Friday, February 28, 2014

Some Like It Hot (and Numb and Tingly)

I went to this noodle shop on Yiu Wah Street in Causeway Bay for a delectably mouth tingling spicy experience.

My favorite.  Spicy and sour Chongqing potato noodles with peanuts, preserved vegetables and cilantro
A simple but delicious eggplant served chilled, coated with sesame oil, chili oil, fresh chopped scallions and sesame seeds
Chongqing pork dumplings with a healthy heaping of minced garlic

Dan dan noodles with minced pork and spicy sauce
This is not food for the faint of mouth!  After my spicy and sour potato noodles, my lips were tingling and my tongue felt like it had fallen asleep, with pins and needles skittering up and down.  I know a lot of people don't like the sensation but I love it.  

I didn't take a picture of it but in the first picture you can kind of see my cucumber soy milk, an interesting drink that the shop offers as an antidote to all of the spice.  It is a light green color.  Soy milk is a nice cooling agent and cucumber is extra cool and soothing, so the drink is a potent counterbalancing agent in this equation of fiery numbing spice.

To help further cool off my taste buds after, I went across the street to one of my favorite dessert shops in Hong Kong to have myself a sweet treat.
Mango pieces and sago served over mango sorbet and very tender tofu (douhua)
I will definitely be back when I want a spicy tingly fix.

Yu - Sichuan Noodle Shop
4 Yiu Wah St.
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong

CongSao Dessert
11 Yiu Wah St.
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gardening Update: Strawberry Plants, a Basil Plant and Some Flowers

I went to the Flower Market last weekend and couldn't help myself. 

Flowers! Everywhere! And beautiful plants.  And herbs.  And more flowers!  I know I don't need an aloe plant, or a cactus, or a Venus fly trap, or marigolds, or two types of mint (chocolate and lemon), or daisies for miles, but... everything I saw I wanted.

I thought I exercised remarkable constraint, but that is mostly due to the fact that I only had two hands. 

I bought two huge strawberry plants (I thought they were very reasonably priced at HK$20 a pop, or US$2.58 each). 
The strawberry plants have settled into their containers fabulously and are sprouting flowers and berries already. My only concern now is how to keep pesky bugs and birds away from my precious fruits....

I also bought these two mum varietals (I liked how the light lavender and the dark purple complemented each other) at HK$15 a pop.

and some baby basil plants (of a local Hong Kong variety) for HK$15. 
These basil plants were really weak when I purchased them (hence I planted the metal pole) but they have since settled in nicely.  I hope to plant tomatoes next to them as basil and tomato are the ultimate companion plants.

I also spoiled myself as I could not resist all of the fresh flowers, and mixed and matched this bouquet:

I really like this shop at the Flower Market
because they have so so many different varieties of flowers for you to individually choose from.  Each flower is clearly labeled with a price so you know exactly how much everything is and you can make your own bouquet.  For someone who once dreamt of being a florist, this is pretty much heaven.  It is really fun too because you can mix and match the flowers (all protected in plastic sleeves) to see if the color palette you envisioned in your head really works. 

Finally, an update on my other plants:
My yellow gerbera daisy is blooming again
Even better, there are lots of new buds
The garlic bulbs that I planted last week have exploded.  They are growing REALLY fast!!
I hope this is a good sign and not a bad sign
 My mint is flourishing (the plants just grow bigger and bigger the more I pluck for my tea!)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Giselle by the La Scala Ballet

As part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival going on currently, I went with two girl friends last week to watch Giselle at the Hong Kong Cultural Center, performed by the La Scala Ballet and accompanied by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta.

I absolutely adored this production.  The choreography was simple and elegant, with clean lines, beautiful formations and breathtaking solos.  The production was straightforward and just the right length, fitting the storyline very well.  Never at any point did I feel that any of the dances dragged on for too long.

The soloists were exquisite.  Svetlana Zakharova in particular, who played Giselle, was mesmerizing with her graceful, fluid movements.  The most amazing element of her dancing was how light and carefree she was, no matter whether she was executing twenty pirhouettes in a row or pattering across the stage in pas de bourees.  Having watched her perform, I completely understand why she is hailed as one of the best ballerinas of her generation. 

I love the second act of Giselle (the graveyard scenes) because every ballerina wears the quintessential gauzy white tutu and there is something so wildly romantic and yet all at once desperate about the whole scene.  Death and undying love do make companionable bedmates, it seems. 

Every time I watch ballet, a completely impractical and wistful part of me wonders what it would be like to be a ballerina.  I immediately reject the idea once I've dwelled on it for a few seconds, because I danced ballet for quite a while previously, and so have been on pointe and have sampled a fraction of the pain, discipline and committment required to be a professional ballerina. 

But oh,  isn't it something?  Behold, the beauty of the human form!  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Princeton Potluck and A Beautiful Hike

This weekend I went to a really fun and interesting event about careers in the foreign service and diplomacy generally, hosted by the Princeton Club in Hong Kong.  It was held at the house of a Princeton alum who works in the foreign service, and who generously opened up his house for a potluck and casual Q&A.  Nothing all that top secret or controversial was disclosed or discussed, however, it was a warm and convivial gathering and I quite appreciated the personal interaction that took place.

I got a kick out of the security at the compound. My taxi driver when I arrived was clearly flustered at the protocol.

Look at that! You usually cannot see those islands in the distance...
It didn't hurt that there was an entire table laden with delicious food, or that the weather was one of the best in Hong Kong for days, if not months.

The table was practically groaning from the weight of the food
My first plate.  I made the (very beautiful and delicious if I say so myself) quinoa and arugula salad. 

An amazing chess set.  I wish I were a good chess player.  But frankly the moves make my head hurt.
 After the potluck event, a few alum went up to the Peak on a leisurely hike.  I guess it is really more accurate to say that it was a walk rather than a hike, because the entire path was paved and not even very steep.  But, semantics.  The important thing is that we were awarded with absolutely stunning, breathtaking views. 

Due to the clear atmosphere, it was the most spectacular view of Victoria Harbor that I have seen since arriving in Hong Kong.

Ridiculous fact: each of these seven villas (with private roof top pool) in the foreground of the below picture sold for HK$740 million.  Yep.  That would be HK$740,000,000 with seven zeroes, or nearly US$95.5 million even on the day with the most favorable foreign exchange rate.
 This picture below may be my second-favorite from the hike.  What a sweet place to play tennis, huh?  Not sure we should try to calculate how much an hour rental should cost...  

It is hard to see in this picture, but the building on the very left of the below picture has bamboo scaffolding that goes all the way from the ground floor to the penthouse.  This is a building over forty stories tall!  I cannot believe that they use bamboo scaffolding all the way up.  I shudder to think about the safety protocols ...or lack skyscraper construction here.  Another fun fact I learned from Wikipedia and as a result of this hike: check out these numbers.

This is probably my favorite picture from the hike.  A private lawn!  It was a little bit difficult to get a good picture because this whole garden was fenced off.   Until I came to Hong Kong, I had never appreciated, well, grass.  A manicured lawn now seems like the most precious and decadent of things.  Isn't it such a shame that no one was using this lawn to bask in the sun or play croquet or bocce ball?
This lawn is worth millions upon millions.
We finished our hike up at the Peak, and then everyone went off their separate ways to get back down to sea level.  I thought it was quite amusing that the cones were set up all across the plaza in anticipation of the crowds of people who would want to get on the Peak tram. 

Monday, February 24, 2014


I have just discovered a new fruit.

Have you ever had a kiwi berry?  Oh sure, you have likely had a kiwi, also known as a kiwi fruit.

But I am talking about its miniature cousin!  What the what??  How have I never known of its miraculous existence! 

These discoveries leave me a little gobsmacked, because, well, I am a bit of a fruit addict, and so I think that I have seen a lot of fruits. But mother nature never ceases to amaze.

Whenever I make a new fruit discovery I imagine this is how the Spanish conquistadors and the English explorers felt, sampling a new spice in the exotic east or a strange vegetable in the new world for the first time.
This thing is the size of an olive (maybe a little larger) and really thin skinned.  You can eat the fruit without any peeling or fuss, which pretty much eliminates my number one criticism of kiwis.

The interior looks exactly like a regular kiwi, except everything is, well, smaller.
So adorable!
It is also sweeter (in my opinion) than its larger counterpart.  Normal kiwis can be a bit tart.  I think kiwi berries are just perfect.  I am in love.

I just watched a YouTube video on how you can germinate kiwi berry plants directly from seed.  I am honestly so enamored with this new (to me) fruit that I think I have to play botanist and try to coax my own seedlings to sprout.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gardening Update: Planting and Growing Your Own Garlic!

Do you have garlic that looks like this?  Clearly I do.
I had an entire bulb of garlic that had started sprouting these little green shoots.  Rather than tossing them or trying to "make do" by cooking them, I figured, why not just plant them?

I can't believe I didn't think to try this before.  Let's see what happens!

Garlic is a fantastic companion plant because it is a natural pesticide (I guess the smell is pungent even in the ground).  Like onions or scallions, the smell from the bulbs and the shoots are very good at warding off bugs and creepy crawlies on your other more susceptible vegetables or flowers.

These are the soft neck garlic that you most typically see in supermarkets.  I have on occasion at farmer's markets in the US seen hard neck garlic, but those are not as readily available outside of the northeast US.

I think both types should be planted the same way (the pointy end up, the flat bottom end down, about one length more of the garlic bulb itself).

I planted these garlic "bulbs" next to my lone soldier green pepper plant.  I hope in a few months I have at least 9 big bulbs of fresh garlic waiting for me!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

36 Hours in Cebu Part 2 (Guess We Packed in A Lot!)

I woke up on Sunday in Cebu hungry and eager for some fresh fruit and coffee at our breakfast (which was included).  Michael's surprise did not stop with the villa and the fruit; he had them bring me a chocolate cake!
I was eating a salad at the time that the wait staff came up to me.  I was so desperate for some vegetables I was eating salad at breakfast!
Just to start us off on a really pretty picture.
 Mmmmm.  Nice.  Okay, here are the random assorted pictures that I have from the trip.  A lot of these were actually taken on the first day.

Here are some of the pictures that I snapped quickly from the airport taxi on our way to the resort on the  first day in Cebu.  The ride, while only 15 minutes according to GoogleMaps, took nearly twice as long as that.  When we asked later why it took so long to get around everywhere / why we had to call our taxi to the airport so far in advance, our hotel concierge explained apologetically, "Ma'am, it's the Philippines."  

Well, that's as good of a reason as any, I guess!

The blurry reflections in the corner are my hands and my gray fleece, which I promptly chucked as soon as we landed!
I do always feel a bit ambivalent about staying in very nice, posh resorts that are cheek to cheek with local people's decidedly less posh houses, but I justify some of it by considering how much revenue tourism can bring into a country and a community.  It's not a perfect solution, I know.

I also usually try not to snap pictures of locals when I travel because it seems invasive (I always envisaged some cute little kid who believes he is cursed for life because I took a picture of him and snatched his soul) and all too similar to snapping pictures at animals in a zoo.

Having said all of this, obviously I am not all that ambivalent (or just unabashedly hypocritical), because I stayed at a lovely resort in Lapu Lapu and also snapped the following picture.  Something about the scene just really called to me.  I also really like how the taxi is reflected (in a store selling jerseys and athletic shorts).
What simple pleasures.  Cooling off on a hot day.
So what did we do with our second day at the resort?  We relaxed.  We read.  We got more massages.

We stared at the water.  
We basked in the sun.

We hung out by the pool.
We ate more pork and more items that contained pork.

We drank coconuts.
I really only had one.  I just hijacked J's coconut to make a more impressive picture.
We did water aerobics.
And...We took pictures of ourselves.

Here are the outtakes!
We love Cebu!
Wait, what's going on?
Wait, camera man, are you really still taking pictures of us?   Well, that's awkward.