Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Handwritten notes are still useful for some things!
Have I mentioned that our neighbors are kind of noisy?  We live in a building with four units per floor: A, B, C and D.  It's a local building, which means no amenities, barely functioning doormen and questionable safety mechanisms.  It also means that we can hear the following while we are in our apartment with our door firmly shut: our neighbor's parrot, our neighbor's dog, our other neighbor's shopping cart, our neighbors arguing across the hall, our neighbor upstairs hammering and drilling, any television or radio that our neighbors are watching, the elevator doors and also every push and pull of our neighbors'  external metal doors / gates that are quite popular in Asia.  America this is not.

For a little while, a while back, it was pretty unbearable because our upstairs neighbor, an old man who lives by himself, would ratchet up his television and radio volume very late at night.  It made it pretty difficult to sleep.   Because he refused to pick up his telephone (the mobile number provided to the front desk is, surprise surprise, outdated) and because he refused to come to his door no matter who knocked on his door or rang his doorbell, we had ourselves a problem.

However, I solved the whole problem quite diplomatically, if I say so myself.  I wrote a little note in Mandarin (in the traditional characters, or 繁體字, for those of you keeping track).  I figured he was likely a local Hong Kong guy and would not read simplified Mandarin.  Plus I was trying to woo him, and you do not woo a crotchety Hong Kong native with the written language of the People's Republic of China.  Politics, people.  It's all in the details.

In my note, I asked him very politely if he would please for the sake of his very apologetic and sleepy neighbors, keep the noise level down.  Then I attached some snacks (delicious pineapple cakes and fried crullers coated with sugar and sesame, if you must know) from "my hometown, Taiwan" (I figured throwing in a mention of another contested semi-autonomous province wouldn't hurt either - seriously, that's how politics work here) to a little bag, and latched everything to his door.

It worked like magic!

He has been so cooperative that, now that we are leaving the apartment (soonish - that's drama for another day), I've decided to write him another little missive, to let him know that we are deeply grateful for his cooperation and that after our departure he must please raise his radio and television volumes back to the levels he finds most desirable.  I even threw in a smiley face for good measure.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Public Holidays Galore

Wednesday is a public holiday, woo hoo! Nice way to kick off the month of May.

Hong Kong is such a remarkable city in that public holidays sprout up like... like mold spores.  One minute you thought you had the calendar all mapped out and then you find out there is a day off in the middle of the week!  I don't know how these holidays keep sneaking up on me, especially as I am always eagerly looking out for them. 

In other news, we're all planned up for a co-worker's wedding in Marrakech in mid-May.  We have a three day layover in Paris and also a side trip to the sea-side town of Essaouira.  Can't wait!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Disappearance and Reappearance

So I had had a bunch of interesting posts lined up and planned regarding a work dinner/client development event last week at the China Club, a launch event I went to at the Mandarin Oriental, and the annual Hong Kong Artwalk for which I had purchased a ticket.

But all came to naught when I received a last minute assignment on Thursday evening that required me to go to Beijing on Sunday, to give a presentation in/translate a presentation into Mandarin.  On insurance related structuring and tax issues in China outbound M&A... So basically, the last week kind of got consumed by all that.  The presentation was on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday night, we went to dinner with some local lawyers at a restaurant located inside of a beautiful Yuan temple.  Above are some of the snaps from our second level dining area.  I really liked the floating courtyard, where some patrons could have tea as the sun set.  The temple was built 600 years ago, and retains its original wood beams!
 Beijing's poor air quality is no joke.  We also went to a bar on Tuesday night where nearly every patron was smoking a cigarette.  I woke up on Wednesday morning and it hurt to breathe (only being slightly melodramatic here).  Needless to say, I returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday night, really relieved and happy to be back.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Diet of a Rhesus Monkey

Salad at Mana.  Isn't it pretty?  I love the vibrant colors.
I consider myself a pretty healthy person - I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, stay highly hydrated, and avoid meat in large quantities.  But lately I've been trying to eat healthier, especially for lunch.  In figuring out what constitutes "healthier," I basically ask myself the question, what would a rhesus monkey eat (minus the invertebrates and insects)?  Unfortunately, this means my lunch expenditures will increase.

I don't know if this diet will give me more energy or make my hair shinier or my skin brighter.  (Jury's still out on that!)   But I think this plate of greens and quinoa has to be better for me than barbecued pork with rice or MSG-infused wonton noodles... 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TBLS: A Private Kitchen Experience

TBLS is a small private kitchen nestled on the seventh floor of a local building on Hollywood Road, on a stretch of the street that I've passed by nearly every day on my way to and from work since moving to Hong Kong.  But until the firm dinner on Monday night, I had had no idea that this private kitchen existed.  (This is quite common in Hong Kong, at least for me...)

It has a lovely deck that would probably seat 10-15 and indoor space to seat 20 comfortably.  The kitchen is open, directly behind the diners. 

They work on a theme menu every month - six courses (four savory, two dessert) for HK$680 per person plus 10% surcharge.  Our theme was Gastropub.

We kicked off with an amuse bouche of fried chicken and cole slaw, stuffed in delightful individual jam jars.  Very tasty, although I'm not a big fan of cole slaw.

The first course was a soup and sandwich pairing: a hot pear and parsnip soup with walnuts and a pork belly slider topped with fresh beetroot on a toasted bun.  I thought this was quite tasty - the slider was the perfect combination of crispy, savory, soft and sweet.

Then I got my act together and started taking pictures:

Second course:
tripe and chorizo chili (with beans, rice, melted cheese, sour cream) topped with potato chips
Third course:
poached tiger prawn on corn polenta cake with crab in clam broth
 Fourth course:
pastrami short ribs with mustard braised cabbage and maple and cayenne carrot puree
Dessert course #1:
apple tarte tatin with bacon and maple ice cream and smoked caramel
 Dessert course #2:
macaroon with carrot and cinnamon ice cream and cream cheese icing
It was all very tasty - my absolute favorite (to my utter surprise) was the carrot cake macaroon.  And, you'd be surprised - despite how it sounds, the tripe chili was actually very tasty!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Hipster in Hong Kong

I love the neighborhood Sheung Wan.  Admittedly lately it has been blowing up with art galleries, cute organic cafes, and holier-than-thou concept stores (mostly of the hand-crafted leather goods and chunky acrylic eye-glasses variety).  But I still really really like it.

Due to some drama with our current landlord, we're looking at some units in this neighborhood.  We may finally be moving to Brooklyn!

I really do like the neighborhood.  Have I mentioned that already?  Below, some scenes from a lazy Saturday:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

An Elephant Experience

On our last day in Chiang Mai, we went to Baan Chang Elephant Park.  It was amazing!!

I thought riding an elephant was easier than riding a horse, honestly.  (But that's probably because as a little kid I was always the one that got put on the lazy/fat/skittish/grumpy/mean horse.  I remember one time in Canada when I had to cling to my horse for dear life as he decided to break formation and gallop across the field... yeah.  At least elephants move more slowly.  And it seems harder to get elephants to break into a trumpeting stampede.)

Getting into the bananas.  
Asian elephants are a little smaller than African elephants, but they are still plenty massive, clocking in at around 4 to 5 tons when fully grown.  Interestingly, Asian elephants, while smaller, have slightly bigger brains. They eat about 200 kilograms of food a day, in the form of sugar cane, bananas and leaves.  All of that food has to go somewhere - they poop about 70 kgs per day!  We also saw one elephant pee, and it looked like a gushing fire hydrant.  With some of the longest gestational periods in the animal kingdom (18 months), elephants aren't fully grown until they are 20 years old.  As they age, their skin undergoes pigmentation, particularly around their nose and ears.
This elephant is 57 years old.  Elephants can grow as old as 100+!
I loved how much personality these animals had.  When you walked close to them with bananas, they would snake their trunks out to try to get to the goodies.  They also showed a marked preference for bananas over sugar cane, such that sometimes when I tried to give them sugar cane, they would literally nose around my hand and try to go for the sweeter fruit.
Naughty elephant sniffing out the bananas, as our guide explained how to feed the elephants
Elephants have very weak eyesight and very poor peripheral vision, so they rely heavily on their sense of smell.  They can smell stuff up to 2 kilometers away!  Also, if you have trained or worked with an elephant for an extended period of time, they remember your smell and will recognize you years later.  Remarkable right?
They love to eat...An elephant with the sugar cane
We researched quite extensively to try to find a camp that treated its animals with care and kindness.  It is so sad when the animals are mistreated, and my sister and I felt that we had a responsibility to support a camp that did not abuse the elephants.  We decided pretty early on that we were willing to pay more for our experience.  You'll note that the elephants were chained during our initial feeding session, but it was only during this period and it was to maintain order / prevent fights over the food.  Mahouts (the trainers) carried sticks with metal hook as a precaution, but I never saw anyone use them. 

Mahouts are so nimble when they get on the elephant.  Here, an elephant giving his mahout a leg up:

The tourists are not as agile as the mahouts. They taught us the command to make the elephant kneel, so that we could clamber on more easily (albeit no less gracefully).  Most of the commands that we learned were Burmese, as that is where most of the mahouts are from.
Surprisingly deft for such a big animal
After the feeding and the training, we were ready to ride elephants bareback into the jungle and to give them a bath.  Elephants have very thick skin and they really like to scratch it by rubbing up against tree bark.  For the rider, the hairs on the back of their heads and back can be a bit prickly.
My mom and dad on their elephant - sitting like pros!
The elephant caravan.  Aren't elephant butts so funny looking?  Tehehe.

My sister and I rode a 30 year old elephant, Anni, who was very docile.
See where her trunk is? Here, Anni has just sprayed us with water that she reserved in a sac in her throat. 
Elephants do this to keep cool in the hot sun.  The rider in the back gets a lot more of the spray!
Funny shot of our tour guide perched in a tree, taking pictures
 This was a really lovely experience and I'm so glad we decided to try it.  I know my mom was very apprehensive about getting on the elephant at first, but she was brave and ended up really enjoying the experience.  I overheard my dad marvel at the end, "In all my 62 years I've never been so close to an elephant!" 
Elephants are wrinkly!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wanderings around Chiang Mai

We spent nearly an entire day in transit because Air Asia canceled our early morning direct flight from Ubon to Chiang Mai, leaving us with no other option but to fly from Ubon back to Bangkok, then Bangkok to Chiang Mai. 

Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we headed straight for our boutique hotel/art gallery, the Jangmuang Hotel.  Our room was surprisingly lovely - a two-bedroom suite with kitchen and private balcony, decorated with colorful pillows, lanterns and bedcovers.

In Chiang Mai, we managed to do quite a lot of sightseeing and shopping over the course of our four days and four nights -- so much so that we lost our hired driver after our first day due to "sickness"!  (We suspect that he had not bargained for my sister's action packed schedule, which involved locating hidden shopping lanes, organic farmer's markets and research laboratories (where she worked during her internship)).

We visited a few wats.

1. Wat Chedi Luang:


The bells were just begging to be rung!

2. Wat Phra Sing:

3. Wat Suan Dok:

candid shot of the family
always take your shoes off before entering a wat
big, beautiful drums
 4. Wat Umong (very unusual because the temple is built underground, with tunnels and caves)

beautiful chickens at Wat Umong
On our second day in Chiang Mai, we also went to see Wat Phrathat doi Suthep, probably the most famous temple in Chiang Mai.  It's located in the hills, a dizzying 30 minute drive from the city center.

We did some shopping.

1. At the Hmong lane in town, where vendors sell all kinds of incredibly beautiful, colorful bags and handicrafts.  We stocked up on pillowcases, bags, key chains and tapestries.

2. At the night markets, where we scored some (more) amazing Thai pants.  You can never have enough.

We saw a ladyboy show.

For the price of a drink, we watched some dancers and singers on stage who danced to some great hits, namely "Crazy in Love" and "One, Two, Three."  I was floored by all aspects of the show.  There were so many (elaborate) costume changes, and they were such good (and enthusiastic) dancers.  They also had really nice legs...