29 July 2010

[HK 35] : Count down, count up

3 more working days.  (not including weekends...let's hope)
1 more weekend.
1 week until flight back home.
4 more free days.
5+ meet ups and counting.
14 more meals.

trips to tai o and macau in the works.
...also rethinking the "to do" list... now just want to find some place and take a rest.

- - -

just got my list of residents for this coming year, one of which includes a friend.  cool!  49 ladies on 2 floors - gotta start memorizing names and thinking up cool name tag designs.

- - -

0 minutes until sleep.  thank God.

28 July 2010

[HK 34] : Weather or not...

Not me, and hopefully my umbrellas are sturdy enough so this will never be.

This is the second time in 2 weeks that we had a black rainstorm alert.  I've never lived in a tropical place before, so this warning system is new to me.  We were told to stay indoors and be careful of flooding, although they should also have warned us of falling objects, since on the way home I spotted quite a few tree branches strewn across the sidewalk.  Yikes.

So black rainstorms really do turn the sky just about completely black, although the technical definition of one is "very heavy rain has fallen or is expected to fall generally over Hong Kong, exceeding 70 millimetres in an hour, and is likely to continue."  There are a few courses of action listed on the government website as well, although the most amusing (and sad) to me is

"People who are already at work should stay where they are unless it is dangerous to do so."

... meaning not leaving the office. Ever!  (just kidding... although the last time, I did have to wait it out for quite a while.)  There are also amber and red rainstorm signals, which seem far more useful to me than the national safety warning colors we have in the States.  (It seems to always be yellow.)

HK also has typhoon signals, although thankfully there's only been one typhoon warning (for No. 3), and it never actually came about despite it being almost August and well into typhoon season.  When I say No. 3, it sounds like there must be quite a large scale, right?  Actually, there are just two primary typhoon signals: No. 3 and No. 8.  (Who knows what happened to all the levels in between...)  No. 3 means persistent wind conditions at speeds between 41 and 62 km/h, while No. 8 means speeds of 63 to 117 km/h.  It's only with No. 8 typhoons that we're permitted to stay at home from work.

Now, that's one hooky excuse that can't be faked.  ("Um sorry...can't come to work today because of a No. 8 typhoon signal....only in my neighborhood.")

27 July 2010

Breaking down Bangkok

Lately I've been a bit shoddy with updating, which I guess is inversely correlated with my workload and travel plans.  Usually my brain gets pretty muddled by the end of the day from lack of energy, but thankfully my English hasn't (yet) left me, although sometimes I catch myself imitating my Hong Kong coworkers and friends, which is a bit frightening.  (Hopefully this habit won't stick once I get back...)

Anyways, this past weekend I took a bit of a hiatus from HK and flew to Bangkok to visit my cousin, Jennifer.  It was my first foray into Southeast Asia and quite an eye opening trip, with its fair share of adventure and ups and downs.  I'm very thankful that the cuz is decent w/ her Thai, or else there would have been much more arm waving and charade-like gestures to communicate.  (Well...we were still a bit ridiculous, but to be expected.)

How to summarize my lightning-fast barely-2.5 day trip to the City of Smiles?

_ r u l e s

I laughed when I saw this sign in our hotel room, and took this picture especially for the brothers of 10B.  (Well...at least 2 of them I know are fond of this smelly fruit.)  I didn't actually get to eat durian while there, but it's ok - HK also has a lot :)  Some of these rules I can understand, but some others can be challenged :

_ m a r k e t

Instead of heading to one of the massive and most-touristed markets like Chaktuchak or Damnoen Sanduak, Cuz and I went to Amphawa Floating Market, a bumpy and cramped 2 hr. van ride out of Bangkok.  Our earlier tuk-tuk driver tried to dissuade us from going, but off we went anyways after a recommendation from friends of ours.  And it was an adventure - first to find out where to catch the bus (after asking around in Thai), the crazy bus ride, and then off to follow the sights (but mostly the smells) towards the klong (= canal).  The place had loads of Thai tourists but very few foreign ones - possibly due to the Buddhist Lent holiday, but maybe also a leftover from slow tourism post-riots.  After walking around and eating yummy foods, we also went on an evening boat trip to see the area's well known fireflies.  (They almost seem fake, the way they blink so rapidly and evenly - but are real!  What a statement.)

_ f o o d

... at the market and on the street side are great experiences.  At Amphawa, we had front row seats in the canal-side "kitchen stadium" and had first dibs on fresh grilled prawns, spicy papaya salad, thai tea, and other delicious treats.  We also got hit on by the eatery's "maitre'd/head waiter," although we had no intent on gaining a Thai boyfriend.

Prawns - so close!  The downside: having the smoke and heat from the grill wafting into our faces, and the not-so-clean canal water sloshing near our feet.  Oh well, can't be too picky about such things.

_ t r a n s p o r t

Bangkok takes the cake for having so many different types of public transportation: subway (MRT), skytrain (BTS), taxi, bus, mini bus, river taxi along the klongs, tuk-tuk, motorcycle taxi...  and there are probably even more that I didn't encounter.  We went on 6 of those modes of transport within the weekend, but my favorite was the tuk-tuk: decidedly touristy, but way fun to be zooming around in the open air, flanked within arm's reach of veering motorbikes and street food carts.  Admittedly, the pollution is not so great, but Cuz had the foresight of bringing a mask for each of us.  True fashion statement, no?

_ w o r s h i p

Many a cab and bus had this hand-drawn right above the windshield.  Everywhere you go, there are wats (= Buddhist temples) and mini shrines, almost on every street corner.  Because of the Buddhist holiday, many people also had woven flower bracelets around their wrists.  (Not exactly sure of their meaning.)  I guess I hadn't realized beforehand, but Thailand is quite a religious country.  Children are brought to wats and taught early, like these cuties:

I must admire their widespread faith, which could teach the States a thing or two, although the focus of it remains another question.

_ s h a d o w

Every country also has its darker side.  I had heard much about the sex trafficking in Bangkok from my cousin and others who have done ministry there, but part of me wanted to see it for myself - not as a hedonistic voyeurist, but out of curiosity and to see what the real needs of the city are.  (This is, after all, the birthplace of the Bluetree song "God of This City.")  Cuz had done outreach in Nana, one of two red light districts in Bangkok, so after wandering around the night market there, we finally came to the "entertainment center."

I'm not going to put up pictures of what it's like inside because frankly...  it was heartbreaking and made me really sad.  And a bit disturbed, especially after noticing that the place - a compound-like enclosed area with 3 stories of bars (more like strip clubs), go-go clubs, and the like - had only young Thai women, white men, and a handful of Thai men as bouncers.  As two Chinese (fully clad) women, I felt extremely conspicuous and occasionally followed, but we just walked around, sat down and chatted a bit about our observations, and then left, feeling the tugging need to pray.  There's more to be said about this encounter, but that will have to wait for a conversation with me in case you're interested.  It was definitely eye-opening, though, and made me even more aware of the need for redemption and Jesus.

I had also wanted to see one of the slum communities around the city, since I've started to do a bit of research into them but have never encountered one myself... but that will have to wait for another trip.

I'll be back.

19 July 2010

[HK 33] : Whose HK is this, anyways?

This is my 200th post since starting this blog.  Huzzah!  Mentally, I was making notes on the witty things I would say or profound reflections I would expound...  but in vain.  Maybe this speaks better than my own words on one of the ways I've come to view my summer home:

I realized that my last reflection about HK seemed somewhat dismal and pouty.  As a follow up, I don't really feel as foreign and "woe is me" as it sounds.  Although I am definitely very much aware of the differences in my own culture, perspective, and upbringing, but then again that's perhaps not the reason why I'm even in Hong Kong in the first place.  It's not to assimilate and become a Hong Konger (although of course, I wish everyday that my Cantonese were better), but rather to understand the place, the people, the culture, the needs...

Still have much to learn, but I'm getting there.

(video courtesy of Island ECC, one of the 2 churches I have frequented thus far.)

18 July 2010

[HK 32] : Culture shock

One thing that I haven't been able to get used to here in Hong Kong is the... odd snacks that people tend to eat.  Mavis coined it as "culture shock," as she bought some marinated dried fish (whole) from Muji and began snacking on them outside the store.  I'm just not a huge fan of eating entire fish in general, so the idea of eating them like chips is still a habit I probably won't likely partake in, although it makes for interesting photo opps.

It reminded me a bit too much of this poor fellow Dan and I found dead on the beach in Stanley:

In the office, we have a snack bin filled with many sweet things, along side preserved pigeon eggs and dried squid.  These snacks, I don't have a particular problem with, although I do find it funny that the equivalent in the States would be boring chips and cookies that were never once alive.  (At least, not in the same sense as a squid or a fish were.)

- - -
  • feeling : that i need to sleep earlier
  • weather : all the rainstorms remind me that typhoon season is upon us

15 July 2010

Tasting life twice

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely. We write as the birds sing, as the primitives dance their rituals. If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it. When I don't write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in a prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.
- Anais Nin

In a world filled with blogs, word litter, and cacophony...  perhaps some more breathing room.

(quote found via Kristin Espinasse's "French word a day" blog)

14 July 2010

[HK 31] : The big question

... is, do I want to live in Hong Kong?  Come back here after I graduate?

People keep asking me this one question, and I find it hard to answer.  Initially, I said I needed more time to think about it, but now it's been about 5 weeks since living here and I still am at a bit of a loss for a response.  I've gotten more used to the life here and now have a bit of a rhythm going.  Work is pretty interesting (albeit tiring) and my Chinese is getting better.  I enjoy the food and discovering new places...

But at the same time, I'm not sure this is where I'm supposed to be.  HK still has that feeling of being familiar yet foreign.  Actually, it's me who feels foreign, rather than the other way around.  I still have the sense that I'm looking into this world with a lens that is distinctly "other."  I do think it is possible for me to live here, as I already am doing so.  But...do I want to?  And would I feel a part of the place?  I'm not sure.

Ask me again in August.

13 July 2010

[HK 30] : The danger of steps

I was laughed at for taking the above picture, but I suppose it's a good introduction to the danger of steps: there are a lot of them.  And they are tiring.  Hong Kong's terrain changes quite rapidly, especially in the area between Central, Soho, and the Midlevels leading up to Victoria Peak.  And sometimes they are maddingly the only place to sit, like in the IFC.

Some steps have funny names.  Knutsford?  (Found in Tsim Sha Tsui.)  This doesn't even ring a bell with HK's British legacy.

Trekking around in the Soho/Midlevels area, there were seemingly miles of steps up the slope.  I was trying to find Wing Lee Street, which was recently featured in a NYTimes article as one of the rare places in HK that actually has retained a sense of the past with some of the oldest tenement buildings in the city.   (More photos later.)  Nearby were more steps following the pathway of Sun Yat Sen through HK.

Thankfully I don't have to walk up these steps everyday to go home.  These lead up to 2nd floor balcony homes above shopfronts along the street.

At the end of walking around all day, exhausted tourists at least have the relief of riding on the moving escalator through Central.  At least we got our week's worth of exercise in a few hours on HK's Stairmaster.

- - -
  • feeling : tired after late nights at work
  • weather : thick, humid air is like walking in blankets

10 July 2010

[HK 29] : Playing tour(ist) guide

Having visitors gives me an excuse to be touristy in HK, and I think I truly have been more of a tourist with my picture snapping tendencies than the friends now in town.  Dan and Joseph, both from MIT, are here for the weekend, and it's been fun hanging out and showing a bit of what HK looks like.  Dan's been here before, so it wasn't such a rush to go and see all the major landmarks.  Some sights along the way thus far:

1_ One of the nicest bathrooms I've seen, in Hong Kong or anywhere else.  These are in Pacific Place (as recommended by Jordan and Otto), the interior of which was redesigned by Thomas Heatherwick  (who did the British Pavilion at the Expo).  I had to be incredibly discrete when taking these photos...  and believe me, I waited a while at the entrance to snap that one shot of the stalls, making sure no one was looking at me so I didn't seem so shady...

2_ Tromping around Lan Kwai Fong and possibly being more interested in the back alleyway graffiti than the bars themselves.  (Cheesy photos are a must, though, especially among all the other tourists there.)

3 _ Dimsum at Lin Heung Tea House in Central, one of the last old school dimsum restaurants in Hong Kong.  Kian and Natalie were saying that it's a snapshot from the 60s, reflecting the traditional foods and ways of serving dimsum that most restaurants have moved past by now.  This was my first experience with this older style of dimsum and it was exciting!  Basically, you're crammed at a table with strangers and have to run up to get your own food from the food carts.  Since everyone else is also running up to get some, you sort of have to scramble to get the attention of the cart pusher, so she will stamp your meal card and give you the dishes before other people grab them.  It's sort of... a massive free for all.  Awesome!

4 _ A daytrip to Stanley, an old fishing village turned tourist attraction at the southeastern part of Hong Kong Island.  It was also the site of China's last stand, before surrendering to the British.  The bus ride down there in itself has some brilliant views, and despite the tourism, it's a great relief from the urbanity of the city.  However, the vestiges of consumption still manage to find you no matter what:

(We didn't stay at this beach...  for obvious reasons.)  There is a military cemetery there, and since I'm strange and like cemeteries, we hiked a bit around and also got to sit on the grass for a bit as a break from the intense sun and walking.

5 _ Witnessing aliens landed and huge toys at Causeway Bay's Times Square building, with a huge installation for Toy Story 3.  Outside was also a towering Buzz Lightyear, while inside the atrium sat an enormous replica of a play house with a mini exhibition and other toys to pose with.  I have more pictures but will post them later.  Needless to say, it made me even more pumped for the upcoming movie, which will soon come out in HK.

So... does this make me a good "tour guide" if we end up checking out cool bathrooms first?

08 July 2010

I miss...

... this guy.  He's getting so big!  The last time I saw Isaac, he had only gums and was just beginning to push himself up.  I hear he's now getting to be a bit rascally and is already 8 months old.  (I wish I could make that much progress in 5 months... and people still think I'm 18.)

Can't wait until August when I get to see him... and his parents, of course :) 

07 July 2010

[HK 28] : Current tidbits

I am ...

_ Grossed out _  First cockroach sighting.  Today.  2 scuttling across the sidewalk.  They were each about 3 inches long, and seeing them made my skin itch.  I truly hope I never find one in my room...

_ Pondering _  Trips to take before I leave HK and this side of the world.  Top on my list is Bangkok to visit my dear cousin.  Second is likely Singapore or maybe Kuala Lumpur to visit some more dear friends.  I've wanted to visit some place quite different from Hong Kong, but have started to consider that seeing people I care about is probably more important than slashing my way through the jungle somewhere new.  My wallet is also something to consider, but thanks to local upheaval and turmoil, ticket prices are cheap ...

_ Anticipating _  Visits by no fewer than 3 friends this weekend!  Dan and Joseph from my MIT fellowship will be around for the weekend, and then May from Beida will be in town early next week for a business trip.  Exciting!

_ Reading _  Articles about author David Mitchell, so many that I really just want to read another one of his books, particularly the newest one (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet).  This NYTimes article did a good job in rekindling the interest.

_ Missing _  Singing!  Hearing about Cross Linked, the summer Christian a cappella group back on campus, made me miss it more.  It's ok though - my vocal chords get plenty of exercise in the shower.

_ Craving _  Soup noodles.  Actually, it ends up they are my favorite thing to eat here, whether wonton noodle, fish ball with rice noodles, ramen, or whatnot.  I just won't go for the Cup Noodles...

_ Getting _  Bitten by the mosquitoes that sneak into my room, one at a time.  Let's hope I don't get bitten by something odd...which just about always happens when I travel.  Alas.

05 July 2010

[HK 27] : American arteries

As one of the many Americans living in Hong Kong, I felt the most patriotic way to celebrate July 4th was to find and eat the most American burger.  (Note: McDonald's was struck from the list from the get go.)  I asked a bunch of my friends and looked online from Openrice.com (the local restaurant rating site) to Chowhound to figure this out, and from the l-o-n-g threads, I gathered that this is quite the hot topic around here parts.  Looks like I'm not the only expat to need a quick fix of quality grilled meats that aren't chopstick-sized.

There were several debates about Triple-O especially (centered on, what percentage of the patty should be made of meat in order to be considered a burger?), but I ended up deciding on BLT Burger, owned by French chef Laurent Tourondel (the "LT" of "BLT").  This sounds far fancier than the place was in reality, although the prices were definitely out of the typical HK cost range.  (~$10+ USD for a cheeseburger and perhaps a topping.)

For once, a truthful menu in pointing out the perhaps un-Chinese-ness of the 5 Spice "Chinese" chicken salad. (lower L)

I went with a HK friend and ended up ordering the same quality meal: classic burger with Vermont chedder and sliced avocado (ah...the essential topping), sharing a side of sweet potato fries and "fat" cut potato fries.  The sweet potato fries were definitely the favorite of the table.

The patty itself was pretty juicy, although could have been more flavorful in itself.  The bun was nicely toasted, and I was thankful that the burger wasn't slathered in mayo, which is what usually happens with Western food in HK (and which is why I was quite particular in my burger research).  It was my friend's first time eating the very American cole slaw and pickles, and although I don't really like them myself, I encouraged her to try anyways at least once.

All in all, the burger was a pretty good eat and very much like one back at home.  Yum - just the thing for a good Independence Day :)  Now I don't have to be so jealous of my friends who indulged in authentic backyard barbeques, the thing to do in the summertime.

- - -
  • feeling : tired...but why am I still awake?
  • weather : hot, but then again, what's new?

03 July 2010

[HK 26] : Canyon views

From the 30th floor of my office, although it's the mountains that engulf the view from my desk each day.  Often I'll see hawks soaring down from their sky perches.

The shot encapsulates the strange bedfellows of Tai Koo (my neighborhood) and maybe HK at large: commerce and commercialism (my office building), stacked residents in towering apartments, and lush mountains not so far in the distance.

And sunset - a somewhat unfortunate sight, since I took it today on a Saturday evening.  Oh OT.

Fun ways to cook

Thanks to Clothilde's Chocolate and Zucchini cooking blog, I discovered this great site called "They Draw and Cook," with fun illustrations for recipes.  Anyone around the world can submit, which makes for a whimsical and really cool collection of visual foods.  All-recipes.com pales in comparison to this colorful site.

And CZ gives an interesting tip for how to tell when meat is done.  Never thought about it this way, mmm.

02 July 2010

[HK 25] : On the march

Yesterday we had yet another public holiday (my 2nd in 3 weeks - awesome), this time marking the anniversary of Hong Kong's transfer back to Chinese hands.  One of my friends had mentioned that I might bump into protesters in the Causeway Bay area, but I had forgotten about that until I stepped out of the MTR station there and fell into a chanting crowd, all energetically waving signs and pumping fists into the air.  There was quite a bit of call-and-response yelling, followed by the exuberant banging of drums and what sounded like pots and pans (and those now notorious vuvuzelas).

I wasn't exactly sure what they were protesting, so I later asked one of my coworkers as we were taking a break from studying at the HK Central Library.  (Yes, we were studying.  Yes, I am a nerd.  And yes, I enjoyed it.)  Apparently this has been happening ever since the handover, but this time it was particularly to contest a policy reform bill recently passed by the government that adds seats to the Legislative Council that are sanctioned by the Chinese government.  (This Bloomburg article was informative in getting the basics on the issues.)  One of my other coworkers participated in the demonstration, saying that he was "fighting for freedom."

I guess I take it for granted that as a US citizen, I have a vote that counts.  (And in a swing state like PA, it counts even more.)  Yes, we have an electoral college still, but in other countries, citizens have far less to little impact on their leaders' actions.  I still don't know that much about HK politics, but there seem to be a lot of people who are thirsty for the democracy that the government promises (supposedly by 2020).  Let's hope Beijing keeps its word.

All the marching (and in our case, reading) needs to be fueled somehow, and what better to satiate that hunger than street food?

More formal snack nooks ("si sik" = little eats) like this one or street-side carts are everywhere.  This particular one was well situated along Causeway Ave., along the demonstration route and very accessible for quick grabs.  My favorite street food is the egg-based dough literally called little chicken eggs ("giy dan tsai"), which is grilled to order a bit like waffles.

This particular bag wasn't from the street nor from yesterday, but they were still yummy.

But, in the mood for the savory, I got some meatballs with satay sauce:

Cathy laughed at me for taking this picture, since she thought I was going to snap one of the demonstration.

The meatballs were only $6 - a bargain!  (In USD, that's about 70 cents I guess.  I don't think you can buy anything in the States for that amount anymore, except for a stamp.)

Lately I've been tired, hence going a couple days without blogging.  Work has been busy and I just moved rooms.  Off to bed...

- - -
  • feeling : tired but glad - first care group meeting tonight!
  • weather : finally sunny but scorching (90+ F)