Saturday, September 28, 2013

Busy Week Recap

It has been a busy week.  In no particular order, the things that I have thought about, wanted to blog about, planned to blog about, and didn't:

  • I went to an office opening party where I: bumped into three lawyers with whom I had previously worked on a deal, met two lawyers who know two different lawyers I know, saw an in-house counsel whom I had previously represented on a deal, and met the lawyer who is now sitting in my old office. The legal scene in Hong Kong is so small.

  • Hong Kong is safe.  Yes, the minibuses careen around corners wildly, and taxi drivers speed up when they approach a jaywalker instead of slowing down, but generally, Hong Kong is so safe for such a large, dense city.  You don't feel threatened or worried at all when you are walking around the city, at any time of night.  You don't really worry about pickpockets and scam artists or panhandlers, and you certainly don't worry about any violent crime.  I've been working past midnight in the office this week and each time I emerge from my glass box of an office I am surprised at how little qualms I have about walking down a dark alleyway or waiting for a taxi on an isolated street.

  • I went to a University of Chicago cocktail reception where Professor Todd Henderson and his wife showed up to chat about the law school and discuss all matters of law, economics, theory and psychology, both whimsical and mundane.  His demeanor was so unchanged from four or fives years ago, and his mannerisms and thought so quintessentially U of C, that it felt as if a little bit of the law school had just been transported to Hong Kong. 

  • At the same reception, one of the attendees asked me if I was from Taiwan.  I said "no, I'm from America."  He asked me if I was Taiwanese.  I said "it's a bit complicated, I'm ethnically Chinese, but I was born and raised in America and am American."  Then he asked me what I checked on boxes when they asked for country information!  In disbelief, I said "that's easy, America."  At this point one of the other alums had had enough of this, too, and chuckling awkwardly said, "That's obvious!  She's American, so she puts down America!" Looking back on it, I wish I hadn't been so tolerant or polite about it.  I should have said, "What about my nationality are you not understanding here?!"  But out in Asia I deal with this a lot.  Recently a client was in the office and I helped them with some Chinese characters so that they could procure some gifts to bring back to the U.S.  After I left, I was told, the client marveled at how "perfect" my English was.  These situations are frustrating and upsetting.  

  • Michael has been going crazy with his Chinese flashcards.  He has a pile of probably a thousand index cards, in a bid to improve his vocabulary for our upcoming trip to Shanghai.  It is quite impressive how much work he has done on them and how much progress he has made.  Go ahead, ask him how to say something in Mandarin...
    Stacked against a coke can for comparison

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dim Sum at Metropol Restaurant

Since our office has moved locations, I have been to Metropol Restaurant for dim sum a couple of times.  We are a bit desperate for lunch options!  It is a very large restaurant, sprawling in the classic Cantonese style, occupying the fourth floor of the United Center.

While the Metropole is not my favorite dim sum joint in Hong Kong, and, given the vast quantity of dim sum choices here, probably doesn't even make my top five list, I won't turn down an office dim sum lunch!

I struggle to pinpoint what my issues are with this place.  Generally, I think the food isn't served hot enough for my liking.  Because the food circulates in the cart, much of it isn't as crisp or as "fresh" tasting as some of the other dim sum places I've been.  They cook their vegetables too long, so that they are meltingly mushy.  That is a bit of a no-no for me.  And no dish really shines or seems particularly exemplary.

However, as you can see, it certainly has its fans, especially at lunch time.

They have the traditional carts that circulate the floor, carrying in the bamboo steamers little pockets of culinary treasures.

They also have a table in the center, where you can pick up certain prepared dishes or order items a la carte.

This is how a good dim sum table looks: a lot of little platters and steamers crammed in and piled on top of each other!
 Working generally clockwise: kale with oyster sauce, Shanghai dumplings, shrimp dumplings, lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice and chicken, Pu-er tea, barbecued pork, rice crullers with sesame seeds, chive dumplings, pickled jellyfish, picked cucumbers, open faced shrimp and pork dumplings, pork skin, fatty pork with mustard dipping sauce, two varieties of barbecue buns
Makes you hungry, no?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Signal 8 alert just went up a few hours ago.

Typhoon Usagi has just swept through the Philippines and Taiwan and has been pummeling Hong Kong this afternoon and evening.  It is supposed to be the strongest tropical storm (technically, tropical cyclone) to hit Hong Kong in 30 years.

All airport activities have been suspended and the normally bustling harbor is quiet.

Considering that I returned from my last trip to the US in the aftermath of Typhoon Utor (this August), which caused my plane to head to Taipei after multiple, futile attempts to land, which then caused me to sit on the runway for nearly nine hours while the plane re-fueled, flight attendants re-staffed and the airport juggled twice its usual volume, I am for once quite grateful that I did not go away this long weekend!

What is there to do when there is strong rain and gale swirling about outside?

Read, bake, and read, and eat what you baked.

What joyous activities.

I discovered this recipe when I was desperate to find another use for all of the oats that my loving parents bought for me the last time I was home and casually mentioned that I might like some old fashioned oatmeal.  They immediately went to Costco and came back with a very generous bag of Quaker Oats.  A five pound bag.

So I searched for a while, to find an inspirational recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that used old fashioned rolled oats and did not use butter (I only had salted butter at the time).  I knew I'd found something delicious and perfect when I happened upon this recipe.

And now... and now.  I don't think any of that five pound bag of oats is going to go toward actual breakfast oatmeal after all (you know, the healthy version).  However, these cookies are so good that you could eat them for breakfast.  And they have so many oats in them that you could very easily convince yourself, as I have, that they are the healthy version.

Note that the batter is really crumbly, so this cookie takes a little bit of faith.  You didn't make a mistake (at least, I hope not).  The cookie will meld.  It will be cohesive.  It just won't be so in its raw form.

2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tsps vanilla
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips (But because it can be hard to find chocolate chips in Hong Kong, I just bought a bar or two of the type of chocolate I wanted to use, and chopped it up roughly as chocolate chunks instead)


Brace yourself, this is really, really easy...
Preheat the oven to 176 degrees Celsius (just wanted the Americans to convert from C to F for once).
Grease the baking sheet or get smart and use parchment paper or a silicone sheet.
Mix everything together, except the chocolate chips, until evenly combined.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Clump the dough with your hands to form balls about an inch diameter, then place on the sheet.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat....
Bake for 10-12 minutes.

I find that baking a sheet of 12 cookies for 10 minutes works very well, because then they are molten and gooey, and their residual heat helps them cook a little longer and solidify perfectly while on the cooling rack.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stacking Rings

An obsession of mine as of late.  They're so sparkly and delicate.

It's hard for me not to twirl them absentmindedly, too.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Around The Globe

The Globe is one of our favorite pubs in Hong Kong.  We often go there when I have done something wrong/made Michael upset and I want to properly grovel.*  It has one of the most extensive beer menus in Hong Kong, consisting of pages and pages of craft beer in bottles and a variety of draft beers on tap.  It also serves hearty, stick-to-your bones grub that transports a bit of the UK to this corner of Hong Kong.

The Globe has a very narrow door and small entrance, but once you step in you are invariably shocked at the size of the bar and restaurant. It is a cavernous basement space with only a few little windows at the very top of the ceiling.  Despite the size, the seating area is possibly one of the most inefficient uses of space I have seen.  There are large tables and chairs lined up all around the wall, and large tables and benches in the middle of the room - all of which leads to a lot of dead space.  But somehow that just adds to the charm of this quirky place. There is a large wrap around bar with two TVs, which they keep turned off for most of the time.  (If this were the US, this bar would have fifteen TVs clustered around it from every angle). There is a cozy sitting area with a few other televisions, a bunch of books, and some board games.

We went there for a late dinner tonight.**

This was my dinner: the chicken, leek and ale pot pie, served with heavy gravy, and sides of beans and mash.  I highly recommend the pies at The Globe, but they are very, very rich.  The pie looks small, but I could barely eat half of it.  The crust was clearly freshly rolled and handmade - and full of butter.

Not a bit of green in sight!
Michael had his usual, the crumbled chicken sandwich.

*We go to the restaurant next door, Chili Fagara, super spicy Sichuan food, when Michael has done something wrong and is seeking my forgiveness...

**I had sent Michael on a wild goose chase today for his China visa application.  I had given him the wrong forms, the wrong itinerary, missing hotel information...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Moon Cakes

Yeeesh, it's been a busy week.  The Mid-Autumn Festival is here!  We get Friday off from work in Hong Kong this week.

This is a festival that traditionally celebrated a successful crop / harvest season and the moon, but in contemporary society is more about celebrating food and drink with family.  This has also become a festival of lanterns, whether carried by kids in the form of Angry Birds or various other cartoon animals, set aloft or downstream by teenagers with secret wishes written inside, or simply put on display in parks and public areas by municipalities.

In the weeks leading up to this holiday, moon cakes have been marking their presence around town - whether wrapped in Mandarin Oriental boxes and bags, paper birdcages, origami boxes, or decorated tin boxes.  There are moon cakes of every variety and type.  The most traditional are made out of red bean or lotus seed, with a big fat yellow egg yolk in the middle.  They are usually made out of molds that have some good luck greeting or lucky word carved on top.  I recently discovered the custard variety, which is a "reformed" mooncake that is a more modern twist on the traditional dessert.  They are so crumbly and lightly sweet and creamy....yummy.   I like those the best.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Miniature Roses

Is there a sweeter looking bouquet out there?  Love the delicate blossoms and the light, sweet scent.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shark Fin Soup Officially Banned

There's been a campaign rumbling here for a while (a few petitions circulated around Central, a fundraising tent, a  lot of commercials on National Geographic, etc.) but the Hong Kong government has just officially banned shark fin soup.

I don't think I would ever be able to tell the difference between the fake and the real thing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Matilda Medical Center

This is a mundane post - but can we just pause for a second and consider the fact that this is the view from my doctor's office?  Matilda Medical Center is a private hospital in Hong Kong and this is shot from their clinic in Central.

This view comes with nespresso, water, hot tea, which is also quite nice.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hong Kong Philharmonic Opening Gala

The Hong Kong Philharmonic has started its 40th season!  I attended opening night, the "Season Opening Gala: Emperor and the New World," featuring works by Bright Sheng, Beethoven and Dvorak.  

My seats weren't too bad considering they were the cheapest seats in the house.  I usually don't care about sitting close to the stage for classical music concerts, because I often prefer to listen with my eyes closed.
The HK Philharmonic is conducted by Jaap van Zweden, a Dutch native. 

The first piece of the night, Shanghai Overture, was created by Bright Sheng in 1997 for a performance at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.  Frankly, I thought that piece was terrible.  I just didn't see how the Chinese cymbals and bells, thrown in willy nilly, added any value to an otherwise dissonant piece. Thank goodness it only lasted ten minutes. 

Then we were on to the really good stuff.
The pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet performed the second piece of the night, Beethoven's Concerto no. 5, with a sub-set of the orchestra as his accompaniment.  I see (hear) why Thibaudet gets such rave reviews.  He gave a lumniscent, thoughtful but also very natural performance - like the piano was a mere extension of his long limbs, and the notes effortlessly conjured out of thin air.  He made the notes sound plump and buoyant - like they were rich, polished pearls.  He also made the delicate notes in the adagio movement impossibly quiet and delicate. It made me think of fine lace and gossamer, as delicate as a wedding veil rustling in the breeze.

The third piece, Dvorak's Symphony no. 9, might well be my new favorite.  It was a symphony that Dvorak composed in the United States when he was terribly homesick for his friends and family back home in Europe.  He tries to convey excitement and happiness of a new world, but notes of  melancholy and longing dominate.  I paid particular attention to the woodwind passages, which were extensive, exquisite and very exposed.  All of the flutes, bassons, clarinets, oboes and french horns had solos.  Despite my bias for the flutes, the cor anglais (an English horn that looks like a bigger oboe) truly stole the show.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Before Midnight at Broadway Cinematheque

I recently went to see Before Midnight at Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, a theater that I had heard pretty good things about previously.  
The theater is right next to Temple Street, which is probably the closest thing Hong Kong has to a night market.  The market consists of mostly cheap jewelry and fake goods, mixed in with the occasional sock shop or electronic stand, but really isn't worth much of your time.  I just loved that there were ample stands of fresh coconuts and sugar cane juice.
The theater definitely has an independent vibe to it.

 Blurbs about each of the movies line a wall.
 Vintage, international and obscure movie posters are on display everywhere.

There is a cool space for records and CDs.
There are all kinds of movie posters for sale.
They have a DVD lending library.  You have to be a member of Broadway Cinematheque to have borrowing access.
Some things don't change no matter where you are watching movies
And some things are quite different.  Movie theaters in Hong Kong have reserved seating.  They also have relatively small theaters.

Oh, and the movie itself?  The movie has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes currently and all of the positive reviews here and here and here ensured that I was going to watch this in the theater. 

There are certainly laudable points about Linklater's latest in his trilogy, tracing a couple from their first encounter to chance re-meeting to life together with children, in real time.  The second movie in the series, Before Sunset, had been filmed and produced nine years earlier (I am reeling from the fact that it was nine years ago. I vividly remember watching it in college...), and Before Sunrise, the first movie in the series, had been filmed and produced nine years prior to that. 

Disclaimer: no spoilers ahead, but you might not want to keep reading if you want to watch this movie.

Linklater's trademark long scenes of Jesse and Celine just speaking and interacting with each other during mundane tasks (driving a car, strolling a path, eating dinner) - joking, teasing, questing and responding- was instantly familiar from the previous two films, and deliciously unique in this day and age of nonsensical plot devices, terrible dialogue and special effects.  It's a lot of existential navel gazing though, so just be warned.

Now on to the negative things. 

First of all, there was waaaaay too much discussion about sex.  I understand that there is a myth about French women behaving like randy teenage boys, ready to have sex at the drop of a hat, but is this reality and should Hollywood exacerbate this stereotype? Is your average 40 year old French mother of little twin girls constantly thinking about sex and talking about blow jobs, orgasms, sex, penis size, copulating, and other unmentionables, ad nauseum?  Maybe, but I am doubtful. 

My other major peeve about the movie was how crazy hysterical they make Celine.  In one of the penultimate scenes of the movie, she jumps erratically from argument to argument, has multiple breakdowns, walks out repeatedly and returns.  The scene is ambiguous enough that there's room for debate as to who won the fight (and whether it's a Pyrrhic victory anyway), but I walked away from that scene thinking that Celine was an insane hormonal mess. Why can't Hollywood portray a woman who is just as good at, if not better than, a man when it comes to reasoning out her emotions and explaining her feelings?   Why can't she have the good lines?  Why can't Hollywood make a rational, sympathetic, independent, feminist woman?!  (By the way, this article really resonated with me - it's off topic here because the criticsms in that article do not apply to Celine's character in Before Midnight, but it relates in general to my many issues with how Hollywood addresses and presents women.)

Finally, a lot of the movie was just one big fight between the couple.  While the scenes may truly be representative of how, dredged in life's disappointments and failings and dusted off with cynicsm and bitterness, many couples emerge battle scarred and weary, the fact of the matter is that I want nothing more to do with this couple.  I appreciate that Linklater has courageously peeked behind the curtain to see what happens after the happily ever after, but I walked away from the film dazed and so grateful that I was able to walk away. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pesto Pasta Night

Michael made pesto from scratch with the basil from our rooftop garden. That's fresh!
What made this even tastier was that I didn't have to cook or chop or prepare a thing.  Yes, please...

Always a good idea to prepare some extra for the next day...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Date at the Salon

Michael lost our March Madness pool this year.  His penance?
Here he is getting his mitts polished.  One must give him ample credit for being a very good loser.

Lately I've been going to Cattleya Salon de Beaute in Hong Kong.  They are a very small shop on the second floor of the Wing Hong Building on Gilman's Bazaar in Central / Sheung wan.  The owner was formerly at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, and she left to found her own shop.  They have been open for nearly a year now and they so far have the most reasonably priced package for shellac nails that I have found in Hong Kong.  I heard just today that their package prices have gone up though - too bad!

The ladies there know me by name now (funny thing about manicures and pedicures - they are quite addictive.  How can you resist the pop of color?  It's just so fun).  My only critique would be that they are easily overwhelmed because they only have two or three beauticians working at one time.  Today we had to wait half an hour after our appointment time, and in the past I've had to wait just as long because someone came late earlier in the day.

Here is a former manicure that I got and just never posted: Barbie doll pink.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Food With Purpose

Lots of food in China (and it seems in Hong Kong in particular) are sold with the message and the understanding that they will address some ailment or rebalance some element that is lacking in one's body.  Therefore at herbal tea stands, it's not at all unusual for the purchaser to ask the shopkeeper what tea to buy if the person has a cold / weak digestive system / dampness or gout in their joints / too much "huoqi" (literally, fiery breath), etc. etc. 
Similarly, different kinds of soups, boiled for hours on end with certain key ingredients (like geoduck, goji berries, chicken feet, pickled vegetables and pork lungs, just to name a few), are meant to speed up metabolism, remove dampness from the lungs, nourish the skin, bolster eyesight, etc. etc.  I know lots of people who scoff at this, but having grown up in a household that very much believed (and still believes in) this stuff, I guess I can't help but lend credence to all of these food philosophies.
I've recently discovered a bunch of pre-packaged desserts that I have been sampling.  I am surprisingly drawn to the coconut milk and almond flavors.  The lily bulb and barley bits add a little bit of fun texture.  Plus, they promise to "nourish 'yin' and moisten the lungs" as well as to "clear the heart and calm the mind"! 

I think it's safe to say that this one is just BS - but it's still tasty

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

China Club

China Club is one of the famous private clubs in Hong Kong owned and designed by David Tang, the owner and designed of Shanghai Tang, a store with branches scattered around the globe, selling clothes, accessories and homewares reflecting an Asian sensibility.  The club takes up three full floors of the old Bank of China building and was created in 1991.  Its walls are chock full (and I mean really full) of art in all kinds of styles.  There is a dining room on the 13th floor, a bar for drinks and a room for private parties on the 14th floor, and a library and balcony on the 15th floor.

We went there last night for drinks with some friends who were visiting from out of town.  This time, I finally had a chance to take some more pictures, although I didn't get any pictures when we sat out on the balcony.

Hong Kong loves the "members only" tag, but unlike other clubs, China Club really is quite strict about their members only policy.
 And apparently quite serious about their dress code:
 Their elevators have lots of original prints of a famous comic:

The lobby contains one of my favorite pieces ever - a few headless and armless ladies in their beautiful chi-paos and heels, lying prone in a plate full of water and live goldfish.  Isn't there something so deliciously tantalizing and disturbing about it?  Each and every time, I can't help but think about the goldfish nibbling off these women's arms and heads...

Ascending the stairs, every part of the wall is covered in art. 
And the subject matter and choice is definitely esoteric.  Mao and Whitney - that's a comparison you don't see every day.
A painting of the pope, because...well, why not?
The bar on the 14th floor is called The Long March Bar and unlike the other floors contains a heavy military and revolutionary propaganda theme.
There is also a random display of really big shoes. 
The 15th floor contains the library, which is probably (surprise surprise) my favorite part.  There is a spiral staircase (yay!) and books on China line the shelves from top to bottom. 

 There was clearly a private dinner booked that night. They had quite a nice selection of champagne chilling in the bucket...
  The balcony is adjacent to the library (you can glimpse it beyond the windows in the library)

The details and finishing touches on the handpainted walls of the library are exquisite.