Friday, August 30, 2013

An Office with a View

The views from the conference rooms of our new offices may well be my favorite part. 
It has been a little dreary around these parts lately, however.   
A view of Kowloon and the harbor, dotted with Star Ferries
 A lot of the waterfront on Hong Kong Island side has been built up in recent years, such that all of this boardwalk in the foreground of the picture is built on artificial land.
A northeasterly view, peering into Kowloon and the New Territories
Unsurprisingly, Hong Kong waterfront is not without its controversies.  While sadly my personal office does not have the views of the waterfronts above, I do have a glorious view of the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army of Hong Kong, specifically their exercise area.  I can see them playing ball, swimming laps and doing calisthenics when the weather is nice. So far, they don't look like they are very good basketball players or very strong swimmers....


Thursday, August 29, 2013


The fear of UV rays and sun spots that affects many residents in Asia must have really rubbed off on me, because I've willingly shouldered (sometimes literally) the burden of carrying a parasol with me practically wherever I saunter. 

You never know when the blazing hot sun will emerge and burn you to a crisp!  Or just brown you to a nearly melting pool of caramelized hot mess.

I bought these in Taiwan and I think of them as my "Little Bo Beep" and "My Fair Lady" parasols.  Just need a hoop skirt now...


Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I try not to think too much about pollution and air quality while living here.  And for the most part it's pretty easy to ignore, because there are still sunny days when you can marvel at the clear, blue sky.  The news reports are also so inundated with terrible climate and pollution issues in China that you can reassure yourself, "at least I'm not living in Beijing."

But then there are some days you finally have to acknowledge that the air quality can be pretty bad here. This past week, the harbor was a soupy gray, with buildings in Kowloon barely distinguishable, and the sunshine had a hazy, fuzzy quality to it.

And on those days, I think about all the tankers idling in the harbor, wheezing out gallons upon gallons of diesel fuel and exhaust; all the taxis, screeching up the hills and accelerating and braking with wild abandon; all the old, lumbering trucks, guzzling their way around town; all the skyscrapers, trapping in the pollutants and creating the equivalent of a modern day dust bowl. 

And then I wonder about my eyeballs and my lungs, and I feel a little worried.  It's hard to tell when one should be really worried.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cheung Chau

We went on a little adventure on Sunday to Cheung Chau, one of the outlying islands in Hong Kong.  Cheung Chau is small and amoeba shaped, about an hour's (slow) boat ride from the Central piers on Hong Kong island.

There are no motorized vehicles on Cheung Chau so I always pictured it as an expansive, idyllic place to rent bicycles and stroll along a boardwalk.  I should have known.  Outlying island or not, it is still Hong Kong, which means tiny to nonexistent sidewalks, lots of people, and very little space.  Going on Sunday meant battling crowds of people with similar ideas of a peaceful, restful getaway, eager to escape the city heat and play on the beach.

The boat rides to and from were surprisingly relaxing though.


As a small fishing and shrimping village, Cheung Chau contained all kinds of dried seafood delights, both in stores and out:
Little pieces of fish drying on a metal plate, hung off of the side of the fence. 

Baby shrimp drying on a rack, perched on the side of the house like a satellite dish.
Dried... something scary.  With lots of sharp little teeth.

Dried and grilled octopus, with all legs intact.
My favorite dried fish display.  What a nice use of McDonald's wrappers.

I sampled a bowl of seafood:

We meandered around a few residential alleyways:



And settled by the beach:

 Watched a shrimp boat in the distance:

It's easy to ponder the life aquatic, particularly at a harbor at sunset.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Izakaya in Central Wet Market

Recently, we had the chance to try a Japanese izakaya in the Central wet market.  It was formerly a fresh juice and soup stand that had been replaced a few months ago by this cheerful little front:

I particularly like the big thumbs up sign

We sampled their curry rice and ramen, as well as various deep fried small plates.  The bacon wrapped tomato skewer seemed pretty good, robust and still juicy.  The pork skewer was small and too dry - it tasted like jerky.

Pork and bacon wrapped tomato skewers, breaded and deep fried
The oysters were succulent and briny, perfect with a spritz of lemon and plum sauce, however, they had been fried for too long.  The breaded shells were a little too hard and crunchy for my liking.

Deep fried oysters
I quite enjoyed my main entree.  The broth was well layered, with a toasty basil top note, velvety tomato middle note and satisfying pork underlying note.  The buckwheat ramen noodles were perfectly cooked.  I could have done without the pieces of bacon, but they did not detract from the overall presentation.   I liked that this differed from the standard fatty pork, seaweed, egg ramen presentation.
"Pure" ramen - a tomato pork bone broth with lemon, bacon, arugula and buckwheat ramen
The pork curry was very tasty but, approach at your own risk, apparently it was loaded up with MSG.
Tonkatsu curry with rice

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Inflation Plagues the Underworld

After my post on ghost month, it seems fitting to also post this.  My favorite might be the official statement from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bonsai of the Body

I vaguely remember the very first yoga class I attended back in college.  I dressed in a light peach tank top and faded blue tights and went to an early morning class in Jadwin gym.  I believe I mostly faux-meditated as I pondered the unfairness of the universe and my heartbreak over my ex-boyfriend who had started dating another girl right after we had mutually agreed to break up.  I remember marveling that I was so skinny that I could do a lotus position with ease.  Afterwards, as I held my palms over my heart and muttered the various chants, I felt very ascetic but otherwise could discern no other benefits from the yoga pratice.

I hesitate to talk much about my interest in and steadily deepening appreciation for yoga, because I have never fully embraced the spiritual aspects of it and so cannot feel that I have embraced the practice as a whole. And for a while, practicing yoga and being a yogini was a "thing" to do (I think it is still), so I was uneasy about the faddish element to my enthusiasm.

The first time that I really understood yoga's difficulty and complexity was in law school, when I was mostly attending pilates classes at a fancy, private gym (my first ever).  The teacher demonstrated a flying side crow and eight angle pose, and I remember being slack jawed at these elegant, balanced poses that seemed to defy gravity.

I began attending yoga classes steadily when I began working in the real world.  It just happened, mostly due to circumstances.  I pretty dislike using the treadmill, elliptical, stair master, bicycle, rowing machine, or, you know, any other piece of gym equipment.  And it was a slow time for a corporate lawyer. 

I didn't set out with any intentions, but somehow, it swept me up.  Looking back on nearly five years of yoga practice, I think that yoga is like bonsai of the body. 

Bonsai (which actually comes from the Chinese term penzai -- arhem arhem, just giving credit where it's due) literally refers to the cultivation of miniature trees in a small pot.  But metaphorically it's a practice, a form of meditation, focused on patience and cultivation. 

It takes the long view. 

Similarly with yoga, through years of practice and adjustments, you stretch and shape your body into a toner, fitter, more self-aware you. 

Yoga allows you to re-acquaint yourself, with you.   As a baby you explored your own body, popping your toes into your mouth, giving your elbow a lick, folding your head between your legs.  You tend to lose that connection as you grow older. 

There are so many moments, when my ankle is tucked into the crook of my armpit or my wrists folded beneath my feet or my shin inching past my opposite ear, that I am pleasantly amused to realize that this is I, touching me.

Hello, me!

Yoga familiarizes you with your own body.  Maybe it seems incredible that you wouldn't know your own body, but it's true.  Yoga makes you realize that your left hip is tighter than your right, your right hamstring tighter than your left, your right shoulder creakier than your left, your neck very flexible but your wrists not, your knees very weak but your ankles very strong.  Most athletes or active people know this to some degree, but likely not to the same level of detail that yoga catalogues.

Yoga rewards you with very concrete accomplishments.  For years I was so frustrated, once to the point of tears, that I could not do crow pose.  And then, it happened.  It still isn't consistent and I have many improvements to make, but being able to do certain poses that were nigh impossible before is so rewarding.  I used to view handstands with dread but now with just a modicum of dread.  See?  Improvement.

During practice, sometimes I feel so light and weightless, and other times I can't believe how heavy my legs or hips are.  Regardless, yoga has encouraged me to celebrate and appreciate my body. 

I really hope that I am still actively practicing when I'm a wrinkled old lady.  What a gift that would be.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ghosts, Ghouls, Goblins and Sundry Spirits

It's that time of year again.  Ghost month.  It commences on the 15th night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls around mid-August to mid-September on the Gregorian calendar.  It is the month in which Buddhists and Taoists believe that the gates of hell are opened, allowing all ghosts and spirits to emerge for food and drink and, most importantly, to visit the living.

Coupled with Qingming Festival (where you clean and pay homage to the grave sites of your ancestors) and Chung Yeung Festival (another festival dedicated to ancestor worship), one could easily think that the Chinese are a little bit obsessed with death and their dead relatives.

But unlike the other two festivals, ghost month, or Ghost Festival, has a noticeable presence in my every day life.  It encourages the people of Hong Kong to burn things incessantly, everywhere, throughout this over-populated region.  For an entire month, everyone is a pyromaniac.  The acrid smell of smoke and incense permeates the air.  Small fires emerge from incense containers, in garbage cans, and on sidewalks, all hopefully to be safely extinguished.

I stumbled on this while walking home last night.  At times the flames seemed so out of control, with singed paper and burnt cardboard bits wafting through the air, that I thought the great likelihood of a live person dying from this ritual simply had to cancel out all of the benefits derived from appeasing the dead.

Further along my walk home, I happened upon another burning.  While this fire was smaller than the others I saw in the alleyway, it was more surprising to me because this was a major street (Lyndhurst Terrace) in Central, easily one of the busiest thoroughfares in Hong Kong (although they are all busy...).  I can't help but marvel at how the police and the firefighters here don't even bat an eye at open flames in the streets.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Books and Reading

I bring to you today a rather rambling musing on books and reading.  This post is inspired by The End of Your Life Book Club, which I just finished reading. It's the first book I've encountered that so unabashedly celebrates a love for reading.   It also reminded me how much I enjoyed browsing bookstores, looking at dust jackets and paperback covers (totally judging books by their cover), thumbing through and selecting random passages to pique my interest.  In the era of e-books, I must revisit this pastime more often.

Growing up, reading was never outwardly discouraged by my parents, but they made clear that novels were an indulgence, a leisure activity, to be enjoyed when possible but not to be pursued at the expense of other (more worthwhile) activities. Needless to say, I also picked up some social cues that it was not cool to be such a lover of books nerd.  Reading is no longer such a clandestine affair, but I do still feel twinges of embarassment whenever someone discovers just how much I like to read. 

I have always loved reading, particularly fiction.  It all happened innocently enough, when I was still an only child unfamiliar with the English language, grappling with the consequences of growing up with immigrant parents who were doing the very best that they could, but still could not help me reconcile the worlds of difference between theirs and mine.  Every time I opened a book, I had instant access to a magical place, where I did not have to worry whether I pronounced words correctly or whether I could kick the ball hard enough.  I grew to love the stories that books provided: the friends that were, the parents that were not, the loves lost, the loves regained, the tragic endings, the happy conclusions.

I guess then it comes as no surprise that my love for reading and books has only blossomed over time.  Lately I have begun to run a phrase or a particularly lyrical section of prose through my head a few times, appreciating the writer's genius in those few lines and savoring the sound of the consonants and vowels as they hit my palate.  Perhaps I am finally ready for poetry. 

Unfortunately for my friends and loved ones, all of this means that they likely at one point or other have been on the receiving end of one of my spells (the one where I am caught in the feverish grip of a book and cannot seem to put it down).  I stayed up after the other girls at a slumber party in order to finish Constance, ignored my friend for many hours as I devoured The Poisonwood Bible while on a cruise down the Yangtze, sped through Pride and Prejudice in one sitting at a family friend's barbecue party, turned a deaf ear to my sister as I finished Caleb's Crossing in one afternoon on vacation...the list runs on and on.  I'm afraid I can't even begin to catalogue the number of conversations with Michael that might have been clouded over by a novel. 

(In fact, in recounting these incidents, I am really embarassed at how inconsiderate I can be when lost in a book.  Thank you, especially Amanda and Michael, for putting up with me during these moments.)

My favorite story is probably the one where my dad left me in a bookstore while he went to run some errands (in the era before cell phones).  He came back and could not find me - after having the store page me repeatedly, he gave up.  It was only after I emerged from the fog of my book to look for him many minutes later that we found each other.  I never heard any of the store's pages.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Office Move... and the New Space

Remember this? Last month we moved into our new office space and bid our old digs farewell.

Goodbye, dodgy carpet, lack of light, flourescent lighting and tacky decor:

 Hello, modern glass and minimalist decor:

In space-hungry Hong Kong, this double-level lobby is just a way of boasting:

My office is smaller but I have a nicer closet for my shoes and clothes, and a way nicer view with a lot more light:

Glass everywhere = reflections everywhere + danger of walking into doors
The building neighbors a park, is across from the old Bank of China bulding on one side and City Hall on the other, and is accessible to and from Queensway Plaza, Admiralty MTR, and Pacific Place (albeit through a labyrinthine set of walkways):

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Passion Fruit

I love passion fruit for its tartness and sweetness, but usually see it in ice cream or desserts.  I've only seen it in its natural form a few times.  When I saw these at the market, I bought them on a whim, not completely certain.  Thankfully my hunch was right!

The three phases of passion fruit: outside, inside, gone!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Wedding in Washington D.C.

It was a perfect day for the wedding of one of my very best friends (and former roommate) from law school.  It was amazing to see everyone, to reminisce and catch up with such good friends.

Oh, how I've missed perfect blue skies, big leafy trees, and grass...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday, August 9, 2013

Breathtaking Sunrise

Sometimes I take plane travel for granted.  But then I look out the window as we fly below, through, above and beyond the clouds, and I am struck all at once by the beauty of our incredible planet and the miracle of flight.

Doesn't the cushion of clouds look dreamy?
After we broke through the clouds
As the plane was tilting

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Deadend Cafe

It was something about the color of the cup, the streaks of wood in the table, and the pattern of the foam in this coffee.