Climbing the Lion’s Rock barefoot

I have reported on this blog about my barefoot hiking adventures quite frequently. This ranged from climbing suicide cliff, to climbing Lantau Peak, and even being caught in a storm barefoot. One hike, however, I had never completed, either shod or barefoot. It was climbing the Lion’s Rock barefoot.

A symbol of Hong Kong

The Lion’s Rock has always been dear to the heart of every hongkongese. The reason being that the crouching Lion watching over Kowloon is also a symbol of their undefeatable spirit and thirst for independence.

That is why, on several occasions, during the “Occupy” movement, activists used to hang banners in sign of protest from the top of the Lion’s head.

One activist explains why they hung a banner on the Lion’s Rock

Today, these times have passed, and activists have tamed themselves or forgotten any illusion of facing off with Beijing. The Lion’s rock hike, instead is just as popular as it has been.

Three routes

We started from Shatin Wai, as I was with my friend Matthew for this barefoot hike. Another route is climbing from Wong Tai Sin, or adding it as a trifecta to Suicide cliff and middle hill.

Obviously, we decided to start from the lesser known route, which starts in Shatin Wai, and offers quite interesting views on Shatin along the way. To do so, we climbed on “Kitty Hill”, a little mountain offering spectacular views on Shatin.

Point of interest view by drone
Matthew and me on 'kitty hill'
Matthew and me on “Kitty HIll”, on the outskirts of Shatin, at the beginning of our hike

From there on, started a roughly one hour and a half hike across the hills of Shatin, without much to signal, until our arrival at the stairs of the Lion’s Rock.

Stairs, stairs, stairs and more stairs

This title could be in fact a summary of all Hong Kong hikes, but the Lion’s rock is no exception to the rule: there is an incalculable number of stairs to climb to get to the view point.

On the way to the Lion’s rock

All in all, it took us 2hrs to arrive to the Lion’s rock. Once you arrive at the end of the trail, you still have to continue braving rocks and the abyss to get to the Lion’s head. There is a quite tricky passage to go through barefoot, when climbing down to the Lion’s Rock head.

Heading to the Lion’s Rock head

From the Lion’s head, you can find an easier trail to descend, which is mostly composed of gentler stairs than those we took to climb.

Gorgeous views

Suicide cliff has already some gorgeous view, but when there is no haze, the view from the Lion’s rock easily compares.

Me on the Lion's rock
Standing on the Lion’s rock!

While hiking there, we saw one climber abseiling down the Lion’s Rock… One example among those courageous mountaineers who enjoy training in this area.

Mountaineer on Lion's rock
A mountaineer abseiling from the Lion’s Rock head.

Returning down

The trail was pretty much frequented, as this was the second day in a three-day public holiday in Hong Kong.

Many families were climbing this trail. It must be said that while most of the trail does not present much danger, bringing young children on this trail does expose them to some useless dangers, as some passages involve having to scramble over rocks.

Daytrip to Perpignan

When you are in Catalunya, Perpignan is probably the closest French city after crossing the Pyrenees. That’s why we decided to do a daytrip to Perpignan during our stay in Barcelona. After a couple hours driving through the mountains, you arrive at a little Southern city which still has some marks of the neighboring Catalunya.

A historic provincial French town

Mitchy in front of the Castillet
The building in front of which Mitchy poses is the Castillet, now a museum of Catalan art.

The history of Perpignan is far more prestigious than one would think. In the XIIIth century, Perpignan was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, created by the sovereign of Aragon for one of his children. This “golden age” for Perpignan saw it reach its peak in terms of importance, with its population and geographical extension expanding fourfold.

After the black pest decimated the city around 1346 AD, the city never truly regained its past importance. It became instead the frontline of the confrontation between France and Spain on XVth century until it was annexed by France, two centuries later. In the XIXth century, the great military defensive works that protected Perpignan, erected by the French military architect Vauban, were destroyed by the municipality to allow for the expansion of the city. Only some old parts of the ramparts as well as the Castillet (featured above) serve as reminders of the past military importance of this city.

A canal in Perpignan
A canal in Perpignan

Photogenic outdoors

La Bassa in Perpignan
Mitchy posing on the banks of La Bassa, the small canal flowing through the center of Perpignan

Perpignan conserved some very photogenic outdoors, which are excellent backdrops for portraits. The city is very nicely decorated and lovely to walk through, as the historic center just spans a very small distance.

Plane tree avenue
A very atmospheric plane tree avenue in Perpignan

This plane trees avenue with its tormented branches provides a great atmospheric feeling, almost haunting. It is also a great backdrop to shoot portraits.

Mitchy in Perpignan
Mitchy before the plane tree lane in Perpignan

Shopping in Perpignan?

For a provincial city, Perpignan has some nice department stores, like Fnac (for books, or gadgets) or Galeries Lafayettes in the center, near the Castillet.

If you go there during the winter sales period, you may find some bargains to be had on clothes or housewares. Sadly, books are seldom if ever on sale. As far as gadgets are concerned, for someone living in Hong Kong, it just does not make sense to go and buy them from the FNAC.

In conclusion, if you are in Barcelona, and if you are self-driven, it might be worth taking a daytrip to Perpignan to see part of the old historic Catalan territory.

A Mud Race barefoot

Trudging through mud, dashing through a river, crawling in stinky mud, might all seem a horror when wearing shoes, but when do you a mud race barefoot, it all becomes a breeze. It was thus that I participated to my first mud race barefoot. I was accompanied by my friend Bailey, who ran it shod instead.

Bailey and me before the race
Bailey and me before the race

A “light” Spartan

The reference in mud races is now known as the “spartan” series of races which takes place even in Hong Kong. The mud race organized by the SCMP was, let’s say a very light version of this. Both, with obstacle penalties (it only took time penalties, instead of 30 burpees as for Spartan) and with the nature of obstacles themselves. It was still a lot of fun over a six-kilometer course in the Tai Tong Ecopark.

The race was also especially targeted to younger populations, with a lot of teenagers participating in this “canada dry” version of Spartan.

To get to the Tai Tong ecopark, you must first get to Yuen Long, one of those areas in the new territories which has a large part of natural spaces. The mud race organizers had organized a shuttle for this event, but obviously, with that many runners, there was also a queue, but I still managed to get to the site about one hour before the race. Of course, I left my home and took the bus totally barefoot from the start.

A rough start

We didn’t quite expect it at start, but after considering the topography of the Tai Tong Ecopark, I quickly understood that there would be some climbing part in this race. Despite my trail running, I must admit doing it at speed was a bit tough for me.

And boy, did we climb! Right at the start, it began with a climb up, leading us to our first obstacle after roughly 1.5 kms race. The obstacle, uninventively called “tyred”, involves jumping from tyre to tyre, which I managed to do accordingly, with style.

Jumping through the tyres...
Jumping through the tyres…
The start of the mud race!

When you start down the slimy path…

Very close to this first unimpressive obstacle, was found the first foul-looking obstacle, destined to cake you in mud and slime: the mud crawl! In this section, you had to crawl (I chose to do it on my knees, rather than get too much mud on the upper part of my body) in a foul-stinking muddy liquid (alledgedly “sterilized” said the organizers, but the stench did not indicate that much).

Crawling in the mud

And you can have a better idea of what it looked like with this pic:

Struggling with the mud
Struggling through the mud
Trail running

Immediately after were the “balancing beams”. Although I feared falling from those, it happened so that these beams were basically set on the ground, and there was very little change of falling off them (although some people did fall). And so, in one short section, we were basically already done with half of the race obstacles and we had not even completed 2 kms!

In full effort
Me, running in full effort

The race track continued serpenting through the ecopark, upwards and downwards through stairs and through trails.

Up and over into the river

The last obstacles started showing up soon. First the “up and over” which just involved escalading a rope barrier and getting down on the other side. Nothing difficult, as long as you did not have fear of heights.

Climbing over the obstacle
Climbing the “up and over” obstacle
Into the river

It got really fun for a barefooter at the “river dash” part. That was where my barefooting became a real advantage for me, as I did not have shoes to be weighed down by while walking through the river. Although I did try to run through it, I was eventually blocked by the crowd forming at the (slippery) exit, where the trampled mud transformed the banks of the stream into a muddy slope.

One of the final obstacles was about pulling a tyre across the field. here again, nothing to write home about, the tyre was not that heavy.

Pulling a tyre
Pulling a tyre across

Walking on the rocks of hell

A part of the race took us for a long loop through some very stony part, where the edgy stones really hurt my feet and slowed me down to a walk. I then resumed running back to the closing end, and reached my most dreaded obstacle, namely the monkey bars.

Monkey bar obstacle
The monkey bars obstacle with a candidate falling

After having tried several times to do the exercise of monkey bars in my local park, I knew I could not get through, so decided to switch directly to the penalty area, where I served 3 minutes.

After the race

For a mud race, the after-race facilities and the organization were rather… Spartan! In fact, men and women had to shower themselves in a common shower (where obviously, cleanliness was just an afterthought), fed by water pumped from some reservoirs. Nice to get rid of part of the grime, but this was still insufficient, nor was it very practical or respectful of ladies. A pretty unsatisfactory effort by the organizers.

After the mud race
My friend Bailey and me after the mud race!

You can have an idea of our state in this after race pic… Useless to say, the mud did not go away with our “shower”. We did see some people barefoot after the race… But not because they ran barefoot!

Girls relaxing barefoot
Two girls relax barefoot after the race

All in all, a very fun experience and one that helped us to test our small limits in a fun way. And again, as each time I do run barefoot, I only heard positive comments by other runners. Even had a positive comment left on my IG feed by one person who had seen me running barefoot.

In the storm: barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm

Intense adventure over the Easter week-end. I had met Yuan, my trail-running barefooting friend for our first common barefoot hike. Weather predictions were fair, and although a low cloud ceiling could be seen, the day looked to be acceptable for a hike. Little did we know that it would transform into a barefoot hike on a mountain during a thunderstorm.

In Ma On Shan country park

Our starting point was in Ma On Shan country park, at its northern extremity, near the MTR station of Tai Shui Hang. The goal being to climb one or two of the local mountains (and where apparently Yeung, the third member of the group was quite familiar).

The climb appeared perfectly normal at first, with mostly earth and a few rocks. It was when we arrived to the top of the mountain, that things starting getting awry. We first had to clamber down rocks, to get to a position where two interesting rocks were present: the diamond rock and… a phallus rock!

Phallus rock
A very interesting rock, shaped naturally as a phallus.

The pic is courtesy of Yuan, my barefooting friend. And instead of a selfie, here a “footie”.

Barefooting is fun!
Barefooting is fun!

In the very same area, as we were climbing down rocks (and yes, it is rock scrambling, not simply going down), we came across a local species of chameleon, strangely very unafraid of us.

Chameleon
Chameleon spotted in the Ma On Shan park

Slippery path

Going down the mountain gives us already a good taste of what it was going to be later under the thunderstorm. Most of the trails were muddy, or muddy on rocks, which proves to be extremely slippery, as it had stormed just the day before. Progression was thus slower and quite cautious. This rendered us to one of those donkey paths often used by villagers in ancient times. This one being the “Mui Fa” ancient path.

Barefoot trail running on the Mui Fa ancient trail

The best part was getting to a clear fresh stream, where I managed to cleanse a little bit my legs and my arms. Little did I know that we were up for yet another extreme challenge.

In fact, after taking the Mui Fa ancient trail, Yeung decided to take us up another 540 m-high mountain… Just for the fun!

A slippery slope is just… slippery!

I guess I never really understood the meaning of slippery slope, until I climbed this mountain. Very steep slope, mud was freely detaching in some parts, making it extremely difficult to climb barefoot (and even with shoes). I had to use the local trees and my hiking stick at full to progress on this mountain.

Climbing a slippery mountain barefoot

Eventually, we arrived after some rock scrambling (but I kid you not, it was really climbing up rocks), to a sort of plateau with some unstable rocks where we made a pause nonetheless.

Dirty feet and slippery slope.
The state of my feet after climbing the slippery slope.

An unforeseen storm

The violence of the storm caught all of Hong Kong by surprise on Saturday, but fortunately, we were well on our way down the mountain when we took the brunt of it. Winds reached 100 kph, and in its violence, it was just short of a typhoon.

Thunderstorm over Shatin
The thunderstorm seen over Shatin

In terms of nature, it was interesting to observe a Hong Kong Newt, a form of Salamander up on the mountain, far from any stream.

Hk newt
A Hong Kong newt spotted on the mountain far from any stream during a thunderstorm.

Surviving the storm

The remainder of the story, for which, unfortunately, I don’t have pics, was a race to get down the mountain, as best we could. Unfortunately, the normal mountain trail transformed itself into something just short of a wet slide. I think I must have fallen a half dozen times, and on some very slippery sections, did not have other choice but to do a controlled slide downward.

It started getting scary when the thunderstorm got over us and lightning started striking. For the record, about 9,000 lightning strikes took place over Hong Kong during this storm. We were particularly exposed being in altitude and in this particularly nasty storm. However, with a lot of luck, we made it to the cover of the trees, which meant less chances of a direct hit on us. After that, we found finally the Mui Fa trail, and it brought us to a stream inflated by the waters of a flash flood.

And this allows me to illustrate yet another advantage of barefoot hiking: no problems at all with walking in the mountain torrents!

For the record, as some people might consider it irresponsible to be hiking in a thunderstorm, in the morning, nothing advised us of such a sudden and brutal storm, all that was mentioned by the HK observatory was “showers”. The brutality of the storm suprised many in HK and even caused a loss of life (boats capsized, and at least one person struck by lightning). When I noticed warnings of thunderstorm, I asked my companions to shorten the hike, but to get down was quite an endeavour, supposing to pass through several hills. Nevertheless, we were extremely lucky to have escaped with no loss of life and limb, so the lesson is simply to postpone hikes even if showers are forecast.

The inexorable descent to hell of the “Umbrella Movement”

Yesterday, the leaders of the 2014 movement called “Occupy HK” or also the “Umbrella Movement” went down yet another rung into what seems to be an inexorable descent to hell.

Old man protesting at oathgate
The “Oathgate” protests of November 2016.

After wonderfully squandering a unique leverage and negotiation position afforded by 3 months of continuous occupation of the streets of Hong Kong, the “Umbrella movement” faced, in the subsequent years, a determined push by Beijing to terrorize any independence wannabes.

The Legal Case

Originally, you have the “historic leaders” of the Occupy movement spearheaded by such figures as the law professor Benny Tai and then you have the “kids” who took over, such as Joshua Wong and the rag-tag group of students who ensured the occupation. The criminal case decided upon yesterday focused on those historic leaders, whom the judge convicted of “public nuisance”.

On a strictly legal standpoint, the case is probably justified as the initial movement launched by those activists has brought the city to a standstill for three months with little to show for this movement in terms of result. What Hongkongers do not exactly realize is that generally, the right to protest is always strictly kept under control, especially in democracies. Blocking a whole city was something exceptional, to the measure of the stakes at hand.

There is no doubt that the leaders convicted did encourage the public to occupy the streets in an attempt to pressure the HK government. As such, from a strictly legal standpoint, the judge stood little leeway when deciding on their outcome. Nevertheless, looking at the legal case is only looking at half of the issue.

The political undertones

It is widely known that after the huge alarm set out by the “Occupy” movement in 2014, and its ignominous ending in failure, Beijing set out to mete out a special brand of punishment on everyone involved from close or far with the movement. Lawmakers were disqualified (to be honest after making a disgrace of themselves), the “kids” were sent to prison or shut out of any professional career in Hong Kong, and the HK government has set out to enforce more diligently the heavy hand of China on the city.

But all of this could be expected. The unrealistic goals, the childish and immature manner in which the “Occupy” leaders behaved when trying to fix their goals, or even when they got elected to the LegCo, the legislative assembly of Hong Kong, ended up harming their public image.

Oathgate protests
The oathgate protests in November 2017

Over the three months of the protests, and later over the past five years, public support dwindled particularly among youth. Those who were at the forefront of the movement in 2014, learned that they should live the Chinese way, meaning just try to make money, and hold no ideals or hopes.

In a way, the Umbrella Movement was given an extraordinary chance to change the political destiny of a city. But because the “kids” of the Umbrella Movement were naive and because they seriously underestimated Xi Jinping’s China, they just ended taking the movement down all the rungs of Chinese hell. Although it has become mainly a mouthpiece of Beijing, the SCMP published one editorial which truly reflects the feelings of most of the population.

A discredited movement

To add to the discredit of the Occupy leaders, the antics of some people such as Howard Lam who invented some “torture” by Chinese agents (he later admitted self-inflicting injuries), ended up precipitating the movement into irrelevance.

Nowadays, the only persons who believe democrats still hold any relevance in Hong Kong are the Western journalists who played a great role in the international echo of the photogenic movement. The majority of the population moved on and probably even hates the democrats for failing to make good on their promises.

A perfect sign of this was in the public present at the court to support the leaders of the Occupy movement: only middle aged people were present. The youth that was at the heart of the Occupy movement in 2014 did not even bother showing up.

This was already true in 2014, but time has proved this even more: China won the political battle and is about to win the battle of minds. All Hong Kong’s youth has left is either the pursuit of money or the pursuit of leaving Hong Kong.

A day in the life of a refuelling ship

Hong Kong is one of the biggest world harbours. As such, it is one of the huge transiting places for container ships. On the way, these ships need to refuel. It was thus that I had the opportunity of sharing the life of the crew of a refueling ship for a few hours, during one of their shifts.

The life of this ship is shared between refuelling the ships which transit through Hong Kong and taking in oil to fill its tanks. There are two crews of 5 people who share the grueling 12-hrs shifts.

Captain at the helm
As two o’clock ring, the captain gives the departure signal and heads into the sea

As we got closer to the container ship we had to refuel, the crew took its positions.

Crew in position
Crew in position as the refueling ship nears its client.

A strenuous work

While interspersed with long periods of inaction, the work aboard the refueling ship can also take its toll, because of the long periods of work. The crew ensures continuous shifts between filling its tanks and refueling, which go up to several hours, with just two or three hours to rest.

As we were nearing the container ship, the workers started hoisting the heavy buoy to separate both ships.

Preparing for boarding
The crew prepares a buoy to isolate from the ship they are about to refuel.

Despite their hard work, all the men of the crew were extremely welcoming for the photographers and very helpful in guiding us.

Refueling a ship

This day, we were to fuel a Japanese container ship, the “Hyundai Harmony“, with Panama flag. Initially, this all started with having to moor both ships together, to avoid any issue during the delicate refueling operations.

Loaded rope
A crewman of the “Hyundai Harmony” throws a loaded rope to the refueling ship.

This also involved crews of both ships throwing loaded ropes to reach the other ship and pull the heavier ropes.

teamwork to moor ships
The crew of the Hyundai Harmony, pulling on a cable to moor both ships together

The crew of the Hyundai Harmony then started pulling the ropes to secure both vessels together.

On the refuelling ship, Two heavy motors started pulling a very old and fraught rope and brought the two vessels together.

The mooring operations on the refuelling ship: two heavy engines pull the mooring ropes
Rope on the ship
Mooring rope on the ship

After mooring alongside the ship, several of the crew members of the refuelling ship boarded the “Hyundai Harmony” to help them to connect the hoses for fuel resupply.

Crew preparing hose
A crew member prepares the hose for connection onboard the container ship.

This also gave way to some exchanges near to the connection pipes. Interestingly, the Hyundai Harmony was using maritime diesel for propulsion in China, and heavy fuel for propulsion out of China. It also tells how regulating maritime energy consumption might help to solve the pollution problems which keep affecting our planet.

Crew exchanging
The Chinese and Filipino crew of both vessels exchange around one of the diesel entry vents.

Once the business end of the transaction initiated, we started exchanging with the (very friendly) Filipino crew. They soon warmed up to us, and offered us some coke (with actually a Vietnamese package!)

A big family

The beautiful part of that trip was that the welcoming nature of seamen. We were quickly integrated in the group and were even invited to share the dinner of the crew of the refueling ship.

Sharing a meal in the mess
Sharing a meal in the mess

The ship’s mess was really a men’s room, complete with pinup on the wall.

Pinup on the wall
Pinup on the wall of the refueling ship’s mess

To give an idea of the ship, I did film a walkthrough, starting with the first mate’s quarters.

Walking through a refuelling ship.

Despite their hard work, the crew also knew to smile, and this allowed me to get this lovely portrait of a member of the crew.

Crew member
A member of the crew of the refueling ship

The moments of happiness were also present among the Filipino crew who joked playfully among them.

Filipino crew
Filipino crew of the refueling ship

Soon, and after some hesitation, as there was no proper gangway to reach the other ship, we decided to head to the container ship and see closer our new friends.

A common practice, yet a whiff of danger

Both crews jumped very easily from one ship to another, the frequency of the maneuver probably inoculating them to the inherent danger, but for my friend and me, it was the first attempt. We however benefited from the friendly advice of one of the crew members who gave us some tips on how to cross the most safely possible. As the sea was calm and the ships were quite close, the danger was limited, except for the grease present everywhere on this fuel ship, which made metallic surfaces quite slippery.

Crossing between ships seen by GoPro

In the end, we managed to set foot on the other side. On our request, the crew accepted to accompany up topsails, to the bridge of the Hyundai Harmony.

Climbing up on the Hyundai Harmony

We took a selfie at the top.

Selfie on the top bridge
Selfie on the top bridge of the Hyundai Harmony

Drone views of the refueling: taking off from a ship, a challenge for the compass!

This refueling operation was an occasion for me of testing takeoff and landing on a reduced space, namely a ship. For a drone pilot, taking off from a ship spells great trouble, as everything is metallic… So the compass becomes just crazy. The key is to master the “hand launch” (which can be pretty easy, if you go through the route of the automated launch). The key here, being to use the on-screen “launch instruction” rather than the remote control. Indeed, when using the on-screen launch program, the drone automatically rises to 1 m 20 above its launch point (your hand). This minimizes risks of getting hit by the propellers, but you should clearly raise your hand well above your head.

While I took also a number of shots in horizontal perspective, I believe the portrait mode of the Mavic Pro allowed to get the best impression of the length of the container ship.

Container ship by drone
A view by drone of the container ship “Hyundai Harmony”

Other shots shop the refuelling ship in operation next to the container ship.

Refuelling operations
Refuelling operations on the Hyundai Harmony.

Returning to port

After the refuellng was completed, the tanker ship unmoored and started heading to refill its tanks with more fuel for the next shipment.

A crane operator lifts a buoy
A crane operator lifting back the pipes into the ship

One the pipes were back on board, it was time to bring back up the heavy buoy that avoided our ship creating friction with the container ship. The interesting part was that they did this while on the move. I decided to use a tripod and long exposure to show the movement, while keeping the ship in focus.

Moving away
The refueling ship moves away from the container ship

We could have remained with the crew until 3 AM, the time at which the ship’s tanks would be filled again. However, anxious of getting some rest, we opted instead to hitch a ride on a fast boat which was carrying one of the HK technicians sent to assist the Hyundai Harmony. But this was not before taking a last parting shot of the ship.

Return to the “Calm Morning” land

Last December, my family and myself went back to Korea. For me, it was a return to the “Calm Morning” land, for my family, it was their first trip.

If you remember, my first trip to Korea took place in early December 2017. This was the occasion of discovering some amazing places such as Busan and the wide variety of places in Seoul. Korea and Japan are often compared and contrasted, but, per se, the experience is quite different. Where Japan is a land very much imbued with animism and hence every inch of landscape is infused with spirituality, Korea is more of a familiar terrain for Westerners. Christianity permeated Korea and makes its people also more relatable in various manners. This was very clear when my family expressed a feeling of being welcomed into the country, compared to Japan – where you cannot shake off that feeling of being “gaijin”.

Landing in the “Calm Morning” land at dawn

For logistic reasons, we had to take red-eyes flights from Hong Kong to Seoul. My wife and daughter flew Cathay, while I flew with Korean Airlines. It was actually my very first experience flying with them.

View from terminal one at sunrise
The view from Terminal 1 at Incheon airport in Seoul.

As I flew Korean Air, I landed at terminal 2, whereas most airlines take off from terminal 1. I thus had to transfer terminal with my luggages, in the cold and furthermore, with two times more luggage as my wife had charged me with the gifts for our friends (Check photo below!).

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia at the airport

Our plan had been of showering at the airport, dropping the bags at hotel and rushing off to make the most of our time in Seoul. Alas! What sounds great in theory is not always in practice. We ended leaving the airport only at… 11! The Limousine bus of KAL took us pretty near to our hotel, namely the Novotel Dongdaemun. It however took pretty much close to 45 minutes!

Dongdaemun, a lively area

Dongdaemun may be a bit far from the historical center of Seoul, yet it is an extremely lively place. It has quite a number of department stores (shopping is thus one of the most important activities over there), but it also has the very photogenic museum of design.

The design museum of Seoul
The design museum of Seoul

This museum is very interesting, not only for its photogenic aspect, but also because at some locations, you can find a piano made available for people to play on.

Piano at design museum
These piano are made available for anyone who wishes to play and offer a performance to the public.

We thus had the occasion of assisting to a four-hand performance by two young Koreans, playing Christmas carols (which I, of course, streamed live on Periscope).

Beyond the design museum, the Dongdaemun area has an extraordinary vibe.

A little photographer

This time around, Maria-Sophia was documenting our trip with her own camera, a small compact Nikon.

Me shot by MS
Maria-Sophia managed to shoot me, as I was photographing her and her mom…You can admire the blue sky behind!

Maria-Sophia also understood perfectly the concept of being close to the subject in her picture of the two pianists.

Design museum piano
A live performance of Christmas carols by the two Korean pianists at the design museum

Later, we moved on to the Gyeongbokgung palace, where Maria-Sophia insisted to take a few shots of Mitchy and me. I have to say she did a pretty good job of it.

And, of course, Maria-Sophia demonstrated her keen eye by catching a snapshot of a lady in hanbok inside the courtyard of the palace.

lady in hanbok
Maria-Sophia captures a dynamic pic of a lady in Hanbok inside gyeongbokgung palace

An unusual encounter

Sometimes around the world, you have some weird coincidences. Here, it was my encounter with a scooter sporting a… Monaco plate!

A surprising sight: a scooter with a Monaco plate in Seoul
A scooter with a Monaco plate in Seoul.

I could not find any explanation as to how such a scooter was allowed to ride in Korea, nor why it had a Monaco plate… But it was the interesting sight of the day.

The following days, we were to visit Nami island and then head to Busan.

A new look for Visions Of Asia

As you may have noticed, I am slightly changing the overall look of the blog. Being a blog mainly dedicated to photography, it made sense to make photography really central to the presentation.

Photography is central

You may have noticed that the homepage is now focused around a central photo, which showcases an article on which the focus is at the moment. This is in line with the idea of really putting much more photography at the heart of this blog. Similarly, the content is now more legible due to a different background and more legible fonts.

The new look of Visions Of Asia

Recentering of contents

With constant updates on my latest barefooting adventures, the contents of the blog have become a bit too tipped off towards barefoot running and hiking, to the detriment of its other important component which travel and photography. I will try to rebalance this, especially as there are also a number of stories in the pipeline around my latest trips, which i did not have the time to post.

Of course, I will keep updating about my barefoot experience, but this blog is named “Visions Of Asia”, and it aims also at sharing this vision of Asia and of the world.

Traveling together

Finally, a blog is also a way of talking to the readers. But I am also keen on hearing from you, so please do not hesitate to get back to me with your comments or reactions. There is always a place for dialogue on this blog, and I would be glad to see readers indulge into it.

A business trip on 747

My company’s headquarters are located in Southern France, so occasionally, I can be asked to head to Europe for business. This happened last December. It was the occasion of both sampling the business class of Lufthansa (and its Boeing 747), and, at the same time, of admiring once again, the beautiful city of Nice during this business trip to France.

A 747-800 for the flight

The 4-reactor jumbo jet is much less in favor nowadays, as airways do prefer more economical bi-reactors, such as the Boeing 777 or the Airbus A350. I flew extensively on the B777, and sampled the A350 thanks to Finnair.

upper deck stairway
upper deck stairway on 747-8

The B747-8 of Lufthansa, although it has the pretension of being one of the latest models, still suffers a lot of its age. Indeed, on the upper deck (admittedly, the most private setting for the business class), window side seats are established with a two-row setting. This means that if you are sitting near the window, then you have to jump over your neighbor to go to the restroom. In my case, pretty delicate as there is no place to hold yourself when the seat is reclined and this bed is fully flat.

Business class Lufthanasa
Business class seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8.

Entertainment

The 747-8 has one of the latest screens, but managing to connect the noise-cancelling headphones can be difficult. I even had to ask the assistance of the cabin crew to find the connecting port. Beyond that, the movies choice is pretty updated, but of course, when you download, you are necessarily a bit frustrated by the offer.

Business class screens
Business class screens on 747-8 of Lufthansa

One of the more quirky sides of Lufthansa, is that they provide you a mattrass to be deployed on your seat when you want to sleep. Funny and not necessarily very convenient.

Food: uninspiring

Most people like business class for the food. I have to confess I have a low interest for food, except that I can tell choices are uninspiring.

Dinner on Lufthansa
Dinner on Lufthansa

You might call my choice very “German”, as it comes complete with the potatoes!

At any rate, it was sufficient to nurrish me and keep me satiated until arrival.

One hour before arrival, we were served breakfast. Although the beds are lie-flat beds, I am afraid my back does not allow me to sleep comfortably in the rather Spartan airline seats. Breakfast was a welcome awakening.

Breakfast on Lufthansa
Breakfast on Lufthansa

Once again, it looks VERY German, complete with saussages and eggs.

Arriving in Frankfurt

Of course, when flying from Asia to Europe, you are always bound to arrive at dawn. It was not yet 6 AM, and hence quite dark outside as we landed in Frankfurt after an uneventful flight. I managed to take a few shots of the cabin and the Christmas decorations on the upper deck, before deplaning.

Christmas decorations on 747
Christmas decorations on 747-8

You really get a measure of the majestic plane once outside. In the night, the 747 has still a majestic and royal presence which fills the whole berth.

B747-8 in Frankfurt
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its bay in Frankfurt

Layover in Frankfurt

Unfortunately, being a hub for Lufthansa, Frankfurt’s business lounge gets quite crowded in the morning. And, of course, there is a quite a queue to use the lounge’s showers. After shower, it was the time to catch my connecting flight to Nice.

By that time, it had started raining and we took off in an Airbus A320 “neo”. Short plane, with winglets at the end of the wings, the A320 neo is the short range Airbus solution (something of a competitor to the B737 of Boeing).

A320 neo
A view of the A320 neo at its gate. Notice the winglets at the end, fuel-saving feature.

We took off in the rain, but not before seeing a streak of sunrise coming through the clouds.

Sunrise on the airport
Sunrise while waiting to take off to Nice on the A320 neo.

Short haul business class

Obviously, the short haul business class on Lufthansa, just as on Finnair is pretty spartan. Breakfast comes through as a typically German breakfast (again!). Cheese and cold cuts and bread…

Business class breakfast
Business class breakfast on Frankfurt-Nice

The flight was quiet and uneventful, but as the plane flies over the Italian alps in its approach to Nice, the views from the window were quite spectacular. A reminder of how beautiful it is to fly during day time.

View on Italian alps
The view on Italian Alps from the plane

Nice: a classical city

Obviously, I am not going to talk about my work here, nor what I did in Southern France in relation to business.

No, I instead wanted to talk a bit about the city of Nice: although slightly fresh, it was not yet the real cold and dreary days of December down south. I enjoyed a beautiful sun during my stay and, contrary to Asia, the skies were a magnificent blue.

My hotel being located next to the Notre Dame Basilica, I managed to visit this beautiful neo-Gothic church – deserted as about every church in these days and times.

Notre Dame de Nice
The beautiful Notre Dame de Nice Cathedral at night.

The Basilica itself, is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture… brought down to scale! In fact, ths basilica was built around 1864, after the city of Nice was returned to France from the Kingdom of Sardinia. So, quite new as a church, but still it maintains a certain intemporal beauty.

Inside the Basilica
Inside the Notre Dame of Nice Basilica

The whole area of the center of Nice is a bustling area of promenade and of animation of the Southern city. Cars are excluded from circulating, so the main transportation is the tram and bicycle.

Biking in Nice
A lady bikes on the tram rails in Nice

A missed sunrise

Sadly for a photographer, I was unable to stop and shoot a picture of the beautiful sunrise on the mediterranean coast near Nice. I did manage to grab a snapshot from my car’s window, though.

A famous social media symbol
A famous social media symbol for Nice.

Later, on the same road, I managed to see a fiery sunrise.

Sunrise in Nice
Sunrise in Nice

Return flight

The return flight to Hong Kong was as uneventful as the going. I flew again on a 747-8, but this time, I took the precaution of getting an aisle seat to avoid having to hike above my neighbors…

And when I arrived in Hong Kong, it was time to say goodbye to the 747 after two flights with Lufthansa.

Boeing 747-8
The Boeing 747-8 of Lufthansa at its gate in Hong Kong after the night flight from Europe.

Encountering a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong

Until recently, I thought I was the only barefoot runner in Hong Kong. Then, one day, as I was on the MacLeHose trail near Sai Kung, with Matthew, we encountered Yuan, a barefoot trail runner in Hong Kong. We had done some exploring previously around Tung Yeung Shan in the same area.

An experienced barefooter

Yuan has 4 years barefooting under his belt! At the time we encountered him, he was climbing on the MacLeHose trail near to Sai Kung. We were going down instead… The Mac LeHose trail crosses from Sai Kung to Tsuen Wan and is one of the most challenging trails in Hong Kong.

Yuan barefooter on the trail
Yuan on the trail when he first met us.

At the time, Yuan told us he was training for the HK100 race. However, later when he took part in the race, because he started too strong, he had to abandon the race around km 63. Still, that is 63 kms barefoot!

The strategy around barefoot trail running

Yuan encouraged me to use hiking poles when running, as it allows to put less weight on your feet and allows you to shift weight when running. This is important as a barefoot trail runner, as you will often land on “uncomfortable” areas.

Beyond that, as can be seen from the pics, Yuan runs very lightly, with as little supplies as possible, using mostly gels to sustain himself while on the trail. Obviously, his speed was quite different from mine, as I am still very careful as to where I land, to avoid hurting myself and losing balance (especially the latter).

I also did a bout of trail running on this path:

Ultra running barefoot

Yuan does ultra trail running as I mentioned (100 K was his target). While rare, this is not totally impossible, fundamentally, the physiological aspect of ultra running being the same whether you are a barefoot trail runner or not. The only issue might be with abrasion, but after 4 years running, I guess that becomes a non-issue.

Obviously, you don’t start ultra running from a day to another. It takes just the same building up as with shoes, just maybe longer as beyond your muscles and bones, you need to prepare also a whole set of different muscles in the feet.

Yuan is a perfect example of how to push your limits when barefooting.