Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eat Your Veggies

Despite its well-deserved reputation as a food haven, Hong Kong fare can be quite unhealthy and very vegetarian-unfriendly (not that I am a vegetarian, but the shortage is so acute it didn't take long for me to take note).  Also, the use of MSG is decidedly liberal, restaurants can be heavy on the salt and oil, and no-meat, no-seafood options tend to be frustratingly spare.  At local canteens, usually the only green option is the daily vegetable of the day, served with a dollop of oyster sauce.  Most salads don't even come meat or shrimp-free.  As a result, I have begun to scoop up more and more of the seasonal greens at the local markets (more pictures of such markets to come).

The "A" vegetable, no really that's what it's called

Chinese kale, a (distant?) cousin of curly leaf kale

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Peak

We went to Victoria Peak today.  The Peak Galleria has transformed the entire area into a tourist trap, but there are some beautiful and refreshing hiking trails around the peak of the mountain that provide a nice break from the congestion of the city.

The bus ride up and down the mountain's hairpin roads - harrowing yet fun

A portion of the famous skyline, shrouded in fog, as we descended

"The Peak I <3 You" - tram ticket


Yesternight I went to the airport to pick up Michael, who was taking a nonstop flight to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.  It's a pretty brutal 16 hour flight, but luckily he was on a nearly empty plane so he could stretch 3 seats across.  Discovering (only at the last minute) that drinks were complimentary, and watching an assortment of TV shows and newly released movies along the way, he declared that Cathay is the only airline that he would ever fly again.

This is the interior of the airport express train that rockets a lucky traveler from Central Hong Kong to the international airport in a whopping 24 minutes for a little over US$12.  The train didn't show an odometer, but rather a flashing electric blue light that tracks the train's progress from station to station.  The train is quiet, clean and spacious.  Have I mentioned that public transportation here is lovely?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Money and Red Envelopes

Red envelopes, or hong bao, are filled with money and given at the time of the Chinese New Year.  (And sometimes, they are not red - but the most important thing is that they have money inside!)  The Hong Kong dollars are quite colorful. It's going to take me some time before I get used to the currency.  Now I still have to do math in my head, converting everything into the US$ equivalent.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hunt

Apartment hunting in any new city is daunting and causes headaches big and small, but in Hong Kong it has become the stuff of legends.  Brokers take a hefty commission, prices are high, everything is subject to negotiation, and, well, space is a premium.  All of this means that there are some things I'm really not used to!  Below, some shots taken as I traipsed around the city.  

The kitchen at an apartment asking nearly $4000 USD a month: it constitutes a small, shallow sink, two electric stove plates, a fridge/freezer unit.  And, there's a washer dryer!!  Oh sure, you may be wondering, where's the oven? The microwave? The dishwasher?  Well... it turns out that ovens are very difficult to find, microwaves are rare, and dishwashers nonexistent.  

Bathtubs are not really all that common here.  If there is a tub, it's probably the perfect size for a toddler.  Or maybe a small, well-behaved dog.  As you can see, there's not much space to spare between the toilet, the shower stall, and the sink.

Then there are the comically serpentine floor plans, sometimes resulting in very long hallways.

And of course there's the universal trick of making a studio into a 1 bedroom.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Office

As would be expected, the long and joyous celebration of the year of the dragon was interrupted (or better words might be, co-opted, seized, usurped, completely overtaken) by work.  This is convenient, though, in that it reminded me to provide some pictures of and views from (fair warning: views are nonexistent) my office.  I need to spruce it up a bit with some paintings, pictures and plants.

Space heater is oh-so-necessary.

View from my desk.

My favorite corner of the pantry.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Friday!

The flower markets were bustling today as everyone gathered fresh flowers for the new year.  People rolled suitcases to work in preparation for their early evening flights.  Anticipation, whether for families and friends gathered around a home-cooked feast, or the warmer sunnier beaches of a nearby tropical isle, or just time to sleep in, relax and while away the days, made the air heady.  A five day weekend is serious stuff.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Star Fruit and Wax Apple

I wandered around Sheung Wan today, basking in the sights and sounds of a new neighborhood.  Along the way, I couldn't help but pick up some star fruit and wax apple, two fruits that immediately conjure up childhood days spent in Taiwan.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lunch at Mak's Noodle

You knew it wouldn't be long before I was posting about wonton soup, right?  Well, I'm never one to disappoint.  I had the shrimp wonton with egg noodles and a side of kale with oyster sauce.

Mak's Noodle, 77 Wellington Street, Central.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Snapshots of My Morning Commute

My street - note how narrow the sidewalks are.

Lots of steps run adjacent to the escalators, and all along the way there are shops, bars and restaurants.  The escalators go downhill from 6 am until 10 am, and then are switched to run uphill from 10 am until midnight.

Bird's eye view from one of the escalator platforms.  According to Wiki, this is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world.  It spans over 800 meters long and over an altitude of 135 meters.

Stand on the right, walk on the left - a "rule" not really always followed.  

Put your octopus card (the equivalent of a metro card,/credit-debit card) over the sensor to get HK$2 discount on that day's ride!  Oh the things the NYC MTA could learn...

This is the part I like to walk down really fast.

This is one of my favorite stretches of my morning commute - the market on Gage St.

Elevated walkways are a really big thing here.

Approximately 12 minutes from door to door, I'm at work.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Week in Hong Kong

I've just meandered through my first full week in Hong Kong, soaking in the sights and sounds and smells occurring above, below and all around my jet lagged self.  Even though I had spoken to a lot of people about the city, and even though I'd read up on the city (a little) before my arrival, some aspects of it still really took me by surprise.

The sheer vertical of this city is truly something to behold.  In some areas of the city, narrow steps cling to roads that launch at nearly impossible angles, and like an urban terracing system, each street is crammed with storefronts that spill over onto the equally crammed neighboring streets one terrace layer above or directly below.  Steps are uneven, slippery, and sometimes drop away without any notice.  Over busy main thoroughfares, there are a lot of sky-walks, which make getting around, especially on a rainy day, quite convenient.

The juxtaposition of old versus modern, East versus West, or however you want to characterize the differences, is also startling. One main street is fancy chocolate and fine baubles and gemstones, but a left turn down a narrow alley plants you directly in front of flower booths, vegetable stalls, keysmiths and laundromats as if from days of yore.  In the span of a block, old ladies hunch over their homemade tofu or neatly-folded cardboard boxes while lumbering expats share a few pints at a pub.  Laundry flaps from the gated windows of a cinder block apartment, shadowing a sleek internet cafe sheathed in glass and white marble.

Finally, there is the cost of certain items in this city.   I know, I know.  What did I expect?  It's a population of 7.1 million people crammed into a land mass of only 426 square miles. Of course it's going to be expensive.  The real estate prices are worse than New York City, for goodness sake.  However, I think the expensive things come as a surprise because there are so many things that are so cheap.  For example, a filling breakfast consisting of congee and fried rice cruller runs about US$3.  A subway ride can cost as little as US$0.25.  A short taxi ride will run a little over US$3.  However, anything imported is on par with the bodegas and supermarkets in New York City. And fancy chocolates? Forget it. Five little pieces cost US$15.45!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Temporary Corporate Digs

Here are some pictures of and views from my corporate apartment in Mid-levels.  It's quite nice - my only complaint is that the kitchen is not really all that functional.