Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Total proficiency

Kelly and I just had a complete conversation in Cantonese. Our vocabulary has progressed to this point:

Me: Do you want beer?
Kelly: No.
Me: I want beer. Do you have money?
Kelly: I don't have.
Me: Dammit!

(but I got beer anyway.)

Pantyhose tea

I'd read about Lan Fong Yuen so much that we had to try it - this is the dai pai dong that's rumored to have the best milk tea in Hong Kong - they strain the tea several times through something that resembles a silk stocking. Maybe it is a silk stocking. I don't know.

We went yesterday for the milk tea and fabled pork chop bun:

We also had the peanut butter toast with condensed milk:

And there was a film crew documenting the famous tea:

A very good tea snack. Afterwards we trolled the market nearby, but only bought some peppers.

Halloween decorations:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When life gives you purple potatoes...

Last night Kelly decided he would cook dinner. This is bad because (1) he doesn't know how to cook, and (2) when he does decide to cook, he bases his dish on ingredients that he thinks are "cool." So last night's dinner was mashed Japanese purple sweet potatoes. He made these by microwaving the hell out of them, then smooshing them around a bowl with a lot of butter and some milk. I choked some down, but needless to say we had tons of leftovers. So with my mad culinary skills (and the addition of some secret ingredients), I used those leftovers for dinner tonight. Please allow me to present purple sweet potato croquettes and sauteed greens with hot peppers and garlic:

And that, my friends, is how it's done.

More food and drink

Yesterday was the Chung Yeung festival - a day when families visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. This didn't affect us in any way except that it's a public holiday, so the university was closed and Kelly didn't have to teach. We spent the afternoon at the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware in Hong Kong park. There are tons of teapots from different time periods, information on the process of brewing tea, and a video showing a potter making what is possibly the ugliest teapot in existence.

After the museum, we went to the teahouse next door to try some different types of tea. The teahouse:

I had "jasmine fairy" tea - a bundle of jasmine flowers and green tea that "blooms" when hot water is poured over it:

Kelly had a 20-something-year-old pu'er tea that tasted exactly like the pot liquor left after cooking collard greens. I loved it, but it was too weird for Kelly so I ended up drinking it all.

The tea-making process - first you pour hot water in the pot to warm it. You dump that, then pack the pot 3/4 full of tea leaves. Pour hot water over the leaves and immediately pour it out - this is "rinsing the tea." Next, pour hot water over the rinsed tea leaves and put the lid on the pot. While the tea steeps for 1-2 minutes, pour hot water over the outside of the pot to maintain the temperature. The brewed tea is then poured into another teapot so it doesn't sit too long with the leaves and become bitter. The pot of tea, pot of leaves, and a teacup are brought to you. When you want more tea, you take the top off the pot of leaves and it's refilled with hot water.

After tea and dim sum we needed more food and drink, so we headed to a dai pai dong in Central. Dai pai dongs are outdoor food stalls. Our favorite was closed for the holiday, but there are several places in the same alley, so we tried a new one - and got lucky. Apparently the place we tried is a favorite of some famous food critic. We had beef with pepper sauce, garoupa with some other sort of sauce, che che chicken (chicken and pig liver cooked in a clay pot with spring onions - the "che che" refers to the sound the lid of the pot makes when it bubbles), stir-fried morning glory (which is the same as water spinach), fried tofu with spiced salt, and congee (a rice porridge). All very good. Our restaurant:

The chef (note the hooks of intestines and fish heads):

And the rat that kept running by our feet:

I tossed him some tofu, but he didn't care for it. Many years ago when I was in Uganda, I saw a white person give a bag of apples to a woman begging for food and money. The beggar began pelting the white guy with apples and nailed him a couple of times in the head before he could get out of range, I suppose because when you're chronically hungry, apples aren't really the sort of food you're looking for. I'm pretty sure if the rat could've thrown the tofu at me, he would have. But tofu's softer than apples, so it probably would've been okay.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Peak

Saturday night we rode the tram to the top of Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's highest mountain. The tram was built in 1888 and climbs at what seems like a 45-degree angle straight up the side of the mountain. On the tram:

Once at the top, you're greeted with breathtaking views of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor, and Kowloon:

And a guy in a shrimp suit outside the Bubba Gump restaurant. This is Hong Kong at its most awe-inspiring.

We wandered around, had a beer and some french fries (I voted for grilled squid but was vetoed), then rode the tram back down. In search of dinner, we passed a 7-11 where I saw Elvis looking at magazines. He was kind enough to strike a pose so I could snap a photo:

For dinner we ended up at a Mexican place called (I think) Cafe Iguana, where I had the best carne asada I've had outside of Mexico.

A friend had heard of a new bar in Soho called Bourbon that serves, well, bourbon, so we ventured over because Kelly's been in serious bourbon withdrawl. This place had exposed brick walls, posters of B.B. King, Muddy Waters blasting from the stereo, they served pulled pork sandwiches and steak, and would've felt totally authentic had it not been so clean. Bourbon and onion rings:

After a couple of beers we hiked home (it was after midnight so the escalator was turned off - this is always very sad). We were kind of drunk and got sucked into watching "Titanic" on HBO, but Kelly is very embarrassed about it so I told him I wouldn't tell anyone. I'm pretty sure he cried.

Indian Village

The area we live in is packed with great restaurants. Unfortunately, most of them cater to the rich white bankers who don't mind paying hundreds of dollars for a meal that would, at the bottom of the hill, be a third of that price. So we try not to go out much around here. Luckily, we've discovered an Indian place right by our house that is cheap and unbelievably tasty. It's a hole-in-the-wall with a friendly owner and a couple of tables on the sidewalk so you can sit outside and watch Hong Kong happen.

Roasted papadum with mint sauce:

Malai kofta (vegetable croquette stuffed with indian cheese, fruit and cashews in some sort of creamy sauce) and bhindi masala (roasted okra and onions with spices):

The best and cheapest Indian food we've had so far.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bacon and the swine flu

Well, Kelly's pulled through his weekend of fever, chills, moaning, and profuse sweating. He was down with the flu and didn't get out of bed for two days. I told him that if his fever got to 103 that I'd take him to the doctor, but luckily it topped out at 102.8 so no action was necessary (besides waking him up every few hours to take his temperature, wipe his sweaty head, and force him to drink the Japanese version of gatorade - Pocari Sweat). Now, of course, I'm sick, so I took myself to the doctor today. This is how the doctor works here: First you call -

Me: I'd like to see a doctor today.
Receptionist: What time?
Me: Um, one o'clock? (it was 12:15 when I called)
Receptionist: Okay, one o'clock. Bye bye!

Then you walk over to the doctor's office, which takes about five minutes. You walk in, give them your health insurance card, sit down for about thirty seconds, the doctor calls you in, checks you out, asks you what sorts of medicine you want, and you're out of his office in six minutes. Then you check out and pay 10 HK dollars (about $1.28 US), they give you all your medicines (no extra charge) and you're done. One quick stop to buy fried noodles and limeade, and you're home in 30 minutes. Amazing.

Since Kelly and I have been sick and haven't left the house in several days, we've had time to closely observe our neighbor. She's a 30-something woman, American or British, who until this point was remarkable only in the huge numbers of wine bottles she dumps in the trash every few days. Her windows are close to ours, so when she has them open we can get hints of what's going on in her place. It's been cool the past few days and she's had them open, so we now know more details about her schedule. Well, actually all we know is that every morning starts with the smell of bacon (a LOT of bacon) frying. This is closely followed by the smell of cigarettes. Then she gets quiet for a while. I can only assume that the wine drinking begins in the early afternoon. The evening is marked by the trek past our door with the bag of wine bottles. And then we just settle in and wait for tomorrow. Man, now I want some bacon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blood on the escalator

Saturday night we spent the evening with a few friends at Makumba, an African bar in Soho that has live music from a really great Senegalese band. I was tired early, so I left everybody at the bar around midnight and headed home. As I was about to get on the escalator, I passed two guys - I'll call them Big White Guy and Tiny White Guy. It seemed that Big White Guy was severely inebriated, and Tiny White Guy had walked him to the escalator to put him on his way home. As I walked by, I heard Tiny White Guy say, "Have a good weekend" and Big White Guy reply "Bofmm gleah." This is when I first sensed trouble.

Big White Guy got on the escalator shortly after me. When I was about halfway up, I heard a thunk - just a small one. I turned just in time to see Big White Guy stagger down a step, then pass out cold, falling straight backwards like a big white tree. As the escalator continued going up, he kept sliding down, so each new step slammed into his head. The motion of the escalator caused his body to rotate, so he was face down with each step now slamming into his face. This was awesome.

But alas, it couldn't go on forever. I sprinted to the top of the escalator and hit the emergency stop button, then yelled at some random white guys to help me. They sauntered over and vaguely pulled out their phones and shuffled their feet as I ran back down the escalator to grab Big White Guy's ankles so he wouldn't slide down headfirst into the concrete at the bottom. At some point, Tiny White Guy must've heard the commotion, because he came running back. He immediately went into macho crisis panic mode, yelling "mate! mate!" and patting his friend's face. Okay, whatever. True, the guy was bleeding profusely from a nasty head wound and a broken nose, and true he was unconscious, but he was clearly breathing. It made me very happy that Tiny White Guy had to use his tiny Armani jacket to soak up the blood that was gushing from his friend's head.

So I crouched there on the escalator holding Big White Guy's ankles for a while, the whole time cursing myself for leaving the house without my camera. What the hell was I thinking? Eventually Big White Guy woke up and we got him into a sitting position. He kept mumbling that his head hurt. I laughed and told him to wait until tomorrow, which earned me a nasty look from Tiny White Guy and a great sense of personal satisfaction.

Once the police came, I figured most of the action was over, so I sprinted back to Makumba to tell everybody about my adventure. They were fairly sloshed, so the story was exceptionally well-received.

I love it here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Foods for Halloween

This is a Buddha's Hand - it's a citron with very little juicy flesh and a strong lemony smell.

The peel is candied or it's used as an air freshener. Or that's what I'd heard. So I went across the harbor to Kowloon to track one down, brought it home, and, well, I guess it could scent a room. In a dollhouse. Or maybe if you got a couple of hundred and suspended them from the ceiling of a very small and unventilated room.

These are some creepy-looking mushrooms I've been wanting to try.

I added them to a stir-fry last night and, while they seemed to have no discernible flavor, they looked like worms, so the experiment was a success.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stanley Market pub crawl

Yesterday Kelly and I took a 30-minute bus ride to Stanley Market, on the southern side of the island. Word is that this market used to be a great place to find deals but is now too touristy. That's the word on pretty much every place we've been so far, so we tend to just ignore it. The market itself is in a warren of tiny intersecting streets and alleys, and sells the usual trinkets and beads that we've seen at other places. One exciting find - a Salvation Army thrift store. I found a sleeveless men's button-down shirt for Kelly and an embroidered panda bear that looked to have some sort of facial deformity for me, but was prohibited from purchasing either from the holder of the wallet.

Shopping may be poor, but the market's on Stanley Bay, so after exploring a bit you can sit at one of the numerous bars along the promenade and watch boats scoot around the harbor.

Here is Kelly looking very somber at the first bar we stopped at. He looked much happier a few bars later.

This is the "burger" at the third bar we went to, which was really just some plastic tables set out on the sidewalk. This may mark the first time in history that I've left a burger half-eaten. I'm fairly positive that this was not beef. I'm unsure as to exactly what it was.

After several additional beers (I was lobbying for a switch to hard liquor, to kill any parasites I might have ingested with the "burger", but was again denied by the walletholder), we wandered back towards the bus stop. We hopped on the bus and headed back towards town. I allowed drunk Kelly to hold the camera. Here is one from his 45-shot series that I'm pretty sure he calls "Oh My God Ellen Check This Out No I'm Serious Look At This ThisISSOCOOL":

We hadn't been on the bus long when we passed a Thai restaurant on the beach. We hit the button, barreled down from the top deck of the bus, scaring the crap out of the driver, and jumped off. It was a nice place with a pretty view of the beach.

Kelly didn't eat, but I was hungry (after only ingesting half of the "burger") so I had a really good green papaya salad with big chewy chunks of dried shrimp. The meal was greatly enhanced by the old fat white guy sitting near us with his son and daughter-in-law. He gave an enlightening treatise on how "the yellows" have a different business sense from us, and then tried to teach his toddler granddaughter to order "stinky rice" instead of sticky rice. I learned a lot from that man.

Here we are being kind of drunk in the dark on the restaurant patio.

After that we headed home, where I turned in and Kelly stayed up late watching HBO and eating all of the snacks in the house. This is our usual routine.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Strange fruit and overpriced handbags

This is an atemoya. It looks like a dinosaur egg/hand grenade hybrid, and tastes like perfume made of gummi bears worn by god.

This is a segment of a pomelo - traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn festival due to its resemblance to the moon. Not so good.

The holidays continue for mainland Chinese, who have about a week off for national day and the Mid-Autumn festival. Many, many of them are spending their holiday (and money) in Hong Kong. In this morning's paper there was a photo of a line of people waiting to get into the Louis Vuitton store. Not waiting for it to open, but waiting to get in - there were so many people loading up on ugly handbags that they couldn't all fit in at one time. This is one of the strangest things I've seen in Hong Kong.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I walk by this apartment every day, and really love the bougainvillea that grows by the laundry.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fire dragon!

Last night we went to Tai Hang in Causeway Bay to check out the Fire Dragon Dance. According to legend, sometime in the 1800s a huge python was found in Tai Hang. The villagers killed it, but the next morning its body was gone. Shortly thereafter, a mysterious plague began killing the men of the village. An old man had a dream in which he was told to make a large dragon stuffed with grass and covered with incense, so the villagers gave it a try and the plague ended. Or at least that's what I've pieced together from skimming various newspaper articles while watching the Asian Food Network on tv.

We were a bit late getting to the dance because we stopped for indian food. At an irish pub. We had heard rumors that the 350-pound Filipino owner often demonstrates his breakdancing ability by doing the worm across the bar floor, but saw no evidence of it.

By the time we got to Tai Hang, the streets were jammed, so we couldn't really see the dragon. We mainly just got pictures of other people taking pictures.

Kelly bought me an inflatable dragon head, so we took lots of pictures of that instead.

Next, it was on to the lantern carnival.

I particularly liked the bathrooms - I don't know if those pandas are supposed to be using the toilet, but I hope so.

Breakfast this morning: spam and egg bun!