Thursday, July 26, 2007

Spoiled Rotten

I think I've spoiled you all over the last couple weeks. Who knew there would come a day when I would post 2 items in 1 day! Well, don't get used to it. Just wanted to let you know that Matt and I (and Quincy!) made it safely to San Diego earlier this week. We'll be on the road over the next couple of weeks, which means this blog could get a little sparse. I've got some great highlights from our flight to the USA, but until I can manage to wrangle the camera, the camera cord, the computer, and some internet access altogether in one room at the same time, you'll just have to sit tight. (Harder than it sounds considering the atrocious state of our suitcases these days.) Keep re-reading HK's Top Ten over and over again to keep yourself occupied until then.

#1: Friends

By far the best thing about our year in Hong Kong is all the wonderful friends we've made. Thanks to everyone for taking a chance on us and helping us to feel so welcome. We miss you all so much!

Mike and Helen

Helen and Michelle

A few people from the Care Group
(a handful of husbands and wives are missing)


Ellie and Lin

Baby Elias
(Sadly, I'm lacking a photo of his parents, Dustin and Nikki)

Kelly and Malcolm
(They welcomed us to Asia--sorry this was the only picture I could find of you guys!)

(who is quite possibly a distant cousin, as her and my grandma share last names)

I've posted lots of pictures, but I'm missing some key people. You know who you are! (Lack of pictures doesn't equal lack of missing you.) Keep in touch!

Monday, July 23, 2007

#2: Sham Shui Po

Fabric District

Hong Kong is made up of many smaller districts. And each district has it’s specialities. For example, our neighborhood contained the restaurant supply shops and the professional salon supply stores. Quite nice for a girl who is fond of high-end shampoo at wholesale prices.

Piles of wonderful ribbon!

Fabric Swatches

Sham Shui Po is by far my most favorite district in the whole city. It’s a crafters paradise. Many of the factories in Southern China keep a small shop in this district, allowing designers, product managers, sourcing people, etc. access to samples of what these factories produce. You’ll find a few blocks designated for buttons, zippers, and clasps, another area with beads, charms, and semi-precious stones, and on and on. My favorite area in Sham Shui Po is set aside for fabric and ribbon. The selection is incredible!!! And most shops will sell you a few pieces (samples) of each item that strikes your fancy. Ultimately, these shops hope to reach designers and the like, not just craft-fiends like myself, but they usually can’t tell the difference.

I was very excited to discover that my friend Michelle had the same love for SSP that I did. A couple of weeks ago we hit the shops together and it was great fun!

Michelle trying to decide which fabric she likes best

She decided!
(And already made me a beautiful bag from it!)

I love places that bring out the craft monster inside of me. As I exit the MTR and begin to walk around the SSP district, I get the most unbelievable creative surge and immediately want to buy everything, go into hiding, and make stuff! Lots of stuff! So, I made sure to stock up on all my favorite bits and bobbins before packing up and leaving town. And I can guarantee upon my next trip to Hong Kong, I'll be bringing an extra suitcase to fill with lovely goodies!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

#3: Street Markets

Overlooking a local market on Fa Yuen Street

I love to shop. I love a bargain. And I do a special little dance when those two loves collide. HK certainly offers the best of both worlds! This city is rampant with street markets, each with it's own unique bargains calling out my name. The one nearest (to my house) and dearest (to my wallet) is Temple Street Night market, just a few blocks down the street. It's a tourist-magnet, but I don't really mind. Sometimes it a real pleasure to mingle with other foreigners and I always get a kick out of watching them bargain for whatever small treasure they have their heart set on buying.

Cheap Stuff

More cheap stuff

The Ladies' Market in Mong Kok is another favorite tourist spot, selling lots of designer knock-off purses, over-priced Rolex wanna-bes, and tons of other useless trinkets. The "shop keepers" in each stall are especially zealous and are very talented at over-charging for their cheaply made goods. If you're feeling brave, the best knock-off stalls will have someone designated to lead you down a dark alley and up several flights of dingy staircases to a purse paradise--usually an apartment off the beaten path lined with shelves and tables full of more genuine looking knock-offs. You're almost always worth much more to them alive and eager to buy purses than mugged and drawing attention to their secret purse-lair, so there's not much danger in it. Oh, except for those Communist police patrolling the area. You need to keep a keen eye out for them. It's taken me awhile to really hone my bargaining technique, but I think I've gotten to the point that I can haggle with the best of them. It felt a bit awkward at first, especially when I would find myself negotiating the price difference of only a dollar or two, but once I came to understand that's its just a game (and to not take part makes you a party-pooper or a complete sucker), I learned to enjoy it.

Chinese Charms

Kittens, Anyone?

In the last year I've really had a good chance to scour the city for the best bargains and I know if I'm being overcharged or not. The best street markets to hit up are those that are primarily frequented by the locals. You always get the best deals, and the starting bids tend to be much lower than at the markets which are notorious tourist hot-spots. At the end of the day, the shopper is happy because they scored a great deal, and the hawker is happy because they just conned you into buying some cheap, Chinese crap. All's well that ends well. (I feel like I should end that with an Amen.)

Statues of Mao at an "antiques" market

Friday, July 20, 2007


Matt and I took one last trip into Shenzhen (the city in mainland China just across the border from Hong Kong) to do some shopping and spend the last of our Chinese money. Here are some highlights from our day:

A very beautiful day! This is just outside the Lohu mall, notorious for it's knock-off designer handbags and copy DVDs. Kind of ironic to see 2 policemen out front.

Our friend, Adam, paying for a fresh cocount. They chop a hole in the top and hand you a straw. Not bad for $0.75.


This lady from a t-shirt shop insisted on taking my picture. So I took hers in return.

My favorite moment from the day was witnessing this chubby little kid eat an ice-cream and candy treat the size of his head with chopsticks. Priceless!

#4: Cheap Massages

Cheap massages are offered aplenty in HK. You can't walk down the sidewalk without being bombarded by little ladies shouting "Muh-sah-ghee?" and trying their darndest to stuff your pockets full of leaflets advertising the services of the many massage parlors found sandwiched among the stores and restaurants on each block. (If you happen to be a man alone on the town, it's very likely the ladies will whisper the bonus "sexy muh-sah-ghee?" in your ear as you pass them by.)

And if you even show the slightest interest, they will hold on to you for dear life until you give in to their pleas and agree to get a massage. It's always worth it. There is a dodgy, little foot massage joint just across the street from our apartment that I've been to a few times. There are about 6-8 faux leather recliners in a U-shape, each with it's own doily and matching pillow. If you learn to block out the Chinese soap operas playing on the TVs across the room, it can be a really relaxing experience. For only $11, you can get an hour foot/leg massage. It's such a bargain.

Today I went to my favorite Thai massage center, and decided to treat myself to a 90 minute massage. I even opted for the essential oil massage, rather than the usual traditional Thai massage. I knew it would be my last cheap, HK massage for a long time, so I decided it was worth splurging on. (At $40 for 1 1/2 hours, it's still a great deal!) It was also monumental because this was my first nearly-nude massage, the prospect of which left me feeling a little nervous and apprehensive. The lady showed me to a massage booth and then told me to get undressed, left for a moment, but then came right back and handed me tightly wrapped tube of gauze and told me to put it on. "What?", I thought to myself. "You want me to wear that tampon-looking piece of fabric?" I was completely lost for words and getting more and more unsure about going through with the nearly-nude massage, but then she sort-of yanked at my skirt, saw that I was wearing underwear (of course!) and said, "Oh, nevermind, you are already wearing underwear." Um, yeah. Apparently that little piece of gauze was some sort of substitute for underwear, on the off chance that you had left yours at home or misplaced them on the way there.

My thoughts were momentarily flooded with the memory of when I was visiting a new gynecologist shortly after starting college. The nurse had left a robe for me on the chair and told me to get undressed and that the doctor would be in shortly. As any female can understand, those sterile rooms are never a pleasant experience and you want to whole process to be over as soon as earthly possible. So I quickly undressed, picked up the robe, and immediately panicked. Whatever it was that the nurse had left for me to wear, it was most definitely NOT a robe. I stood there momentarily, knowing full well that at any moment the male-gynecologist would knock on the door and discover me ferociously wrangling with this would-be robe. It turned out it was actually a pillowcase the nurse had mistaken for a robe. (Which I discovered only after putting my clothes back on, sneaking out of the examination room, and sheepishly asking the first nurse I could find for instructions on how to put on a pillowcase.) All in all a very unpleasant experience. I guess they say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. (Whoever "they" is should learn to keep their mouth shut.)

Anyway, once I actually figured out how to properly undress, the rest of the massage was fine. Actually, it was great. It's a shame I've gotten so addicted to cheap massages, since they cost an arm and a leg in the US. (Hmm...maybe if I'm missing an arm and a leg the massage would be half-price. Sorry, the pun just slipped out before I could stop typing.)

If you meet me on the streets of San Diego someday and I seem particularly crabby, you can assume it's because I haven't had a good, cheap massage in awhile.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

#5: Public Holidays

With a whopping 17 days in all, Hong Kong has more public holidays than any other country in the world. And with the ridiculous amount of time people in HK spend at work, they certainly deserve a little time off. While it's great to have lots of days off, the real treat is that many of these public holidays include plenty of fun festivities throughout the city.

Here are some of the highlights:

Mid Autum Festival

"Moon Cakes" are eaten during this festival--the egg yolk in the center symbolizes the moon.

Chinese New Year

Red Lanterns cover the city during Chinese New Year

Dragon Boat Festival

Teams from all over the world compete all day in these long "dragon boats"--I think up to 26 people fit in each boat!

10th Anniversary of the Handover of HK to China

The amazing fireworks show as viewed from the top of Matt's office building. (Yes, the fireworks are being shot off the TOP of the buildings near the harbor!)

Many people use the public holidays as a great time to vacate the city and seek calmer abodes, but Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed each holiday and were excited to stay in Hong Kong and enjoy each one as it came along. We sure are gonna miss all these fun holidays!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

#6: The Octopus Card

Behold the Octopus Card.

With just a single swipe of this little card, Hong Kong opens itself up you in the most magical of ways. Most people use it as a rechargeable subway token, but the Octopus card can be used for lots of different purposes. You can pay your gas and water bills (at 7-11, no less), hop aboard any bus, train, tram, cable car, or ferry and catch an easy ride, order a McDonald's value meal, buy your groceries, feed a parking meter, indulge in instant noodles from a vending machine, donate money to various charities, and the list goes on and on. And all with just one little swipe. It's such an efficient system! You can even have a chip implanted in your watch or cell phone and rid yourself of needing to carry the card at all.

More than 95% of people in HK have an Octopus card. Heck, Matt and I have 5 of them. (We stocked up to share with friends and family who were in town, as you get a discount on transportation if you use the card.)

It's pure brilliance. The best part is that if you rig the card in your purse properly, you can just haul your purse over the sensor and never need to take out your card at all. I love it! Can't wait 'til the idea/technology hops the pond and finds its way to San Diego.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

There are days when I feel just like our friend the troll doll. Neither of us are very good at blending in.

#7: Dim Sum, Full of Delights!

Cantonese food is the main staple in this part of China. As much as Matt and I have tried, we give Cantonese food a failing grade. Thai food I love. Inidan food I adore. Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese food I could happily survive on for the remainder of my days. Mandarin, Szechuan, and Taiwanese food---all good. But, when it comes to the food distinct to the region of Asia we plopped ourselves down in, we just can't stomach it.


Dim Sum stands out far above the sticky, saucy mess that is Cantonese food. It's Cantonese perfection, erasing all the gastronomic sins of it's Cantonese food compatriots. In fact, I have a theory that because dim sum is so wonderful, the lovely people of this region stopped working towards perfection of all other dishes, thereby allowing food mediocrity. It's just a theory.

Oh, the magical delights that grace the chopsticks of the lucky dim summer. The meal is served mostly as a brunch or early lunch (no, those are not the same things). It's a rare treat to find it available after 1pm. My favorite dish is "char sui ba" (which I've both misspelled and mispronounced, I'm sure)--a light steamed bun filled with yummy bbq pork. The egg custard balls are fantastic, too. Turnip cakes, Shanghai dumplings, sticky Chicken rice wrapped in lotus leaves, garlicky bok choi cabbage, all washed down with numerous pots of Jasmine tea....YUM!! Oh, and the eggrolls! Marvelous. It's all so good.

If you happen to be passing through HK in the near future, I highly recommend stopping by Maxim's restaurant in the old city hall on the Island--famous for it's old-school dim sum carts, pushed around by slightly disgruntled, older women in marvelous yellow rompers, who lift up the lid of each dim sum steamer for you to choose from as they pass by.

That's it...I'm having it for breakfast!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

#8: City Scape

Hong Kong has the most amazing skyline I've ever seen. Mountains, Ocean, Forests--all visible from the harbour. Moving from small-town USA hoping to experience the "big-city" life, Hong Kong certainly delivers.

Now if only they could figure out how to tackle their nasty little pollution problem...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

#9: Waffles

I just can't get enough of those tasty waffles the street vendors sell. You can choose from the classic rounded bubble-shaped waffle or the super-gooey flat waffle smothered with peanut butter, margarine, sweetened condensed milk, and extra sugar drizzled on top for good measure. Our favorite stall always has a line, but it's definitely worth the wait. And for a mere $1.25, it's the cheapest heart-attack a cholesterol-enthusiast like me could ask for. Oh, so tasty!

Friday, July 13, 2007

#10: Tiny Spaces

There is no question that HK is a big city comprised of lots and lots and lots of tiny spaces. As a tiny-space dweller myself, I've come to appreciate the continuous creativity and compromise one learns to live with on a daily basis when faced with the task of shoving all of your worldly possessions into a space the size of the average American's bathtub. I think it's a good exercise in materialistic constraint. Actually, I often wonder how a city full of some many people, living in such tiny little boxes could find itself to be one of the world's major shopping meccas. Where people put all their stuff is beyond me. Even though we know we've got a basement full of stuff waiting for us in my mom's house upon our return, our year in HK has been a great lesson on only buying what you need.

The 275 sq ft we call home has served us well, although I do admit I'm looking forward to having a slightly roomier closet in our next home. (The closet Matt and I share now is only 3'x2.5'x4'.) Perhaps the biggest bonus is that when we start to look for an apartment in the notoriously expensive state of California, we'll think paying $1100/month for an 800 sq ft apartment is a true bargain.

But tiny spaces aren't just found at home. Everywhere we go we rub elbows (quite literally) with all sorts of people. The trains are glorified sardine cans. Seats on buses are itty-bitty. And when we go out to eat, Matt and I are often seated next to another couple at a 4-person table. When we first moved here it felt so strange to sit in such close quarters with complete strangers at dinner, but now it seems perfectly natural. And we're seldom speaking the same language as the people next to us, so we're not even distracted by their conversation. The restaurants are small, and they squeeze in the patrons anywhere they can. It's just the way it goes.

I hope I don't too quickly forget what a tiny-space lifestyle feels like and go out and buy lots and lots of stuff I don't need and sit really far away from people in restaurants. I've become accustomed to "rubbing elbows" with strangers.

HK's Top Ten

I realized that in a mere ten days from now, Matt and I will be boarding a plane heading to North America. Only 10 days left in HK! So in honor of this lovely city we've called home for the last year, I'm going to pay homage by giving you the HK's Top Ten over the next 10 days. It begins today. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter

Loved every minute of the most recent Harry Potter movie! It was totally worth the inflated movie price (an extra $2/person on opening night!) just to see Dolores Umbridge's litter of kittens.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rock the Library

In exactly 24 hours from now, I will be leaving the movie theater (having consumed my gigantic bucket of sweet and salty popcorn). The next Harry Potter movie opens in HK tomorrow! Wizard nerds unite!

For all my HP fan friends out there, get yourself psyched up for the movie with a few tunes from the ever popular music ensemble "Harry and the Potters"---oh, I can't help but love the silliness.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Quality Kansas Shoes

As Matt and I were on the elevator going to church yesterday, a British/Australian man (I'm having alot of trouble distinguishing accents these days) struck up a short conversation with us:

Man: So where are you from?
Us: The US
Man: Where in the US?
Us: Kansas, it's in the middle.
[Elevator door opens at our floor]
Man: Oh, Kansas...where all the good shoes come from.
[Elevator door closes, and we are left alone to ponder his last statement.]

What could he have possibly meant? Cowboy Boots? Payless Shoes (since it originated in Topeka, KS)? Huh? Anybody have a clue what our little Brit/Aussie friend could have meant by this? Maybe it was a tactic he uses to appear aloof and elusive. I think the next time I meet someone from New Jersey, I'm going to say "Ah, New Jersey. That's where all the best neckties come from..." And then run away.

Social Networking Gone Askew

Last night while dining out with Matt and our new friend, Hanna, at this tasty Mediterranean restaurant, I happened to mention that I just joined facebook and was very excited to have 37 friends. Further into the conversation I tangled my words a bit and referred to it as "myface," mixing the popular sites myspace and facebook into one word. Suddenly we spawned this fantastic idea that should be the social networking community for the elderly. Old people are always messing up their references anyway, right? So this way they could impress their grandkids by saying, "Junior, I just joined myface! I'm hip hop, too, now!" It would be the hottest online geriatric destination, with a tagline of "my face used to look like this [insert handsome highschool pic from 50 years prior], but now it looks like this [insert present day pic]." We think it would really take off.

Perhaps you just had to be there.

Regardless, I dragged you, my lovely readers, through this story just to say that when I got home and hopped online to see if really exists, it does. And it looks like it's a site for vampires. Socially-networking vampires. Check out this picture from the homepage:

Clearly those people are vampires. Perhaps they sprinkle in a few normal people in the photo as a way to lure unsuspecting victims, but they two in front are most certainly vampires. Ok, enough shenanigans.