Hong Kong – American martial artist Bruce Lee was raised in Kowloon. Credited with changing the way Asians are portrayed in American films and considered one of the most influential martial artists of all time, Lee is a local hero and has a prominent statue on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui. (11March2011)
Hong Kong has to be one of my favourite cities. The harbour, the skyline, the street markets, the parks, the culture, the shopping…
Exotic and “oriental” while having all the familiar comforts of a large cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong buzzes with excitement, oozes with money, and, at the same time, feels accessible and safe.
This sense of safety is important, as every time I’ve visited the Hong Kong area, I have spent considerable time wandering the streets alone while my husband is in meetings somewhere-or-other.
On my last visit, we stayed on the Kowloon side of the beautiful Victoria Harbour, in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). Billed as a “giant world bazaar”, the district is a major tourist hub, with international hotels, shops and restaurants. But, it is also home to many galleries, museums, and beautiful outdoor areas, including the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade along the harbour. We were just across the road from the Hong Kong Museum of Art (closed from 3 August 2015 for approximately three years for renovations), where I was able to amble around the sculptures in the forecourt.
Tsim Sha Tsui Street
The streets around the southern end of Kowloon are busy, but orderly. English sign-posting in central tourist areas makes navigation reasonably easy.
Hong Kong Taxi
Cabs are easy to come by, and regulated – so there is no haggling over fares.
I took myself to a photographic exhibition (No pictures allowed!) at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The neighbouring Science Museum was still playing host to “Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs”, so various animatronics graced the courtyard.
The dinosaurs had attracted crowds of families; the entry area to Hong Kong Museum of History was much quieter!
Bauhinia × blakeana, commonly called the Hong Kong Orchid Tree is the floral emblem of Hong Kong and blooms all over the city – including in front of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum …
… where another statue of Bruce Lee welcomes visitors to the “Bruce Lee: Kung Fu ‧ Art ‧ Life” exhibition which examines his cultural influence, as well as his martial arts and film legacy.
Bird in the Frangipani
There are green places all over the city. Back near the waterfront, the birds are noisy in the gardens. I think this is a Yellow Wagtail.
Representing “Heaven”, this sculpture by local artist Danny Lee is part of the first-ever outdoor exhibition in the Art Square in the the Salisbury Garden.
This giant green apple by Hong Kong artist Kum Chi-Keung is the “Earth” part of the “Heaven, Earth and Man – A Hong Kong Art Exhibition” concept.
Happy Folks II
Leading Hong Kong ceramic artist, Rosanna Li Wei-Han, was chosen to depict “Man”. Two groupings of her plump and fleshy figurines took their space in the Art Square. (iPhone4S)
The “Ju Ming – Sculpting the Living World” exhibition overlapped with the “Heaven, Earth and Man” exhibition.
Ju Ming – Children on a Wall
Charming, blocky pieces by the renowned Taiwanese sculptor were all around the Hong Kong Museum of Art. (iPhone4S)
Ju Ming – Resting
The pieces seem to invite “audience participation” …
Ju Ming – Lining Up
… as young and old work their way around the sculpted figures…
Ju Ming – Umbrellas
… and have their pictures taken with them. This was the Taiwanese artist’s first large-scale solo exhibition in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Waterfront
Low clouds rolls in over Hong Kong on the other side of Victoria Harbour. I’m sure it is not always overcast in Hong Kong – but it always is when I visit! (iPhone4S)
A young couple on a day out watch the boats on Victoria Harbour …
Young Couple on Victoria Harbour
… then check the photos they have taken.
Hong Kong Film Awards
For a long time, Hong Kong had the third-largest motion picture industry in the world, and it still has a distinctive and prominent place in international cinema. The Avenue of Stars along the harbour front celebrates the industry. This 4.5 meter tall statue of Film Awards trophy stands at the entrance.
Bronze lights, cameras, and actors line the waterfront …
… while visitors look for the handprints of their favourite Hong-Kong cinema stars. (11March2011)
Jackie Chan’s Star
Another local hero is actor, martial artist, film director, producer, stuntman, and singer: Jackie Chan. I admit it: I did try the hands on for size! 😀 (11March2011)
Hong Kong is always a pleasure; the sculptures made it a real joy.
Until next time,
Pictures: 11March2011 and 30March2014
Boat on the Bay
A Dragon’s Pearl junk rests at anchor with the batten sails up on Bai Tu Long Bay, North Vietnam.
One of the nicest things about going to sleep on the water is waking up on it.
I love waking up on a boat, well away from ‘civilisation’ in the middle of ‘nowhere’ – provided there is coffee!
It was the morning of our second day on a beautifully fitted-out oak- and teak-finished Chinese-style junk, anchored on the waters of Bái Tử Long Bay, just northeast of Hạ Long Bay in North Vietnam. The staff were already up, so fragrant Vietnamese coffee was ready for me as I made my way – wrapped in a wooden blanket against the winter chill – up to the top deck to watch the sea eagles soar over our heads. The boat swung gently on its rode, so that we had a slowly changing view of the karst mountains rising up around us.
Join me for a magical day on these UNESCO-listed waters.
Quiet Waters off Cap La Island
We weren’t the only tourists anchored in the bay, but the other boats were far enough away that their presence didn’t disrupt the morning peace. Apparently, there is a new government regulation that all boats cruising the Halong Bay area must be white; gone are the brown and red junks of the past.
It’s times like this I wish I had one of those massive wild-life lenses… Even with a lot of cropping, my 70-200mm is no match for the magnificent sea eagles flying loops high over our heads in the hazy morning sky.
Dragon Pearl 1
Can you imagine a more perfect place for breakfast? All of the meals included in our package were superb: fresh and beautifully presented.
Kayaks at the Ready
Our time on the boat is well ‘managed’; not long after breakfast, our boat has cruised from Cong Do to Cong Dam. Our tender has gone to a local village and returned with red kayaks that contrast with the dark green waters .
We climb into the kayaks and set out on the waters …
Lead Kayak (iPhone6)
… following our guide past towering karst cliffs…
Kayaks in the Caves (iPhone6)
… and into one of the many pitch-black caves in the limestone.
Limestone Karst Formations
Roughly 20 million years of geological upheaval combined with the effects of erosion have carved out a landscape of caves and hollows and jagged shapes. Happily, the waters here seem cleaner than where we have been kayaking the day before (see: Spring Rolls and Winter Weather).
Cong Dam Fishing Village
We kayaked past some of the boats and floating houses that are part of Cong Dam, a small fishing village comprising around 120 people. According to our guide, these families used to live in the caves that riddle the islands, but they were moved into villages when Bái Tử Long was established as a National Park in 2001.
We and our companions are dwarfed by the landscape around us as we head back to our boat.
As we cruise away from Cong Dam, the sea-haze settles in around us and the horizon almost disappears.
We watch the local fisher people go about their daily business.
Fisher Woman in a Rowboat
In the afternoon haze, the colours change from one moment to the next.
Boat on the Bay
Hon Co Island
It is late afternoon when we arrive at Hon Co Island.
Sundown from Hon Co Island
We are tendered to the island, shown the steps up to the cave where we will later eat, and where we have wonderful afternoon views over the water.
Sunset from Hon Co Island
We are told our tender will take us back to the boat to change for dinner at six pm, giving us just over an hour for more ‘swimming or relaxing’.
Dog on the Beach
Back down the steps from the cave, a dog keeps an eye on us while we watch the sun go down.
Hon Co Island belongs to the Indochina Junk company. A family of care-takers lives on site.
On the Beach
Thien Canh Son Cave
Later, we return to the island, climb the 100-odd steps up to Thien Canh Son Cave, then descend into it, guided by burning tea-lights and welcomed by clapping staff. Candles and flower petals are everywhere.
The attention to detail is wonderful. Our chef presents us with a pair of ‘Love Swans’ carved from turnips for good luck and happiness. (iPhone6)
The pièce de résistance is an elaborate dragon, carved from marrow. Dragons feature hugely in the folk-lore of this area.
According to legend, a family of dragons was sent by the gods to protect Vietnam from invaders. The dragons spat out jewels and jade which became a defensive wall of islands and islets in the bay. Once the danger had passed, the dragons settled in the waters. Hạ Long means ‘descending dragon’ and Bái Tử Long is where the dragon parted from her children when she ascended back to heaven..
With warmer weather, it would have been perfect!
The sensual curves of Dune 40 in the Namib Desert flow over the gravel plains below: ever-changing in the light, ever-shifting in the winds.
It was another 4:00am wakeup call: we were expected to break camp before 5:00am so we could drive back into Namib-Naukluft National Park and catch the sunrise colours over the sand dunes near Sossusvlei.
Sleep, as they say, is over rated.
We were aiming for Dune 40 – 40 kilometres past the Sesriem gates on the road to Sossusvlei, Namibia. Dune 45 is the more famous one, with a carpark sitting right at its base, but Dune 40 was less likely to be crowded with tourists climbing to the top before the sun came up.
The Namibian dunes are like living things: with a still, enduring character, but with a personality that changes with every flick of the wind or shift of the light. They tell a long, long story of time and flow; of millions of years spent growing and flowing – one spec of sand at a time.
The Namib Desert stretches its gravel plains 200 km (124 mi) from a high inland plateau in the east to meet the Atlantic Ocean. Winds from the ocean bring fog – the desert gets more of its moisture from fog than it does from the very sporadic rainfall – and sand. Over the eons, this sand has formed into towering sand dunes which are the among the highest in the world. Their colour is a sign of their great age: as the iron in the sand oxidises, it turns burnt orange, like rusty metal. The older the dune, the more concentrated the colour.
I was travelling in a small group with photographer Ben McRae, Pedro Ferrão Patrício from Photoburst, and Namibian guide Morne Griffiths; we were chasing the light on the waves of sand, and following them to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Pre Dawn in the Dunes
Before the sun was fully up, our truck was parked at the side of the road and we were crossing the hard, flat ground towards the still-dark dunes on the horizon with our tripods in tow.
Photographers at Dune 40
By the time the sky lightens, photographers are dotted all around the grounds.
Sun Rising on Dune 40
The sky remained uncharacteristically overcast and hazy, so the colours on the sands were muted and subtle.
The morning light slants acutely across the dunes, filling the dips in the sand with shadow.
Light over the Dunes
There were moments when the sun broke through the high cloud and set the the sand and shrubs alight.
Dune 40 Up Close
Trees on the Edge
It’s hard to believe anything can grow in the dunes, but the odd camel thorn trees (vachellia erioloba) seem to manage.
Sweeps and Curves
Trees on the Dunes
Ostrich (Struthio Camelus)
Namib-Naukluft National Park
The mountains rise up in the distance as we drive back out of the National Park.
We stopped in Solitaire, a small settlement near the entrance to the park. (iPhone6)
In the sandy centre of the settlement – decorated by cactus and old cars – the gas station, post office, and general store service the crossroads. The bakery, with it’s good German heritage, cooks up the best apple strudel I’ve had in a very long time. (iPhone6)
Cape Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis Nitens)
Birds gather outside the restaurant, hoping for crumbs.
Rock and Bush
Following another gravel road, the C14 northwest of Solitaire, we crossed the dry Kuiseb River bed and climbed the mountain on the other side. We stopped at the Carp Cliff Viewpoint overlooking the Kuiseb Canyon and climbed the rest of the rocky knoll on foot. It amazes me how vegetation can cling to the exposed cliff-top.
Limestone Pile on Carp Cliff
The upheaval of time has left limestone slabs slanting sideways out of the ground …
… while harder rocks like quartz and marble sit like stepping stones on the windswept cliff.
Ground Agama (Agama Aculeate)
This little lizard – I think it’s a ground agama – was almost invisible against the background litter.
As we get close to the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal city of Walvis Bay, we can see “baby dunes” all around us. The dominant winds here are from the south-west, and strong enough to carry sand and even small pebbles. As a consequence, the dunes are constantly growing and shifting. (iPhone6)
Walvis Bay Home
The wide streets into the city are lined with neatly landscaped, architecturally designed, homes. (iPhone6)
They are a stark contrast to the rows of tiny, low-cost houses on the other side of Walvis Bay. (iPhone6)
Flamingos on Walvis Bay
The ocean outside the peninsula of Pelican Point near Walvis Bay is renowned to surfers for its waves, but it is the flamingos that draw people to the inner bay.
Flamingos on the Bay
Flocks of lesser and greater flamingos gather here to feed. To be honest, I can’t tell them apart; …
Flamingo and Skyline
… I just love how they catch the light, and how their leggy stance mirrors the industrial cranes behind them.
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra Avosetta)
Flamingos aren’t the only bird who feed here: avocets are among the water birds who winter in the southern parts of Africa.
The coastal city of Swakopmund (“Mouth of the Swakop”) is rich with the neo-baroque architecture of its German colonial heritage. (iPhone6)
Just 70 km north of Swakopmund, the holiday settlement and fisherman’s haven of Henties Bay has a much more casual feel. (iPhone6)
The Skeleton Coast
Our last stop on the Atlantic was the Skeleton Coast, north of the Swakop River. Originally named for the whale and seal bones that scattered the area in the days of whaling, this stretch of water is also home to over a thousand ships which have come to grief because of hidden reefs and sand dunes, strong crosscurrents, heavy swells and dense fogs.
We were there to photograph the most recent wreck: the Zeila, a fishing boat that was stranded on August 25th, 2008.
This wreck has long since been stripped of any useful metal, and now serves as a resting place for cormorants.
After spending time with the winds and the waves on the Atlantic Coast, we turned back into the desert, this time to the northerly part, with its clear skies (see: A Sky Full of Stars) and dramatic rocky outcrops (see: Morning over Spitzkoppe), leaving the ocean and the sand dunes behind us.
Until next time,
In Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, totem animals are central. These spiritual animals – like the goanna depicted here by a member of the Excelsior Dance Troupe – are often represented in music, art, and dance.
Australia is home to the world’s oldest living culture.
Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are complex and diverse, dating back at least 50,000 years. As distinctive as these groups are from each other and from other indigenous populations around the world, they share a number of issues related to maintaining cultural traditions in a modern, changing world. Many of these struggles have related to land rights and self-determination in the face of the arrival of a more dominant group.
According the the Australian government: “… Indigenous communities keep their cultural heritage alive by passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another, speaking and teaching languages, protecting cultural materials, sacred and significant sites, and objects.”
In practice, keeping traditions alive and relevant, especially in urban communities, is much more difficult than the official line makes it sound. So, community leaders can learn a lot from each other in forums that allow for the exchange of ideas between aboriginal groups from around the world. This is why cross-cultural festivals, like Boomerang, are so important.
Boomerang, “a New World Indigenous Festival for all Australians”, seeks to provide a space for indigenous artists, thinkers and activists to get together to celebrate culture and share ideas. First held in 2013, the inaugural festival attracted over 5000 attendees who “engaged with the music, art, dance, painting, film, discussion and cultural exchanges of our first nation people from around the world.” It was meant to be an annual event, and we had tickets to attend in 2015, but it lost funding and was cancelled that year.
So, I was excited to hear that – thanks to the collaboration between friends Rhoda Roberts (Director: Boomerang Festival) and Peter Noble (Director: Bluesfest Byron Bay) –Boomerang was to share time and space with Bluesfest Byron Bay 2016.
Arakwal Opening Ceremony
Byron Bay (Cavenbah) has always been an important meeting place for the Arakwal, neighbouring clans who’s ancestors have lived in the Byron Bay area for at least 22,000 years. As part of Bluesfest 2016, Arakwal dancers, musicians and storytellers introduce the broader audience to some local stories.
Arakwal Women Dancing
The Arakwal clan totem is Kabul, the carpet snake, and the women’s totem is the dolphin: both of which can be seen represented in the women’s patterned tights.
East Journey Under Lights
Bridging Aboriginal culture and more modern music, East Journey, from Arnhem Land in the vast wilderness that is the northeast corner of Australia, combine tradition Aboriginal sounds with rock and reggae.
Indigenous singer-songwriter Emma Donovan comes from a rich musical tradition: long before she was born, her mother, Agnes Donovan, sang for The Donovans, a band comprised of Agnes’ parents and five brothers. Emma’s uncles continued as the Donovan Brothers band, and she first sang in public with them at age seven. Her cousin, Casey Donovan, the youngest-ever winner of Australian Idol, is know to musical-theatre goers: we saw her recently as Killer Queen in the current run of “We Will Rock You”.
Emma has Naaguja, Yamatji, Danggali and Gumbaynggirr tribal heritage, often writing her songs of urban aboriginal life in the traditional language of the Gumbaynggirr.
Archie Roach is one of the grand masters of Australian music. He met his future wife, lifelong partner and musical soulmate Ruby Hunter, when they were both homeless teenagers. Both were part of Australia’s infamous ‘Stolen Generation’, having been taken away from their families at an early age. These, and other experiences of being marginalised and living rough, informed their song-writing.
Ruby Hunter died of a heart attack in 2010, aged 54. Archie has survived lung cancer and a stroke to keep on telling the heart-rending stories of his people.
Based in Rotuma, a volcanic island in Fiji, Rako Pasefika is a group of performers with backgrounds as diverse as the island itself. Their singing and dance styles, ukulele playing, log drumming, and traditional chanting draw from the whole region, including Cook Islands, Tahiti, Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga and Rotuma.
Rotuma is at the crossroads of the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian cultures; Rako Pasefika features artists of indigenous Rotuman, Fijian and Pacific Island heritage.
“Rako” literally translates as “to learn” and the group embodies the organic process of Pacific learning through listening, experiencing, collaboration, and exchange.
This collective of artists bring stories of their islands to life through song, music and dance. The recent devastation wrought by Tropical Cyclone Winston and the disastrous effects of climate change featured in their story-telling.
As artisans of the Pacific, they also practice and teach traditional knowledge including bark cloth (Tapa/ Masi) printing, making coconut sinnet (Magi magi) and weaving. These skills are reflected in their costuming.
Excelsior Dance Troupe
An ensemble fusing modern dance with Indigenous dance, “eXcelsior” members are of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island descent.
Singer-songwriter Tenzin Choegyal creates original music which expresses his cultural heritage in the contemporary context. He opened his set with Safe Passage (which accompanies this post), a prayer-song based on the 8th Century classic text: The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This lament-like song prays for the consciousness to have a safe journey to the next world.
In his song, “Little Bird”, Tenzin asks a bird to carry a message of hope to his birthplace, Tibet. Born to a nomadic family, Tenzin escaped the Chinese occupation with his family in the early 1970s and grew up in a Tibetan refugee community in Dharamsala, India. He came to Australia in 1997, with little more than his lute-like Dranyen and his passion for communicating through music.
On the last day of the festival, I rejoined the Rako Pasifika to enjoy their enthusiasm, …
… their grace, …
… their power, …
… and their beauty.
Rako Dancers and Musicians
Rako Dance Lesson
After they finished their performance, the musicians and dancers of Rako Pasifica invited the audience to learn one of the dances and it’s meaning.
Girls in the Middle
A lot of people gave it a try, but it was the joy on the young participants’ faces that gave me hope…
… for it is activities like this that allow the ongoing learning and sharing of cultural traditions.
I have mixed feelings about how well the two festivals integrated: it was wonderful to see many top-notch Indigenous artists on the Bluesfest main stages, and it was great to be able to drop in and out of Boomerang activities, but I can’t help wondering if the Boomerang performances were not overshadowed by the bigger names near by, and if the serious discussions that were part of the schedule were not made more difficult by the booming sounds of mainstream music. I also felt sorry for the dancers who continued in the pounding rains, while I – and many, many other festival-goers – crowded under the tent awnings to escape the elements.
Even so, I certainly took many good things away from what little I saw, and I hope the participants did also.
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
– Victor Hugo
The barrels are empty and the doors are closed – it’s a rainy afternoon in Tullamore, Co Offaly, Ireland.
It’s a small world, right?
We were at the Byron Bay Bluesfest (Back to the Roots) recently. On the Saturday, we walked into the Delta tent to hear the delightful celtic accent and the cheeky, cackling laughter of Irish Mythen, a singer-songwriter born and raised in County Wexford and now based in Canada’s tiny Prince Edward Island.
She was talking about her mother’s hometown of Tullamore in County Offaly in the middle of Ireland. I looked at my husband – yes, we’ve been there!
We were on our way to Dublin (The Guinness Storehouse), zig-zagging across the country from the Connemara (Glimpses of Galway), stopping at sites from the Michelin Guide that took my fancy along the way (Ireland).
On the day in question, we had spent the morning at the ruins of a centuries-old monastery (Clonmacnoise) and a lived-in castle (Birr Castle), and we were looking for the home of the world-famous Irish whiskey, Tullamore Dew, to round out the afternoon. Unfortunately, the distillery was closed – renovations or holidays; I can’t remember why – leaving us rather downcast.
Not as downcast as Mythen with her “Tullamore Blues”, mind you, but we did have to go back to the drawing board and the guide book! A quick check of the maps and the guide, and we pointed the car north again, driving to another maker of Irish whiskey, Locke’s Distillery in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath.
I’m sure it tasted just as good!
Locke’s Distillery Crystal
As well as producing world-class whiskey, Ireland is known for its crystal (eg.: Waterford). It is only fitting then that awards for excellence and commemorative glasses be made from local blown and carved lead glass.
Old Distillery Machinery
The licence to distill whiskey here dates to 1757; the pot still distillery and machinery is over 250 years old. A self-guided tour takes visitors along heavy wooden walkways through the dark buildings and old machinery.
Power to the distillery used to come exclusively from an old water wheel; the steam engine was put into place in the 1880s for the occasions when water levels were too low, or the water wheel needed repair.
Old Distillery Machinery
This old drive shaft turned all the machinery in the distillery. Until the 1880s when the steam engine was installed, the water wheel was its sole source of power.
Old Distillery Machinery
The Distillery Surrounds
Water – both as an ingredient, as a source of power- is essential to whiskey production. The Kilbeggan Distillery sits near the River Brosna and draws water from there.
Old Pot Still
Traditional Irish whiskey from Kilbeggan was made by the slow and costly single-pot still method.
Copper Pot Still
The copper stills were filled with barley mash and fires – originally fuelled by local turf, and later by imported coal – were lit underneath.
Copper Pot Still
Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so with steady heat the alcohol condensed.
Although most Kilbeggan Whiskey is now produced at the Cooley Distillery in County Louth, there were plenty of barrels on site here.
Customs and Excise “Office”
By Irish law, every distillery must have a permanent “office” for when the Revenue Officer choses to visit.
From the Inside
New buildings are set back from the old originals; workers are scattered around the site.
New Distillery Machinery
Cooley bought Kilbeggan and the associated brands in 1988 and installed a new copper pot still in 2007 to mark the 250th anniversary of the Old Kilbeggan Distillery.
All Irish whiskey must mature for a minimum of 3 years and 1 day, although many whiskies are much older. The oak casks are bought from US bourbon producers like Jack Daniels (A Shot of Jack).
Spirits Receiver Room
The Gift Shop
Kilbeggan Delivery Van
The police were outside on the road when we returned to our car with the samples we had bought. What a good thing we hadn’t participated in a “tasting” while still on site!
If you are going to drink Irish whiskey, perhaps you need a traditional utensil to put it in: the next morning we continued north to Mullingar to visit the Bronze and Pewter Works.
Polished Pewter Goblets
The pile of shavings left behind shows how much of the pewter gets wasted; I’m not sure if it can be re-used.
Paddy Collins revived the traditional craft of pewter making here in 1974, and his son Peter now runs the business. They ship product all over the world, keeping the small staff busy.
Traditional Celtic Design
The old designs and old methods are used – although modern pewter is entirely lead-free.
Naturally we had to pick up a few pewter pieces to go with our Irish whiskey…
That will chase the blues away! 😉
To your very good health!
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