Monday, January 30, 2017

Welcoming Our New TV

Following my previous post on the subject, our new television arrived last week and we have been enjoying it, both as a beautiful new piece of furniture and for its content.  

This is a picture of our TV before:
These are pictures of our new TV after:

As you can see, the images are beautiful and clear and the 4K content is remarkable - at moments, the details are so crisp that it feels like the objects are coming out of the screen. The colors are incredibly rich and vibrant. One particular shot of an ocean wave rolling toward the shore made me gasp, as it was so life-like and stunning.

Curved TVs seem to be all of the rage right now, and while I don't buy into the whole immersive hullabaloo (at this size and viewing distance a curved screen really does not make your viewing experience more immersive - you need it to be on the size and scale of a movie theater screen or an IMAX theater), it is undoubtedly very pretty.  

The store delivered the TV in a big box within two days as promised, which was very exciting.  Isn't it so fun to unwrap packages?  The technician then arrived separately (on the same day) to set up the television.
The TV is bordered by a light silver frame and backed by a piano-black panel.  The screen is less than half an inch thick and perches on top of four thin, nearly invisible silver legs, giving off a very clean, modern, streamlined aesthetic.  The remote is also very minimalist, with just a few buttons, and has a curved profile as well.  It is a smart TV, which means that we are able to directly access the internet and watch all kinds of random YouTube videos.
Michael has also managed to set up the Now football TV app (thanks to me, because the entire thing was in Chinese), which allows him to watch the live streams of soccer games in the premier league.  Unfortunately (and this is so typical of Hong Kong), the app is just a live stream, not even in HD, and the commentary is only available in Cantonese.  They marketed it as a one-year package, but really the free app is only available until the end of May 2017 season.  As you can see, Hong Kong is a prime example of the terrors of a cable monopoly.  PCCW is the only available cable provider, so they can get away with charging a lot of money and offering approximately ten channels in HD.

In sum, the only trouble with the new television seems to be that a lot of content is not yet available in 4K - and even when it is available, bandwidth and streaming capacity are limiting factors that constrain our ability to watch the shows in full 4K format.  There are clearly still improvements to be had, but overall, we are quite happy with our new toy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dinner at Qi, House of Sichuan and Lunch at LokCha Tea House

Here are some pictures from two recent meals that I had: a catch up dinner on Sunday night with some friends at Qi, House of Sichuan, a Michelin starred restaurant in Wan Chai, and then a dim sum lunch at the vegetarian restaurant, LokCha Tea House, in Hong Kong Park on Monday afternoon.

On my way to dinner, I saw a most beautiful display of red lanterns at The Avenue, a new apartment complex/mall that has popped up in the past two years.
I had previously been to Qi before, and to be honest, I find it completely mediocre.  Of course, I never pass up the opportunity to eat at a Sichuan restaurant, however, I find that Qi sacrifices everything in favor of spice.  This place is all about the burn factor and they relish throwing chili peppers at their patrons until their poor unsuspecting clientele burn off all of their taste buds and cry mercy.  As we painfully slurped through the food, I joked that eating spicy food is pretty much a depraved addiction - like culinary S&M.
However, Qi is onto something.  This is such a clever business model, because they charge so much money for these huge bowls that consist of nothing but chili peppers (which happen to be some of the cheapest things out there).  They then continue to make money hand over fist because they charge money for precious commodities (rice and water/beer/any beverage) for which their tortured patrons will (given enough time) eagerly pay astronomical amounts.
I mean, this is just a hot mess.
After dinner, we intended to go to Ophelia, a trendy, relatively new swanky bar, for a drink, but it turned out it was closed (it was Sunday night after all).  Instead we went to the bar Djapa, a Japanese Brazilian bar/restaurant.  The pairing is not as crazy as it sounds, given the huge Japanese population in Brazil.

Djapa had a very impressive display of Japanese whisky behind the bar,
 and lots of random anime and color mosaic tiles.
 My friends ordered this weird drink which came in a huge ice bowl shaped like a dinosaur egg.  We spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how they made this mold?  I kept coming up with completely ridiculous theories (but definitely deserve bonus points for creativity).

On Monday, I took an acquaintance to lunch at Lokcha Tea House, located in the sprawling Hong Kong park.  It was my first time there.  I had read really good things about the place, but I found it pretty mediocre and disappointing as well. 

The entry way is fun, with lots of tea accoutrements for sale.
I also like the doorway and shelves (all filled with more tea accessories).

Each person gets to (has to) order their own tea selection, which is pretty pricey.  While it is unlimited refills (each table has a water kettle to ensure you have access to piping hot water for your beverage at all times throughout the meal), the teas range in price from HK$68 to well over HK$400-$500.  We selected a fragrant Oolong and a cooked Puer.  You can see the big difference in color between the two here.
 We ordered a pretty big and random selection of dim sum platters, many of which I missed capturing in photographic form (too busy talking and slurping my tea, not to mention chowing down because I was so hungry!)  The food was okay, I guess, but quite a few items were bland, not particularly flavorful, or else not served hot.  
 Lest you think it was all disappointing, there were some highlights.  The wood ear fungus and cordyceps sesame mixed salad (pictured in the background in the picture above - I know, can you think of a less appetizing name) was pretty flavorful and had a good texture.  The fried sticky rice dumplings with vegetable filling (pictured on the left in the picture below) were fantastic.
 The pea shoot dumplings in soup were good, except that they came kind of cold and waterlogged and sad, so the dumpling skin was falling apart.
 We also ordered dessert, but I found these woefully lacking.  Below are steamed ginger cakes, which were too overpowering for my liking, and my red bean filled pumpkin mochi cake dusted with coconut powder, which was fine but a little bit chewy (such that I could be forgiven for thinking it was stale).

Oh, well, unfortunately both meals turned out to be pretty mediocre.  But you can't always hit the jackpot and at least I finally got to try LokCha!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Shoes, More Shoes, and a TV

This past weekend, Michael and I indulged in a little shopping spree...

First, we bought a TV!  It is a 55" Samsung curved 4k Ultra LED smart SUHD television - whew, that is a mouthful.  I can't say that I really know what all of those letters mean, but Michael and I certainly read many reviews and quizzed the employees at Fortress (the equivalent of a Best Buy here in Hong Kong) long enough!

The last TV that we bought was probably from 2009 or 2010, when they were still making plasma TVs and an HDMI hookup was, like, the newest innovation.  Since moving out to Hong Kong, we have lived in apartments that come with televisions, so we just made do with whatever flat screen was offered.  Our current apartment comes with a 39" flat screen Sony, which is perfectly fine, however, it is a little bit small for the space.  Televisions make incredible strides and the image quality and colors seem to improve by the multiples every year.  We figured it was time to treat ourselves.

I feel pretty confident in stating that we got a very good deal, given that it is Chinese New Year and all the shops are running their best promotions of the year.  We got a substantial discount on the asking price and the shop also threw in a Samsung sound system (a soundbar and subwoofer), a subscription soccer (football) package, and a free 32" television, for free.  We clearly don't have a need for another television, but the nice thing is that the shop will buy back the smaller TV from us (obviously at a discount to the market price, but still - it's practically a rebate given that the TV was thrown in for free as part of the promotional package).  On the smaller end of things, they also threw in a few premium HDMI cables and a screen cleaner for free. 

Michael is so excited about his new toys that he has already warned me he may never leave the couch.  I foresee a LOT of soccer matches streaming in our living room in the near future...

The television is being delivered and set up on Tuesday and I will upload pictures of the before and after.  

Then, I purchased a pair of teal Jimmy Choo heels.  They're really pretty and I get a little goofy smile whenever I look at the pencil thin heel and the bright, beautiful color.  We had just gone in to the store on an innocent mission to see if they carried the clutch that Michael bought me for Christmas.  I don't know how it happened, but in what felt like thirty seconds, I had figured out that they had these shoes in my size exactly, they were 50% off, and I was slipping them on "just to see."  It's funny how these things happen.  Before I had even managed to get the shoe on my left foot, Michael was loudly declaring, to the tizzy delight of the salesperson, "Get these!  They're perfect!  Box them up."  From there, it took some persuading (perhaps twenty seconds?) before I cheerfully succumbed and conceded that yep, I did need these in my life.
And finally, to finish off the shopping spree, that same night, Michael found a pair of Adidas soccer cleats that fit well and had the spike pattern that he liked.  It is so rare for him to find a pair of shoes that he likes (the man is so picky) that I knew the retail gods were beaming down on us that day, because he found them immediately, the store had them in his size (also very difficult in Asia), and they were marked down.  I mean, when it's right, it's right!  Shopping can be such a game of luck and opportunity.  He has already worn them for his game last night.
That said, I am preeeeeetty sure our credit card is going to need a rest soon.  I could practically hear it wheezing as I kept slipping it out of my wallet on Saturday...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

More Books, Books, BOOKS! Reading Roundup II

Following on my previous post, I've listed below most of the books I read for the remainder of 2016.  I did not bother to include every book - rather, just the more interesting or noteworthy.  As you can tell, I read almost exclusively fiction and memoirs and nearly all female authors.  I choose the former on purpose but not the latter - it just almost always ends up working out that way!

The Expatriates, by Janice Y. K. Lee.  I had read Lee's novel, "The Piano Teacher," a long, long time ago, before I had ever been to Hong Kong, much less lived here.  Both novels are set in Hong Kong, though in different time periods.  I liked "The Expatriates" much, much better. I think it is a  stronger and more compelling novel (despite the potential bias, given my personal connection to the city now).  Without giving too much away, I'll just say that it is a gripping story that follows three women at different crisis points who find their lives inevitably intersecting in a tiny community.

My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.  Strout is a fantastic writer, probably best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning book "Olive Kittredge."  I found her newest novel just as engrossing.  The novel is almost laughable in its simplicity - like a very spare stage design for an intense play, the book mainly chronicles the conversations between a formerly estranged mother and daughter, as the daughter is in a hospital bed recovering.  Oh, this novel had me at one of the singular and striking lines I've read in a while: "Loneliness was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden in the crevices of my mouth, reminding me."

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalathini.  I struggle with my reaction to this one, because from a purely literary perspective, I think this book was a remarkable accomplishment.  Kalathini is the late neurosurgeon who penned this memoir when he received the stunning diagnosis of terminal lung cancer in his early forties. His memoir is unequivocally beautiful - his prose shimmers like poetry, showcasing  a lifelong love and reverence of literature.  And this work does not profess to have any answers, but rather is the equivalent of the author howling into the void, trying to figure out what to do when a life so full of promise is cut so tragically short.  How do you react when you run out of time?  However, I found it so painful that, given barely a year to live, the author spends so much of his time trying to continue to be a surgeon, and embarking on the daunting journey of writing a book.  At the same time, I recognize the hypocrisy and judgment in my critique - what I think about the author's choices should have no impact on how I feel about his work product.  And yet, I can't seem to separate the two.  Perhaps the value of this book is that it helped me realize, in the strongest and most visceral of ways, what I would do if I were to run out of time.

Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.  I picked this book up because I felt like Ruth Bader Ginsburg had received a lot of internet and media love of late, and while I was somewhat familiar with Ginsburg's work on reproductive rights for women (having written an extensive health law paper on maternity leave in the US), I was interested in getting a broader picture.  This is a very readable and approachable biography that manages to tell a great story about a remarkable woman and also turns what can easily be boring, technical legal arguments into an interesting story.

Miller's Valley, by Anna Quindlen.  Told from the perspective of Mimi Miller, of the Miller family who has lived in the Miller's Valley for generations, this book explores the meaning of home and identity.  When the valley must be flooded and their house buried under hundreds of tons of water for a dam, Mimi unearths (in more ways than one) what it means for her family's identity to be separated from the physical landmarks and possessions that have defined her family for generations.  Because it's Quindlen, the book is a tender coming of age story handled with perfect subtlety and depth.

The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book is very technical and science-y, though Mukherjee does an exquisite job making it as accessible as possible.  I will admit I got a liiiiittle bit bored at parts, especially when Mukherjee launches on a long science lesson comparing and contrasting Mendel's pea experiments with others who came before and after (it brought back powerful memories of drawing Punnett Squares in 7th grade biology), but overall it was such an informative read.  It's always good to understand (at least a little bit) about genes, those pesky little things that make us who we are.

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  Clearly not one of Sittenfeld's best works, and sooo incredibly long, but I thought she did a great job telling the story of Laura Bush while cleverly never directly coming out and saying so.  It's a fun way to learn tidbits and facts about the former first lady without reading an (undoubtedly) drier and more boring biography.  I suppose reading a biography would ensure you would get actual facts, however, who needs those nowadays?

A Certain Age, by Beatriz Williams.   Apparently loosely based on the opera Der Rosenkavalier (I enjoy opera but am not enough of an afficionado to recognize plots), this story follows a love triangle between an unhappily married wife (Theresa), her younger lover (Boy), and the young woman who is also the object of Theresa's brother's (Ox's) affections.  The book was thoroughly enjoyable (I love all of the details from this flapper and art-deco crusted period of New York), however, while this was an entertaining read, I must admit that "One Hundred Summers" remains my favorite of her books.

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson.  Ohh, this one was surprising to me.  I picked it up somewhat reluctantly because I thought it would be very boring and slow, and the title and the cover (I know, you're not supposed to judge a book by either of those things) made me think that I could be in for a long slog.  However, while the story is not very fast paced, the author does a remarkable job transporting and immersing you in that era.  If you're feeling the need for a Downton Abbey fix (in literary rather than visual form) this might just be the ticket.

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang.  The premise of this three part novella is very intriguing - a woman's nightmares suddenly leave her unable to eat meat, much less to prepare it or look at it.  The book then proceeds to examine what happens as her "disease" takes hold and how it impacts the family members around her.   My favorite chapters were in the beginning, when I felt instantly sucked into the story.  From there, it gets a bit wild!  The author has a voice that reminded me a bit of Murakami.

Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler. Danler's debut novel/memoir focuses on a year in her life starting out as a server/waitress in the thinly-disguised Union Square Cafe.  She takes us into this dim world of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, love triangles, and food - starting as a naive newbie at the very bottom, and eventually crawling her way to both a better understanding of herself and the industry.  I liked both the story and the writing - it is akin to a female take on "Kitchen Confidential" with more lyrical prose.

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. This book is great and was listed on the NYT bestseller list for a long time.  The author is passionate about science and is so unabashedly weird.  She is also, emphatically and decisively, a beautiful writer.  The book is as much about plants and science (in many ways, this book is a love letter to trees - I promise you will never look at a tree the same way again) as it is about human relationships and love (all kinds of love: love for friends, family, lovers, hobbies, work). These are all things we need more in our world. 

The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware.  If you're a fan of fast thrilling reads by the likes of Tana French, Ruth Ware may be a good bet.  I read this book in one sitting because I wanted, no, needed, to find out what happened to the woman in cabin 10?!  I am going to check out her first book, "In A Dark Wood," at some point when I want to just sit down and be locked into a book for about seven hours non-stop.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, by Sarah Hepola.  This book is quite painful to read - unstinting in its honesty, and unflinching in its confrontation of the author's haphazard experiences and repeated attempts to break off her abusive relationship with alcohol, it offers readers a first hand perspective into the world of alcoholism.  It belongs up there with Caroline Knapp's seminal, "Drinking: A Love Story," which remains one of the best first-person narratives on this disease.  In our current society, the dangers and evils of alcohol are downplayed (especially in comparison to cigarettes and narcotics), and alcoholism remains so little understood, and so stigmatized, despite its pervasiveness.   Oddly, it remains a disease that many people attribute to a problem of self-control or willpower, as opposed to addiction.

Every year, I find there are books that get raved about and praised hotly, or suddenly appear on everyone's must-read lists... and then I get the book and all I can say in response is, "huh?"  These were two books that I saw pop up a lot, and I read them (or read as much of them as I could) and I found them lacking.

The Girls, by Emma Cline. This book was on so many lists!  Loosely based on the Manson murders, this fictionalized account switches between the 1970s and modern day, told from the perspective of a then girl/now middle aged woman who recounts her experience and entanglement with a cult.  Cline had some beautiful lines in the book, and the plot had all the promise of something interesting and great, but I could not get into the story.  I found all of the characters rather unrelatable, and while I appreciate that Cline skillfully weaved a theme of sexual longing, desire, exploitation, frustration and exploration consistently throughout the book, I frankly found it insufferable.

Rich and Pretty, by Rumaan Alam.  This book was also on lists and lists!  I was already put off by the title, but picked it up because it had the look of a possibly juicy, quick read.  The book focuses on the challenges that two best friends face as their lives continue to take different turns and they have to come to terms with the fact that their relationship is changing and may never be the same.  I didn't even finish the book.  I think I barely got about a quarter of the way through.  I thought the characters were flat and one-dimensional and the whole story lacked depth.  These women just didn't feel real to me.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Books, Books, BOOKS! Reading Roundup I

I read a lot of books last year...I do 100% of my leisure reading on my kindle now, so it's pretty easy to go back and track my digital content over any period of time.  I haven't written a book review post in a long, long time (I actually just went back and checked out my last post from April here).

I just finished checking out the various "best read" lists issued by the Guardian, NPR, the Times and other publications, and compiled a bunch of books that I missed.  Is there anything better than a long list of good books that you plan to read - the promise of entirely new worlds and people you have yet to meet, awaiting, just beckoning for you to enter?

In listing out most (but not all) of my reads this year, I realize that I turned steadily toward light, entertaining, or fast whodunit reads.  For 2017, I am hoping to set aside the time and patience to sit with some longer, slower reads, to appreciate the prose and lyricism of great works.

I'll pick right up where I last left off, starting with my summer reads.  Summer kills it with my favorite guilty pleasure - page-turning thrillers, fluffy romantic comedies, and stories with just the best, zippy, plot-driven, zingers.

The Matchmaker, The Island, Here's to Us - all by Elin Hildebrand.  This author is prolific and churns out a ton of books, but for good reason - she is the queen of the intriguing beach or pool read!  The books are all set on Nantucket and usually centered on women (friends, friends that fall out, lovers, ex-lovers, etc.) I had previously read and loved her book, The Rumor.

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub.  I picked up this book because Straub got such rave reviews for Modern Lovers.  The book centers around a family vacationing in Majorca and the secrets and strains of a marriage that arise even (or especially) when you're supposed to be having fun.  Honestly, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. I'm going to wait and give her other book a try before I put this author at the top of my list.

The Rocks, by Peter Nichols. I read this book back to back with Beautiful Ruins, and it was fun to see how similar yet also different the books were, given they were both set on sunny idyllic islands in Italy.  The author jumps masterfully back and forth over several decades, slowly letting the reader piece together all of the characters and their connecting bits. 

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter.  This book has won such critical acclaim that I felt I had to give it a second try (the first time I picked it up, I put it back down after a few pages).  This time, the story stuck, and I was pulled into the charming twists and turns of the tiny seaside resort by the Ligurian Sea.  Also told by jumping back and forth between current day and decades past, this book made me smirk at Hollywood producers (but when do I not) and dream of sailing around Italy.

The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  What a fun read!  Is there anything better than a delightful romp into the spoiled and entitled hearts and minds of trust fund babies, each of whom nakedly yearn for their money?  The story centers around four siblings (well, maybe really only three) and they all may finally have to grow up when their inheritance is not what they expected.

Breathing Room, and First Star I See Tonight, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips!  I will read anything she publishes.  She has a few disappointing works, admittedly, but overall her books are such feel-good modern day romances full of wit and sass and good repartee.   Imagine my delight when I realized I had somehow missed her book "Breathing Room."  Continuing my adventures in Italy, I settled in for a good read about a fun and challenging romance set in Tuscany.  "First Star I See Tonight" is book #8 in her Chicago Stars series, which is probably my favorite series of hers, so I also knew to expect good things.

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  For a while, I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book.  I love "Pride and Prejudice" and, while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the original is just so freaking good that I cringe at every remake, prequel or sequel. No, no, just no.  But I'm glad I gave this one a try.  The author was wise enough to set it in modern times and channeled (uncannily and remarkably) the spirit and essence of the characters to a tee.

The One That Got Away, and Results May Vary, by Bethany Chase.  I enjoyed both of these books thoroughly, because while the plots are very classic (for the first one - missed chances (duh, look at the title), young love (college!), and temptation and choices (do you, or don't you?), for the second - secrets unearthed, what it means to know someone, and what it means when you're wrong about nearly everything you thought you knew) the characters are multi-dimensional, the dialogue is strong, and the stories feel real and good.

Biglaw, by Lindsay Cameron.  This is a loosely cloaked memoir of a young associate's first few years at a large law firm in New York City.  I thought it would be "fun" to read another associate's experience and compare and contrast.  Unfortunately, reading this gave me some pretty horrid flashbacks and also woke up that "an assignment could come up at any time" dread always curdling at a low-to-medium pitch in my belly.  It didn't help that the building in which this semi-true novel is set, turned out to be the very building in which I used to work.  Stepping back from my personal PTSD, overall, it's a pretty entertaining novel of the "Devil Wears Prada" ilk.

The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne.  This book was very, very long.  I believe the author is also a first time author, and while there were fantastic things about the book and characters (fast dialogue, a sweet but not saccharine enemies-to-lovers plot line, great interactions), this author needs a better editor.  I do hope Thorne continues to write, though.

One True Loves, by Taylor Jenkins Reid.  Reid is another talented author of the contemporary romance.  She really impressed me with her book "Maybe in Another Life," which explores the two paths one life can take based on one choice made on one night, and since then I've been on the lookout for her novels.

Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty.  Moriarty has been a favorite of mine since I read 'Three Wishes" and "What Alice Forgot," and I continued to read "The Last Anniversary," "The Husband's Secret" and "Big Little Lies" - they are all fun and fast and have strong characters and crazy but still somewhat believable plot lines.  But after struggling through this latest one (I valiantly flipped page after page through verbiage and dreck, hoping that the author would somehow vindicate the story and the characters)... I am probably not going through that again.

My next post will be on the remainder of the books that I read throughout the year. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Happy Chinese New Year - Gong Xi Fa Cai!

It's the year of the rooster (sounds better than chicken, if you ask me) and we're seeing cute little stuffed birds pop up everywhere in anticipation of the celebrations coming up next week.
This big peach blossom tree showed up in my building lobby a few days ago.  It's so funny looking because there are no leaves, just flowers.  But these trees are prized for Chinese New Year festivities and one this size is undoubtedly very expensive.  Peach blossoms symbolize good fortune, growth, romance, prosperity, long life... all the good things.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fruit Basket and Planning Trips for 2017

It's been a pretty quiet week here in Hong Kong, what with the Chinese new year holidays coming up right around the corner and the weather finally dipping into what feels like winter (though, let's be clear, I am still going in to work in my trench coat or leather jacket).

I realized I haven't done a fruit post in a long time.  I continue to eat fruit like a rhesus monkey - I've actually stepped up my game in recent months by trying to keep at least four or five different kinds of fruit on hand.  Ever since my sister gave me this beautiful hand-painted bowl as an early wedding present, we have used it as our fruit repository.
 Persimmons are in season now - go out and get them!  They are so sweet that they make my white nectarines taste tart.  Just so we're clear here - Michael doesn't eat any of this fruit.  He eats the bananas and green apples which go into our green shakes, but those don't even make it into the fruit bowl.

Fruit devouring aside, I have been keeping busy on planning some upcoming trips (some more realistic than others).  The first big trip is our spring break trip to Qatar!  This trip is 100% going to happen. We are going to visit and hang out with Michael's sister and her husband, who is teaching for a semester in Doha.

As usual, I have completely gone down a rabbit hole zealously researching all of the things to do and sights to see and have mapped out at least two (really three or maybe four) different itineraries, depending on whether we want to do a desert overnight stay or focus more on snorkeling in the Gulf of Oman? And also whether we want to stay put in Doha or take a super fast day trip to Dubai? And I really want to go to Musandam Bay but that's a whole separate trip for which we have no time.  Ugh, the world is really too big.

I discovered while in the throes of my research that Oman is actually a fantastic scuba diving destination, with a lot of opportunities to see whale sharks (WHALE SHARKS!) up close and personal.  Doh.  I still have yet to see a whale shark and it remains on my list of top desires.

The other trip is one that's actually coming up much faster - Chinese new year, end of next week.  We hadn't planned to go away this year.  I had been dreaming up some big fantasies about a trip to New Zealand (there is a sweet spot on the United mileage chart for this using miles) but I didn't pull the trigger when I should have last summer, and everything got booked up.

I had been feeling pretty okay about just staying in Hong Kong this year, but as the holiday approaches, I suddenly find myself feverishly wistful (planning our trip for Easter may have also triggered major wanderlust) and this week I found myself frantically googling last minute deals out of Hong Kong.  There are a few viable options, possibly, still... maybe not.  But we shall see if we end up pulling the trigger super last minute.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Things: Lobster Bar, Wicked, Cupcakes, Flowers, Pink Pom Poms

I had a pretty great end to the week/weekend, filled with good food, a great show, tasty cupcakes and pretty flowers (for just because)!

On Thursday I went to lunch with one of my best friends in Hong Kong, to catch up on what we each did over the holidays and our plans for the new year.
We ate at the Shangri-La Lobster Bar and Grill, which is a bright, light filled little treasure for nice sit-down lunches in Hong Kong.   They have a good buffet lunch spread, which is pretty good value considering you get a wide selection of cold appetizers and antipasti (plus a delectable king crab bar)
 a big basket of tasty rolls
 and an entree of your choice.  We had the choice between a prime rib and seared scallops with risotto and we both opted for the scallops.
 The meal also comes with access to the dessert bar (consisting of about 6 or so cakes and desserts, plus fresh berries), and choice of coffee or tea.

Friday found me in very good spirits after I attended one of my favorite yoga classes.  The instructor is a petite ball of fiery dynamic personality and I love how detailed she is in her instructions.  I don't find the class that challenging - for me, it hits the perfect spot where I can do every single pose, yet still refine each one and get stronger/better at holding it longer and deeper.  And to my surprise, it has helped me a lot in other classes with other poses - where I find myself suddenly able to do something I hadn't been able to before.  All of this is to say, my love affair with yoga continues in 2017.

I then headed to Wan Chai's Lyric Theater on Friday night to meet up with some friends, barely able to suppress my glee.  Seriously, I was walking on my tiptoes as I headed into the theater.  Because, I was getting ready to see Wicked!  This has to be one of the most feel-good musicals ever.  The plot is fun and interesting and so cleverly woven as a prologue into the Wizard of Oz story.  The music (the music!) is so catchy and fantastic.  Nearly every song - What is this Feeling, I'm Not That Girl, Wonderful, As Long as You're Mine, and For Good - made me squirm with indelible happiness.  I love when Glinda and Elphaba harmonize in this musical, oh my gosh, it's so good.  I know musicals are pretty fluffy and not particularly high-brow, but they are also beautiful productions with so much fun and flair that I find them hard to resist.
 Clearly lots of theatergoers here were excited too.  It seemed like a lot of people were repeat viewers, who had seen the production in either New York, London and Sydney previously.  I was very good and didn't take any pictures once the show started, but I couldn't resist taking one of the stage to start.
 The show was just as good as I remembered it, but I have to say, the acoustics are not very good in the Lyric Theater.  I remember it being a pristine audio-visual experience when I saw it years ago in New York - this time around, there were times, especially during the songs, when I couldn't really understand the lyrics because the sound came across a bit muffled.  Even that couldn't dampen my excitement, though, and I left the theater walking on (very musical) clouds.  Now if only Book of Mormon would come on tour!

For Saturday, I indulged in some flowers (pink and purple mums) from a local market, and some mini-cupcakes. 
 We were planning to host a dinner at our apartment, but sadly our friends had to cancel at the last minute.  This meant more cupcakes for me and Michael, which isn't altogether a bad thing!
The other highlight?  Michael and I are so incompatible food-wise that eventually we come around full circle.  He and I would never choose the same cupcake, so we were pretty much assured that we could have our choice pick each and every time, no squabbling necessary.  These were also perfect bite-sized cupcakes, so it prompted even more guilt-free indulging, because technically you could eat all of them and still it would probably only amount to one cupcake...

OH, ALSO, UPDATE: I can't believe I nearly forgot, I acquired a soft little furry pink pom pom over the weekend to hang on my bag.  It's supposedly made of rabbit fur and after much deliberation over the colors (beige? purple? white?) I decided I had to go with pink.  It's so, so soft.  It's totally random but it sure makes me smile. ...Michael thinks I've gone off the deep end.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New York I Love You... (But)

maybe not so much in winter.  This was my first time back in New York during the winter since 2013, and I have decided on this trip that I am not so keen.  It's much easier to be in love with this city when you're not a resident dealing with its daily transgressions (The F train that inexplicably took 30 minutes to appear! The dirtiness of the streets and sidewalks!  The panhandlers that harass you on the subway!) and it's triply easier to be in love with this city when you're visiting and hitting the highlights AND the weather is lovely.

My friend took this beautiful picture from her office window during one of the evenings before the new year, and gave me permission to post on my blog. 

New York was privy to some sensational sunsets when we were there.
New York City is definitely a vibrant, unique, special place, but I think I've gotten pretty accustomed to my creature comforts while living abroad.  The humid tropical weather, the compact commute to work, the  clean public spaces, the complete lack of safety concerns (of both the is-this-person-going-to-rob/assault/sexually harass-me and the is-this-person-going-to-pull-out-a-machine-gun variety).... 

Hong Kong definitely has its faults and living here raises other concerns, but this time, I'm pretty glad to be back.  It's fitting that I post this on the day of my fifth anniversary of moving to Hong Kong.  Now that we start our sixth year here, I have to admit that this city is feeling more and more familiar and more and more like home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A House Update

As I mentioned in my previous post, we were keeping busy on the house while we were back in New York this holiday season.  Michael stayed at the house and, as a result, found a few issues that he could fix while he was there. 
Unfortunately, that meant that he and I ended up spending a lot of time apart, because I tried to stay at home with my parents and sister and grandmother as much as possible.  Brooklyn and Long Island aren't far in theory, but when you have to take into account traffic, and trawling for street parking, in the cold and dark (I was surprised at how early it got dark in NY) the distance seems far more vast.

The azaleas are doing well, although the one on the left is doing a bit better than on the right.  I am hoping that it's just a bit shocked from the cold, and that it pulls through the winter.

Michael spent a lot of time fixing things up around the house, in particular the duplex and the basement.  He put pads on the steps in the common stairwell., which helps reduce noise.

 We were considering whether we ought to put anything in the nave in the stairwell.   Michael was thinking a long, skinny mirror.  I think the space is perfect for a large statue of the Virgin Mary!  All kidding aside, we are probably going to leave it empty for now.
We bought another mat for the front entry way, so the foyer floor is more protected (especially against that nasty snow, sleet and wet).
 After much consideration, we also bought a brass coat rack/umbrella stand, a big bronze mirror, and an entry table.  I really like how the colors all go together, and I think it has the effect of making the foyer feel very homey.

 It was all going well until, as I mentioned before, it rained very hard and Michael woke up on Christmas Eve to leaks springing up in the basement and the master bedroom on the parlor floor.  Leaks, I have quickly learned, strike great fear and frustration in homeowners, especially when you do not know their source.  We spent a few days crawling around the terraces and climbing ladders, trawling and poking around the gutters.  The penlight that his parents put in his stocking for Christmas came in handy 120%.  Michael caulked everything for good measure.

He fixed the leak in the basement by filling the crevices in the pipe leading from the gutter into the basement with concrete.  Here you see his handiwork after he covered it with tarp, to protect it from further rain and to allow it to dry.
When I went a few days later, I could hear all the water sloshing through the pipes but the floor was dry and there was no water dripping, which was great.  Such a relief to see dry dirt!

It was really pouring when I was there to do my follow-up reconnaissance, and never have I paid so much attention to water drainage.

The more worrying leak was the one that was in the ceiling in the master bedroom.  For a while, we couldn't really fathom how the water was getting all the way into the middle of the ceiling of the room, and from where.  We knew it couldn't be an internal pipe.  This nearly foot-long seam in the ceiling was causing us some concern.
Ultimately, we figured it had to be water coming from the gap in this gutter.  If you analyze the water patterns (and stand under it as I did, and realize there were massive drops of water slipping through between the gutter and the wall every few seconds), it seems logical to conclude that this was the source.
You can see the water patterns a bit more clearly from farther back: 

While I was at the house, I used the opportunity to get a few more pictures, both of the interior and the exterior.  The little purple tree looks a little cold, but overall it seems to have adapted to its new home without many hiccups.  The ferns have lost their chlorophyll for winter but are as robust and springy as ever. 
The grass is holding up remarkably well.  I have great fondness for our Chinese fringe bush.  It's a sturdy little thing.

I am hoping the sedum hangs in there through the winter and emerges in the spring in full bloom.
In addition to all of these repairs, Michael also put up a tarp in the basement, to keep our stuff separate,
 and built a door separating the basement from the hatch, which will go a long way toward conserving energy and cutting down the heat bills. 

He also purchased a door insulation bottom, which I think of as a very nifty little door sock that helps prevent cold air and noise from infiltrating through the seam between the door and the floor.
Michael also fixed the rocks underneath the terrace, laying them flat so that they're more uniform.  One last change was to install window guards on several of the windows in the duplex, which Michael just barely managed to do before leaving for Hong Kong.

There were a few things that we planned and set in motion, but could not hang around to see to completion, and for these we are so very grateful to my parents, who have been unstinting with their time, care and attention.

My mom helped us locate a contractor who is experienced in glass installation, who in a stroke of luck was willing and able to come out on New Years' Day to survey the windows.  Within a week, he had ordered the custom glass and installed them in the parlor floor with custom molding. 
Previously, these two windows were open - and we suspect the previous owner just never finished the construction.  The glass helps light to filter through, while cutting down on noise.

My parents also helped us order a custom sized rug as a runner for the upstairs hallway - this is both to protect the floors and to muffle noise.  My dad installed it for us, using sticky pads to make sure that the rug doesn't slip.
Finally, it snowed recently in New York - it looked like a pretty big one.  We missed it (and I am of mixed minds whether I am happy or sad)!  Not only did my dad drive out in this inclement weather, he also helped us clear and shovel the snow.  It was a lot of work but he did it willingly and carefully and without being asked.  Thank you, dad! 

I am hopeful that things will run more smoothly now that we have made all of these improvements.  If I had to figure all of this stuff out by myself, I would be very intimidated.  However, I am so grateful that I have the support of our families, and Michael, and together we each play to our strengths to get this project completed.  Of course, home-ownership is a never-ending project....

As you can see, it is a ton of work (way more than either of us were expecting), however, we have fallen more and more in love with this house.  She (this house is definitely female) has character and, like any dame befitting her age, quite a few secrets and hidden depths.  We look forward to figuring out her many whims in the years to come.