Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We're not in Kansas anymore -- or are we?

Between the throngs of Asian people and 85-degree February weather, it's rare that I forget I live in Hong Kong, China. In fact, it's usually quite the opposite with Vin and I having a "holy shit, we live in Hong Kong" moment. However, there is that rare instance where my mind escapes and for a split second I think am back on U.S. soil. It's not conscious-- more like when you catch yourself daydreaming and your eyes are open, and is usually triggered by something nostalgic or familiar.

Here are a few examples:

Vin and I were walking around the fancy grocery store (the one that sells Wheat Thins, Vitamin Water and Babybel cheese) and I spotted what I thought had to be a mirage... but no, there it was -- Diet Mountain Dew, my favorite soda of all time. DMD wasn't super popular in NYC so to see it in HK was an almost out-of-body experience. In fact, most New Yorkers scoff at the Dew, calling it redneck cola, but find me a lighter, crisper soda that packs a caffeinated wallop like DMD. It was so exciting that I forgot I was in a Hong Kong supermarket. Vin quickly snapped me out of it when he said we should take all the cans on the shelf (all 6 of them) because we didn't know when they would have it in stock again.

Women who claim that cat-calls from random men on the streets are insulting, degrading and unwanted are just plain lying. Who doesn't like a compliment -- and even better if it's from a stranger because they have no reason to lie (unlike, say, your husband or parents or friends.) Living in New York City, it was a rare commute to the office that didn't involve walking past a construction site. Believe you me, if I didn't get at least one comment or glance, I knew something was off (with me, not them) and made a mental note to find and fix the problem (e.g. did my pants needs shortening, was my dress too big in the waist, etc.)

Some cat-calls are just downright funny. One time my friend Lori and I were eating ice cream cones while strolling through Athens, Greece. This Greek man looks us up and down appreciatively and says in broken English, "Bea-yooo-tee-ful ice cream."

I'm sure you're like, "Where is she going with this?" Well, Hong Kong - like most of Asia, I suspect, isn't a big cat-calling culture. It just doesn't gel with their reserved demeanor. I mean, can you picture an Asian guy saying, "Hey, you're looking good today, sweetheart"?? No, probably not. So I figured my cat-call days were over...until two days ago when, as I'm walking through Central, this man comes up to me and clearly says something in his own language that resembles a cat-call. The lascivious look on his face told me he wasn't asking for directions. As I do in all such encounters I didn't acknowledge it and kept moving... but it made my day, my week, and my blog. Oh and for the record, the guy wasn't Asian -- he looked more Bangladeshi. But it still counts and still reminded me of home.

The one that fools me every time is walking outside of a movie theatre. I think it has something to do with being taken somewhere else mentally by the movie because the credits roll, the lights come up and we walk out of the theatre -- the whole time me thinking we're still in New York. Then we walk outside and I realize I'm not on West 66th Street and it comes crashing back to me that I am in Hong Kong.

I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones that stand out most.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Language Barrier

Hong Kong is a very easy city for a westerner to get around in because nearly everything is in English. What may seem like a blessing can also be a curse. Case in point, I got the following coupons in the mail from our local grocery store.

Did you happen to notice the second row of coupons offering freshly slaughtered pork and beef? Now I know I'm a wuss when it comes to meat, but does anyone really want to know that their meat was "freshly slaughtered"? Just what I want to hear -- that an animal was alive and kicking a few hours ago and now it's dead, cut up into tidy pieces and saran-wrapped for my consumption.

Someone please teach these people the word "fresh".

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Swingin' Good Time in DB

Warning: the following post is based on hearsay; we have not had first-hand experience in the swinging department.

We were hanging out at our friends Liz and Carl's place on Saturday and they dropped the bombshell that Discovery Bay is a hotbed for swinging (and I don't mean of the swingset variety.) For a brief second I thought they were trying to induct Vin and me, but I quickly realized that wasn't the case. Instead, since Liz and Carl are the quintessential authority on all things Disco Bay (at least for Vin me, they are), we were schooled on the practice. Here's what we learned:

1. The biggest swingers live in the Marina. Background: The marina is kind of a subculture here on DB. Instead of living in houses, all these folks live on fancy houseboats over in the Marina. They have their own club complete with swimming pool so don't frequent our country club.

2. If someone is interested in swinging and wants to let their neighbors know, all they have to do is put their laundry detergent box in the window. This is a universal sign that you want to swing. I wonder what signal I'd be sending if I put our Costco-sized Tide box in the window?! It's bigger than our microwave!

3. Carl claims Vin and I are too interesting to swing...and that swingers are by and large a very dull group. Who knew?

So kids, if any of you are secret swingers or looking for a good time, Disco Bay is the place to be. Just don't expect Vin and I to make any introductions.

Fruits in Suits

I have to be honest -- the job search hasn't been going according to plan. My goal was to come back from Phuket and dedicate all my time and resources to finding a job. I was going to take a very systematic approach -- updating my resume, creating an action plan, brainstorming all the leads at my fingertips, researching good opportunities.

That was a week ago and all I've done since then was pick up the latest Time Out Hong Kong. (Yes, we have one here.) The cover boasted "Find your dream job" so I felt like there was some divine intervention at work. Giddy and slightly naive in thinking "this is going to be a cinch", I bought my Time Out and read it on the ferry ride home. I expected to find insightful nuggets in finding a job in Hong Kong, but all I got was generic advice like, "Don't lose your job in the first place." Uh, thanks Captain Obvious. What about those of us who don't have a job?

Well, Time Out had an answer for that. They offered 3 networking organizations that you could use to meet people and suss out job leads. One was for Aussies only. Strike One. Another was for people in investment banking. Strike Two. The third was called Fruits in Suits -- and was a networking group for gays and lesbians. I kid you not. Don't believe me? Google "fruits in suits" and they're the first website that pops up.

Can you imagine seeing that on a resume? "I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, volunteer at the local soup kitchen and am a member of Fruits in Suits." It's not that I have a problem with such a group existing; it's that they would call themselves "fruits" and in a business setting, no less.

I'm trying not to let myself use this as an excuse to stop looking....but c'mon -- FRUITS in FREAKIN SUITS?!?!?!!!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kung Hei Fat Choy

I just cursed you out in Cantonese. Actually, no, I wished you Happy New Year, but would you really know the difference?!

So, I've really let you down. Chinese New Year - the biggest holiday this side of the globe and a 15-day celebration no less - ended yesterday and I'm only blogging about it now. I could blame it on our Phuket holiday, but that would be a blatant lie since I had 10 whole additional days to get something about it online. Oh well, I hope you'll still enjoy reading about what is really a fascinating holiday even if it's already over.

First things first, each calendar year is dedicated to a different animal and each year/animal brings with it unique characteristics. The Year of the Ox is supposed to bring prosperity through hard work and fortitude. I was born in the Year of the Rabbit and am therefore articulate, talented and ambitious. Spot on, right?

The former Christmas exhibit-cum-Chinese New Year exhibit in DB Plaza:

Next -- and probably hardest for westerners to grasp, the Chinese New Year doesn't start on the same day every year. It starts on the first full moon of the year (which varies each year) and ends on the following full moon. This year's holiday started on January 26th and ended on February 9th.

Every day during this 15-day period between full moons has a specific meaning and tradition. I won't get into all of them, but one that we chose to celebrate was the 2nd day, also known as the Day of the Dog. This is a day when Chinese people treat dogs with extra care and respect, lavishing attention and treats on them. As we were in Phuket on this day, we asked our helper Lyn to give Victor an extra big crack bone. If you want to read more on the days, this website is chock full of info: http://www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/chinese_new_year.html.

In addition to the various days, there are certain customs that everyone abides by throughout the holiday. Many of them center around giving people money. Married people are supposed to give non-married people money, as this can somehow help them become un-single. (I don't think Bridget Jones would approve.) Oh and the money has to be crisp, new bills and must be held within a small, decorative red envelope. Interesting side note: all the stores here, from Ikea to McDonalds, gave away free packets of these red envelopes, all emblazoned with their logos of course.

You're also supposed to get your house and yourself nice and clean before the first full moon as this sets the tone for the rest of the year. Dirty house = dirty 2009. It's considered very bad luck if you wash or cut your hair during the Chinese New Year (as you were supposed to have taken care of this before that full moon.) While I didn't cut my hair, I certainly washed it. Sometimes luck has to take a backseat to hygeine. Like your hair, your house is supposed to be spic-and-span so you're not allowed to clean it during the holiday. In fact, they say that using a broom during this period will "sweep the luck right out the door" for the year. This one was markedly easier for me.

As for iconic symbols, the kumquat tree is the poinsetta of Chinese New Year. They are EVERYWHERE and even I decided to pick one up when I saw them in our local supermarket. They're really gorgeous and the orange worked perfectly with the color scheme in my dining room!

However, I began to panic when the leaves started falling off after only a few days. It's not like I could sweep them up... Plus, I don't want to read into what a dying kumquat tree means for my 2009.