Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spicy hotmess

This is what I have for breakfast every morning - last night's leftover rice mixed with whatever veggies we have, with tons of hot sauce dumped on top. I call it "spicy hotmess."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Scoring the apartment

Last night we met the landlady, signed the final papers, and got the key to our new apartment. This is the awesome view from our living room window:

In order to make this final transaction, however, we had to produce a great deal of cash. Our property agent had suggested to us that we might want to bring cash rather than writing a check, because our landlady would be more likely to hand over the key then and there if she didn't have to wait for a check to clear. That necessitated trekking through the city carrying this:

It was nerve-wracking, but I gave us a modicum of protection by throwing Triad gang signs every few steps. I believe I was very intimidating. Or looked like I had a seizure disorder. Whatever - people steered clear.

Before we met to sign the lease, we stopped and had some killer samosas at Cafe O:

This place is right around the corner from our new apartment, and I have a feeling we'll be visiting frequently, if only because I want to try their advertised specialty pizzas - caramelized pumpkin and bacon, or banana, bacon and spinach.

The area where we're living is surrounded by tiny hole-in-the-wall places to get great noodles, dumplings, kebabs, etc. Many people grab something from one of these local vendors and eat their dinner in the street - it's a very communal atmosphere. After looking over all of these stalls we decided to try some local flavor and selected Subway for dinner. Now, you will all have questions about the differences between Hong Kong Subway and American Subway, but there really aren't that many. I will detail them for you here:
  • Sandwiches: the sandwiches are pretty much all the same - tuna, turkey, meatball marinara - except for a couple listed under "local favorites" - avocado and chicken tikka. I stuck with my traditional veggie delite, but may have to try the avocado.
  • Toppings: no banana peppers, but they did have grated carrots.
  • Condiments: mayo, mustard, oil & vinegar, but also sweet chili oil, chili garlic sauce, and ketchup.
I'm thinking for next time, an avocado sandwich with sweet chili oil sounds awesome.

Now we have a weekend of packing, moving, and shopping for everything from forks to furniture to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


We went into the city tonight to further familiarize ourselves with the new neighborhood. Found a great used bookstore, then ended up at a bar where we got slightly drunk and argued about music. I called Bob Dylan the "the American Morrissey" and Kelly's head exploded. A good time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beach blanket sweatfest

When it’s 92 degrees with 87% humidity, there’s nothing like spending the evening at the beach…sitting around a fire pit.

Yesterday evening was spent at a BBQ establishment on the beach in Tuen Mun:

This is how it works: you pay 80 HK dollars to get in, and they provide you with a huge firepit, long metal forks, and tons of food to roast in the flames. You grab a great slimy hunk of raw meat, jam it on your fork and hold it over the fire, sweating profusely, until it’s done. We had fish balls, meatballs, pork, beef, chicken, some things I couldn’t identify and, of course, hot dogs.

They also provide veggies wrapped in foil that you throw in the pit. These veggies come to you already wrapped up, so you have no idea what they are or how long they should be on the fire – you just toss them on the coals, drink several beers, sweat, drink several more beers, remember that there were vegetables somewhere and wonder where they are, see them on the fire, attempt to pull them out of the fire using two huge forks, drop them several times, finally manage to flick one out of the fire and across the floor, get it on your plate, unwrap it and wolf.

Then the power goes out. But you just stick another fish ball on your fork and keep on cookin'.

And it's the best thing you've ever eaten.

Last night was also a triumph because Kelly and I were able to use ALL of the Cantonese phrases that we've learned so far. These are pere dzao ("beer") and Lingnam dai hok (this is how you ask the taxi driver to take you home). As you can see, we have adapted well and are now almost completely native.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Good news

Our offer on the apartment was accepted, and we should move in about a week. We did a preliminary shopping trip to IKEA (here's a bonus - in Hong Kong, for a nominal fee they not only deliver your items, but assemble them). Apparently our first "grown-up" apartment will look like a cross between a dorm room and a Swedish UFO.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Hong Kong rocks

Green-tea scented toilet paper. With a handle.

Our quest for housing

We spent all day Tuesday looking at various apartments in downtown Hong Kong. We're looking to live in an area called the Mid-Levels. Kelly says this is good for several reasons, but I wasn't listening so I don't know what they are. My primary reason for wanting to live there is that it's an area built up a mountain, and is accessed by the world's longest escalator. Sweet.

Today we signed a tentative agreement for a three-bedroom place on the 21st floor of this bright pink building. These photos do not do justice to the building's pinkness.

The landlady has a week to agree to our offer, which we hope she does, because it has awesome views of the city and of a very cool mosque, which is right next door. Here's the view from what would be Kelly's office:

After signing the tentative contract, we checked out the area and found a great cafe. Lunch:

Sandwich with brie & caramelized onions for me, pizza with pesto and fresh mozzarella for Kelly. All good. Here's hoping that our offer on the apartment gets accepted and this becomes one of our regular haunts.

Now we're home, exhausted, with beer and air conditioning to comfort us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yay! Something in English! Wait...what?

Yesterday I was flipping through a Hong Kong fashion magazine when I found the only article written in English:

This was the accompanying illustration:

I have no explanation for this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I prefer "stay-at-home wife"

My Hong Kong Identity Card lists my occupation as "housewife." And, well, I guess it's true. This morning I ironed my husband's shirt, then asked him for money to go to the grocery store.

Later I'm going to do laundry and then do some knitting - maybe a nice scarf. Or a noose.

But I'm not all alone here. I’ve made good friends with the lady who disinfects the elevators in our building (yes, they’re disinfected three times a day). She doesn’t speak English and everything she says to me sounds like “hai!”, and of course I don’t speak Cantonese, and I’m pretty sure everything I say to her sounds like “blarbul,” but oh, we have a good time. Our typical interaction goes something like this:

Me: Blarbul! [waves]

Elevator Lady: Hai! [waves back]

Me: Blarbul blarbul blarb.

Elevator Lady: Hai! Hai hai hai, hai hai. Hai!

[Much laughter]

Me: Blarbul, blarb!

Elevator Lady: Hai!

It’s really nice to have someone to talk to when you’re in a strange place.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rice and swine flu

Apparently our rice cooker is from the Hogwarts collection – it magically turns one grain of rice into several billion. Last night I used it for the first time, putting in what I thought was a reasonable amount of rice for two people, and now every tupperware, every bowl, and every coffee mug is filled with leftover rice and shoved in the fridge. These devices should be distributed to poverty-stricken areas and developing countries. Every FEMA trailer should come equipped with one. We'll airlift them into disaster zones...

So anyway, it was rice for dinner last night. I also had rice for breakfast with some stir fried cabbage:

I have a feeling that it'll be rice for lunch and dinner as well.

In other news, Hong Kong has reported its first case of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 flu. I will attempt to use this as an excuse to stay home and watch weird TV, but we'll see if Kelly goes for it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy jellyfish and more thousand island dressing

Thursday night we had a quiet evening. We walked along the beach and then had drinks (margaritas for me, and just in time, too – I was in tequila withdrawal) and watched the boats come into the harbor. Very relaxing. So last night we decided to go out (you can be fairly sure that whenever you read this sentence, the night ended with me falling down. It did.) We went to a DVD launch party for the Happy Jellyfish People’s Democratic Language Bureau. Slogan: “learn Cantonese the natural way – from a Norwegian!” It’s run by a Norwegian woman who’s lived in Hong Kong for several decades. The DVD seems pretty good. Title: “Cantonese – The Movie: This Time It’s Personal.” She’s also written a book chronicling her erotic adventures in Hong Kong entitled “Blonde Lotus.” She’s very odd.

The party was on top of Pier 3 in the Hong Kong Harbor. The lights of the buildings are really gorgeous, and every night at 8 p.m. the skyscrapers put on a synchronized light show.

We had a few beers, then a few more. We ordered some Japanese-style barbeque. I had sirloin chunks on a skewer with that traditional Japanese dipping sauce, thousand island dressing; Kelly had samosas.

As the night wore on, things got stranger and stranger. The Filipino band played a rousing rendition of “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Our Greek/German friend told a story about being an adolescent and being dared by a friend to visit a prostitute, but once he got to her room he saw a half-eaten cookie on her dresser and couldn’t get aroused. We requested “On The Road Again” and the band played something that approximated it. I went to introduce myself to the Norwegian language teacher, who was playing a Chinese card game at a table of guys who looked like supermodels. I walked over to their table, sat down, and promptly fell off my chair. I handed her a slip of paper with my email address, told her she could contact me there or on the floor, dusted myself off and ran.

Now I am eating the cutest pea snacks in the world and trying to recover.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Desperation Fusion

Breakfast - tacos with cheddar, spanish olives and tobasco.

Adventures on the Metro

Hey - here's something funny that I learned yesterday - when the announcement says "stand clear of the doors," you'd better damn well stand clear. Kelly was running for the train (I'd already alighted gracefully, of course) and the doors slammed on him. He made me proud, though. As people looked on in horror, he held his ground and refused to move while the doors slammed, then slammed again, then slammed one more time for good measure, then finally opened so he could squeeze in. He’s bruised and battered, but a better man for it. And I'm so proud of my hubby – he’s showing Hong Kong metros what’s what.

In other metro news, I was standing on the train flipping through my HK guidebook when the car lurched forward. I grabbed for the pole and accidentally poked a small girl in the eye. She started to cry so I looked away really fast. Luckily her mother was distracted and didn't see what happened, and the child was too distraught to tell her. I jumped off at the next stop and ran for it.

Lunch was spicy chu-sha ramen at Ajisen Ramen - a Japanese chain that's crazy popular here. You go there, you're rushed to a table (which you share with people you don't know, who you suspect spend the entire meal snickering at your use of chopsticks, but which, since you don't understand snickering in Cantonese, you're not entirely sure about, so you can't get offended, and anyway, they have a point, because you suck at using chopsticks), your food is rushed to you, you slurp it down, and you're out the door before you know what happened. We also had Japanese style dumplings and deep-fried bean curd. All good.

We walked around a bit in Wan Chai, but it was raining like mad (monsoon season, remember), so we decided to head back to the metro. Oh, did I mention that we were in Wan Chai because we had to go to the Immigration Building to apply for our Hong Kong identity cards? Just so you know, bureaucratic buildings are the same all over - lots of going to a window, waiting for your number to be called, going to another window, lots of children crying, lots of irritating people on cell phones... Anyway, on the way to the metro station we passed a specialty food import store. We stepped in and discovered, glory of glories, a whole shelf of Old El Paso taco kits, cans of refried beans, salsa, etc. There was much rejoicing. Dinner was a beautiful affair last night.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Scallion parathas with chili bamboo shoots and pickled lettuce, with chili sauce for dipping.


A photo of a candy store in the subway. I got yelled at for taking this photo and then ran away.

My first experience with Hong Kong street food

Had some really great street food today in Kowloon. We found a stall selling fresh juice and all sorts of meats on skewers that the woman behind the counter deep-fries to order. Kelly had an orange-carrot juice. Whatever, loser – too bad they don’t sell Birkenstocks too. I went for the fried stuff. They had every variation of meat you can imagine – pink intestines curled in tight spirals and threaded on skewers, slices of spicy pork sausage, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, chicken livers, and what appeared to be small cross-sections of brain. I’m not sure what type of animal has this golf-ball-sized brain. Maybe dinosaur. Or Palin. I went with two skewers – one had torpedo-shaped dumplings with crab claws sticking out, so I was pretty confident about what meat product I’d be getting there, and the other had coin-shaped disks of a translucent white color. I figured either radish or some sort of seafood, and anyway, who cares – if it’s breaded and deep-fried, it’s gonna be good (it turned out to be scallops, and it was indeed good). Everyone gets their skewers handed to them on a metal plate and they eat them standing on the sidewalk near the counter. I, however, was given my skewers in a small plastic bag, which I took as a sign that the proprietor didn’t want a sweaty hulking tourist standing in front of her stall and scaring off customers. In defiance, I wolfed my skewers directly in front of her. The counter holds several different types of sauces in squirt bottles. I call these sauces Red, Other Red, Yellow, and Green. Red was a chili-garlic sauce – not too hot, and perfect on the crab torpedoes. Other Red was a killer chili oil that would've burned my face off had it not already been burnt off by the subtropical sun (and Retin-A). Yellow was a Chinese mustard. And Green, well, I saw a child try Green and start crying, so I stayed away. I figure Chinese kids know what’s what with hot sauces.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Me trying to hide a black eye with a dragon fruit

Today's challenge

Convincing Kelly that a white undershirt is inappropriate professorwear.

Felt cool today walking to the market and buying a dragon fruit, like I knew what I was doing; like I know what a dragon fruit is.

Day 3? 4?

Okay, I'm officially beatdown. We left Tuen Mun (the little town where we're staying and where the university is) a little bit after 8 this morning. We took the metro into Hong Kong (only had to transfer once), and commenced walking. And we walked. And walked. We went to a cafe and Kelly got a decent cup of coffee. Then we rode the world's longest escalator for what seemed like (and probably was) hours. It goes for a while, then there's a landing where you can get off, then it goes on. All along are shops and bars and restaurants, and if you want to go to one then you get off at the next landing and walk down to it. We had lunch at a vegetarian cafe that I'd read about, where I had was was one of the top ten sandwiches of my life. It was tofu on ciabatta with Thai peanut sauce, marinated carrots, and tons of veggies. It was magical. Then we walked some more. We walked over to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, where we saw many plants, many animals. We saw a buff-cheeked gibbon, a chimpanzee, a few sloths and, in one cage, two of the fattest raccoons I've ever seen. You couldn't even see their feet as they waddled over to their food bowls. Everyone seemed very excited to see them and they were taking photos. We just went to get popsicles.

I don't think that I've EVER sweated so much in my life. It was just pouring off of us. It made me feel good, however, when I noticed that even the Hong Kong-ers were walking around mopping their brows and had sweat stains all over their shirts. This humidity is BRUTAL. Do you know what it's like to take off your bra and wring it into a bucket??? Okay, well I don't either. But it's a metaphor, dammit.

Day three: some initial notes

Today Kelly woke up a little grumpy and we thought it might be a little bit of culture shock coming on, so we decided to go to Pizza Hut for lunch. We'd passed the Pizza Hut in the huge mall in Tuen Mun earlier in the week and thought it looked pretty good - really fancy though - flower arrangements, a maitre d' - the works. So we went. Holy crap - it's a different world. A few selections from the menu:

- Corn quesadillas with black truffle sauce
- French butterflied rack of lamb
- Norwegian salmon cooked in foil
- Various seafood soups served in puff pastry bowls
- Escargot

But thank god they also had what we came for - pizza. They have a few special toppings (crab sticks, cucumber, corn, curry beef) that we don't have in the states, but they had the tried and true as well. Now, here's one thing I've already noticed about Hong Kong - Thousand Island dressing is HUGE here. I mean HUGE. It's everywhere. So when we ordered our pizza, we had our choice between tomato sauce and 1000 Island. They even have a stuffed crust pizza that's "stuffed" with 1000 Island. Okay, I'm trying to be culturally sensitive, but ICK. Just...ick.

Strangely enough, I ordered a "cold lemon tea" that turned out to be sweet tea that tasted just like you'd get in the South and served in...wait for it...a MASON JAR. I don't know. I just don't know. I could not get any sort of cultural handle on this place at all.

Everybody orders in the Chinese style - they order tons of dishes, put them in the center of the table, and share them family-style. Kelly and I got a very strange look when all we ordered was one pizza. In our defense, though, it was a large pan pizza with mushrooms, green peppers, and extra cheese, and we DEMOLISHED it. I didn't even feel overly full - I think it's all the exercise we're getting. And yes, I know what you're thinking - the pizza tastes EXACTLY the same as it does in the U.S. Same sauce, same greasy crust, same everything. They even serve it with parmesan cheese in that glass shaker. I was so cheese-deprived that I just unscrewed the lid and dumped it on.

You know in the U.S. the pizza is served with parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper? Here it was served with the parmesan, a shaker of black pepper, and a bottle of tobasco sauce. I'm thinking that something got lost in translation when the corporate office was describing "hot red pepper", so Hong Kong ended up with hot red AND pepper.

We did some other shopping. I got some great rice crackers at the grocery store - they're called Want Want crackers. Maybe they're for babies or something. Kelly needed a converter and extension cord for his hard drive, so we searched all over the huge mall (six city blocks, three stories, EIGHT MILLION PEOPLE) and finally found one at a junk shop in a dirty corner. After a long sweaty trek home, he plugged it in and immediately blew a fuse. All outlets, the TV, the fridge - all dead. He refused to call maintenance until I pointed out that all our beer was going to get warm. That always does the trick.

Fear of germs is huge here. A lot of people wear surgical masks, and all of the elevators have signs posted saying how many times a day they're disinfected. Outside of our building where a welcome mat would be is a "disinfecting mat." I have no idea what this is or how/if it works.