Sunday, September 30, 2012

Words of wisdom?

If you've ever caught a minibus at the Hang Hau MTR station, you might've seen one of these handwritten missives taped up around the bus stops:

Dealing with everything from work to marriage to family to religion, new ones appear every few weeks or so.  Does anyone know who posts these or why?

UPDATE:  Apparently several of these appeared on Lamma Island last year (here's a brief write-up about it) and some have been spotted in Soho as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Street food - it probably won't kill you

I owe a lot to my parents.  They were supportive of my odd interests and patient when I was a bizarrely overdramatic teenager.  

I tried to rebel by shaving my head - they thought it was cool.  

I got a tattoo - my dad loved it and got one too.  

Sigh - the troubles of a first world rebel.  

But the the best thing they gifted me was a passion for travel.  

Not only that, but my father told me that no matter where I go, the street food will always be better than anything I can get in a restaurant.  And after traveling to 20-plus countries over I-don't-want-to-say-how-many years, I can say that his advice has never steered me wrong.

Case in point - in Taiyuan I had one of the best foods I've ever had ever: a thin pancake cooked on a hot griddle; when it started to bubble, the woman tending the stall broke the bubble with chopsticks and poured in some beaten eggs.  She then flipped over the pancake and smoothed out the eggs, let it brown, then basted it in not one, not two, but three different chili sauces, and then wrapped it around shredded sour & spicy potatoes, lettuce, green onions, and cilantro.  

No matter where you travel, there will always be people warning you away from eating the foods sold by street vendors - never mind that there are dozens of locals lined up who eat there every day and have somehow evaded death - you mustn't do it!   Don't listen.  Eat whatever the hell you want, enjoy it and go on your merry way, dancing past terrified tourists at the local McDonalds.  (Unless of course your local McDonalds happens to be featuring the seaweed-flavored "shake-shake fries".  In that case, go there.)

This is the food of the gods.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

A visit to the Taiyuan Walmart

During my trip to Taiyuan one of my lifelong dreams came true - I paid a visit to a Chinese Walmart.  And it was a wonderland.

It looked much the same, but the products were slightly different.  For example, the tanks of frogs and turtles in the meat section:

Or the pile of cooked... crayfish?... in the deli section:

Actually, the deli section was beautiful.  Here's an area where you pick some noodles and sauce:

And your toppings:

And then grab some bread to go with it, and you're golden:

Monks shopping for new dinnerware:

Chinese flags hanging over all of the displays of Japanese electronics (in reference to the recent Diaoyu Islands dispute with Japan):

And some of the glorious snacks I came away with - Oreos, in grape/peach, orange/mango, and birthday cake flavors:

Potato chips in "Numb and Spicy Hot Pot" flavor:

Or cucumber flavor:

And my favorite - a Pabst Blue Ribbon "World War Two Edition in Memory of US Army":

Yes we can!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mainland bound!

I'm headed to Taiyuan and Beijing this morning and hope to return with bucketloads of interesting photos, including the holy grail - me eating grilled scorpions.  I have been told they can be found at night markets, so that's my mission.  I also hope to get some photos of the anti-Japan violence and vandalism that's happening now - I'm curious as to whether it's as extensive as the media is saying.

Until I return, here is a photo of fish drying in the sun.  Enjoy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to buy a copy bag

For the first time in over a month we don't have any visitors staying with us.  Today I pooped with the bathroom door open and it was glorious.

I actually really like having guests because we get to do all of the touristy things that we usually ignore - the Peak, a ferry tour of the islands around Sai Kung, the Star Ferry, etc.  And when people say that they want to buy gifts or souvenirs, I head straight for Temple Street Night Market to buy the most iconic Hong Kong souvenir of all - a copy bag.*

The way it works is this: you wander through the market, walking past the stalls, until you hear someone say "Copy bag? Copy watch?" and you know you're in the right place.  The bags aren't actually in the stalls because they're, y'know, illegal, so you look through a handmade catalog, pick the handbag you want to see, and the market lady dispatches a runner to retrieve the bag from wherever her inventory is kept nearby.

You then look at the bag, she points out all of the ways that this is a quality bag ("good stitching!" "zipper!") and if you decide you want it then she quotes you an absurdly expensive price.  DO NOT EVER pay this price.  Offer a third of what she's asking and go from there.  And don't be afraid to walk away (actually, this can be a pretty good negotiating technique) and head to the next seller.

Recently my father-in-law was visiting and wanted a gift for his girlfriend, so we immediately headed to Temple Street. (Protip: do not try to drive there - it's a nightmare.  Take the MTR.)  We wandered the market until we heard the magical "Copy bag? Copy watch?" and headed in to talk to the lady.  She had a high-tech operation and had photos of the bags on her iPhone rather than in a physical catalog - very impressive.  My father-in-law is - of course - male, so all of the bags pretty much looked the same to him, so I chose a black Chanel bag and she sent her runner off to fetch it while we waited for him to return.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally we got tired of waiting and decided to move on, walking away while she yelled at our backs "two minutes!  two minutes!" (which she'd been saying for the last ten minutes).

A block and a half later, she came running up behind us yelling "bag!" so we returned to her stall to examine it.  It was a nice enough bag but my father-in-law wasn't impressed, so we declined.  She started to show us other bags on her phone but got frustrated when we seemed indecisive, so - and this was new to me - she offered to take us to where the bags were stored to look at her entire inventory.  I was a bit sketched out by this - images of mainland tourists being held hostage in jewelry shops until they buy something were running through my head - but my sweet naive husband said "Okay!"  Sigh.

Then she pointed and said "Only two."  Okay, only two of us could go.  The husband cheerily agreed to stay while his dad and I walked into certain death.  (Thanks honey!)

She led us to an old walk-up building where we climbed five stories in 130-degree heat, being admonished the whole way for making noise.  Step - step - step - "SHHHH!" - step - step - "SHHH!" until we came to a small flat.  This is the type of flat that's called a "coffin home" because it's the size of a single bed - no bigger.  But there was no bed, only bags from floor to ceiling.  Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Miu Miu, and on and on and on.  

We're sweating profusely and she's wildly pulling out bags for us to look at, shoving bag after bag in our faces, until we finally choose one (I'm not sure if it was because it was the one we liked best or if it was because we were incredibly close to passing out, but I tend towards the latter).  Then she quotes us the price - $1300 HKD.  Ha.  Hahaha.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Um, no.  We go back and forth a bit and I finally end up getting the bag for $500, which is probably still too much but hey - at least we're going to live through this.  

Then we walk back down to street level (complete with many more "SHHH!"s) and emerge with our copy bag firmly in hand.  To be honest I can't even remember what it looks like - the whole experience is a sweaty blur.  So yeah - that's how you buy a copy bag.  Now go forth and conquer in style.

* For the uninitiated, a copy bag is a counterfeit designer handbag.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Of course

There are two main supermarket chains in Hong Kong - Wellcome and Park 'N Shop. They generally carry the same stuff so there's no reason to choose one over the other, right?  WRONG.  Wellcome is almost always running a program where for every certain dollar amount you spend, you get a stamp.  Collect enough of these stamps and you can redeem them for various food- and kitchen-related things.  Over the years I've gotten a great chopping knife, some bowls, and a large soup pot.  Free stuff - nice!

The current promotion, however, is not exactly food related.  What is it?  The Angry Birds Happy Stamp Programme, of course!  That's correct - collect sixty stamps and receive one of these:

Yes.  An Angry Birds plushie.  

It also means that sometimes your husband will be out of town, you'll be too lazy to cook so you'll stop in to grab some sashimi and you'll find these guys blocking the entire sushi counter:

So you'll just grab a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine.  A couple of bottles of wine.  Whatever.

I have three of these so far.  I plan to collect all eight because I need more crap to take up space in my house.  

Now I'm sure you're saying to yourself, "But how can I collect them all?  These would go great with my Hello Kitty throw pillows and Doraemon bedsheets, but I don't spend enough to get all those stamps!" *sniff*

Two tips to get more stamps:

Tip # 1 - Spend over $350 on the weekends and get double stamps!  Buy all of your cheese and wine on Saturday or Sunday and come away with more stamps than you can count!  Saturdays and Sundays are also a good day to shop because that's when a lot of white tourists come to Sai Kung to picnic on the islands and they're all doing their shopping then.  Which leads me to the next tip...

Tip # 2 -  If you're behind a gweilo who (a) didn't bring his own cloth bag, (b) doesn't have an Octopus Rewards card, and (c) doesn't speak any Canto, he's probably a tourist.  When the cashier hands him his change, receipt, and stamps he'll take them, stare at everything blankly, and shove it all in his wallet.  Act quickly!  He has no idea what these stamps are and will simply throw them out when he gets home.  So ask if you can have them.  He's so overwhelmed with the intense pressure of trying to get everything packed up and out of there before too many people pile up behind him that he'll look relieved, shove them at you, and scurry away clutching his baguette and 4-pack of Heineken.  More stamps for you!

You're welcome and happy birding.