Married and beautiful

Filed in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Wildlife, Photo of the DayTags: , , ,

I'm always trying to get good photos of some of the birds around our home. I'd love to get a photo of the owls that live here but I've only seen one of them once in the two years we've lived here, and I've only heard them; a pair of them calling out to each other; once on another night.

Apart from sparrows, there are only a few species of birds living here. There are pigeons which are difficult to photograph because they're so easily unnerved by onlookers, and there is another species of bird, one with red behind its eye and more red under its tail. I find them especially attractive and try to photograph them whenever possible. Both the pigeons and these 'red' birds live in pairs, always with the same mate.

Hong Kong also has a very healthy population of kites (a predatory bird, similar to eagles) and I really hope to get good photographs of these birds in the future no matter how difficult it might be. Luck and timing will be a big part of my success.

For those of you not familiar with birds, the male can usually be identified by its colours. The male's colours are often brighter and stronger than the female's colours.

Married birds

Red-whiskered Bulbul 紅耳鵯

(Pycnonotus jocosus)

Date: 4 December 2005, Location: Clear Water Bay

Some birds mate for life. In this case, the male is the one looking at us from behind.

For a closer look at the pair, click here.

I hope you like the photograph. More will follow next year, especially now that I've added a 2x extender to my lens collection allowing me to get closer to the birds. I have become the proverbial hunter.

While searching for Canon links for this article, I came across references to the first cameras I ever owned. The Canon AE-1 was the first camera I remember owning, and was probably one of the best cameras I've ever used. The Canon EOS 620 was my second camera, purchased after my arrival in Hong Kong, sometime between 1988 and 1989. My EF 70-200mm F2.8L USM lens was purchased soon after and still works flawlessly today 16 years later.

Have yourself a merry coffee Christmas

Filed in Food & DrinkTags: , ,

Christmas began early for me.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a parcel from a friend in Canada. Actually, TVB called me to pick it up from the entrance office because the parcel was too big to put into my company locker. Inside the parcel, I found a pair of much-needed safety goggles; thank you; but that wasn't enough. The parcel also contained an insulated very-nice-to-hold coffee mug similar to the ones you'll see at Starbucks but made by a Canadian coffee chain. I've been using the cup a lot recently because the weather here in Hong Kong has become seriously chilly and my coffee cools far too quickly. If that wasn't enough, there were also a few packets and a can of high grade coffee. Unfortunately, I don't own a coffee grinder so grinding the coffee was something to ponder about.

A week ago, a friend from Australia came to Hong Kong to visit his family here. He's actually the same fellow; and his wife too; that gave me the Breville espresso maker. Before leaving Australia, he asked me what I'd like from Australia and I told him; cheese. We have cheese here in Hong Kong but it's too expensive for me. In fact, basically any quality food imported from overseas is too expensive for me. When I go to City Super (one of the best local stores for good imported food), I generally content myself by just walking around and looking at the great food but rarely buying anything. Just a quick example. In Australia, we can buy really tasty whole legs of ham for between HK$100 and $200. Here in Hong Kong, forget it. A decent leg of lam costs hundreds of dollars. It's simply not reasonable to consider buying a leg of lam here. Come to think of it, a leg of lam is one of the things my parents brought me when they visited us in June this year. That was a very yummy month.

Well my friend came over and when I visited him at his home here, I disbelievingly watched as he and his wife showed me what they'd brought over for me. First on the list was a new Breville coffee grinder! There go my coffee grinding problems. Next, there were two 1kg packets of freshly roasted coffee from Australia, a few more packets of coffee of other brands, several packets of various flavours of cheese and what seemed to be a gazillion other things.

It was turning out to be a very coffee Christmas, something I have no problems with.

A coffee Christmas

Some of the Christmas coffee goodies I've received this year. In the front, there are also two plain-wrapped packets of coffee beans that I purchased in Bali earlier this year. Now that I have a grinder, I'll actually be able to drink it.

It's certainly going to be a while before I need to buy more coffee at Starbucks.

A few nights ago, my wife and I went to a small gathering of mobloggers here in Hong Kong. We did the 'silent Santa' thing and I found myself with . . . . . wait for it . . . . . a USB-powered coffee cup warmer!!! OK, now things are getting creepy.

Suffice to say, I've been drinking nothing but coffee for the last couple of weeks. Probably not too healthy; everything in moderation is the golden rule; but in this cold weather, coffee will have to do for the time being.

So long, and thanks for all the coffee (sounds like a line from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a TV series which probably only the older among you will be familiar with).

A Scottish Christmas

Filed in TravelTags: , , ,

With only eight days remaining before Christmas, I thought I'd better write this now before it's too late.

My wife and I are going to visit friends in Dundee, Scotland for Christmas. We'll be in Dundee from December 26 to 30, and then in London from December 30 to January 1, 2006. Yep. We'll be in London for the new year.

I think it'll be great. Our only concern is what to do in Dundee when the sun's down. According to AccuWeather, sunrise in Dundee is currently around 8.45am and the sun sets again before 4pm. That's a lot of dark time and you can only drink so much coffee in one day.

In any case, I wondered if anybody reading my blog from London or Scotland would like to meet up. It will be my first trip to Scotland and England and I might not be going again for a long time. I'm thinking that meeting in a coffee shop would be nice. If anyone would like to meet up, please leave a comment and we'll discuss it.

8 days remaining. Well, actually more if you add on our plane and bus time, but you get the idea. I hope it snows.

(Got to go. My am730 column is way overdue and I'm still not sure what to write about.)

Indonesia 2005 Day 2

Filed in Indonesia (2005), TravelTags: , , , , ,

(day 2 of my short trip to Indonesia in September, 2005)

(continued from "Indonesia 2005 Day 1")

The bathroom was simple and very different to anything I'd seen before. A square room, tiled on all sides and on the floor. The front half of the small room; barely larger than a closet; was bare with buckets on the floor to one side and a drain hole on the other side. The left side of the back half of the room was the toilet, one of those squatting toilets commonly used throughout China. On the right side was a square water well, a brick and tile container of water, roughly three feet high.

There was no running water in the bathroom. Ipah purchased her water; used both for cooking and bathing; from a nearby public bathroom. Before I arrived, she had to carry the water from the bathroom to her home by bucket; two trips every day. During my stay with her, she purchased a hose and laid the hose down between her home and the public bathroom. Future refills would simply require connecting the hose to the public bathroom's water tap, filling up her well, and then paying the bathroom owner. It's entirely possible that this hose arrangement was only temporary, to be used while I and her other family guests were in town for the wedding. We'd obviously use a lot more water than just Ipah, her mother and her son.

That's not to say that I used a lot of water. On the contrary, I tried to use as little as possible within reason. The bathing ritual went something like this. Use the small bucket in the water well to gather water and douse it over yourself while squatting on the floor until every part of your body was wet (squatting so that the water doesn't splash all over the walls and the clothes hanging from them). Then use soap to wash yourself. Finally, use the bucket again to douse more water and wash the soap off. If we were to use this method here in Hong Kong in today's cold weather (it's barely 10 °C today), I'm sure I'd freeze. Fortunately, it's rarely cold in Indonesia so this wasn't a problem for them.

Food on wheels

(This photo shows significant motion blur but I wanted to show it to you anyway.)

I saw a lot of people riding bicycles with big boxes on the back of the bicycle filled with fresh vegetables. I asked our helper about them.

These energetic people get up extremely early in the morning; some as early as 2am (that's morning time? to most of us in Hong Kong, that's late evening); to go to the larger markets to purchase vegetables and other Indonesian favourite foods. They then pedal their way to specific areas and sell the food to anyone who wants to buy it. Similar to the people here in Hong Kong who walk through outer villages with a trolley announcing loudly "buy tv's, buy air conditioners", these people also announce their presence so that the locals know they're there. They typically finish work by midday.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Ipah didn't need hot water to bathe although her mother and many of her neighbours did. There was no running water and no water heater in her home so hot water was provided by heating water on the kerosine stove. This was also true for the neighbours.

I thought this style of bathroom was only used in the country towns but soon realised my error when we visited some of Ipah's friends in Bali. Even in this comparatively modern part of the country, the bathrooms were the same although they had running water and didn't need to carry the water in from somewhere else.

Completely off subject, electric lighting in every area of Indonesia that I went to was very subdued. In most homes, light bulbs were only twenty to forty watts and very few lights were ever turned on at any one time. Electricity is not cheap so keeping the lights as dim as possible to save electricity was absolutely imperative.

Behind the canal, on the edge of town

Down near the canals, the housing was very different, but the people appeared to be just as happy and content as any other people in the town.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Breakfast at Ipah's home introduced me to Indonesia's version of coffee. There are no coffee machines so forget about cappuccinos and the like. Indonesian ground coffee; not freeze dried like the coffee purchased in supermarkets in Hong Kong; was placed in a glass with a huge serving of sugar; at least three teaspoons. Boiling water was then poured over the coffee and the coffee was left to stand for a few minutes while the larger coffee grains sedimented to the bottom of the glass. It was definitely different to the coffee I'm accustomed to at home, but it wasn't bad although I did ask Ipah to reduce the amount of sugar used. It was far too sweet for me.

Perhaps because I was there, or perhaps because of the preparations needed for the imminent wedding, I didn't get to eat a lot of typical home cooked food. On the occasions that I did get to eat their food, it was spicy hot; which I like; and usually made with beef. We ate with our hands although forks and spoons were available if I wanted to use them. Eating was a matter of using your fingers to roll up the rice into small balls and then popping the balls into your mouth.

On the second day of my stay at Ipah's home, I was up at around 6am. Everybody else had already been up and about for at least an hour. Ipah's son was getting ready to go to school and her mother was sitting outside the front door watching the daily traffic of people walk by.

I decided to take a walk. Not long after beginning my walk, I discovered that I had an escort. Ipah's fiancé was following me, always five to seven steps behind me. It felt strange to have him walking behind me so I slowed until he caught up and we walked pretty much together for the rest of the way.

I later determined that Ipah's family was concerned for my safety in this small town. They were quite sure that a foreigner with no understanding of the local language would quickly find himself in a situation where the locals would be sandbagging or blackmailing him. I found this hard to believe but they absolutely insisted that I always had an escort whenever I went out.

Walking around before 7am, the town was already up and going. Students were going to school; many of them on bicycles, some of them in motorised taxi buses. Roughly half of the female students had head coverings. Some of the stores were already open and many people were either working or on their way to work. I repeat. This was before 7am!

Later that day, I went for another walk, this time with Ipah. We went in a different direction, walking first through an upper class part of town; just two blocks away from her home; and then through a lower class part of town down by the canals. It was a very nice walk, and it was interesting to see how the people lived. In this small town, most of the people knew each other so we constantly ran into people that knew Ipah. Interestingly, Ipah was often asked if I was her husband. I thought that was amusing but apparently, it's not unusual for the local girls to marry foreign men although judging from the number of foreigners I saw in the town; i.e., none; most of them move to another part of the country once they're married.

School's out

Children skipping home from school.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

It's a shame. In every country of the world, people; especially young people; are gravitating towards the cities where they believe that everything will be better. Life will be easier. They'll have nicer things, nicer homes, better jobs and nicer friends. It's part of today's materialistic world and a result of the commercial society's marketing campaign. You're not 'in' unless you have the latest and greatest. (Apparently, according to a recent article in the South China Morning Post, the average Hong Kong person upgrades their mobile phone every year.) With the advent of television, pushing this ideal into the countryside is unfortunately easy and most people fall prey to the lure of its false realities.

Personally, I'd prefer the simpler life.

Photo Album: Photographs from my second day in Indonesia

The debasement of pop music

Filed in Hong Kong, MusicTags: , , ,

The other night, I heard a professional singer recording for a music show. He was really good but I couldn't help but wonder if he was singing a song or singing a vocal exercise. The vocal range of the song was extreme with rapid movement between real voice and falsetto notes.

Popular music in Hong Kong has lost any sense of feel. In an effort to differentiate themselves, singers have moved to songs making heavy use of falsetto. First there was one singer, then another and then another. Even Jacky Cheung was persuaded to follow suit. The apparent opinion is that if you can't sing falsetto, then you're not a professional singer.

Listen to the Hong Kong pop charts today and you can't help but get the feeling that all the music came from the same computer program. It's monotonous and boring, and it's therefore no wonder that the singing program 名曲滿天星 on TVB Sunday nights m.c.'d by Miss Wong 汪明荃 is getting such high ratings. It's the only place in 'broadcast' town where you can hear real music sung by real singers.

Unfortunately, this is just one symptom of today's society of mass production, mass distribution and unjustly elevated corporate profits, and it's happening in all fields of life, not just music. People are being conditioned to accept lower quality product while thinking that it's better and sometimes even paying more for it.

What used to be solid wood tables is now cheap particle wood with thin laminate. What used to be metallic cups and bowls that lasted for years without wear and tear are now plastic cups and bowls that scratch, bend, melt, fade and may even indirectly cause the extinction of mankind via lower sperm counts caused by the man-made oestrogen used to make most of today's cheap plastics. Where we used to have a huge variety of tasty fruit and vegetables to choose from, we now; thanks to huge supermarket chain profiteering; only have access to a small variety of food which supposedly looks perfect but tastes like cardboard (except in Europe where they insist on only buying food that tastes good regardless of how it looks). Yet we are told that the standard of living is improving, and that we're better off than we've ever been before.

There's not much we can do about it, except perhaps to wherever possible refuse to buy product of lesser quality. Unfortunately, people in general are weak and easily moulded to do the bidding of the corporates so I have no idea where this will all end except to help the rich get richer while the poor continue to get poorer.