February 21, 2016

100 Days

Today marks 100 days in Hong Kong, 100 days!

So, here is my list of 100 things that define this experience so far:

  1. I adore my neighborhood
  2. My apartment actually feels like home
  3. But rent it stupid expensive.
  4. The city still blows my mind..
  5. ...and sometimes makes me crazy. 
  6. So I escape to the jungle.
  7. Or I hop on a ferry to the beautiful surrounding islands (my favorite!)
  8. Hong Kong really is an adult playground
  9. Money will buy anything here
  10. But it's totally ok and reasonable to get by without an excess of it.
  11. The markets are bizarre and wonderful,
  12. yes it's true that the crowds drive me nuts there,
  13. but nowhere else in the world can I buy legos, underwear and ultra-fresh SE Asian fruit all within 100 steps
  14. And it's all a five-minute walk from home.
  15. This city's hills make Seattle's hills look quaint, 
  16. Many streets here are just straight up (or down) steps.
  17. Ahh, Seattle... I miss that city more than I thought I would,
  18. it's only now that I can finally think about it and only have it gently pull on my heart strings -- the places, routes, shitty weather, the smell of the ocean...I've been gone long enough now to let myself actually think about the city. Up until now, I blocked it from my mind. 
  19. Of course I miss my friends, a lot.
  20. But I have visitors! At least one each month since November and continuing through  May :)
  21. I've now been in Hong Kong long enough to identify other silly American things I miss:
  22. La Croix bubbly water, affordable kombucha, takeout from Annapurna and understandable grocery stores.
  23. Ok, pity party over. This city has way too many great things that keep  me distracted:
  24.  Like food.
  25. You can eat everything in Hong Kong. 
  26. I love the local noodles and eggy waffles,
  27. And I've taken a masochistic adoration to Sichuan meals. 
  28. It numbs your mouth in a firey, citrusy feeling totally unique to Sichuanese food. 
  29. I don't cook as often as I should here; it's expensive cooking for one. 
  30. However, I really want to learn how to cook Cantonese food.
  31. I'm currently accepting donations for my wok and knife set fund. (Kidding about  the donations part, but those are two critical items I still need to purchase for my place).
  32. So are plants. I really need some living things in my home space.
  33. Good thing there is an ENTIRE market just for plants in Prince Edward, just a few stops away.
  34. Foot massages are my weekly indulgence. 
  35. Sometimes I go twice a week. 
  36. Visit me in Hong Kong and at least one foot massage is guaranteed to be on the list. 
  37. Living far from home is an inexplicable learning experience, it's far from glamorous.
  38. It took me 2.5 months to finally be fine to admit that this move was difficult.
  39. Moving here has forced me to let down my guard and open up to any bizarre connection the universe presents.
  40. Some of my favorite connections have been with fellow Seattlites having only found one another after arriving in Hong Kong. Sometimes the universe is funny like that.
  41. The common tie of the "former life" and "current life" has been an appreciated factor with the fellow jet fresh imports from the US West Coast. 
  42. Cantonese is a really difficult language.
  43. My Mandarin needs *a lot* of work, but not as much work as my Cantonese.
  44. Three months in and I know how to say my address and a handful of words, like: hello, annoying, and three forms of "thank you."
  45. Hong Kong  is cold in the winter. It's humid and there isn't much for insulation.
  46. I can't wait for the hot, sticky summer.
  47. The pollution here is a real thing, but it's not that bad.
  48. An air purifier is the best investment I've made for my apartment.
  49. It still amazes me that I can be in the jungle in 10 minutes from my front door.
  50. Did you know that 70% of Hong Kong is undeveloped land?
  51. That's why the bits that are developed are so dense. 
  52. (And a part of the reason the air pollution is in check).
  53. The Asia travel bug hasn't yet hit me fully yet, there's too much to explore here. For example:
  54. Lantau Island: its beaches, feral cows and Disneyworld! (still need to go to Disney..)
  55. Lamma Island: for that laid back feel 
  56. Sai Kung: I've hardly even touched the area yet, but I like what I see in the New Territories
  57. Cheung Chau Island: for that biking fix
  58. Hong Kong Island: This is where I live and I've got a grasp of maybe 10% of all the good stuff on this island
  59. Best way to get around the city in HK island? A wooden street car that runs east to west. It's my favorite view of the city.
  60. Kowloon: it's where I feel like I'm 100% in Hong Kong
  61. Mong Kok: one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world. Somehow I've wound up there more weekends than not in the last few months.
  62. The wet market down the street: where things are sold that I did not know could be eaten.
  63. I'm realizing there is still a lot here that I need to figure out,
  64. Like the "adult" things one avoids until necessary, like figuring out where to go to the doctor,
  65. Or what to do if a fire alarm goes off in your building
  66. Or if a fuse blows in the apartment (at least I have finally located the fuse box).
  67. And then there are taxes. Uff da. I actually can't even....
  68. Time for another foot massage.
  69. I also want to try cupping and acupuncture, but medicine is one area where the language barrier is real. 
  70. Tai chi is also on high on my list of things to try. I plan to crash the party of grandmas who climb up the mountain each morning at 7 a.m. for the energy work in the park.
  71. The second the weather gets warmer, I plan to start teaching yoga in parks, on beaches... pretty much anywhere that gets people barefoot on something other than concrete.
  72. I don't talk about my work on my blog, but my job has been the easiest and best part about adjusting to living in Hong Kong.
  73. My colleagues are the BEST and have lovingly answered all of my silly questions about Hong Kong, such as, "How do I treat itchy bug bites?"
  74. Answer: this amazing MoPiDick (yes, like Moby Dick) ointment from Japan, found at any drugstore. It's amazing!
  75. Also amazing are the Korean sheet face masks. They are single cotton sheets with holes cut out for your eyes, nose and  mouth. They're soaked in serum for any sort of skin improvement, such as moisture, soothing, anti-aging, and whitening (I stay away from the whitening ones).
  76. The most entertaining masks  are the ones with animal patterns, like monkeys and puppies.
  77. Plan a visit to Hong Kong and Korean face masks will also certainly be on the itinerary.
  78. I'm thankful for how similar Hong Kong feels to home. Aside from moving alone, which is hard to do even domestically, I have all of the comforts I had in the US.
  79. Thank goodness I have a yoga studio. It's clean and spacious.
  80. It's easy, albeit a bit expensive, to eat really  healthy here.
  81. My step count has shot up to a daily average of 3.9 miles.
  82. And I climb an average of 20 flights of stairs each day.
  83. (Hong Kong hills do NOT mess around).
  84. I'm learning how to use umbrellas again. No one in Seattle uses umbrellas. Here they are key.
  85. So are rainboots. These streets rip up shoes like crazy.
  86. Speaking of rain, I love how I can hear it raining from my apartment.
  87. In fact, I can't hear much of anything other than rain and the occasional dog bark. There is zero traffic by my apartment.
  88. My address sounds straight from a scifi novel (if you got my  New Year card, you'll understand that). 
  89. Commuting, even on foot, can require the same keen attentiveness as driving in a lot of traffic.
  90. You don't ever want to be that distracted walker who is texting and walking, that's how head on collisions happen.
  91. Sometimes those crowded human highways are infuriating, other times I find the zen and flow in it. I need to consciously work towards making it as calming as possible.
  92. (If you've made it this far, bless your heart. Only nine more to go).
  93. I'll be here a while, quite a long while. I'm getting through the post-honeymoon lull and wholeheartedly believe I can build a good life here.
  94. I am committed to building a community out of this behemoth of a city,
  95. the starting point for that is building my home, which is 75% there. I've given myself a deadline of May to get it to where I want it to be.
  96. Technology is the saving grace of this move. I am so grateful I can video chat with family and friends for free on a moment's notice.
  97. Willing that I live to be  an old dragon lady, I can't wait to see this move in retrospect and what role it actually plays in my life story.
  98. Yes, it's hard doing the Google Earth zoom-out of where I am on the planet in relation to my loved ones. But it's also pretty damn amazing,
  99. This move, more than others, has reinforced that this world is small,
  100. and that people everywhere are capable of connecting and relating well to one another.
Thank you, Hong Kong, for a brilliant and challenging first 100 days. 

Welcome, Year of the Monkey

Happy Year of the Monkey! Kung Hei Fat Choy! Xin nian kuai le!

The Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year (or LNY) is one of the biggest holidays  on  earth. It celebrates the new year beginning  on the lunar calendar and results in an insanely huge annual migration of humans  who are heading back to their hometowns for the holiday.

Victoria Park LNY Market

For me, it meant three days off from work and a good chance to start learning bits and pieces about the rituals behind it. LNY markets appeared all throughout the city, selling stunning flowers  and holiday decor.

Impossibly busy crowd in Mong  Kok
Orchid shopping at Victoria Park 

The Decorations

Orange bushes adorn every single entryway. Even in the far reaches of temples outside of fishing villages, one can find an orange bush. The Chinese word for mandarin oranges sounds like "good luck" when spoken and uses the character for "gold" when written. The bushes represent a good  luck and fortune in the year ahead.

The bushes are perfectly symmetrical and dripping with so much fruit it's almost unnatural. Thankfully my colleague had courage to ask the question all of the new gwailo's have been wondering: could the oranges be  eaten? Absolutely not. The local who answered her said that the bushes are sprayed with all sorts of chemicals to keep those oranges looking just right.

Aside from orange bushes, families also purchase pots of narcissus flowers, indicating the arrival of spring along with "five generation fruit" pyramids, which look like stacks of lemons with some extra nubbins growing out of them. The fruit are a symbol of generations within a family.

Door frames are adorned  with poetry on long red scrips of paper, wishing good health, fortune, and happiness. From what I gather, the poems have quite a bit of crafty wordplay that I can only sense by the generally awkward translations.

The biggest and most interesting  surprise of all of it to me was that I received lai see, or red pocket money. Bosses and married people hand out  red envelopes of money to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead.The envelopes are filled with crisp bills of varying denominations, but most commonly in HK it's a $20 or $10 HKD, which is $2-3 US.

In some parts of Asia, my old age would disqualify me for the red packets, but in Hong Kong, anyone who isn't married may receive red packet from married friends or colleagues. The packets are also given out by managers to their teams. I gave to my cleaning lady and my door guards. It's amazing how nice some of the door guards have been since I gave them lucky money. 

Nothing says "single in Hong Kong," quite like paying for meals--while dining alone--in brand new, fresh $20 bills. 

Many Chinese are quick to say that  the LNY is a lot like Christmas in the US, and up until this year I didn't quite understand the connection. But it's really true--both holidays are spent primarily with family, there are a several traditional decorations and foods involved, little kids anxiously a await gifts from grownups, and there is a palpable sense of festive excitement around. I'm happy to have spent my first LNY in Asia right here in Hong Kong. 

February 10, 2016

When Hong Kong Gets Cold

Hello! It's been a couple of weeks since the last post, I'll blame it on my perpetually chilled fingertips... they haven't been too eager to type anything that wasn't work-related.

This last month has been one of the coldest that Hong Kong has had on record. Two weeks ago "frost chasers" scurried up the tallest peaks in the country parks in the hopes of catching a single snowflake or shimmering icicles on the underbrush.

Despite injuries, thankfully no one was killed in the cold weather pursuits, but I dare say spraying cold ground with cold water wasn't the most brilliant move by the rescuers, who are more accustomed to extreme heat than cold. (I'm not joking, scroll to the bottom to see the genius in action).

While I wasn't chasing frost (I grew up with enough of it to last a lifetime), I was planning to go camping and sleep outside that weekend. Thankfully we decided against  the sleeping outside bit and rented a beachside apartment on a nearby Hong Kong island.

Despite all of the blizzards and wind storms I experienced on the prairie, it was nothing compared to the 30-hour gale on the beach. We attempted a hike, but gave in after a half hour of being sand-blasted on the beach. That night, the wind was relentless--even shaking the apartment with some gusts. Potted plants on the patio tipped over and cracked, some awnings were torn, and loads of branches fell from the trees.

The actual-freezing temperature was  brief, but the wet chill in the air has persisted. The slate tiles of my apartment floor and the less-than-radiant heat from my radiator heater make it next to impossible to crawl out of my flannel sheets (best Christmas gift EVER) in the morning.

Outside, the temperatures aren't so bad. With a jacket and scarf, it's totally manageable. The challenge comes with warming up as the insides of buildings are either the same temperature or colder than outside. Suddenly sunny and 55 feels like a refrigerator.

People walk around in gigantic parkas, usually reserved for legitimate sub-zero temps. I manage in a fall jacket, but  indoors I'm running out of appropriate winter clothing to wear to work. Most of my bulky sweaters I left back in the US.

I'm going on the record  and saying that I can't wait  for  summer. Steamy, hot, raining, mildewy summer. In my inexperienced mind, summer is setup to be one nonstop hot yoga class. Anytime I say that out loud, I'm warned to be careful what I wish for. Apparently summers here are brutal, but at this point, I'm ready for the fridge chill to leave my apartment.