22 May, 2016

rhyme cryme

I’m about to set off for the UK, and I shall be offline for a couple of days, so, in line with my usual practice, I’ve put together another of my convoluted connection puzzles in the hope that someone will have solved it before I can get back online. I think that someone should, because this may be the easiest puzzle I’ve ever devised.
What connects the following five ‘clues’?
• a twentieth-century artist;
• an African country;
• an island;
• a goddess; and
• an ancient language, now dead?
If you haven’t seen this kind of puzzle before, you will need to turn what are seemingly vague clues into specific answers. For example, is the artist Picasso? Matisse? Jackson Pollock? Or someone else? Is the country Egypt? Kenya? Angola? Or somewhere else? The overall answer to the puzzle can only be found by comparing lists of answers for the individual clues, but once you have a match between two clues, the rest should fall into place easily. You will have heard of all the individual answers, with the possible exception of the ancient language.

As usual, I will acknowledge all correct answers, but I won’t actually publish the answer for a few weeks, to give other readers a chance to work it out for themselves.

similar puzzles
A Hard Question
What’s the Connection?
Odd One Out
All Greek to Me
An English Question

20 May, 2016

photographic highlights 2015–16

I’ll be heading off to the UK for the summer this weekend, so I’ve compiled a selection of what I consider to be the most interesting photographs that I’ve taken during the past seven months in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I missed what might have turned out to be the most striking photo of all—on my very first day back in the territory, last October. I was sitting on my balcony enjoying a cold beer after a short bike ride when a flock of 20–25 rose-ringed parakeets suddenly appeared at balcony level on my right, flying in close formation. I have a very clear memory of the scene, but it was gone before I’d had time to reach for my camera. However, if you want to see a picture of these flashy green birds, I included one in last year’s highlights, also taken from my balcony.

I missed a similar opportunity in December while cycling through ‘fish pond alley’, when a flock of common spoonbills suddenly appeared overhead. Again, they were gone far too quickly for me to capture them on camera.

As usual, the collection does not include photographs that I took for use in other posts. On the other hand, although I’ve selected the first photo for its abstract qualities, I didn’t consider it suitable for my photographic abstraction series, mainly because what it depicts is too obvious (tree roots).


When Paula started a new job at the Chinese University of Hong Kong last September, it became possible for her to cycle to work from Fanling—it is, after all, only 16km in each direction. With nothing better to do so early in the morning, I’ve been accompanying her. On several occasions, as we’ve crossed Yuen Shin Road Bridge, which spans the mouth of the river that runs through Taipo, I’ve stopped to take in the view across Tolo Harbour. The next two photos are the most dramatic of several I took at various times from this vantage point.



While I’m on the subject of clouds, the next photo shows an unusual cloud formation as viewed from my roof, looking west. I didn’t see how it developed, because I’d been busy downstairs for about 45 minutes, but it appears to have originated from a single point.


Spectacular sunsets are a rarity around these parts, mainly because the sun disappears into the haze at least an hour before its scheduled departure time. The next photo, also taken from my roof, is the best I could manage.


‘Lotus Garden’ appears to be a common name for Chinese restaurants in the UK, but as the next photo shows, the lotus doesn’t grow in gardens. It grows in ponds. This picture was taken near the far end of what we always refer to as ‘the frontier road’.


Lotus ponds are a rarity along the frontier road, but fish ponds are much more common. A bike ride along this road is a pleasant experience, but it has one drawback: there isn’t a viable continuation once you reach the end, making it necessary to return the way you’ve come. However, last November I thought that I might venture off-road, through the fish ponds, to see whether I could find a contiguous return route. I failed, but not before I’d taken the following three photographs, all of which feature parts of the huge Chinese city of Shenzhen as a background. The birds in the second photo are egrets.




Overall, I didn’t have much luck photographing birds this year, but I’ve included the following picture, taken on the Kam Tin River during the journey to the west, of a small group of black-winged stilts, a migratory species that is common on the river and the nearby fish ponds in December and January.


The nearby fish ponds were also the location for the next photo, which was meant to be a shot of several cormorants perched on the bare tree in the centre of the picture. You probably wouldn’t know this merely from looking at the photo, but I like it anyway.


If you’ve read Maid in Hong Kong, you will know that I take a dim view of the attitude of many employers of foreign domestic helpers towards their employees here in Hong Kong, but the next photo shows a particularly egregious example of what I mean. I’d just stopped to take on some water and to remove my sunglasses (the reason for this is explained in Journey to the West: Part 4) when my attention was drawn to this old woman sitting on a barrow being pushed along by her Indonesian servant. Or, rather, my attention was attracted by the nonstop torrent of vile abuse that was being aimed at the poor woman pushing the barrow.

I was sorely tempted to run up behind and tip the nasty old thrag onto the ground, and I was only deterred from doing so by the thought that such a move would probably have backfired on the helper. However, I know roughly where the old woman lives, because I’ve seen her before, and there is a hill between where this photo was taken and where she lives that is hard work on a bike. Somehow, I don’t think the old thrag would have considered getting off the barrow on that hill. There is only one word to describe such behaviour. Disgusting!


The next photo illustrates why I have such a low opinion of the driving skills of Hong Kong’s taxi drivers. It was taken on the outskirts of Fanling, close to where I live, and shows a taxi pulling away from a taxi rank straight into the side of a public minibus. Admittedly, minibus drivers tear down this road at much more than a sensible speed, especially when the traffic lights are green, but this collision could have happened only if the taxi driver hadn’t looked in his mirrors before moving off.


There are probably thousands of what I have often described as quasi-industrial units scattered across the northern New Territories, although none are visible from my house. However, back in January there was a major fire in one about a kilometre away. I took the following photograph, which shows some of the effects of that fire, from my balcony. The trees and grassy areas in the foreground are all part of a PLA (People’s Liberation Army) base (our noisy neighbours).


You might think that the next photo is intended to highlight the difference between rich and poor in Hong Kong, but that is a simplistic assessment of the image. While it is true that the apartment blocks in the background are parts of an upmarket estate (the clue is the height—downmarket estates are always much taller), the seemingly squalid squatter huts in the foreground have mains electricity and piped water, and it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of their occupants drives a Mercedes (even though there is nowhere nearby to park it).


I put together this collection on Tuesday, thinking that there wouldn’t be anything more to add. However, on Wednesday, for some unfathomable reason, I decided that I would cycle along Bride’s Pool Road, which includes two of the most gruelling hills on public roads in this area (on the first of these, cyclists are legally required to get off and push, but I ignored the signs). Having finally got back onto flat terrain, I suddenly spotted a couple of feral bulls that were having some kind of head-to-head confrontation. This is probably my favourite photo in this collection.

29 April, 2016

ghost alley

When I posted Art Promenade last month, I did so partly because I found the idea of decorating footpaths with painted images interesting, and partly because I thought the practice unusual. However, it turns out that this practice is not as unusual as I had first thought.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring an area northeast of my house that was, until the beginning of the year, part of the so-called ‘closed area’, meaning that it was off-limits to casual visitors like myself. And in the course of my attempts to establish a contiguous cycling route through the area, I ventured down the usual quota of tracks and footpaths that turned out to be dead ends.

One such venture took me down a narrow path to a point where several paths converged to form an extensive flat area, and to my surprise I found that the ground was covered in painted images:


Behind me—I would never have noticed if I hadn’t stopped—there was a house that had been painted in a brash, colourful style (the decoration extends around the corner on both sides):


The next photo shows the house on the right in more detail. If you look closely at the insects that have been painted here, you will see that they are cartoonish rather than realistic in style. In fact, I suspect that whoever painted this drew their inspiration from a children’s book rather than from nature, because there are no ladybirds in Hong Kong.


Also in this area is a disused well, which has been extensively decorated. It appears that each segment has been painted by a different artist, and it seems likely that this entire display of public art is the result of a group project rather than the work of a single artist.


Leading away from the area I’ve just described is an obvious path that disappears into the distance, and this is also extensively decorated with painted images. The first photo is a general view of the path, while the second is a close-up of one such image.



Finally, just before the path reaches Ping Yuen Road, it passes alongside a wall that features my favourite images here. I took the first photo, which provides a view along the entire wall, on my first visit here, while the second photo was taken on a subsequent visit when travelling in the opposite direction. It provides a more detailed look at some of the images.



You may be wondering about the reference to ghosts in the title of this post, especially as it does not appear to have been the anonymous artist’s intention to paint ghosts, but in my book disembodied faces are ghosts. There is certainly an ethereal element to these images. Finally, decorating the environment in this way may be more widespread than you might expect—I came across another path, nearby, where similar but faded images had been painted on the ground—but I certainly think that the artwork here knocks the artwork featured in Art Promenade into a cocked hat.

However, while I know who is responsible for the artwork featured in Art Promenade, there are few clues as to who actually painted the images featured here, although I don’t think they live in the area.

05 April, 2016

optimistic pessimism

I imagine that most people are familiar with the informal definition of optimists and pessimists: that an optimist would view a glass as half full, while a pessimist would consider the same glass to be half empty. However, I do wonder how many would give more than a cursory thought to this dichotomy, because if they did they would quickly realize that this a simplistic definition, possibly even an inaccurate or misleading representation of the two poles of what is in fact a continuum of attitudes towards a given situation.

Think about it. If an optimist assesses the glass in terms of its fullness, he or she is likely to be disappointed that it is only half full and not fuller, while a pessimist, who assesses the same glass and its contents in terms of its degree of emptiness, is likely to be pleased that there is still half a glassful remaining.

I was reminded of this question only the other morning, when Paula looked out of the window and remarked that she could see “half the hill”, referring to a prominent hill that we can see from our balcony (on a fine day). I felt bound to comment that this meant there was half the hill that we couldn’t see:


Notice that Paula’s comment was not so much an optimistic assertion as an idealistic one, while mine may have sounded pessimistic but was based on a realistic assessment of the situation. In fact, I would suggest that this is universally true: optimism is nothing more than another word for idealism, the mindset of the idle dreamer, while pessimism, although widely regarded as a negative attitude in popular culture, stems from a realistic appraisal of circumstances. Whether this is true as a general proposition, or I am simply trying to justify what others will deem unjustifiable, the weather was always more likely to deteriorate on that particular day than it was to improve, and guess who was correct:


In conclusion, I’d like to offer a contemporary take on the optimism/pessimism duality: an optimist is someone who hopes that Hillary Clinton will not win the US presidential election in November; a pessimist is someone who believes that Donald Trump will win that same election and become the next president of the United States.