Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Relaxation Tips and Routines

I realize I have a bit of a soothing/relaxing ritual at night when I want to wind down after a long day or when my energy levels are too high for me to go straight to bed.  Of course a soothing massage works wonders, but sometimes you just need something very easy and accessible - a home recipe, if you will.  What are some things that you do that work for you?

I have found the following to really work for me:

1. Aromatherapy.  What do you think about essential oils?  I've recently become really intrigued with them.  When I come home late or tired or kind of stressed out, I will light the diffuser in the bathroom (a simple ceramic affair with a bowl perched on top of a hollow base - the top is for water and oil, the bottom for the tea light to warm the water and oil), and I'm not sure if it's the ritual of setting this up that relaxes me or if it's the aromatherapy itself, but either way I find it all very soothing.  Some of my favorite scents are jasmine, neroli, bergamot, rose and ylang ylang.

2. A Hot Shower.  Sadly we do not have a bathtub in the apartment, so a hot shower has to suffice.  But when I am really stressed or tired, a scalding hot shower, especially on my neck and shoulders, really helps.  I then like to wrap myself up in a fluffy robe so I feel insta-good.

3. Hot Tea.  It doesn't matter how hot it is outside - at night, when I am trying to wind down, I want a hot cup of calming, soothing tea.  Obviously I choose one without caffeine - but other than that, the options are endless.  Lately I have been really into the various flavors offered by pukka tea and also the sleepytime tea by Celestial Seasonings.  Chamomile has also been a long time favorite, however I don't really like mint of any kind.

4. A Neck Pad.  I didn't even know that these things existed until I came out to Asia.  One of the foot massage parlors I frequented had these - like bean bags that rest on your neck.  They are filled with herbs and you heat them up in the microwave.  You put them on your neck and shoulder area and let the heat slowly penetrate into your tired muscles.  I have a nice soft one that is filled with all kinds of yummy smelling herbs ("gathered from the hills of Thailand" or some lovely sounding sentiment along those lines) but I use it all the time.

Sometimes I do one of the above, sometimes all four.  It all depends! 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Singin' in the Rain

I went to the Lyric Theater in Wan Chai to see the latest production that is traveling to Hong Kong - Singin' in the Rain.  My enthusiasm for cultural events has waned significantly since coming to this city - the quality and innovation of productions here simply fall far short of those in London or New York.  However, I decided to give this one a chance, because it is the London production and the London cast, and it seemed to have received rave reviews.  Plus, what better thing there is to do than indulge in a song and dance routine during a long public holiday weekend?

It was really fun -- the production used real water (audience members in the first four or five rows received ponchos because they were guaranteed to be splashed) and some very colorful umbrella work.  While watching it, I could not stop thinking about how impressed I am by people who can sing and dance - and make it look so effortless!  The lead characters twirl and jump non stop and then belt out songs right after a complicated dance sequence, all without seeming out of breath or panting.

Here are some pictures of the Lyric Theater (at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts) and one stealth shot of the stage (as pictures during the performance were strictly prohibited).

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Week of Events

This was a pretty busy week for me.  I recently realized that after a day at work, all I want is to rush home to my apartment and relax with a book or a movie, putz around, maybe scroll through my digg reader, or instagram, or blog.  All of these things are lovely, but I couldn't help thinking that, at a time in my life with no pets and no kids, in a vibrant city like Hong Kong, I should try to incorporate more face to face encounters in my daily interactions instead of hiding behind my screens (whether it be a Samsung screen, a macbook screen or a kindle screen) and just generally be more open to opportunities and experiences.  

So I decided that I would try a week where I would network, and meet up with people even if it was only a Tuesday night, and attend a mid-week dinner, and where I would generally just say "Yes" to everything that came my way.  It made my week go by very quickly and I ended up really enjoying it.

On Monday, my firm hosted a networking drinks event at The Asia Society, to coincide with Super Return in Hong Kong.  I went to chat up placement agents and investigation firms, private equity directors and managers.  It is always a bit intimidating to drop in on the conversations of complete strangers, but I think everyone should force themselves to do this every once in a while.  I met a bunch of new people and even received a follow up email and a follow up meeting as a result, so I chalk that up to a success.

On Tuesday, I met up with a girl friend, who is about to (or is in the planning stages) of leaving Hong Kong.  She is also a lawyer and it was interesting to hear some of the differences between her firm and mine.  She also introduced me to her friends, who are relative newcomers to Hong Kong.  It was nice generally just to catch up with some girl friends on an al fresco terrace on a warm night.

On Wednesday, I went to Chiu Chow Garden in Jardine House for a working dinner with the other board members of the Alumni Club of the University of Chicago.  I am glad I went.  During the brainstorming session, as I was trying to help the alumni relations staff (who flew in from Chicago) figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the club in Hong Kong, I realized that I was really enjoying the process of raising suggestions and sharing feedback.  You will just have to take my word for it, but I was making some astute observations and concise suggestions -- after the dinner, the alumni relations director pulled me aside especially to thank me for my insight.  Thus I went home feeling pretty satisfied with myself.  Pictures after the jump.

On Thursday, I headed to a Princeton alumnae's house for an ongoing event that the women's group here have recently set up, called "Dinner with Strangers."  For the first dinner topic, 15 alumnae, who are at various points in their careers (inception, established, at a cross roads, or stalled), came together to share their experiences and talk about their thoughts, concerns, or just share their insight.  It was very interesting to hear everyone's stories - how they ended up in Hong Kong, where they are in their careers, and the decisions they made along the way.  Everyone was very respectful and thoughtful.  The conversation inevitably veered toward the incredibly intimate - I guess it gets very intimate very fast when you discuss topics like career, marriage, hobbies and passions, and infertility.

On Friday, high on the success of the events that transpired this week, I tried a new yoga class with a new instructor.  That was the only failure… it was such a terrible class.  Guess not everything can work out well!

Chiuchow Garden has a very dramatic chandelier heralding its entrance below ground:

I drank pots and pots of tea.
We enjoyed the steamed crab with lots of vinegar and ginger, which is in season now.  Look at how pretty the crab is!  I loved its spots.
One of the officers ordered huadiao wine, which came in this pretty bottle.  I sampled a little bit - it was kind of tasteless and I am not sure I liked it.  From what I have learned it is wine made from glutinous rice and wheat and flavored with Chinese herbs.
We also had some seafood stew, sweet and sour shrimp and kale and beef satay.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wandering Through Wan Chai

This past weekend I went on a random stroll through Wan Chai.  I had forgotten what a vibrant and hectic place the markets are.  Here are some snaps.  I will leave it to your imagination as to the smell and the noise...
Fresh meat for sale!
What animals do these things belong to?  I walked by quickly, not wanting to know.

I forget sometimes how clearly the new and the old exist side by side here.
I stopped in at a traditional old dessert place, Tsui Yuan, to sample their wares.
With egg whites, almond paste, black sesame, lotus seeds and red dates littering the menu, Chinese desserts are all about the health benefits.  Below, their explanation of what each ingredient does.
 My bowl of almond paste (which sounds and maybe looks less appetizing than it was).

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hong Kong in September and Some Restaurants (New and Old)

So, as you have gathered by now, we are back in Hong Kong and September has turned out to be a relatively slow month for us.  There was a new public holiday implemented on September 3rd just for this year, and then we are heading into Mid-Autumn festival and Golden week holidays before you know it.

We came back and I was once again shocked anew by the pace of change and frenetic activity in this city.  I feel as if the entire Hong Kong island is under construction.  Jackhammers and drills pound and squeal nonstop, ghoul like buildings shrouded in scaffolding and netting loom against the skyline, and the noise - the incessant noise!
When did this happen?
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the pace of change better than the ridiculous turnover of restaurants.  I have not been venturing out into the Soho neighborhood much this summer, but upon my return I was just blown away by the number of venues that have been replaced, and the number of new restaurants that have arrived, and the number of stores that are now under construction in anticipation of new businesses arriving.

Since coming back, I've eaten out a few times, whether with Michael or friends, and hit up some new restaurants as well as some old favorites.

Beer & Fish, a new restaurant located at 67 Staunton Street in Soho:
When we were out that night we bumped into a friendly, drunk couple from Montreal who were so excited that we were from New York and helped us score a free beer to go because we were just married.
They serve (surprise) a bunch of craft beers, including a few from Hong Kong, such as this gwei lo ale that we tried, and they also offer growlers for purchase.
 The decor is fun - all tile and amber bottles.

 My fish and chips - I got the small portion.  It doesn't look like much but it's quite tasty.  The two pieces of fish sticks were actually perfectly lightly battered and the fish itself was fresh, flaky and hot.  I doused my chips in so much malt vinegar that it puckered my lips. 
 Uncle Padak, a very popular Korean fried chicken joint on 59 High Street in Sai Ying Pun:
 The creamed corn (like a corn version of mac n' cheese) and their egg pancake (topped with mayonnaise and ketchup) were both okay.  I would rate them mediocre.
 But the fried chicken... wow!  We got a split platter of regular style (the honey brown chicken on the left) and then a sweet and spicy version (the lighter colored chicken with sauce on the right).  So good.  It was not greasy, the batter was very light, and it was so flavorful. 

Michael and I went to Butcher's Club Burger at 112-114 Wellington St. for dinner one night, getting a hamburger, duck fat fries and an ice cream sandwich (said sandwich goes unpictured because we ate it too quickly).


As with most things in Hong Kong, I would argue that it is too pricey - this burger is quite small and it comes with nothing and it costs HK$100!  I had to take a picture because it's hilarious on what a huge cutting board they chose to serve the burger.
However, also to give credit where credit is due - it is a pretty tasty burger.
Their duck fat fries, for an additional HK$30.
I also went to Check in Taipei, located at 27 Hollywood Road with a friend recently - just wanted to check it out as it has been on Hollywood street for a while (far exceeding my expectations of its life span).  It was a fun spot and the dishes were innovative, but I don't know that I would go back again.

They are known for their "innovative" cocktails, which seem to involve a lot of tea infusions.  My friend ordered this mocktail, a winter melon slush drink with huge tapioca pearls:

 We ordered their mushroom forest, which is surrounded by fried chunks of fish and a soft boiled egg:
 Chicken and waffles Taiwanese style, which is a fried piece of chicken atop a small waffle with a layer of chopped pineapple layered in between.  The fried chicken was divine, the waffle could have been more moist and fluffy, and I could have done without the pineapple entirely.  The plate comes with four pieces.
 We tried the ping pong balls, served on a ping pong paddle (how typically cutesy) which were actually purple yam mochi balls.  Despite the presentation, however, I thought this was a disappointment - I liked the chewy texture but it lacked flavor overall.
 This was the ma po tofu noodles.  It was not too spicy.  I liked the idea and I really wanted to like this dish, but I think it came up a little short on execution.  The tofu was very hard and lacked flavor - likely they needed to stew the tofu itself for a while longer to make sure it absorbed all the flavors.  The noodles were a little bit too al dente.  Otherwise, it had a nice peppercorn zing that hit the tongue in a nice slow delayed aftertaste.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Books - Summer Reading Roundup

This is a list of my summer reading (some fluffier and lighter than others, but all very readable - no tomes or lengthy discourses here).  I hope you find it helpful if you are looking for some reading inspiration - and please feel free to share anything you have discovered.

I will start off with my favorites.

A Hundred Summers, by Beatriz Williams. This is still my favorite book of hers so far, but I also read "The Secret Life of Violet Grant" and "Tiny Little Thing."  So far the books are all about different members of one family (the cousin, the sister, the aunt, etc.) and it is a great escapist journey into the conservative, wealthy, upper crust families in the early-to-mid twentieth century of Northeast America.  There is always love (usually thwarted until it isn't), a mystery (or three), and very compelling characters.  Her next novel, Along the Infinite Sea, is already in the works.  Overall though, I would say I like them in descending order (the first one best, and the last one least), so I am not sure how excited to be for the next book.

Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Reid Jenkins.  This was fun, very readable, and very much like a novel of "Sliding Doors," the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow showing "what would have happened if…." I read this in one sitting and, despite it being a classic chick-lit style book, really enjoyed it.  It made me think a lot about fate, choices, actions and consequences.  Jenkins does a great job showing the growth of the character in both scenarios, such that as the reader you cannot help extrapolating to your own life and thinking, no matter what happens, maybe you do end up okay in the end.

Who Do You Love, by Jennifer Weiner.  Speaking of fate, choices, actions and consequences, this latest novel by Weiner really made me think too - about childhood, first love, second chances, and just life generally.  It is heartwarming good.  I also read this in one sitting (but maybe I just do that a lot).

The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand.  From what I can tell, her books are all set on Nantucket.  While I was tempted to write her off as an author of average-middling summer fluff, "The Rumor" is different.  I read this in one sitting (ditto) because I just had to find out what happened next. There have been plenty of books about the destructive power of rumor and gossip, so this book isn't groundbreaking in that aspect, but Hilderbrand has elegantly spun an irresistible novel about friendship, betrayal, marriage and the very small things that can unravel us.

The Girls From Corona del Mar, by Rufi Thorpe.  I did not know what to expect with this novel, having picked it up on a whim for no reason other than its title and the art on its cover (I know, I know…).  I really had no idea what it was about, and I think it was a better read for me for it.  Thorpe  explores how a friendship can influence and form a life long impact on an individual.  Thorpe is a fierce and unapologetic feminist writer and I love her for that.  The book touches on a myriad of challenging issues that every woman should think about, relating to a woman's body, childbirth, motherhood, love, and hard choices.

I liked these but didn't love them, also roughly sorted in descending order:

The Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline.  This was a story with engrossing characters, detailing a time in American history when orphans were shipped onto a train and sent out to the Midwest in the hopes that they would be adopted by families, either looking for children of their own or an extra hand around the house.  I thought parts of the story could have had a little more depth, but dovetailing between the past and present, it is well researched and came together in a very satisfying read overall.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari.  I was really surprised that this turned out to be a sociological book with research backing it and footnotes, to boot.  I was expecting something more like the fluffy novels a la Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, etc.  Instead, the book tries to figure out the unique challenges of the modern dating world, including the surfeit of apps but also our changed expectations.  Entertaining and humorous but I don't think this book addresses anything new that hasn't been considered before.

The Sunlit Night, by Rebecca Dinerstein.  If you want a quirky, odd story - this book had so many strange characters.  But somehow it worked - I felt so much affection for the father and the son and I liked their story the best.  The book was very slow (too slow) at times, but in a way that pacing allowed me to feel like I was experiencing the long sun-filled Nordic summer days and nights with the characters, as they all randomly came together so fittingly at the top of the world.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I am slightly mixed about this one -- I read such a rave review about this book that my expectations might have been set too high.  The writing is beautiful and elegiac at times.  At other times, the story seemed to blunder a little, going at a slow, uneven pace.  Certain characters resonate with you for a long time.  Others are just weird and creepy.  Overall, I liked that this was not just the "typical" apocalyptic novel, but it was not as gripping as I expected.

And finally, I don't think I would have bothered with these (with my disgust intensifying in ascending order):

Best of Enemies, by Jen Lancaster.  Told from viewpoints of two women who used to be friends but then hate each other a lot, this was a little bit lazy, what with hysterical characters that were not always fully fleshed out, and ultimately a bit unbelievable at the end.  I read it to the end but it tried my patience quite a bit.

The Daughters, by Adrienne Celt.  This started with promise, but ultimately, the plot kept stalling as the author meandered through fairy tales leading nowhere.  I wanted to shake her -- make up your mind, do you want this to be a magical realism novel or not?  I came close to giving up quite a few times - it was one of those experiences where you just wanted the author to finally redeem herself, but she never does. Very unsatisfying.

Woman With a Secret, by Sophie Hannah.  This book was on a few suggested reading lists and looked super promising - ooh, a woman with a dark secret, suspense, twists, maybe fast pacing and some good plot?  Nope.  By page 2 my heart was sinking.  By page 20 I had abandoned it.  What made me give up on it so quickly?  The novel opens with nearly ten pages (or what feels like 80 pages) of the main character having a panic attack while driving through a police checkpoint.  The scene could have been really riveting but instead it was stream of consciousness writing, ricocheting everywhere, and very painful to read. I think I knew what her secret was by the second chapter - and it didn't seem like a great secret, but I also distinctly remember thinking, "I don't even care if this is THE secret" -- I just couldn't take the drivel any longer.

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.  This was so, so terrible.  This book was on the must-read list of nearly every publication this summer, so I was really excited for it.  After "Gone Girl" and "Girl on a Train," I thought I knew what to expect when it came to these novels with suspenseful reveals.  Well, this book was not any of that.  I'm forced to conclude that calling it a suspense novel with a twist was just a publisher's ploy to keep it wrapped up like a riddle with a secret in an enigma, because then no one would realize how terrible it was.  I didn't make it to page 30, and I only got that far because of the reviews.  The character was utterly unlikeable, the plot had no direction.  Something really bad happened to the character a long time ago but we don't know what it was and it clearly had no impact or effect on her because she prattles on in the novel like an insensitive, utterly unaware, spoiled and despicable person.  Plbbbbt.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kum Gang San - Dinner in New York

We flew back to New York from Anguilla, and then had one full day in New York to pack up our stuff.  We had four full suitcases coming back this time, because I was determined to use up as much of our baggage allotment on Cathay as possible.  Surveying our bags, I have to say, we hauled back a lot of Tabasco and coffee.

Before we left, we went to dinner with my mom and dad and grandma, at Kum Gang San.  My mom knows that Michael likes to eat meat, so we went to an old favorite for Korean barbecue.  I realize that it seems like we eat a lot of Korean food...

 It was a nice but slightly bittersweet end to our trip - the return flight from New York to Hong Kong is such an ordeal that we always feel like we have to steel ourselves for it.  Unfortunately the prospect of dragging our huge, heavy suitcases through customs and the logistics of carrying them up four flights to our small flat...  weighed on me, flitting around the edges of my mind, as we packed and prepared for our departure.