Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Scrunchie Acculturation

I went exploring last Saturday in the local neighborhood of Pok Fu Lam. It is just a few steps west of my apartment. My intention was to find a particular dumpling shop that was good, authentic and cheap. I wondered to myself how often I eat Southeast Asian or Chinese dishes each week. Quite a lot. Most of the Western dishes I try to prepare each week are in some way "Asian". I drink tea rather than coffee nowadays, and much of the time I prefer using chopsticks when I eat. I then began to reflect on how much I may or may not have acculturated to Chinese or Hong Kong culture since I have lived in Hong Kong. I know I have learned so much in the work place when it comes to approaches to communicating and interacting and doing business across cultures. But how much have I learned socially, aesthetically and in other ways? I know that I probably enunciate my words more clearly than I ever did in college. This is due to an ever present chance of being misunderstood due to language barriers.  In terms of aesthetic acculturation, sure, I have even more respect for Chinese art than I did before living here. That's not saying much, as I have always had a high regard for art from this region. The one real shocker came to me after my noodle-seeking adventure last weekend. I had a few impulse buys on my outing. These purchases included a hello kitty figurine (which I fully intend to ship to my 4-year old cousins.) and a hair scrunchie. Wait. What? Yep, a black, velvet scrunchie. I did not blink an eye until after I went through with the $0.50 purchase. Flashes of Donna from 90210 went through my mind...but so did those of 5-year-old Chinese concerto pianists  and gymnists wearing velvet scrunchies. And then I thought about myself wearing a scrunchie. I never would have bought this living in New York. In Hong Kong, though, they are sold on every corner. A fifth of the women walking down the street are wearing them. And while I do not intend to let this thing see the light of day, I love mine. They are good for your hair and perfect for holding hair back as you wash your face. Scrunchies rock.  And they will now always remind me of the time I have spend in Hong Kong.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Comfortable Flying for Long Flights

It's great to be back in Hong Kong after a whirlwind trip home to the States for Christmas and New Years. The trip was fantastic because I had the opportunity to spend time in some of my favorite cities with my amazing friends and family. I left on Dec. 17 and flew Continental Airlines direct to Newark, with a final destination in DC. I also visited New York, Richmond, Raleigh and Kilmarnock via various other means of transportation. I honestly can say that the long-haul flight is NOT bad. A 4-hour bus trip (what was i thinking?) is worse--much worse.

I usually do prepare a lot for the flight, though. My routine involves lots of exercise before the flight, combined with lots of drinking water. I do not drink alcohol a few days before the flight, nor do I drink alcohol on the flight. This all helps with the time zone adjustment process in the US.

Before I board I make sure that everything I could possibly need is within arms reach of me on the flight. It may sounds ridiculous, but little things make a long flight more comfortable. I have traditionally flown economy or economy plus on the long haul, and these little items make the experience almost pleasurable:

1. A fitted "releaf"  neck roll for travel. Do not use one of the loose doughnut pillows for your neck--it seems comfortable, but it's not. The fitted neck roll allows you to comfortably lean on a cushion while sitting in the stiff, upright economy class seat. When I board that plane I intend to sleep, and this neck roll will allow that to happen.

2. A sleeping pill. I know its a no-no to admit this, but I take a sleeping pill  when I travel to and from the US. I use it on the plane and once I have arrived at my destination to help me with jet lag. Getting adjusted to jet lag is easier for me if I am returning to Hong Kong from the US. It took me 1 day to readjust to Hong Kong time this trip; however, when I was going to the US it took me almost a full week to adjust. If you're a finicky sleeper like I am, sleeping pills help with your time efficiency while traveling in different time zones.

I usually board the plane, watch a movie and a TV show and wait for the first meal to be served--which is about 2 hours into the flight. Once I finish the meal, I take a sleeping pill and am usually asleep for about 9 hours. I don't mind missing the mid-flight snack, even though it's usually ice cream, and I love ice cream. When I fully wake up there are only a couple of hours left. During this time I usually go for a walk, brush my teeth, go drink a bunch of water, and eat the second meal, which is right before landing. Pretty easy.

3. Ear Plugs. Some people prefer noise cancelling headphones. I have never tried the BOSE brand ones, which most people love. I simply use old-fashioned, foam earplugs--the kind my dad used to have for hunting. They're simple and take up very little space.

4. Drops. When travelling at 35,000-37,000 Feet above sea level for 16 hours the air on an airplane can be painstakingly dry! Normally the good airlines monitor this, but once I flew back to the US on an aircraft that was so dry I thought I would have a nose bleed at any second. Save yourself the agony, and travel with saline nasal mist or gel. I have not used the gel, but I hear it is better than the mist. I simply use the mist and it is fine. I usually also travel with eye drops, but I never really need them. If you wear contacts, you may want to bring some eye drops along for the ride.

5. Water. Duh. I drink tons of water on the flight. I also use a water spray on my face and a facial moisturizer. I realize this may sound over-the-top, but when I arrive in the US, I want to arrive fresh and ready to go, especially if I have to work out of New York while fighting jet lag. This makes a HUGE difference in how you feel--and how clean your face feels when you arrive . I use these two products: L'Occitane Rosee Fraicheur, which is a hydrating mist for your face and Cetaphil Hydrating Lotion

6. Toothbrush. Just pack your toothbrush. It will make you feel better.

And that's about it. Friends, I hope this takes the fear out of flying for you. Now it's time to get yourselves over here!


Leaping Lizard

Saturday, November 5, 2011

...and you thought we only drink tea in Hong Kong

This week was a long week full of working hard...and working harder. Working hard is a lasting trend in Hong Kong. Everyone here works hard. Friday came, and it was finally time to let my hair down and kick my shoes off. Per my regular routine, however, I was up at 6 am on Saturday morning. Perhaps it was the 3...of wine I had last night, or maybe it was restlessness caused from doing something all the time here, but I woke up and the only thing I wanted to do was go for a run. So I slid downstairs to my building's gym and logged a few laps on the treadmill. I caught the first round of Saturday morning infomercials in Chinese and felt once again like a strange lady in a strange land. One amusing infomercial had a young Chinese man sipping some espresso and making a scrunched up, distasteful taste. After a few swirls of pink kittens(?) on the screen and some lightening bolts, the young up-and-comer and his gal pal bring out a tin of coffee. they are excited. but what they bring out is actually mix to make coffee jello. so the couple joyously makes morning jello shots of coffee (I won't even get into the actors facial expressions. but they were priceless), they roll the espresso shot-sized gelatinous morsel in some powdered sugar or coconut or something, pop it in each others mouths and loudly chew it to show how much they like it. For a second I didn't really know how to digest this idea. Coffee jello? Then i thought about how I shouldn't judge. this idea actually sounded kind of American-to process something like coffee to make it something completely different...but it's more Asian to love jellies and gel candies.

Anyway, this is probably a ridiculous post, but would you make coffee jello?

I digress, but the new popular shot for Hong Kong'ers to order at clubs is Coffee Patron. This is essentially coffee tequila. It is the beta version of Red Bull, and it is lauded for being more natural than Red Bull. Yes, I've had it, and it is quite good. Have you guys tried it? What do you think?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

French Cooking

If you have not yet spent some time in Hong Kong, you'd be surprised to know how many Europeans actually live in this city. Hong Kong has a surprisingly large French population. There are probably more French peeps in Hong Kong than American peeps. I like this. I love France. I grew up studying the language and acquiring an appreciation for French culture by traveling and studying in France throughout my youth. While French no longer rolls off my tongue like it did once upon a time, I still love most French things. Hong Kong offers a great way to experience French culture while also being in the thick of Chino-British culture. That said, when my birthday rolled around, everything was French. Champagne, foie gras, a home-made Nicoise style dinner and...wait for it...French Cooking Lessons!

Today I awoke at 8 am to prepare for my lesson (which wasn't till 10) before happily hiking up to the restaurant La Terrace on Old Bailey Street in the Central district of Hong Kong. The menu: Sea Bass and Scallops Provencal; Dessert - Flambe Rum Banane et la glace a la vanille avec Chef Rene Etienne. Chef Rene Etienne is from Avignon, France. Here are a few of the photos.

just before class starts

Chef Rene Etienne, beginning with a tomato demo.  

Moving on to the Sea Bass and Scallops. The main seasoning came from the Provencal  sauce we put together using fresh herbs, oil, vinegar, sun dried tomatoes, olives and a few other secret ingredients

trying not to overcook the fish

young Robert, stirring the sauce

My creation. Sea bass and scallops Provencal.
interesting fact: chef Rene sourced today's fish from the Hong Kong wet market!

ingredients for bananas flambe. Rum, Bananas, Almonds...also clarified butter, brown sugar, chocolate, mint...and ice cream. 

the flames were MUCH larger than this

Chef with his Flambe. I caught him eating his back in the kitchen while the rest of us were making ours. 

les bananes
the finished flambe

post-cooking, post-meal with the coolest chef in Hong Kong.
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First Visitors

I'm proud to say that my family recently came and visited Hong Kong. The pressure was on to show them some fun. From personal experience, I knew they'd be fighting jet lag and figured the best approach was to keep them busy and entertained. They were fantastic, and didnt complain about their schedule one bit. Here are a few pictures from their adventure!

Fresh of the boat to China. . .only this was an aircraft. Here they come! Meeting them at the airport 

dinner at Under Bridge Spicy Crab, a favorite spot  for entertaining guests.

Hike around Victoria Peak

love this photo at Temple Street Night Market
On a day trip to Macau. This is historical Macau, which was once the crown jewel of the Portuguese trading empire
In Venice (or the Venitian Hotel in Macau)...where else can you find an  indoor, 4th floor canal?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Visiting Hong Kong -- An Itinerary.

I am so excited that my family is coming to visit Hong Kong next week! I have been putting together an itinerary for them and even sent them a color-coded spreadsheet last week, which I think freaked them out a little because no one responded. So--what are some good things to do in Hong Kong?

Before I started work in Hong Kong I had a few months to explore the area and be a tourist. Much of this list began in my head back then

Clothing Tailor There are many tailors in Hong Kong. Finding the best one for you is the overwhelming part. Whether you want the most established tailor in Hong Kong or more of a value tailor, you can find great quality everywhere in between. Before your trip, begin brainstorming what you would like to have made. You may bring photos out of magazines/catalogues to have items copied. You may also bring them some of your favorite clothing items to be copied in a new fabric or pattern. 

Shoe Cobbler "LIII"-- start dreaming nowThe shoes are expensive, but they are beautifully made of the finest quality and fit perfectly. They make any shoe you want. 

Dim Sum Hong Kong's famous "snack" dining. A bit like the Spanish Tapas style. here you order dumplings and small plates which you pick off of a fancy cart that the tea ladies steer around. Maxim's and Yung Kee are two old-guard spots to try.

Felix Bar at Peninsula for brilliant views of Hong Kong island and watching the waterfront light show, which occurs every night at  8 PM

Star Ferry the old fashioned way of crossing the harbor. Costs about 30 cents and takes 5 minutes. but it makes you feel straight out of a movie! Speaking of, do some homework and watch "The World Of Suzie Wong" to get in the mood before your trip.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Horse Races  run on Wednesdays each week starting in September. Bet on 1 dollar or 50, but go, order a beer and live it up--you're at the races!

A Chinese Massage or Reflexology. I'm not saying Chinese massage is the most relaxing massage ever, in fact I find pressure point massages almost painful. Whatever your preferred massage style may be, I'm sure you can find something suited to your tastes! Happy Foot comes highly recommended.

Victoria Peak you've probably seen pictures of this, whether it was in the latest Batman or elsewhere. I suggest you take the Old Peak Tram up to the top of hong kong island and walk around and check out the views. You can also do a quick hike around the Peak. Watch out for snakes, though, i almost stepped on a pretty green one once. (by pretty, i mean pretty ugly!)

Macau--"Where Asia Plays." You can see the historical sights and eat authentic Macanese food (which is a mix of Portuguese and Chinese) AND/OR cash it in at the Cassinos. If you do both, a whole day is probably needed. Macau is fascinating, and I definitely going to the historical side and visiting the fortress and museum. Eat a few Macanese egg tarts, and you may even feel like you're in Europe. Once on the Cassino side, check out the mainland Chinese gamblers arriving with suitcases of cash--and I'm not even kidding. Interesting fact about Macau's gaming industry: 3 billion people live within a 5 hour flight of Macau, whereas 400 million people live within a 5 hour flight of Las Vegas. 

Sai Kung for seafood. This is an authentic seafood town with fresh, cheap, amazing seafood. Fun for a day trip excursion. See my past blog posts--"Sai Kung" and "More Sai Kung" about this!

Spicy Crab a famous restaurant for Crab (enormous crab!) cooked in chilies and fried garlic. You can have your spiciness made to order, ranging from one to five with one being least spicy and five being very spicy. AMAZING. Unless you're from Texas or Sichuan Province, exercise your spice tolerance and consider keeping the heat below a three.

Stanley Markets--one of the many beach areas of hong kong. Famous for its markets selling linens, arts & crafts, clothing and souvenirs. You can also find some good, beach-side dining in Stanley.

Temple Street night market/ or Jade and Pearl Market --a grittier version of the above (see my blog post), with cool street food. Temple street has knick-knacks such as cheap electronics and knock off sunglasses. The Jade and Pearl markets sell jade and pearls.

Shanghai Tang Shopping This beautiful old Hong Kong store that sells lovely clothing and home accessories. The Pedder building space it occupies has recently been acquired by Abercrombie & Fitch. Try to sneak in and out before Eau de Abercrombie takes over the block.

Shenzhen-- You'll need a Chinese Visa for this hour-long MTR ride to mainland China, but here you will find any thing you ever wanted to buy....without having to write the check you thought you would. You can even have a custom made sofa made for pennies on the dollar. I am in love with Shenzhen.

Obviously, there are many other things to do in Hong Kong. These are just a few of my favorites. Hope you come and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dim Sum

I had the pleasure of joining some colleagues at Dim Sum this week. Dim Sum is a Cantonese term for snack. The way I see dim sum is as a dining style unique to Hong Kong. It is similar to Spanish Style tapas in that when having Dim Sum you order a variety of small plates. These plates range anywhere from dumplings in bamboo baskets to pork buns to bok choi to jelly fish. A group was in from out-of-town, and one of the Chinese girls on my team booked the lunch at a local spot previously unknown to me. It does not have an English alphabet name. As is common in Chinese style dining, about 15 of us gathered around one round table with a huge Lazy Susan in the middle. On it lay 3 tea pots. As various people ordered a plethora of small plates, the Lazy Susan began to fill up. First with veggies, then with rice noodle dishes, then with pork belly, jelly fish, beef something, mystery meat a, b, and c.

For the western eye, the most approachable items are probably the dumplings and pork buns. Both are delicious. Dumplings come in all styles--my favorite is the soup dumpling. If you aren't familiar with its name, it's often a little meatball cooked inside a soft dumpling--the soup created by cooking the meat is locked into the little dumpling. Often this is served with a sweet light soy sauce. The other dish that I love to have at dim sum is a "pork bun." this is usually a fluffy steamed bread with chopped pork inside. The bun part of the food is quite spongy and round. If you are from Richmond, Virginia, the flavor is similar to a White House roll, although the texture is different.

courtesy of in lower right-hand corner note pork buns in bamboo steamer. Dumplings above. I believe the soup to the upper left is Chinese-style congee, which is a traditional rice porridge

If youre willing to "when in Rome" a dim sum experience, the world is your oyster. Pork Belly is a tad more bold than the dumpling or pork bun; whereas jelly fish are a few more notches up the ladder. Yes, these are jelly fish we are talking about. It is not the British "stinging nettle" vegetarian dish, a delicacy made from poisonous vines. This is mopsy flopsy jelly fish. Everyone I know who has tried it, loved it. That's why I chose to order it at dim sum the other day. Tragically, I did not try it. Pathetic, I know. I won't give you any excuse except that the gelatinous head-cheese prostrating next to the jellyfish could have been anything, and I was too scared. I decided to enjoy it with my eyes this go-round.  After all, there will be other dim sums.

Dim Sum in Hong Kong truly has something for everyone. The communal aspect of dining in this style is perhaps my favorite part of the tradition. I can't wait to go for dim sum with my family who is visiting in 2 weeks!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

48 Hours in Bangkok. You Are Not in Kansas Anymore.

Bangkok, Thailand.

Growing up I never really thought about Thailand. I remember when I lived in New York one of my friends told me her company had thought about transferring her to Bangkok. I recall thinking that the idea was proposterous, just as I'm sure many of you thought I was crazy for choosing to move to Hong Kong. This story is not one about "different strokes for different folks," as my dear Dad likes to say. While I do feel like I was naive about this area of the world before I lived here, at times I still do feel naive. Economically thriving cities are constantly changing and evolving and to say you truly know a place as diverse as Hong Kong or, furthermore, Southeast Asia, would be foolish. I do, however, have a better understanding of the area in which I live than before I lived here. Living here has helped me understand more about the world. I see differences, but I am constantly reminded of similarities among humankind and am touched by how small the world can be. If my friend had decided to move to Bangkok, it probably would have been an amazing experience. Last weekend I went to Bangkok. It is rawer and grittier than Hong Kong, but I loved visiting Bangkok and had a fantastic time.

Upon deplaning at the Bangkok airport, I saw what a world mixing pot Bangkok is. There was once a time that US ports looked like that of Bangkok. The airport was full of so many people of different cultures, my mind was blown. Hong Kong is different. It is more developed, and thus feels more Western. The Bangkok airport is a legitimate airport, but I did feel like I was a stranger in a strange land. "Liz, you are NOT in Kansas anymore." For example, the line of people to pass through immigration was a sample of the entire world's population--you saw hippie Dutch backpackers, elderly British men, Swahili women, a cluster of teenagers from ___insert any country___louder than the other 5000 people in the immigration line, Indian women with henna covering their hands and feet and Saudi Arabian men wearing full-length thawbs with headdress. At one point a flock of Emirates Airlines flight attendants glamorously flew through immigration wearing their veiled hats and perfect hair-dos. It looked like a UAE version of "Catch Me If You Can." That's not to say everyone in the airport exuded a breath of fresh air...

The city has its own way of greeting you. I feel like my first "welcome to Bangkok" moment occurred at a 7-Eleven, where I bought a can of Coke, a bottle of water, and a bag of peanuts. The total was 80 US cents. I assuredly was not in Kansas anymore.

The reason for the trip was that Rob had a business meeting on Saturday morning. 4 hours aside, We had one weekend to explore the vibrant city. This was our first vacation in Asia since moving here, and I was pumped. Here's what we did in 717 words or less:
-Take the Sky Tram into the city
-check in to the hotel, in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok
-take a cab (or tuk-tuk motor taxi) to the waterfront area to sight-see. Due to heavy traffic, we re-routed to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is also on the water. We had fancy drinks and a light bite. The Mandarin has never been so inexpensive as it is in Bangkok.  If you visit, do order the Thaihito--not only is it delicious, but according to the menu it is Pierce Brosnan's favorite. The helpful assistant at the hotel's newspaper stand taught us how to say thank you in Thai--Khab khun ka (thank you).
-We took took the water taxi up the river with locals (including some young Buddhist monks). We found land at Pier 9, where there was a market selling bracelets made of Jasmine flowers!
-While in the market the Thai Anthem to its Queen began playing on a loud speaker. Everyone in the market froze until the song completed. I froze as well, but I couldn't help but think how different this tradition is. It felt a bit antiquated but was a lovely, old-world nod to royalty. The Thais love their Queen and royalty.
-Rob and I explored the Shopping Markets at Khao San and ate its street food  before going back to the Hotel.
-woke up at the crack of dawn to get an early start on sight-seeing (aka, beat the traffic)
-Take cab to The Grand Palace. Discover Rob left his new cell phone in the cab. Decide to worry about it later and proceed to change into state-issued clothing for female tourists (ahem, me) wearing inappropriate fitted tee-shirts . After putting on a collared shirt (seemingly left over from a 1960s men's golf tournement) and covering my ankles, we were good to go, exploring a truly remarkable palace. I studied the Grand Palace in art history classes in high school and college but at the time was naive and dismissed the landmark as a place I would probably never visit. In person, it is remarkable. I was glad Rob urged me to visit.
-Afterwards, we quickly visited the world's largest reclining Buddha, which I definitely studied in art history classes. I found it extraordinary. That may have been the highlight of what I saw on the trip.
-Booked it back to the hotel so Rob could go to his work appointment, and I could do some work. I also booked a massage. The shortest one available was 1 hour 30 minutes. Nervous about finishing in time for a dinner reservation, I asked if they could shorten the massage to 1 hour. They quickly told me that would be bad for my health. Okie! I indulged in the full-length massage! Thai massages are heaven.
-Met up with my friend Biz and her boyfriend Allen--friends from home. We were so happy to see familiar faces in this area of the world! We went out to dinner at a restaurant named "Cabbages and Condoms." Strange but good dinner spot! Definitely worth a visit for the open minded and young at heart.
-Saw a slew of touristy going-out areas---Soi Cowboy and Patpong Night Bazaar-- the touristy red-light districts you may have seen in the film "Hangover 2". These are the first red light districts I have ever walked through. They were quite red and had lots of lights.
-Capped off the night at the night market and backpacker's paradise, Khao San Road. We sang and danced the night away at a rooftop bar called "Roof." Eventually we needed some late night street food and a rest...zzz.
-Awoke on Sunday to have an enormous breakfast at our hotel. Marble-slab frozen Greek yogurt with any topping you want? Side of Guava or Lychee juice? YES PLEASE!
-Decided to quickly visit the Chatuchak Market, the largest outdoor market in the world. It is both underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time. Underwhelming because they had the same stuff you can find in a Hong Kong market, overwhelming because it was so freaking humongous we kept getting lost and spent most of the time we were there trying to get out!
-Booked it back to the hotel to pack and get to the airport.
-Bye bye, Bangkok.


Passing river taxi

Taking the river taxi upstream
buying a jasmine and rose bracelet near Pier 9

For Teddy. Revisiting a bar Rob and his friends enjoyed a few years ago.

cooling off and taking a break from the touring and shopping

Rob ordered street food from a Pad Thai vendor on Khao San Road. Rob says it was the best Pad Thai he's ever had

Highlights of the Grand Palace
Rob, at the Grand Palace.

Wat Pho--the world's largest reclining Buddha.  Must take your shoes off to see the Buddha. 

I loved the beautiful art on the walls of all the temples we entered. It resembled a tapestry but had been painted and inlaid with stones and gold.

Biz and Allen on Soi Cowboy! 

At Roof on Khao San Road
odd Thai lady who is in many of our pictures. 
Rob having a thumb war with a little boy selling roses

Little baskets of quail eggs for sale at the Chatuchak market.