Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy's Wake

Thinking of my family members in Queens and Long Island.  May all those who are in the storm's path stay safe and dry.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Life Expectancy and the Elderly in Hong Kong

Life expectancy in Hong Kong is consistently one of the highest in the world, and recently the women here trumped the longstanding longest living (Japanese women).  The life expectancy for a woman in Hong Kong is 86!  Men, across the board, still fall behind.  See this and this.

Life expectancy aside, the elderly here are incredibly active everywhere in the city - walking the streets, climbing the stairs, pushing carts, selling vegetables.  Their familiar faces and figures accompany my walks around the city day in and day out, rain or shine - the man (who Michael and I estimate is at least 90) running the orange juice stand on Aberdeen, the man who repairs umbrellas on Peel, the couple who run the hardware store on the corner of Caine, the woman who sells the best fruits and vegetables in the wet market, etc., etc.  I have only seen two wheelchairs in all of my time here (but to be fair, that could be more a reflection of the inaccessibility of the city) and most elderly make their way around with nothing more than an umbrella or a cane for support.  It's remarkable.  Just what is it?

Clearly this is a topic of interest, as this article has been trending on New York Times' most popular list for a while now.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chinatown and Curry

On Monday morning, I took the opportunity of being located so close to Chinatown (just off Yaowarat road, the main thoroughfare) to stroll the hot streets.  I shamelessly pulled out a UV umbrella (own it) and tried not to pass out under the sun.  There were so many carts of desserts, sugar cane juice, coconuts, noodles, curry and fried "stuff" that I spent much of my time trying to soak in all the sights and sounds around me.

Ethnic Chinese have been settled in Thailand for generations, and while they identify as Chinese, for the most part they don't maintain that many ties to Chinese culture.  That's why it was kind of interesting to have been there for the vegetarian festival this year - to witness the Chinese community members acknowledging and recognizing their ethnic background.


Squid man!
Pressed squid and spicy dipping sauce

Tuesday, my last and final day in Bangkok, was a public holiday in Thailand as well.  My sister and I celebrated by sleeping in, watching the huge barges glide by on the river in front of us, and then going to get some lunch (curry).  We took a river taxi (fun! But kind of scary when you get on and get off - I wonder how often they have people tumble into the water) from the marine pier south to Saphan Taksin, where we went to eat at the Queen of Curry.  We got a spicy vermicelli and vegetable salad, a red duck curry, and a green chicken curry.
Until next time, Bangkok!
I then headed to the airport (and struggled with long lines and slow immigration officials), but in hindsight I'm just really glad I made my flight!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Floating on the Chao Praya River

On Sunday, I left the beloved Tenface boutique hotel and moved to a different hotel.  I had wanted to try Loy La Long, a guesthouse converted from a traditional teak house that was located directly on the Chao Praya river, because I was sure it'd be an interesting experience.  To add to the intrigue, the house is situated within a wat(!)  Yes, Wat Pathum Khongka.  The first night I walked in to the compound, a bunch of monks were cleaning the wat in their orange robes.  A bit odd, that -- but, bonus points for authenticity!

It was not easy finding this place on Sunday night, after a long day - the ordeal involved being dropped off on the side of the highway by a reluctant taxi driver, rejected by three taxi drivers, slogging my bag on foot to a BTS station, haggling (rather unsuccessfully) with a tuk tuk driver, wandering lost and clueless around the wat at night, and last but not least, being nearly bitten by a stray dog.  Or maybe I just thought the dog was a stray and was going to eat me.  Are you supposed to make eye contact or not make eye contact in these situations?  I hustled as quickly as possible, but all the while hoping that I showed the dog that I was innocent (not going to steal any construction materials) but also the boss (so please don't come don't you dare come near me).

Here are some snaps of Loy La Long:
Shoes come off at entrance
Stairwell - no banister

Door to my room
View from the downstairs kitchen window

Cozy, darling spot above the stairs.  You can see how far out the house extends from the bank
 Sweet views from the upstairs deck:

My room - the French balcony doors opened onto the deck

My room was really tiny but the decorations were quite fun.

I really want an accessories ladder now...

I picked the the place based on overwhelming positive reviews on tripadvisor, but I think this was an instance where the opinion of the masses failed me.  While the guesthouse was very unique and decorated in a fun, funky way, and the opportunity to stay in an authentic teak house perched on stilts on the Chao Praya river is quite "cool," for the cost and the convenience, next time I am going to a modern hotel.

It's nice to have experienced it, but at midnight with disco beats reverberating across the river from the party boats, and the squeals of kittens nearly choking each other while "playing" on the roof, and the dogs growling at each other in some kind of a show down, and the mosquitoes snacking juicily on my limbs, and at 7 a.m. with my neighbors chopping/pounding meat, I decided too much of an authenticity thing was just...well, a bit too much.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Muy Thai and Chatuchak Market

Continuing with my adventures in Bangkok -- on Sunday, we went to get a two-hour traditional Thai massage at Health Land Asoke, a clean, professional and huge complex/spa that offered a great deal.
It's not a spa, it's a "medicine clinic"!
With the ten coupon pack, a massage came out to about 350 baht, plus some additional gratuity.  US$13 for an amazing two hour massage?? Sign us up!  I was surprised at how sore my legs were though.  I'd always heard that Thai massages could be so relaxing that you fall asleep - and my previous Thai massage was pretty gentle and soothing.  Well, not this time.  There were times when the woman's elbows and arms pressed into my legs with such strength that I wanted to whimper.  But afterwards it all felt delicious.  My favorite part was when she bent me over her leg and twisted by body such that my entire back cracked.

After that, my sister and I indulged in delicious noodles (how do they make their noodles so silky and soft here?) then headed to the BTS train station.
Noodles are hidden below the toppings.  This was the thick noodle (sen yai), which I preferred
You can see the thin noodles (sen lak) better here.  
Then we met up with some of her friends to hit up a free Muy Thai match sponsored by Channel 7 out by Mo Chit, which also just happens to be right next to the famous Chatuchuk weekend market (JJ market for short).

Entrance to the match
The Muy Thai match was something else.  I don't think I've sweated so much from just standing still in a long time.  The entire arena, a nearly windowless room, was crowded to the rafters, with men and women (mostly men) standing on stools and benches, crowded and pressed up right against each other, each trying very hard to get a good view of the ring.  Bets were placed before each match.  The atmosphere was pretty electric.  The fighting was really intense.  My view was not as good as these pictures make it seem - I obnoxiously stuck my blackberry upward, into someone else's line of vision, to capture these shots:

I remember thinking, at least it doesn't look like a fire could start too easily here, which is good, because we would definitely be trampled to death.  We couldn't see very much and the locals were not eager to let us push through.  The atmosphere was also a bit claustrophobic.  After a couple of rounds, we gave up and smushed our way back out.  We got a picture with the champion of the previous fight.  He was not very tall, probably about my height actually, tanned, heavily tattooed, sporting a bloody cut above his left eye, slender but so muscular that he looked like he had been shaped out of a mold.  He seemed resigned to getting his picture taken with a group of giggling females.

We then walked to JJ market, a hopping spot on the weekends.  
A view from outside the market
Before we even made it into the market, I stopped and had a great banana roti pancake, smothered in margarine, oil and condensed milk.  Not for the health conscious and I tried not to wince as she kept flicking on the grease, but ohhhh, YUM.  

I tried to limit my purchases at the market, so didn't buy anything except two miniature benjarong (hand painted porcelain which were traditionally used to serve food to royalty but now primarily serves as decoration), which my sister helped me pick out.  I love them - they are so darling.

Currently residing on the wine rack
Even JJ Market is not immune:
impromptu Gangnam Style!
My sister and I wrapped up the night with dinner at a vegetarian place near Siam, where we had some deliciously smokey pad see ew and spicy and sweet tofu curry.  (I happened to be visiting during the vegetarian festival in Bangkok, when many restaurants do not serve any meat dishes -  more on this in a later post).

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I flew to Bangkok to visit my sister this past weekend.  It was a public holiday in Hong Kong on Tuesday, so I figured I would take Monday off and just make it a four day weekend.  She has been in Bangkok for nearly a month for orientation and training with a small group of fellow Fulbrighters, before she heads to her specific region (eastern Thailand) to teach English at a local school.

I departed on an Air Asia flight on Friday night out of Hong Kong airport and touched down at Bangkok's old Don Muang airport two and a half hours later.  Don Muang is the older airport so not as new or fancy or sprawling, and the only option is to take a bus or a taxi.  Since I landed at nearly midnight, I opted for a taxi.  The airport does a pretty decent job of helping the farang (someone of European ancestry, or really just anyone with white skin, but probably also clueless foreigners generally) tourists onto taxis with meters, but as I found out when my taxi driver brought me to my hotel, the meter doesn't really matter.  He grinned and proceeded to bilk me of an additional 118 baht, claiming "highway fees".  Oh well.

For my first two nights in Bangkok, I opted to stay once again at the Tenface boutique hotel off of Ruamrudee road.  My sister checked into the hotel earlier, so I walked in to fresh fruit, banana bread and delicious Tom Yum Gai (the tastiest sweet and sour and spicy mushroom and chicken tom yum soup I had ever had) which she had bought for me.

Even better, I had two bags of little presents waiting for me - fun silicone cooking products in all colors and shapes (muffin / cupcake holders, tea steeper, ice cubes tray, pot holders), a tea votive holder, and traditional Thai snacks (dried mango slices, tamarind seeds covered in sugar).  It was the sweetest and most thoughtful gesture, and so nice after a long and frustrating night of travel.  Upon arriving back in Hong Kong, I promptly put the muffin/cupcake holders to use - aren't they so cute?

On Saturday, we went to Lord Jim's at the Mandarin Oriental for the all-you-can-eat seafood brunch.  It was an extravagant and lavish feast, but as usual everything at the Mandarin was done impeccably.  The views of the river and the beautiful pool area were very soothing.

The lobby was beautifully decorated with dramatic, soaring birdcages and floating, neatly folded lotus flowers.

We made sure to show up hungry, and I'm proud to say we went through all of the paces, from the smoking salad bar to the sashimi bar to the grilled rock lobster to the gigantic crayfish to the shrimp cocktail to the soup bar to the foie gras to the dessert table.  I had not one but three mango and sticky rice servings.  Whew.

We then went to Platinum shopping mall, a wholesale mall with five floors of ladies' clothing, shoes, handbags, accessories and leather goods, to do some damage.  Like much of Bangkok, the malls here can be a bit overwhelming - each floor is crammed full of tiny stalls, each completely stocked top to bottom and side to side and crammed full of color and texture.  The prices are really cheap by Western (and Hong Kong) standards - the most expensive item I bought here was a dress for 350 baht, or barely US$12 - but unfortunately, it's a bit hit and miss as most stores won't let you try on the clothes.  Everything is also cut for impossibly tiny (narrow, skinny, short!) people.   Luckily my sister and I were both able to scoop up some nice finds - but the one dress I was certain would fit didn't, and the blouse I was most worried about fit best.

Afterward, we went to the rooftop bar at Sofitel to meet up with a couple of Amanda's friends, to soak up some "hi-so" culture (for "high society," this is a term bandied all around Bangkok and refers to the high class, or just the very wealthy).  The roof bar overlooked Lumpini park, which at night and from our vantage point, was quite stunning.  The bar's walls were completely glass, so that I couldn't help but become mesmerized by the endless stream of traffic, slithering past like a skinny golden belt.  My blackberry picture is so pathetic, you'll just have to use your imagination:

We then went to get hotpot for dinner (oh you know it) just outside of Lumpini park, where a bunch of locals were sweating it out dipping meat and vegetables into the broth, chugging their beers and delighting in the lip-smackingly good som tum (green papaya salad).

And just because my sister and I both happened to be on the same episode of the same show, we fell asleep after watching the next episode of Downton Abbey - a most delicious nightcap.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day.