Monday, July 30, 2012

Lazy Weekend

We relaxed this weekend, going to brunch at The Pawn with some friends on Saturday, but otherwise lazed around watching the Olympics (at all hours of the night), wrestling with our internet speeds and VPN and stream sites (in order to watch the Olympics at all hours of the night), reading (wait, that was only me), and watching chick flick movies (wait, that was only me too).

The Pawn was formerly a, you guessed it, pawn shop.  It is relatively unique because Hong Kong does not have many modern, new establishments built in old, historical settings.  The tendency for shops and restaurants here is to raze and rebuild instead.      

Friday, July 27, 2012

La la la

Today I saw a yellow and purple butterfly, perched in a groove on the side of my office building, next to one of the busiest intersections in Central.  It was a little miracle and I'm so happy I noticed the beautiful little buddy.

I went to a lovely jewelry + wine + cheese happy hour this evening and checked out some fabulous accessories, as well as all kinds of ladies decked out in very fashionable outfits.

In other news, I'm so happy to chill out and catch up on sleep for the weekend.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Indulging Creativity

I broke out the paints and canvas for the first time today.  It always takes me so long to get into it and then as I am painting (or in this instance, "knifing," as I used paint knives to give the strokes a crisp, sharp edge) I wonder why I don't do it more often.  It's enjoyable and therapeutic.  This one, which I've decided will be called "Desire", will go over the couch in the living room.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Sadly my trip to Tokyo was only two days and two nights long.  However, my friend and I managed to get a good amount of activity in during that time.

On Saturday, after milling about Tsukiji for a while longer, we walked to Ginza, Tokyo's upscale fashion shopping district.  I recognize it by the numerous store and shop signs that line the buildings of the street. On weekends, the street is closed to cars to allow for better flow of foot traffic.

After that, we enjoyed a bit of the countryside by taking a train to Kawagoe.  The trains are very efficient and clean ( THIS (train) and THIS (subway) comprises a true public transportation system, people!) and go practically everywhere.  Every platform has electronic screens in English and Japanese reporting the next two trains and when they next arrive.  The only thing is, there may be a lot of transferring because of how extensive the train and subway networks are.  Certain lines are also very very deep, so you find yourself riding a lot of escalators in and out.

Once in Kawagoe, we bussed to a small temple that was clean, charming and quaint.  We were lucky to witness a wedding occurring inside the temple.
Water for purification upon entry
Where people toss coins and pray
The special trees
Charms decorated with people's blessings and prayers
There is a funny story behind the special trees:  apparently if you walk around them in a figure eight (in a particular direction) then pick up a stone near the trees, you will resolve your love issues.  And once the issues are resolved, you are supposed to return to the site to return the love stone.  Despite happily being in a relationship, and despite my very heavy dose of skepticism, I decided to walk the figure eight and pocket a stone.  Because, I guess, you never know.  Plus it's a good story.

We then went to the festival held in a large field at the outskirts of Kawagoe - there were fireworks galore, and we stuffed our faces with typical Japanese street food: draft Asahi beer, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, yaki soba, "hormones" (a.k.a. cow intestines), buttery roasted potatoes, caramel and custard crepes and choco-bananas.

Finally, on Sunday, my friend and I decided to take. it. easy. We went to an onsen, or baths filled with hot springs.  The location was interesting - the onsen was located in the Tokyo Dome, which is a huge complex that contains a mall, food courts, and... an amusement park.  The roller coaster was actually kind of intimidating - I was surprised by how high some parts of it stretched.  Next to it is a minimalist ferris wheel, with no spokes or center, which is (affectionately? slyly?) dubbed "The Big O".  Sadly, I did not have a chance to ride it this time.

We had to be fully naked in the spa area of the onsen so picture-taking was clearly taboo.  It was the perfect end to my trip - we took turns plunging into lukewarm, hot, super hot, and icy pools of water.  I particularly liked the almost-too hot mineral baths, and the sensation of going from super hot to icy was the most peculiar I'd ever experienced: tiny pinpricks of ice working its way slowly up my numb limbs - and my lungs feeling almost shriveled from the cold.  I felt like I was turning into ice, and my breath felt like menthol.  We also took advantage of a thoroughly enjoyable 20 minute massage, the steam room and sauna facilities.  By the time we finally took a shower and scrubbed ourselves clean, I felt thoroughly relaxed but yet also energized.  By the time I was on the bus heading to the airport, I was so relaxed I succumbed to the inevitable, and allowed sleep to blanket me.

P.S.  check out this amazing touch screen vending machine...

Monday, July 23, 2012


I decided to go on a whirlwind weekend trip to see one of my best friends who is currently in Tokyo.  I flew straight from Beijing and as a result of sitting on the plane for two hours before take off (ugh), did not get into Tokyo until Friday nearly midnight.  It was not exactly what I envisioned, but oh well.

After I had a chance to drop my stuff off, my friend and I went to an izakaya to drink some oolong-hai, eat some typical izakaya dishes like: marinated okra and raw tofu with fresh fish flakes, chicken meatballs, barbecued yakitori, and some lotus root with chicken patty.  It was all very tasty.  I was glad I opted to try the oolong-hai instead of what I had been eying (draft Asahi).  Oolong-hai is oolong tea mixed with soju, a Japanese alcoholic beverage distilled from barley, rice or sweet potato. It's just like a tasty iced tea with a kick.

The next morning, we awoke to head to the very top item on my to-do list: EAT (at Tsukiji Fish Market).  Boy oh boy was I excited about this.  The last time I was at Tsukiji was in 2007 on a law school spring break trip, when I had an absolute blast.  On that trip, I had one of my most memorable meals at Daiwa Sushi.  I loved the intimacy of the small sushi bar, the respect of the fellow guests, the wisdom and experience of the chef.  It clocked in at the most expensive breakfast I had ever had - probably in the US $55 range, though I can't recall the precise dollar amount anymore.

This time around, I didn't feel the compunction to arise at four a.m. in order to see the actual market.  I knew it was going to be a mass of organized chaos, slippery fishy water, ice, raw and bloody fish parts, and really really awesome sea creatures displayed all about.  This time, I was super focused on the food.  So my friend and I didn't arrive at Tsukiji until closer to noon.

First, we went to get a light egg custard for 100 yen, a bargain in this pretty expensive city.

Then we headed to the real business - getting down with the fish at the intimate, immaculate sushi bars that wend their way around the maxes and alleys of Tsukiji.  We went to a place that claimed to have been open for 400 years.  Our chef was the owner and the restaurant has been in his family for 17 (yeah, think about that for a second) generations.  He continues to bequeath his family's legacy and art to the  people who grace his counter in batches of 8-10 every day (except Sunday). I took the following picture while he was still setting up the bar so that I wouldn't be THAT tourist:

Sushi is meant to be eaten in one bite, so that you taste all of the flavors at once.  The chef prepares just the right amount of wasabi (tucked between the fish and the rice) and also brushes on the soy sauce (if necessary).  Therefore, you are not supposed to do any dipping or dunking of your own volition.  Just eat what's put in front of you and savor the sublime flavors and textures exploding in your mouth.  The sushi here was exquisite.  Incredibly fresh, but also full of flavor and delight.  I thought it was a really good deal too - about $35 for an entire set lunch.  While I loved the tender, flaky, fatty slices of fish that he placed before us, I especially loved the non-fish pieces: the large sweet scallop freshened with sea salt and yuzu, the briny oyster paired with scallion and chili flakes, the hand roll tucked with plump, glistening caviar, and last but certainly not least, the meltingly-soft sea urchin.

Sitting at the bar is such a wonderful experience because you can see all of the various knives the chef uses (knives of different length, shape, width and edges based on the type of fish), watch his deft hands casually and easily mold the various sushi, and also hear his explanation of certain types of fish.  This last bit was rather lost on me, because I don't understand Japanese, however, it made me feel quite special nonetheless.

Other sights at Tsukiji:

These crabs were waving at us animatedly

All kinds of creatures of the deep
Various cuts of tuna, with various prices to match
Tender shoots of fresh ginger
Fresh wasabi, segregated based on size and price

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's Always Rainy in China

Except it's not.  Jeepers.  It's easy to downplay the effects of pollution until you are swimming in it.  Then you realize how scary it is.  This is my view from my hotel room at the Park Hyatt in Beijing.

Update: On the way to the airport, my driver told me that it was "summer smog".

In addition, some other fun pictures from my business trip that I hadn't had a chance to upload.

The toilets are brilliant!  The seat is heated, the toilet automatically flushes, the lid is sensor-activated so it opens and shuts once it sense you approaching or once you have departed, there is a bidet (with multiple options of spray force and temperature), it glows in the dark so you can see it at night AND, as if all of that's not enough, it can play some music if you happen to need some disguise.
Another favorite
(The shampoo and conditioner and body wash were bergamot scented - who knew that bergamot smells AH-mazing?)

I didn't get much of a chance to see many sights in Beijing, but as you can see, the city builds on a verrrrry large scale.

Next post will be about my weekend trip to Tokyo!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cat Street

It is always fun to go for a stroll along Upper Lascar Row, also more commonly known as "Cat Street",  to see the kitschy items that are on sale, the jade trinkets that are believed to bring luck, the various antiques and vintage items sometimes arranged in order and sometimes overwhelming in their sprawl:

Pedestrians only
Do you want a Buddha head?
Or a Bruce Lee poster?
Jade trinkets
Organized? clutter
Just before Cat Street is the Man Mo Temple, which always smells like smoky wisps of incense and is a fun spot to step in for some quiet contemplation:
And just to the right of the Man Mo Temple is a set of demonic stairs (not shown in this picture) called Ladder Street.  Sometimes we end our workout by racing (or for me it's more like crawling) up this set of stairs, up up up the hill to our apartment.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Petting Llamas on Lamma Island

We went to Lamma Island today, an island in the New Territories that I had been wanting to check out for a while.  It is only a 25 minute ferry ride from Pier 4 in Central to the Yung Shue Wan.

We pulled up to this:

Look at those perfect clouds
Oddly the island has a very large power plant - more on this later...
 I felt relaxed as soon as we stepped off the double decker ferry, feeling the slightly sticky air and the salty, slightly smelly, tang of the water.  The rhythmic sound of the water gently lapping against the dock was also immensely soothing.  We immediately strolled around looking for a place to eat.  My appetite raced into overdrive when I saw these fresh seafood (geoduck, razor clams, clams), and before long we were settled at a most lovely, leisurely, sunny spot.

So idyllic

Fresh steamed clams
We then decided to wander to the Lamma Beach we had read / heard about -- I had heard that it was very popular with dog owners and in full view of the power station, which in my mind could not possibly be a good combination.  After a hot and sweaty walk, we ended up here:

Power plant + clouds + pollution...yuck
Garbage... yuck
This doesn't even really begin to capture how many people were on this beach - ???
Conclusion?  I don't really get the appeal of the beach on Lamma Island.

Some other shots from our wanderings:

All in all, it was a very tiring but fulfilling day.  We ordered pizza for takeout while still on the ferry, and an hour after taking the photos of the bikes tied to the pier on Lamma, we were two slices into our 24" pie from Paisano's!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Repulse Bay Beach

We had an enjoyable Saturday, beginning with some brunch at the cute and dependable Phoenix off of the escalators -- Michael got the big breakfast, where he opted for the very healthy combination plate of eggs over easy, hash browns, baked beans, sausage and fries, and I got the minute steak with roasted tomato, two fried eggs, fries, and a small side salad.  It was all very delicious.  I'm only a little abashed to admit that I ate my entire plate minus one egg yolk and two fries.

We then headed for Repulse Bay beach, just to sit out and relax in the sun and surf.  Despite my misgivings about the water (it's the same water that all of those idling yachts and tankers share!) we swam out to one of the three floating docks.  It's pretty embarrassing to admit, but I could barely swim to the dock without feeling like I was going to drown.  My legs were super shaky and tired by the time I got there and my breath was coming fast.  And that was including a quick break where I hung on to Michael and panted really hard.  And I think the whole distance was probably about two laps in a pool.  Granted, we were swimming against the waves so there was some resistance.  And I wasn't putting my head in the water which I think kind of made my arms less effective.  However, ultimately, I think we can conclude... that swimming is not my forte.  After coming back to the shore, I collapsed gratefully on my sand-strewn towel, plopped on my black straw hat, and cuddled my kindle.  That is more the type of exercise I can get behind!

Finally, we ended the night by getting hotpot at Little Fat Sheep in Causeway Bay, where Michael goggled at my ability to eat copious amounts of tofu, lamb, winter melon, taro and vermicelli.  Then, as if that were insufficient, I greedily bought not one but TWO fruit juices --  snow pear and sugar cane.

After a breezy ride home on the top deck of the tram (which provides a great perspective of the streets), we ended the night in good spirits.