Sunday, September 30, 2012

Should Mid Autumn feel more Autumn-y..?

Well it's the Mid-Autumn Festival here in Hong Kong (though it just feels like summer but not as humid). I'm still figuring out what that means in terms of celebration, but combined with National Day it means a 4-day weekend and no excuse for me not to catch up. (Especially since we all passed on travelling for this trip.)

I found another awesome hike, this one was basically up in the hills just north of my place. Lots of hills and of course views like this: 

And here's M and I:

I had another run in with monkeys on this hike. A family of them come walking along right along the trail and they expect you to give them food. They're not intimidated by us at all. But when it was clear we had nothing for them, they moved on. But really, monkeys, right up in the hills. They're all over the place over here. 

What else has been going on? Good times finding new and interesting little hole in the wall places for food/drinks etc around the city. 

Here's a fun picture from the other week:

Speaking of which, my Cantonese class went out on a field trip for food last week. We went to a Chinese Halal restaurant. It was great. They have these beef patties. They're like meat pies, they're fantastic. I was also a big fan of the lamb curry we had. I'll be back there. (But unlike the field trip I won't follow it up with more dinner and then two rounds of dessert.) 

Let's see... in August I had a friend form NYC come through briefly. What up K! We managed to go out with a bunch of the gang here. I love having people come through so if anyone wants to come out and have some fun in Hong Kong, do it, we'll have a blast.

Oh I almost forgot, the silly yoga. Oh my the silly yoga! So M signed us up for a handful of sessions at some Yoga studio. I thought this was great idea. Boy was I wrong. So the class starts sort of like a normal yoga class except with more smacking oneself in the abdomen. This is followed by "brainwave vibration" which is just dance-bopping to cheesy Asian pop music. Then comes the deep breathing exercises where the instructor occasionally comes around puts their hands on your belly while you breathing deeply the whole time. And finally there are some great core exercises that we had to go through all sorts of insanity just to get to. I really can't wait for our sessions to run out. And M feels the same way, we can't look at each other during the class because we'll just both burst out laughing. Oh man, I wish I could share a video of this nonsense with you.

Alright that's enough for now.
Cheers, all!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

La Belle Vie

Okay, so I've basically booked my trip back to the States for Christmas and New Year's. I'll be in Denver for Christmas week, and New York for New Year's week. I'll send around some details to those of you that need to know. I'm hoping to see the guys (and girls) in Colorado while I'm out there. And I'm planning to gather with all my east coast friends for some laughs while in the City.

What else is going on? I don't know. I've been enjoying the Olympics. Go USA! I was just talking today about how it's been interesting to enjoy the Olympics around a group of friends who, for the most part, aren't Americans. It's like I take a little pride in watching the US do so well, but it's fun to have the conversations with guys who talk about how great it was that Andy Murray won or whatever. It's cool.

Moving on...
Hangzhou with Richelle. Too short. I wish I had more time. We really had some fun though.  One of the biggest attractions of this city is the lake. There's this whole city, but the most tourist friendly, fun part area is around the lake. Like this:

Or, here's Richelle in front of it with a tower in the background:
So we march around the lake in 100 degree weather, constantly trying to follow the maps that we have while Richelle gets bad directions from a cop who clearly couldn't be bothered, stopping constantly for water like two crazy white people who didn't think to bring our own.  We finally get to this temple where, as my friend J told me in her recommendation, there's a tea house in the back where monks will serve you tea. Here's a shot from the garden at the tea house:
It was so peaceful and quiet back there. We snacked on grapes and tomatoes (sure why not) and enjoyed the tea while just bs-ing and relaxing after walking for hours. It was nice.
This was followed by nearly getting lost on the way back only to be picked up by the coolest taxi driver I've had in mainland China. First off, I'm getting all the info second hand. Richelle's the one who speaks Chinese, fluently. So she's doing all the communicating while I'm in the back blissfully ignorant. So he says he has to pick someone else up but as he gets there he decides not to and tells us he'll take us where we're going because he doesn't want to take drunk people home and he likes us. So he and Richelle are chatting away and she tells me about the stories he's telling her about a time he got fined for something stupid someone else did and whatever. He's teaching her a new character she didn't recognize from the map. When we get there he gives us a discount on the fare because he liked talking with her. I guess a white person who speaks Chinese like she does is pretty rare. It was awesome. All in all it was a fun trip. And I got this telling shot that I hope finds its way back to her friends at school in Texas:


The rest of my shots are here, for the curious.

All in all, I'm in the middle of what should be a pretty wild and fun month. I've been having more great times with M. My sister comes into town tomorrow, and we're gonna tear up Hong Kong. I'll get to see another friend from NYC who's coming in and out of HK on either end of a tour in China. We've got another junk trip on the 25th. And I'm plowing ahead at work. My friends and I are talking about where to go for a long weekend in the beginning of October. I'll talk more about that when we've settled on a place and have more concrete plans. I'd say life is good right now.

As always I miss everyone back home a ton.


Monday, July 23, 2012

More to say again...

Okay. This is the first I've written in months. There are multiple overlapping reasons for that. At first it was simply that I was busy but I wasn't doing anything worth blogging about (I mean I know it's exciting to read about someone getting a few drinks with friends regularly on Friday nights, but people will have to use their imagination). So then I got mired in work and was kind of dragging myself though, not particularly interested in writing and sharing anything.

But recently things have been pretty darn good. So what's really brought me back to writing and sharing...
A few weeks ago I was out with a bunch of coworkers having a good bye beer or two with a colleague who was in HK on a short term assignment from the UK. At the pub we ordered some snacks, a bunch of typical bar fare (mozzarella stick, chicken wings, etc). Oh and nachos. Nachos made with Doritos. I don't know, some people might say they've seen it (I'm sure it's popular in a couple of corners of the US.) But it was a first for me. They were... OK. I suppose I'd eat them again in the same situation, but I'm not going to seek them out any time soon.

So what else has been going on? I visited Singapore for a long weekend. Absolutely beautiful city. I loved the area full of restaurants along the water. The city as a whole was clean, lots of space and just a comfortable place to be. I recommend it. Sorry no pics. I know... I know... but my camera didn't make the cut of things to bring with, and my cell phone was off the whole time since I don't have service in Singapore.
On a personal note, I'm really glad I went and saw a great friend of mine and really made some sense of a few things.

What else.. myself and a good friend who's also an American (if you call people from Long Island Americans...) put together a bit of an Independence Day party on the work boat. There were only the two of us and one other American, but the Brits, South Africans, Chinese, Canadians, and everyone else were willing to listen to music about America, eat hot dogs, lunch meat sandwiches, and apple pie, and raise an American flag with us. It's funny how I've been gaining an appreciation for what it means to be an American. Culturally, you know, not in a post-9/11 "These colors don't bleed" kind of way, but more of an "it's all part of our culture, the south, the west, the northeast, and it's all part of our story" kind of way.

I've been taking a Cantonese class that was offered through work. It's free and we meet once a week. It's a slow paced easy going course but I'm finding that I'm starting to pick up a few things, a few phrases. Hey any bit's useful, and if you were wondering, yes I can swear in Cantonese. So that's English, French, Spanish, Italian, and now Cantonese. Anyone want to hook me up with a few more, I'll be back in NYC at some point and you never know when you're going to need to put a cabbie in his place...

So a little over a week after the Independence Day party, we end up back on the boat on a fantastic Saturday trip. We went to a beach, had a few beers, good laughs, it was a complete blast. Couldn't have planned it better. M and I signed up for some more yoga classes together so we'll have that coming up. :-)

Oh yeah I'm all set to hang out with my sister in China this coming weekend. My visa from my Easter trip has one more visit left and since she's in Shanghai, we'll meet up and check out Hangzhou for the weekend. Should be awesome. And I promise to bring my camera so we can take some pictures. Promise.

So while I'm writing this Tropical Storm/Typhoon Vincente is passing quite close to Hong Kong. There was a T8 warning raised late this afternoon, meaning everyone was told to leave work early (well actually leave work on time since it was about 5 or so... ). This means gale force winds and let me tell you, they're not kidding. And this storm isn't even actually hitting the city. It's passing almost 100 miles off shore. I imagine if the storm actually hit the city it would be hell. No worries on my end. I have food and the water and power are still good. Just a really violent storm so far. But it's a first for me. I saw one or two funnel clouds in Colorado (and maybe missed a few that were even closer...) and I lived through Noreasters in NY/NJ but tropical storms are new to me.

Okay. So I don't know what the storm will be like in the morning and if it's sufficiently passed or died down, I will need to go to work so I'll wrap this up here.

I hope everyone's well back in the States, the Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Israel, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Canada and anywhere else I've got friends.


Update: As it turned out, the storm was upgraded to a full blown T10 Typhoon with hurricane force winds over night while I was snoozing away. When I finally left to go to work this morning, the trees were all torn up all over the street, there were sign posts knocked over. First T10 since 1999. That's all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

That's more like it.

Work's been quite busy and a little too stressful and a few of you have heard me vent a bit about it. But a real weekend followed by Monday, followed by a holiday on Tuesday and I'm right back where I need to be.
First, I didn't work 12 hours on Monday. Couldn't and wouldn't. More like the normal 9. I've got a new project with a ton of strict technical requirements so I spent half the day reading through all the material and I barely made a dent. More reading tomorrow morning. But it looks interesting and I'm looking forward to getting into it. I have a meeting with some of the other team members tomorrow.

Second, Saturday was  my second trip on the Arup junk boat. It was a friend's birthday so she reserved the boat and brought a bunch of friends. The weather wasn't nearly as idyllic as my first trip back in November, but despite the rough seas, I had just as good a time. We played cards and drank a few brews and some of the group still went swimming. And afterward we went back to the Birthday Girl's place to help finish off the food because there was way too much of it, but we were sorely disappointed to find that the one food item that disappeared between the boat and the apt was the cheese. The one thing a bunch of white people in HK can't afford to lose...

And third, but perhaps most important, I had a great yoga class today that just left me with such a body high. This class was good for relaxing all that built up tension. This work/life balance is a little better. Obviously I won't get holidays all the time, but... well this was much needed.

What else, what else, it was good to see W again and have some dinner with her and some friends of hers. Tasty hot pot.

I had a long conversation with the Kiddo today. Really hoping to see her in China before she comes here to Hong Kong. I'm a little curious as to how a bat (like a live bat) managed to kill our conversation. But it's cool.

Anyway, it's late and I don't have much important to say here. Just checking in.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Not in a Chinese Prison

I made it back to Hong Kong, meaning I'm not being held in a Chinese prison for being a political insubordinate or some kind of uppity revolutionary. Phew.

So a little back story. I had no travel plans for Easter weekend. (Qingming Festival fell in the same week as Good Friday so we had Wednesday, Friday, and Monday off work. Anyone who took Thursday had a nice long stretch off work). So on St. Patrick's Day while out with some friends, my friend J says that I should join him on a trip to mainland China to Huang Shan a popular mountain in the Anhui province, to see some old villages and do some hiking and really get away from it all. I liked the idea and I could still a grab a reasonable ticket, so I did. I figured two Americans who speak absolutely zero Chinese would still be able to figure things out with a lot of pointing and gesturing and a little bit of luck and help from nice locals.

Well... then J tells me the day before we're supposed to leave that he can't make it due to work. I understood his predicament and I felt bad that he couldn't make it, but I didn't want to waste my plane ticket, my visa to get into China, and my vacation day. What was I going to do here? Sit around HK for 6 days? Nope. I told J to forward me all the info on the hostels he reserved and I picked up his Lonely Planet guide to China (if you're going to go to China get the Lonely Planet book, trust me) and took off.

My flights were out of Hangzhou, a city I'd actually like to see more off. I didn't get to spend much time there, but it seemed like it had a lot to offer and I really enjoyed the hostels in the city.

Getting from Hangzhou to Tunxi was the first episode in a running theme for my trip: "how I got there." One of the staff at the hostel tells me how to get to the bus terminal. I end up at some sort of bus station, but to me it seems more like a giant parking lot with a bunch of buses and people seem to know where to go somehow. I'm completely lost. I've got a map with Tunxi written in Chinese and I'm clearly a lost white dude in a bus parking lot. Someone comes up to me and asks in very rough English where I want to go. I point to the map and he indicates he can help and I follow him. He leads me to some other guy on a street corner who tells me to wait there for a while. I do. Eventually he comes over and for lack of a pen and paper, writes the price in the dirt with a rock. I nod as that's the price that LP approximated. A few minutes later this guy is waving at me like mad to run with him and catch some bus that's just pulled out. This isn't like a Greyhound mind you, this is old and dirty and sketchy. So I'm thrown on this bus and I pay the guy and then he hops off the bus and I'm left to hope I'm going in the right direction. It wasn't until the young man sitting across from me asks in his best English where I'm going that I get any assurance I'm headed in the right direction.

From the bus station in Tunxi, I need to get to the hostel where I'll be spending the next 3 days. I show a taxi driver where I want to go and he shakes his head no. So then some other guy comes up to me and says he knows where to go. He puts me in his rickshaw/motorized bicycle hybrid which he's willing to take on the highway, putting both of our lives in Jeopardy. He then turns on the music playing device that I can only describe as just that. It's playing Christmas music. So there I am in this vehicle that feels like something from the Red Green Show listening to Jingle Bells in April once again hoping I'm headed in the right direction.

The hostel in Tunxi was great. It was comfortable, it had a nice private bathroom, a water boiler, it was great. The cafe in the hostel was also convenient. I could go down in the morning and get breakfast. I could get a beer there in the evening and meet other travelers. They have wifi, so I can check my e-mail (but not Facebook, it's apparently one of the websites that's censored up there...). The hostel was a great little area called "old street" which is like an old fashioned Chinese market street. Here's a shot at night while I was eating dinner one night.
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Day one in Anhui: Qiyun Shan
Qiyun Shan is a smaller mountain in the area and it's apparently sacred to Taoists and I can see why. It's simply beautiful up there. I loved the combination of geological features and religious shrines.

This mountain is one awe inspiring view after another. And the statues and shrines are so bright and vivid.* The path up is easy and pretty and there are little pagodas along the way to stop and enjoy the views. But once you're up there it's like a playground.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

It was amazing to come through a cave or tunnel in the mountain and see it open up to a massive rock wall with writing on it with stairs down to a water pool and more altars. Stunning. I absolutely loved this mountain and I wish I had had more time to explore the active village at the top past all of the Taoist relics and shrines.

Of course getting back in the afternoon is another adventure. Getting to the mountain was simply a bus from the local bus station to the nearest village and walk from there. The way people get back to Tunxi however is just to wait by the side of the road and flag down a bus heading back. And this is just how things are done there. It's fine, but I was a little curious at one point when the lady taking the money had everyone who wasn't in a proper seat duck down so as not to be seen. And it's not like it's a scheduled, numbered bus or anything, it's simply someone with a bus driving between these towns making a buck.

Day two in Anhui: Xidi
Xidi is an ancient village but still an active village. So there are a number of old houses dating back to different dynasties from hundreds of years ago but there are people who live in houses right next door, just doing their thing. It's a little weird to be one of many tourists wandering around this old village taking pictures browsing in shops and passing right in front of people's homes. But it is what it is.
These old buildings are typically laid out with an area in the middle of the main hall that's open to above and there's a little pool/pond and trees. I don't know what to make of it. Very interesting to see these old structures and how people lived up in this area so many years ago. While crawling over the hundreds of art students there to sketch or paint different areas of the village, I did try a bit of the local food. I couldn't really tell you what it was, but it had egg in it and it was tasty.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Day three in Anhui: Hike up Huang Shan
The hike! The weather was nice and sunny, I was well rested and had eaten a huge breakfast early before catching a bus at 6:25 to the mountain. I had water in my camel-back, snacks in my back pack, and music on my mp3 player. It took about 2 hours to get up the 7.5 km hike up the east stairs and then maybe another 20 mins or so from there to my hotel. Along the hike there some simply fantastic views of the rest of the mountain. I don't know that I can do them justice but I've linked to all of my pictures below. There are plenty of people going up the mountain but never enough that the steps are congested or anything. They're all very nice and most of them are a little surprised to see a white boy on his own hiking this mountain. At one point on the way up, there were some local monkeys just hanging out doing their thing.
Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

I've been up the mountains in Colorado and didn't see any monkeys. Get on that, Denver.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the mountain:

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Since I started the hike at 8-8:30 I'm up at my hotel by 11 or so and checked in and putting down my back pack before noon. The hotel was a proper hotel, there are a few of them up there at the top. It was actually really nice to have the hotel to go to when I got up. I ate one huge meal in the early-mid afternoon at the hotel restaurant, going with the buffet so that I didn't have to try to communicate with a waiter.

I spent the afternoon checking out sights from the top and watching some people play basketball on the court up by the hotel. Actually the hotel apparently rents out space on the court for people to pitch tents and camp out. So as people are setting up their tents the playable area of the court is getting smaller and smaller. But it was nice to sit outside, sip a well earned beer and watch some pick up basketball for a bit.

Day four in Anhui: Sunrise, more hiking, and eventually down the mountain
It's popular to get up and watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain and since I crashed early, I figured I would do just that. So I throw on the only jacket/sweatshirt I really have with me and wander up with everyone. And everyone who spent the night up there crams into the best viewing spot on the mountain for the eastern sun. And I'm up there with them hoping to see a great sunrise. Well it was more of a gradual gray lightening. It was so foggy and overcast that morning that the sunrise was a bit of a disappointment. Ah well.
So after catching a little more shut eye back at the room, I check out and get on my way. Of course rather than heading right down, I end up taking some loops on the west side that I hadn't seen the day before. Great views of the rock faces, and some good hiking, but by the time I've finished them, it's getting on with the morning and I need to get on with the hike down to catch a bus back to Tunxi, and from there, catch the bus back to Hangzhou. There were so many people trying to get down the west steps at the same time I was that there a few real log jams. People end up funneling themselves to top of one narrow steep set of stairs people backed up going single file. It was so bad that I was sweating getting down in time and so in the interest of time, halfway down I grabbed the cable car down the rest of the way. I'm actually pretty glad I did. The bus that took an hour to get from Tunxi to the mountain, takes two hours, making all kinds of long stops along the way back. I finally reach the bus station and with a little help from a nice guy in the station, figure my way onto the right bus back to Hangzhou. Seriously, that guy was great, I couldn't thank him enough, and I just want to throw some good vibes out into the ether for him and his lady friend who was traveling with them.

I finally make it back to Hangzhou, find my hostel, eat a nice meal right at the restaurant downstairs which is open to outside and the perfect evening weather. A nice relaxing ending to a great trip in China. I actually would like to see more of Hangzhou and might try to talk the Kiddo into meeting me there for a long weekend while she's in Shanghai this summer. We could stay in that same hostel and see some of that city. My visa is good for another trip into China and the flights are easy and inexpensive.

Monday I grabbed lunch in TST with my new friend H and we indulged in a little bit of scrabble at the pub. We had been talking about getting together for scrabble and it was the perfect opportunity. She was actually recommending I join up and play with some of the more serious scrabble players that she plays with. We'll see. I feel like when it comes to board games and card games, I'm like Chevy Chase's character from Caddyshack.

Thanks for reading this far. It means a lot to me. All of pictures from my trip are here. Check them out.

Work's still busy, but I'm surviving. I've got so the Yankees are helping out me stay sane. I miss everyone back in the States. I hope you all had a great Easter or Passover.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

March on

Last weekend, I took a walk/hike through some areas of HK near the boarder with China that are only recently opened to the public, Sha Tau Kok. Before last month, only villagers who lived up there could come and go. It was all for boundary protection. Anyway, I saw some old ancestral homes and the oddest part of the area was the fact that derelict abandoned homes and temples are steps away from brand new buildings going up with modern cars of commuters parked out front. Crazy.

My favorite part would have been the old WWII era bunkers from the British Army. They've just been left in the hills around the boarder. These were apparently defense against the Japanese coming in through China.


This an old ancestral home. I'm not sure how old, but it was completely abandoned.


The particular group of people I went hiking with (I was invited by some friends to join their church group that goes on these hikes regularly) went out to dinner afterward and I tried my first taste of feet. Here I am eating a duck foot. It didn't taste bad at all, but there's not enough to it. It's a lot of work for some skin and collagen...


This past weekend I did a little more celebrating. We had another night out with the airport team, expats and locals. It was a ton of fun. Then yesterday I celebrated St. Patrick's day by having lunch and few Guinnesses at an Irish Pub and then going to a friend's rooftop bbq. I briefly excused myself from the party to video check in with friends in NYC, Boston, and Israel. Guys, it was great to hear from you! We ended the night by going to watch rugby. Wales won, which I guess was what most of the British guys wanted. All in all it was a fun weekend! Just what the doctor ordered.

Here are more pics from Sha Tau Kok if you're interested. The weather was kind of gray, but I like some the shots.

I'll leave you with this image, live the dream!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tai O and other thoughts

It's spring training down in Florida and Arizona and I couldn't be more in the spring mindset. As far as the temperature is concerned it never got to real winter temperatures here, so it's basically been spring for a while and right now I'm in a springtime kind of mood.
Actually this got me to thinking about why baseball is so perfectly intertwined with American life. Baseball lines up with our own natural calendars. Spring is in general a season of hope, rebirth and renewal, and no ritual is more a symbol of that than spring training. Every team has hope, every dream of a title is reborn. It's great. The season plays out over the summer while we try to relax and enjoy the long nights with our summer heroes. And then just as the weather starts to cool down, the season winds down. Before the coldest days hit, a champion is named the awards are given out, and we pack in and settle down for winter once again. I love it.

And, I'm not just looking forward to the upcoming baseball season*. I've got an excellent opportunity to find out how Hong Kong (or more accurately, the expats in HK) celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Can't wait.

Tai O:
I went out to Tai O, a little fishing village on Lantau Island with W on Saturday. Let's start with the fact that to get there, you're on a somewhat ventilated, large bus going around some windy hilly roads. This whole area is basically coastal mountains (not mountain mountains, Colorado people, but mountains in their own regard). Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, getting motion sick on my way out there. So the bus ride out (and back) turned into eyes closed resting time. It was okay though, W works even more than I do usually and so we could both take advantage of the down time. I was surprised by who touristy the village was. And the people there milk that for all it's worth. Locals set up shop right in front of their house selling treats and trinkets. And they have lots of little shops and places to grab a bite. Seafood that's alive and swimming in till buckets outside the restaurant so you can pick which one you want for lunch. The village also seemed to have a collection of semi-domesticated cats. It seemed like they didn't really belong to any one person or house but just kind of roamed the village, probably helping with pests and getting food from various people. Pretty good deal if you're a cat, fresh seafood and not being locked up in a house all day.
I tried some dried, then grilled/fried seafood. Kind of like a cooked shrimp jerky. Sort off. It was alright.
There were lots of fresh fruit trees too. Bananas and I think mango, we couldn't be sure.
My favorite thing had to be the historic police station that's been renovated and turned into a hotel that operates as a non-profit organization to bring money into the village for preservation and other things. It seemed like a pretty interesting place to stay if not for the fact that it's so remote.

Anyway after getting back to the city it was out to SoHo for drinks and dinner. I'm starting to spend more and more time down in that area. I wish it was cheaper to live in that neighborhood. While walking around before dinner, I found a little sports bar that's a knockoff of "The Keg" chain in Canada. And like anything Canadian, they have hockey. Plus, the guy outside (bartender? manager? friendly barfly?) gave me a program to the CIHL, a local 4 team pro hockey league. Go Kowloon Warriors? Anway, Saturday was a great day.

For full res and all my pics go here.

So at lunch one day last week, for probably the 53rd time, the guys on the team asked me what I usually do for dinner. I never realized that the eating habits of a white guy living on his own in Hong Kong were that interesting. The answer is simple stuff I can make at home: pasta, chicken and rice, spinach salad, etc etc. Now you know.

That's all for now.

Cheers all!

*But it seems like the Hong Kongers have a few details to work out, at least they have the right team?: