Archives for category: Uncategorized

I’m not sure where to begin with this post.  It’s certainly been a while since I’ve updated the blog, but there’s a good reason for the delay.

We have decided to leave Hong Kong and have a fresh start somewhere new.  For now we’re back in the US, enjoying some quiet time of reconnection and reflection on what’s next for us.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities for the next phase!

In the meantime, though, I’m not sure what to do with this blog.  I’m not really “from afar” these days.  I expect to just keep being quiet here for the time being.  If we end up moving overseas again, then I’ll return to posting (relatively) frequently.  Meanwhile, there are some photos from one of the last things we did in Hong Kong that I never got around to sharing, and now seems like a good time.

In China, there is an annual festival to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and governmental administrator during the Warring States period (3rd century BC).  In Hong Kong, the festival is called Tuen Ng, and this year it coincided with Juan’s birthday.  The back-story for the festival is (according to wikipedia): Qu Yuan was a loyal and well-respected official, but he didn’t agree with his king’s decision to back a powerful state, the Qin.  He was exiled for his refusal to support the alliance.  Qu wrote volumes of poetry during his 28 years in exile, but finally, in despair, he committed suicide by drowning himself in a river.  The townspeople loved him so much that they ran to their boats in a rush to save him.  Seeing that it was too late, they dropped sticky balls of rice into the water so that the fish would eat something other than the poet’s body.

It’s all rather morbid, isn’t it?  Yet, this is the most widely-subscribed-to notion of the Tuen Ng festival’s origins.  Today, the festival is celebrated with dragon boat races (like the boats the villagers used in their futile attempts to save Qu), and with sticky rice balls stuffed with different meat fillings.

Dragon Boats

Dragon Boats

We went to two different places to see races.  The first was Aberdeen, which is a smaller venue with fewer Western people.  The races there happen in a narrow bay between two islands.

Racing!

These guys aren’t racing yet.  They’re heading toward the start line.

Also en route to start.  I thought this photo gave a better impression of what the boats with their paddlers look like.

Also en route to start. I thought this photo gave a better impression of what the boats with their paddlers look like.

paddling

These boats are full of spectators.  The races pass right by.

Now they're racing!

Now they’re racing!

IMG_0083

Another spectator boat.

And more racing!

And more racing!

I see now that these photos might be getting a little redundant.  But I like them.

I see now that these photos might be getting a little redundant. But I like them.

The paddling is not at all like crew.  The racers use very short, very fast strokes.  You can see they're all coordinated by the drummer at the head of the dragon.

The paddling is not at all like crew. The racers use very short, very fast strokes. You can see they’re all coordinated by the drummer at the head of the dragon.

IMG_0095

The entrance to the Aberdeen festival. Somehow we only saw it on our way out.

When we left Aberdeen, we went on to the big race festival at Stanley.  I didn’t take as many photos here, because the races were happening from the sea in toward the beach.  It was really hard to see who was ahead, let alone photograph the boats.  But here’s an idea of the view:

IMG_0109

Stanley Beach

This was a sort of quintessentially Hong Kong thing to do, and I’m glad we had the chance to see it before we started our next adventure!  Until next time…

Hey guys!  Remember when I used to update this blog with at least some frequency?  I remember that, too.  Yet real life seems to be taking all my time away from digital life these days.  I see it’s been five weeks or so since I last sloppily threw some photos up here and called it day.  Blog quality is not about to improve today, either.  Prepare for some not-so-new photos with minimal and hastily-dashed-off descriptions!

First few images are from a hike we took up to the top of Victoria Peak (the mountain that we live on the side of), and down the other side to a neighborhood called Pok Fu Lam.

From Victoria Peak, looking toward Pokfulam.

From Victoria Peak, looking toward Pokfulam. I think the island in the back might be Lamma, but I’m not sure!

There's a park at the top of the Peak,

There’s a park at the top of the Peak where this lion and his compatriots can look out, surveying their domain.  Juan was helping.

A view from the Peak back toward Victoria Harbor.

A view from the Peak back toward Victoria Harbor.

These next few pictures are from a different adventure: a hike in Sai Kung.  I’ve heard from a lot of people that the Sai Kung Peninsula is really beautiful.  A lot of the are (both land and water) is protected parkland.  We found a hike online, and, without much planning, headed out. We knew that Sai Kung is in the New Territories, but we didn’t understand that it’s actually kind of far away.  We spent two hours on MTR trains and buses to get to the trailhead, passing through the town of Sai Kung on our way.  This place is definitely worth another, proper visit, but this time, we only had a few hours of daylight left for hiking, so we had to abbreviate things a bit.

Have I told you before that one of the reasons the British were eager to lease the New Territories and Outlying Islands was their concern that there wasn’t enough fresh water on Hong Kong Island?  It’s true.  This is a view of one of many reservoirs in the district.

Have I told you before that one of the reasons the British were eager to lease the New Territories and Outlying Islands was their concern that there wasn’t enough fresh water on Hong Kong Island? It’s true. This is a view of one of many reservoirs in the district.

Same reservoir from a different angle (about an hours walk further along the trail).

Same reservoir from a different angle (about an hour’s walk further along the trail).

Another reservoir with mini island.

Another reservoir with mini island.

There are wild cows in Sai Kung.  Posted signs ask you to enjoy, but be careful of, the feral cattle.  They’re not really that wild, though.  They’ve all been tagged, and some were even wearing cowbells.  They are definitely not afraid of people, approaching us to see if we had any snacks.

There are wild cows in Sai Kung. Posted signs ask you to enjoy, but be careful of, the feral cattle. They’re not really that wild, though. They’ve all been tagged, and some were even wearing cowbells. They are definitely not afraid of people, approaching us to see if we had any snacks.

I hope we’ll get to explore Sai Kung some more some day!

If you follow me on instagram, you’ve already seen a lot of these photos. If not, well, you’ll recognize the square format and the filters.

We’ve been back from Angkor Wat for a month now.  My new job is still taking up a lot of my time, and it’s been raining pretty much nonstop, so our adventures have been a bit more modest.

I think

I think this photo might even be from before the Easter trip.  Doesn’t it look like this might have been a sunny day?

A couple of weeks ago we visited one of the towns on the south side of Hong Kong Island, Aberdeen.  Aberdeen is in a little bay, but there’s another small island immediately across from it, Ap Lei Chau, which forms a very narrow harbor.  More importantly, it creates a natural typhoon shelter, blocking storms coming in from the sea.  Aberdeen used to have Hong Kong’s biggest and oldest shipyard (the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dockyard), and still has an active, if small scale, fishing industry.

Aberdeen harbor

Aberdeen harbor.  That’s a lot of fishing boats!

There’s not really that much to see or do in Aberdeen, plus it started to rain, so we went on to Stanley, another town on the south side (which I’ve mentioned before here, and is currently in the blog’s masthead).

I know this photo is cropped strangely.  It's because the subject of the image is meant to be the cloud that has fallen on top of the island in the distance there.

I know this photo is cropped strangely. It’s because the subject of the image is meant to be the cloud that has fallen on top of the island in the distance there.

On another weekend, we took a trip to an island we hadn’t seen before, Cheung Chau.  We went specifically because every year on Buddha’s birthday, the island hosts a festival featuring giant towers of steamed buns.

Buns and dumplings are called bao.

Buns and dumplings are called bao.  This is a mini bao tower at one of the many bao shops.  We tried the sesame.

Full size bun towers.

Full size bun towers.

There’s a competition to climb the bun towers, but we were there a day too early to see that part.  Plus, the towers are just one of several entertainments offered for local deities’ pleasure.

I think it's an acquired taste.

I think it’s an acquired taste.

There is also Cantonese opera in a temporary stage in front of the main temple.  We watched for a bit, even though we couldn’t understand anything.  The music is entirely unlike Western music, and to our ears it sounded screechy.  Someone standing near me told me that the performances were quite good, so, I’m clearly just not accustomed to the sound.

Across from the makeshift opera stage were these guys.

Dudes.

I think it’s hard to tell how big these are from the photo.  Each figure here is about 15 feet tall.

I have to admit to you–I’m not sure what these figures are for.  They were made of papier mache, and I think they get to go on parade on the main festival day.  I wonder if they also get burned up at the end, just because it seems a lot of things pace of paper are destined for incineration and therefore passage to the next world.

Juan and I also went inside the temple.  We couldn’t take photos of the interior, but here are some cool motifs from the exterior.

Tiger mosaic.

Tiger mosaic.

Roof lion.

Roof lion.

A few days after the Bun Festival, we visited another small Hong Kong landmark, the Mong Kok Bird Garden.  It is a market entirely for birds and their accoutrements, and one of few charming holdovers from Hong Kong’s old days (although “holdover” is a bit misleading–the original market here was bigger, and more organic/disorganized.  This Bird Market is in a lovely new architectural space designed especially for this purpose).

Birds.

Birds.

More birds.

I was trying to get a good shot of his color, but he was jumping around so much, this is the best I could do.

There were a few modern, metal cages, too, but they weren't nearly as photogenic.  Also, I spared you images of the bags of live maggots for sale as feed.  I'm shuddering at the memory.

There were a few modern, metal cages, too, but they weren’t nearly as photogenic. Also, I spared you images of the bags of live maggots for sale as feed. I’m shuddering at the memory.

It has taken me 4 days to write this post, in little five- and ten-minute pockets of time.  Apologies if it’s disjointed.  I’ll be posting another random collection of recent photos again soon!

I am about to inundate you with images.

I am sorry it’s taken me such a long time to get this post written, but the first three weeks of my new job have been crazy hectic!  We had our annual gala dinner fundraising event May 3, so now things are calming down and I have a little more time to breathe.

Let’s travel back in time to Easter weekend…

On Friday we flew from Hong Kong to our layover in Ho Chi Minh City and then on to Siem Reap.  We arrived at the hotel too late to go out to dinner, but they let us order room service, which enjoyed on a verandah overlooking the pool. And then we got ready for our first day of touring!

We arranged for someone to drive us to the complex and form one temple to the next in a vehicle called a tuk tuk.  It’s like a rickshaw but with a motorcycle dragging the carriage part.

Water buffalo

On one of the many tuk tuk rides we took over the two days, we saw these water buffalo–the first I’ve ever seen in real life!

Rather than describe each temple one by one in excruciating detail, I’ll try to highlight some common features, and some distinctive features of each.  In general, the temples in the Angkor Wat complex were built by Khmer people from the 9th through the 13th centuries (during Europe’s Middles Ages).  The architectural technologies aren’t terrifically advanced (ashlar masonry, corbeled vaults, load-bearing walls), but the sculptural ornamentation is tremendous.

Some of the temples are dedicated to Hindu deities and others to Buddhist ones, depending on the religious persuasion of the king at the time of each construction.  Both of these religious traditions were imported to the area by Indian traders, and existed alongside a native Khmer cosmology.  Maybe it’s more accurate to say the local gods were absorbed into the greater pantheons of both world religions.  Anyway, some of the temples were changed bath and forth from Hindu to Buddhist over succeeding generations of leadership and renovation, so there are interesting examples of ancient iconoclasm marking a shift from one religion to another.  (That is to say, sometimes when a king wanted to rededicate a Hindu temple to Buddha, he would have all the faces of Vishnu (for example) chipped off of the existing ornament, or similar).

We saw a great variety of sculptural ornamentation, from very shallow bas relief to full figures in-the-round.  There were purely decorative floral or animal motifs, friezes of historical events, friezes of religious events, genre scenes, and imagined portraits.  Really a full spectrum of imagery, but all idealized, stylized, and often formulaic.

ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES:

Traveling companion

My traveling companion demonstrating post-and-lintel architecture.

You can see in the photo above that the buildings are stone replicas of wooden structures.  In this case the “tile” roof is actually a stone corbeled vault.  We also saw blind doors and windows, as well as stone screens in real windows that replicated bamboo or turned wood screens.

Some of the temples show evidence of addition and renovation over time.  Some are completely crowded with architectural accretions.

Ta Keo is an example of a numerously-revisited architectural design.

Ta Keo is an example of a numerously-revisited architectural design.

I'm peeking out from a pile of extra building material.

Peeking out from a pile of extra building material.

I’m not sure the following counts as an architectural detail, but it’s impressive nonetheless.  When these buildings fell out of everyday use, the jungle swallowed them up.  The complex wasn’t “rediscovered” until the early 20th century, by which time some temples had been so completely overgrown, they can’t safely be reclaimed from nature.  Plus, this looks so cool, I’m not sure you’d want to.

Spung trees

This is a tree essentially swallowing the Ta Prohm temple.  We learned that this species is called Spung tree, although wikipedia mentions something called a Strangler Fig, which I think sounds more appropriately descriptive.

Tomb Raider

Ta Prohm is where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed.

more of same

I took at least a million photos of the trees here.  The impression they give is tremendously eerie.  They also make the place seem older than it is, like a forgotten civilization emerging from the mists of time.

temple view

These trees are really similar in appearance and behavior to the Chinese Banyans we have in Hong Kong.  They can grow on top of anything!

Another element that may not qualify as architectural per se, but is interesting, is the construction of water.  Many temples are surrounded by moats so wide they look like lakes.

On the bridge leading to our first temple.

On the bridge leading over the moat to Angkor Thom.  These kneeling figures are holding a long snake whose body forms a balustrade for the bridge.

Moat

The moat itself.

SCULPTURE:

Some of the most famous images from Angkor Wat are giant, idealized heads.  They remind me a bit of Olmec heads, but just because of size and some flatness of the facial features.  (I am not suggesting that there was actually some ancient cultural exchange between now-Mexico and now-Cambodia, just noting that there is a minor resemblance).

Faces

The South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom.

The highest concentration of giant smiley faces is at a temple called Baphuon.

Bauphon (maybe?)

Baphuon

Also Baphuon, a face in profile.

Also Baphuon, a face in profile.  I’ve whimsically made it sepia-toned, just for romance.  In real-life, this is the same color as the guys above.

In addition to monumental heads, there are a number of different kinds of relief carving.  In fact, in most cases, the temples are completely covered in relief ornament.  Every available surface is carved, which is stunning, even overwhelming, for the viewer.  There were many examples of very low bas-relief repeating motifs, making some spaces look wallpapered.

Bas relief

This is one of those wallpaper-esque bas reliefs.  We both really liked the medallion with two interlocking birds.

Baphuon also had a set of genre scenes, which we didn’t see anywhere else.  There were images of hunting tigers and deer, some agriculture with oxen and horses, a chariot rider, and hand-to-hand combat.

Here's a genre scene with two main figures either dancing or fighting.

Here’s a genre scene with two main figures either dancing or fighting.  (Or maybe they’re doing something else?).  There are birds flying above them and to the right of the central figure.  There’s a giant rodent between his feet, and another climbing the tree at far right.  Beneath the tree sits a woman touching her hair, and a human-sib monkey wearing a loincloth a presenting an offering.  (It looks like a cup?). So much going on in just one small panel!

One of the decorative elements that the Angkor Wat temple is best known for is its thousands of depictions of Apsaras, which are female spirits of clouds and waters in both Hinduism and Buddhism.  They are young, beautiful dancers, and at Angkor Wat, each one is unique, with her own pose and costume and headpiece.

One of the apsaras.

One of the apsaras.

Shall we return to figures in the round (or mostly in the round) for a second?  How cool are these elephant columns?!?

Elephant columns.  Their trunks are grasping lotus blossoms.

It look us awhile to figure out what is going on with the base of their trunks. It’s hard to tell, but the elephants are plucking lotus blossoms out of a pond, and the flowers and streams of water are providing support at the base of the columns.

Naga snake

This is the end of one of the balustrades I mentioned above.  It’s called a Naga snake, and it has seven heads.  Scary!

RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

Many of the temples are still (or again) in use, although in reduced scale and officialdom.

Vishnu

This statue of Vishnu used to be at the central position in Angkor Wat, but when the temple was changed to Buddhism it was moved to an area lower down and off to the side in the same temple.  It has been repaired multiple times throughout history.

pavilion Buddha

This, on the other hand, is a giant Buddha in its own separate outdoor pavilion on the grounds of Angkor Thom.

Monks are tourists, too!

Monks can be tourists, too!

ANGKOR WAT ITSELF

The temple for which the whole complex is named is the largest religious monument in the world.

A view of Angkor Wat

A view of Angkor Wat taken on Saturday afternoon.

Angkor Wat is a microcosm of the Khmer universe.  It’s surrounded by a moat, which represents the seas of the world.  The temple is a series of stepped courtyards and galleries, leading to one central elevated platform.  The visitor climbs to the top of a skinny pyramid at the center that represents Meru, the mountain where the Hindu gods live.  At the top is a pavilion that used to house an image of Vishnu, who was presiding over vistas across the four cardinal directions.  Sometime in the 13th century the temple was converted to Buddhism and the pavilion at its top was enclosed, so you can’t have the original experience, but you can imagine it.

On Easter morning, we got up at 5am in order to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Easter morning sunrise

Just before the sunrise.  This gives you an idea of the vastness of the moat.

I am so glad we arranged to see the temple this way.  My photographs really don’t do it justice–it was truly breathtaking.  Plus, we were then able to do hours of touring while the temperature was still manageable.  We’d already explored it fairly thoroughly by the time we went to breakfast at 9:30!

We spent hottest part of the day resting at the hotel pool, and went back to see the last of the temples in the late afternoon.  We had an amazing curry dinner that evening.  It was the most unusual Easter I’ve had to date!  And the next morning we had to return to real life.  But rather than dwell on that, let’s remember this lovely sight.

Sunrise two

As the sun appeared above Angkor Wat.

Friends, thank you for your patience as I’ve finished up this post!  More soon (or maybe not-so-soon…)

First, an announcement:

At the end of last week I accepted a job offer from a wonderful nonprofit organization.  I started in my new full-time fundraising role on Tuesday. Because this blog is about our traveling adventures and our expat life (i.e. personal stuff), and I’m wary (paranoid?) about too much mixing of my professional life with my personal life, I probably won’t say too much more about it on the blog.  But I can tell you that I’m really excited to be working with a great team and for a great mission!  At the same time, I’m feeling a little nervous about working full-time again after having been a lady of leisure for several months now.  When will I find time to update this thing, for example?

Second, a preview:

Juan and I went to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat over the Easter holiday. It was an incredible trip that I don’t have time to write about right now! Here are two quick photos to whet your appetite.

In front of Ta Keo temple.

In front of Ta Keo temple.

Easter morning sunrise over Angkor Wat.

Easter morning sunrise over Angkor Wat.

An unbearably photo-heavy post about the weekend is soon forthcoming!

I know I’ve written about some other hikes we’ve done since arriving in Hong Kong, but I don’t know whether I’ve ever mentioned how much of a big deal hiking (and trail running) is around here.  Approximately 41% of Hong Kong’s total area is parkland, protected by the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department.  That’s a little over 160 square miles of undeveloped (or only slightly developed) countryside, laced with trails.

We tried another great one on Saturday: Lion Rock.  The start of the loop is only a 30 minute subway ride away, in Kowloon.  It does take an hour to walk from the metro station to the trailhead, but that walk is on a fairly deserted and forested single-lane road climbing up a steep incline, so it feels like you’ve started the hike already.

While we were on this pre-hike hike, I noticed an animal near the path.  I thought it was a dog, but on further inspection, I realized it was a monkey!  With a baby monkey!  We watched them for a second.  I said to Juan, “Wow!  This is the second weekend in a row we’ve seen wild monkeys!  How lucky!”  Further up the road, we came to another mother/baby pair.  The mom made a mean face at me when I looked at the baby for too long.  Then we saw some more monkeys, and a few more, some laying in the sun, some grooming, most nursing babies.

Then we passed some other hikers coming down the hill.  They were talking loudly (the monkeys were not spooked), and totally ignoring the wildlife in their midst.  Because, duh, wild monkeys are apparently completely common and not novel.  Imagine someone bothering to stare at and coo over a squirrel or a pigeon at home.  That was me on the trail with the monkeys, until I, too, wised up.

Anyway, it was about 80 Fahrenheit degrees, but humid, so we were absolutely dripping before we even got to the trail, which consists principally of sets of staircases.  But!  This is what we saw at the top!

View toward Hong Kong Island.

View of the southern part of Kowloon and the Harbor.

Same spot, just looking the other direction.

Same spot, just looking the other direction.

I posted this one on instagram.

I posted this one on instagram.

I keep trying to photograph the weird enormity of the residential towers in this city.  The population density is crazy.  I think part of the reason I can’t adequately capture it is that the scale of the photographs is too small.  My photos aren’t conveying the overwhelming strangeness of tower after tower after tower, each one housing, what, maybe 1000 people?

Anyway, the hike was gorgeous and well worth it.  When we got back down to the bottom, our legs were shaky and we were filthy, but we were rewarded with a look at what we’d just completed.

Lion Rock peak.

Lion Rock peak.  Looks impressive, no?

I am slowly catching this blog up!

We had beautiful weather last Saturday, so we took advantage by hitting up a slightly-off-the-beaten-path tourism site: the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. We didn’t know a lot about the place before we went.  (And we still don’t now!)  We did manage to pick up a few tidbits.

First of all, as is frequently the case, it turns out “monastery” is a bit of a misnomer, as no monks actually live on this property.  But the 10,000 Buddhas part is accurate! The site was built in the 1950s by a pious businessman.  The temple portions are at the top of a hill, and the ascent is lined with thousands of Buddha statues.  It was really fun to see all their different attitudes and attributes.

(Scroll quickly through the following photos)

Hungry Buddha

Hungry Buddha

Dreamy Buddha

Dreamy Buddha

Reading Buddha

Reading Buddha

Fashion Buddha

Fashion Buddha

Freaky arms-for-eyes Buddha

Freaky Arms-for-Eyes Buddha

And, of course, Staying Calm While a Monkey Sits on Your Head Buddha

And, of course, Staying Calm While a Monkey Sits on Your Head Buddha

Sha Tin has wild monkeys.  There are posted signs instructing you not to feed them, and to beware that they may attack.  I had never seen a monkey outside of a cage before!

So Many Buddhas

So Many Buddhas

Please allow me to interrupt myself for a moment to say that I’m not convinced all of these figures are images of Buddha.  Don’t they seem like Buddhist scholars, devotees, deities, maybe some Bodhisatvas?  I am not an expert, and I am not going to conduct research into this matter.  I’ll live in my doubt.

At the top of the hill is a series of temple structures.

Like this pavilion

Like this pavilion.

And this Ancestors Hall.

And this Ancestors Hall.

Inside the enclosed buildings, like the one above, were altars surrounded by graves.  Each one has an image of Buddha in front, which adds significantly to the total 10,000 count.  I doubt anyone’s mortal remains are housed inside, because the spaces are very small, but the photographs and inscriptions were similar to what you might find on a gravestone.

It turns out we were visiting the site on an interesting day: the Ching Ming festival.  We’d heard of the festival, and knew it was happening that day, but didn’t realize the monastery would be a part of it, because we didn’t know about the columbarium/mortuary aspect of the site. Ching Ming is a festival for honoring ancestors by cleaning their grave sites and making offerings.

The pink bag is full of offerings.

The pink bag is full of offerings.  You can see sticks of incense jutting out of the top of it.
I have no idea what’s in the H&M bag.

Traditional Chinese belief is that when people die, they go to an afterlife that in some ways resembles life on earth.  People in the afterlife have similar material needs and desires: food, clothing, money, housing, and luxury goods.  To provide these things for your ancestors, you can burn paper versions of them.  The smoke from the burnt offerings floats up to the spirit world, transmitting the offering to its intended receiver.

Juan and I have been to shops selling the paper offerings, and when we first visited we thought we were looking at toys for children.  At these shops you can buy any number of things one might need for a comfortable, successful life: Louis Vuitton-esque luggage, gold watches, iPhones, briefcases, designer outfits, shoes, meals of all kinds and in many cuisines (dim sum, sushi platters, Western roast turkey dinners, pasta), bicycles, cars, air conditioners, and money in a variety of currencies–all fake, and all made of paper.  You put everything into a paper bag like the pink one above, and send it on its way.

One of several ovens for incinerating offerings at 10,000 Buddhas Monastery.

One of several ovens for incinerating offerings at 10,000 Buddhas Monastery.

The entire experience was really cool.  One of the highlights of Hong Kong so far.

Gratuitous pile of turtles.  It's just a funny image from the monastery grounds.

Gratuitous pile of turtles. It’s just a funny image from the monastery grounds.

Next time: hiking Lion Rock.  And maybe I’ll tell you about a visit to the Bruce Lee exhibition at the Heritage Museum, if you’re lucky…