Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happiness is...


A hot, fresh everything bagel + hazelnut coffee for $2.50

Cable TV with 800 channels (literally!) on a 60" flat screen

10 varieties of every product on the shelves - greek yogurt with honey, greek yogurt with blueberries, greek yogurt with pomegranates, plain greek yogurt...

The bank teller, grocery clerk, telemarketing idiot on the phone speak your language

Top Shop, J Crew, Urban Outfitters and the many many stores that line NYC streets

Guacamole made tableside at Rosa Mexicana

Bananas that taste like bananas

Watching live sports in the afternoon and at night

And Just Like That...

...I'm a New Yorker again.  Technically.  Since landing in JFK last week, I've spent the holiday laying on my in-laws couch, shopping like crazy and eating my face off.  So really it's not like I'm back to normal life, more like I'm on vacation. I keep having to remind myself that I'm not hopping on a 16-hour flight back to HK in a few days.

One stark reminder we're not in Kansas Hong Kong anymore...the weather.  The high in HK today was 68 degrees.  I'd be walking my dog in jeans, a t-shirt and flip-flops.  Maybe with a light scarf tied loosely around my neck (for decorative purposes only) and some sunnies on.

Here's how I looked when I just walked him in NYC's 33 degree weather:

Note the "Do I *really* have to go out in this crap?" look on his face.  Yeah, and 33 is MILD for December.  Oy freakin' vey.

Monday, December 12, 2011

And the Award for Most Inappropriate WiFi Network Name Goes to...

Sitting in the Hanoi airport riding out a 3-hour layover on our way to Siem Reap.  Find the only restaurant in the airport, which, much to our elation, offers free wifi! Then my husband nearly spits out his pad thai when he sees the options.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Swinging Update

This may not even be that interesting to you, but I happened to be sitting in the Plaza (main part of town) and witnessed the most awkward exchange between the wife and husband who used to swing and are now split up.

The husband is standing outside the door of a popular coffee place, talking to a friend.  Then I spot the wife (ex-wife?) coming from across the Plaza, clearly not seeing him, but walking directly towards him.  (The friend the husband is talking to is blocking the husband from view.) As she's about 6 feet away from him she realizes he's there, but obviously can't turn back now because she's only 6 feet away from him and it would be really dramatic to do a complete about-face.

At this point, the husband sees her and peeks around his friend, smiles at her and says hi or something to that effect.  (I'm too far away to get sound on this soap opera.)  She literally walks right past him into the coffee shop as if he didn't exist.  He then gives his friend a look like "I tried" and continues their conversation.  Two minutes later she walked right back out and blatantly ignores him again.

I realize that this could fall under one of those "you had to be there" moments.  But take a sec to think about seeing your husband (or bf or wife or gf) standing outside a Starbucks and walking right past them like they don't exist. And worse, imagine that you have to fear these types of run-ins all the time because you both live in a town the size of Gramercy Park.

I think I'd have a nervous break-down.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advice to Newcomers

Casting my natural sarcasm aside, I've decided to share some earnest advice with newcomers.  (I know - what's the world coming to?!)  Putting my serious pants on for a sec, I did struggle for the first year I lived here - and knowing the things below was one small part of that.  Leaving friends and family behind, knowing not a soul in HK - that made up the rest of it.

So as my good deed for the year, here are all the things I wish someone would've told me the day I moved to Hong Kong:

As an American you MUST make your way to Gateway - a ghetto version of Costco.  It's in the basement of an unremarkable building at 188 Des Voeux Road, but don't let that (or the shabby decor or bad lighting) scare you off.  They carry all the brands you're used to and for discounted prices.  Jif peanut butter, Triscuits, Diet Mountain Dew, etc. They are particularly good for bath & body items (Pantene shampoo and REAL Q-tips) and cleaning products.  TIP: You order everything and then it's delivered to your flat a week later (depending on where you live in HK.)

If you can't find something there - or you want fresh or upscale food items, head to one of the Western grocery store chains:
  • 360 (Landmark Building and Elements)
  • City Super (IFC)
  • Olivers (Prince's Building)
Expect to pay a lot more though!

Get Plugged In
Grab a copy of The List (a free magazine you can find around town) every month.  Sign up for dedicated emails from Sassy Hong Kong and DimSumAndThenSome Join the American Women's Association or YMCA.  They have great programs for American newbies.  I've heard that the other Chambers of Commerce (e.g. British Chamber of Commerce) host similar events and group get-togethers.

If you need real furniture (sofas, dining room tables, etc.) there's only one place to go - Horizons in Ap Lei Chau.  You see, unlike other large cities, Hong Kong decided to house all of its furniture places in one building on the outskirts of town.  Don't get me started!  Horizons is an 18-story building with various furniture stores on each floor.  TIP: Take the elevator to the top and walk down via the stairs.  Otherwise you'll spend 3/4 of your time waiting for the elevator.  Not fun.

All the stores in Horizons have smaller (*much* smaller) counterparts in Central.  These shops are the size of your bedroom, so the merchandise is limited to like 4 items.  IMHO, it's not worth the time.  There are also a few Ikeas in HK, if you don't want to spend a lot of money.

If you're looking for something small and beautiful or a gift, I'd recommend the following stores: Homeless (on Gough Street), G.O.D. (skip the Central one; opt for Causeway Bay store instead), Shanghai Tang (found in most malls) and Bals Tokyo (Elements Mall).

I'm sad to say the shopping in HK is subpar - am sure I'll get lots of negative comments for that one.  Unless you're uber-rich and can shop at Chanel, Louis Vuitton and their ilk, you're limited to the following: H&M, Zara, Mango, Club Monaco, Massimo Dutti, French Connection, etc.  Granted, there are a few original boutiques, but they aren't easy to find and merchandise is limited because the stores are the size of a postage stamp.  They just opened up a Gap, are close to opening an Abercrombie & Fitch and rumor has it J Crew is coming to HK.  They also have Marks & Spencer, if you're a Brit.

Also, sizes are bizarre.  At the Puma store, they actually print "Asian size" in the tags so that you realize a medium here is an "Asian medium" (e.g. not a fat-ass gweilo medium).  What I like to do is 1) order clothes online from stores in the States and have them shipped here via OneNow or 2) have clothes I already own copied in Shenzhen (see next blog post).

As a New Yorker this was a huge turn-off to me.  I'm still not used to it.  The entire HK population lives for malls.  The good ones are Pacific Place and IFC in Central, Elements and Harbour City in Kowloon. Harbour City is a maze, so leave bread crumbs.

Getting Around Central:
If you're like me and hate the thought of walking amidst 1,000 people with no manners, opt for the elevated walkways.  You can use them to get pretty much anywhere in Central.  You'll have to walk though a maze of buildings, but it's definitely the more civilized way to go.  When going to a doctor's office, I'll start at IFC, then walk through Chater House, Alexandra House and Landmark before arriving at the Central Building.  It takes a few attempts and you'll def get lost the first three times you try, but is so much nicer in the air con than sweating and avoiding spit in the street below.

90% of all HK doctors are located in 2 buildings - Princes Building and Central Building.  There are some others scattered nearby, but for some (very convenient) reason, all doctors are located within a 4-block radius from each other.

So that's about it.  Sure, there's more like- take a taxi because they're cheap and be prepared for people to not hold doors for you.  But really those are big things that will help you get settled.  Enjoy!

Advice for Newcomers: Shenzhen Special

You are koo-koo bananas if you live in Hong Kong and never make it to Shenzhen.

What is Shenzhen?  A city in southern China where all the global factories are located and where enterprising locals make money by selling knock-off everything!  Go to Shenzhen for bootleg DVDs, knock-off designer handbags and clothing made. You also get some cheap-as-chips spa treatments. Here's my ideal Shenzhen trip:
  1. If you're a country like the States who China doesn't like, you'll need a Chinese visa.  If you're Dutch, no visa required.
  2. Book a Saturday night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
  3. If you want to know where you're going, buy a little red book at Dymocks that's basically the Cliff's Notes for Shenzhen.  The title is escaping me...
  4. Grab the train from HK in the morning on Saturday.  Bring a an overnight change of clothes, plenty of renminbi (Shenzhen is CASH ONLY), any clothing you're having copied, a list of all the TV series and current movies you've been wanting to see and a trolley or large backpack (to haul everything back home).  Wear comfortable clothes and shoes and bring an oxygen tank.  I kid, but do give your lungs a pep talk on how miserable they will be for the next 24 hours.
  5. Get off the train and head straight to Lo Wu.  (You can't miss it!)  Go directly to your tailor on the 5th floor as this will take the most time.  Have all your clothes made - show them the piece you've brought, get measured, etc.  They'll take you to the fabric section to choose your fabrics.  They'll ship everything to you 5 days later. 
  6. Next head to Betty and ask for the good DVDs.  She will direct you to another stall where you'll sit in front of a laptop operated by a Chinese guy.  He will flip through movie and TV series posters; you say "yes" for the ones you want.  He then crawls up into the ceiling (I kid you not) and comes back with everything you ordered.
  7. It's a no-brainer, but I feel compelled to come right out and say it - Skip the dental implants and cosmetic surgery places.  
  8. Head to Ling Ling for purses.  Tell her you want to see the good stuff in the warehouse and follow one of the shopkeepers as she takes you outside of Lo Wu, across a busy street and up into a semi-frightening building.  She'll open the doors to a flat filled with designer handbags and wallets.  PURE HEAVEN.
  9. Grab your purses, head back to the Grand Hyatt, shower away all the Lo Wu grime and get a bite to eat.  Fall into bed after all your hard work!
  10. Get up the next morning, grab breakfast and head to Queen Spa.  It's a 5-story building that's dedicated just to spa treatments.  It's part cruise ship/part Vegas, but so worth it.  Don't freak out when you and your spouse get separated.  They do this so that you can get undressed and showered in the women's changing room.  You'll meet again on the 3rd floor.  I recommend getting a 75-minute full-body massage in a private room.  Then meet up with your spouse in a common room where you'll settle into an enormous Lazy Boy-like chair, equipped with a mini TV.  Spend the next 5 hours, watching TV, ordering food and getting various spa treatments - head massage, pedi, hand massage, etc.  
  11. Get dressed, say a teary goodbye to Queen Spa and head back to the tailor at Lo Wu for a second fitting.  If you're getting suits made from scratch, INSIST on a second fitting. 
  12. After your fitting, grab the train back to HK.
A week later, your beautiful new clothes will arrive looking like this:

Don't be alarmed!  It's not a dead body.  Grab some scissors and carefully open the "package".  Consider wearing a face mask because all of the lovely lung-destroying cigarette smoke from Lo Wu will come rushing out.  Pull out your clothes and hang each item in front of a window to air out (you can also dry-clean, but that ruins clothes quickly) and iron when the smell is gone.  Voila!  You have an entire new wardrobe!

You MUST MUST MUST go to Shenzhen at least once in your life.  And this is coming from someone who hates crowds, dirt, smoke and general chaos.