Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu

I will preface by saying at this point, I am not concerned about Swine Flu, and there are no reported cases in Asia. The warning to avoid crowded places was rather laughable for Hong Kong residents considering how crowded the city and mass transportation are. That said, I was feeling very unsettled yesterday when I went a huge trade show attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the world. The large posters everywhere urging people who felt sick to go the First Aid room didn’t provide any comfort, nor did the plethora of hand sanitizer bottles.

It is very interesting to see and hear Hong Kong residents’ reaction to Swine Flu, because they vividly remember the horror of SARS. I have heard numerous stories of how truly awful that time was. People are stocking up on face masks and are anxiously watching the news. Actually, Hong Kong may be the best place to ride out the Swine Flu scare/pandemic, because the city has been there, done that. In Hong Kong, and especially China, it is not considered rude to cough or sneeze without covering your mouth, and public spitting is very common. So far, I’m feeling fine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Beijing

In addition to the Forbidden City, we also visited the Summer Palace which was more enjoyable due to the serenity and natural beauty. Another highlight of the trip was having a Peking Duck dinner at Li Qun which is THE most famous Peking Duck restaurant. It is where Anthony Bourdain went when he visited Beijing. We made a reservation for 7:30, and when we arrived, there was a huge line of people. The hostess put our name at the bottom of a long list to which we argued that we had a reservation. She yelled back, all in Mandarin, that everyone had a reservation! We waited for almost 2 hours until we sat down. This is a rather typical scenario in China. It was worth the wait. I’m not a huge fan of duck, but Li Qun was excellent. (Note the cabinet full of ducks behind Erik) Before the Li Qun dinner, we had a bit of time to kill and got coerced into taking a rickshaw ride. It was the best turn of events for the whole trip. Li Qun is located in a Hutong, the old traditional Chinese houses of Beijing. Hutongs consist of small alleys formed by walled courtyards encircling several small homes. We had already seen some Hutongs the day before, but this rickshaw driver took us to some very private areas. At the end of the tour, he walked us into a Hutong where he knew the family. We sat around their dinner table and shared some food and beer with them. It was completely cool. This was an incredibly unique experience and one that would not have been possible if we didn’t know some Chinese. At the restaurant Source, we had a fabulous Sichuan dinner also in a beautifully restored Hutong. Of course, we visited the snack food lane where they have some bazaar treats. No, we didn’t try anything weird. Luckily, we were able to see the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium and the Pool Cube from the highway on our way to the Summer Palace—way cool. We were very surprised by the funky little boutiques and coffee shops around the Bell and Drum Towers in downtown Beijing and bought a few unique items. As expected, the air pollution was horrible, except for the last day when the sky was actually blue. We could have used at least one more day, so it gives us a good excuse to return.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beijing

We went to Beijing over our 4-day Easter holiday. It was a wonderful trip and exceeded our expectations. The weather was beautiful, and the spring trees were in full bloom, reminding me of the US east coast at this time of year. Our Chinese certainly came in handy, and we did pretty good communicating with people, although Erik is much better than me. The highlight was of course seeing the Great Wall. We went to a more remote area called Simatai (over a 2 hour drive from Beijing) where the wall isn’t as restored as other parts, and it is less touristy. There was some fog and mist which added to the mystique of the place. Me and our "guides". These ladies latched onto us when we first arrived and followed us the whole time even though we told them repeatedly we did not want a guide or to buy the souvenirs they were selling. It is really impossible to shake these "guides", and it happened to us in India too. In the end, we had plesant chats with them and bought their souvenirs.
Tiananmen Square was viewed from across the street of the Forbidden City. There isn’t much to see at Tiananmen Square, but the Forbidden City, the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, is massive. There were tons of tour groups there. One of several requests to have my picture taken--I think it's the blonde hair.

More to come.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Birthday Celebrations

I succeeded in stretching my birthday celebrations over 4 days. Friday, I had a small party with my friends. I am truly grateful for all the great friends I have in Hong Kong. Sunday, I had an amazing spa experience at Bliss. On Monday, my actual birthday, Erik and I enjoyed a delicious dinner out topped off with two great gifts. Here’s to a great year!

Life List

Life lists are not a new concept. I started mine a few months ago with the idea to list 100 goals to accomplish before I die. Since today is my 37th birthday, I decided to post the list as-is which is interestingly comprised of 37 goals. I plan to continue to add to the list. These are in no particular order. Cheers to me to make 37 the best year yet!

1. Complete a marathon
2. Take a class in Chinese painting
3. Learn 100 Chinese characters
4. Hike Kilimanjaro
5. See the big Jesus in Brazil
6. Go to Mount Everest Base camp
7. Hike the Appalachian Trail
8. Get a tattoo
9. Host a party for 100
10. Help my sister plan her ultimate wedding
11. Make more money at my business than I do at my job
12. Write a book
13. Paint another self portrait (maybe one every 10 years)
14. Go to an Abe-Hicks show
15. Paint a room red
16. Dance naked in the rain
17. Become conversationally fluent in Mandarin
18. Travel to enough places that I need to add pages to my current passport
19. Try Dom Perignon
20. Serve in the Peace Corps
21. Get married (remarried) in Las Vegas at a tacky joint
22. Have a bonfire on the beach
23. Go on a safari in Africa
24. Stay a night at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong
25. Have another cat
26. Own a beach home
27. See the northern lights
28. Go to all 50 states (38 down)
29. Hear the Dalai Lama speak
30. Be a mother
31. Successfully make French bread from scratch
32. Take a nap in a hammock
33. Do 10 pull ups
34. Hold a koala bear
35. See the pyramids
36. Eat sushi in Japan
37. Do a service project in the next 6 months

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Snake Soup

Traditional Chinese snake soup is thought to be warming and is eaten in the winter. The season is just about over, but we were able to have it this week with Erik’s colleagues. It was quite good and honestly tastes like chicken. The snake meat is finely shredded and was in a lemony broth with mushrooms. It was a very enjoyable meal. Here is a video talking about the snake soup tradition in Hong Kong. This is not the restaurant we went to, but it gives you a good vibe of HK and its small restaurants.

http://odeo.com/episodes/23689807-Snake-Soup-in-Hong-Kong

After the dinner, we went to see a movie as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Night and Fog got good reviews and was directed by a local Hong Kong artist. Most of the film was shot in HK. The movie was very good but very depressing. It was based on a true story about domestic violence.

Two new experiences equal a fun night.