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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Last Race of the Year: AVOHK Reservoir Series (Tai Lam Chung) - 14 December 2014 - 15km

This was it.

My last race of the year.  And also my last trail race for a very, very, very long time.

I've come to enjoy hiking since I moved to Hong Kong and there are some truly fantastic trails and country parks here.  But racing through them is not for me.  No sir.  Not the mad scrambling up and down on rocks, narrow paths, streams, dodging overhanging branches, stomping on resting butterflies, swatting at mozzies, and punishing my knees and ankles just to see how fast I can finish (which is not all that speedy, but I digress.)  It didn't take much to discover that I'm more of a leisurely hiker - you know, the type that takes frequent "breathers" to gawk at the view, take loads of photos, and explore the flora, fauna and the odd wild boar along the way.  Yeah, I see only flat road races in my future running life.

So this last race of 2014 - which was a relatively "easy" 15km route around the Tai Lam Chung Reservoir - was my swan song in terms of trail racing.  Organized by AVOHK (Athletic Veterans of Hong Kong,) this race was the first of three in its annual Reservoir Series, and it was held on a brilliant blue-sky day at the country park that is just adjacent to the minimum security Tai Lam Correctional Institution, through which the runners had to walk to get to the starting point. 

We took the 7 a.m. shuttle bus provided by AVOHK from Peninsula Hotel to the reservoir.  The entire scenic journey took a little less than an hour.  I managed to take this quick shot of the Tsing Ma suspension bridge (the longest in the world that carries both rail and road traffic) past my dozing bus mate.
This is our course map.  We ran counter-clockwise in a loop starting near the southern tip of the reservoir.
First glimpse of the reservoir in the morning light.  This is also our starting point.

Can never stretch too much or too often before a race.
Slowing down to appreciate the gorgeous bougainvillea at around the 3km mark. Note that there's not a sign of the other runners.  That's because I'm pretty much at the back of the pack - as usual.

At every turn, we got to see the reservoir which was a handy marker.  It was a deliriously happy moment when I'd finished one length of it and could see the distance I had traversed.

This is around the halfway point; walking through a pretty bamboo thicket.

So this is it for my "marathon" year.

I'll write more about my 12-month experiences in my next post once I've sorted through my memory bank, hundreds of photos, and oh yes, those clunky kitschy medals I've amassed.

Watch this space, kawan kawan.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bite-Size Review: Weekend Brunch at Al Molo Ristorante Italiano

I've dined at Al Molo for more than a half dozen times in the past couple of years.  Not because of the brand association with celeb chef Michael White (I'm a tad embarrassed to say he wasn't high on my culinary radar even though - name dropping alert - I've also brunched at his fine New York Michelin-starred establishment Ai Fiori at my favourite hotel in that city) but because the food and service at this Kowloon outpost have been nothing short of stellar during each and every occasion.  I know - that's a tough claim to make, but as it's not something I'm basing off a one-dine deal, I'm standing by it.

This is not Michael White, by the way.

Now, more often than not, I'm there for their weekend brunches.  For HKD338 (USD43) per person, I can have my fill of a complete antipasti selection of salads, soup, cured meats, cheeses, breads, tea or coffee, and one choice of a hot main dish, prepared a la minute.  Pony up another HKD128 (USD16,) unlimited sparkling, red and white wines are yours for the taking.  If all that is just too much, gastronomically and financially, there's a salad only option (HKD250 / USD32) which has all of the above, minus the beverages and the main dish.  All very good deals, especially considering the quality of the food which cannot be stressed too many times.  

Now that we have the costings and all its permutations out of the way, here are some snaps of the delish things I got to see and eat last weekend at Al Molo:

Fresh out of the oven : the pomodoro fresco pizza - from the main course section of the menu

The chefs keeping up with the insatiable brunchers.
Stuffed tomatoes, arancini (fried rice balls) and masses of olives.

Boards of pancetta and prosciutto, smoked salmon and parmigiano reggiano.

My main course of braciola - a generously sized grilled pork chop just the right side of pink with sauteed sweet corn and fried baby fennel. 

Finishing off with bombolini - a deep-fried, sugar dusted Italian donut filled with cream.  It's the European cousin to the Portuguese malasada (with an aloha shout out to Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu!) and possibly to the Boston cream donut (hey there, Tim Hortons!)  Yeah, these are pretty much my go-to pastries in the western world: all goodness and all decadence.

Al Molo Ristorante Italiano - Shop G63, G/F, Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.
Telephone: +852 2730 7900.  Suitable for families with small children.
Reservations highly recommended.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Heifer Race To Feed Run - 2 November 2014 - 10K

Just a little of seven weeks ago, I'd signed up for my November run in the one of the northern country parks in Hong Kong's New Territories.  This is a part of Hong Kong that I rarely venture but should do so more often.  It's quiet and idyllic, and completely removed from the frenetic scenes of the city centre in the south.  On the early morning of 2 November, I joined a few hundred fellow runners to cover 10km at the "Race to Feed” event which is Heifer Hong Kong’s annual fundraiser. Since the first event in 2006, this Hong Kong chapter of the US-based organization has raised over HKD40 million (or USD5.1 million) to help thousands of poor farmers in rural China become self-reliant.

Stillness of the morning: Just a few hundred metres from the starting line at Lung Mei Beach.

One of the nice (and very convenient) aspects of this race was that the organizers had arranged for shuttles from various points in Kowloon and Hong Kong up to the country park.  That reduced the number of cars converging at this small area (not to mention time spent getting lost in the back roads) and   was totally in keeping with the organizers' laudable environmental protection theme this year.

The course started at Bradbury Jockey Club Youth Hostel and took us 800m along the Tai Mei Tuk Road, after which we made a sharp right and proceeded along Bride’s Pool Road to the Lion Pavilion at Chung Mei.  The turnaround point was just short of the famed Bride's Pool waterfall (a pity we missed it!) There were relatively steep hills throughout the first 5km of the course but the good news was that steep hills turn to downhill descents so I got to shave a few minutes off my run time and made it my personal best finish ever.

By the way, the calf in the photo above with me is a 3-D cutout.  I was "lucky" enough to get a solo shot prior to the race as that was one popular (and photogenic) cardboard calf that had scores of racers, their supporters and even local TV celebrities lining up to get their own snaps later in the morning. Go figure.

As seen at around the 1km mark heading into the Pat Sin Leng Country Park.

This was at the around the 5km turnaround mark.  This park is dotted with barbeque sites every few hundred metres, some of which have a direct view of the pretty Plover Cove Reservoir.

A total first but I guess it's totally in keeping with the eco-friendly vibe of the race: a volunteer handing our free packets of organic, locally-grown vegetables to racers after crossing the finish line.

My medal and my swag.  The little fan at the bottom right corner is a nice touch.  As were the foldable water bottle, buff and Perskindol therapeutic gels.
Lunching post-race at this packed food centre in neighbouring Tai Po Hui Cooked Food Centre (named one of Hong Kong's top 10 food centres) was an overwhelming experience.  This is the manic scene at just 10.30 a.m. - can't imagine what the lunch hour will look like.

Had to wait 30 minutes for this hearty bowl of vermicelli in soup with fishballs and deep fried fish skins.

Next race on 14 December 2014: AVOHK Reservoir 15km Race at Tai Lam Chung, Hong Kong.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Passion North Run Singapore - 18 October 2014 - 8K

For my October run, I had actually signed up much, much earlier in the year for the 21km race at the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon in British Columbia, Canada.  I figured I would spend my birthday weekend in that beautiful province, tackling the half-marathon and enjoying the gorgeous fall colours along the non-repeating route.  However, as some best-laid plans go, this one didn't quite happen the way it should, and I had to fill the spot with another run that best matched my work and travel schedules.

Which is how I stumbled upon the Passion North Run that was held in the northern Singaporean suburb of Sembawang one cloudy, white-sky day.

Now this race - organized by Nee Soon GRC Community Sports Clubs - and set in the decidedly suburban neighbourhood of Sembawang which is best known for its ports and military base, represents two firsts for me: 1) that it's held on a Saturday and 2) we were to run in the afternoon.  All my other races have been on Sundays, and most of them have (unfortunately, for me) started way before the sun hit the snooze button.  Holding it on a Saturday didn't affect me in the least but I did wonder about how I'd fare running 8km at 5 p.m. in sunny, muggy, tropical, hot Singapore. But thanks for the overabundance of cumulus clouds that day (yes, I did take an elective course in Weather back in my university days - no judging please,) it turned out to be quite a pleasant exercise - pun fully intended.  An added bonus was that the organizers had mapped out a non-repeating course which saw the Finish line at the breezy Sembawang Park on the water's edge.

So this was the scene prior to the race.  That's my two hardcore supporters in the above photo (hint: they're the only ones not wearing yellow.) 

And here I am (in black) across the street, waiting to start the race.  Oh, and another plus was that we got to run on actual roads for most of the 8km, and not on sidewalks or dirt paths.

Huffing along Sungei Sembawang

For about the second to the sixth kilometer marks, we veered off the main road and ran down forested country paths. Along the way were various houses of worship, a seaside bar and a barrel of monkeys.  Not seen were the kampungs that must have dotted this area a couple of decades ago, which is a real pity.

Along Admiralty Road East and Canada Road

After we literally came out of the woods, we had the good fortune of running through the streets of some of the city-state's best colonial homes.  Built in the early 20th century and reflecting Sembawang's history as a British naval base, many of these houses are on roads are named after various Royal Navy dockyards, warships, admirals,countries and cities such as Canada, Wellington, Canberra, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Bermuda and Kenya.

In land scarce Singapore where most of the residents are piled on top of each other in ubiquitous public housing blocks, I got to indulge in some turn-of-the-century real-estate porn along the route.  This one (photo above) of the single story colonial is my favourite among the bunch.  I mean, look at the size of that garden! 

Another colonial beauty along King's Avenue

Finally I got to Sembawang Park (one of a few in Singapore with a natural beach) to see this amazing playground structure just about 100 meters from the finish line.

And this is what we saw during that last 100-meter slog....a peek at the Johor coastline across the slim body of water separating Malaysia and Singapore.

Clockwise from top left: Another run in the bag; my dad/cheerleader and me; the adorable medal, sweating along Admiralty Road East; passing Sembawang Park at around the 6K mark.

Those last few steps leading up to the finish line were tough as the latter was at the top of a slope, but hey, I completed another run and that's what matters (my time was so not my personal best, but oh well.)  To recap: this was a well-organized race, loved the route and the shoe-medal, and it's great that it's held in one of the towns I don't frequent that often.  Highly recommended as a fun family event if you find yourself in the Lion City this time next year.


The Golden Age of Airport Restaurants - From

In recent years, as airlines around the world have cut back on in-flight food, a wave of business-savvy chefs have given rise to the golden age of airport dining. Want Champagne and caviar? Take a seat at the Petrossian bar at LAX. Have a taste for perfectly marinated goose meat? Check out Hung’s Delicacies at Hong Kong International. Even local joints — Ivar’s fish bar in Seattle, the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Tex. — have gotten into the act, opening airport outposts that make it feel as if you’ve visited even when you’re just passing through. (Chefs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International think so highly of their food they’re pushing to host a James Beard Foundation dinner at the airport next year.) Indeed, thanks to a doubling of air traffic in the past 15 years — not to mention a general refinement of taste on the part of travelers — eating at the airport no longer means just preflipped burgers and cafeteria seating. Here, some stats on food’s rapidly ascending staging ground.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Belligerence, Brawls and Bemusement in Mongkok

So this is my 'hood.

Filled with a warren of independent boutiques, chain stores, street markets, nightclubs, hourly-rated hotels, local cafes, restaurants, massage parlours and karaoke bars, Mongkok is unapologetically raucous, in-your-face, vibrant, and after all these years, still infused with a whiff of seediness that gentrification from the Langham Place complex had not quite successfully erased.

It is therefore no surprise (at least to me) that when the Occupy Central movement decided to branch out to Mongkok and, well, occupy the incredibly busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, things got way more volatile and combustible there than at the other two protest sites at Admiralty and Causeway Bay.  For one thing, there are proportionately more economic activities, legal or otherwise, in Mongkok on a 24/7 cycle than in, say, the civil section of Admiralty, where most of the offices would be closed during public holidays and weekends.  And second, this is Mongkok, for crying out loud.  With all the tens of thousands of small business owners, residents, shoppers - and yes, since it's all out in the open in the media anyway - triads making their living in the neighbourhood, it's not a big stretch of the imagination to anticipate that any major disruptions in that very same space would at the very least bring about some heated discussions, if not outright brawls and smackdowns.

And that's exactly what happened, and unfortunately is still happening as of this post's update.

I didn't see some of the more violent fracas when I walked over to check out the scene at the Mongkok protest site but there were some sporadic tense interactions nonetheless.  Here are my snaps of my time behind the protesters' barricades.  
Looking eastward on Argyle Street toward the intersection at Nathan Road where the protesters were congregated with their tents and loudspeakers.

A closer view of the first-line defenders at their makeshift barricade.
View of another section of the barricade (the white car is part of it) from the back. On Argyle Street.

From top left photo: Anti-Occupy protesters were shouting over the barricade at the students on the right.  One of the anti-guys then shoved the barricade about a foot (top right photo) which prompted the students to surge forward.  Cops then had to step in to hold both sides back as the shouting matches around them escalated.
Making one's case. And vice versa.
The peanut gallery

This guy was making his heated arguments against the Occupy Central movement.......

.....directly to the bemused Occupy protesters across the barricade, one of whom dismissed him by shaking his head, laughing, and putting on his earbuds.

Giving an animated rundown on recent spats to other onlookers

A vigilant protester
Occupy protesters at the ready, manning the makeshift first-aid stall, giving interviews, arguing with anti-Occupy factions.

The divider along Nathan Road is a pretty good vantage point for onlookers.
Curious gawkers from the mainland.

Text 'em if you've got 'em

Taking some downtime in the middle of Nathan Road

More downtime on Nathan Road - this time, with style.

Food stalls and stores that are normally packed along Argyle Street and Nathan Road are seeing a discernible dip in customers and revenues
Posters on one of the several abandoned KMB buses on Nathan Road

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