Thursday, May 26, 2016

Good Morning Saigon

I woke up to this pretty city view today.
So far, have not had much of a chance to explore the city, but I had a nice breakfast in bed, and it's possible the baguettes here are even better than they are in Paris.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sunny Sunday in Sai Ying Pun

Michael and I went on an impromptu puppy adoption trek this Sunday, which took us to parts of Aberdeen that we rarely venture to.  But before we went to pet furry rambunctious baby creatures, we had a leisurely, hot, sunny brunch at High Street Grill in Sai Ying Pun, and strolled along the streets of our new favorite West side neighborhood.

We could see all the way down, until the streets hit the harbor.  Call me a city creature, but I find that thrilling!

Off to Saigon!

I'm off to Ho Chi Minh tomorrow for a work meeting.  Apparently Vietnam is the place to be these days!

I haven't been to this city before, so I am excited to glimpse it (albeit from airplanes, cars, hotel rooms, and meeting rooms).  Everyone says it is a very modern, vibrant city with lots of colonial touches.  I am staying at the Sofitel, which will be an interesting compare and contrast exercise to Hanoi's sister property.

I hope I get to chase down at least one bowl of pho while I'm there!

BBQ and Jazz, Followed By Mahjong, Cupcakes and Sake

I had a pretty busy and entertaining Saturday - I went out to a colleague's house very far out in the New Territories, in Sha Tin, on Saturday afternoon.  It was very difficult to get out there, to put it mildly!

The house was down a very narrow one way road (such that at any moment cars heading in opposite directions had to reverse or play chicken).  The other option was to get to a parking lot and then hike up a steep ravine.

The effort was worth it, however, when I got to try the delicious barbecue with grilled sausage, chicken, and beef, a seafood and white asparagus paella, a roast ham, and a spread of various salads and side dishes, including a punchy garlic Caesar salad.

The wine was really nice too.  There were some large magnum/jeroboam sized bottles to capture the eye.
There was a jazz duo - apparently taking requests.
The huge ham, paella pot, and grill.
The thing I most liked about his house was the lawn.  Ah, my appreciation for grass grows ever more steadily in Hong Kong.
Leaving was a bit of an ordeal again - here I am wandering the dark and lonely streets, far from civilization (well, kind of, except for that huge glittering building block up ahead) while searching for a taxi.
It was a bit of a trek, but I made it back to Hong Kong island in time to host my friends over for a mahjong double date!  It was really fun.

They were so kind, and brought over a delicious bottle of sake (no pictures because it was quickly popped into the freezer and then quaffed), a delicious half dozen of cupcakes (no pictures because it was quickly gobbled down), and, after a quick tour of our apartment, we sat down to a rousing and very long game of mahjong that had us staying up well past our bedtime.   Good times.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Amazing Shanghai Pan Fried Dumplings in Tsim Sha Tsui

Friends, sorry for my absence from the blogosphere this month.  Hoping that my performance is better going forward, however, I am off to Vietnam next week so the posts may continue to be a bit spotty still!

Here are some pictures of an amazing Shanghai pan fried dumplings place I just tried out recently with my friend - Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan Fried Buns.  It's not much more than a little counter with some stools in front.
This is the counter where you order.  You have the option of traditional pork filling, or else shrimp, or else a pork and truffle.  This was only an appetizer for my friend and me (before we went somewhere else for dinner) so we opted for the traditional flavor and split only one order between us.

This place got a Michelin star!

For HK$28, you get four delicious piping hot pan fried dumplings.  These are really nice because the skin is very thin, but fried to a nice crispy texture, but… they're also filled with soup!  Yum.  The restaurant gives you a little capsule of vinegar and, if you wish, liberal doses of hot sauce.

Not pictured: Me shooting (ok fine, quickly sipping) the vinegar directly from the capsule.  I know, it sounds really weird…. but I love vinegar.
I meant to take a picture of the inside of the dumpling but I got way too distracted trying to hold it all together (they don't give you a spoon!  It's like a chopstick challenge) and not spill the precious liquid soup inside.  You will just have to trust me that it was fantastic and delicious.

This was my view into the "shop" while I slurped and shoveled the morsels into my mouth as fast as I could.  Check out that pot!

Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan Fried Buns
48-6A Lock Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong

Sunday, May 15, 2016

All That Has Been Going On in This Insane Month of May

Oh gosh, guys, I have been slow to post this month because there has just been so much going on.

I am on multiple deals that have been pretty tiring and extended well into my weekends and late weeknights.  Multiple things have taken place in the office which have taken a lot of energy and time to think through.  After my mom visited, my cousin visited.  Last week, I went from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Tokyo back to Hong Kong for a whirlwind trip of business development, client pitches and meetings.  Michael and I are still sourcing real estate to buy.  We prepared our taxes.   I haven't really been to the gym consistently in over two weeks.

Will update more soon, but for now, here are some random pictures covering the last two weeks:

The view from the Shanghai office.  This picture makes it look very smoggy, but actually the weather in Shanghai during the two days that I was there was brilliant.
I love the new location of the office, as it is right near a bunch of great shopping and old tree-lined streets.  I stayed at the Pullman Ritz, which is very close to the office.  I also had dinner with some colleagues, where I got to try a very Shanghainese dish, crab meat and crab roe paired with little pancakes.

The meal on ANA was… okay.  The fish and that dipping sauce was delicious though.
 The tea they served was delicious, but an odd green.
I stayed in the Palace Hotel, which is a gorgeous, classic hotel right on the edge of the Imperial Palace. I happened to capture the scene with a swan paddling leisurely through the moat!
The hotel room had a really beautiful bar, with real crystal glasses.

The hotel was so booked up that I had to move rooms.  For the first day, I looked out at the streets near the entrance of the Imperial Palace.
The office is nearby, down the street and around the corner.
 My view at sunset was really pretty too.
It was a long day.  After a lot of client meetings and networking and then a client dinner, I went to a delicious 24 hour izakaya with my friend Henry.  This baby eggplant dish with chopped shallots and garlic topped with shizo leaf - wow.  So good.
 On my second day in Tokyo, I woke up to this beautiful view on the other side of the hotel.  Jaw dropping, right?  The weather was gorgeous.
One more, framed by my hotel room's gorgeous picture window.
 The flowers at the hotel were so fresh and so artfully arranged.  I love Japan.
 I was planning to stay in Tokyo for another day, but then had to rush back to Hong Kong for a late afternoon evening on Friday (doh).

However, I was lucky enough to get this amazing view of Mt. Fuji from my plane seat:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Weekend Trip to Xiamen - Some Final Pictures

These are the pictures from our final day in Xiamen, when we hiked the mountain near our hotel and relaxed generally, before heading to the airport and returning to Hong Kong.   We were out and walking on our feet in the heat for nearly three hours, which was a good workout.  

 We got some fresh sugar cane juice from this man.
 It was refreshing, though very sweet.
We also wandered into a local temple compound, where they were burning these huge sticks of incense.  I love that smell, but it can be a bit overpowering in such liberated doses.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Weekend Trip to Xiamen -- A Visit to A Temple, A Vegetarian Repast and an Interesting Conversation

On the second day of our trip in Xiamen, my mom and I went to a Buddhist temple and had a traditional vegetarian meal (pronounced "zai fan").  As you can see, the temple and surrounding park area was just packed with people.

The temple was huge and contained many details that I liked, including these lotus stone tiles and this beautiful stone window.

 The temple, called Nan Pu Tuo in Chinese, was made up of large compounds with huge rocks.  The rocks were carved with inscriptions and sayings from monks and spiritual leaders.

 There was a path to climb to the top, through a series of very narrow passageways.

 After our climb to the top, we came down to enjoy a traditional vegetarian meal, the kind you can get at a Buddhist temple.  This was our view during the meal.
 The food was quite tasty and well prepared, though it didn't feel as light as I expected.

This is a vegetarian dish consisting of a medley of mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, vermicelli, wood ear mushroom, cilantro and pine nuts.
 This is a taro casserole, consisting of mashed taro with corn and carrots, surrounded by seaweed and topped with a mushroom.
 This is soup made from boiling ginseng and various soy products.
 This is the stir fried noodles with celery, carrots and mushrooms.
The most interesting part of our trip that day was our long car ride with our driver on the way to the temple.  She was a woman who looked no older than 24, but was actually 37, married with one child (a 12 year old daughter).  Due to the insane snarls of traffic that we encountered as we made our way to the temple, we started conversing and asking her about life in Xiamen.  She was from a very poor, rural province in Sichuan, and she left home at a young age in the hopes of "making it" in a bigger city with more opportunities.  She worked for a factory that sent her to Xiamen, and it was here where she eventually met someone, married, and stayed.  When she spoke of her initial experience and living conditions upon moving to the city, her voice almost shook with emotion.

She said that looking back now, she is shocked at the poor living conditions that she endured.  At the time, she had come from very poor conditions in the rural countryside, so didn't know better.  She made RMB360 a month, and when she was paid, she immediately went to the market to buy a new outfit for about RMB10, then stocked up on essentials like soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and toothpaste.  After that, she would send a portion of the money home to her mother.  Now, years later, after innumerable hours of toil and saving and scrimping, she owned a house and drove a nice car.  At one point we drove by her apartment, and the pride in her voice was unmistakeable as she indicated her place.

I was incredibly touched, because her story spoke so much to strength, courage, and resilience.  Her story made me think of the Chinese character for "endure", which is a character with a knife hanging over a heart.   It was instilled in me from a young age how important was the ability to endure, and "eat bitterness".  It's a Chinese concept that basically speaks to the ability to dig deep and find strength and grit, to shoulder through and overcome hardship, and hang on and endure - this is a huge part of the Chinese immigrant experience in America, but also a huge part of the entire Chinese experience all over the world and in China itself.

It was a conversation that reminded me of why I love to travel so much.  Leaving her car after over an hour of conversation, I felt privileged to have been granted a rare and intimate glimpse into one local person's perspective and experience.