Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More Street Food

I'm doing well on the resolution to eat more street food. It helps to wander slowly around sightseeing in a group of six - someone is always hungry.

Of the things I've eaten recently, the waffles smelled the best, the fish balls were the cheapest and worst and the octopus had the most interesting texture.
  • Roasted sweet potato in TST ($18)
  • Egg waffle (plain) also in TST ($10)
  • Curried fish balls (tough and repulsive) at the Big Buddha ($6)
  • Boiled octopus (tender and jellied) at the Big Buddha as well (10)
  • Sausage ($17)
  • Roasted corn ($18)

Ok, so they're not the Sequoias, but...

When I was eleven or twelve we drove through Sequoia National Park. There was a tree that the road used to go through and apparently very big other trees. But I don't quite remember much other than the extreme irritation I felt when I was forced to look up from my book, or even worse, leave the car.

It was this awesome book about a boy who had a real jerk of a father who, in preparation to sending him to boarding school, sent him to a military wilderness boot camp in the summer to toughen him up. The boy learned a bunch of survival skills and then took off into the wilderness on his own. I loved it. I still remember him calling his dad at one point and telling him he'd come home on certain conditions - otherwise he'd just stay out in the woods. What a great book that was!

So yesterday when we looked at a bunch of modern art that's on temporary installation in Central - a couple of Botero's, Modigliani, Indiana, and a some others, could I really complain about my boy reading the third Dune book all day?

Here's the other one sketching a Dali that's in the lobby of the Mandarin.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ferry food

Lor Mai Gai is filled with chicken, a preserved duck egg, gravy, some sweet sausage something all wrapped in sticky rice and then wrapped round with a green leaf and steamed. It's yummy, bony, odd and cheap - everything street food should be.

Another of our favourites is the barbecued pork buns. They are $5 each and were great in Korea, too.

There are all kinds of dumplings and fried things and dim sum to buy on the street. I've got to admit that I haven't tried half the options. For one thing, it's daunting pushing through a crowd to try and order something that you're not sure what it is, so you can't just shout out what you want. For another, not all of it smells that great.

But it's spring break tomorrow, starting at noon. I'm going to set a goal to have a different street food every day. Curried fish balls, here I come.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Phlower Phair Photos

A few years ago, I was entrusted with the filing box of my great grandmother's photo albums. There's a box of loose photos that have lots of my grandpa as a little kid. I can pick him out in an instant even in group shots and he looks like a kid you wouldn't want to have in class.
But most of the photo albums don't have pictures of people in them. There are page after yellowed, sticky page of photos of deer, cars and Disneyland, but the biggest collection of pictures is dedicated to Polaroids of orchid shows.
Here's me telling an enthusiastic Granite about that at the Hong Kong Flower Show:It was packed and steamy in the March sunshine, people and cameras. Thousands of people crowded around each stand of flowers, taking pictures of topiaries, flower arrangements, pots of orchids, garden designs and flower beds. Some were using cell-phones and some were using professional-grade, huge-lensed cameras with tripods. My favorites were the the people taking the pictures of pansies as if they were the most exotic thing in the world.I tortured the kids for several hours looking at orchids. I bought a pitcher plant, a hanging orchid and some air plants. It would have been harder to stop shopping if it weren't for the fact that I had basically no money. Lots of the orchids were $20 HK each, which is less than $3 US! The most frustrating thing is that the four orchids I already have at home keep putting out new buds while I keep waiting for them to die back so I can buy some more.

Blizzard approaching

You know the feeling of anticipation in the air when there's a forecasted blizzard and all the school is a-buzzing with wondering about a snow day? Well, last Thursday was like that, except it was the flu a-comin'.
The first I knew of it was Wednesday night when from the deepest sleep of twenty minutes in, I heard a ringing that turned out to be my cell phone. Gregory got it and I listened to him tell a parent: No he wouldn't wake me up. No, we hadn't heard anything about a school closure. No, I didn't decide if school would be open. He found out then that at around 10:30 at night the government had issued an announcement that primary schools and kindergartens would close early for Easter break because of the flu outbreak.
The flu outbreak: four children had died in the past week. There were 511 cases total of the flu in the Hong Kong schools. (This is out of a population of 7 million people.) This is not the bird flu.
So we went to school. Most classes had only around half of the kids there. Kids dribbled in throughout the day as the parents discovered our school was open. Rumors spread wildly about which international schools were open and who and when the decision would be made if we should close or not.
The long-term staff told us about being in Hong Kong during SARS. The schools were closed for three weeks then and the teachers had to e-mail work to the students, get it back, mark it and come to school every day. Lots of the ex-pat kids and parents flew out of the country for safety; no one was in the streets; Hong Kong felt like a sad ghost town.
But that was then and only 6 kids at our school, out of a school of 1600, were home sick with anything on the Wednesday before. Nevertheless, mid-afternoon the clarification came down from the government that all schools have to close. After being a-quiver all day over the possibility, once the announcement was made, I was exhausted!
So here I am at school with no students for the week before Easter break. And the government just announced today that two of the four kids who died didn't have the flu. An odd sort of gift from the gods.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Megabox is a eighteen floor mall that has MegaIce (about half the size Tanya Harding used to practice on in Portland), MegaCinema, MegaEats and MegaKids (a floor devoted to kids' clothes and toys.)
This is how to get there. You take the MTR all hell and gone out to Kowloon Bay in the New Territories. There, you walk through a mall, through a white sky-lighted passageway that looks like the kind of shopping reserved for the international section of a good airport. Continue out into a cemented plaza planted with palm trees with a fountain ringed by old people taking the sun in parkas and towered over by apartment blocks that look like the projects. Then you duck back into an office building owned by the Hang Seng Bank and follow the signs down an escalator towards a free shuttle bus. You line up in the velvet-roped queue for the bus that every ten minutes takes shoppers along more streets that are either bordered by projects or construction sites.
It is quite a site. Picture a square building all in red except for a circular cut-out on the front that is glass. Inside that section is a video screen, bigger than most movie screens, showing commercials, trailers for movies, or music videos. I wasn't really clear on what was showing; I only knew that whatever it was included lots of soulful looks by very big faces.
Hong Kong is a city of malls, so it is almost reasonable to have an outing to one. I was trying to count on the weekend wondering whether there are more malls per people here or in greater Los Angeles. We have 7 million people in Hong Kong and I haven't been looking for malls. But still, there's the IFC, Pacific Place, Langham Place, Landmark, Times Square, City Plaza, Megabox, Elements, Fashion Walk and Sogo. That doesn't count the plus-15 walkways all lined with stores or the retail spaces stacked five high along the street. It seems like if there are escalators, it should count as a mall, doesn't it?
I'd heard a lot about Megabox because there's a three-level store called Spotlight that has Walmart-like craft supplies and a two-level home hardware store, too. Plus, my boy had been to Megabox for a grade-level field trip and wanted to go back, so reluctantly I agreed. But the place was odd enough that it felt like a cultural experience.
I took a pile of pictures of the public art, ceilings and floor decorations, but somehow. for the first and inshallah only time. when I downloaded them onto my computer, they disappeared. [I know that is not possible. I am only reporting on my perception of what happened. Don't give me any suggestions about this. I'm still bereft.] I wish you could see all the craziness. On the Megakids floor the elevators are decorated like the entrance to the Tikki Tikki Room in Disneyland, all "African" masks and spears. The ceilings are hung with great leaves and fiberglass monkeys and parrots. By the elevators are elephants, giraffes and giant mushrooms for waiting. It is mall-cum-theme park.
I wonder about cause and effect because there are lots of Japanese stores there. In one store there were stuffed pink and grey glittery peace signs on sticks and a silicon sparkle-filled bone hanging on a cardboard dog's face. I didn't think that it would actually survive a dog's chewing on it, so I picked it up to look at it. On the back in the little English print it said that it was a wrist-rest for when you're mousing.
But in that store, with all the other oddities there was something so amazing that I'm still thinking about it. In a wall of shelves filled with pillows and stuffed characters there was a yellow rectangular pillow. Other than its legs on the bottom corners, hands on the top corners and smiling face, it looked like any other pillow. But when I touched it....! You will never know the rapture of my hand as it sunk into that pillow! The resistance was like no other pillow I'd ever felt. It was like the rolling of tiny ball bearings in a frictionless liquid. It was like there was nothing but the suede smoothness of skin inviting my hand to rest. And yet, as I pushed deeper the pillow subtly responded as if to say, "Don't trouble yourself. You're making too much effort. Let me hold you." The pillow was around 45 cm by 35 cm and cost $139 HKD. It seemed like too much, but if I can't get it out of my mind, I may have to go back and get it.
There's a MegaEats food court and we wanted hamburgers. But since the only burger restaurant was too complicated, we settled for sushi. It doesn't seem reasonable that a Japanese burger joint with its elaborate list of possible ingredients to add to the burger, multiple combinations of side dishes and high prices would be harder to figure out than a sushi bar, but we all agreed. We ate more sushi than we even wanted to for $12 USD and got our strength back.
After food we went to the real destination of the day, the floor of vending machines. The vending machines were two-high all the way down a hallway, in two alcoves and filling an entire store. Some of them take coins like any machine; some take Octopus cards, (the all-purpose magnetic-chipped card that is used for buses, ferries, 7-11 and everything else); and for some of them you had to buy a special card-voucher and insert it into the machine, turn the handle and the machine would remove that value from the card. What an assortment of fun there was to buy: Pooh bear key chains, Hello Kitty key covers, anime action figures, assemble it yourself catapults, miniature toy dogs, and on and on. Best of all, it turned out that the pillow turned out to be a character. So now I have a little plastic replica to remind me of what I yearn for.
It might not be enough. I may have to go back for the pillow and the pictures. Stay tuned.