Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter in Hong Kong

I love that I can still go to the beach and go swimming at the end of November.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Crab Season

In celebration of crab season, I present you with a taxi crab!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A romantic getaway

I know: the title makes you want to puke. But Bali is a bit romantic. Maybe its the long and wide beaches or the splendid sunsets.

Brian had a conference in Nusa Dua, so we started off our week there. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, which wasn't much different (from what I could tell) from The Laguna, a resort in the same area that we stayed at the last time. I have to admit, though, that mega resorts aren't really my thing. We spent two days on the compound ... er, resort ... swimming and dining among the handsome and lovely couples and young families, but enough already. I was in need of our own private Bali.

Privacy came in the form of our own Villa. Friends had told us that renting a villa was the way to go in Bali, and I was a silly on the koolaid from the first second I walked into our walled in paradise. We had our own full size swimming pool that ended basically where the living room of the house began. Ahhh ... why leave?

Well, for one, there was all that great shopping to be done just down the road from us. Brian and I haggled our way down the road for at least a few hours ... not even coming close to exhausting all the stores. Among our loot, we scored some great homewares, lamps and I got two dresses for less that $16.

Of course, whatever money we saved on our bargain shopping, we blew on some elaborate dinners. On one night, we went and checked out Hu'u, a trendy, spacious restaurant that had a large pool in the center. Word on the street is that some do opt for a swim after washing down some martinis in the wee hours. We didn't see anyone dive in ourselves, but the place was pretty happening as we got ready to leave. I'm sad to admit, though, that scenery was about all that Hu'u had going for it: pretty decks, pretty people and pretty food. But it didn't make the food any more appetizing.

Maybe I was disappointed because I was expecting some Balinesian fare. We did manage to get some the next night at a small waroeng.

The next night, we went large with sunset cocktails and dinner at Ku-De-Ta. Right on the beach, this is billed as THE place to be in Bali. So, I shouldn't have been sticker shock when I saw that my martini cost $18. Yup, that was about 9 times as much as my lunch! I might have felt better about it if they had served it up in an oversized glass, but this was a pretty standard martini. Down the hatch with it ...

Despite my initial shock, we did have an enjoyable evening. The food was good, no, really good. I started with a tuna tartare for an appetizer and then had a linguine that didn't skimp on seafood.

Afterwards, we could have gone out on the strip and checked out some other bars, but instead, we retreated to our villa for one last night swim.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Night at the Races


Happy Valley may be a euphemism for the cemetery in the area, but it is synonymous with the race course here.

I haven't been to many of the races to date, but Brian and I did go down and check them out on Wednesday. Oktoberfest was going on, and while there may not have been many Germans, there were certainly a lot of gui-los getting their drink on.

We partook in some of the drinking, but the main action was the horses. I put my money down on a horse called A World full of Love. Man, he must get picked on in the stable. I figured I had to choose a horse that sounded like a bad love ballad. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side. Brian, nor any of our other pals really hit it big that night.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Crabs

Brian's family always crabs on Labor Day. Since we weren't going to make it back to Philly for the feast, we had to find some crabs here in Hong Kong. We ended up at the Thai restaurant in Shek-O.

Since they don't seem to have Old Bay out here, we had to make due with what was on the menu. We ordered the garlic crab and chili crab. I think we both liked the chili crab the best. The garlic crab was way too potent.

Where do you go for crabs?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Beach Days

One thing I really like about Hong Kong is that summer doesn't end after Labor Day. In the Northeast, winter is about 6 months and summer is really only about two. But the tables are turned here. From what I've gathered, I got another couple of months of beach weather here.

For the past two weeks, we've been exploring some of the Hong Kong beaches.

Shek-O. I really love Shek-O town. The beach ... not so much. It's beach-blanket bingo, for one. And there's an entire flotilla of blow-up rafts in the water. It made me feel as if I was at a giant pool, not an ocean.

South Bay. Great vibe here. The beach is heavy on the expats drawn to the laid-back lunch bar. Some people even just camp at the tables. The one drawback is leaving. Taxis are few and there can be a long line for the buses, too.

Next weekend ... Big Wave Bay. What's your favorite beach?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dim Sum Is Summering

In Rhode Island. Wish you were here.

I'm back in the fall.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Restaurant Week ... kind of

There are many great things about having people come and visit you when you're far from home, but one of the best is having a perfect reason to try out that restaurant you've been wanting to go to.

Brian's father came to town last week and we took the opportunity to try out several new (to us) places. Our culinary tour around Hong Kong reestablished my faith that there is good food to be had in the city. I've been pretty down on Hong Kong cuisine, but we found a few gems that you should try - even if you don't have company in town.

Yellow Door Kitchen
This Cantonese restaurant in Central is like going to a good friend's home. You show up and the meal is served. The menu is only there to let you know what you will be feasting on. And feasting it is. About seven courses are served in all. The favorites were the tea-infused pork ribs and the sweet and sour fish.

Hutong
Perched high above Kowloon, commanding an amazing view of Victoria Harbor, you almost don't care if the food at Hutong takes second bill. Luckily, it's mostly spot-on. Beijing standards like shrimp-filled dumplings and spicy lamb skewers pleased al around. Tofu and green-bean veggie dishes were other standouts. My only complaint was the duck, which was fried, not roasted. Regardless, this stays on my list as a must-see for out-of-town guests.

Duke's
Brian's dad spent a week in China before coming to visit us in Hong Kong. By the time he arrived, all he wanted was a burger. We were anxious to please, so we headed over to Duke's, which is essentially a pimped out burger joint complete with velvet sofas and chandeliers. The menu is made up of burgers only. There's no other entrees to be had here, just sides of fries. I chose the rabbit burger topped with crispy sweetbreads. Brian and his father had the standard beef version. I think we all pretty much agreed the rabbit was the reason to come back. While the joint is classy, ketchup is still the condiment of choice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rain Dance

I thought moving to a sub-tropical location meant that I would be able to go to the beach every weekend. Well, I was wrong.

It rains A LOT here. First, there was the winter monsoon season - cold, clammy and rainy. And now it is the summer monsoon season - hot, humid and rainy.

This summer has been wetter than in years past. So far, it's rained like three weeks straight - some days continuously. My umbrella is rusted ... no joke! I've never had an umbrella rust!

Could this be part of the problem?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Doing the Duck

Back in Beijing, I had one goal: do the Peking duck.

Duck de Chine is one of the latest duck eateries to open in the capital city. Housed in the trendy, new 1949 complex, the restaurant is both glam and gourmet. Duck comes prepared in a wide array of cuisines - the duck tacos were fabulous - but the main attraction is the original Peking style.

The bird's arrival is announced by the low clang of a gong and it is then carved table side by a black-clad chef. From there, you can load it into light, wispy pancakes with a sprinkling of scallions and dollops of hoisin.

How was it? Check out Brian's commentary below:
video

Monday, June 9, 2008

Don't Forget the Charmin


OK ... it should be don't squeeze the Charmin, but when you go to China don't forget to bring toilet paper. Bathrooms are ... how should I put this ... rudimentary at best.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

High-end hiking on the Great Wall

The Great Wall recently earned the title as a ‘Wonder of the World’ from the recent campaign to update the Seven Ancient Wonders, despite the fact that the terrain it covers, its engineering and sheer length have been a marvel for centuries.

I knew there were several quick daytrips out to The Wall that one could take, but I figured a world wonder warranted more time to be thoroughly enjoyed and explored. So we booked ourselves into the Red Capital Ranch at the base of where two sections of unrestored wall meet in Yanxi Township.

The hotel is a destination itself, fusing elements from Manchurian, Mongolian and Tibetan culture. Take for instance the Tibetan Tiger Lodge, the hotel’s bar that is adorned with brightly colored doors and furniture from the region. Even the cuisine takes its cue from traditional ingredients and spices: corn dumplings stuffed with mountain vegetables, leg of lamb with Tibetan rub, and chicken soup with forest berries.

The architecture is said to be reminiscent of a mountain lodge that Emperors of the Qing dynasty frequented. The owners boast of hiring crews responsible for restoring the Forbidden City to build the Manchurian-styled retreats. Inside, the rooms are decorated with a Zen minimalism that is rustic but comfortable. One of the highlights is the Kang style stone bed, which originally would have been heated by the family’s cooking hearth attached to it.

But the real attraction is the property itself. Nestled in a river valley below the shadow of the Great Wall, the hotel’s rooms and pavilions offer breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, rivers and streams.

From the property, you can access two hikes. The Eastern Route is the more challenging trail, but the Western Route allows you to travel to Mutianyu, if you have the time and equipment; we found that upon reaching the eighth pavilion, the route became quite treacherous.

The trails along both sections are unrestored. This keeps the tourists away and affords the adventurous time to gaze out from watchtowers with no one in sight – just as the soldiers would have liked it!

The Western route climbs slowly uphill. On most sections, you can walk on the remains of the wall, but there are places where the deterioration is so bad, that you bypass the wall through the forest.

The Eastern Route is a vertical climb that then splits in a North and South direction. Legend has it that the contractor who built the Southern wall was beheaded: the general’s plans ran North. Hikes also follow the North route, high on the mountain ridge where you can gaze far out across the valley. Only three watchtowers can be reached before you come to an impasse in the trail.

Both climbs will take about half a day. But even on these treks, you only get a small taste of the sheer size of The Wall. It constantly snakes away from you into the distance … but it does this over 7,300 kilometers.

Back at the Ranch, I got some relief for my sore muscles with a Tibetan body massage. I’m not sure how often Tibetans practice this therapy, but for this infrequent hiker, the service was truly therapeutic.

Details: Red Capital Ranch, Yanxi Township, Huairou District. Rooms start at $200. Hiking from base of the hotel.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Public buses are no fun

They don't allow anything ... not even spitting.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I hanker for a hunk of cheese

Chinese cuisine is governed by rules: Balance spicy with sweet; Cut food into bite-size pieces; Include a fish with each meal.

Yet one rule in Western cuisine has no place in the Asian handbook: the more cheese the better.

Diary is all but absent from Chinese food, so it should come as no surprise that trying to find cheese when one is hankering is no easy feat. Even most Western grocery stores that have cheese departments seem to have added them as afterthoughts rather than as mainstays of a deli department.

So I'm asking you, readers ... are there any good cheese shops out there? Until I find one, I'll be humming this tune ...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Let's go to the movies ...

Going to the movies in Hong Kong is a civilized affair: they have assigned seating.

At first, I was put off by this idea, but after trying it, I liked not worrying about getting to the theater early to get a good seat since you choose your place when you purchase the tickets.

Word to wise: buy your tickets online in advance , since seats fill up fast as the movies don't stay in the theaters very long. Even popular films only stick around for about a week ... two at most! The theaters are all quite small, too, so don't worry about taking a seat towards the back.

One overarching complaint about HK movie-theaters is that they don't seem to take their sound systems seriously. This girl likes her movies loud. Oh ... and if you're a butter lover, you're out of luck: popcorn comes two ways only, salty or sweet.

Details: for theater listings and tickets, go to Cityline or Broadway Circuit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Back from Beijing, comrad

Sometimes a place seems to have a soul all its own; mystique laced with energy that keeps you in constant motion wandering from one fantastic spot to the other. Beijing is that kind of city.

Unlike other large Asian cities, Beijing hasn't been desecrated by Westernization. This is a Chinese city, first and foremost. There's just a handful of signs in English, and you can forget about getting a taxi driver who speaks a language other than Mandarin. In Beijing, you get the frenetic pace of progress mixed with remnants of China's long, cultural past.

Having said that, Beijing is at the tipping point: trendy restaurants are on the rise, hawker stalls are moving indoors to clean up the streets and there's even a good saturation of Starbucks on city blocks.

The worst part of Beijing is getting there. You can go to any of the China Travel branches, but make sure you bring proof of your itinerary and hotel bookings when you go. Bring lots of cash, too: all the rates have been raised for the Olympics, so a visa will set you back about $1600 HKD if you're an American like me.

My three-day itinerary included these highlights:

The Forbidden City - Built smack in the middle of Beijing, this compound that belonged to the Emporer is staggering in size. Do yourself a favor and splurge for the audio tour since there are few signs that will explain the history of the palaces and temples.

Green T. - This restaurant is the kind of party girl you hate: the one who is pretty and flaunts it. Green Tea is oh, so pretty, but it's pretentious to boot. Take for instance the menu .... it's written in poetry (I kid you not). However, the place will win you over first with it's food presentations - a tree with small butterflies in it accompanied spring rolls to the table - and then with the food - I'm still dreaming about the spare ribs that were reminiscent of oatmeal cookies. Sounds strange, but so good.

Dirt Market - This large, open air market only operates on the weekends, but it is a bonanza of pottery, art, handicrafts, Cultural Revolution paraphernalia, jewelry and ... well just about anything you can think of. (Brian picked up a pair of binoculars). The name reflects the pricing: it's dirt cheap! Well, at least most stuff is after you've bargained for it. Tell the taxi driver you want to go to Panjiayuan (the Chinese name for the market), and Skip the Silk Market, which is open all week, but has similar goods at three times the price.

Bei Hai Park - Even though Bei Hei is fast becoming the center of where expats eat and party, during the day it still belongs to The People. On the sunny day we were there, some were paddling along the large lake, others were just resting by the banks, while still others were singing opera and swimming in their Speedos like this crazy guy pictured.

798 Artist District -- Located in the Dashanzi district, this artists' enclave is testament to the forward-thinking momentum of the city - although there is a rumor that the area will be shuttered after the Olympics. That would be a shame, because you can spend the better part of a day flitting from shops to galleries to cafes here. The space that houses 798 used to be German weapons factories and there's still a stark, industrial feel to this place that's rich with creativity.

Dumplings - Going to Beijing and not having dumplings is like going to Philadelphia and not having a cheesesteak. These doughy delicacies can be found everywhere, but are best at the cheap corner stands.


Hutongs - Just a few years ago, hutongs, traditional Beijing homes built around a center courtyard, were a dying breed. Construction of hotels, apartments and shopping centers were destroying whole neighborhoods of these classic homes. Thanks to public outcry, however, the hutong is crawling back from the brink of extinction. In fact, many are being refurbished and even rebuilt. Go to areas east of the Forbidden City or near Bei Hai park to experience to hutong.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Day trip in Cheung Chau

Although it only takes 30 minutes to get to Cheung Chau from HK Island, the difference feels a hundred years apart. Sampans dot the waterways; open air shops and restaurants densely line the streets in town; and to get around you'll need to walk; cars simply aren't allowed.

That's fine since hiking is a pleasure on the island. Go towards the main beach Tung Wan, and you'll see a winding path. It will lead you past the Mini Great Wall, temples, rock carvings and other pretty vantage spots on the island.

After working up a sweat, head back to the beaches. Opt for the smaller beach, Kwun Yam Wan, set back from town. The facilities are not as nice as at Tung Wan beach, but there is a small restaurant, and you can rent beach chairs and an umbrella for the afternoon.

When you're appetite starts raging after an afternoon of hiking and swimming, head into town where you can refuel at one of the many fish restaurants by the boat pier. They supposedly all have similar quality food, but it's always wise to choose one that seems popular. While a nice harbor-side seat sounds scenic, be warned that the water can be smelly.

Details: Pier 5 from Central every 30 min (app.). No transportation needed on the island.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bali bound

Bali isn't the polished, beach babe that you expect, but she certainly has her charms.

She can be crafty - think batik, basket weaving and wood carving.
She can be hardworking - rice fields and cattle take up all open space.
She can be laid back - courtesy of the surfer and backpack vibe.

Three days was hardly enough to see it all ... but I can always come calling on Bali again.

If you, too, are short on time, here are some highlights:

Do the pig -- Stuffed with spices and then spit roasted to a crispy perfection, Babi Berguling is a classic Balinese dish. Go to Warung Ibu Oka in Ubud. It isn't the fanciest, but it's been called the best. There you can grab a seat on the floor, sip on a lime juice and indulge in this sublime pork specialty.

Do the creatures - In Ubud, there is a Monkey Forest. Skip that, those creatures can be nasty, and head instead to the Bird & Reptile Sanctuary. They have a Komodo dragon, plus amazing owls, macaws, lizards and even large-winged bats that you can get up-close to.

Do the shopping -- The shopping alone is enough reason to go to Bali. This is an import mecca for many island-inspired home goods you see in stores. Bypass the markup and stock up on placemats, baskets, napkins, woodcarvings, textiles and more (I got napkin rings that sell at Pottery barn for $8 for $0.75). They also have some cute boutiques that specialize in island wear at a fraction of what it costs back home.

Do the fish -- Catch a taxi to Jimberan and then stroll into one of the many fresh seafood restaurants along the beach. How fresh you ask? Your fish is plucked from a tank and then grilled before your eyes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No Joke ...

I am going on a hiatus for a month. My sister is having a baby and I'm getting married.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

We have a home

On March 9th, we officially moved into our new flat. It's located behind the race track in an area known as Happy Valley. It sounds like such a lovely place to live, doesn't it?

Brian wanted an apartment with a patio.

I wanted an apartment with an open kitchen.

We got neither. However, we did get a proper sized three-bedroom flat, so we've plenty of room for guests.

My favorite part of the apartment is the dining room. The worst part is the kitchen. I have no oven and just a two burner stove. Oh, and where my oven should be, there is a washing machine.

I better brush up my wok and pan-frying skills.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

No standing on toilets

I guess that if you’re accustomed to squat-pots, it’s kind of hard to get used to seats. But really, it must take some effort to climb up on top of one.

Here’s a reminder that’s posted in our workplace bathrooms:



Friday, February 29, 2008

One night (or three) in Bangkok


One of the things I like best about Hong Kong is that it's easy to get from here to there. Just a few hours by plane can take you to some exotic places. Take for instance, our weekend excursion ...

Three short hours and we were out of the gloom of winter and beside the pool of The Four Seasons in Bangkok. While The Four Seasons is usually a splurge, this location is surprisingly affordable and comes with the five-star service that earned the hotel its reputation.

When we got the urge to journey away from our lounge chairs, here's where we went:

Manohra Cruise -- Brian audiably moaned when I told him that I reserved a dinner cruise, but it turned out to be a great way to orientate ourselves with the city. The cruise is aboard a huge, teak, rice boat where a five-course meal of traditional Thai dishes is served. Along the way, you'll wind past famous sites like the Royal Palace, Wat Arun and even the Boathouse of the Royal barges. Dozens of similar dinner boats troll the river at night, but none are as nice. The Manohra sets a romantic stage with tables spaced far apart, dim candle lighting a served meal, not a buffet.

Ayutthaya -- When I heard Ayutthaya was a World Heritage site, I had to go. The city, which was the Thai capital for hundreds of years, features dozens of wat temples that were once covered in gold before the Burmese ransacked the capital.

Ayutthaya is a good hour from Bangkok, but it's easy find tour companies for the trip. Most will first bus you to the Royal Palace at Bang Pa-in, and then on to Ayutthaya. Our tour took us back to Bangkok via a leisurly river cruise and included lunch (a buffet).

Faces -- Modern meets traditional in this trendy restaurant/lounge/spa. In both the Indian and Thai restaurants, much time was paid to each detail in the room. Take for instance the large buddha in La Na Thai. It isn't cheap for Bangkok, but it is chic and tasty.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hiking in the shadow of the urban jungle

Since Peru, I've had the itch to hike. Then, I read that one of the ten best urban hikes (according to Time Magazine) was right in my own backyard: Dragon Back.

The online guides I found mentioned that the entrance was not easy to find. They were right. My advice is take a taxi towards Shek-O; jump out at the sign for the creamatorium; and then walk up the stairs towards the prison. (I can't believe these are directions on how to start a hike, either). The road near the prison leads you onto the trail.

The hike isn't a difficult one, but you do get some great views that put skyscrapers in the distance at odds with rocky seacoasts.

In all, it took about an hour to hike to the end of the trail. We then caught a bus into Shek-O and had lunch at the popular Chinese/Thai restaurant in town. If it's a nice day, take your swimsuit so you can hit the beach right there in Shek-O.

There are plenty of buses from town that you can catch back into town.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

LKF

Lan Kwai Fong is a bar/restaurant area of the city. It's kind of where you end up (even if you didn't mean to) on the weekends when you are an expat in the city.

You'll see all kinds of things on this street ... even Elvis!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shopping wears me down

Clothes Shopping: Some stores only carry up to a size US4, and they actually have a size negative 2. Even when shops have my size, the style is usually for a waif figure. Everything is a tunic. Or the pants are too short.

Why shouldn't a tall,Western girl wear Asian styles, you ask? I went to my yoga studio wearing a new tunic and was given a pass to the pre-natal yoga class - I wanted to go to Hot Yoga. I wore my gym clothes home and threw the tunic out.

Shoe Shopping: I was told by a sales clerk who just LOOKED at my feet that they didn't have my size shoe. I don't know what's more embarrassing: having sales clerks notice how big your feet are or being stared at in disbelief when you actually do ask for your size. (I'm a 9.5 for the record).

I don't know how much more shopping my ego can take!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ten things I miss about NYC already ....

10. The diversity of people … nothing compares.
9. Crazy street people. They add a lot of color to the city.
8. Salad bars. Fresh vegetables just aren’t popular here.
7. Access to the arts. As a visitor to NYC you can entertain yourself for months just by checking out the cultural arts/theater scene of NYC. Not so much here.
6. Big wide sidewalks. There are so many people here and the sidewalks aren’t big enough to fit us all.
5. The pace. People walk soooo much slower to and fro. It’s annoying
4. Yellow taxi cabs. There are a lot of cabs here, but they’re red.
3. Bodegas … although there are 7/11s everywhere!!
2. The old fashioned architecture in buildings. Really, most apartment buildings are big and butt ugly.
1. The attitude.

OK, enough lamenting, time to find out what Hong Kong is all about. Here. We. Go.