Monday, October 20, 2008

The South Side

Much like Discovery Bay, the south side of Hong Kong Island is gorgeous beach community after gorgeous beach community. However, since Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay (awful name for such a fabulous place) and Stanley are actually on Hong Kong Island, they are about 50% more expensive than DB. It was this and the longer commute that put us in DB -- where we are very happy, thank you very much!

For anyone coming to Hong Kong, I strongly recommend checking out the south side of the island, especially if you're like me and pictured the entire city to be a skyscraper parking lot. You know how when you're laying on the beach in the Hamptons, looking around at the white sand and feeling relaxed, you think, "Am I really an hour or two outside of Manhattan?" It's the same concept here except the south side of the island is a 20-minute bus ride from the hustle and bustle of the city.

To give you some geographical bearings, Stanley is the farthest away and then Repulse Bay and finally, closest to the city, is Deep Water Bay.


Stanley feels like the French Riviera -- it's a quaint sea-side community that you can tell is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer.

This is Blake Pier. I love the Oriental flavor of the architecture and think it cuts a nice shape against the water.

This is the promenade which wraps around the water. (Blake Pier is behind me.)

Even more famous than its beach is Stanley Market, a flea market that offers deals on namebrand sneakers and clothing plus your typical tourist treasures-- t-shirts, jewelry, figurines, etc.

This is the kind of place where people scream "watches! purses! watches!" when you walk by.


I haven't spent any time in Repulse Bay; have only seen its beauty from the window of the bus on my way to Stanley. I will share a story from our last bus ride to Stanley and be forewarned -- it's gross. Vin and I are sitting on the bus and these two very cute Asian girls (I'd say they were 13) sit in front of us. During the ride, they start pulling things out of their backpack and eating them. The first was some kind of gummy-bear looking snack; the second was dried seaweed strips, which look like flat square green tortilla chips. Then, they nearly knocked us over when they ripped open the package of dried cuttle fish. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this cuttle fish smelled exactly like one of Victor B's wet, car farts. (For those of you unlucky enough to have experienced one first-hand, you know how bad it was. For those of you who haven't, I'm banking on the picture that "wet" and "fart" paints for you.) It was actually stronger in odor than anything Victor has produced, which made the fact that they were ingesting them that much more unfathomable. Thankfully they got off two stops after opening the bag, so we were only subjected to the smell for 5 minutes. It was painful.


I was feeling very Tai Tai on a Wednesday afternoon when Vin was working and decided a beach day was in order. Of the three possibilities I chose Deep Water Bay because it's supposed to be the most affluent of all the south island neighborhoods. (In fact, it ranks right up there with The Peak in terms of expensive housing.) I figured that affluent people would probably have the cleanest beach -- and really that's all I was looking for.

It was very clean, for the record.

These affluent people take their water safety seriously. For a relatively small patch of swimming space, they have two lifeguards manning the water on their own private little boats.

This guy just chilled out for the day and got a nice tan. Hmmm... maybe I could be a lifeguard!

When he's not on his life-saving boat, the lifeguard has quite the groovy hut. Don't you dig the spiral staircase?!

(Side note: In addition to myself and one other couple, the beach was filled with old Asian men wearing teensy banana hammocks who were sunning themselves within an inch of their lives. I'm not joking -- these little 70-year old men were laying on tin foil-covered blankets. I'm all for an even tan, but this seemed a little extreme.)

Don't Believe The Hype

"If you like the movies, then Hong Kong is your town. ...although people are asked to shut off their cell phones inevitably your movie- going experience will be punctuated by a ringing phone followed by a loud conversation, heedless of the disruption it causes."

It was this statement in the Culture section of that nearly kept me out of a movie theater for two years. As someone who has no qualms delivering a nasty look to a person kicking the back of her seat or hissing a loud "Shhhh" to people who talk during a movie, I wasn't about to subject myself to an entire theater full of such people. Oh no, I would just ask friends and family to buy DVDs and send them to me...praying that a new Bridget Jones Diary didn't miraculously get made and released during my stint here.

In spite of this, the hubby was somehow able to talk me into trying to see a movie here. (I feel like this happens a lot.)

Movie-going is actually a very pleasureable experience here.
  1. Everyone orders their tickets online or by phone ahead of time and everyone has assigned seats. So, when you go online to buy your tickets, you get to pick your seats (much like when you pick your seats on the airplane.) This is HUGELY convenient, especially coming from a place like NYC where one has to arrive a full hour before the show, then wait in an enormous line that usually snakes around a few corners and down a few staircases before you even step inside the theater. (This is how a 2-hour movie becomes a 5- hour commitment.) Since we had already bought tickets and reserved our seats, Vin and I could stroll into the place a mere 5 minutes before the show started!
  2. I'm not sure if all movie theatres are like the one we went to, but this was one swank affair! Our movie theatre was plopped right in the middle of this super cool book store (think Rizzoli) that featured every travel book known to man and some jaw-droppingly gorgeous coffee table books. It also had a cafe that didn't offer tall, grande or venti anything.
  3. The concession stand -- a place where I thought it could all go to hell in a handbasket -- was like coming home! There were no surprises -- they had popcorn, soda, candy, hotdogs, Haagen Daaz ice-cream bars, nachos. Seriously, this place was more American than the American concession stand. Also -- for those of you who love to drop your M&Ms in your popcorn and eat them together as a salty-sweet treat (you know who you are!), HK popcorn containers have 2 compartments-- one side is filled with traditional butter popcorn, the other side is filled with caramel popcorn!
  4. A large fountain Pepsi was less than $2. (One of the few odd things that costs less in HK.) Our tickets were around $10 a piece, so pretty on par with NYC.
  5. The movie theatre itself was tiny, almost like you were in someone's private home theatre. And the seats were like Buttah! They were these big cushy leather club chairs.
  6. Instead of 8 hours of commercials and that Screen Vision monstrocity they show in the US -- before you even get to previews mind you, HK featured one preview (the new Bond movie) and one commercial (this super artsy commercial for Louis Vuitton; it felt like it was shot by Sofia Coppola or something.)
  7. There was NO TALKING or CELL PHONE RINGING the entire movie! We were able to watch our Leo DiCaprio/Russell Crowe movie completely uninterrupted -- a huge relief given what had said.
While it's no Newport on the Levee, we have found going to the movies to be a great, stress-free HK experience and one we'll certainly be doing again soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Little Culture for you

I've been meaning to write this posting for awhile -- and at first contemplated giving each of these things their own posting. Then I realized that would require research and frankly I'm too lazy for that. (If it can't be Wikipedia'd, I have no use for it.)

As you'd expect, there are a million new things I've encountered in HK. Here's a smattering:


Helpers are domestic maids and nannies rolled into one. Most are from the Philippines and the majority are live-ins. Every single relocation guide we received from Morgan Stanley dedicated an entire chapter on helpers. The basic gist was "get over your western guilt and hire a helper" because pretty much everyone here has one. In fact a woman I know who lived in HK for 10 years said, "you're crazy if you don't get a helper" in the first 5 minutes of our conversation about me moving here. Labor is cheap in HK; you can get a live-in helper for around $300 a month and a part-time one for $60 every 2 weeks.
Most apartments in HK have helper quarters -- a room and a toilet, usually off the kitchen. I was prepared for them to be small but taken off guard at just how small they are. They make special helper beds that are small enough to fit in such rooms because a child's bed is too big.

Anyway, the live-in helpers work Monday - Saturday. On their day off, they all congregate in outdoor places throughout the city -- sidewalks, parks, anywhere public. They lay down their cardboard and blankets, spread out their food and spend their day off playing cards, gossiping or sewing. When I say they are EVERYWHERE on a Sunday, I mean it. This picture was taken in one of the elevated walkways that joins two buildings in Central. They lined the football-sized place. Not sure what the umbrellas were for since this place was enclosed (privacy, maybe?)


Whenever a new store or business opens, someone (friends? the government? the Better Business Bureau?) sends them funeral flowers which are displayed outside for a few days. This A/X Armani Exchange clearly just opened. These funeral flowers actually look nice and not cheap...and there's a tasteful amount on display. Clearly someone did some editing because this is not the norm.

Our second day here, we walked out on Queen's Road and I swear to God you could see flowers for miles. It looked like Buckingham Palace after Princess Di died. There must've been 200 different arrangements -- and they all had that funeral look to them: propped up on stands, emblazoned with "Congratulations!" banners, flowers arranged in a distinct "spray" formation. Oh and they smell like funeral flowers -- lots of lilies, if you catch my drift.


People here celebrate Halloween.

Am I the only one who thought Halloween was a US holiday?


Hong Kong flea markets remind me of NYC street fairs. People sell socks and bed sheets, flowers and trinkets. I haven't spotted a guy selling CDs of club music yet but I'm sure he's out there! They sell their own version of grilled corn or sausage kebabs -- none of which I've been brave enough to try (especially after my horrendous bout with food poisoning.)

Here women are haggling over bras and panties.


Though everyone speaks English here, it's British English, which takes some getting used to. Here's a quick translation of phrases that have come in handy:

  • queue = line (as in "form a line")
  • toilet = bathroom (no one here has a clue what you're talking about if you ask where the bathroom is)
  • lift = elevator
  • MTR = subway

They do NOT use "chemist" to describe pharmacies, something an unnamed NYC roommate of mine used to say with the haughtiest of airs. One day she asked me if I needed anything from the chemist and I had no clue what she was talking about until she came home with a Duane Reade bag. Did I mention this roommate was from Los Angeles? She also said idiotic things like, "Do y'all know where the loo is?" because she went to UVA and thought this mixing of accents and phrases came off sophisticated. To this day, nothing gets more under my skin than a faux British accent. (Editor's Note: This picture has nothing to do with this cultural insight. It does however give a good impression of what the streets in Central are like.)


It's no secret Asian people have small feet (okay, except for Yao Ming). This normally wouldn't affect me....but it does. Because small feet mean small steps and small steps take some getting used to.

The steps here are both shallow (they don't fit an entire foot on them) and short (the distance between steps is a few inches.) This means that inevitably I find myself scraping the backs of my shoes when I walk down steps. This, in turn, damages my shoes and makes me very angry. I now walk down stairs sideways (and I'm sure people snicker behind my back the entire time.)

This picture is of a street btw. Since HK is built on the side of a mountain, everything is extremely steep. This means that some streets are actually just big-ass staircases. I thought the upside would be that I'd lose a few lbs from walking up these every day. Instead, I opt for the escalator.

On Top of the World

The Peak is to Hong Kong as ____ is to _____:
  1. Empire State Building, New York City
  2. Sears Tower, Chicago
  3. Eiffel Tower, Paris
  4. Space Needle, Seattle
Don't ask why I keep using a test format in these postings. Clearly "someone" is harboring deep-seeded and unresolved SAT anxieties!

The hubby and I decided to be tourists and see what this Peak thing was all about. If you don't know me that well or have never traveled with me, it's worth sharing that I'm not the best tourist in the world. Vin always likes to tell the story about our trip to London (my first visit, his second): He said, "Do you want to go see Big Ben?" and I replied, "No need to; I can see it from right here." The thought of standing in long lines, being shoved onto tour buses or being on someone else's timetable is NOT my idea of fun. Needless-to-say I had some trepidation about visiting Hong Kong's tourism mecca.

As is usually the case with my preconceived notions, I was wrong.

Hong Kong is basically a big mountain jutting out of the South China Sea (actually it's a series of mountainous islands, to be exact.) This topography means that everything is built down near the water with some buildings climbing up the mountainside, kinda like Capri or the Amalfi Coast. Usually civilization doesn't climb too high, so the majority of the mountain is dedicated to parks and hiking. (Little Known HK Fact: Hong Kong is a hiker's paradise with thousands of trails on each of her islands.) The apex of HK Island is known as The Peak (formerly Victoria's Peak). In addition to mind-blowing views, The Peak offers 2 malls, a gazillion restaurants and some of the world's most expensive real estate. Only bonafide rich people live at The Peak.

While the rich have chauffeured cars, us plebeians take The Peak tram. I knew the tram took us to the top of the mountain. What I didn't know was that it went straight up -- the entire ride felt like when you're climbing the first big hill of a rollercoaster. I love a good roller coaster, but this was downright scary.

The ride was worth it once we got to the top. I've never seen views like this -- N.E.V.E.R. You can see everything -- all of HK Island, Kowloon (the island directly across from HK) and even the south side of the island. Words can't do it justice, so I'm just going to post a ton of pictures.

The harbor divides Hong Kong Island (near) and Kowloon (far). Kowloon is kind of like Brooklyn; it's becoming quite the hot spot with many businesses and trendsetters moving there.

In fact, you can see Vin's new office (it's the tallest building on the left-hand side.)

Sadly, The Peak has to pander to the fanny-packing wearing, camera-wielding tourist. They do this by offering both a Madame Trussard's wax museum and a Bubba Gump's restaurant. I guess we all have to make a buck, huh?

I tried to turn a blind eye -- I didn't want anything spoiling the one tourist attraction I actually enjoyed, but Vin made me take a picture of him with the Jackie Chan wax figure. (For the record, we didn't go inside the museum; Jackie was on display at the tram station. I felt it's necessary to tell you this.)

Then I found myself posing with a Forest Gump impersonator. If you can't beat em, join em.

I can't help it; I was lured in by his American accent. It's rare a gweilo here isn't Australian so to hear someone talking American was just wonderful. Sadly he stayed in character when I tried to have a real conversation with him. (He replied "Alabama" when I asked where he was from.) By the way, Forest and all the people in pink shirts behind us were there because Bubba Gump's was sponsoring some kind of scavenger hunt/race.

While HK's residential architecture leaves A LOT to be desired (oh how I long for a the charming West Village brownstones or the breath-taking loft buildings in the Flat Iron district), its corporate skyscrapers are pretty damn cool. Here's a pic of one of the malls on The Peak. The top is the observation deck where we took all the panoramic shots.

Finally, for all you foodies out there, Vin and I had an excellent Italian meal at The Peak. For whatever reason, we've started eating like Europeans -- with multi-course meals in the afternoon.

Here's our first course: spinach salad for the marathoner and minestrone for his unmotivated wife. In my excitement over receiving our second course, I forgot to photograph it. It was linguine bolognese for Vin and gnocchi in a mushroom sauce for me.

And yes, 2 iced teas, because Hong Kong has turned us into iced tea addicts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The number 4 is bad. Very bad.

One day I made an odd discovery in our elevator: there were no floors ending in 4 -- no 4th floor, no 14th floor and no 24th floor. I knew there had to be a story behind the missing floors, so turned to the most-trusted source on the web -- Wikipedia. One Wiki search later provided answers and unlocked a new obsession for me which can be added to my retinue of horoscopes, mediums and superstition. (I can see Vin rolling his eyes.)

Number 4 is considered an unlucky number in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese cultures because it sounds like the word "death". Due to that, many numbered product lines skip the "4": e.g. Nokia cell phones (there is no series beginning with a 4), Palm, PDAs, Canon PowerShot G's series (after G3 goes G5), etc. In East Asia, some buildings do not have a 4th floor. In Hong Kong, some high-rise residential buildings miss ALL floor numbers with "4", e.g. 4, 14, 24, 34 and all 40-49 floors.

Number 14 is considered to be one of the unluckiest numbers in Chinese culture. Although 14 is usually said as "shi si," which sounds like "ten die". 14 can also be said as "one four," but it means "want to die". In Cantonese, 14 sounds like "certainly die".

People here pay exorbitant amounts of $$ to get the 888 license plate number or 666 lottery ticket and, from what I gather, anything that remotely sounds like/smells like/looks like/tastes like death is considered very unlucky. Odd, right?! This practice also explains why China decided to begin this summer's Olympics on August 8th (08/08/08) at 8:08pm. These people don't play around.

Turns out that 4 is pretty much the only unlucky number. I feel bad for all the people who were born on April 4, 2004. I imagine they are all shunned and quarantined on some remote island... or maybe they're the people buying up all the 888 license plates! Here's how the numbers add up (sorry, I couldn't resist):

Lucky numbers

Lucky numbers are based on Chinese words that sound similar to other Chinese words. The numbers 6, 8, and 9 are believed to have auspicious meanings because their names sound similar to words that have positive meanings.

One -- The number 1 can represent unity.

Two -- The number 2 is a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying "good things come in pairs". It is common to use double symbols in product brandnames, e.g. double happiness, double coin, double elephants etc.

Three -- The number 3, meaning "life" is considered a lucky number.

Five -- The number 5 is associated with the Five elements (Chinese philosophy), and in turn was historically associated with the Emperor of China. For example, the Tiananmen gate, being the main thoroughfare to the Forbidden City, has five arches.

Six --The number 6 in Mandarin sounds like the word for "flowing", "smooth" or "slippery" which can mean "everything goes smoothly". The number 666 can be seen prominently in many shop windows across the country, and people there often pay extra to get a mobile phone number including this string of digits. License plate number AW6666 was bought for RMB 272,000 (US$34,000) in an auction by an anonymous bidder on behalf of a motorcycle dealership in Zengcheng, Guangzhou.

Seven -- The number 7 symbolizes "togetherness". Also, the 7th month of the year is known as the Ghost Month, and therefore 7 is often linked with fate, destiny, and supernatural occurrences.

Eight - The word for "eight" in Mandarin sounds similar to "prosper" or "wealth". In regional dialects the words for "eight" and "fortune" are also similar.There is also a resemblance between two digits, "88", and the shuang xi ('double joy'), a popular decorative design composed of two stylized characters 喜 (xi, 'joy', 'happiness'). Telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for USD$270,723 in Chengdu, China.

Nine -- The number 9, being the greatest of single-digit numbers, was historically associated with the Emperor of China; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children. Moreover, the number 9 sounds like the word for "long-lasting", and as such is often used in weddings.

Thirteen -- While 13 in Western culture is a bad number, in Chinese, 13 is a good number because in Cantonese, 13 is close to "will/should/will certainly live", so when faced with uncertainties, this is a comforting number.

Additionally, there are some number combinations that will either get you a smile or a kick in the face:

1314 - sounds like "forever" in Mandarin. At one stage, 520 1314 was a very romantic number since "520" sounds like "I love you" in Mandarin.

168 - means "prosperous all the way". Many telephone service numbers in China begin with this number and many businesses prefer to have this number as part of their names. It is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture.

54 - in Cantonese sounds like "not die"

524 - in Cantonese sounds like "Not easy to die"

9413 - in Cantonese means 90% chance of being dead and only 10% chance of being alive (Editor's note: Not good odds.)

7 and 9 - both have similar pronunciations to "the five most insulting words" in Cantonese -- the male genitalia.

What's funny is that I remember some feng shui expert telling Susan Blond that our office phone number (333-7728) was "excellent" in Chinese numerology terms. Knowing Susan, I bet she used this in her pitch to potential clients!

Tnere's another odd elevator custom here in HK -- this one seems to be more popular on Disco Bay. In many high-rise apartment buildings there are 2 elevators -- one that only goes to even floors, the other that only goes to odd floors.

So that's today's lesson in eastern elevators. Who knew what an educational experience would be had by all when the Birardis moved to Hong Kong?!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Don't Get the Bird's Nest

It's been brought to my attention that my nascent blog hasn't covered the topic of food yet -- unlike, say, my Facebook status which seems to convey my cravings on an hourly basis. There have been some highs and some lows in the culinary department, so I figured I'd give you a smattering of my experience from the past week.

A few things you should know before I dive into my meals:
  1. ALL types and ethnicities of foods are available in HK. Coming from a dining mecca like New York (anyone up for Indian at 3am?), I was definitely worried it would be "dim sum in the morning, dim sum in the evening, dim sum at suppertime." Au contraire mon frer. (Editor's note: I don't speak a lick of French!) So far, I've had: tagliatelle with ricotta and spinach, a cheeseburger, omelets galore, a club sandwich, pizza, salads and smoothies-- in addition to some yummy Asian food. Also -- and I say this with immense pride -- I haven't had McDonalds once. Haven't even craved it. (Foo, you know I was *dying* to drop to the a-bomb right there!)
  2. 99% of menus are in both Cantonese and English. It's a little disconcerting when, in the local joints, you can read that they offer pig skin, fish balls and cow tongue. Otherwise it's pretty damn helpful.
  3. 98% of wait staff speak English. Those that don't are very resourceful at finding someone who does.
  4. Many stores hang dead animals in their windows in an attempt to lure in hungry patrons. I can't say I was surprised when I saw it here, since NYC's Chinatown does the same thing -- mostly with ducks and chickens. But to see tongues (my guess is of the cow variety) stacked on top of each other five-high and ten-deep and a large snake hanging from the curtain rod, well, let's just say I wasn't running in the door.
Now that THAT's out of the way, here's my all-time Hong Kong culinary highlights and lowlights.


The Flying Pan -- I woke up my second morning here with a Texas-size hankering for an omelet. I'm not really a breakfast person, so this took me by surprise, although mostly I just thought, "Where in the hell do you get an omelet in Hong Kong?" and, better yet, "What kind of gross things (see cow tongue above) will these people put in them?" Feeling 1/3 adventurous and 2/3 ravenous, I went out on my own to find this breakfast unicorn. On my way up the Mid-Levels escalator, what do I spy in the distance but a big sign with a frying pan that says, "The Flying Pan -- Breakfast 24 hours". I still believe this was divine intervention at work. I walked into what is basically a diner plucked out of some college town like Boulder or Ithaca (complete with Obama poster hanging in the window!) There were free newspapers and magazines for diners to read, a menu that offered every kind of breakfast food imaginable (although it was clear eggs are their specialty), the hum of boisterous conversation at tables (just loud enough to be comforting but not so loud as to be annoying) and vintage Red Hot Chili Peppers playing in the background. Anyone remember "Suck My Kiss"?!

That was a week ago and I've been to the Flying Pan 4 times since! I've tried to order different things off the menu, but always get the same -- Spanish omelet with cheddar with OJ, wheat toast, Lyonnaise potatoes, fresh fruit and a bottomless cup of coffee. Breakfast utopia, plain and simple. This week my goal is to get the challah french toast. Baby steps...

Chinese in Causeway Bay -- Our friends Andy and Michelle took us out for a traditional Hong Kong-style Chinese dinner at a place in Causeway Bay. (Causeway Bay makes Times Square feel like a retirement community, so you can imagine how much I love it.) I digress... Andy is Korean-American and has lived in Tokyo and HK for a long time. Michelle is a Hong Kong local who's lived here her entire life. Needless-to-say Vin and I were very excited at the prospect of eating authentic cuisine with locals! First, the restaurant actually has 5 different restaurants all under the same name (which is escaping me) in a 2-block radius. So, even though we made a reservation, we had to go to all the restaurants to see who had room for us.

Obviously Michelle did the ordering. She chose the special, which was a 7-course meal that kicked off with the waiter bringing 2 enormous live crabs to our table. When they say "fresh" they mean it (and can prove it!) Then wave after wave of food started filling up our table. I think that when Marco Polo introduced Italians to noodles, he also pressed upon them the importance of courses. We had:
  • 1st course: salted peanuts and some sort of dried crawfish served in a small dish (the equivalent of olives at a Mediterranean restaurant). "Yay!" I thought. "I like peanuts." Then I watched as Michelle ate the peanuts with chopsticks. Folks, even the most seasoned guilo will find it impossible to eat peanuts with freakin chopsticks. I tried my best before dumping some on my plate straight from the small dish in exasperation. Then I proceeded to sneak them in my mouth using my hands when I thought Michelle and Andy weren't looking.
  • 2nd course: a dish in which half the plate had some form of squid (a long-standing Jess rule is to avoid eating anything with tentacles) and the other half had a stack of bright green "vegetables" which looked like tiny stems of grass with flowers on top that hadn't yet bloomed. Even Michelle hadn't seen them before. Regardless, I'm way more ballsy with fruits and veggies than I am with animals, so I plopped those dandelion stems on my plate and started chowing down. They actually tasted pretty good; had a surprising nuttiness to them.
  • 3rd course: our once-living-but-now-very-dead crabs which were covered in a kind of blackened minced garlic and green onions. I'm not a big crab eater, but these were delicious! (I can hear my dad crying with joy now -- he always said I'd learn to love seafood.) It was so mild and I can't tell you how they prepared this garlic, but it was damn good.
  • 4th course: ribs covered in a smoky, sweet sauce. quite good.
  • 5th course: mantis shrimp. where do I start with this one? Apparently Americans have been getting the shaft in the shrimp department all these years because shrimp in Hong Kong come in a variety of sizes -- as small as rock shrimp or as large as a lobster. I learned this when I remarked on what I thought was an albino lobster in the tank. Andy informed me that it was called a Mantis Shrimp because it looks like a praying mantis. (OK, I so didn't need that picture in my head...and since when are praying mantises the size of lobsters?!) When they brought it out all dissected on the plate, I took a pass. Lame American that I am, I prefer my shrimp bite-sized. For those of you who know my husband and his behavior around shrimp, you can probably guess that he has a much different experience with the Mantis Shrimp.
  • 6th course: noodles -- i don't know what was in them and didn't care. they tasted so damn good.
  • 7th course: sliced fresh watermelon
We opted for dessert at a chain that specializes in mango. Here I learned that "bird's nest" -- something I've seen on every menu since getting here -- is bird saliva, which people here eat by the boatload. To this day, no one has told me how they collect the bird saliva. I'm picturing someone sneaking up on a nest and trying to insert one of those dentist-like suction devices into a bird's beak.

Thai in Stanley -- I ventured to the south side of the island last Thursday and, sparing you all the details which will likely be captured in a different posting, I went into Stanley (China's version of the French Riviera) thinking I'd get some kind of salad. Instead I stumbled upon a Thai place and had the best noodles of my life. They had curry -- not something I normally go for -- and scrambled eggs in them (Jesus, what's with the egg obsession?!) along with lots of veggies. Almost as good as the noodles was the iced tea. Here's a picture of both because this description didn't do it any justice.


Spicy Chicken Vermicelli -- After Vin and I landed in HK , bleary-eyed from our 16-hour flight, drove into town, checked into our temporary apt and unpacked, we were starving. In our raving hunger (okay, MY raving hunger; he tends to be oddly rational when he's hungry) we opted to eat at the diner-looking place right next to our apt. Since everything on the menu was in fish soup (no thank you) we both decided to get the spicy chicken vermicelli. It's so damn spicy that I can't taste anything; I just start coughing and my eyes start watering. I like spicy food -- give me some wasabi and I'm a happy girl, but this was a whole other planet of spicy. Two hours after we left the restaurant my lips were still throbbing, so much so that I kept looking in the mirror to see if they were physically moving. Lesson #1 -- Spicy means spicy.

"Dim Sum" at Maxim's Palace -- I was really looking forward to celebrating our 3rd anniversary at a famous dim sum place that every tour guidebook and accredited news source called "the quintessential Hong Kong dining experience." After making a reservation for 7pm, we showed up to a room that can best be described as a Chinese cruise ship ballroom. It had tall ceilings, enormous gold dragon reliefs jutting out from the wall, tons of banquet-style tables set up (8-tops even for a party of 2) and lighting so bright you'd think you were going to be asked to perform surgery. Managing to brush this off, we were still giddy at the thought of authentic dim sum. Then the first words out of the hostesses mouth before even saying hello were,"No dim sum. Chinese food only." Turns out they only serve dim sum during the day (and apparently get a lot of confused customers so they opt to clear it up right up front). Moving on, we were ushered to a large banquet table and tried to order off the menu...but everything we ordered was intended for parties of 4 or bigger. This meant that an already restricting menu (it had a full page dedicated to bird's nest!) became even narrower when you couldn't get your first, second or even third choice. The final straw was when they brought out all of my food...with Vin's arriving 15 minutes later. Nothing like eating your fancy anniversary dinner solo as the other person watches you! Our friends Andy and Michelle have promised to bring us there for true dim sum (which I didn't realize means Sunday brunch)... as long as we bring them to the Flying Pan.

"Club sandwich" at Union Bar -- This is the one that really pisses me off, so pardon the seething anger as I recount my lunch experience today. I've walked by Union Bar many times and stopped to check out their menu, which seemed to offer standard lunch fare -- salads, sandwiches, burgers, et al. I settled into the bar, dug out my book and decided on the club sandwich, which for the record just said "Club sandwich" on the menu. Imagine my horror when what they put in front of me has roast beef (not turkey!) and seafood salad in it. I mean, if you're going to stray from the traditional club sandwich ingredients, let a sister know! I've never had a club sandwich that consists of: roastbeef, seafood salad, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonaisse. I don't mean to sound petty or childish, but I really look forward to my meals here and when something like this happens, it makes me think I should've just gone to the Flying Pan and ordered a freakin Spanish omelet!

So there it is. If you've made it this far through the post, you're either a foodie, bored or an incredibly loyal friend. All are accepted here at DHKH. :)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

You want more???

Found a few more pix that help paint the picture of life in Disco Bay, so if you haven't had enough check them out! (Warning: It's a really random mix.)

Nothing like a nice cold beer on the ferry ride home to Disco Bay after a hard day's work...or an equally stressful day running errands for all you fellow Tai Tai's out there!

A few points of irony on this picture:
  1. It's taken inside Uncle Russ's Coffee. They sell beer at coffee houses here!
  2. Even though the Australian beer Vin is holding has his initials on it, chances are I'll be drinking more of them than he will (especially before the marathon.) I tend to do the drinking in the family...

I couldn't resist another shot of our fabulous living room and windows.

This is one of the paths to the beach. Pop Quiz Time! This picture shows just how ______ Discovery Bay is:

  1. lush and green
  2. kid-friendly (it's a double-stroller, folks!)
  3. expat-friendly (it's a white woman pushing the double-stroller)
  4. envionmentally-friendly (look at the size of that trash can!)
  5. all of the above

Speaking of the beach, this shows you how close the beach is to DB Plaza. All the umbrellas are Zak's -- a great beach-side restaurant and bar.

You can see our apartment is in the background (see the two big towers and then that smaller tower to the right of it? We're the smaller tower.)

The opposite perspective -- looking back at the beach from Zak's. (I know, I sound pretty Zak-obsessed.)

See previous note about obsession with Zak's.

On another note, check out all the guilos (Cantonese for white people). Turns out DB is so expat-friendly that it's deemed somewhat uncool by the locals who prefer the exciting buzz of the city (or The Island as Hong Kong Island is known). We went out to dinner with friends on Saturday night -- Vin's colleague who's
a Korean-American from NJ but has resided in HK for quite some time and his fiance, a Hong Kong native. When asked if she'd ever been to DB the fiance said, "Why would I want to go to Discovery Bay? It's all guilos."

A shot of DB Plaza. The picture makes it look kinda empty, which it definitely wasn't on a Saturday afternoon.

Finally, McSorleys where you can grab a pint and catch the latest Chelsea match. Dirk!

Missing Victor B

Just need to give a shout-out to my baby -- Victor B. We miss him. A lot.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Discovery Bay -- Our New Home

Discovery Bay is an island on Lantau that's a 20-minute ferry ride to Central-- the main downtown area on Hong Kong Island (~ Times Square meets the Financial District). Where Hong Kong Island is bustling and chaotic, Disco Bay is a serene island with no cars allowed (everyone travels by golf cart) where the mountains meet the South China Sea. I like to think of it as Hawaii's Chinese cousin. Vin says you feel like you're at Atlantis/Paradise Island when you step off the ferry. Strollers and dogs may not be welcome on HK Island, but in DB its a kiddie and dog paradise. Although no pug sighting yet, so Victor may be THE PUG of DISCO BAY (if so, he's asked that we have business cards printed up.)

In fact, DB Plaza has a special area where doggies can wait while their owners shop for groceries. Check out these two patient pooches!

In addition to being dog-friendly and an official green community, Disco Bay offers beach-side living and a fabulous country club. Country vs. city, Coke vs. Pepsi, Biggie vs. Tupac. There's no beach vs. pool dilemma in Disco have both!

(Editor's note, there was a big panting chocolate La
b just out of the camera's view. He had gone on a long walk and was about to run into the ocean. His owner moved from New Jersey in January.)

Da (Country) Club features 2 outdoor pools, an indoor pool, all kinds of courts (tennis, squash, basketball), a gym, kid's playroom, classes out the wazoo (pilates, watercolor painting, yoga, etc.), a fancy restaurant, a kid-friendly cafe and a bar (where loads of British football matches are watched!)

Am I gloating? Maybe just a little...

Our apartment search took only 2 days. We looked at 10 units overall-- some we liked, some we loved, others we said, "oh no they didn't" (snap). Then we found "The One," or "La Onda" as it's called. In Mexico "Que onda?" is slang for "What's up?" so I like to call our new home the "What's up Playas Building".

Our living room is the long round window on the 5th floor.

For all you House Hunters addicts, I'm going to get all Suzanne Wang and walk you through our place. (Warning: if looking at empty apartments in the middle of renovation isn't your thing, proceed to the next entry.)

The view from our apartment is spectacular because one side of our living room is a wall of windows. You can see from one side of the island clear across to the other. Looking to the left....

And looking out the right. (You can see the ferry from this view.)

Looking back at our apartment (windows are behind you), you see the dining room (ignore the people and equipment and note the steps) and our guest bathroom. On the far left (woman in red pants is blocking the door) is our master bedroom. The door in the far back left is our front door and the door to the left in background (other woman blocking it) is to our kitchen. To the right of the bathroom is a hallway to the other 2 bedrooms.

Overall it's a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment (no helper quarters!) that has a washer-dryer (the ultimate NYC status symbol!) It's within walking distance to the ferry, DB Plaza and the beach. For anyone who wants to see the nitty-gritty photos (that's you, Mom!), let me know and I can email them to you.

How did we celebrate our lease signing (I didn't mention we signed a lease on this puppy?!)? A cold beer and sizzling beef fajitas at Zak's -- a seaside DB establishment that is sure to become Casa Birardi #2 in the months ahead.

So, do I even have to ask?? WHEN ARE YOU COMING FOR A VISIT?!

What is your occupation?

A little bit of background on the oft-contemplated name of my blog. Before I dive into that, though, I'd like to answer some questions I think some of you may have upon hearing the name:

  1. This does not mean I'm going to be a housewife forever. (That was mostly for my husband.)
  2. Housewife is used in the most loving way possible. I wear the (possibly temporary) title proudly.
So, how did this witty title come to me? Well, Vin and I went to our local HSBC branch here to open our Hong Kong bank account. (HK Fun Fact #1: HSBC stands for Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corp. It's known here as "Hong Kong Bank.") The very nice Chinese man, whose name was, strangely enough, Caleb was going through all the necessary paperwork and questions to set up our account. "Can I see your passport?" "Would you like an ATM card?"

And then came the doozy: "What's your occupation? Are you working or are you, um, uh... a housewife?"

Looking back I realize there were a few emotive reactions I could've had.

I could've gotten indignant -- "No, I'm not merely a housewife. I just finished up a decade-long career in Public Relations in New York City and handled the careers and campaigns of people like Prince and Michael Jackson, not to mention blue-chip brands like Coca-Cola."

I could've started crying.

I could've stared at him blankly and made Vin answer the question for me.

Instead, I started laughing. Uncontrollably, maniacally laughing. Caleb must've thought I was crazy. Then I said, "Um, yeah, I guess you can put me down as a housewife." (Hong Kong Fun Fact #2: If we were really wealthy, I'd be called a Tai-Tai. Alas we are not there...yet, so I'm a mere housewife.)

And so it is, my friends and family, that I present to you Jessica Ann Brenner Birardi, former PR maven, current Hong Kong housewife.