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Archive for March, 2008

starferry in hong kongThe Hong Kong humidity we’ve been hearing about is here. It’s so bad that when I was changing F this morning, her skin felt sticky. Like San Francisco, winter rains ended in March and spring begina in Hong Kong almost instantaneously. As the days get closer to summer, however, the heat and humidity get more intense. Because of where Causeway Bay sits in relation to Hong Kong Island (CWB was literally a Bay until it got paved over), this section of the city gets hot. We’re learning that February through now is in fact a good time to travel here, before the summer temperatures. By the way, we still don’t know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and vice versa. Also, E and I need work on converting Kilograms to Pounds and Centimeters (nothing is measured in inches here, at least not the stuff we’re measuring). Okay, so centimeters must be a hundred meters, right?

The impending humidity prompted us to visit PriceRite today for de-humidifiers. One interesting side-note. I went to two places today that have hardware store-like qualities, and only one of them sold screws. And that one sold screws that were less than an inch long.

But alas, Victory! Our AC units here in the apartment may be dusty, and may leak a little, but they have a “dry” button. E is cranking the dry cycle and it’s working. She just discovered this button on our AC remotes. I never would have found this function, by the way. Looks like we don’t need de-humidifiers. This is big news, people. I just hope our “dry” function doesn’t contribute to the smog that constantly hovers over HK. (Correction: In the process of reviewing my husband’s post – we try to read each other’s before publishing – I realize he has no idea what he is talking about. We still definitely need de-humidifers – this dry function is merely a stop-gap at the moment when it’s not too hot or humid. However when the real heat comes the AC units need to be cooling the flat and the de-humidifers, well, de-humidifying it.)

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hk rugby sevensTwo women wearing safari outfits, half-shirts and whips greeted me as I entered the bank’s executive level suite at Hong Kong stadium. It was 2 p.m on a Saturday. Twenty-ounce cups of Carlsberg stood on top of the bar. Blenders buzzed. Outside on the field, the Rugby 7s tournament was in full swing. Inside the stadium, pure chaos. The crowd’s climate was kind of a combo of Mardi Gras, Nascar, Wall Street on Friday, and a New England Patriots game–without the red necks or massholes.

“Yeah, it’s pretty tame right now. You should come back later today,” said our host. “Actually, tomorrow is even worse.” You mean it gets crazier than this?

I was with a few colleagues, bouncing around the executive boxes at the 7s. In the mere two hours I was there on Saturday afternoon, it was an overwhelming experience. It’s not uncommon for people to arrive at 7 am and stay until 9 pm. People walk around the stadium with pitchers of beer. Pitchers. Pardon me for sounding prude, but I come from Boston where two-beer limits are the standard.

And the outfits. Togas. Bikinis. Wigs. Businessmen in drag. A white tuxedo. Bodypaint. At one point, three scantily clad Las Vegas-style show girls showed up. They wore high heels, sparkles, plumed head dresses and not much more.

What I found interesting is that a lot of the ex-pat executives bring their kids, from toddlers to teenagers. And the kids dress up too. Teenagers clearly don’t have a hard time getting served at the event. It’s crazy.

You forget that there is an amazing rugby event going on below. Click here if you’re interested in the history of the Sevens or specifics of the tournament. In short, rather than the standard 15-person sides, it’s seven on seven with seven minute halfs–meaning the play is much quicker than standard rugby. The players tend to be scrappy, up and comers.

I left at around 3:30 pm. Honestly, I was glad to have extricated myself from the debauchery. On my way out, I passed the “village” built next to the stadium, for post-tournament festivities. E and I went there with my work colleagues Friday night. It felt like a college fraternity party. Thankfully, we didn’t stay long, as we told our baby-sitter and helper-to-be that we’d be home around midnight.

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The amount of rain that’s fallen here this month is on pace to set an all time record, or since 1864 rather, when they started keeping track. Hong Kong was in a Typhoon 8 warning on Thursday. People are advised to not go to work, though our bureau chief sent around a message saying “it’s just a little rain, no worries.” The rain slowed down by noon and downgraded the status to 3, whatever that means. But the rainy season out here is very real, and can get quite serious. A few Saturdays ago we went through four hours of what’s known as “Black Rain.” The rain itself isn’t black, though the clouds are so thick and dark you’d think it was night when you’re eating breakfast. As a public safety measure, they have a rain rating system here: Amber, Red and Black. When it’s black, people are advised to stay indoors and are strongly advised to not drive. For four hours straight, rain fell on this city as if shot from a water canon, with lightening flashes and strikes every few minutes. A community known as Tai To on Lantau Island is still recovering from the deluge.

The weather dries out here in the Fall, apparently. Rain and humidity give way to good old fashioned sunshine.

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tulips at hong kong flower showWe got our first taste of spending the weekend in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. It’s an interesting experience, to say the least. For starters, it’s a mob scene from 10 am to 9 pm. If you go anywhere near Great George, or the Ikea, or (Old) McDonald’s, you’re going to be smothered in a wave of locals looking to shop, browse, or both.

Our Saturday morning started with an early trip to Old McDonald’s, as F still calls it. I went there on a hunch that it would serve coffee before 7:30 am, unlike Starbucks. I was right. The Causeway Bay Old McDonald’s is a 24 hour operation. I must say I was confused when I saw that there was the normal serving counter and then a small cafe to the side. Did both serve coffee? Or did the cafe just serve specialty drinks? I ordered coffee and an egg mcmuffin, while F got the egg breakfast special (#3). For the record, the Cafe does not serve normal coffee. As soon as we got our food, F announced that she had to go the bathroom. Actually, she pronounces it in the following way: “I hadda go pee pee” (past tense for some reason). With T facing forward on my chest in the bjorn, I carried F up the stairs and into the grimy bathroom. I tried to lift F up above the toilet seat, so her bum wouldn’t touch it. In so doing, T’s face became buried in F’s pant legs. T started yelling in protest, but I couldn’t do anything, other than hope F would stop peeing quickly. She did. Normally, I’d wash her hands but the bathroom was so gross that I went down stairs and used wipes. Then F fell off the stool seats we were sitting on. Her hash brown went flying. She started crying, though I knew it didn’t hurt. So we changed seats. I think she was crying more for the hash brown.

No sooner had we sat down, F says: “I hadda go poo poo.” So I haul her up to the same gross bathroom. This time, T smartened up. Instead of getting her face stuck in F’s pants, she straightened her neck so she could see everything better. The problem was that she could now reach into places she wasn’t supposed to reach. At one point, she reached out and nearly grabbed her sister’s turd as it was headed for the toilet water. Fortunately, I was able to yank back her arm in time. I know this is gross but really, this is how I spent my morning in Causeway Bay.

That afternoon, after unpacking boxes and arranging our new apartment, we went to Victoria Park. We love living within a half block of this park. F really, really likes spending time there. On Sunday’s the Indonesians who live in Hong Kong overrun it. There are certain sections of this large park that are so crowded with Indonesian folks that you can’t get through. Frankly, I think it’s really, really cool, but it can also get pretty intense.

On one path, you’ll have a group of butch, all female dancers practicing hip hop moves. On the other side, a group of girls the same age will be praying in burqas, chanting Koranic verses. Both groups are within 10 feet of each other.

Near them will be family having a picnic. Near them, another dance troupe. And so on.

When I say overrun, this is particularly salient in the play grounds. The shear volume of people makes it very difficult to find a swing (there are 6), a spot at the jungle gym (there are also 6 of these) or a place on the crossing bridge (at times on the weekend, as many as 25 kids are on this 40 foot long bridge).

It’s a crazy, Sunday scene at Victoria. But we love it.

On Monday we went to the Flower Show in the park. Here we saw beautiful, vibrant displays of daisies, tulips, bonzais. The Olympics were also a big theme of the flower show. The ticket ladies left their posts and rushed to say hi and touch T, who was in the bjorn.

E was shopping for some plants for our apartment and I took the girls to eat. By the time we got to the food court, F was overheated, though brimming with confidence. She went inside a moonwalk for the first time in her life without assistance, and didn’t whine or complain.

I was trying to find a place for us to eat in the shade, when two elderly folks sat up and gave us their chairs. Keeping one chair for themselves, they allowed us to sit and eat as a family. At one point, the older woman who was probably in her 70s, grabbed T from me and started walking around with her. I was happy to have her do this, as it allowed me to eat our lunch. I ordered a ton of local food: dumplings, won tons, hot dog thingys, fish balls, noodles. I paid a total of $10 for everything.

It was so typical of that older couple to give up their seats. They actually needed the seats more than we did. But they saw small children and gave them up. The Chinese people are reserved – they’re not showy or boistrous. That can come off as cold and indifferent, but the opposite is true for the most part. They are mainly caring, and love small children and respect the value of family. They see you coming in the stroller and they marvel at you. They don’t get out of the way, but they express so much when they wave and point and pinch T’s cheeks. When it comes to doing business, they can be less caring, especially when it comes to the property market.

So we’ll have more weekends like that there in Victoria Park. The last thing F said when leaving the park was “Do you like my bike? You do? Okay. Thanks. See you tomorrow.” She was talking to a boy who was checking out the push tricycle she refuses to peddle on her own. She asked those questions without waiting for his answer, and answered them herself.

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moving day

Our neighbors templesSo we finally did it – we pulled the trigger and signed the lease. We moved to our new home this past week (check out our neighbor’s door and temple – left) and as M detailed in the Money Pit posting it hasn’t been without drama and headache. On that fateful day when we realized there was no hot water I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I tried to write about it but wasn’t able to go there as it was way too much of an emotional roller coaster. We basically went from being very happy about our apartment, to realizing how expensive it is, to realizing that for the expense it was missing some very major things we wanted, to having no idea whether or not we’d have to start our housing search all over, to finally having everything working and diving in to our new life here. In some ways our life has basically followed the stock market of late – we’re up. we’re down. we’re uncertain. we’re bailed out but things could still go south. All in all it’s great to be in our new apartment, and although it was a battle, to get everything in working order I think we made the best decision to live here. I give M so much credit for really going to bat and making this all work for us.

The best part of the move was F entering the apartment. She came in and as soon as she saw all of her stuff she started running around, picking up toys, and yelling “My bat, my baby, my table!” She then started screaming, “Mom, mom come here – look, look – my bed!”or “Mom, mom look our bed!” (meaning M and I’s bed). It was the cutest thing ever. At one point she started singing and dancing saying “I’m doing my happy dance.” She was so excited and has continued to be so now that she has familiar things in the new apartment. Today I nearly finished their room (need to do some small decorative stuff and buy T’s crib). When Fentered the room and saw that is was decorated and cleaned up she said “It’s beautiful!” T too seems to be quite happy – since we’ve arrived she’s been sleeping through the night and I think she senses we are all so much more comfortable to be among our familiar things.

We’ve been working hard getting things organized and set up. One of the best things to have back up and running is our music system – oh how we missed it. Last night we played a lot of our favorite songs and had family dance time – just like we used to.

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tom-hanks-money-pit-762942.jpgI’m pretty sure E intends to draft a post on the emotional rollercoaster we rode today, but allow me to point out a few things we discovered in the apartment we intend to rent. Mind you, we’ve only signed a provisional lease, which puts us on the hook for maximum one month rent if we back out. And there are clauses in the lease that probably allow us to wiggle out of that. We have not signed the formal lease yet. That’s because of the following things we found today in our close-the-deal, final-walk-thru session that wasn’t.

–No hot water in the kitchen
–A disconnected and potentially worthless dish washer
–A large office chair with a drape on it that’s apparently not leaving
–Paint bubbles and chips that were supposed to be fixed in the hallway
–A broken glass pane in our bedroom
–An unflushable toilet
–A broken bathroom light

That’s hardly something you want to encounter on the day you’re supposed to “get the keys” so to speak. Needless to say, we did not sign the final lease. We basically said that if the stuff isn’t fixed by Tuesday, we’re killing the deal. It was an interesting afternoon.

All was going relatively well until we went into the kitchen. Twas asleep, and F was playing “student” with the chairs and also playing “business” with the office desk and phone. At one point, she pretended to call Sophie to ask her about a “mortgage.” I signed her a $25 check on my notepad with her name on top, but then she made me add Roman to the bottom.

When E discovered that the kitchen sink didn’t have any hot water, the proverbial shit hit the kitchen fan. In classic guy fashion, it honestly never really occurred to me to check for this. But then the plumber said it wasn’t a matter of flicking a switch. The kitchen was not equipped to ever have hot water. The landlord disputes this, but therein lies the rub.

Things from there went downhill. When the plumber reached in to attach the dishwasher (after E discovered it wasn’t working), a cascade of rusty water spilled onto the kitchen floor. “Big problem” was all he said as he left.

So there we are. We’re in the early stages of a plan B. Tuesday is D day. I’m betting that the landlord will have the place ship-shape for us, seeing as we put in writing that he’s failed to adhere to the lease and we’re pulling our offer by said deadline. But then again, maybe he won’t. We’ve learned to expect nothing and everything when it comes to the housing market here.

While the kitchen scene was unfolding, of course, F started to lose it, pulling our arms asking to leave. T was squirming out of arms, tired of the place too. I told the agent that we had to get out of there and eat lunch.

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chickens-in-market.jpgLately I’ve been dipping my hand into a bin of peanuts at work. They taste pretty good. They’ve got this hard-ish coating and there is definitely a peanut buttery taste to them. Needless to say I was shocked (and slightly sickened) when I saw the label on the peanuts’ lid, after someone covered them. It read: Seaweed Flossy Pork. I haven’t touched them since.

Mary Anne, the editor whose desk the peanuts sit, points out that it’s often the case that food is labeled in such a way in Asia that makes zero sense, or connection to the English words they’re trying to translate into. Here’s hoping that there’s neither seaweed nor pork inside those peanut shells.

– I also need to point out that the Chinese have no problem displaying blood and guts in the supermarket. They’ll chuck half a dead pig on a hook and put it on display in front of the meat counter, not in the back. On several occasions I’ve nearly bumped into a side of red beef while navigating a grocery cart. The stuff practically taps you on the shoulder. Fish are gutted for everyone to see, right there on the ice bed.

–”I want wine with dinner,” said F, as we sat down for a plate of bow-tie pasta and chicken apple sausages. She was teasing of course, but it’s the first time she’s asked for the stuff. She pooped in her sweat pants right before I arrived, which is very unlike her. She was being silly and misbehaving and then of course the accident happened. Asked by Ewhy she pooped in her sweat pants, F responded “I think it was the grapes.” It’s true, she gobbled down several grapes beforehand. So it probably was the grapes.

–F is really into forts these days. I will place a blanket over a few chairs, call it a fort, and F is pumped. Her favorite thing is to watch “DVs” in the fort, particularly Shrek. I’m convinced the last scene where the Dragon flies through the castle gave her nightmares last night. It was first night all week when she woke up screaming. That was the last thing she watched before bed. Yes, of all the nights we’ve been here, F has screamed for one of us to join her in bed every night except three. It always comes in the wee-hours. We think she’s getting over this though. We have a new baby “moniker” as she calls it. We’ve said that if she needs us, she just has to whisper into the monitor rather than scream. Everytime she screams for us, she wakes up T too.

–When E and I woke up this morning, F was in her fort in our bedroom, trying to watch her Shrek “DV.” “It’s not working,” she was saying to herself. “It needs batteries.” So she woke up, walked to the fort, and never said anything to us.

–Our temporary residence is in an area known as Quarry Bay. We live within minutes of Taikoo Shing, a business district next to a residential high rise haven. The area, we’ve learned, is heavily populated with Japanese. One of the guidebooks suggests that this is what explains all the Japanese stores located in the area. That’s for sure. We live above a Jusco–a four story mall with a grocery store below. At certain hours, especially Sunday nights, the place is insane. I counted more than 50 people in the cash only express lane one time. By the way, there are 50 other check-out lines supporting customers, and those were 20 deep. A single cashier area will often have at least 3 women (and they’re always women) working it, trying to speed things along.

–Tonight I tried the Apita, which is in the bottom floor of the 4-story mall I work in, called Cityplaza. Cityplaza is connected, by subway corridors and walkways, to the Jusco. Anyway, I was overwhelmed with the options, most of which were Japanese this, and Japanese that. I always have a hard time when I’m shopping in a place I don’t know. I couldn’t find the milk or pasta. Like Jusco, Apita had local women barking Cantonese at me, trying to get me to taste stuff–rice samples, pork dumplings, desserts. I finally got out of there with the bare minimum of groceries.

–One of the cool things about the local grocery stores is that they are very well run, and have so many people working at them that you practically bump into them inside every aisle. I decided that I would start bringing home stuff from the Park n Shop’s sample section, just to get a flavor of the local food. We like the park n shop because it’s located across the street from Jusco where it’s less crowded. They also have organic fruits and veggies. In addition, they have ladies standing in these small carts cooking up local treats. Fish balls, Fish cakes, Mini-pizzas (but they aren’t pizzas) and other stuff. They’re mainly labeled in Cantonese so you have to be careful what you choose. A few nights ago I brought home fish balls. They’re lightly fried and pretty good but they need to be heated and you need some sort of dipping sauce. I asked for 3 and got a bag full of 20. E was grossed out by them ( she didn’t say so, but I could tell), and I thought they just needed some sweet and sour or something. F gobbled up 3 of them before we shut her off prior to our lamb chops. She loved them. The other thing I brought home was something that was partially labled “fried peanut.” This very well may have been the “Seaweed Flossy Pork” that somehow made it’s way onto the label of our peanut bin at work. The fried peanut is rolled into this sweet, doughy stuff which I find very tasty. They’re served for dessert at restaurants and I’m determined to find they’re real name.

–We are scheduled to walk through our apartment one last time Friday night, signing a lease on Saturday. Fingers-crossed it all works out.

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