Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sunday Brunch

This past Sunday, Michael and I enjoyed brunch at Phoenix, a cute and reasonably priced restaurant near the corporate apartment.  They have a nice Sunday brunch special that we like.  It has been comforting to find and establish new spots.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mini Mangos

These little mangos, juicy, sweet and tart, are in season now.  Many fit in the palm of my hand, like a little gold nugget.  I have no willpower and gobble them down.  Gobble gobble.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sing Kee, or 盛記

I realized that I haven't been posting much about my culinary adventures here, except to complain - too much salt, too much meat, too much monosodium glutamate, bad coffee, etc.   I have been woefully negligent in singing the praises of one of the activities (if not THE activity) in which Hong Kong residents find the greatest joy and pleasure: tasty food!

So without further ado, I now wax rhapsodic about Sing Kee, one of the few remaining dai pai dongs left in Hong Kong.  Outdoors, the mismatched wooden tables litter the sidewalk and tiny stools allow patrons to cram almost 8 or 10 to a table. Indoors, fluorescent lights and wet concrete floors beckon.  Service is brusque but not rude.  Currently, this is one of my favorite places to eat.

Image courtesy of OpenRice
Now onto the culinary delights, in pictures:

Refreshing brew to start.  Note the buckets of dirty dishes and slop in the background.
Soup of the day, cooked for hours on end.
Crock pot and massive soup ladle used to cook the aforesaid soup.
Tender sweet and sour fried chicken with pineapple chunks.  Michael's favorite.
Pork ribs with bitter melon in black bean sauce.
This was so delicious I forgot to take the picture until I'd devoured half the dish.
Fish head with tofu, shredded pork and cilantro.
And, yes... that is the eyeball.  
Dai pai dongs are a fascinating piece of Hong Kong history but unfortunately, also a disappearing cultural phenomenon.  These open air food stalls are characterized by steel tin walls painted green, a haphazard atmosphere, and delicious local cuisine.  According to Wikipedia, after WWII, the government issued licenses to families of deceased and injured civil servants that allowed them to operate food stalls in public.  The license was physically larger than the ones normally issued - hence the name "dai pai dong", which is literally, "large license".  

Unfortunately, it seems that the dai pai dongs' popularity contributed to their demise - they caused street congestion, and hygiene and sanitation posed growing concerns.  In response, the government stopped issuing these licenses in 1956 and limited their transfer.  Now, the licenses can no longer be inherited and may only be passed on to the spouse of the licensee upon his death.  As a result, as of today, there are only 28 dai pai dongs remaining in all of Hong Kong.

Friday, February 24, 2012


I went to a "She Roars!" Princeton Women in Hong Kong meet-and-greet cocktail hour and dinner last night.  It was held at the Beirut restaurant and bar a few streets away from my work.  Due to the light rain, I was peering out from under my hood as I walked past.  When I paused from perusing my blackberry to get my bearings, before I had a chance to utter a word the owner at the front of the restaurant grinned and pointed to the unmistakable orange and black Princeton banner and said, "Up there!"

It felt a little odd to see the banner, last sighted at Princeton reunions and evocative of dorm days past, hanging over a balcony overlooking the hookah smokers and local bar hangout scene that is Lan Kwai Fong.

The event was well-attended, with alums ranging from class of '82 to class of '10, and consisted of newbies to the city (like me) as well as people who have been living in Hong Kong for four, five, fifteen years.  Aside from sampling some tasty Lebanese food and meeting some new friends, I walked away with a pretty flower arrangement.  (One of the women, formerly an investment banker, has opened her own florist shop.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


There really hasn't been as much of a fake DVD and fake bag market here as I'd expected.  I imagine a lot of people here go to Shenzhen to purvey fakes to their hearts' content because it seems pretty heavily enforced in Hong Kong.   Today, however, I couldn't help but shake my head as I glimpsed this Proenza Schouler PS1 "inspired" bag, available in multiple colors, brazenly on display in the shop next to my office.

Harder to police when not plastered in logo

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Weekend Hijinks

We went on a death-defying hike this past weekend on a trail off of good ole' Old Peak Road.  We started from our apartment innocently and easily enough, after a lazy late Sunday start.  The sun was out, the sky was clear - for once, it seemed as if Hong Kong's perpetually gray winter was not here to stay.  We proceeded up Hornsey Road and May Road until we hit Old Peak Road.  From there, we meant to proceed up to Lugard Road and Severn Road, but of course Michael had to take a detour.  Unfortunately the pictures don't show how steep the climb was.  At one point, we had to haul ourselves up the trail via the rope slung between two worryingly frail trees.

I admit I grumbled the entire way.  All I wanted was a nice easy hike!  Is that too much to ask?  Anyway, it was okay in the end because after we made it up to the Peak I got a cup of sweet, fresh watermelon juice.  And then I got a big bag of sour strawberry candy.  We then proceeded to stroll Lugard Road.  It really has the best views of Hong Kong.
You can't see the corporate apartment, but we are just north of the building with the bright yellow crane-like top

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Death by Dearth of (Good) Coffee

It's hard to believe I've already been here for over a month!

Therefore it's high time for me to complain loudly and grumpily about the lack of good coffee in Hong Kong.  (I won't go so far as to say absolute nonexistence, because I know there are a few coffee shops that do actually serve good coffee -- except that's kind of the point too -- you have to hunt down these little storefronts out in Tin Hau, Causeway Bay, Sheung Wan...and in one particular example, a woman's private apartment -- and, really, in the morning when all one wants is a strong good cup of joe to kick off the day, who wants to go to all that trouble?)

I noticed the absence almost immediately, but it wasn't until Michael got here that I truly realized it -- the man lives on multiple cups of the black drip.   Now, before you think that we are all high fallutin' and snobby about our roast and beans, rest assured that Michael has the lowest standard for black coffee of anyone I've met.   The options and styles here range from bitter coffee grinds boiled into a syrupy sludge in a tea kettle on the stove, burnt coffee drowned in sugar and heavy milk, or a watery, mildly foamy, strained-through-an -espresso-machine-not-quite-espresso-not-quite-coffee mix.

It's gotten to the point that even I (I make pretty terrible coffee) have taken to making my own cup at work because it tastes more like coffee than any other coffee for sale that I've found thus far.  The situation is so dire that Michael has resorted to a big jar of instant coffee (Nescafe, ohh la la) to tide him through the mornings.

This brings me to my next point.  We thought, OK, so no one serves coffee the way we like it (and it still costs a whopping $5 at fancy Western joints), easy peasy, we'll go buy a coffee machine and some grounds.  Well, it turns out you can buy multiple brands and styles of rice cookers, ceramic heaters, hot water kettles, oscillating fans and even espresso machines ... but not so much a coffee maker with a simple timer.  We've looked at Fortress, Wing On, SOGO and multiple Japan Home Centers.  We're even willing to go without the timer or downgrade the size, but when the only models you've found are a 4-cup toy and an 8-cup no-brand, each charging upwards of US$50, you kind of want to dig in your heels and complain.

Do we want to buy the machine that we want on Amazon, for US$22.22, only to pay US$23 for shipping and handling?  Grumble grumble.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My New Officemate

A trip to the dentist this morning brought me to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, which, because I live and work on Hong Kong Island, I frequent less often.  Once Kowloon-bound, I decided to make my journey more productive by visiting the Flower Market near Prince Edward Station.  The result?  Scraggly love.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


We spent this past weekend in Macau, cooling our heels in the rather lovely Mandarin Oriental on the water's edge, overlooking the Ponte da Amizade and the Lago Nam Van.  The hotel was hushed and muted, yet still luxurious and elegant.  To maintain the quiet, the hotel does not maintain a casino but rather connects to the MGM Grand.
A view from the room
I loved walking through the over-the-top casinos, some of which were larger than any I had ever seen.  I particularly loved the lavish gold-toned cloth chandeliers, brocade drapes, and beige silk plump chairs of the Wynn casino.   In some areas, there were tables upon tables, as far as the eyes could see in all directions. There were also more members-only and high roller rooms / tables than I had ever noticed at any other casino in the States.   Most of the gamblers and tourists in the city seemed to be from mainland China.   I did notice that the gamblers seemed quite serious here - they all tended to be quiet, intense, alert (probably counting, scheming, calculating probabilities in their head) and forsook alcohol for coffee, tea, water and cigarettes.  It was truly a world apart from the loud, raucous environment I had come to associate with gambling joints in Vegas or Atlantic City.

We didn't spend all of our time in the casinos, though - it seemed a shame to make the trip and not try to glimpse some of the old town square, to try to find the lingering vestiges of Macau's Portuguese legacy.  (According to various sources, Macau was both the first and last European outpost in East Asia.  Portuguese settlers first settled the area in 1557, and administered the region until it was officially ceded in December of 1999.  That's a long time.)  Thus on the second night, we meandered through the old town squares, marveling at the cobblestone paths, the intricate wrought iron balconies, the delicately carved wood shutters and the thick stone steps.  Despite the commercialism and tourism that has crept into the area, the narrow streets, large swaying yellow lanterns and dilapidated buildings still managed to emanate a shabby charm, evocative of the romance of years past.

Casinos are probably what first come to mind when one mentions Macau, but the area is also known for some pretty good food and shopping.  Egg tarts are famous here and seafood is fresh and abundant.  Shops selling jewelry, cigars and fine liquor also abound.  We couldn't help but notice the heaps and heaps of luxury watch stores lining the city sidewalks.  Perhaps when the high rollers win big in Macau, their first urge is to go and buy a US$45,000 diamond encrusted Rolex?  Hmmm.

Huge shark fins on display.  And, a white cat. 
Restaurants displayed tanks full of fish, lobsters, crabs and even manta rays.
Does this caption even need a caption?
Macau is an easy trip from Hong Kong - it takes just over an hour to pass through immigration, take the ferry and clear customs.  The ferry ride can be a little choppy, but on a nice day affords pretty views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the south side of Lantau island.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We Have a Winner!

Ding ding ding.  After a lot of dramatic indecision and wavering resolution, after hesitant negotiation and decisive rehashing, our offer on an apartment was accepted today. We have a place to live, folks.  It only took 50 unit viewings, 40 emails, 15 phone calls, 10 text messages, four full afternoons, and a bidding war.  Pictures to come, stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I've been meaning to post these pictures for a while.  I love the vegetable vendors and the fish and meat shops along Graham Street.  I especially like to buy kale and freshly-made tofu here.  Fruits of all colors and shapes also abound.  I haven't really bought any seafood or meat here yet, but I think I will give it a gander soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Geeking Out

Most of you probably know that I love to read.  However, you may not know how much I love libraries as well: the rows and rows of faded, taped, thumbed-through, loved (and often abused) books, the well-worn chairs and tables, and yes, even the smell (dust, dank, a dash of mildew).

Public library cards have traced my moves from city to city around the United Sates: Queens (Bayside branch, represent), Great Neck, Chicago and New York City.  So it comes as no surprise that one of the first things I looked up here was the library.  To my delight, Hong Kong has an extensive library network and what looks to be a pretty good e-books collection.   The branch closest to me is at City Hall, one floor above where the city issues marriage licenses.

What are you reading?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Go Giants!

We are sitting in McSorley's on Elgin St., watching the Superbowl.  Michael is frustrated that he can't talk to his boy Spencer about the Giants (but he is also three beers in and it's 10 am).

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Weekend Activities: Apartment Hunting and Hiking

These past few days have passed in a blur of emails and phone calls, mostly of the work variety but also a little of the administrative and errand variety, such as the typical last-minute-work-emergencies, how-to-deal-with-a-demanding-client anxieties, trying-doggedly-to cross-everything-off-my-list frenzies, and by the end of that boy was I glad it was Friday.

On Saturday, we endured a whirlwind viewing with one of our real estate agents, a young woman whose diminutive frame and soft-spoken manner belied her energy.  She took us to 17 units across three neighborhoods in 5 hours - calmly, politely, but always at a blistering pace.  We walked down hills, up hills, up steps, down steps, across streets, through walkways, took a subway, took a tram.  By the end we were amazed that we could still walk, much less recall anything.

On Sunday, Michael and I decided to further compound the time we'd spent on our feet by embarking on one of the most famous and picturesque hiking trails on Hong Kong Island: Dragon's Back.  This trail was selected by Time magazine in 2004 as the best urban hiking trail.  We took the MTR to Shau Kei Wan, then hopped on city bus no. 9, which delivered us to To Tei Wan, where we began our ascent. We then eventually descended back down to sea level, ending up in Tai Long Wan, or Big Wave Bay, a cute little town that had a chill, surfing vibe.  The official trail was 8.5 km long, but we took a 45-minute detour off the beaten path.

Some pictures:

Tai Tam Harbor
Houses along the harbor

Shek O Beach, Tai Tau Chau and Island Bay

Are we in Rio?

Off-roading on the path less traveled...
Finally, Big Wave Bay