Friday, December 21, 2012

Ski Equipment and Street Eats

Random blog title, I know, but that was what I spent today in Mongkok doing: searching for cold weather clothing and accessories, and eating whenever I saw street food that looked intriguing/appetizing.

Now that our departure to sub-zero arctic zones is imminent, I have been wandering all over Hong Kong checking things off my list: Ski pants, check.  Long underwear, check.  Fleeces, check.  Synthetic shirts, check.  You get the idea.

As for the forecast for our trip... let's put it this way: St. Petersburg looks like the warmest of all the cities we are hitting up, and it will have a high of 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  in contrast, Ruka is a cool -20 degrees at night.  I'm a little bit nervous.

But I did get myself a (very colorful) ski jacket today:

Inner jacket, which zips into the shell
I also got an egg waffle (made from a sugar and flour batter that smells so darn good when it's cooking), and tried a coconut wrap for the first time.  Verdict on both items: tasty!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mmmm Montezuma's Chocolate

A colleague from the London office that I'd been working with has been traveling around the world with his girlfriend, and just passed through Hong Kong, his last stop.  We met up today at Zuma, a fancy Japanese restaurant close to work, along with two other local counsels that worked with us on the recent deal that consumed my life (was that only a week ago? Amazing).

The lunch was a nice mix of backgrounds, consisting of a Cayman qualified lawyer and British Virgin Islands qualified lawyer who had each lived and worked in London and Hong Kong, a British qualified lawyer who had lived and worked in London and New York, and me, rounding out the mix nicely (if i say so myself) as the American qualified lawyer who had lived and worked in New York and Hong Kong.

Anyway, the food was pretty good, but the service was sloppy (food brought out very unevenly, in the wrong order and at odd times) and I just didn't think the food was as tasty as I remembered.  Plus I was still hungry after we finished eating (a major no-no in my book when the food is so expensive and there are three courses!) but I was also too embarrassed to be the only person to ask for a dessert menu.

Well, to round out the hunger pains, thankfully, my very thoughtful colleague had brought me some chocolate!  Montezuma's chocolate.  I'd never heard of it but apparently it is quite famous in Britain.   I am sampling the geranium and orange flavored dark chocolate bar as I type.  Quite lovely.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sui Kee

I went to Sui Kee, a dai pai dong, for lunch today.  They are very famous for their marinated meats (and assorted animal parts).  I like their noodles and beef brisket.  At HK$23 a pop, it's a nice little slurp-y pick me up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nothing is Certain Except...

Ahhh, just received my tax forms from the Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department.  Yuk.  If there is anything more depressing than paying taxes, it's paying taxes twice.

This time will be particularly painful for me because I will be paying for two years' worth of taxes (2012 AND 2013) all in one go. It works this way because I moved here in the middle of the previous tax assessment.  In Hong Kong,  you pay all of your prospective taxes for the upcoming year in one lump sum (and then there is a true-up later that year to make sure the previous estimate was correct).

This is a system that makes you really FEEL the money you are forking over to the government.  Coming from the U.S., where taxes are pulled out per paycheck before one even receives the net amount, I knew I paid a ton in taxes but the psychological effect was not so bad.  Now, I am bracing myself for tens upon tens of thousands of dollars to fly out of my account in one fell stroke.

Here, citizens know that they have to save the better part of 15% of their total income each year to make the prospective payment.  For those who have not set aside enough to make their payment, banks provide "tax payment" loans specifically for this purpose.  ...Needless to say, those rates are not all that attractive. 

In a perverse way, I like this system because it makes you more aware of your civic obligations.  Observing the low rates of savings in the U.S., however, I can see why the U.S. federal government has not yet adopted this system!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Holiday Parties and Dinners

I had meant to take all kinds of pictures to capture the work holiday party that I attended on Monday last week, but was kind of busy getting lost trying to find the place, and then kind of engrossed with eating, and then really glued to my blackberry (including taking a conference call in the desolate warehouse hallway between two sets of swinging doors) and so forgot to take any pictures at all.

It was an interesting space, located inside a huge warehouse that smelled of grease and weird chemicals.  We ascended in a huge metal elevator to the 21st floor, then walked through some empty, fluorescent lit hallways to reach the event space. Once inside the swinging doors, I felt like I'd been transported somewhere else entirely.  Called "Culinart," it was one of those beautifully decorated open loft spaces where they had a chef kitchen demonstration table hooked up to live feed video, and participants could go up and learn to make things while in the spotlight.  We then all sat around eating as the chef and his staff bustled about, cooking.  I opted for the lamb main course, paired with brussels sprouts and medallions of mashed potatoes (my favorite part).  The whole thing was more form over function, but at least I got to see an up-and-coming event space in Aberdeen. 

Then on Thursday evening, after my deal fiiiinally closed at 5:45 in the morning (Hallelujah!) Michael and I joined two other couples for dinner at Chili Fagara, a Sichuan restaurant located on Graham Street in Soho.  The place is perpetually packed (the space is very small and fits about 25 diners max at any time) and the restaurant is very jealous of its space.  The tables are nailed down to the floor and the chairs against the wall leave those unfortunate diners with very little wiggle room.  The food at the restaurant was quite tasty.  However, the portion sizes were very meager (the rice came in tiny mounds that looked like they had been carefully doled out by an ice cream scoop) and the prices were quite high. Personally, I'd rather go to a private kitchen out in Wanchai where I have plenty of room and the portions are much bigger. 

On Saturday evening, Michael and I went to dinner with another couple at Sura, a Korean restaurant in TST, to eat stir fried rice in a stone pot (bibimbap), cold noodles (japchae), tofu stew (jiggae), rice noodles and seafood/kimchee pancakes.  The food was decent/mixed (the japchae was outstanding, the pancake was very good, the bibimbap and jiggae were unimpressive) but again the portions were small.  I could only think of my favorite spots in New York with longing: oh, Gahm Mi Oak and Book Chang Dong, how I miss thee!
After finishing up our Korean food, we went to Ned Kelly's Last Stand, a bar with a live band, beer on tap and lots of greasy finger food.  We opted for the basket of onion rings.

Other than that, all that remains of our days is wrapping Christmas presents, scrounging for cold weather apparel, and packing!  I can't believe Christmas is in a week.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

When Do I Get Too Old

to pull all nighters at work?

It's 1:28 am, my day started at 6:42 am, my back hurts, I'm seeing spots, I likely have developed carpal tunnel syndrome, the sum of my food ingested today is an apple, a Sprite, a drumstick ice cream cone, half of a cup of coffee, some water (not enough), some Pellegrino, and half of a thin crust pepperoni pizza scarfed down at 11 pm.  If mom and dad are reading this, I'm just kidding.  I ate really well today.

I only have 28 unread emails in my inbox. Oh yeah... we didn't close today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dreary, Gray, Wet, Damp and Cold

Hong Kong is in the midst of a really impressive wet streak.  I think I haven't seen the sun in two or three weeks.  Michael hasn't been able to play soccer in a long time.  Every day has been overcast and wet.  And because Hong Kong is naturally pretty humid, I feel like I have been swimming in a dank, soupy mist.  It is so depressing.  It's not COLD, per se.  I mean, it's not 30 or 40 degrees -- the weather is hovering in a mid-60s range.  But with no heat in our apartment, and with the air-conditioner still blasting at work (why?), I feel like the cold has seeped into my bones.

Despite the incessant rain, the fancy shopping malls are doing their part to bring the festive cheer.  Below, some snaps I took on my way to a meeting with deal counsel:

the most impressive indoor mall display I've ever seen - a really cute moving ski lift!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Busy Monday

So begins the week of 7 AM calls and working until midnight.  This week is gonna suck.  I keep telling myself that it's ok and it will be worth it because we might close on Friday.  And then I will have my reward and I can go on holiday and enjoy Christmas.  But I am feeling it tonight from 10+ hours of hunching over a keyboard and frantically trying to get everything done.  And it's only Monday.

You'd think that a compulsive list maker like myself (I currently have three lists going) would like checklists for closings.  And I do like them - there is nothing as satisfying as shading out a whole bunch of rows of completion deliverables (oh yes, my life is awesome).

Howeverrrrr, I hate closing checklists because closings make me so anxious.  What if I forget something or make a fatal mistake on something irreversible that is due that day and cannot be remedied, for example the original signature pages to the deed of transfer that has to be stamped by a special agent or else the millions upon millions of dollars cannot be wired, and then I. am. screwed.

Plus my allergies in this city are acting up something fierce.  I can't seem to do anything without  wanting desperately to sneeze.  My throat and ears itch.  It's like a fuzzy caterpillar is crawling around in my sinuses.  Nice visual, right?

One happy thought: I got a travel Scrabble set this weekend.  I opted for the pocket sized magnetic version even though a lot of people have said that it is flimsy.  I'm hoping we get to use it on the long plane and train rides on our vacation.  Thinking happy thoughts.

The picture doesn't reflect just how tiny this Scrabble set is.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lingerie Party and Christmas Market

On Friday, my friend threw a one year anniversary party for Sheer, a really lovely lingerie boutique that she owns in Hong Kong.  There was champagne, along with popcorn, sandwiches and cupcakes and, my personal favorite, a free Hanky Panky underwear bedazzled at your request.   Oh yeah, there were also really lovely models flitting around in - you guessed it - skimpy lingerie.  I marveled at how many men were at the party, but I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.  The party was packed and really fun.

On Saturday, I moseyed over to TST to check out the Christmas Market at Hullet House. 

Unfortunately,  the market was oh so disappointing.   It was very crowded and they didn't really have handicrafts.  It was almost all overpriced chocolate, wine, mulled cider, and some food odds and ends.  I was hoping for something like the Christmas markets that pop up around Union Square and Madison Square Park in NYC around this time.  Nada.

I did see the luxury Christmas shopping market in full swing though.  Here, a line of people waiting to get into Tiffany's.

TST was crooooowded.  Another reason this place was packed: Toys R Us is located in Ocean Terminal.  Oh, tis' definitely holiday season.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Trip Plans Continued... and Russian Visas

We've figured out the second half of our Christmas and New Years trip, and I cannot be more excited.  Let's just hope it works out, because, dang, the Russians are not fooling around.  I called the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before starting to book things for this trip and figured, easy peasy, I can do paperwork - this should not be a problem.

Then I printed out the visa application and realized applying for a Russian tourist visa is akin to applying for government security clearance and playing roulette.  A meticulous recounting of personal details, and not a bit of luck, seems to be required.

You have to list your itinerary, all the countries that you've visited in the past ten years and the year of visit (good grief!), your work history, your educational history,  the full names of your parents and any relatives living in Russia... not to mention, you have to confirm whether you have medical insurance and answer a questionnaire... and fill out hotel support vouchers... and obtain formal stamped and signed hotel voucher forms from your pre-paid hotels.  Apparently they also really don't like it when you go "off the grid," aka on your own itinerary without an officially recognized tour operator.

Hmm. This might take a while.

But, we have booked a lovely cabin in the middle of nowhere in the deep snowy woods of Ruka (major props to Michael's sister on this one), and if all goes according to plan, after Christmas we will fly out of Kuusamo into Helsinki, board an express train into St. Petersburg, and stay in the "Venice of the North" for two full days before boarding another train, this time the very famous Red Arrow, that will take us from St. Petersburg to Moscow.

The Red Arrow is a sleeper train that strikes me as a bit kitschy (think red, gold, pomp and circumstance and lots of it). The station even plays a song, "The Hymn to the Great City," when the train departs!  However, the train is also steeped in history and tradition.  The Red Arrow first began operation in 1931 and has not stopped service in all the years since, except for the Siege of Leningrad (that's modern day St. Petersburg) from 1941 to 1943.  The Red Arrow was the nicest train (and still is, although recently the Grand Express, a privately owned train, has started operating the same route and it looks pretty sweet too) and shuttled the highest ranking officials and the elite members of the Communist party back and forth between St. Petersburg and Moscow.  Pretty nifty, huh?

From Moscow, we fly back to Hong Kong on the first day of the new year.

I can't wait!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Birthday Part Deux

Well, I have been really getting into the swing of this birthday thing.  Today, I arrived at work to find this:

I was stunned!  Hydrangeas (turned out it was one massive hydrangea), peach roses, white sweet peas, yellow calla lilies and orange ranunculus.  It was a beautiful bouquet, wrapped up in brown paper and ribbon, with the cutest little clothespin attaching a note.

It was from work!  I couldn't help but feel more tender toward the job.  They really know how to get me.  Fresh flowers, man.  I brought it home so I could enjoy it in the apartment.  I had to rearrange the bouquet though, because it was so massive it refused to fit in my vase.

The end result: Our current apartment could pass for a florist's.

Separately, I booked a little pick-me-up treat for myself this afternoon at a spa near work.  It was a spa treatment called "For Heaven's Sake," which was a cute little pun because the treatment consisted of a Japanese sake bath soak and a sake rice scrub, followed by an hour long massage.  I quite enjoyed it.

The soaking tub.  It was a really deep tub - very tricky to get out when you're all covered up in slippery suds!
Mystery keg next to the tub.  Maybe it was filled with sake??

Clearly, like Thanksgiving, birthdays should come around more than once a year.

Cocktail Parties and Presents

Lots of little happy tidbits for this post.  Yesterday, I went to the fourth anniversary of Mischa bags held at The Space in Sheung Wan.  I own one of these bags and now that Lane Crawford has picked up the line, I am seeing more and more of these bags on the streets of Hong Kong.  The pattern is very distinct and the designer picks vivid, contrasting colors so they are easy to spot from afar.  The party was also sponsored by Travel & Leisure and had a travel theme, so there were fun little touches in the gallery space.

This read, "Dreaming of traveling the world?"  Um, Yes!  My tag was for Penang and Langkawi.  I'm currently a little bit preoccupied/focused/obsessed with Malaysia.

Australia, Canada and South America get no love on this map.  Ouch.

I also went to a launch party for Melez at the Boom Gallery in Sheung Wan tonight, but did not have a camera so didn't take any snaps.  The space was cool, with lots of mounted pictures of Hong Kong.  They varied in range from dense city-scapes like Mongkok (apparently the most densely populated area in the world by certain measures) to Causeway Bay to old buildings and alleyways throughout Kowloon and Sheung Wan.  Looking at the pictures of dense buildings, neon lights, old tenement houses, vintage Chinese signs and the juxtaposition of old and new and shabby and flashy, I decided that Hong Kong is an urban photographer's dream.  I'm so happy we had a chance to live here.

Michael and I also went out to celebrate my birthday tonight.  We enjoyed two kinds of hotpot soup base and various dishes, including marbled hand cut beef, fresh shrimp (they were still alive!), deep fried taro, tofu, vermicelli, and vegetables.
The shrimp were so fresh they moved their legs every so often.
Before - admittedly a silly picture.  But so much food!
After: completely stuffed.  And happy.
One notable thing about this hotpot place is that they serve Spam!  It is labeled "lunch meat" in Mandarin on the menu.  How fun.

And then, I came home to open my presents!
The cup of green liquid is fresh, cold sugar cane juice - another one of my presents!
Other than this busy social calendar of attending launch and cocktail parties (apparently par for the course in holiday-happy Hong Kong), I also came home yesterday to a lovely bouquet of flowers that made me so happy - because they were bright and cheery (how can flowers not make one happy?), but probably more so because they were for me, for just because!
Yay Michael.
My sister sent me a soft padded package from Thailand, which I opened to discover a colorful, comfortable kaftan-like dress that she bought at a co-op in Ubon.  I immediately tried it on.  It's perfect and I'm already imagining myself sunning in it by the pool in Bali.

Michael got me a cast iron teapot, a just darling little maroon/purple thing, with little flowers (like sakura) carved all over it.  I had mused in passing that for the amount of green tea we had and the amount of loose leaf tea that I drink, it's kind of funny that I don't have a proper teapot.  Well, this addresses the issue, and in a most stylish and authentic way.  It is a Nambu Tekki, handcrafted in Japan, using a technique developed over hundreds of years.  Like with cast iron pans, the iron in this teapot is supposed to be absorbed naturally and gradually into the body through the preparation and steeping of the tea.   The teapot is so cute.  I love it and it is just perfect.

Despite being busier at work this week, I have to say, all of these events have been enough to make a girl feel like she will burst with happiness!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spending Christmas in Finnish Lapland

Sooooo... big news!  We've been quite busy these past few weeks trying to plan out an itinerary for our Christmas and New Years vacation.  And just last night, we finally got things figured out enough that we bought a ticket!

We are heading to Finland (specifically, Finnish Lapland) to visit Michael's sister, who has been in Kuusamo, Finland since October, playing professional volleyball for Kuusamon Pallo-Karhut (PaKa).  Clearly she is a good addition to their team -- they've been undefeated since she joined!

We are renting a log cabin in the woods near Ruka, a ski resort north of Kuusamo.  I'm looking forward to husky sled rides, visiting an ice hotel, seeing an igloo, eating arctic berries, petting some reindeer, getting a traditional vihta massage and sauna, and, last but not least, viewing the Northern Lights.  Oh yeah, and we will be skiing too.  The lack of sunlight in such northern latitudes during the winter may be a challenge.  We will likely only be seeing 3 or 4 hours of sun a day.  I hope it doesn't leave us feeling too blue.

On our way into Finland, we have a nearly 20 hour layover in Moscow.  We plan to leave the airport to see the Red Square and Kremlin.  Is there a land more enchanting and intriguing than Russia?  I'm trying to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before our trip:


The letters are fun to learn and provide a nice complement to the backdrop of snow, fur hats, bottles of vodka, tins of caviar and stone-faced KGB figures that are currently flitting through my head.  I hope I ultimately learn more than just "da," "net" and "spasibo".

We are still working out ideas for the second half of the trip.  Spending some time in Helsinki, or making a side trip to St. Petersburg, are very strong contenders.  This holiday trip promises to be very interesting, exciting, and different.  And COLD.  I can't wait!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's hoping that everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I like that it focuses on food and family and friends.  I like that it encourages us to pause in our busy lives and just think about the good, the important, and the positive.  Come to think of it, maybe Thanksgiving should be held once a month.

At work, we all went to the American Club for a festive Thanksgiving lunch.  It was delicious and I stuffed myself as befitted the occasion.

For dinner, it was just Michael and me this year, so we decided not to do a turkey.  I made herb crusted pork loin, brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes.  Michael made the stuffing.  I'm afraid I was so busy cooking I took very sporadic pictures.  So I only have one at the very beginning, when the pork was still marinating, and one in the middle, when the brussels sprouts were sizzling.

I thought I was being so clever by going to the wet markets instead of the supermarket to buy a kabocha pumpkin for my pie.  And I felt triumphant when the pumpkin only cost HK$13 for a whole pumpkin, instead of the HK$30 that the supermarket charges for a quarter wedge.  Except, when I got home, I realized... that my kabocha pumpkin was actually a huge, deformed, acorn squash.  Due to that wee small insignificant mistake, and an inordinately frustrating inability to find cream or condensed milk, I'm going to try to make the pumpkin pie this weekend instead.  It will be like leftover pumpkin pie, except not.

To set the mood, we had lots of candles (I like that they're all mismatched) and dramatic, fragrant white lilies.  To go with the theme of the night, this picture was snapped when the table was half-set.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday Night Date

Yakitoritei is a Japanese restaurant that specializes in the grilled skewers (yakitori) of Japanese cuisine.  It's situated at 49-51 Woo Sing road in Happy Valley.  I've heard good reviews about the place and had wanted to try it out for a while.  Now that the horse races are back, it seemed a perfect Wednesday date night.  My friend and I had planned to do this last Wednesday night, but due to work, I had no choice but to postpone until this Wednesday. 

We stuffed ourselves with the following at Yakitoritei:

bacon wrapped asparagus, a favorite
chicken joint - crunchy!
beef wrapped mushrooms and miso cod - the cod was perfectly flaky and tender
green beans and fish flakes

oysters - plump, juicy and crispy - another favorite
scallops - a disappointment, because clearly frozen
sesame chicken - very juicy and flavorful - impressive from a grill
king sized prawn - a disappointment, because a bit tough, not very sweet, and expensive!

mushrooms - unassuming but savory
They sat us at the bar, where we could watch the two "grillers" flip and salt everybody's order on the very small grill.

We then strolled to the Happy Valley Racecourse, where we managed to see two races despite the pouring rain. Alas, my bet, Noble Deluxe, failed me, but my friend won on her first bet! Very exciting.

On a sidenote - evening calls are probably the biggest change in my working schedule since moving out to Asia.  Although many of our clients are global, most are still situated in New York.  It ends up that almost all of my calls are in the early morning (probably 30% of the time) or else at night (70%, especially if India or London is involved), and my day / afternoon is relatively quiet.  I've tried not to let this bother me, but sometimes it can be a real bummer.  Having calls every night at 8 or 9 pm when the day has been quiet just makes the working day seem so much longer.  The worst is when you have back to back late night (11 pm, midnight) calls, followed closely by early morning (7 am, 8 am) calls.  Yuk.