical enduring, it required plenty of environmental assessment on each move and the follow up steps, such as the best gripping point without loose rocks and slippery algae. It was much like connecting the dots wherever I tried to move. It later became my second nature where my legs could step on where I’ve just grabbed. There must have been lots of these repetitions. To sum it up, it was just a long slope full of grass and trees.

I did not expect this 2 hour climb would be that challenging. It’s very well be an advanced level climb. Even at some point, I thought only the lone wolf fictional character Ethan Hunt (Missions Impossible) would dare doing this.

I looked down and asked myself, “How was I able to climb this rock when there’s nothing to fall on?”

It was all well until I picked the wrong way down. Not only I could not find a way to the peak, I found myself actually moving deeper and deeper down a rocky stream. And that was my first time knowing how dangerous it can get as I was racing against time (before dark). I was desperately rushing down the stream, and it was not as easy to find the safe path with those vaguely placed ribbon as guidance. The environment was totally uncontrollable, I cannot run, I cannot recklessly jump down. There was the running water, slippery rocks, densely grown thorns I had to avoid. These 3 hours I spent in the downward stream was something I’d not try again alone.

As I tried to sleep on that night, the moving images kept waking me as I shut my eyes. Oddly, the morning after I’d decided I should return to where I’d got lost on a similar clear dry day. I need to go back and next time with better prep. I’m amazed by this difficultly rated route that actually challenged me.

Survive

Look back

The contrast of our city ranges from skyscrapers to mountains, monotonous grey to colorful neon signs in evening on the old districts. This populated city also has one of the highest concentration of eateries among the world’s cities.

People

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A few of my recent quick bites at our city’s top budget fast food chains made me realize how crappy their food is representing us as a whole. By all means the prices are competitive, not expensive to this day but certainly not that cheap either. Consumers should ask: Are we getting what we paid for? Do you get similar food quality and dining experience with this price range?

I’d paid $56 HKD dollars for a Cantonese BBQ with rice including a drink. For a fast food restaurant, it’s fine. But if you care about what you eat (quality and taste), It was totally not worth it. It’d be a waste of both money and food. It did kill my mood for the rest of the day. Even more so if you see the cook do not care much about your food. That is, treating the serving bowl like a kitchen sink; dumping food into it without zero presentation. Not only it affects your appetite, i cannot see the effort, the heart and the respect for food.

That’s why I’d rather pay for more for the food I deserve. I deserve to feel good when I eat, not only for the purpose of satisfying my stomach.

Farm

I hate to see some of the independent restaurants getting closed down due to the raise in rents and operating costs. It’s scraping off our crowned title as food paradise. We’re getting to a point in most accessible places, restaurants are all operated by restaurant groups and franchises. Long time restaurants got replaced and making all districts the same. The replaced restaurants are either offering average food no matter how well they renovate the shop or at a jaw- dropping price for casual meals.

Concrete Homes

I’m in the food and beverage industry. I hear from our well-informed colleagues over time that the low-mid end restaurants only go for the cheapest ingredients for their food preparation. And they are not competing against their rivals, they are saving costs to survive (longer) until the day they can’t afford the rent.

We do have choice for food, most of the times they’re just not in the most accessible locations. I can’t even find a joint that sells dessert tofu near by, not even a proper Cantonese bakery shop. Steamy buns and egg tarts have been my childhood memory and dessert tofu came in later in my teenage years when my mother used to buy from an old lady underneath a bridge near the market. None of these are fancy, they’re just essential to my knowledge. We have to have them in order to live as a Hong Konger.

This is life, this is Hong Kong.