Monday, February 27, 2017

Some Random Updates: Workouts, Podcasts, Frenchies

It has been pretty cold in Hong Kong lately, and the weather has just made me want to shrivel up and hibernate.  We finally had to break out our space heater (first time this winter)!  I've got my thick wool socks, wrap sweaters, and terry cloth slippers all pulled out.  I don't know if it's the cold or the dreary weather or what, but I have been in a bit of a funk. Lately, lots of things, both simple and complex, feel like they take a lot of energy. 

Work has been pretty steady of late, not crazy but also a lot of late night phone calls, which takes a lot out of me.   

I am trying to drag myself to the gym or to yoga, but that sparkly shiny endorphin high seems to be evading me as of late, and even new outfits (an impulse purchase of purple/fuchsia leggings and a Spiritual Gangster muscle tee with "Wander With Love" screen-printed on the front) lack the extra allure I need. 

I have settled into a nice schedule, though, which helps keep me consistent.  This is my aspirational schedule for a perfect week:

Monday: weight-lifting (45 minutes)
Tuesday: vinyasa (60 minutes)
Wednesday: run, cycle, or some conditioning class (blech)
Thursday: weight-lifting (45 minutes)
Friday: hatha (60 minutes)
Saturday: hot yoga (90 minutes)
Sunday: yin yoga (lots of stretching and slow holding poses) or massage

I've recently switched to lifting twice a week instead of just once, splitting it up with enough time in between so that I can rest up.  The weight lifting classes are fast and intense, based on the BodyPump program, with good music.  I have also found them greatly empowering, both for sculpting my arms and legs, and also for making me feel (capital S) Strong.   I can definitely see my progress over the months as I rack up the weight, which is very encouraging.

Previously, I felt I was doing too much yoga, which made me feel good but didn't seem sufficiently well-rounded.  Now I think I need to incorporate more cardio in my workout.  I hate cycling because it makes my butt hurt, but it also makes me sweat a lot, and I think I need more of that in my life.  I find I do better in classes, as I'm way too tempted to hop off the treadmill before I really hit "time".

Speaking of treadmills, one of the best things to keep me on there is a good podcast.  I am still loving "This American Life", although I wish they would stop making podcasts about animals.  I love "Death Sex and Money" (there is something about her interviewing style that really appeals to me) and I really like "Reply All", although I wish they would stop doing their Yes Yes No series.  I am also caught up on "Crimetown".  These are the radio shows on constant repeat for me right now.

This past weekend, we (or, well, I) had our most serious flirtation with the idea of purchasing a French bulldog from Taiwan.  I was particularly enamored with a four month old quiet little fawn female, weighing in at 5 kgs,  Some of her siblings are in Hong Kong already, and seeing pictures of them really tugged at the heartstrings.  I spent a lot of time poring over pictures and videos of bulldog puppies and kept shoving my phone in Michael's face, before conceding that it was just too much to spend and that we would do a lot more good to adopt a dog in Hong Kong. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Relaxing Friday Evening - Nails at Lavande Spa, Dinner at Thai on High, Massage at Gao's

I have walked by this little Thai restaurant on High Street (creatively called Thai on High) time and time again but never tried it, but recently, I finally did!

My friend and I decided we needed a break after a long, wearying, stressful, and frustrating week.  We started the weekend with a trip to Lavande Nail Spa for a relaxing and pampering pedicure, then headed to this little restaurant for a Thai fest pig out, and then finally headed to Gao's for a massage.  It was a pretty nice way to spend a Friday evening.

Lavande Spa has two locations, one in Soho and another in west Mid-levels/Sai Ying Pun.  I like this location much better than their Soho location, which is tiny and crammed into a slightly-below ground level space off of the Mid-level escalators.  My friend chose a bright pink and I chose a mink-like neutral color.  We caught up and relaxed as they scrubbed and massaged and kneaded our feet into relaxed submission.  I liked the pumice stone scrub they use on the shins and backs of the feet and ankles - so nice!

At Thai on High, we ordered the pork laarb salad, the papaya salad, the red chicken curry, and the wok fried Thai basil beef.  The curry comes with a complimentary bowl of rice. 

Everything tasted authentic and the vegetables and meat were very fresh.  The food was so delightfully flavorful that I am almost positive they use msg (monosodium glutamate)... but I decided to suspend reality and ignore that possibility.

For a quick and inexpensive fix with healthy portion size not commonly found in Hong Kong, I think Thai on High provides good value for money!

My massage at Gao's was nothing special, but the masseuse helped worked out some knots in my shoulder and back which have been bothering me.  She also loved to chat, dispensing all kinds of unsolicited advice and theories, including, among others, that I should not do yoga (the stretching causes inflammation which is bad for me because I already have weak (inferior) bone structure), that I am very smart (concluded after a bit of informal phrenology while she was vigorously rubbing my head), and that I have a personality like that of a boy, i.e., very open and adventurous.  I asked her why those characteristics had to be attributed to boys, to no avail.  Ah, just another authentic massage experience. 

Lavande Nail Spa
64 Bonham Road
Mid-levels, Hong Kong
+852 3580 1333

Thai on High
41 High Street
Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
+852 2858 7380

Thursday, February 23, 2017

1970s Birthday Party and a Thrifting Find

We went to our dear friend's birthday dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Fox this past weekend.  It was a 1970s themed birthday party, and we were told to show up in our finest 70s attire.  I was pretty excited.

But then wracked with a little bit of anxiety, because I didn't have a good outfit!  It was time to go shopping.  I went to one of our favorite vintage stores in the alleyways of Central, Mee & Gee, where I checked the racks for inspiration. 

I kept thinking about a pair of bright orange polyester bell bottoms that I had from one of my ballet outfits.  Those pants are long gone, and I wouldn't have a hope of fitting into them now, but still.  That was the kind of motif and vibe I was channeling.  Sadly, this shop did not have any bell bottoms.  I would also have settled for a gold jumpsuit, but sadly this shop didn't have any of those lying around either. 

 I considered several dresses and shirts.

I nixed every one until I dug deeper and found this funky crocheted number.  This dress was completely crocheted, and the body of the dress was stitched onto a mesh lining.  It was pretty cool.  It also looked tiny and I wasn't sure that I would actually fit in it.  (This place doesn't have a fitting room - it is truly crammed floor to ceiling with clothes, shoes and bags).  I also wasn't sure how comfortable it would be - the neck and arm area felt pretty scratchy.
Given all of those factors, the dress I chose was a no-brainer.  I found it in the way back nestled between rows and rows of other random dresses and jackets.  I was sneezing a bit by this point.
 I was able to slip it on over my dress to see how it fit.
I did a little selfie sanity check with Michael, who wholeheartedly approved.
And yes, those are real Loboutins in the forefront!  Pretty sweet.
 It fit perfectly in the shoulders, was free-flowing and had a fun foldover collar.  Bonus, it was floral! Done.  It feels great when you hit the thrifting jackpot.
Three of us ordered a 32 oz. wagyu porterhouse to share, and others in the party got assorted fish and meat.  The party was rowdy and boisterous and fun, and perhaps a wee bit loud for the patrons right near our table.  Oh, well.  We were clearly having a ton of fun. 
 At the end of the party, a colorful birthday chocolate cake!  It was very tasty.

Mee & Gee
9 Li Yuen Street
Central, Hong Kong

Mr. & Mrs. Fox
23 Tong Chong Street
Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
+852 2697 8500

Monday, February 20, 2017

Year of the Rooster Party

I'm a little behind on posts currently.  My friend threw a belated Chinese New Year party one of these past weekends and invited us out to her new apartment complex near Tung Chung.  Her building has a brand new fancy bowling alley.
After we bowled for two hours, we went to the very fancy and large game room which was equipped with a pool room, a mahjong room, a kitchen, a huge TV and playstation set, an outdoor hot tub and common spaces galore.
We feasted on a bunch of really tasty food - olives, cured meats, hummus and cheese, braised pork belly with string beans, noodles, ox tail, and skirt steak.  I made a massive quinoa salad with rocket and iceberg lettuce, multicolored cherry tomatoes, cucumber, avocados and mozzarella cheese.  For dessert, we had Japanese blueberry cheesecake and cupcakes from sift.  There was champagne and wine aplenty.  It was a lovely time!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Midweek Trip to Jakarta

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I had to go to Jakarta for work.  I had been to Bali before, which is the playground of the rich and famous and an entirely different world from the capital city of this huge, sprawling country.  (Side note: many people do not realize how big this country is.  Did you know that Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and third largest democracy in the world?  Yeah, third largest democracy, after India and the United States.  Think about that for a second!)

I was a little bit worried about a few things on this trip, mainly: (1) Zika and (2) security/safety, as I would mostly be traveling by myself.  I was also braced for bad traffic (not a huge issue but I can get very car sick, which doesn't help when I have to be sharp and really "on" for meetings) and sad that I was going to miss spending Valentine's Day with Michael.

All these concerns aside, I was lucky to be in Jakarta during a very interesting time - the gubernatorial elections were taking place on February 15th.  This was a public holiday so that all of the Indonesian citizens would be able to vote.  I am guessing that the traffic is so bad that in order to ensure that the city gets the required turnout, they need to give people the day off from work.  I've read that this was a hotly contested election because it was seen as a litmus test for Indonesia's pluralist politics, where some of the candidates had interactions with fundamentalist Islamic groups who believe that non-Muslims should not hold high office in Indonesia.  The winner of the first round was a Chinese Christian, Ahok, who is the current governor.  Ahok will face off against the runner-up, Anies, in a second round of elections in April. 

The trouble with traveling to Indonesia is that the flights are all at pretty inconvenient times.  The flight is about 4.5 to 5 hours, and you can depart first thing in the morning, at mid-afternoon around 3:30, or late night.  And returning, your options are the same.  This has the practical effect of taking out nearly two days on the front and back end of your trip.

As with most developing countries, Indonesia's infrastructure is sorely lacking.  It may not be as noticeable in small towns or vacation resorts, but the cumulative effect becomes very obvious in a metropolis.  In Jakarta, the traffic is notoriously bad - it reminded me a lot of Manila (where it once took 35 minutes for my friend and I to traverse the distance between two terminals at the airport).  The city has a huge issue with flooding, as all of the canals are very old and in desperate need of repair.  There is also a lot of garbage and pollution which has clogged the pipes and sewers, leading further to the flooding and traffic congestion, and likely also public health issues.  The internet can be slow - at night, often my connection would blink in and out, so that I would get batches of emails at a time.  Any emails with large attachments (a common occurrence for a lawyer!) would struggle to come through.

Upon arrival, I was met at the airport gate by a member of my hotel concierge, who escorted me to the Visa on Arrival counter where I purchased a visa, and then to the immigration counter.  From there, I emerged into the humid Jakarta night, only to be greeted immediately by my friendly driver who was waiting.  I don't know if it was the time of day that I arrived or what, but there were virtually no lines and I was in and out of the airport from gate to car in about 12 minutes.

From there, it was an arduous ride from the airport to the hotel, which took nearly an hour (at many points of the commute we were sitting in standstill, bumper to bumper traffic, usually where multiple lanes of cars were trying to merge).  After that, I was pretty much in my hotel, in a hotel car, in an office, or in a hotel car, the rest of the trip (well, except for one somewhat memorable and interesting dinner, which I will get to in a bit)!  The traffic patterns are somewhat predictable to the locals, depending on time of day and direction you're headed, but of course it is never certain.  The times vary astronomically - what was an hour long ride heading into the city from the airport at night took half the time heading out of the city two days later during the day.  When we went to dinner, it was a 45 to 60 minute drive heading to the restaurant, and a 15 minute drive back.  That's like L.A.!

I stayed at the Keraton at the Plaza, which had huge rooms (one of my colleagues said it was bigger than his apartment in Hong Kong), very high ceilings and a very large bathroom.  My room itself was very pretty and comfortable, however, the hotel had some funny quirks.

There was one set of elevators for residents which you cannot access, but confusingly looks like the main elevators to get down to the lobby.  I stood there for a few moments anxiously pushing the elevator button and freaking out a bit before I went exploring.

The lobby also has arguably the most confusing layout.  Instead of keeping it open, they divided the elevator lobby from another hallway and cut the lobby into two sides, so that every time you emerged you were never really sure which way to turn.  There was also only two elevators, which seemed confusingly sparse for a hotel of this size and lobby space.  Oh well.

They did have security controls (you cannot access any other floor without a room key, and every car entering the hotel grounds is accosted by a few guards who take down the driver's ID and check the trunk of the car) and a 24/7 concierge that could be reached via telephone, email, text, whatsapp, wechat and line messages when you are out and about.  That security and accessibility both reassured and worried me - obviously they felt it necessary to protect their guests as much as possible!  Also, the car checks seemed very much like form over substance - I suppose it is better to have the checks than not, but if everyone knows that it is just the trunk that is checked, wouldn't you just put your weapons somewhere else...
As you can see, the room was very nice. When I woke up in the morning, I pushed some buttons to lift my black out blinds, to reveal... this.   Yep.  Not a very pretty skyline, is it?
 The hotel abutted a construction site and a murky canal.  Lovely!
My meetings were fine - I got the chance to go to the Indonesia Stock Exchange and experience the ubiquitous metal detectors.  I was mistaken for Indonesian here and at the airport, which is kind of funny.  As I've mentioned before, in Southeast Asia I often get mistaken for being from the country I'm currently in - so far it has happened in Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines. 

Anyway, on to my crazy Valentine's Day dinner!  I went to a teppanyaki restaurant with some colleagues and clients, where we were put in a private room and were each provided with a bib.
The food was decent (we got a variety of seafood and beef - none of which were sourced from Indonesia) and I thoroughly enjoyed my red bean ice cream.  Afterwards, we went to a club called BATS, which is located in the lower level of the Shangri-la hotel.

Before I knew it, a bottle of vodka had been purchased, we had descended into a cavernous bar underground and I found myself sitting in a booth with four other men, with a pulsating disco beat (followed by a live cover band), watching the both seedy and upscale Indonesian night scene unfurl before our eyes.  Picture a dimly lit underground space with a circular bar, booths and bar tables lined along the walls, and a dance floor on the side, filled with a sea of young, nubile Asian women, scantily clad in their alluring best, chatting it up among themselves in the hopes of attracting attention, or coyly touching/dancing/flirting/conversing with a few men, and that about sums it up.  The men are of all sizes, age and ethnicities, but there is no doubt what the parties are here to achieve.  I find it all so distasteful, as much for the stereotypes that these scenes perpetuate as for the atmosphere of objective calculation that pervades this modern meat market.  This is where I spent my Valentine's Day. 

The rest of the trip was much more uneventful, thankfully.  At the airport, after checking in at the counter, I was ushered into the lounge (before going through security or passing through immigration).  At the lounge entrance, I was asked to hand over my passport and boarding pass - apparently, as a service for business or first class members, they will process your paperwork with immigration for you.  This struck me as absolutely crazy.  First, I don't like handing over my essential travel document in a country where I estimate their chances of losing my passport to be no less than 72%.  Second, isn't the whole point of immigration so that the officials can stare you in the eye and determine whether you are who you say you are and that you do not pose any threat to national security?

The lounge was very crowded and dimly lit.  I took these pictures after most of the lounge had emptied out.  As you can see, the lounge services practically every airline that flies out of Jakarta.

I kept going back to the front desk to ask about the status of my passport.  Each time I was told, "Oh it's not ready yet ma'am," even though no one actually checked any list or papers.  After an hour had passed, I suspected that something was amiss.  As I predicted, they could not find me in the sea of people and had to page me over their loudspeakers, asking me to please approach the front desk.  Anyone with any common sense could tell you that taking everybody's passport and then leaving them to wander in this huge, crowded, dimly lit room over the course of an hour, is a serious risk.

Once out of the lounge, the airport terminal is very bright and pretty.  You go through one set of metal detectors and scans here, and then one more very thorough check at the actual gate itself.  Combined with the initial scan machine at the entrance of the airport, you go through three separate checks.
And there you have it, my first trip to Jakarta!  My post may have come across as very frustrated or negative about the city, but I point them out more because those are the points that are so different from my every day life.  I found the people that I interacted with to be very kind, and in each instance clearly to be doing the best that they can under the circumstances.  I can't say that I am looking forward to my next trip to Jakarta, however, I am very much interested in returning to Indonesia and seeing more beyond the narrow confines that my work trips allow me to encounter.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day this year!  I actually spent mine in Jakarta, having had to go down for a work trip (more on that later) - but Michael and I did celebrate the night later upon my return. 

We don't usually do anything big or splashy on V-day, however, we do usually do a little something something.  It's not so much that we really believe the holiday signifies anything meaningful, but rather that we like to find ways to show our appreciation for and celebrate each other, and this is an easy way to do so. 

It was all a surprise, but I had been forewarned not to eat too much on the plane because I was getting what sounded like... a home cooked meal!
Michael bought me flowers, and set the table with sparkling water and candles.  He made a salad with radish, avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, rocket and spinach, paired it with a tangy dijon mustard balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and also broiled the main entree, Japanese mackerel fillets, marinated in a mirin, soy sauce, ginger and sugar mixture. 
The fish was a better love letter than any missive Michael could have written, because mackerel are a notoriously fishy fish that I love, which Michael loathes.  So I was nearly speechless to see that he had bought them raw, prepared them, cooked them, and then without prompting or cajoling, sat down to eat them with me!  Actions definitely speak louder than words.
I gave him two boxes of chocolate to profess my love - I know he would have liked whiskey more, but my choices were preeeeeeetty limited in Jakarta.
 The best part?  He got me two bags of candy, one sour and one sweet, from one of the best sweet shops in Hong Kong.  Love sure is sweet!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

New Sound and Gaming System

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that as part of the new TV we bought, we got a soundbar and subwoofer and another 32" TV thrown in for free.  Michael picked up the new items the other day and has set up our sound system. 

The sound bar looks very nice and fits perfectly in front of the TV on our TV stand.  The subwoofer sits to the side.  The digital dolby surround sound is amazing and sends a shiver down my spine.

We successfully traded in the new TV for some cash (we probably could have sold it on our own but, we received a few half-hearted, somewhat disinterested offers and then we got impatient).

We also upgraded Michael's XBox 360 (last bought circa 2007) and got him a blazing fast XBox One S with the new FIFA game.

It's not as if we needed more reasons for him to sit and stare slackjawed at the new TV, however, his current XBox is held together by duct tape and bobby pins (well, something relatively similarly dire) and we figured, why not. 
 The game is beautiful, even to my non-gaming eyes.  With the rich, beautiful content and the realistic real-time commentary, it's hard to believe this is a video game!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Game Night

As I am sure many of you do, every morning I emerge from my blissfully bleary state to breaking news alerts that have sprouted overnight like toadstools on my phone.  It's a bit stressful. 

For those moments when you want to set aside your cares and take your mind off of the doom and gloom occurring in all parts of the world, I recommend a rousing game night.

After all the fun and games,  you will be refreshed and re-energized, and ready to turn your mind back to strategies and action plans for countering this authoritarianism regime which is steadily dismantling all of the institutions and liberties that we hold dear...

Oh, I digress.  Anyway, last weekend, we invited a couple of friends to our apartment and kicked back, starting with a light warm up game of Rummikub before dinner.

We then enjoyed a filling and delicious repast of calamari and Caesar salad, pastas (spaghetti with arabiatta sauce, rigatoni with a meat ragu, and farfalle with a spicy sausage sauce), and a chicken milanese (breaded and topped with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozarella cheese).

I didn't take any pictures of the night, including any of that beautiful food, however, I did buy some beautiful red flowers to dress up the apartment, which I have documented.
After stuffing ourselves, the hours whizzed by as we chatted and laughed our way through Monopoly Deal and Exploding Kittens.  Both of these games are card games and were new to me, and I loved them both.

Monopoly Deal takes a familiar and well known game, removes the board and small pieces, and adds a little bit more strategy.  With cards like "Pass Go" which grants an extra turn,"Debt Collector" which allows you to take or swap cards from your fellow players, "It's My Birthday" which allows you to collect money from everyone... the game rarely drags.  All it takes to win is to form three complete sets (although you can make the game last longer and/or be more challenging by removing some of the "Pass Go" cards or stipulating a win only after four complete sets or a hotel is built).  This game is definitely kid friendly and accommodates many players, which is also nice.

Exploding Kittens, on the other hand, is definitely not so kid friendly, as the cards are full of politically incorrect and rather raunchy commentary (which actually have nothing to do with the game, for the most part).  The game is incredibly simple - in a deck of cards, there are a certain number of "Exploding Kittens" cards, which you definitely, absolutely, do not want to pick.  These cards signify sudden death, unless you have a "Defuse" card - but every player only starts off with one such life-saving card, and they are gone once they are used, and can also be taken by another player.  There are two more of these "Defuse" cards that you can pick up in the deck if you're lucky.  The last player remaining, not yet taken out by an Exploding Kitten, wins.  It's a nerve-wracking game of chance and, save for a few action cards that may be able to help you stave off an unlucky future (cards like "Attack" or "Skip" or "See Into the Future") eventually those Exploding Kittens will come for you.... dun dun dun! 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Hiking the Twins, Again

I hiked the twins again, recently - a hike that is grueling for its sheer number of steps and for the diabolical series of mental games it plays with you as it forces you to ascend, then descend, then ascend again (1000 steps straight up), then descend, only to then ascend again (about 300 steps straight up), to finally descend fully and completely. 

It's not actually a long hike, though - only about 2 to 2.5 hours, and so it's very doable.  This hike is great exercise for the body (legs and glutes especially!), but also for the mind.  It builds mental fortitude!

To get to the trail marker at Twins, coming from the north side of the island, the easiest way is to take a taxi to just before Parkview Towers at 88 Tai Tam Reservoir Road, just opposite the Wilson Trail.  To come from the south side, you should start at Stanley Gap Road. 

My friend and I wrapped up the hike in just over 2 hours (and I think that was enough time for me to have burned my scalp!) and from there, stuffed our sweaty, nearly limp bodies into a taxi and headed directly to a dim sum restaurant, Yum Cha, where we met our (fresh and clean and well rested friends) and stuffed our faces with adorable BBQ pork buns like these:
We also tried a vegetarian purse, which is a traditional dish to be enjoyed for Chinese New Year:
the restaurant's so-called "sexy desserts" (for no other discernible reason than that they come with lots of steam billowing out of them):
 and finally, a really crazy red bean dessert topped with a large glob of bright blue cotton candy:
The food was pretty good - served hot, arrived quickly, and was overall pretty tasty (though I barely tasted the first four or five dishes because I was so hungry I was inhaling the food as quickly as I could).  That's why there are no pictures of the meal except for the desserts.

Yum Cha
(multiple locations in Hong Kong)
Nan Fung Tower, 2/F, Nan Fung Place
173 Des Voeux Road Central
Hong Kong
+852 3708 8081