Sending my support to the Hong Kong protesters

I know I tend to post bits of fluff these days, but it’s a coping mechanism. There is so much going on in the world that has me beyond worried. (The climate crisis. Human rights abuses. Threats to democracy near and far. To name a few.)

As a case in point, it’s heartbreaking to see how repressive the Hong Kong police and government have become. From what I have read, life there has become completely transformed for the residents of this vibrant city in the past few (or many) months.

If you’re interested in a firsthand perspective on what’s been happening in Hong Kong, please visit YTSL at Webs of Significance. See, for example, her musings on the recent events and protests or this post from earlier this week. I appreciate her detailed and heartfelt updates.

In other news, I was happy to see that the US Senate voiced support for Hong Kong protesters, and the House before this. (At least the US Senate is making a show of supporting freedom and democracy, even though I am concerned about how these are being undermined here in the US.)

I expect that I’ll be back to posting light content tomorrow.

Hong Kong trip recap, Day 5 (part 2): The Harbour Cruise of Torment

In August 2011, I was lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong for a conference. I started to post recaps of my adventures there long ago, but got sidetracked by life. Sparked on by a request from YTSL, I will now begin to dive back in.

Where last I left off, I was part way through day 5 of my adventures. The first days of my trip were jam-packed with rather manic attempts to see as many sights as possible (day 1 and day 2) followed by much mellower days of conference attending (days 3 & 4). I had eaten lots of good and interesting fresh food, met with friends, and was thoroughly enjoying being in Hong Kong.

The early part of day 5 was marked by a conference-arranged bus tour, which was somewhat painfully entertaining in ways that were probably not intended. In spite of my suffering, I did see interesting places and took many photos. Now we return to the end of that day, when the bus delivered me, my advisor and a bus load of other phoneticians to the Harbour for our much anticipated dinner cruise.

In addition to dinner, for which I had high expectations given the wonderful food I’d eaten in Hong Kong so far, we were going to have prime views of the much vaunted Harbour light show, the Symphony of Lights:

Named as the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ by Guinness World Records, coloured lights, laser beams and searchlights perform in an unforgettable all-round spectacle synchronised to music and narration that celebrates the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong.

As we walked up the gangway, I commented on the tackiness of the pink ferry we passed. This, naturally, turned out to be our boat.

Having envisioned that a harbour cruise would prominently feature looking at the harbour, I was rather dismayed to find ourselves funneled into the interior of the boat, which was set up with round tables, and not with seats designed for looking out at the views.

Happily, there was a top deck that we could access. I rushed up to get some photos before the light faded. I was surprised by how few of the other people were up there. After the long confinement of the bus ride, I was happy to get some fresh (albeit hot & humid) air, but others seemed lulled by the air conditioning.

The boat had so, so much pink.

The rosy sunset briefly tried to compete with the aggressively rosy pink of the ferry boat before retreating behind the hills.

When I headed back down to main deck, the “fun” had really started. The dinner buffet was open, and there was live entertainment. I don’t have any photos of the food, but just try to imagine yesterday’s cafeteria food presented as ostentatiously as possible. The copious offerings included bad day-old overchilled sushi, bad reheated Indian food, as well as a host of other mediocre-looking probably-leftover international delights. For those wanting lighter fare, there was a variety of salads featuring freshly-opened canned vegetables.

For entertainment, we were treated to earnestly sung lounge music versions of pop tunes, from Wham to Lady Gaga. (The singers were so very earnest.) The spacious dance floor offered plenty of room for people to awkwardly skirt around while trying to reach the exit stairs.

At some point in the evening, there was a buzz of excitement, apparently in reaction to an announcement (unheard by me over the noise) that it was time for the “unforgettable spectacle” of the light show to begin.

Everybody rushed up the stairs, crowding onto the deck. The night skyline looked colorful and spectacular, but not actually particularly more colorful and spectacular that it had before the start of the show. Ah, yes, there were some search lights here, a flashing building there. There was this odd sense that nobody really knew when the show had actually started, or what we were really all up there to see.

We couldn’t hear any of the music to which the spectacle was allegedly synchronized. In general, there were lots of colorful and some flashing lights on the buildings along the waterfront. For a short time, there was a marginal increase in the flashing and the colorfulness. It was as hard to tell when the show had stopped as it had been to tell when it had begun. Gradually, the crowd thinned.

This colorful scene was not part of the light show:

It was fun to see the other boats and ships in the harbour, including one of Hong Kong’s iconic red-sailed junks (though I learned that it is merely a replica.)

I’m not sure why only a small portion of the top deck was open for passengers. When everyone was up to see the light show, it was quite crowded, and this space shown here was inaccessible. You may notice that there was a total lack of visible lifeboats. I can only assume that this was to prevent guests from attempting to escape from the bad food and music.

After staying around up on deck to take more photos of the colorful skyline and reflections, I eventually wandered back down and made some attempts to mingle and network. (Since that was, in part, what prompted me to sign up for the conference-arranged outing.)

Sitting around the tables was just as enjoyable as sitting with people you don’t know at the wedding dinner of some cousin you’ve barely met. But without the champagne and wedding cake. I made attempts to chat with the person sitting next to me. First, we established that there was no overlap in our research interests. Next we established that there was no overlap in our philosophy about travel. She was happy to relax by a hotel poolside when not shopping for bargains on counterfeit designer fashions, whereas I like to wander the streets and absorb as much local culture as possible. Our awkward conversation floundered.

As soon as I could come up with an excuse to the leave the table, I headed back to the upper deck, where I waited out the rest of the cruise. I’d had enough mingling, bad food and earnest lounge music. The cruise couldn’t have been more than 3 hours long, but it felt an eternity. The streets of Hong Kong, with their interesting things to do and delicious foods to eat, remained tantalizingly out of reach. I was trapped in a pink, flashy, noisy wedding cake of a prison.

I am told that my face lit up with a giant smile when the ferry boat finally docked.

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green spaces of Hong Kong (friday foto finder: green)

Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is known as an urban jungle. But the territory also boasts a wide range of green spaces, which more closely resemble “jungle” than “urban jungle.” When I visited Hong Kong in 2011 for a conference, I enjoyed exploring the urban jungle, and also managed to see a few of the greener spaces. The highlight of these excursions was a hike with my friend YTSL, a Hong Kong local who knows her way around the green spaces of Hong Kong. We met up and took a series of subway rides and buses out to Wong Shek, on the Sai Kung Peninsula. (I wouldn’t have remembered exactly where it was we went, but happily YTSL mentioned it in her post shortly after our hike.)

The day was hot and humid, and also very hot and really humid, but I managed not to pass out. I also managed to take several hundred photos. (Pausing to take a photo is a good way to catch one’s breath.) Did I mention that it was hot and humid? It was all entirely worth it, as the views were stunning, and I appreciated them even through the heat and humidity.

The blue skies were filled with fluffy white rather expressive-looking clouds.

Below the blue and white there was plenty of green to be seen.

There were splashes of other colors, too, among the green fronds.

The path was sometimes narrow, sometimes not, sometimes paved, sometimes not. But always surrounded by green.

A particularly photogenic cloud poses for the camera, trying to steal attention from the picturesque rocks, water and greenery.

We passed a small number of homes which appeared to be inhabited, and more that were clearly long abandoned.

Some of the abandoned buildings were taken over by green.

Our hike finished up with a ferry ride back to our starting point, which offered plenty more beautiful views of green peaks. (A few more photos from the excursion are included below, in the slideshow. And several hundred more are still on my laptop.)

This post was brought to you by the color green, which was week’s friday foto finder theme . Green abounds in my photo library, especially of the local greenery, but it seemed a good excuse to get back to posting some of my long-promised travel photos. To see what other green can be seen, stop by the fff blogfff 200x60

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ships in Hong Kong Harbour (friday foto finder: ship)

Seriously, I thought I’d manage to get my friday foto finder post up by the end of Friday this time, but clearly that ship has sailed. Here we are on Saturday Sunday Monday¹ once more, and I am finally getting around to posting for the theme of “ship.”

I do welcome the chance to dig through my archives and see what I can find to fit themes chosen by Archie for friday foto finder. A ripe period in my archives to find ships was from my August, 2011 trip to Hong Kong for a conference. That trip was amazing and varied, and I still haven’t yet shared all my stories and photos.² Below are photos of ships in Hong Kong Harbour from 4 different vantage points, and showing quite a variety of types of ship.

First, the view from the plane as I arrived:

Well, you can’t see many details of the ships here, but you can see that there are lots of them. But I just really like this photo. (I posted it before.)

Second, the view from the convention center where the conference I attended was held:

A view of Hong Kong Harbour from the conference center. (This was from day 3 or 4.)

Another view from the convention center.

Third, views of the harbour from Victoria Peak, visited during a rather irritating guided bus tour on my fifth day:

The bright colors of the shipping containers and loading cranes remind me of toys.

Another view of the cargo ships.

Fourth, views from the harbour itself, taken during an evening harbour cruise:

Many large cruise ships can be seen in the harbour.

When the sun goes down, the bright lights of these ships compete with those of the skyline.

Finally, here is one the red-sailed junks that are so iconic of Hong Kong.

¹ Time does get away from me. At this point, I’m racing against Tuesday.
² Well, I’m not likely to share *all* my photos, given that I took many hundreds. But I haven’t yet shared even all the ones I find worth sharing. My last recap post was over a year ago, with the recap of day 5 (part 1), and I have stories from the later part of that day, plus 3 more days before I flew back home to the US. A number of my photos, including some from above are posted on flickr. (Here are the photos from the 5th day of my trip.)

rock (friday foto finder)

Once again, Archie has kindly hit on a theme that is very well represented in my photo library. This week calls for “rock.” Continuing down my path-filled path of the last few weeks, I felt this was a good opportunity to show another path. This was a section of a path I went on during my wonderful hike with YTSL of Webs of Significance–now shockingly over a year ago!

Most of the trails we went on during our hike were not paved, but there were a few stretches that were. The rocks¹ in the path below were quite interesting. Many looked like they had patterns, which looked to me a lot like the fossils of ferns. However, I’m not convinced they are. In the 3rd photo you can see very linear cracks in the rocks with the dark fern-like patterns appearing to be growing out from the lines. I’m intrigued, and would love to learn more about what might have caused this. Anyone more versed in geology² than I am?

A stretch of path paved with flat stones somewhere on the Sai Kung Peninsula of Hong Kong.

Don’t these patterns look like ferns?

But look at the very straight-lined cracks, and how the dark fern-like patterns seem to grow from them.

¹Really, I’d be more inclined to call them stones, but you know. Theme.
² Geology rocks. It had to be said.³
³ Actually, I do really like learning about rocks. We collect lots of rocks in this house.

Hong Kong trip recap: Day 5 (part 1)

This is part of a series on my (still kinda sorta recent) trip to Hong Kong in August. I have already posted about day 1, day 2 and days 3 & 4.

Day 5: Friday, August 19

My fifth day in Hong Kong was a bit of a departure, in both senses of the word. While the morning started off much as the previous couple of days, with attending talks and a poster session at the conference, this was an official half day for the conference. Back in May, when I registered for the conference at the last minute to get the pre-registration discount, I signed up for the local tour and harbour cruise. (There were three of us registering for the conference that day, during our lab meeting. We decided we should all probably sign up for the tour. I don’t exactly recall the rationale, but there was probably the sense that we should make attempts to be social with other conference attendees.) The cost was $500 HK, about $50 US.

Fast forward to the conference, 3 months later. Chatting with various friends from various places revealed that most people I knew were not going on the tour, and had other plans. I waffled about going on the tour, as did the professors I work with. A half day seemed like an awful lot of time to commit, which would be time not spent doing other things in Hong Kong. On the other hand, the main features of the tour looked promising. There was a trip up Victoria Peak, considered a Hong Kong visitor’s must-do, as well as a trip to the south side of Hong Kong Island, a direction I was not likely to go on my own. Then the harbour dinner cruise seemed like it might be enjoyable. I hadn’t yet been out in the harbour, and it seemed be shame to miss out on a meal I’d already paid for. (Oh, if only I’d known…)

In the end, my advisor and I went, but the other professor from our group did not. We lined up with the mobs of people from the conference who we didn’t know, and were assigned to a bus.

I confess that I am not a big fan of buses, nor of tours. My favorite way to see a place is to wander around and drink in the unfamiliar location with all my senses. But I like to get places and learn stuff, and buses can be a good way to get places, and tours can be good ways to learn stuff. One of the things I learned was that I was right to be wary of guided tours. The bus ride, while physically comfortable, was painful. The tour guide, who was not the driver, stood at the front of the bus with a microphone. And he talked. And talked. And talked. Unfortunately, he had a somewhat warped expectation about what tourists visiting Hong Kong are likely to know. Here are some of the many things he explained to us:

  1. A lot of people rent apartments in Hong Kong, but if people have a lot of money, they can buy a place. Some people buy apartments, but some people can afford more and buy a house. Sometimes, though, people don’t have enough to pay the whole price of buying an apartment or a house, so they can pay just a portion, such as 10% or 20%, and borrow money from a bank for the rest, and then pay it back over 10 years. Or 15 years. Or 20 years. Or 30 years. (This explanation went on for a good 10 or 15 minutes. Or 20 minutes. Or 30.)
  2. Mandarin and Cantonese are not the same, and have different words for things, and are also both different from Japanese. (I should perhaps mention that this was an international phonetics conference, and therefore the bus was filled with people who study aspects of language professionally, which either the tour guide did not bother to find out, or did not consider relevant.)
  3. People in Hong Kong like to shop
  4. People in Hong Kong like to gamble.
  5. There are racetracks where you can go to gamble. Or you can go to Macau, to gamble and shop.
  6. Tour guides do not make very much money, which is a shame, since he liked to shop and gamble.

The tour guide was cheerful and friendly, but he talked pretty much nonstop. He talked a lot about money, getting money, spending money, not being able to save money. What he didn’t talk about were any other aspects of local culture, or almost any sort of mention of any sort of history.

When we got up Victoria Peak, we were delivered to the mall up there. The guide pointed out “the place where we could take good pictures,” and then encouraged us to return to the mall for the duration of our hour-long stop. He made a point of telling us about the Burger King and the McDonald’s, in case we wanted to get food. And of course he encouraged us to shop.

After we piled back into the bus at Victoria Peak, we headed down toward the south of Hong Kong Island to see Repulse Bay and then Stanley Market. On the way, we learned a lot about how expensive the houses were around Repulse Bay, and about how people who own such houses had a lot of money. We did stop at the beach at Repulse Bay, which was a blissfully non-commercial stop. We walked on the beach, and many of us took our shoes off. I enjoyed the sound of the waves, and even more, the sound of not hearing the voice of the tour guide. I amused myself by gathering tiny shells and taking photos. All too soon it was time to get back on the bus, and before long, we were delivered to Stanley Market. I believe that this is a famous and possibly historic location. Our guide made a point of mentioning that we could get good prices on Timberland™ and other brand-name products.

My advisor and I wandered around in the maze of stalls, which was actually pretty intriguing, if largely junky, and we each ended up finding some gifts for our respective children. The high point, though, was coming across a fruit and vegetable market as we headed back to the bus. My advisor recognized some mangosteens from his previous travels, and suggested that we should get some. We also got some rambutans, and I picked out a rather dramatic-looking dragon fruit.

And then it was back to the bus to head back to the north of the island to catch our harbour cruise. (To be continued…)

Below are a few photos from the afternoon. A bunch more photos from day 5 can be found on flickr.

There was a terraced overlook point, which did, indeed, offer good views.

It also had these cute lions.

Phoneticians and lions in the foreground, large buildings and strip-mined hills in the background.

A bit beyond the overlook point were some surprisingly quiet paths.

Many people disregarded the suggestion to shop and eat fast food in favor of checking out the scenery and greenery.

I was intrigued by the variety of retaining walls all around Hong Kong. Walking around, we had up-close views. Look how the concrete is shaped to the hill, leaving space for the trees to grow.

I liked the look of this maintenance employee’s straw hat and rustic-looking broom. Look at how long the brush part of the broom is.

Looking over to the overlook.

A view from the another direction. Lots of islands and ships.

And now down south. A mass of fully clothed phoneticians on the beach at Repulse Bay.

I got my feet wet. Also sandy.

Outside Stanley Market, where the tour bus delivered us.

The high point of the afternoon: a mangosteen.

Hong Kong trip recap: days 3 and 4

My third full day in Hong Kong was the first day of the conference. The conference is a very high-quality international meeting with hundreds of phoneticians presenting their cutting edge research. The program looked fantastic. However, I found myself resenting the conference for keeping me from exploring more of Hong Kong. (Not very fair to the conference, given that it’s what got me over to Hong Kong in the first place.) I got over my grudge and plunged in. I started to enjoy myself, attending talks and poster sessions and catching up with people I typically only get to see at conferences. By the afternoon, though, the tiredness kicked in big time. Rather than falling asleep during the talks, I ended up skipping out of the conference for a couple of hours to go back to the hotel for a nap.

The fourth day was better, and I managed to attend sessions without risk of falling asleep. It was also the day of our group’s presentation, and then a follow-up dinner with some of the other participants of the special session we were in.

Day 3: Wednesday, August 17

  • headed to conference at the HKCEC
  • sat in talks, attended poster sessions
  • got really tired by afternoon
  • went back to hotel for a nap
  • returned to conference for reception
  • had dinner with a group of linguists in a Vietnamese restaurant near my hotel

Day 4: Thursday, August 18

  • more conference
  • late for my own group’s talk (but happily wasn’t the one presenting)
  • attended organizational meeting for a professional society
  • saw that the conference venue had windows!
  • had dinner with special session organizers and speakers at a Cantonese restaurant in the HKCEC

There was apparently a visiting VIP at the HKCEC (the convention center) or nearby. There were swarms of police officers.

The cluster of police officers from the previous photo were standing near this set-up. I interpreted the scene as some sort of protest or demonstration, but I am only guessing. Can anyone read the signs?

Since I was pretty tied up with the conference, I didn’t get out and about much these days. But the walk between the hotel and the conference venue was pretty long (~20 minutes), and there were still many interesting sights to be seen. This was when I was returning to the conference after my afternoon nap on Wednesday. I was quite taken by the patterns made by reflected light on the building in the center of the photo.

This fire station was across from the conference venue.

Look! Here I am again. I ended up wearing my hair in a braid most days on my trip, which I don’t do at home. (Usually I wear a ponytail.) I was inspired both by the comfort of keeping my hair of my neck in the heat and humidity, and by the extra time I had to get myself ready in the morning since I had only myself to get ready.

A typical Hong Kong scene: colorful buildings, bamboo scaffolding, and laundry hanging out.

Another view from a pedestrian overpass heading to the conference. It seems like a very large percentage of the vehicles on the road were either cabs (all red in this part of Hong Kong) or buses.

The view of Hong Kong harbour from the conference venue was stunning. (No wonder they kept the drapes closed during the day; people would have just stared out the windows slack-jawed instead of attending to the talks.)

I’ve got a few more photos from these 2 days up on my Flickr site.

Next up: 2 days when I really got out and about.

Hong Kong trip recap: Day 2

For my second day in Hong Kong, my main plans were to meet up with my two local friends.(Among my major motivations to get to Hong Kong for the conference, aside from the conference itself and the reputed amazingness of Hong Kong, was the rare opportunity to get to see these friends, one who I hadn’t seen for 9 years, and the other who I’d never technically seen.) Seeing as my friends don’t know each other, I was meeting up with them separately: lunch with one, and dinner with the other. As such, my day was a bit fragmented, so I couldn’t stray too far. Also, and it may not surprise you to learn this, I was a bit tired after my rather long and busy (read “insane”) first day. Here’s a summary of my major activities:

Day 2: Tuesday, August 16

  • woke up early to say goodnight to my kids by 7:30 a.m./p.m. (the 12-hour time difference was remarkably handy for this)
  • puttered about hotel room, trying to decide whether I had time to do much before my 12:30 lunch date
  • wandered about near hotel a bit
  • walked to Admiralty to meet the friend I knew from high school for lunch
  • After my friend had to go, took MTR to Central with goal of going up the Mid-Level escalators and checking out Hollywood Road
  • went up big escalator as far as Hollywood Road
  • wandered down Hollywood Road, browsing among antique shops
  • headed back down the stairs along the big escalator and back to MTR
  • met my other friend, YTSL, for a delicious dinner at Din Tai Fung, then over to a pub to continue conversation over a pint of ale
  • headed back to hotel to attempt a decent night’s sleep before the onset of the conference

(Not included in the list are several walks back to my hotel room to do things like collect forgotten MTR card, and pick up and/or drop off purchases and/or gifts, and also to change clothes and shower. It was hot as hell out and twice as steamy. And also like day 1, I walked so much that I got new blisters on my feet.)

And here are some photos:

This was near my hotel. Many people use umbrellas for shade in Hong Kong. This was about 10:30 in the morning, and already quite hot.

One of many alleys near my hotel. I enjoyed getting fresh juice in the morning from a little hole-in-the-wall place in one of these alleys.

You see a lot more color on Hong Kong buildings than on typical US urban buildings.

This was the dessert from my lunch with my high school friend. I can’t remember what it was called, but it involved apple, caramel, custard and pastry, four food-things of which I am quite fond. It didn’t look nearly as pretty once I started eating it, but I’m happy to say it didn’t suffer long.

A fruit stand, as seen from a raised walkway along the big escalator as I headed up. (The shot’s not totally in focus, but I still like it. We can pretend that the fuzziness was artistic choice.)

Game & Fun!

Another view from above. I like the patchwork pattern of the road surface.

The skyline is definitely dominated by ultra-modern skyscrapers, but more traditional Chinese architecture can be found here and there. Hong Kong is also quite hilly, and alleys that lead to stairways, such as the one in this photo, seem to be pretty common. (This was along Hollywood Road.)

Lions outside, and a goofy looking horse and what looks to be a Great Dane inside, at an antique store along Hollywood Road. Many of the shops had signs in the windows saying “no photos.” This one didn’t.

Going back down the stiars along the Mid-Levels escalator. The escalator part is actually one-way. Apparently it runs down during morning commute hours, and then up the rest of the day. It was afternoon when I was there, so it was going up. This section has more of an upward-angled moving sidewalk. I wish that I’d found time to go up further. (I have a thing for stairs, escalators included.) To see what the whole thing looks like, here’s a youtube video that someone made while ascending.

There are lots of shops around Hong Kong that sell various (and often mysterious-looking) types of dry goods. I don’t know what these things are, but I suspect they are food-related.

Dinner was fantastic, except maybe for the bitter gourd, which is the rectangular thing on my plate. Having never tried it before, I was curious. You may not be surprised to learn that it was bitter. Also shown (going clockwise from the left): a glass of fresh soymilk, some sort of salad with turnip and jellyfish, some sort of salad with strips of bean curd and vegetables (but I can’t remember which), vegetable dumplings, spicy cucumber, more bitter gourd, and sauteed water spinach.

You can find quite a few more photos from my second day up on Flickr, but I haven’t yet added captions.


It’s been ages since I’ve participated in PhotoHunt, but once again I’m inspired. (I continue to enjoy seeing weekly or near-weekly entries from YTSL and azahar, and every once in a while, the theme sparks something in my brain.¹) This time the theme is “waiting.” Here was a photo I took in Hong Kong on my trip there in August.

Speaking of Hong Kong, photos and waiting, sorry to keep anyone waiting for my next installment of my trip recap. It’s coming soon. I have drafts for days 2 through 8 in various stages of completion. Day 2 should be ready soon. Please stand by.

¹ Interesting that last time² inspiration struck was when I posted a photo from azahar‘s city, and this time from YTSL‘s.
² I would also like to point out that the aforementioned photo, which was for the theme “silhouette,” was one of unintentionally funniest photos I’ve ever taken. I aimed for pretty, and what I got made me burst out laughing.