Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ten Fun Things and Some Thoughts on Work and Change

This weekend was bittersweet because Michael was taking a flight back to the U.S. on Sunday morning, and while I knew that it was just a matter of time before I too get to make my yearly migration (and see him and friends and family) I couldn't help but feel a bit sad and lonely at the thought of the upcoming week and a half by myself in Hong Kong.

A dramatic and challenging week at work (a busy work week preparing for a closing, plus some other happenings that weighed heavily on my mind - more on this below) left me feeling very drained on Friday night.  I came home at nearly 10 pm and, with barely a word to Michael, sat down at our dining table and sank into my perfectly piping hot, tasty, amazing spaghetti and meatball dinner to try to drown my feelings of stress and sorrow.  (That dish was the perfect antidote.  Posto Pubblico might be my current favorite restaurant in Hong Kong).  As a result, I really wanted to take it easy over the weekend, and just enjoy my time with Michael away from work.

So here are my 10 fun things:

1. I finally started watching "Big Little Lies."  I had read the book what feels like years ago but certain details began to resurface as I started on episode 1.  So far, I think it's a pretty accurate rendition of the characters, and to my pleasant surprise Michael started watching it with me.

2. We went to afternoon tea and snacks with our friends and their two kids at Cafe Grey on Saturday.  The views were lovely, the sun was bright and shining (which felt like the most beatific smile from the heavens given the buckets of rain that have been dumping on us as of late), and it was fun to hang out. 

3. I promptly got home and took a long nap.  Naps are amazing, aren't they?  Actually, sleep in general is amazing.

4. I have been on a bit of a peaches and cherries kick lately (separately, not together).  I had never considered myself a stone fruit fan in particular (I really consider myself a nearly undiscriminating lover of all fruits) but there has not been a pile of cherries or a carton of donut peaches that I can walk by lately.

5. I helped Michael pack once he had gathered everything he wanted for his trip (I know, this is crazy, but I actually really like packing and I can't stand how he tumbles everything into his suitcase).  Something about rolling pants and shirts and socks and underwear up into neat little bundles and packing it into a case like sardines in a can brings me a small burst of joy.  I fully understand this is weird, but on the grand scale of weird this feels like a very innocent weird quirk to possess.

6. I pruned and watered our new Thai basil plant, which I neglected while we were in Beijing.  It was dehydrated to near-death, a sad drooping sack of weeping basil, which I promptly flushed (nearly drowned) with an disproportional amount of water.  But I've now nursed it back to health and it's looking great.  I also used it to make myself a basil, cheese and egg omelette for breakfast, and plucked some fresh basil for my salad for dinner, so I am feeling very happy and productive.  Unfortunately, the poor thing will not stand a chance given we plan to be gone for nearly the entire month of July.  Any one want to plant sit for us?

7. I went shopping (or really, running errands that led to some good-natured meandering that led to buying clothes) on Sunday that resulted in a cute blouse and a supremely comfortable black silk dress, both from COS (and both at 50% off) being added to my wardrobe.  I plan on wearing the blouse over vacation, as it will be perfect for the Outer Banks.  Isn't it so much fun to buy things in anticipation for wearing it for a special occasion or trip?

8. I really need to buy a new bathing suit.  Something cute but comfortable but also functional and strong and timeless.  Also for the Outer Banks.  Admittedly, by "need" here I really mean "very strongly, very much, would like."

9. I had a long video chat with my friend Emily while nursing a cup of tea, catching up and chatting about all sorts of things.  I had meant to make it about an hour but it turned into an hour and a half. Girlfriends are amazing, aren't they?  Sisters too.

10. I just finished a very engrossing book called "The Wonder," by Emma Donoghue.  The book is set in Ireland just a few years after the Irish potato famine and Crimean War, and follows a nurse who has been brought there from England to observe, and figure out, whether and how and why a young girl is able to subsist without food.  It was on many must-read books last year, and I've finally gotten around to it. The book is very much ground in historical (and therefore religious and political) facts.  Although it may help you pick up on more nuances in the novel if you are familiar with the history of that time, none of that knowledge is necessary to enjoy the dark and emotional mystery.  The pace of the book is slow but the plot is never not riveting.

11.  BONUS!  I actually have 11 fun things.  I read a lovely article while browsing the blogs this morning, about how savoring, or the simple act of just taking a few moments out of the day to pause, reflect, consider, and enjoy that particular moment, will increase your happiness.   Isnt't this just the old adage of "Stop and smell the roses?"  But it felt good to be reminded, all the same.


To pick up the thread on the work topic begun above - lately, I've been thinking about the fact that I'm now nearly ten years out from my law school graduation (in particular, how much I would like to be back for my tenth year reunion, which is kind of a rare and weird thought for me because I haven't felt nostalgic for law school since... well. It's been a while).  During this entire time, I have pretty much been working without any breaks or leave (save for the two or three week vacation) at the same law firm.  That's pretty rare in this day and age, and it comes with a lot of things both good and bad.

On some days, there is a lot of comfort in understanding the firm culture so thoroughly, and having the institutional knowledge.  On some days, there is a lot of confusion over whether my perspective has grown too myopic over time, given the lack of variety I have been exposed to over the past decade.  It can be disconcerting.

Some disappointing and frustrating things happened last week at work that were made doubly disappointing and stressful because I felt it was due to my failure to advocate for myself, and I couldn't figure out how to make myself overcome my inability and just do it.  I picture myself striding into interviews back in the day (though it doesn't feel that long ago at all), confident in a way that may or may not have been merited, and venturing boldly into a field about which I really knew nothing about.  The contrast in these images of myself, when held up side by side, give me pause as I try to measure how much I have changed since taking those first baby steps.  The difference in my substantive legal and business workplace knowledge is so much more easily quantifiable, but I suspect that this job, like every meaningful experience (or series of menial experiences to which we are consistently exposed), has also left an indelible, but perhaps less visible, mark on my emotional and mental psyche.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Happenings Lately: Dinner at Mercato, Brunches, Game Night (Splendor), Typhoon Merbok

This post is a bit behind, just tracking down and setting out some of the stuff we've been up to in the week and weekend before our trip to Beijing.

First, the various meals:
I focused on the catching up, eating and drinking, though, so didn't manage to capture any pictures of the food!

I had a lovely dinner with some of my girl friends at Mercato on Friday evening, the Jean Georges restaurant in the California Tower, where we all showed up wearing white (unplanned)!  The food was pretty good and overall I left pretty happy with the quality, taste and price point.

On the next bright, hot and sunny morning (Saturday), I went to brunch with a few girlfriends at Oolaa, which was really nothing special, except that I hadn't been in years (it feels weird to be able to say that about a place in Hong Kong now - years!) and I thoroughly enjoyed being reacquainted with their breakfast pizza and a new addition to their menu, a beautiful, huge steak salad with avocado and tomatoes and a satisfying vinaigrette dressing.

On Sunday, Michael and I also had a leisurely and relaxing brunch at a friend's apartment, which morphed into a long, lazy afternoon sitting around chatting and drinking whiskey (I wonder how that happened, Michael?!)  To be fair, he wasn't instigating any of it (but still).

And then, finally, Michael and I also had an unexpectedly lovely hotpot dinner at San Xi Lou that same night, because he knew he was in the doghouse for drinking so much whiskey on a Sunday afternoon I love San Xi Lou so much.  I wouldn't quite call it a retribution dinner, but I will concede that the timing of this hotpot meal was not entirely coincidental.

Second, Game Night:

Game Night deserves to be capitalized as a proper noun because it's so fun and thrilling and exciting and also nervewracking!  Our friends keep introducing us to new games that we've never heard of before, and we love each and every one!  This time, it was a game called "Splendor," (which must be pronounced "Splendooooor") and I know it sounds supremely geeky and weird (and I was very fully skeptical, I assure you) because it sounds like a medieval game of dungeons and dragons or some weird kooky stuff, however, it's amazing.

It's all about acquiring gemstones (I'm sorry, who doesn't want gemstones?!) and it requires a little bit of luck, quite a bit of strategy, and the ability to add.  I'm already planning to buy the game to play with my parents and sister when I'm back in the U.S.

After a very satisfying dinner at Posto Pubblico, we headed back to our apartment to commence playing. I bought pretty pink flowers for the occasion. I also prepared lemon and mint infused water. I know, we're so fancy.
Game Night didn't end until the wee hours of the night (it's always like this) and Splendor was such a great game that I didn't even feel that bummed about not getting to play Catan.

Third, Typhoon Merbok:

To round out news of the week, we were hit by a typhoon 8, Typhoon Merbok, which kind of appeared out of nowhere and resulted in an early dismissal from work.  I don't know why I get excited about a T8, because it doesn't affect my job in the least (ah, I yearn for the snow days of yore when it actually meant a break from school), but it must be some ingrained Pavlovian response that stubbornly persists.  Since then, Hong Kong has been a dreary wet mop of gray skies, wet sidewalks and humidity. 

Finally, upcoming plans:

Now that we're coming up on the end of the month of June, we're about to head to the U.S. for a nice long sojourn. 

Michael leaves next week, and I follow right after my deal closes on July 4 (I know, it's so sad, I miss the long weekend).  On this trip we plan to cover a lot of ground in approximately three weeks.  Michael will cover Cleveland, Chicago, D.C., New York, and North Carolina, and I will cover New York and North Carolina.  We haven't been to the Outer Banks in years and are excited to go down there and chill for a week.  From the U.S., we plan to head to London at the end of July for work-related stuff, and then finally make our way back to Hong Kong, if all goes as planned, by August.

I expect these next weeks will pass in an absolute whirlwind!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sightseeing Beijing - Tiananmen and National Museum

**Update: I've had a day and night to think about my post, and I think maybe I was writing so much in the moment that my perspective was a bit microscopic, and my depiction came across more critical than I intended.  The fact of the matter is, I have a relationship with China that is a morass of love and hate.  I am on the one hand so impressed with the advancement, resilience, intelligence and tenacity of the people (and similarly with how remarkably the Communist Party has shown its ability to adapt and change with the times, over and over again), and yet on the other hand I have never been to a museum of propaganda that I don't love to pick apart, even while recognizing that this is in some ways a necessity of one-party rule for a party that has managed to stay in power for nearly seven decades.

Over the weekend while we were in Beijing, we went to the national museum and Tiananmen Square.
The sense of space in this city is just unreal, especially if you're coming from dense Hong Kong where there is not one iota of room. 
Putting myself in the picture to further add to the perspective.
A pretty hazy view of Tiananmen Square from the side of the multi, multi-laned road
It's not hard to imagine the square filled with young, idealistic students, and the wide street full of tanks.  Tiananmen is such a must-see for visitors to Beijing today because of the events of 1989, and I think this space will forever be imprinted with those iconic and indelible images.

This city has changed so much (it changes so much year to year, much less over five or ten or fifteen years) and so much continues to change at a breathtaking, breakneck speed, that wandering around it now, I feel as if the city I once knew has been completely replaced.   However, when one visits a site like this, it's impossible not to realize also how intractable the Communist party is, how much power they hold, and how much in this country remains completely and utterly unchanged.  I wonder if long-term residents here, who have lived here through all of the tumultuous events and changes of the last three or five decades, pause to reflect on this in the course of their daily lives.
Beijing really knows how to build on a scale, if you know what I mean.  Walking here takes a very long time.
The streets are wide and long, the buildings are so, so big - but then they all pale in comparison to the size of the square, which makes the buildings appear small.
Mao's mausoleum - we wanted to go inside, but it's only open in September
The national museum doesn't look that big from here, right? 
Well, it is HUGE.
Here is just one set of the towering columns, only a fraction of the main entrance (and not even either wing):
 Unfortunately, and not at all unexpectedly, the interior is really full of propaganda and not much old stuff.
The main hall
You have to appreciate the irony of a museum in this capital city - needless to say, in terms of cultural artifacts this place falls far short of virtually any museum I've been in. 
We wandered a few of their exhibits, and managed to chalk up nearly 15,000 steps just wandering around the huge space.  Here, an exhibit on furniture and joinery:

There were a few exhibits on calligraphy and bronze:

Some of these bronze vessels, used primarily for storing food and drink, date 3,000 years back... and they are massive.  It's unbelievable when you pause to picture their role in such ancient history.  What was life (and the world) like so long ago?  What have these objects bore witness to that we cannot even fathom anymore?

We saw some wooden Buddhas - also of a very old vintage (the Sung dynasty).

There was an exhibit on currency, specifically old coins.  This is one of the first forms of hard currency used in China - tower-shaped and knife shaped copper and bronze coins.
Walking these exhibits, I couldn't help but feel such awe for my ancestors - they were so resilient and so smart!  How were these people doing this stuff (trading, manufacturing, creating art) thousands of years ago?  It just seems terribly advanced in light of what we are still doing today.
We then went to a fun exhibit, showcasing all of the gifts that China has received over the years from the various countries.  I thought North Korea had some stellar gifts (for example, an urn with the supreme leader's likeness engraved on it).
Nixon's gift in 1972 was prominently displayed - two swan sculptures
and there was a picture of the historic event.  I can't help but observe that Mao was rather plump for someone who instigated one of the worst famines in the world's history.
There was also a picture of Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher meeting in 1982 regarding "China's position on the question of Hong Kong."

Other gifts I enjoyed were daggers, like this one, and a very intricate urn from Cambodia.

I thought we were done by this point, but it turns out we missed the great rejuvenation hall/exhibit.  This was just one incredibly long, intricate and completely over-the-top exhibit full of flowery language and propaganda.  It's hard to believe how people can read this and just accept it and move on.
The hall was very extravagant and carefully curated.
The "history" was re-written in very stirring, patriotic, glorified superlatives.
There were some modern sculptures to depict "the scenes."
In a move very similar to the museum in Hanoi, they resurrected the gallows by which some famous revolutionaries were hung.
There was a very impressive array of rifles and automatic (semi-automatic?) rifles
The section about the Long March was limited to one small wall.  There was some rather one-sided commentary about the Kuomintang army and how they beat a hasty retreat, suffering defeat the victorious hands of the Communist party.

There was absolutely nothing, I repeat, nothing, about the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution.  The only concession was an acknowledgement that there were some "setbacks" in the long road of progress and that people had to "overcome hardships".   I guess it makes sense that they wouldn't officially acknowledge such a disaster - the political reality of the situation is that it is a country governed by one-party rule.  However, you have to give credit where credit is due - they really can write a lot of words that manage to say nothing. 
There was a full wall of the various flags that the Communist party considered when founding the modern day People's Republic.
And then we got into a whole science and economic and technology section, where they boasted about the huge advances in GDP and CPI and how the standard of life has changed from 1975 to present day.  Looking at the charts and pie graphs lining the walls, it must be said that the quality of life for the average citizen has shot up astronomically in a very short period of time.  It's really amazing.

I liked the mobile phone exhibit.  This makes me feel old, because I distinctly remember using many of these models, and at a time when they were considered "the newest" models.

We left the hall with one last parting shot of the actual space suit and re-entry capsule used by the Chinese astronaut on his first trip into outer space.  I am not such a hater that I'm unwilling to admit that this was cool.
Otherwise, I would say that a trip to this museum is worth it not so much for the "history" or the "artifacts" but for a glimpse into the official party line and message that the contemporary Chinese Communist party wishes to tout. 

On this trip, I had had grand plans to scale the outer limits of the Great Wall, but the weather was a rather punishing 95-100 degrees every day, so that was quickly scrapped.  We also ran out of time to explore some of the smaller hutongs and new shops that have been popping up over Beijing.  I was all keen to come back and hit up these other adventures and re-visit many sites I hadn't seen in a while, because Beijing has such amazing sites and it is a city pulsating with energy.  Transiting the city, you can almost hear the sound of the ambition beating in the hearts and minds of millions of people, each diligently pursuing improvement and advancement and change.

But then for our return flight back to Hong Kong, Michael and I found ourselves stuck in the Beijing airport for six hours due to flight delays and the typical, myopic "air traffic control" excuse that the Chinese government likes to pull out for any and all reasons, and I snapped out of my reverie and thought, "oh yeah!  That's why I hate Beijing!" and all rosy thoughts of a return trip flew out the window.  As a result, we didn't get home until well after midnight, having spent our entire day in the airport (in the lounge, but still). 

Word to the wise: never transit through any city in China unless you absolutely have to. 
So happy to finally, finally be in the sky.  Farewell, Beijing!
P.S. Six hours was sufficient time for Michael to come up with a new concoction - some crazy mix of Bailey's, Campari and Vodka that he swears is very tasty.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rosewood Beijing Eats: Dinner at Bistrot B and Country Kitchen

We ended up eating our hotel a couple of nights, and both were surprisingly tasty.  The first night, we tried a French restaurant (Bistrot B) on the ground floor, and then on another night the Chinese restaurant (Country Kitchen) on the third floor.

Bistrot B came surprisingly pretty close to the mark, considering we were in mainland China, after all.  You have to remember, surfing the internet here is a pain of the highest order, and we had just battled some of the most excruciating airport lines and customs (truly an exercise in patience and discipline to try any suffering soul) and traffic.  So sitting there in a beautiful booth of a beautiful hotel, eating crusty French sourdough and hangar steak frites with pepper sauce felt a bit transformative. But that said, it still wasn't like Paris, or anything, so don't get your hopes up!
my fish bisque

Michael's lamb shank
My hangar steak frites
Michael's side of polenta
 We then went to Country Kitchen for dinner another night.  It's a very beautiful (though dimly lit) space.  Here, the roasting station:
The noodle making station.
His and hers drinks: a Slowboat draft for him, a lychee soda for me.
Michael loves beef shank (the calf of the cow) so when I saw this marinated appetizer I had to get it.  The cold noodles underneath (not pictured) were a delicious mix of spicy and sour.

We got a boring stir fried kale dish (old habits die hard, I know it's weird, but I love my veggies).

I chose their handmade noodles in a sour and spicy tomato pork broth with bits of cured pork belly.  Are you picking up on the fact that I love sour and spicy??  The noodles were cooked to al dente perfection. 

The restaurant's roast duck and pork section looked very appetizing; however, having just had roast duck the night before (see previous post), we decided to go for their intriguing traditional roast pork belly.  Given Michael's preference for roast duck, I knew we had no other choice, really, once the waiter described the pillowy buns on which we could put the pork belly and condiments.
 I repeat, pillowy buns of perfection!
To honor the Beijing tradition, we had to get some classic carbohydrates (northern cuisine in China is very much about the carbs).  We opted for traditional Beijing chive and pork "pancakes," which appeared looking more like rolls.  Six came in one order, which shocked us given the size of them.  Michael loved these and pronounced them scrumptious.  Let the record show that I didn't even have one.
  We finished our meal with an osmanthus bean curd pudding (I know, Chinese desserts... they just don't have the same ring to it as "molten lava cake" or "chocolate peanut butter crumble") which was doubly disappointing because I was picturing of the "doufu hua" Taiwanese variety.  Overall, I thought the food quality and consistency and attention to detail in preparation was very good.  I would come back to this restaurant.

Bistrot B
G/F, Rosewood Hotel
Jing Zhong Center, Hujialou
Beijing, PRC

Country Kitchen
3/F, Rosewood Hotel
Jing Zhong Center, Hujialou
Beijing, PRC