Friday, September 21, 2012

A Birthday Visitor!

Apologies as I continue to play catch up on my posts.  A brief recap on a wonderful last weekend:  my friend Amy came to Hong Kong for a whirlwind visit, landing on Friday night and departing Monday morning.  We tried to make the most of it, and I am very happy to say that we did!

Friday night, we walked through the craziness that is LKF, in order to reach a zen foot and body massage parlor at nearly midnight.  After being kneaded and pressed nearly to death (they do like exerting pressure and eliciting pain here), we rolled out, relaxed yet refreshed, to find a 24-hour dimsum joint.  The first place we went turned out to be closed / nonexistent.  Undeterred, we hopped in a cab and asked our driver to recommend a place.  We ended up at a very local joint in Tin Hau, right next to the MTR.  When we emerged at nearly 2 am, the sidewalk was cluttered with the ubiquitous red taxis, sitting empty and dark as their drivers and owners sat inside, slurping down soup, fried noodles and a variety of dim sum dishes.

Saturday morning, we ate a breakfast of congee and fried crullers, topped with an iced milk tea.  Then we headed to the piers to take the ferry boat to Lantau island, where we ate at the Mui Wo seafood center before heading to Cheung Sha beach.  It was all very relaxing - a long stretch of sand, the gentle lapping of waves and the distant cries and reverberations of children's feet as they pounded along the beach.  I definitely dozed off.  Then I awoke to some smells and deep grunts.  The feral cattle were on the beach!  They brought with them a horde of huge dragonflies.  While the dragonflies seemed harmless, their size and buzzing were certainly menacing.  That night, we celebrated Amy's birthday (her 30th, wahoo!!) by eating a LOT of hotpot in Wanchai, and then heading to Sevva, a really lovely and fancy shmancy bar in Central.  The drinks there were nice, though a bit sweet for my liking.  The BEST part though was organizing the surprise cake slice with the candle.  Sevva has lovely desserts, and I opted for a fluffy angel cake with sugar crunchy bits scattered on top.  After Amy made a wish (a very good one that will come true I am sure), we made quick work of the sweet. 

Sunday was our champion day.  We got up, went to dim sum at Lei Garden, took the peak tram up to Victoria Peak, walked Lugard Road, loaded up on fruit juice and sour candy for energy, then cabbed it to Stanley Market and Waterfront, where we sipped on icy cold coconuts on the boardwalk.  After walking that, we ventured into the market to try our hand at some bargaining and shopping.  I emerged with some silk placemats, which I am quite satisfied with.  After that, we bussed it to Central, where we boarded the iconic Star Ferry boat to cross the harbor to TST.   Although the ride was short, it was so very picturesque.  It may be quite familiar to me now, but the Hong Kong skyline is still breathtaking.  After that, we snacked on cured pork jerky, ate wonton noodles and tripe and tendon with spicy sauce, ate fish balls and cuttle fish balls off the stick on the street, and ended our feast with a stop in a local dessert store for some mango and pomelo shaved snowflake ice.  I was pretty impressed by everything we managed to do!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Work and Play

Yikes, September is flying by.  I'm not sure how it happened that my last post was nearly two weeks ago! How to sum up where I left off?  How to capture Taiwan and the experience of visiting this little island, formerly known as Formosa, only an hour and a half flight from Hong Kong? It's pretty easy: Cheap. Great Food.  Friendly People.

It is also home to all of my relatives on my mother's side.  It's kind of weird (and a bit sad) to have relatives that you just don't know that well - the last time I saw two of my cousins was twelve years ago - and I have another cousin that I haven't seen in even longer.  It's a marked contrast to the large family that Michael has, where all the cousins grow up together and have known each other since birth.  It made me wistful.  Hopefully now that I'm out here and closer to Taiwan, I can go more often and hang out with them.

Unfortunately as with all of my fun endeavors lately, my stay in Taiwan was a (sometimes stressful) mix of work and play.  However, let's focus on the play, shall we?

Four days beginning the Saturday before last was spent in an epic food blur.  This involved Mongolian hotpot, Sichuan hotpot, Sukiyaki Japanese hotpot... mian xian (noodles and oysters), jian bao (fried buns), fried stinky tofu, tian bu la (a mixture of assorted fish balls, tofu and white radish cooked in a savory sauce), pepper buns, sugar cane juice, papaya and milk shakes, steamed clams, mango shaved ice, taro and sweet potato mochi dessert, pig's blood rice cake (did that one scare you?).. and even a Vietnamese restaurant...and a Sichuan restaurant.   Amazing.

I also picked up a few rompers, hair bands, shorts.. all inappropriate for work.

The next time I go to Taiwan, I am going to weigh myself right before and right after, just to see how many pounds someone can gain in the mere span of four days.  It should be an interesting experiment.

Typical night market food - everything tastes better on a stick!
Upon my return to Hong Kong on Wednesday (I booked myself on the first flight out of Taiwan... an epic 7:10 AM flight.  See previous post), I promptly found myself buried in the mound of work that had hounded me in Taiwan and refused to shake free.

Thankfully, it eased up just a bit, just in time for the arrival on Friday through Monday of one of my dearest friends, who is now working in Tokyo and who came to visit and spend her birthday in Hong Kong... with me!  Next post.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Week Recap continued

Last night, I attended the launch party of Reiss in IFC with my friends.  The dresses and patterns were colorful and attention-grabbing, but nothing could capture my attention as swiftly as the free manicure booth in the corner.  I opted for a purplish-gray, but now immensely (oh, the agony!) regret not going for the electric neon coral.

We then grabbed hotpot for dinner at Megan's Kitchen in Wanchai.  They are famous for a Tom Yum cappucino souffle soup base.  It looked like this: massive cappucino in a soup pot!

It was a bit misleading though, because the soup tasted sweet and foamy at first, but then quickly revealed its true spicy and sour character.  However, it was delicious and I ate my weight in meat, vegetables, noodles and tofu, so I am not complaining.  I liked  that each person gets their own individual pot, so there is more flexibility in soup base selection.  It is also more sanitary (if you care about stuff like that).

After dinner we headed to Billidart, a sprawling bar with the most sophisticated beer pong tables I had ever seen, and a number of dart boards and billiard tables.

Tonight, we are going to Tango Argentina Steakhouse, then will try to meet up with a variety of friends in LKF.

Phew!  So many, guests, so little time!

I then leave on an 8:35 am flight Saturday for Taiwan, to join my sister who has been there for a week already.  I'm excited to see relatives I haven't seen since early spring of 2010.  I love booking super early flights because once I have a destination in mind I am impatient to maximize my time there.  Invariably, by the time the actual departure arrives, I am exhausted and regret booking such an early flight.  Inevitably, the next time around, I will forget and book an overly ambitious flight yet again...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Busy Social Calendar

My friend arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday night for the last leg of her round-the-world jaunt and will be staying with us until Saturday morning.  She was previously in Brazil and Singapore for a business-school related project. With guests to show around, I find my social calendar has been unusually exciting and jam-packed as of late. 

On Tuesday night, I took her to the dai pai dong to get local fresh clams sauteed in black chili bean sauce, garlic (really garlic!) steamed shrimp, and steamed rabbit fish with ginger and scallion, then introduced her to the super secret hidden speakeasy (001) located smack dab in the Central wet markets.  I had to really concentrate to locate the single dim light and illuminated doorbell, but at the same time I didn't want to look too closely for fear of finding creeping crawlies and scurrying fuzzies that I have absolutely zero zilch zip desire to see.

On Wednesday, we filled up for breakfast at the local congee shop, savoring the hot gruel cooked to a silky white perfection, clouded with shreds of pork and chunks of preserved thousand year old egg.  In the evening, we indulged in a half hour of foot massage each, wincing but also enjoying the masseuses' firm, insistent rubbing and knuckling.  ("Does it hurt?" "Yes...!" "OK." (said in the satisfied tone that implied, if-it-hurts-then-I'm-doing-my-job))

We then headed to a banquet dinner at the Shanghai Fraternity Club, a members' only eating club, at the invitation of an old college friend.  Yes, you can take the student out of Princeton, but eating clubs in some form or shape exist wherever alumnae go!  There we sampled very traditional southern Chinese cuisine, from drunken chicken (dunked in ShaoXing wine), peanut chicken sesame cold noodles, steamed pork soup buns, to fried fish fillets and pine nuts, fried tofu skin stuffed with mushroom, and fresh river shrimp.  It was delicious and a wonderful experience, made all the more so by the incredibly generosity of our old college friend and his wife, who paid for everything! 

I finished up the night with a frozen margarita with my friend in the romantic, dimly lit Isola bar looking out to Kowloon from the floor-to-ceiling glass panels.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Passage of Time

I've always lived in a climate marked by the seasons.  As the years have passed, the seasons seem to have shed the predictable pattern of my youth and instead weave and blur more often - barely a spring here, a very rainy fall there, an unseasonably warm winter everywhere.  But there were always rituals that signaled the end of one period and the commencement of another, moments that steadfastly marked the relentless march of days and reminded me of the ebb and flow of time.

Time seems to pass more quickly in Hong Kong, with nothing to break up the steady 80-90 degree heat day in and day out.  Time seems to swirl by in a blur of open-toed shoes, al fresco dining and sunscreen nearly year round.

I am in disbelief that it is September.  Yet with temperatures still hovering in the 90s and the promise of another two months of heat and humidity, my usual "Where did the summer go?" lament fails to strike the proper note of woe and nostalgia.

I've only recently realized the significance that American holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day play for my internal metronome. At first I chuckled at the experience of adjusting to a new holiday calendar, with unfamiliar holidays popping up unexpectedly like snow days on my calendar.

But it has surprised me how deeply I've felt the loss of this September long weekend and the symbolism it harbored: the bittersweet end of lazy summer days, the inchoate nip of autumn air at the cheek, the recognition of the passage of a year three-quarters well lived and the anticipation of the upcoming holidays. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lovin' Lantau

On Sunday, Amanda and I had a fantastic, productive, lovely, wonderful day in southern Lantau.  I love Lantau!  It is so relaxed and chill compared to central Hong Kong.  If it weren't such a long commute to work, I would move there in a heartbeat.  We took the ferry from Central to Mui Wo, where we indulged in a reasonable seafood lunch at the Mui Wo cooked food market.
Old boats by Silvermine Bay
Lots of bicycles with the ferry in the background
A most delicious lunch of fresh, plump, juicy seafood at the Mui Wo Cooked Food Market:


A peaceful, relaxing lunch scene:

Then the real business got started.  We took the bus to Shui Hau (well, first to Tong Fuk, then switched to another bus), a beach that is very well known and popular for clamming.  It was a brutally hot day and we waited for the hottest time of day to start digging, as the tides recede the most in the afternoon.  Hence, here I am, on my stool with my mini rake, water bottle for storing my clams, and a very fashionable UV umbrella.  I quickly abandoned the umbrella because the winds were quite strong.
Staking out my spot

A darling shrimp with robin blue "legs"
A cute yellow and red speckled crab

Lots of people spread out afar, digging
Traces left from a professional rake
Work for your food, people!
I loved clamming.  It was really relaxing to have the hot sun beating down on my neck and arms, the breeze whistling in my ear, and my usual litany of thoughts brought to a stand-still as I clambered greedily through the muddy, sandy silt, my mind and arms solely focused on sifting for the hidden hard nugget.  I felt triumphant every time my rake clinked, and the clam rolled like a large marble in my hand. 

Jaw-droppingly beautiful.  Doesn't it look fake?

After all our hard work, we stumbled back to the house where we had rented the clamming equipment.  The family at the house cleaned off our clams for us and sauteed them in a mildly spicy, lip-smackingly good chili sauce, which we devoured quickly (a lot more quickly than the time it took us to get all of them!).

Random:  Lantau has quite a few wild water buffalo and cattle. Kinda cute, but they sure know how to leave big stinky deposits in inconvenient places.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Football Fever

Last night we stayed up late to watch Michael's brother play against Ohio State.  It was amazing.

He is the one in the middle making the tackle.  
We are dreading the upcoming football season because of the difficult time difference.  Michael stayed up until nearly 5:30 in the morning and then got up at 8 to watch the Michigan game.  Something's gotta give.