Sunday night was the last occasion on which Sai Yeung Choi South street was open to pedestrians. At 22hrs, the police invited performers and crowds to leave. On this last hooray, a huge crowd had come to bid farewell to karaoke street.
Neighbor and business complaints
The end of “karaoke street” is not totally unexpected as performers had kept on increasing their professional-level sound systems to drown competition under the decibels, leading to regular complaints by local businesses.For some performers, it was the occasion of making some nice money.
Despite these inconveniences, the whole street exuded a formidable vibe that best embodied the spirit of Mongkok, and its grittiness. Hong Kong may have become more orderly today, but it certainly lost a part of its soul.
Some performers, when faced with some technical issues already left on Saturday: “I do this because I like it, not for money”, said a man with a big portable sound system. “Clapping is enough for me”.
At the same time, many other performers were much less generous with their time, receiving a lot of envelops ladden with cash on their last days. Despite the greed (which was ultimately the downfall), Karaoke street also provided entertainment for older HongKongese lacking places of commonality in the city.
Dance and music
Some of the performances could often derive in full blown dances by dozens of people. This video I took last time is a perfect illustration.
It must be said that Mongkok is not an easy place to police and keep happy, as they were the theater of the”fishball riots” in 2015, in the aftermath of the umbrella movement.
It is possible that political and policing afterthoughts were not very far from the mind of the district council which asked for the removal of Karaoke street.
Most performers took it in stride, vowing to find another place to perform. However, Hong Kong will soon realize it lost a part of its soul, killing an entertainment that was famous with tourists worldwide. Where the farewell to karaoke street may have been bittersweet, another piece of vibrant culture has disappeared.
In fact, complaints about the noise and disturbance in “Karaoke street” are not new. Local businesses have been complaining about the impossibility of carrying out business with increasingly louder karaoke installations.
The complaints reached a new threshold as the performers kept bringing out louder speakers and more professional material, such as TV’s, generators and mixing tables.
The “professionalization” of the peforrmers and their competition meant that you had people placed at just ten meters of each other, competing to be heard by passersbys witih increasingly louder volumes of sound.
Despite this, the vibe of “Karaoke street” was absolutely contagious, as can be reflected in this video and several periscopes I made at the same place over the years.
Sai Yeung Choi South street in Mongkok, is known as a hotbed of local popular culture, but also the last refuge of localists. In fact, among the performers, the last remnants of the “Umbrella Movement” found a refuge on that street. The famous Mongkok riots of 2015 also took place in that area. As of today, the area has become one of the last places to observe the typical Hong Kong culture and mostly older residents who enjoy their free time on week-ends.
Suppressing this area might thus trigger other political consequences. That is probably the reason why the HK government was not in a great hurry to offer a timetable for the eviction of the pedestrian zone.
In fact, the district council has no power to edict legislation, and it can only offer recommendations to the HK government. The said government promised it would act “as soon as possible” on the recommendations.
Nevertheless, the conflict of interests and the complaints of local businesses have given rise to an interesting situation in Hong Kong. How to reconcile the desire for entertainment and the needs of local businesses?
A middle way solution?
As always, the solution might be in the middle. Why not enforce a tougher regulation of sound levels among performers? Why not continue allowing this lovely entertainment area and participate in giving this extra vibe to Hong Kong?
Performers must be reined in, but it is certain that if Sai Yeung Choi South is closed as a pedestrian area, a lot less people will be circulating there. Some editorials have tried suggesting such a compromise, but given how high tensions can rise in that area, it is not sure what approach the HK government will retain, but more than ever, Mongkok promises to be a tricky area to administer. So, as long as they are still there, I will keep documenting the performers of Sai Yeung Choi South… Hoping to see them still for a long time.
One of the main sites upon arriving in the city of Busan, in Korea, is the Gwangandaegyo Bridge. Spanning 7.4 kms over the Busan bay, from Namcheon to Haeundae, it offers a gorgeous sight from the Gwangalli beach. Obviously, that was the first spot I hit upon arriving in Busan.
A bridge which looks its best at night
The bridge is illuminated at night, so it is no wonder that it looks its best then. Beyond the spectacular view on the bridge spanning across the bay, this bridge can also be seen from a mountain nearby, called the Hwangnyeongsan.
But on my first evening in Busan, I just went down to the Namcheon beach, as it was the more accessible area to shoot the bridge. That evening, I was lucky as the moon shone over the sea, giving the whole area a perfect flavor.
To the left, there are a number of buildings, offering an interesting contrast to the bridge, and further down the animated area (where I confess I did not go).
But the real best shot can be taken after a short hike up Hwangnyeongsan.
The view from the mountain
As mentioned, Hwangnyeongsan has the best views on the bridge and the bay.
The climb is steep, but the whole road is paved, so not much of a challenge.At a point, you will find a viewpoint platform. In winter, not a lot of people do this hike, so I had the whole place all to myself.
In the sunset and during the blue hour, Gwangandaegyo Bridge then becomes magical. Obviously, you must use a zoom to exclude all the trees in the way, but still, the general view of the bridge is quite impressive.
As the night sets in, the colors and the impression gets closer from what you you can see when you are on the Busan beach.
After this, I went back down, this time looking for some food.
How to get there?
There are two places where I shot the pictures in this post. The first one was near the MRT Geumnyeonsan, and involves walking down to the beach.
The second place is up on the mountain, but I could not retrace exactly the place; suffice it to say that at a point, after climbing Hwangnyeongsan, you will come across a viewpoint on Gwangandaegyo bridge, on the right of the road.
Being a Catholic country, obviously, Easter in the Philippines is something special. With great fervor and intensity, Filipinos are known to celebrate the Holy Week to a higher degree then elsewhere. Most people have heard about the crucifixions and other shows made around people who impersonate Christ on the cross. Such practices, however, are really in minority and strongly frowned upon by the Catholic church. No, Easter in the Philippines is something else. It ranges from Good Friday processions to an early dawn mass on Easter morning.
Good Friday Processions
Of course, Good Friday is an important occasion, but far from the hysterics of the people doing repeats of the crucifixion. No, an ordinary Good Friday is simply having the family follow the Good Friday procession and the carts of your barangay (local government unit).
This procession takes typically about one to two hours, because there are a lot of people and it is difficult to circulate in the tight streets of the Barangay.
Each area has its own statue and cart, behind which they walk, and the atmosphere, while fervent is also good-humored.
Easter dawn mass
The Good Friday processions are fokloric enough, but the real core of the atmosphere and the Easter feeling can be found in the easter dawn mass.
Following an old Catholic tradition, the very first mass of the day takes place at 4 AM in the morning. Whole families, including kids come out to assist to this mass.
The focus of the moment is not so much on adults as on children who are literally fascinated by the candlelight, making it a magical moment to shoot pictures.
The mass starts at night, where the candlelight provides a lovely intimate setting. As it ends, and people go to communion, the daylight breaks and shines on people, with a lovely pink hue.
In the most popular areas, there is quite a crowd assisting to the mass. It is the occasion of witnessing the popular fervor among less favored classes. Religion is often the only steadfast security these people have in front of life’s challenges.
Some technical details
The pictures in this post were all shot in 2010, during my first travel to the Philippines, in the city of Lapu-Lapu. At the time, I used a Canon EOS 40D, a 17-85 zoom and a 50mm f 1.8. Obviously, all the night pictures were shot with the 50mm. This caused some issues with framing in such a packed setting, but I still managed to use some interesting pictures.
Lapu-Lapu is located in the island of Cebu, and is the place where the Spanish explorer Ferdinand de Magellan met his death at the hands of local tribes under the leadership of the chief Lapu-Lapu (who transmitted his name to the island). Easter traditionally is very packed with all overseas Filipinos returning to the island.
After having climbed suicide cliff barefoot and by night, I still had to more. That’s why, last Sunday, I decided to do a night barefoot hike on Kowloon Peak to catch the sunrise.
Starting off at 3 AM
Although I live very close to Kowloon Peak, arriving at the top on time still requires starting off early. I thus left my home at 3.30 in the morning. Being night time as since I was alone, I decided not to climb via the Suicide cliff, as it would have been too risky. I took the stairs on Fei Ngo Shan road. As I do now more or less regularly barefoot running, my cardio has improved. I managed to climb without making any pause. This being said, being barefoot also requires me to be slower and to watch where I set my feet. I had a headlamp as hiking by night requires you to see where you walk, all the more as you hike barefoot.
Upon arrival, it was still dark, although the first embers of dawn could be glimpsed. However, very annoyingly, the tip of the mountain was covered in clouds (and was quite windy too). Topping 500 meters, Kowloon Peak is often shrouded in clouds.
I then sheltered from the wind. As the daylight was slowly increasing, I attempted to shoot some pics of the city. Unfortunately, given the strong winds, my tripod was not so stable, so several shots were spoiled. I still managed to shoot some pics with my iphone on a moment where the clouds parted.
Later, towards 6 AM, as the dawn was breaking, and the sky started taking the “blue hour” color. Fortunately, the clouds and the fog also started dissipating.
The blue hour also manifested itself in this picture.
It must be said that the clouds kept covering the top of Kowloon Peak. This gave however a lovely feeling to the area, as Kowloon peak is one of the few places where you can be said to be “walking in the clouds”.
Drone view of Kowloon Peak
The winds at the top were quite strong, so I was not too adventurous when flying my Mavic Pro. I tried however to take some context pictures that would show the area and how it really feels.
For example, an iconic shot at the top of Kowloon peak is the helipad on the top. A “dronie” with the helipad helps to show the path down from the top of the mountain.
Kowloon peak also has very gorgeous view on Kowloon itself.
As the dawn advanced, the clouds started to clear up, but on the other ridges of Kowloon peak, it gave a lovely Chinese watercolor effect.
Normally, going down should be quicker than going up. That’s true but when barefoot, you have to be more careful, obviously. The danger is not so much about hurting your feet as of losing your balance. The technique I used is to land on my forefoot (similar to barefoot running) and being watchful when resting the remainder of my foot; indeed, landing on a pebble might be discomfortable (or even slightly painful), but with training, you take it in stride (your foot redistributes the weight differently). If you jump or land too heavily, there is a risk of losing balance (I had a rucksack and a tripod) and falling. That’s why, barefoot hiking should be done with as light gear as possible.
On the whole, the sunrise experience was perfect in the timing and the pleasure of hiking barefoot in the mountain, but a bit marred by the lack of sunrise. I only got to see some sun when going down.
One of the highlights of our trip to Japan in December 2017 has been the day where we traveled to Tomamu. Tomamu is a ski station situated inland on the island of Hokkaido, about one hour by train from Sapporo. The village has many ski resorts and winter sport stations, so it was the occasion to take our daughter to enjoy her first sledding and snow experience.
Taking the train to Tomamu
The train to Tomamu leaves from Sapporo main railway station, and it is an understatement to say that the walk to the train station was quite… icy! Snow covered the streets and in most parts had frozen up.
The cost of a return ticket was of about 27,000 JPY for a reserved seat for two adults and one kid. If you don’t buy a reserved seat, you end up having to pay the controller with an amount almost double the cost of a ticket.
The train trip is pretty easy and fun, and comfortable.
The difficulty of finding transportation in Tomamu
If you are not staying at one of the ski resorts of Tomamu, hitching a ride to the place can be quite a challenge. There are strictly no taxis or other transportation at the station, and all you have are the buses of the resorts. This being said, the drivers are quite nice and they offered us a ride to the winter sports station.
In fact, nobody checks who boards the buses upon arrival in Tomamu, as they only care of picking your luggage. Of course, the station stays closed day and night. So, no way to go around, unless you have your own transportation. As a consequence (and as you might expect), food prices are quite expensive both, at the resort and at the local restaurants. If on a budget, it is best to come from Sapporo by train, enjoy the activities and go back at night.
GAO Snow Academy
We went straight to the GAO snow academy, which is a lovely place for children. Not only do they have lessons for learning how to ski, but also they provide quite a number of services, such as snowmobile outings, sled rental, etc. We rented a sled and took our daughter out for the fun.
The fun part was to fly the drone in that lovely setting.
Of course, big kids enjoyed too sledding…
The tiring part was probably having to pull the sled back up the hill.
Maria-Sophia had a lot of fun building her snowman… Which she, of course, named “Olaf” according to the character of “Frozen”. Let us not even talk about the number of times she rolled herself in the snow. I guess snow always conserves its magical nature for kids.
Tomamu, of course, has a lot of the markings of a mountain ski station… Like lovely isolated fir trees, making for excellent photographic subjects.
The mountain light
The best moment was probably when the sun broke the clouds to illuminate a valley in Tomamu. I just had the time to grab a few shots of the marvelous light.
Tomamu’s ice village
As night fell on Tomamu, we headed to another very reputed winter attraction of Tomamu. The ice village of Tomamu, which is worldwide reknown is only open from 7PM. Normally, entry is free for anybody who is residing at one of the Tomamu resorts. For others, you have to pay a moderate entrance fee, about 5 K JPY.
It is obviously totally man-made and artificial, but it is also a dreamlike vision seeing this igloo village nestled in the middle of the mountains at night.
You can have warm drinks inside the individual igloos, or you can admire ikebana flower decorations in some of these igloos. A lot of people also queued to slide down to the ice village on an ice slide.
Returning to Sapporo
After visiting the ice village, came the time of going back to Sapporo. I mentioned earlier that Tomamu station was closed most of the time… This means that the station is basically abandoned and short of a stinky waiting room, there is nowhere to shelter from the cold.
Mitch, who was already tired thus buried her nose in her scarf while waiting in the room… And Maria-Sophia and me, we continued throwing snowballs at each other (although, by that time, my daughter was running on fumes, as the day had taken its toll).
Nevertheless, all in all, Tomamu is really one of the best winter sports station in the world. The Japanese spirit and the availability of great facilities for families and kids, makes it truly a lovely place to visit. The natural beauty of the mountains adds to the great feeling.
I was in Busan for a couple of days already, and it was my goal to try and see the fish auctions of the Jagalchi fish market. Descriptions and indications are pretty sketchy on how to get to see these auctions given the early hour at which they take place.
Nevertheless, as there was no public transportation at that time, I grabbed a taxi to get to Jagalchi fish market, and arrived there around 4.45 AM.
A profusion of fish
The first thing you notice when you arrive at Jagalchi, is the profusion of fish available everywhere.
The Jagalchi fish market is one of the most well-furnished markets in terms of fresh seafood, and this general reputation was confirmed seeing the market at 5 AM.
I found out one of the main halls where wholesalers present their produce. While it looks astonishingly clean, the floor was drenched in water and there was quite a “fishy” smell in the air.
It seems unfortunately that I was quite a bit late there, since I did not manage to find the actual auctions of fish. All I did manage to find was an auction for clams. On the whole, Jagalchi fish market has the reputation of having vendors who are quite hostile to pictures being taken, but my experience was quite the contrary. It is maybe because I look European, or maybe also because I did smile and engage my subjects when taking photos.
Life around the market
The interesting thing about a market is the life that gravitates around that market. In fact, vendors need also to feed themselves and need also to rest or have their needs tended to. So, you have plenty of small businesses thriving around, like a sweet potato vendor using an old coal furnace.
The feeling was extraordinarily atmospheric, being out at 5 AM in the cold and seeing first the market, then the scenes such as this small merchant. The world belongs to the early risers, and this is especially true for photographers.
On the technical side, of course, shooting at night is a challenge, but I equipped my Nikon 20mm F.1.8, and this helped me to handle the difficult lighting condition. You could obtain the same results with a (cheaper) 50 mm F 1.8, but then, the inconvenience is that you must stay further from your subject. And nothing engages as much as close range photography for your viewer.
A local breakfast
My original plan was to enjoy a local breakfast at the hotel. However, on the way, my attention got caught by a local shop grilling fresh fish in front of the shop and serving local breakfasts. I think the owner of the shop got scared seeing a foreigner, as she attempted to tell me her shop is closed, before eventually relenting when a local patron invited me to sit down in front of him.
The breakfast was every bit hearty and delicious as expected, with several pickles, a fish soup, and of course, the grilled fish. It was a perfect restoring meal before heading to Haeundae beach, my following stop.
Yesterday night was Chinese New Year eve. It is a tradition for honkongers to go to Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve. Mainly because of the local flower and plushes market taking place there. Chinese New Year eve is the last day of the market, so vendors are hard pressed to sell their goods as soon as possible to avoid having to throw or to give them for free after midnight, when the market closes.
Learning business “on the job”
Victoria Park is also the setting of a real life “business school” for high school students. In fact, many students use the CNY market as an occasion to learn the basics of doing business. From starting a business plan, to pricing, sourcing, setting price, marketing and then adapting to competition on the market;
Highly valuable, the experience sees the teenagers throwing themselves into the fray, rivaling with ideas to attract customers. Some even tried the idea of hanging plushes with sticks above the heads of the crowd!
The Flower market
The other big attraction of the Victoria Park CNY market is, of course, the flower market. Replete with mandarin trees and various other plants or flowers, it is an occasion for Hongkongers to come and find cheap flowers to decorate their house.
On Chinese New Year eve, you can literally see “live” vendors discounting their wares as the hour advances.
As the hour advances and it gets closer to midnight, customers also hurry to get their shopping done. After midnight, the vendors must throw or donate their flowers, as they cannot be sold anymore.
It must be said that the flowers look magnificent and are a welcome decoration.
Finally, if you are not there to buy flowers, then maybe you just go there to take pictures and selfies. It is a bit what these three pretty girls were doing in Victoria park, with their smartphones.
In conclusion, although it was quite crowded, going to Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve is an experience to try! You can also read about my similar experience with Chinese New Year in Bangkok, here.
Ending the year with a barefoot hike on Dragon’s Back
Originally, before starting on my barefoot hike on suicide cliff, I had planned on starting barefoot hiking by a first barefoot hike on Dragon’s Back. The reason being that the Dragon’s back is fairly easy and straightforward and has none of the habitual dangers associated with hiking in a mountain. Things turned differently, and I started the harder exercise before the easiest. The Dragon’s back is one of the most populated hikes in Hong Kong. So, to celebrate the year end, I decided to go on the Dragon’s Back in the evening to enjoy the last sunset of the year and the absence of people. I even spotted a guy with Vibrams walking on this trail!
An ideal terrain for learning barefoot hiking
While not cemented, the Dragon’s Back is one of the easiest trail available in Hong Kong. In fact, most of the terrain is sandy with a few rocky passages. Given the absence of gravel, it provides a lovely terrain for learning to hike barefoot if you are not yet familiar with the exercise.
Although the terrain is stony and filled with roots, as long as you are paying attention to where you place your feet, this is walkable at a brisk hiking speed and is even a pleasurable terrain to walk upon. In terms of feeling, this does not compare even remotely with the painfulness of some parts of the Shoushan national park hike.
There is however one delicate passage, which is a rocky embankment which might be complicated with shoes and more without because of its jaded nature. However, I managed to cross it without problems.
The Dragon’s back ridge
Before getting to the Dragon’s back ridge, there is a rocky climb, which is pretty slippery with shoes and very easy to climb barefooted. It is where you start recognizing the sandy nature of the trail.
I managed to climb the ridge with no issues and even took a video for you to see how easy it is.
The view from the top of the Dragon’s Back ridge is truly marvelous. Even more so, when you fly a drone.
Of course, I did fly my drone around to take some shots of the environment. This gives you an idea of the marvelous views on this very easy hike (even five-year old kids can complete it).
Finally, I took a “dronie”, that is a drone selfie.
At that point, I was still very much near the head of the ridge’s trail, and it was getting dark very quickly.
Fortunately, as you always should, I had taken my headlamp with me, allowing me to see the trail at night. In fact, the Dragon’s back trail, while totally easy, can become dangerous. If you don’t see where you are setting your feet, especially when you are hiking barefoot, you might slip and hurt yourself. So if you are hiking in the late afternoon, always pack a torch or a headlamp.
The end of the trail
The Dragon’s Back trail typically ends at its highest point, marked by a placard. It is where I chose to take my last picture of the trail: illuminating my feet with the green light of the lamp while using the background light of the Big Waves beach. Sorry for the poor quality, but it was pitch dark by then.
I also used my camera on long exposure, but without tripod (hence had to leave the diaphragm wide open). The result is still lovely, as it captures the blue hour perfectly from the top of the Dragon’s Back trail.
After that, the remainder of the trail was pretty straightforward. I just had to get back down to To Kwa Wan, which is the end of the trail near Shek O village. Nevertheless, of course, a headlamp was a requirement as the moon did not shine over the trail.
How to get there?
Getting there is pretty easy. You take the MTR to the station Shau Kei Wan (or Chai Wan, but it involves climbing through the Sai Wan cemetery). At Shau Kei Wan, you take the bus number 9 direction Shek O beach. You must alight at Tai Tam gap correctional institution and there starts the hike. Upon arriving to the end of the trail you will be at the To Tei Wan bus stop. From there you can catch the number 9 direction either Shek O (to enjoy the beach) or direction Shau Kei Wan. On week-ends, in general, the bus is already full at Shek O, and gets even fuller at To Tei Wan, so a better option might be to take the number 9 to Shek O and grab a minibus to Shau Kei Wan.
After visiting the Dragon and Tiger pagoda, I caught a taxi, asking him to take me back to Ruifeng night market. Whether I pronounce badly or cannot catch the tones, the driver did not understand… In the end, he understood “MRT”. But then again, he did not drop me at the Arena MRT, he dropped me at another MRT station. I walked to the Arena area to get to my objective, which was the Ruifeng night market.
Two main markets in Kaohsiung
When it comes to food and to passing time, there are two main markets in Kaohsiung. Most tourists hit the Liuhe night market, which is more centrally known and truly geared towards attracting tourists. But Kaohsiung inhabitants go to another, place, namely Ruifeng night market. Food there is obviously, at another level than the more tourist-oriented fare of Liuhe. The difference is understood immediately when you arrive at Ruifeng.
When you enter the market, a diffuse stench pervades your nose. No worries, it is not gutters which are stinking, but the ever-present smell of the Taiwanese specialty, stinky tofu. Those who tried it talk about stinky tofu a bit like durian: hard to stomach outside, but delicious once eaten.
I was not that courageous so as to try the dish, but if you are interested, you might want to watch Andrew Zimmern trying it before going ahead with it. The program does a good job about explaining the experience very graphically!
Still, the stench of this food pervades the whole market, but it is discrete enough not to spoil your experience of eating less “risky” food.
Games for a fun time
The interesting cultural aspect of Ruifeng Night Market is that the locals love to play some silly games to pass the time, just before or after meal. As such, the market is also a family outing.
In photographic terms, it is an interesting place to get some atmosphere, provided you slip in close with a wide angle (pics were shot with a 20mm).
I toured all over the market, and in the end, not wanting to get my stomach too upset, I settled for a dish of udon. I must confess it tasted very good, but the seating was quite confined as you can see from this pic. The price was about 80 NT$, so still acceptable.
In the end, as can be seen from this visit to Ruifeng night market, this is a place to go to experience some of the real vibe of the Kaohsiung people. It is a place where mainly locals come (I didn’t see a single foreigner during my visit), but worth visiting if you are after authenticity and real taste.
I concluded my meal with drinking a “papaya milk” smoothie, before heading back to my hotel.
How to get there?
Getting there is quite easy. You must head to the Kaohsiung Arena MRT station. Take exit 1, and walk a couple hundred meters straight on Yucheng road, and you will find the market located just after a crossing. In the case you are still unsure, I added a map below, of course.