Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I'm a Superstar!

I didn't mention it earlier, because I was in denial, but now that it is over, I can brag.

A few weeks ago, the firm where I work received a request for proposal from the Hong Kong government. The Department of Justice was considering hiring our firm to recruit a lawyer for them. I had to prepare a large document outlining our firm’s skills, fees, experience, etc. Last week, my boss came in and congratulated me on the proposal because the government short-listed our firm and requested a face-to-face interview. My boss then asked me to prepare a Power Point presentation—OK, no problem. Then, after a few confused email exchanges, it was clear that my boss not only wanted me to prepare the presentation, but she actually wanted me to present it to the Hong Kong GOVERNMENT! Needless to say, I was nervous for the presentation, but also because it was my first real opportunity to shine in front of my boss and colleagues.

We just returned from the meeting, and I was awesome! I practiced it many times, and I didn’t bobble or hesitate once. Not to mention, I had the Power Point backed up on two flash drives, and there were no problems with the technology. I also had color copies of the presentation prepared in folders even before my boss asked. So I am feeling pretty great right now!

Hello Kitty is Thriving

Just in case you were wondering, Hello Kitty is alive and thriving here in Hong Kong. Unlike in the US, she is very much an adult love--not just for little girls. A woman in my office recently wore a sweater with a big, embroidered Hello Kitty on it (the dress code in my office is rather formal, so she must have considered this a nice sweater). The other day, I saw a woman on the train who was dressed very professionally, but was carrying a Hello Kitty handbag. It was a high-quality, leather bag with quilting in the shape of Hello Kitty and some flowers and hearts. The Hello Kitty merchandise isn't cheap, so I guess some consider it a status symbol. I have seen numerous Hello Kitty suitcases. Here are a few pictures I took for proof:

The Hello Kitty sugar cookie tin for Chinese New Year.

The Hello Kitty flower arrangement with a large mum making the face. I have to admit I think this is cute.

Edited to add a picture of Hello Kitty cake/muffin mix.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Standard Weekend

I am trying to post more, even if it is mundane ramblings. The weekend was good but busy as always. I bought an iPod and I am loving it. As Erik and Emily attest, it really does give you a sense of personal space in a crowded city, however, I seem to be oblivious to everything including people talking to me.

On Saturday after my classes, Erik and I went to a new Spanish restaurant right by our house, and it was so tasty. Then he flew to Germany.

Next week is Chinese New Year, which starts on Thursday, February 8. I have off on Thursday and Friday, yeah! We are learning a lot about this, the most important holiday in the Chinese culture. I will write a few more blogs about everything I've learned. Also, I'll post some photos of all the decorations, as most public spaces are decorated. On Friday, the second day, there will be a huge fireworks display in the harbour, and we should have a primo view for it. As a result, we are having a party. Our Christmas party was all westerners, so this party is going to be mostly Chinese. The guests are primarily Erik's team from Gore, all of whom I know. To be nice and accommodating, I am serving all Asian food at the party, and I am daunted by the prospect of it. Virtually all of the dishes I've planned will be new recipes meaning I've never cooked them before. Wish me luck!

Here is the planned menu:
5-spice nuts
shrimp crackers (purchased)
assortment of pickled radishes/kimchee (purchased)
Asian inspired crudite w/Asian dipping sauce
sushi (purchased)
Chinese chicken wings (chicken wings are very popular here)
fried shrimp balls
steamed veggie dumplings
lettuce wraps with chicken & noodle salad
warm crab rangoon dip (Americanized interpretation of a Chinese dish)
BBQ pork (purchased)
fresh fruit
Chinese candies (purchased)
cake? (purchased)

Due to the party, on Sunday, I spent the whole day shopping for stuff for it. More accurately, I spent the whole day shopping with the excuse of looking for party stuff. Entertaining at home is very rare here, so finding things like cocktail napkins is pretty tough. One of the dishes I am making is steamed vegetable dumplings, so I needed to buy a bamboo steamer. You would think this would be an item readily available here, but no. The steamers are rather "old school" so the department stores don't carry them; you have to go to a small mom-and-pop shop. I am thrilled I got them with help of directions from my co-worker. I should have taken a picture of the store (will do next time I'm in Causeway Bay) because you would never expect it to have bamboo steamers. The whole shop was about the size of my closet in the townhouse. I also bought a wok, but got it at Ikea since it had a nice steamer attachment.

Since Erik is away, I made myself a treat, macaroni & cheese, which believe it or not, Erik doesn't really like--so weird. I had to buy some flour for it and the biggest bags sold here are so tiny (many things are tiny). You can see from the picture, it isn't much bigger than my palm, more the size of a bag of coffee. I am also posting two pictures of artful produce, both of which happened naturally. I wasn't trying to arrange them in a cool or attractive way. Note the oranges and tomatoes: that whole platter of stuff cost HK$15, or around US$2, and it was delicious.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dreary Day

Edited to show a picture of the soup. This one has vegetable wontons on top. The dark spots are the chili oil and there is a bit of oyster sauce on the spoon which is for the vegetables.

It is cold and rainy here today. I am guessing it is in the low 50s--very raw. Since we've been here, 5 months, I can't remember the last time it steadily rained. I am not sure it has. There have been a few misty days or a very brief shower, but not a truly rainy day. It will be rainier in the spring. I am sure some of you think I am a wimp for complaining about 50 degrees, but remember, there is no heat in all of Hong Kong, so it is tough to get warm.

It is Friday evening here, and tonight Erik has a business dinner for the third consecutive Friday. It stinks for me to come home to an empty apartment after a long week of work. Also, he leaves tomorrow for a week's trip to Germany. I am debating if I should deal with the cold and rain to get a foot massage, or just go straight home. Foot massages are one of the lovely things about Hong Kong; inexpensive and very pleasurable. In the US, we would call it reflexology, since "foot massage" sounds a little erotic. Tonight is the perfect weather for Chinese noodle soup, which I have at least once a week. There are different versions, but the one I get most often is a rich chicken stock with long noodles, and the popular "Chinese broccoli", which is commonly referred to as 'vegetable' and it actually very close to broccoli rabe. I add a tiny bit of hot chili oil for a kick. Yum! The small place in Jordan sells a big bowl of this soup for HK$13 which is less than $2.

Tomorrow I resume my Chinese lessons. I haven't looked at it in 6 weeks, so I need to study tonight! For those who don't know, the lessons are one-on-one and the teachers will not speak English to you. It is very intense, especially for an hour and a half.

Regardless of the yucky day, it is now 6:00 p.m. on Friday, and I am happy to be heading home. Happy Weekend :-)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekend Sights In Jordan

I realize I need to post more pictures of Hong Kong city life. It is tough to get good shots when I don't want to appear as a tourist. I know many of you want to see those "foreign" things and those cultural idiosyncrasies that make China different from the US. So this weekend, I took the camera out-n-about with me around Jordan, which is the area near our apartment. Jordan is fairly "local style" meaning you don't see much western influence.

Pedestrian street in Jordan

Two ladies cleaning shellfish in the street. There are a lot of outdoor restaurants in this area. In the evening, there will be tables and chairs set up where they are working. I don't think we have eaten at this one, but have tried a few and they are really good. Most have live seafood.

Produce delivered to the street restaurant. This is probably for the same place where the ladies were cleaning the shellfish, as it was right near them.

Yau Ma Tei wet market where I get produce.

Lemon branches and decorations for Chinese New Year.

Vendor painting "double happiness" character on coconuts.

In the pot is kimchee, pickled cabbage. I think it is originally a Korean food. It seems to always be sold in broken pots totally exposed to the funk of the market. Note how this pot is being held together by what appears to be a bicycle inner tube--Chinese are industrious.

On the walkway near our apartment, a dog in a Chinese dress. I asked the woman owner if I could take a picture of her dog, and she beamed of pride. Taste is so personal.

Friday, January 18, 2008


After a long stint of denial, I am finally acknowledging that I am homesick. I don't want to be homesick, but I am. I genuinely love living in Hong Kong and am enjoying the experience. It is not that I wish I were still in the US, but I do miss my family and familiar things. As a result, I am coming to the US over Easter. It was a difficult decision, but now that the ticket is booked, I am excited. The difficulty is that I only have 20 days of vacation and using time to come to the US means I have less time to visit exciting and exotic Asian places. I will be traveling alone, for two reasons; Erik isn't as homesick as me, and he will most likely travel to the US in the spring for work.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Working Hard

I haven't posted recently because I have been working very hard. My job is demanding and quite tedious. I hope it eases up once I get more in the groove. As a result, I have been wiped out in the evenings and haven't been motivated to post. Also, I have had many weekday evening commitments.

The past two weekends have been casual and we have really settled into a routine reminiscent of how we used to spend our time. On Saturday, I took my first jewelry class. It was wonderful. I am excited to learn some advanced techniques. Soon, I will have a small work space set up in the apartment, and I already unpacked all my stuff in preparation. I just need to buy some supplies from my jewelry teacher. Erik is working on a cool photography project using his $5.00, 45-year-old Polaroid camera.

So far, I have done pretty well with my resolution to exercise, and it feels very good. Near our apartment, there is a park with a track, which I estimate to be about 1.5 miles long. I am running in and out (~3 miles) on the weekends. I am taking a trial yoga class this week. It is hard to believe that we have lived here for four months and only now explored the park.

Additionally, I am trying to make some friends of my own, not only Gore people. So far, so good. Last Thursday, I had an enjoyable evening with my Chinese friend Wenny. I will continue to reach out to folks even though it isn't my nature.
West Kowloon park sign. You can see our building behind the sign and the new ICC building on the left. It will be the tallest building in Hong Kong when complete--I think about 120 floors. When we first looked at the apartment 6 months ago, it was much shorter than our building. It is 98 floors tall in this picture--they have a sign to mark the height.
Me in the park looking at the harbour.
View of the park from our balcony.
On Saturday, there was a concert in the industrial area below our apartment. It should give some perspective on how high up we are. The music was very loud even 67 floors up.
We have had some nice sunsets recently, which is a rarity here.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Influential Book

Editing to ad this recent interview with the author in SF Chronicle.

I just finished the non-fiction book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and it has impacted me greatly. The book analyzes our modern, global food chain and how it effects what we eat, our health, and our attitude towards food. The focus is primarily on the United States' food culture. Before reading this book, I had contemplated many of the differences in food culture between the US and Hong Kong. Here are some of my observations about the food culture here: meals and eating are an event, virtually no processed food, demand for impeccably fresh food, eating is a pleasure, lots of carbs are consumed, there are no "bad" foods, and of course, most people are thin. The book eloquently discusses why Americans are so different and worse off as a result.

In China, there is a strong reality about eating animals. Almost all meat (I am including seafood) is served on the bone and with the head. Meat is purchased from butchers who proudly display the heads and intestines of the animal, and all seafood is purchased live. If you buy a fish, it will be killed in front of you so you can ensure its freshness. There are also many places that have live chickens. Pollan takes a hard look at meat eating and vegetarianism. Since coming to Hong Kong, I have gravitated back to a mostly vegetarian diet, or more accurately, a pescatarian diet, eating seafood, but no meat. The book has really emphasized my desire to eat less or no meat, but don't misunderstand, the book does not encourage vegetarianism, but simply analyzes the pros and cons. That said, I am also concerned about the safety of seafood especially after reading this New York Times article.

I used to make fun of my parents a bit, especially my Mom with her hippy food philosophies garnered from Diet for a Small Planet, but Mom, I think you are right. The Omnivore's Dilemma may be my generation's version of Diet for a Small Planet. Unfortunately, some of those 60s food fears may be coming into actuality, just more subtly. Again, I don't want to imply The Omnivore's Dilemma is a scare tactic, because it is not. It is simply an in-depth look at the food supply and culture.

I can not express how much I enjoyed the book, and I STRONGLY encourage all of you to read it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 2008 should be a great year since the number 8 is my favorite number and is a lucky number in Chinese culture. Also, it is the year of the rat, and Erik and I are both rats. I always like New Year's and a fresh start. I enjoy making resolutions and like the feeling of positive things on the horizon. We are both eager to establish a life routine in Hong Kong. Up until very recently, our lives have been more reactionary than planned. We need to get back to our hobbies and sense of “home-life.” When reflecting back on 2007, we deemed it “The Year of Hong Kong” since the whole year was focused on the concept, planning, and execution of moving here. Now we can exhale.

Over the weekend, I got sick again. I have been sick three times in the four months of living here, which is horrible. I am a healthy person and would only be sick 1-2 times per year in the US, at the most. It is just a bad cold with maybe a touch of the flu since I feel feverish. I am confident the increase in illness is due to being around so many people in so many public places. I am careful to wash my hands and not touch my face, but it isn’t working. In Hong Kong, there are lots of public service advertisements focused on not spreading germs. People do wear surgical masks here, but contrary to what you may think, the sick people wear the masks to be polite and not spread germs. I am like a child who first goes to daycare. So, one of my resolutions is to do what I can to keep healthy, including taking my vitamins.

Since I was sick, we were low-key for New Year's Eve. I was supposed to work on Monday, but I called out sick. On New Year’s Eve we had a nice dinner at home and watched the fireworks from our balcony. The next day, New Year’s Day, we had a nice Chinese lunch in the mall by our apartment and did a little shopping. For dinner I made lasagna with homemade sauce. It was very tasty.

Love, happiness, and prosperity to all for 2008!