Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It Takes a Village...

...to turn on my oven.

A big reason we chose this apartment was because it has an oven. I can't tell you the number of places we looked at that only had stove tops. I'm sure when it's 120 degrees in August I'll understand why this is so common. But I started imaging all the goodies we'd be missing out on -- peanut butter blossoms, roasted asparagus, homemade mac-n-cheese, short ribs... ok, clearly I'm hungry. So lucky for us Onda had an oven. I soon realized that having an oven and using an oven were two very different things.

I should've known this oven was going to be trouble when my real estate agent couldn't figure out how to light it. (A gas oven isn't new to me; a gas oven you have to light is. Oh and this comes after hearing an awful story from my sister-in-law's friend who burned off her eyebrows, eyelashes and outer layer of her corneas-- yes corneas-- trying to light a gas oven.) Ultimately someone from the gas company had to come out and show me how to light the freakin thing. That was in October...two whole months before I actually used it. What do you think happened to all that oven-lighting knowledge??

Which brings us to last night... I had put off using the oven for 2 weeks. With Christmas dinner approaching, I refused to let the oven win and decided a test meal was needed so that I didn't spend all of Christmas Eve trying to figure out how to use the damn thing. I get my rickety long lighter (the one that came w/ the place) and start fiddling around with knobs and shoving the lighter in the hole... and end up with nothing but gas fumes.

Then I realize, this what neighbors are for. So I knock on my neighbor's door and guess what? She, like the rest of hte Asian population in HK, only has a stovetop and can't help me. She recommends I ask our security guard, who I drag up into my kitchen and quickly realize she knows less than I do. At this point, I'm thinking we'll be having spaghetti and meatballs sans meatballs... but then Nina -- sassy name for a security guard, no? -- tells me she's going to find someone who can help me. It's 7pm and I know the gas company is closed, so I figure Nina's trying to gracefully bow out the situation.

Lo and behold, there's a knock on my door 30 minutes later and it's Nina with a middle-aged white couple. (I guess only the gweilos care about ovens.) Well, Peggy and John -- my Aussie neighbors from the 15th floor who have an electric oven, take over the situation. Peggy oversees the dial while John handles the lighter. It takes about 12 tries -- all with Peggy telling John he's not working the lighter properly and warning me that my sauce is about to boil over -- and it took. The oven was lit. Nina applauded. I let out a cry of joy. You would've thought they had just revived Victor from the brink of death. It sounds weirdly dramatic, but I had this surge of love. I loved Nina for being so persistent in finding somoene to help me. I loved John for getting it lit and I loved Peggy for managing all of us during the crisis. This would have NEVER happened in NYC. EVER.

The good news is that I now know how to use my oven (made some banana bread tonight just to practice) and feel like I've found surrogate grandparents here who will always be willing to help me if I need it.

Now if I could only figure out how to determine the temperature of the oven. My oven dial reads 1-8, not 250 - 400 degrees. Anyone have a guess as to which number 350 degrees Farenheit is?? If so, please please clue me in. (My banana bread called for 350 degrees and I had it on 6 for the recommended time. Ended up being way undercooked and had to bake it for an additional 25 minutes.)

The moral of the story is that there are really great people in Hong Kong and I'm actually starting to meet them! I'll let you know how my beef burgundy and pumpkin pie on Christmas Eve turn out...

The Day the Cable Car Didn't Fall

We decided to tackle another big HK sight-seeing mecca because 1) it was a gorgeous day, 2) we still don't know that many people, which leads me to 3) we didn't have anything else to do and 4) part of us still feel like tourists, so why not?!

Our target: The Tian Tan Buddha, the world's largest outdoor buddha, which measures 110 feet and is made out of bronze. It also happens to be perched on the side of a very large mountain so we decided to take the Ngong Ping cable car (don't ask, I have NO IDEA how to pronounce that) up to the top since it provided breath-taking views of Tung Chung Bay, Lantau Island and, well, Hong Kong Airport. We had a few options on getting there, but ruled out the bus (lots of turns = lots of vomit) and hiking (no explanation required). Anyhoo, it really is quite a ride -- because the cable car is strung over the water and traverses around 4 mountains before it drops you off near the statue. It's a 3.5 mile ride. The views are incredible as you'll see in the pictures below.

Being afraid of both heights and flying, I had moments of anxiety, which Vin totally laughed away. (I don't get mad when he does this; it actually makes me feel better.) He stopped laughing when we ran into our friends on our way back from the Buddha and they told us that one of the cable cars had mysteriously fallen last year. Yep, just fell. Not sure if it was into the water or the side of the mountain, but it fell. They reassured us that this was during maintenance and no one died... but you can understand why I was relieved to have both feet on the ground upon hearing this news.

So here are the pictures of the day the cable car didn't fall:

The death car, I mean cable car

Going up.... (alternate caption: "a precarious clothesline dangling over the South China Sea")

A look back (beautiful and terrifying)

The suckers, ahem, hikers

Almost there (you can see the little guy in the distance)

Only 350 steps to go... (imagine how the hikers feel)

Did I say 350?? um, it felt like 3500!

But we made it and we're still smiling :)

On our way back down (and blissfully unaware that cable cars could fall)

The First Day of Winter

Enjoy a few quick videos of Victor B frolicking in the Disco Bay sand on December 21st, the first day of winter. It's definitely weird to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts the week of Christmas....but I'll take it over stomping though black, soupy 2-day old city snow anytime. Oh and pardon the voice; it's a mommy/puppy thing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You are in the Wood Zone

I gave you the background on numbers and how important they are here. (Funny story -- I was at the store getting my cell phone yesterday and, as part of the process, they give you a list of potential phone numbers you can have. Needless-to-say Vin and I were scanning the list of anything sans 4 and with lots of 9s and 8s in it.)

Anyhoo, I thought I'd share an example of feng shui at work in everyday life. I've read that almost all large buildings (e.g. offices, government building, even some skyscraper residential buildings) follow feng shui principles when being built. It's considered unsafe if you don't...

Well, I went to Elements, the mall underneath Vin's office (e.g. bordello Christmas decor) and loved that the mall map, which told you where Tods and Sephora were, also told you which "zone" you were in -- metal, fire, wood, water and earth.

I happened to be in Wood...and I have NO IDEA what that means. Are there people who only shop in the Fire zone? Or others who wouldn't be caught dead in the Wood zone? Clearly I need to Wiki this thing... God forbid I'm an Earth person shopping in the Metal zone. I don't want to mess with the gods while I'm here...

Color Therapy

I wanted to reassure those of you who visited our UWS apartment that the bookshelf is indeed back to being color-coordinated! It was a job I kept for a rainy afternoon (well, not a rainy afternoon since it hasn't rained since I've been here, but a day when everything else was done and I was looking for something fun to do.) I've caught shit for my color-coordinated bookshelf in the past (ahem, Scott Solomon) and just wanted all the haters to see that it's thriving in Hong Kong. For those of you who like this sort of thing (e.g. Domino subscribers), here are some up-close shots!

The blue books (thank GOD that stupid oversized book about all the baseball stadiums fit in the back!):

The yellow/orange section:

And of course the red section (sorry for reflection, someone needs to bone up on her photography skills!):

Freakanomics and all its kin are Vin's books, which he doesn't actually read. He reads a chapter, takes notes in the margin on that one chapter and then it sits on some surface in our apartment with a pen sticking out of it for months. Bitter, party of one, your table is now ready...

And another living room shot just because!

Pug Life

Sometimes, as I'm tooling around the apartment ironing or cleaning or whatever, I happen to find Victor B in some of the most comfortable-looking spots. I thought I'd share -- especially if it's particularly cold and wet where you are. I remember days at work wishing I could be curled up on my couch (maybe not on a sheepskin throw) watching a Jon & Kate Plus 8 marathon.

Also wanted to share some pix from our recent hike to The Peak with friends Andy and Michelle. It was Victor's first time on Hong Kong Island and also his first time on a ferry. Like all other forms of transportation, he slept most of way. (Get him in his green bag and it's all zzzzzzzzzz.)

Those are our friends Andy and Michelle. They both work with Vin and are engaged (to each other, not Vin). Not sure if you remember my posting about The Peak and how we took a tram to get to the top and the ride was basically like climbing a roller coaster hill? Yeah, well we hiked that. On foot. It was nice...and torture. I think my butt dropped a size or two by the time we reached the top. Even Victor had to stop every once in awhile. Somehow, though, Michelle managed to lead the pack the entire time...and at times she was running and trying to get Victor to follow her. He wanted no part in it. This is him saying, "Is this bee-atch for real?"

I enjoyed the hike -- and really truly pray that my ass shrank, even just a little bit.

Santa Comes to Hong Kong

Maybe, like me, you weren't sure if they celebrated Christian holidays here in Hong Kong. Or maybe you're a smarty pants and knew this city went hog wild for Christmas. Either way, I still think you'll be blown away by the following pictures which capture just how much pageantry goes into the holiday season here. They don't let a little thing like snow (or lack thereof) slow them down.

I'm sure I've mentioned that Hong Kong is a huge mall fest and that these malls are basically enclosed Rodeo Drives and Fifth Avenues. Well, the malls here are D-E-C-K-E-D for the big day early in November...

Here's IFC -- check out the tiny carolers and monster holiday ferris wheel:

Here's a traditional one from another mall in Central, whose name is escaping me:

Then there's my favorite display from Elements, the mall underneath Vin's office in Kowloon. They went with a French boudoir can-can theme, which I'm sure all you Bible beaters out there love to hear! I actually like it -- just from an aesthetics perspective. (Kate Reilly, this is what the DKO Road Show should look like this year -- it's fierce!)

And then there's Discovery Bay, which appears to have the lion's share of all Hong Kong children. You knew they weren't going to be outdone. You can't walk 5 paces in DB without running into a Christmas decoration. And it's not just the town -- I cracked up when I was walking along the beach in 80 degree weather and saw a beachfront house who had a commercial-sized blow-up Frosty the Snowman figurine in its backyard! This thing should've been outside of a Wal-Mart...

They also celebrate New Years Eve here, but it's not as big as the Chinese New Year, which is January 26-28 this year. Everyone gets like 3-5 days off work and the city erupts into this big party. Vin and I are hoping to get away to Thailand for the long weekend during the new year.

Little Known HK Fact #613 -- They celebrate Valentine's Day here on both Feb 14 (the western V-Day) and on Feb 9 (the Chinese Valentine's Day). I don't know the background on this holiday, but will certainly milk two Valentine's Days out of Vin.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Project Progress

"You have your work cut out for you." These were the famous last words of my husband who had been living among boxes and disarray for 4 weeks before I arrived. In return, I asked him to PLEASE not take anything out of the boxes because I would take care of it in an orderly fashion when I arrived. Wouldn't ya know that I get a phone call a few days later from him -- "The kitchen is really bad. I tried to make it all fit, but it doesn't." If communication is the key to a good marriage...

I don't mean to sound cocky but I knew I'd make it all work. Organization is my thing; put me in a Container Store and I'm a very happy girl. I'd be a professional organizer if it didn't involve touching other people's dirt. So when I woke up at 3am ripe with jet lag my first night here Project Progress began. I started with the kitchen -- nothing like proving the hubby wrong! -- and then worked on my clothes. With those two things out of the way, I focused on clearing out some floor space by hiding all the non-everyday items -- suitcases, Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, etc. I'll spare you the rest -- you're probably starting to doze off.

Anyway, in a mere 48 hours this place was livable. Next up on the agenda is paint -- which is strangely a rare find in HK (they only carry pastels and non-toxic paint is pretty much non-existent), hanging of the drapes (must find a drill that can withstand the hardcore Chinese concrete walls), and pictures.

Here are some before and after shots. They're not true "after" shots, but give you an idea of what I've done so far. (If you don't see a big difference, please keep it to yourself!)

Guest Bedroom BEFORE:

Guest Bedroom AFTER

Dining Room BEFORE

Dining Room AFTER

Living Room BEFORE

Living Room AFTER (don't mind the frustrated hubby who's been dealing with finances in both US and HK!)

Oh and I finally got around to clearing out the guest shower... so book your tickets! Casa Birardi HK is open for business!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Living up to my title

It's official -- I'm a tai tai. I came to this conclusion when I found myself ironing my husband's shirts whilst (they use "whilst" instead of "while" over here so I thought I'd try it out) a load of towels swirled in the washing machine. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise -- I knew ironing and laundry were part of the housewife bag. What I didn't expect was to fall into it so easily. I got excited about assembling my new Ikea spice rack (is it so wrong to love a spice rack?) and love making the bed. I spent an hour organizing all the items that go in the cabinet under both bathroom sinks and chopped 10 different kinds of veggies for a special Peking stir-fry I made for last night for dinner. After 3 years of marriage it was nice to finally break the wok out...

Sure, there have been some obstacles: The toilet in the master bathroom stopped working and our doorman fixed it with a paper clip. I don't have enough space for all the stuff I bought at Costco so it currently resides in the guest shower, something the hubby just looooooves.

But is this really the life of a tai tai? Something tells me a proper tai tai spends her days at tennis lessons and martini lunches. Not this tai tai. Maybe it's my midwestern roots. I'm chalking it up to the newness factor and think in a few short weeks, I'll be writing about how much I hate ironing and how making the bed is for suckers. But for now I'm reveling in the use of an iron and mop.

Monday, December 8, 2008

No Fouling

He's here. He's really really here. I think I speak for most of you when I say that I was optimistic Victor B would make it to Hong Kong, but also scared to death that he just might not. Of course neither Vin nor I said anything along these lines to each other; we were all rah-rah "I can't wait for Victor B to get here" in the days leading up to the big trip.

While we were a nervous wreck, I like to picture Victor taking full advantage of his 2-day cross-country trip to HK -- smoking a spliff during his lay-over in Amsterdam, that kind of thing. Whatever happened along the way, Vin and I were the big dorky parents who were standing in the window of our apartment waiting for him to arrive. I'm sure George, the man who picked him up at the airport and got him through customs, thought we were nuts -- 2 raving lunatics waving maniacally from the 5th floor as he drives up to the building. Our poor unborn children...

Anyway, I'm happy to report that Victor took to Disco Bay like pigs take to mud or big girls take to cake! Here are a few pictures from his first Disco Bay walk -- taken right outside our apartment. Isn't our fountain awesome? I give it 1o days before Victor tries to jump in.

Oh and as for the title, instead of saying "Curb your dog", the signs in HK read, "No fouling." This could be confusing on its own, so they have a picture of a crouching dog with poop coming out of his butt. Why leave it to chance?!

Peeing on palm trees -- another first for Victor B!

Victor has already met tons of dogs. Just today we met the local vet's wife and their chihuahua Pico. I was very "proud Mama" when she told me that Justin (the vet) had mentioned Victor B to her. Erin (the vet's wife) seems cool (in the 5-minute conversation we had!) so now I'm already plotting how we can hang out, with Victor and Pico, of course. Is that too stalkerish of me??

Our walk ended at the beach where Victor chased waves and showed off his digging fetish.

We hope he's not trying to dig his way back to New York. Check out the sandy face, which is cute in pictures and not-so-cute in a "choking on sand and hacking up a lung in public" kind of way.

I leave you with an extra adorable picture of Victor B napping on our couch. The family unit is officially in tact!

My Hubby Rocks!

Hey everyone,

I'm back! I hope you're as excited to read that as I was to write it. The whirlwind Bon Voyage Tour is officially over -- and while it was wonderful, Victor B and I are happy to be reunited with Vin in our new home -- Discovery Bay.

Before I dive into all the new updates since arriving here on Thursday, I wanted to post a quick video and photo from the marathon. My super-fit and super-duper motivated husband ran the marathon (26.2 miles for those non-runners out there) in 4 hours flat. Hot, right?!

(A special thank you to Randy Garutti for the voice-over.)

The other big news from my hiatus is that I became an aunt! My nephew Luca Cole Gentile was born on November 13th, same day as Tom Brenner's birthday. While it's pretty clear he's a Gentile, we're hoping the Birardi genes start to come out in the next few months! Ain't he cute?!

I have lots to share -- pictures, stories, etc. and promise to add more postings very very soon.