Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Just another day in the New Territories

Out grocery shopping on a rainy morning.  Stop at a sheltered bench to consult my list.  Beside me is an elderly man wearing a poncho and using a handsaw to cut a plastic cooler in half.  Parked nearby he has a shopping cart with a half-dead palm tree.  He's listening to a portable radio tuned to white noise at full volume.  And that's the news from Sai Kung.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Welcome committee

A bride and groom arrive home to a public housing estate on a rainy morning in Sai Kung.  Here you can see the boring side of the Chinese wedding - photos upon photos upon photos, the bride and groom posing for photos that will eventually be put in an album that no one will look at - similar to Western weddings.  Only five or six photographers for a wedding here is shocking - this must be a wedding on a budget:

And the dancers waiting in the rain for the bride and groom to arrive:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Well, that wasn't quite what I was hoping for

In the past decade Hong Kong has discovered wine in a big way.  Wine auctions, wine bars, the "Food and Wine Month", wine tours, tastings, classes, etc. etc.  But good beer has been slow to catch on.  There are the standards available at almost every bar - Blue Girl, Carlsberg, Tsing Tao, and Hoegaarden - but good craft beers and microbrews have been difficult to find.  With a few exceptions (The Globe on Graham Street in Soho and last year's Beertopia festival) we've been starved for decent beer.

So you can imagine how I felt when I saw this post on the Beertopia facebook page - 

An American beer festival?  I'm in!  I called a few friends and we agreed to meet up to wallow in American beeriness.  Yessss!

It started at 3:00 and I was a bit concerned about getting in (Beertopia sold out quickly and it filled up the entire Western Market), but we couldn't get there until 5:00.  But we got in.  Oh, we got in.  It was deserted.  It was us, the employees and a tipsy beer distributor.

Okay, that's fine.  There are still good beers and maybe other people are coming later.  

As you can see from the flyer, it cost $150 to get in.  Essentially, that $150 bought you three tickets, each of which was redeemable for a beer (that's pretty reasonable for HK) but it also bought you a ticket to win one of the raffle prizes.  

Over the course of the evening each of the four of us bought two sets of tickets and nobody else came to the "festival".  So with eight tickets between us we felt pretty assured of winning some prizes and decided to stay until 10pm for the raffle.  Remember this for later.

While waiting we decided to order some food.  It was so horribly prepared that I only recovered from my shock enough to take one photo.  Behold the "nachos":

This consisted of about seventeen chips, only one of which had (about half a teaspoon of cold rubbery) cheese.  The chips themselves were greasy and chewy.  Chewy.  Chewy chips.  These "nachos" were accompanied by four small bowls, each containing appoximately 1.5 tablespoons of sour cream, chopped tomatoes, some watery "salsa", and something I can't remember because I was in a haze of disbelief.

Other dishes were the risotto balls (cold in the middle and relatively flavorless), and the "cheese fries" (decent fries that were covered in a watery orange sauce that resembled cheese the way that a stillborn kitten resembles a tiger).

Oh - and that raffle?  10:00 came and went so we wandered into the bar area to find the now incredibly drunk beer distributor and all of the employees had "won" the prizes.  

They scrambled around and gave us a six-pack of beer to split between the four of us.  

Overall grade: decent beer list, but go to The Globe instead.  In her drunken blathering the beer distributor told me that they have most of the same beers, and the Globe has better (actually, excellent) food.  

You have been warned.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Where to put your money

Worried about the Chinese property bubble?  Don't know how to invest?  Well here.

Problem solved - both for nervous investors and for the thousands of China's "leftover women."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Of sneaky waiters and rubik's cubes

Hanging with a Chinese friend, at loose ends and peckish in Taiyuan one night, we asked hotel staff for a good local restaurant.  True to form, they directed us to a two story monstrosity of the "Dragon Ate a Barrel of Gold Leaf Washed it Down with Some Red Paint Then Vomited on a Large Building" school of design.  But unlike the cavernous and generally deserted "best restaurant in town" tourist traps that we're usually sent to, this one was actually packed with locals and looked promising.  We looked over the menu - very reasonable prices! beautiful photos! - and ordered a few dishes (including fried bunny and stewed "wild chicken").

We were with Kelly, of course, so we ordered a few vegetarian dishes.  Some great tofu, some greens, and then - fatal mistake - we asked the waiter to recommend one other dish.  He described a fungus dish to us and said it was very good so we ordered it at once.  The food came and the waiter was right - some of the best mushrooms I've ever had!  It was quite a small portion - enough for each of the three of us to have a few bites - but they were tender, meaty, savory.

An hour later, full of bunnies and veggies and beer, we signaled for the check and the waiter brought it over.  Wow - that fried rabbit was only $38 RMB!  Those greens?  Only $20 RMB!  So reasonabl- SCREECH

That tiny dish of mushrooms was $340 RMB.  What. The. Hell.

We called the waiter back over and our mainland friend began a long and heated dialogue in Putonghua, which to me sounded like this:

Waiter:  Smiley smile smiley smiley SMILE
Friend: ANGRY!
Waiter (throws hands up): SMILE (wanders away)

manager wanders over

Friend: ANGRY!
Manager: Smiley smile point smile (wanders away)

Apparently our friend tried to get the dish taken off our bill.  No chance.  He then demanded a receipt, in the hopes that the university (we were at an academic conference) would reimburse us for the bill.  The manager said she couldn't give us a receipt, but directed us to an office in the basement that might be able to help us.  Okaaaay...

We trek down a dark stairwell to the basement and approach a tiny window, where more ANGRY/SMILEY negotiations take place.  I see the man in the window offer something to our friend, who shakes his head angrily and points at something else, and the man then hands something over.  Success!  We've got our receipt!

Apparently the man would not issue us a receipt but as compensation for our trouble we were offered the choice of a tiny rubik's cube or a mini flashlight.  Our friend drove a hard bargain and we walked away with both.

And surreal China rolls on.