Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wishing You Happiness, Health and Prosperity in the Year of the Horse

Chinese New Year is January 31 this year, and the holiday in Hong Kong spills over into the beginning of February.  This is the year of the horse.  It's hard to miss the air of excitement as lai see packets get hauled out, a lot of orange trees are suddenly on display, and the color red is suddenly splashed everywhere.
how do they get these fruits to grow so big on a small tree?

Hong Kong loves its holiday displays, and CNY is no different. 

I would love to know how much money buildings spend on these elaborate window dressings and lobby displays.  It seems like every big building and shopping complex gets decked out.  In my office building, they even decal the lobby doors and walls!  That's dedication.

This is the Chinese equivalent of the Christmas tree.  Big, unwieldy, expensive.  Check, check, check.    Lantern ornaments.  Check.  What will happen to it after the holidays?  Uncertain, but likely dumped.  Check.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DIY: Candle Making

I have been inspired to make my own candles for a while now, but just never got around to blocking out the space and time to do it. Until recently.  Below, step by step, is my first foray into this easy DIY project.  It is also really fun.  Just be careful with the hot melted wax!

1. Assemble materials!  Gather wax, wicks, empty jars, a metal canister you don't care about getting dirty (preferably with a handle) and lots of old wide-mouth jars or tin cans.  Optional items are essential oils to add scent (I have a few bottles but this time I just cooked up one big batch of wax for citronella oil) and color (easily made with dye or crayons).

2. Dump the wax into the first container, then settle the container into another pot of boiling water.  You want to use a double boiler for safety reasons.  Hot wax is hot.
3. At first it will seem as though nothing is happening.  But resist the urge to stir (there is no need and you might as well avoid getting another item dirty) and soon enough you will see the wax melt.
4. It looks kind of funny as it melts down.  I kept thinking of a ball of mozzarella cheese submerged in extra virgin olive oil.  But that is probably because I relate nearly everything to food.
5. Affix wick to the bottom center of the container.  Once the wax has completely melted, you can add a few drops of essential oil.  This essentially means that every batch has to be the same color or scent.  Pour hot wax into said container, leaving about 1 cm space at the top.
 6. Affix the wick to something (a pencil, a chopstick, a stick) to keep it centered.  Otherwise it will lean too far to the side.

I made a second batch where I threw in a bunch of leftover wax bits from other candles and tea lights that I have used up:

7. Leave it alone - in my case I just left it overnight.  When I woke up in the morning, voila!  The color was slightly different in the three candles of my second batch.
8. Remove the sticks and trim the wicks.  There will likely be craters, or empty air pockets, at the top of the candle near the center of the wick.  Apparently this is quite normal and if you want to fix it you can boil up another batch of wax and pour it in a second time.  I really couldn't be bothered, as my main motivation for making these is to get a lot of mosquito repellent candles on the cheap!  
The end product!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Delta Paltinum100 Targeted Offer

I received a surprising package in the mail yesterday from Delta.  Apparently they are stepping up their game in certain markets (Seattle comes to mind), and now New York.

The details of the deal was that, if you registered with Delta and flew one BusinessElite flight with them within 60 days of registration, you would earn Platinum Medallion status and Delta Sky Club membership for a year and immediately get an extra 100,000 Skymiles (i.e., in addition to the miles you would earn flying the business class flight).

This is new.  I could care less about the Platinum status and lounge access because I do not fly Delta regularly, but 100,000 Skymiles?  Not bad!  They are commonly called Skypesos for a reason, but hey, 100,000 pesos is still better than no pesos.  Certainly enough to merit some consideration.

Unlike Washington state, where they sent targeted offers to customers for credit card sign up bonuses, this targeted offer... smacked of superiority complexes.  The tag line was "You're an elite traveler, and it's time you were treated like one.  This exclusive program is only being affered to a handful of flyers, and you're one of them"  and "The elite never stand still."

Gee...sycophantic, much?  What the heck makes someone an "elite" traveler?

I guess the "elite never stand still" line is the snotty traveler's equivalent of New York's "the city never sleeps"?

As word of this targeted offer leaks into the frequent flyer market, I imagine this will only fan the fires of outrage of Delta's long time customers.  How would you feel if you only flew Delta, worked hard to accure Delta miles and status, and then found out that the company was offering all of these benefits for significantly less effort to some random folks out of the blue?  Plbbbt!

And now having bashed the tag lines and the tone of the advertisement… I have to grudgingly admit I am intrigued.  Is it for the miles or is it for the privilege of being considered an elite traveler?

Regardless, maybe there is something to Delta's gimmick after all, because for the first time ever I am considering making a mileage run.

Tokyo in March, anyone??

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Long Overdue Haircut and Digital (Re)Perm

So, I kind of loved my digital perm.

I went back to the same salon and the same trusty hairstylist that I used last year.  I am really embarrassed to admit that it has been just over a year (by a week and a half) that I got a haircut and some hairstyling.  You do not even want to see these split ends.

As much as I love digital perms for providing me with flawless curls from a mere spritz of water and some finger combing (and sometimes not even that), I am very guilty of not taking good care of my tresses.  I bought special curling conditioner and a nice smelling cream that everyone else raved about in the beginning.  But after a month or two of good behavior, I completely and utterly stopped applying creme or mousse or oil to my hair.

Perms are supposed to dry out hair, which is why ultra rich conditioners and creams are very popular.  They help the hair maintain its curl.  I am embarrassed to admit that I have sunk to a new level of laziness, in that I can't even really be bothered to go through this ritual.

So, my hair was really dried out and thirsty by the time I finally got my butt into the salon.

I had to cut off more of my ends to pretty much ensure a fresh start.  Honestly, the ends weren't that bad, but I figured I should change it up a little anyway.  So I went quite short.

At this point of the process, I looked so horrifically unflattering that I had no choice but to take a few snaps.  Hehe, doesn't it look like aliens have invaded?  And with the bug eyes and glasses too...

I think because of how short my hair was this time, the curls had to be heated closer to my head.  so rather than the octopus machine, they hooked me up to this kind of digital rack style machine instead.

The whole process took SO long.  Nearly 5 hours from arrival, shampoo, cut, perm solution, wash, another perm solution, wash, setting the curls once, setting the curls twice, final wash, and blow dry and style.  I was bored stiff and starving.

Stepping onto the MTR immediately afterward.  Not the most flattering light but I think it shows the gist of it pretty well.
 Back at home and in my robe.  The curls are tight and are supposed to be tight right now - the idea is that they should relax over the next two days.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Roofdeck, Updated

As promised, more gardening and roof deck updates.
 I bought two mint plants and a tea flower plant yesterday to add to the growing roof top.

Two mint plants.  Fragrant, fresh tea, anyone?
The lone pepper plant (survivor!) that I mentioned in my previous post
This is the motley flowering corner
This particular plant is unfortunately not doing very well- I came back from vacation to find that it was shedding its leaves at a voracious rate.  I think it needs some serious TLC.  I have moved it into the sun and am monitoring it carefully.
This is the first plant we bought at the Flower Market back in the day.  

I also got a baby Weber secondhand just so I would have something on the roof deck that I could use to grill.   It is so small that we could easily bring it with us to the New Territories or to a park. I imagine if I were to get serious about throwing parties, we would need to invest in a much bigger gas grill (which is quite expensive out here!).
The weather in Hong Kong has been really nice lately, just really hazy.  I am currently working on a DIY candle making project, which will if all goes smoothly give me the desired multiple citronella candles that I will need to light up my roof top, for use during the day and night.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Torq Cycle

Sometimes peer pressure is a good thing.  My friends alerted me to a two week promotion at a new spin cycle studio in Central, Hong Kong -- Torq.

Crank it Out!

Even though I despise do not love spinning, I was encouraged enough to give it a try. I figured, why not, right? It's free and it's fitness and maybe after trying it a few more times I could catch the cycling bug.

So I signed up. And I went to my first class. It was actually not that bad (except for one part, where I  started wheezing as sweat was dripping onto my handlebars).    And near the end, I was really, really regretting my choice of lunch.
The studio is really small - just one room stacked full of bikes, a lobby area selling some bike related equipment and waters, and two locker rooms (one for women, one for men).  The locker rooms are small but well designed and very pretty, and I liked that they use Aesop products.  Their towels were also really fluffy and soft. 

(Am I the only person who cares about the beauty products in a gym?  I am a total sucker for it.  I really think it makes a huge difference, even though it really shouldn't.  I'm sure if we delved into some marketing studies we would find that gyms can charge significantly more if they just make their locker rooms and soaps really nice).

I thought the neon lights were a really nice touch. 
For the most part, we cycled in the dark to a lot of pump-up music.  But sometimes the neon blue lights would come on, which was kind of fun.
My bike! And my pink weights.
 Because it was not enough just to ride, we had to do weights about three quarters of the way through.  Bring it on I say!

Torq has a TV screen up at the top of the studio that shows where everyone in the class stacks up.  This obviously is meant to be a motivating factor.  I do not think the whole shaming thing works on me, but if I were in dead last and significantly worse than everyone else, I would probably be embarassed enough to step it up.  I am not sure how I feel about the scoreboard, but I am guessing most people could care less how I am doing relative to them. 
My "seat" is aching today, wondering what the heck I did to it, but surprisingly my abs are not sore at all (the instructor said they should be).  Either I am doing something wrong or my abs are stronger than I thought.  I am betting it is the former and not the latter. 

Will I go back?  Yes, I think so.  It was a startlingly good workout (I am gauging this based on how absolutely hungry and wiped out I felt afterwards) and I think it would be fun to try out a few of their other classes.  I heard from my friend that the class we went to was actually pretty easy, and not as intense as another one she had tried.  Good to know... 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dinner at ABC Kitchen in Sheung Wan

I went to ABC Kitchen, a Western (Italian) restaurant in the Queens Street food market in Sheung Wan the other day, for a dinner date with a girl friend.

What is a cooked food market?  Well, it's not really a wet market, but it's similar.  It is more like a standalone food court, except set in a fluorescent-lit hall.  Sometimes (often) it is on top of or next to a wet market.  There is usually a preponderance of tile.
The escalators leading up to the cooked food market
It's not a cooked food market without ugly tile flooring, small rickety stools and fluorescent lighting!

 At least our tables had a tablecloth.  That was a nice and unprecedented touch.

My friend ordered a green salad tossed in balsamic vinaigrette and mussels in a cream sauce.
The mussels were plump and fresh.  As far as I could tell, there were no mussels that did not open, which is a very good sign.
 I had the ossobucco with cheese polenta and french beans.  The meat was very tender and the green beans were cooked just right.  The texture of the polenta was a little chunkier than I would have liked.  I tend to like a creamier polenta that errs more on the side of a puree.  I guess this one was chunkier because they had put cheese in it.
We ended up with a chocolate souffle to share.  It was very pretty and had admirable height and fluffiness - probably at least an inch and a half up off of the rim of the ramekin.  We promptly sank our spoons into it and deflated the dessert.  It was tasty and not too sweet, but I think it would have been nice if it had been a little more dense.  The chocolate flavor was not as strong as I would have liked.

 ABC Kitchen is a cute spot and the prices are pretty sweet.  Our dinner came out to less than HK$400 for the two of us.  The wait staff speak English.  I think it's a quirky spot worth checking out : a fun fusion of pretty good Western cuisine in a quintessentially local Hong Kong setting.

ABC Kitchen: Western Dai Pai Dong
Shop 7, Food Market
1 Queens St.
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
+852 9278 8227

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Which I Blog Again About My (Newly Blooming) Rooftop Garden

...And I am only blogging about it now because I have been puttering around on the rooftop recently (hangs head in shame).  I have found it really therapeutic to water, trim and croon to these little plants. 

The reason I never gave any updates after the second batch of seedlings (see posts here and here) is that the Hong Kong summer was not all that nice to my vegetable plants and I was embarassed to say that everything had withered and died!

Nothing (of my eggplants, basil, pumpkins and peppers) has survived except for one lone little green pepper plant that miraculously weathered the severe heat, floods of rain and subsequent dry spells.

I planted mint and alpine strawberries this past weekend, but it will be a while before there is anything to show.  I am staying optimistic, but my previous experience has made me a bit wiser (and also a bit more cautious).  It is very likely that the seeds won't even germinate.

I also decided to infuse a bit more floral into the scene, and obtained a new magenta pink azalea bush and a light pink begonia plant.  I am quite liking the few pops of shocking pink on the rooftop!


I think I will try to add a few more planters of marigolds or gerbera daisies, and maybe a peach blossom tree of some sort.  I promise to provide a more timely gardening update!

It's Orange Season!

These oranges are not very pretty to look at but they are super juicy, plump and sweet.  I bought three, then went back the next day and bought a dozen.

Is it possible to overdose on Vitamin C?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hunger in an Affluent Society

I caught sight of this quotation today and it got me thinking about what the word "need" truly means.

"The amount of hunger increases relatively and absolutely with the evolution of culture. This paradox is my whole point. Hunters and gatherers have by force of circumstances an objectively low standard of living. But... all the people's material wants usually can be easily satisfied....The world's most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor."

-Marshall Sahlins, "The Original Affluent Society"

Sometimes Hong Kong, as fun, enriching, invigorating and international of a place as it is, is a very heady and artificial bubble.   It is an ivory tower crammed full of the privileged and wealthy elite, a metaphorical skyscraper that shadows all of the actual skyscrapers in this most vertiginous of cities.

The gap between the rich and the poor here is yawning, cavernous and deep.

It is a small, fast-paced place, full of glitzy baubles, and capitalist to the hilt.  In this place, it is very difficult to remember, and all too easy to lose sight of, just what things are truly important and meaningful in a life well lived.


Monday, January 20, 2014

A Necklace Ring

Celebrating my latest stacking ring addition… I bought one for me and one for my sister.  We wear it on the same finger.  It was she who said that it was like a necklace… but in the form of a ring!

It is indeed.  It is a chain ring and it is sparkly and fun.