Friday, September 28, 2012

Holiday on the horizon

We are going on holiday! On Sunday 30th we fly to Singapore for a week, we haven't been there before, looking foward to it.As we know loads of family and friends who have been there, we have a lot of tips on what to see, do, eat and drink.
Les has the week off work due to a combination of local and national holidays coupled with some annual leave.It is Jung Chau Jit, mid autumn fesival  and also Gwok Hing, National Day which as you may remember is celebrated with an amazing, lavish firework display in the harbour right outside our window. As we will be away, we have given keys to Les colleague and his wife, who live in the same block as us, but do no have a good harbour view. Hope they enjoy the show.
I went on a three hour walk on Thusday and spoke to a new Corona Society member from Korea. (Yes, I can now easily walk and talk at the same time, thanks to our new health regime.)Now that's handy, as I fly to Korea on Wednesday 17th. She has kindly sent me some websites to look at for inspiration on what to see and do in Seoul.
When I fly to Scotland on 24th, I won't need any tips on how to fill my time.1. See the boys. 2. See David and Jen. 3. See the boys. 4. See friends and family. 5. Meet up with the soon-to-be-Travelling Sisterhood. Oh, did I mention I want to see Callum and Jamie?
November 3 - December 18 I think I will be Hong Kong based, then it's back to Scotland for Christmas and on to spend New Year in Dubai.
Holidays are great, don't you think? A chance to relax and refresh,  a break from work...Oh but wait, I don't actually work. But I still love holidays.

Jung Chau Jit Faai Lohk

Happy Mid Autumn Festival! At the full moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, Jung Chau Jit is celebrated by fantastic displays of paper lanterns. Parents take children with little lanterns to a hill top to light and release the lanterns for good luck in the harvest.
 Here are some pictures of a fabulous display at the Tsim Sha Tsui clock tower, just 5 minutes walk from the apartment.

                            A display of giant lanterns in the shape of the terracotta warriors

It is aso the custom to eat special cakes, called yuht beng or moon cakes. They are an acquired taste!They look like a pork pie but are filled with very heavy sweet lotus paste with a preserved duck egg yolk, to represent the full moon, in the middle. .It is customary to give them to friends and family and businesses give them to loyal customers. I believe the Peninsula Hotel has very good ones, costing around £25 for a box of four. As you couldn't eat a whole one, this is not as expensive as it seems; it's OK to cut into 4 and offer a small piece to guests. (That way, you could mash it around the plate and get away with not actually eating any of it).
These are the traditional ones, but you can also get icy mooncakes and snowy mooncakes, with a light rice paper outer and filled with strawberry sorbet or chocolate bean paste(!). HagenDaz  do ice cream ones but I haven't tried those yet.

A selection of moon cakes; the front one has the traditional filling.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Weekend beckons

 Here are some pictures from our boat trip last Saturday. This is where we moored for lunch.The beach was a fair old swim away.
  The dog needed to go ashore....there was no doggy toilet on board. So he put on his life jacket and allowed himself to be lowered onto a surfboad

 Then he was  pushed to shore. The little boy was being Captain!

Our boat lady ready to throw the rope onto the pier
Some views of the scenery

I had the fitting for my new dress this week, I've to collect it on Saturday, looking forward to it, it's the first made to measure item I've ever had. Including fabric and lining, it cost me £27. I also bought a new bag, not a fancy leather one, just a nice purple nylon lightweight one to use as carry on for all the flying I'll be doing over the next few months.It holds my travel document folder, iPad and other sundry items in several pockets. Should be easy to find things on board in the dark, I hope.
 Lessons, in swimming and Mahjong, continued this week, I seem to be making some progress in both. I bought a little travel Mahjong set, it is not so tiny that you can't play with the tiles and not too heavy to carry around. I really bought it so I could practice recognsing the tiles; some are easy (bamboo, circles) but the winds and the characters are more difficult.

I paid a visit to the new 3 storey bookshop over in Causeway Bay on the island. The papers have been full of it since it opened a few books ago.What a lot of hype! I really didn't like it at all.It was packed, very noisy and vey smelly, both from the sheer volume of unclean humanity and fried food from the  food court above. Also, the English and Chinese are mixed on the shelves,making it hard to find things. It gave me an insight ito illiteracy, though, all these books and I had no clue what they were trying to tell me.Whenever I tried to look at the lower shelves, people were pushing past, almost knocking me over. Call me old fashioned, but I like a calm, relaxed QUIET bookshop. For me going into a good book shop is almost like going into a temple. I feel renewed and refreshed when I come out. After coming out of Eslite, I felt like I needed a bath and a stiff drink! However, I did manage to find a book of Scottish poetry and a reprint of an American childrens book from 1949 which I hadn't seen before. I hope Callum likes it!The free carrier bag is very cool, black and white images of Hong Kong street life. After queuing for ages and answering an interrogation to get their loyalty card (which is a scrap of paper! Not even cardboard!). I emerged, blinking, into a huge shopping mall full of things I could neither afford nor fit into. Sometimes life here is tough, eh?

We went for a walk last night and ended up in a German Bierkeller for a pint. It's a bit out of the way, so we expected it to be fairly quiet as there are lots of more easily acessible bars. Obviously another several hundred patrons had though that too.

Today I'm going to the flower market and I really need to finish the dreaded ironing. Then I should start looking out clothes for our holiday in Singapore. Woohoo!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Another week, another haver

We had a great time on the junk trip on Saturday and I didn't feel even the slightest bit queasy thanks to some anti seasick pills I popped early morning. The info leaflet was interesting. On line 3, it said, , "Do not drive or operate machinery as this tablet may cause drowsiness." Fair enough, as I won't be doing either of those things. But then on line 10, it said, "Do not take this tablet before sleeping as it may cause insomnia" Since I wasn't planning on doing that either, I took it and to hang with the consequences.

But before that, on Friday evening, I bought a nice new iPad. Why, I hear you say, are you therefore typing on your old laptop and not on the slinky new model? Well, I am still getting used to the teeny weeny on-screen keyboard.I have mistyped several passwords and had to set things up all over again. Mind you, this was at midnight after a fair few wines; we took a young colleague of Les' with us ( he of the recently devoured Greek dinner) as he knew what was what regarding the purchase of technological equipment. We took him to dinner afterwards to thank him for his advice.

Sunday was a nowhere day, Les went to the poolside to read the papers and I plumbed the depths of the on line Apple store to see what could be had for free; an amazing amount of stuff, as it happens. In the afternoon, we went to a big computer market and I bought a fancy purple cover for the iPad.  Then we went to a street market as I wanted to get things for a great charity drive we are doing. We've been asked to buy a backpack and fill it with stationery to donate to a student at one of the schools we support. It was good fun, even Les got into it, suggesting highlighters, sharpeners, etc.I chose to do one for a boy; in my experience, a girl will usually find a little money to buy at least a fancy pencil, whereas boys either have none or dig down in a pocket to produce a grubby stub. So anyway I bought all blue and black items.

Monday, I attended a talk on church bell ringing which was actually quite good fun as we had to form a  circle and pretend to pull bell ropes in order as the speaker called out our numbers. Oh yes, time fairly flies here in Hong Kong. I also had a Mahjong lesson, it's all coming along nicely.
Today, Tuesday, I tidied up the house in the morning then had a hand over meeting with a friend who is taking on the school interview volunteer activity I did last year.

Tomorow I am off up to Shenzhen to look at bags and also get a dress made at the seamstress my friends used; if we can remember how to get to her! It is a huge complex and as it is laid out in two squares round a central atrium, it sounds as if it would be easy to navigate. Ha! Add to the mix a maze of side passages on either side of the two squares, several thousand shoppers and an equal number of stall holders and touts and it is impossible to find anywhere. I had on a pair of earrings I got in May and a friend asked me to take her to the place I got them. If I am not back by midnight, I'll have been swallowed up and disappeared forever into the bowels of Lo Wu commercial city. The only ones reading this and laughing are those who have not been there; if you've been there, you know it could happen!

Saturday, September 8, 2012


On Friday, I did not have a mani pedi. Instead, I had a swimming lesson. I swallowed a lot of water but managed to float face down for a long time, also floated on my back but I could do that before. I don't really like it (it's so wet!) but it's high time I learned properly. It is such a waste to have the use of this beautiful pool and ony wallow like a hippo in the shallows. My friend Jocelyn is a qualified swim coach and she was really calm. She explained that although I can indeed get across the pool I am using too much energy and would soon be exhausted. I need to trust the water, she says. She says I can learn, she has previously taught mentally handicapped people to swim, also a 25 stone woman. Hmm.
After that, I met another friend, Sue, for lunch. I was ravenous by that time! Sue has been in the UK for several weeks, so we sat from 1.30 till 4pm catching up, me with the wet swimsuit still in my bag!
In the evening, Les and I went on the harbour dinner cruise and we really enjoyed it. The buffet was ample and varied and it was cool to see the laser light show from the water. We sailed around the harbour for two hours. There was a live band and a dancefloor on board. Everyone seemed to have a great time. We befriended a solo Australian girl at our table, she was at the end of a 5 week European holiday.

Our building from the water
On deck during the Bauhnia dinner cruise

Saturday comprised the usual round of shopping and reading but as it rained heavily we read indoors and not by the pool.I printed off a great picture of Callum in his nursery school uniform so we went and bought a nice frame for it.
We met Lesley and Stan at their clubhouse for a lovely dinner, they are off to the US for two weeks and by the time they get back we will be heading to Singapore, so we won't see them for a while.
Sunday is very slow so far, just drinking tea and writing this while deciding what the weather will do. It is very hot but not to sunny just yet.
Tomorrow I have a talk about a charity for migrant workers then my first official class to learn mahjong. I've signed up for a four week course.On Tuesday it is the first class of the new spiritual literacy group I've joined and on Wednesday I'm going on a local heritage trip to find out about the Hungry Ghost festival. No plans for Thursday or Friday as yet, but I badly need the mani pedi, so maybe that. Next Saturday we are going on a junk trip near where I was seasick last time. But apparently it won't be so far out to sea, so should be less choppy. I hope.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dinner photography

It's a very Asian thing to take a photo of your dinner. Everytime we eat out, we see people letting their dinner get cold so they and all their friends can take pictures of each others' food. We always laugh at it, so forgive me for posting two "dinner pics" here. I think I have good reason.

First pic: I love char siu bao, which are steamed fluffy buns filled with BBQ pork. I often have them for lunch at a nearby shopping mall, served in the bamboo basket in which they were steamed. I already have a three tier bamboo steamer, so when I saw a packet in the supermarket, I couldn't resist trying them at home. They were much smaller when they went in, they fluffed up beautifully in the 5 minutes it took to steam them. The little dishes contain soy sauce and spicy red vinegar.A local friend says she never eats soy sauce, that's only for foreigners; she always has spicy red vinegar. Anyway, I had both and the buns were delicious, or ho ho sik as they say here.I thought it looked so lovely, I wanted to share it with you.

Second pic: Q: What does a diabetic with heart disease cook for dinner when left to fend for himself?
A: Eggs, beans and chips, of course. He did his own washing up but left the evidence for all to see. The case for the defence stated that  he used a non stick frying pan and oven chips, the beans were low salt and sugar and have fibre and the eggs counted as a meat free dinner. Verdict? Guilty as charged but mitigating circumstances may lead to a lower penalty.

Mid week update

On Monday our first Corona Society club meeting of the season was just a good old natter, we didn't have a speaker. It was a great opportunity to just catch up with people who have been away all summer and also to get dates in the diary to remind us of  who is going to be out of town in the next couple of months. It's very necessary, so that the social outings may contine unabated for the people still here. For myself, I'll be gone for some of October. From 30 Sep until 6 October, we'll be in Singapore, then from 17th until 20th I'll be joining Les in Korea.

Monday evening we celebrated Les birthday and I made a low fat, low sugar fresh raspberry cheesecake, candles and all. As I was coming out of the supermarket I met Kate, who lives in our building,so we arranged to meet on Tuesday to travel to our Book Group together.It is unusual for us  to actually meet each other like that, we usually make our arrangements via facebook even though we live in the same building.

So Tuesday afternoon was Book Group, we discussed Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies which was a long and complicated read, not least because of the language used; a mix of English, Indian and a now defunct seafarers lingo which when we discussed it, caused much hilarity. A great afternoon and a wonderful lunch too. The journey home was eventful, it absolutely poured with rain, the downhill path we walked on was like a river. We arrived at a very posh hotel absolutely dripping. I had to take my shoes off and let my feet dry on their fancy carpet before walking across the marble lobby to get through the hotel to the train station. I don't suppose they intend it to be used as a thoroughfare, but needs must!

Today (Wed) I went with Pat, Lynn and Loretta to the big flower market a short train ride away. This week, I bought ginger flowers, which have white blooms on very long stems, also red salvia and the fluffy filler again, cream coloured  this week. The length of the ginger flowers looks better in my huge vase. I remember that the flowers are meant to be taller than the vase they are in, so that the blooms dominate and not the container. I'm gettng there! Every week it looks a bit better but I'll not be competing with Jane Packer just yet.
Tonight the poetry club is at a different venue as one of our members is having a book launch so I'll go along to support him.He'll be doing all the reading, no need for any participation tonight.

Tomorrow I am meeting my friend Lesley for coffee then on Friday I'll get a mani and pedi before  Les and I go on our touristy dinner cruise.
On Saturday, we are going out to dinner with Lesley and her husband and before you know it we'll have passed another ex pat week in Hong Kong.
Incidentally, I have also squeezed in the mundane matters; housework, laundry, shopping, cooking and ironing. It's not all fun and games, you know!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

It's all Greek to me

I had a surfeat of babies on Thursday. When I got to Tung Chung to meet Elaine and her wee new baby Amy, she had run into friends whom I'd also met once before and they had their new baby with them. Amy is beautiul and at I think six weeks, she seemed tiny... until I saw the other baby...he was only two weeks old. Now that really is tiny. It was a lovely morning, I got to hold Amy for a while but of course as an honorary  Grannie I just handed her back when she started to grumble.

Friday was very laid back. I had a nice lazy morning, then met two friends for afternoon tea. We sat outside  under a big shady umbrella. We had the whole showy thing; a two tier cake rack holding tiny sandwiches and various savoury nibbles, followed by scones with cream and jam then assorted cakes. We had so much to chat about, Lesley ordered a bottle of wine to continue. I rolled home at 6.15. After a nap and then our exercises, we went out for a late, light dinner.

Why is there a Greek title line? Be patient, here come the two Greek connections:

Tonight, we've invited one of Les' work colleagues to dinner. For some reason I said, "We'll have Greek food".  Now, I have no expertise or even any particular fondness for Greek cuisine, so it's a mystery as to why I decided that. Les sent him an email saying it would be Greek food, so the die was cast. Therefore, this morning's shopping expedition was interesting. It's amazing how many things you can't get once you've decided on a menu.However,two of the three starters are now made and in the fridge, the main is prepared which just leaves one starter, salad and 2 sides to do.  I could't find cod roe, not even tinned, to make taramasalata, but I found fresh orange coloured caviar type stuff on the Japanese counter, so just used that. Once I'd added the milk soaked breadcrumbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, it tasted fine. Its just that it's a bit orange....... The hoummus was easier, our supermarket even stocks  tahini paste, but the canned chickpeas had skins on. It takes a long time to pop the skins off a whole tin of chickpeas. As he's from Wisconsin and now lives in Hong Kong, I'm banking on the fact that he's never been to Greece.

On my way back from meeting baby Amy on Thursday, I got off the train a stop early to investigate a shopping mall I'd walked through once before en route to an art event.It was the most normal shopping mall I've visited here, I think. Most malls are full of designer shops with high price tags and very few customers, or heaving with people heading to the ice rink or soft play area. This one was a middle of the road kind of place, with affordable shops, a big supermarket and an M&S. The only strange thing was the food court. The mall is called "Olympian City" Now correct me if I'm wrong, but that's Greek, isn't it? (Oh! maybe that was in my mind when I decided on Greek food) But the food court is laid out like a French village, with old wooden mismatched bistro chairs and Victorian style gaslamps and metal signposts.The facades above the food counters have fake lavender and shuttered windows. However, it served only Asian food so far as I could see and the whole bizarre ensemble was finished off with two giant medieval knights in armour guarding the exit.Not a hint of anything remotely Grecian.The wonton noodle soup with green vegetables was delicious, though and very good value at $27 (about £2.50)

Sunday morning update:
The Greek food was a success although I did have a moment of fear when he said that although he'd never been to Greece, his best friend at home is of Greek heritage and the mother used to make the most amazing Greek food... But no worries, he ate it all and even asked for the recipe for the taramasalata. We had a good evening, he's good comany, a funny guy and is very easy going. He's also only 29 or 30 and newly married, but his wife is still in the US, she'll be here in November.
Today we are off to revisit the Olympian Mall and then relax by our pool.That's if the pool is open. Yesterday we had a shower of rain and they closed the pool "due to the bad weather". The thing is, from our apartment, we look down on 3 other hotel rooftop pools and they were all open, people were just swimming about in the rain. We must have wimps for lifeguards.