Monthly Archives: July 2010

Apartment found.

So after looking at over 70 apartments–we finally found the one!

As of August 15, we’ll be setting up shop at 37 Barker Road, Flat No. 4A, The Peak, Hong Kong.

The place is up on the Peak, but it’s on the lowest road, which they say is usually just below the cloud / fog line. It’s above the crazyness of the city, but it’s still only a nine minute cab ride down to the action.

And here we are on the fourth floor… you can see from the buildings below why a 6 story building was, oh so comforting, to this single story, ranch loving, California gal.

So we had to weigh a lot of things… it was all about tradeoffs: high-rise versus mid-rise, fresh air versus convenient location, beach (yes, there are white sand beaches on the South side of Hong Kong–about 30 minutes from Central where all the offices are), or deck (which was the Mr’s no. 1 priority), or new kitchen versus big kitchen, or view of harbor versus view of beach versus view of your neighbor combing her hair in her 40th floor apartment, but a mere five feet from you… so many iterations of options. But in the end we opted for :

(Also, the place is still being touched up / painted so excuse the mess.)

1. A sick view and an awesome little deck. We figure we’re only young once and we’ll never ever again get to have a view like this one.

The Mr. LOVES the deck which opens right out from the living room. I do, too… I’m thinking cook-outs, cocktails, cigar smoking…

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Hermes and the Wizard of Oz.

We had to take a trip to Macau over the weekend to activate my HK visa and I was pretty taken by this Hermes window display in the Wynn Macau.

So I mistakenly didn’t include her shoes, but I will tell you that they weren’t red. Although that is a cute little red satchel.

I wonder if they had to go out and make this tin man?

This is actually a pretty good looking guys outfit, don’t you think? I love that the jacket lining is orange. And I really like that guy’s overnight bag. Very handsome.

I think the tornadoes were my favorite part!

So there are eight Hermes stores in Hong Kong, plus two in Macau (where the above shots were taken), compared to 28 in all of the states. But of course, Hong Kong is the size of 426 square miles, or 1/3 the size of Road Island or the size of the city of Houston or the island of Oahu.

In short, the density of the high-end shopping here is just insane. You can’t walk five feet in any direction without running into Gucci or Jimmy Choo’s or Cartier. Apparently, all the main landers come here to get their luxury goods fix. And, yes, they really do shop, not just look, judging by all of the bags I see being carried into our hotel.

Hotel life. Plus, Mustard Chicken.

So we’re going on a month in a hotel now… the first three weeks were in normal hotel rooms, but now we’re in corporate housing so we actually have a little kitchenette and a place to do laundry, other than the bathroom sink.

In our kitchen there is a crazy, tiny little washing machine and dryer in one. At first, I wondered why we don’t have these 2-in-1 machines in the States, but then I realized it’s because they don’t actually dry things. After many failed attempts, I concluded that you can really wash about one outfit at a time, meaning its capacity is literally one shirt, one pair of jeans, and socks.

If you put any more than that in there, or likely even if you put that few of things in there, the dryer really only works half way.

The Mr. really doesn’t appreciate this decorating. Also, notice what I like to call “laptop-gate” on top of the dish drying rack. Yep, that’s right we have, no exaggeration, five computing devices in this tiny little apt.

Also, check out our mini-dishwasher. Any idea what the point of a dishwasher you can’t put a full dinner plate in up-right is? Wouldn’t you rather just handwash it yourself and have the extra room, or an actual oven?

And here is what I thought was an oven.

Happy to finally have some homemade food, I ran out to the store to make Nick’s favorite dish: his mother’s mustard chicken. But, when I got home I realized that is actually a microwave disguised as an oven, so I ended up doing a sauteed variation as it would be hard to get bread crumbs to actually brown in a microwave. I also would feel guilty radiating the organic food that I had just paid a small fortune for. I seriously think eating out here is WAY cheaper than eating in… unless I guess you learn how to shop at the real markets, which I will work on in due time.

Here is our first homemade meal in Hong Kong. Steamed broccoli, caprese salad, and the beloved chicken.Quick recipe for you — what is so great about this is that it’s so simple and you can have all the ingredients in your pantry / freezer so you can whip it up in five minutes, on a moment’s notice.

Leila’s Mustard Chicken.

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An uncomfortable situation.

I am not at all a fan of uncomfortable situations. In fact, the Mr. says I always say that absolutely everything is awkward, even when it’s not… so imagine how awkward I felt when we were about to get into our hotel elevator and an old guy with a giant potbelly dressed like a sleeze meets up with an Asian girl–who is probably about 30, but dressed like she is 14, with pigtail braids and pink ballet, big bow, flats–get on the elevator with us and start talking about their obviously compensated rendez vous. Inappropriate. And, sadly, I think very common in Asia in general. Dirty, old men–can’t help but hate ’em.

Review: The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee.

So in ongoing preparation for this adventure, I’ve decided to read up on all things Asia. I felt woefully unprepared by both my education, as well as my personal reading for this trip because I’ve sadly read very little about this part of the world. I also miss my beloved book club back home in S.F. very much! So the first book I read was The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee, given to me so very kindly by my book club member Krissy on a list of recommended books about Hong Kong.

What I liked about it:

  • This is embarrassing to even admit, but I had NO clue what happened to Hong Kong during World War II. So as it turns out the British colony was occupied by the Japanese after 18 days of intense fighting by woefully under-manned British and Canadian troops. The Japanese then interned all of the expatriates for three years and 8 months. The best part of the book was feeling transported to Hong Kong during the forties and fifties–it switches back and forth, from past to present.
  • It’s always very interesting to read about who people become when their survival is threatened… some rise to the occasion and others are only capable of looking out for their own skin. You can’t help but wonder who you would become if war ever arrived on your doorstep.
  • I also, initially and only initially, related to the protagonist Claire Pendleton who has moved to Hong Kong from Britain for her husband’s job. Her initial impressions of the city were very similar to mine. Her descriptions of the Peak, the humidity, the markets, the intensity of street life… they all seem true decades later.
  • Claire is a piano teacher for a wealthy Chinese family that lives on May Road. I took that to be a major sign as the apartment we were looking at was also on May Road. I’m a big believer in signs, but in the end I don’t think that apartment was meant for us! It’s very crazy to think that in the fifties there was a large multi-story home and compound there. Now there are half a dozen sixty-story apartment high rises.
  • Being a romantic sap that gravitates towards the melancholy and depressing (the Mr. always comments on how all the music and movies I like are sad), I really appreciated how realistic the love stories were.

I noticed this memorial when walking through the HK Botanical Gardens the other day.

What I didn’t like about it:

  • Although there are pieces of great writing, at the end of the day I feel like this is more of a beach read / page turner than a great novel, which depending on what you’re looking for could be a good thing.
  • I think the characters were a little two-dimensional and although the book started off remarkably strong it seemed to peter off mid-way and ended unremarkably / predictably.

In short: 3.5 stars. It’s The Awakening meets The Painted Veil, both of which I really liked. Recommended for ladies looking to curl up on a rainy day with a romance that actually teaches you something about both world history and real-life relationships.

Transcontinental jetsetting.

So flying to HK from San Francisco clocks in around 14 hours and is not for the feint of heart. By the end of our stay here on the other edge of the earth (and given both our love of our families and the number of weddings we’ll likely be heading back home for) I hope to nail the essentials of jetsetting both in style and in comfort. We’ve taken close to a half dozen of these epic voyages in the last six months and here’s what I’ve got so far–I’ll be back with more additions to this list:

1. Arcona Pads. Wash your face, without actually washing it. These little guys are awesome because they do a great job of getting all that inevitable sweat that comes with shlepping all those bags and / or rushing at some point to get through security or to the gate or what have you. No towel or water required and the raspberry scent (my favorite) is so relaxing. These things do wonders for my breakout prone skin.

2. The Kindle. Okay, yes, obvi. But you have no idea how much I love my Kindle and to think that I once thought I would never ever get past my love of “holding an actual book, oh and the smell of the musty pages, and the beauty of the typeface,” but yea, I’m a convert now. In my opinion, despite the fact that my techie husband also (lucky for me) got us an iPad, this is still the no. 1 travel device. [Note: the iPad does not work for reading on the beach or by the pool–not only is it hard to read with the glare, but it overheats easily and shuts down.] It has literally cutdown my packing load by 20+ pounds (and those weight limits are no joke traveling internationally). Downloading a few new titles is also the perfect activity while waiting in the gate area. (And, stay tuned for some forthcoming book reports on the Far East–I’ve been reading up on Asia to get ready for this.)

3. Forever New Travel Packs. You’re supposed to use this fine detergent for your lingerie and delicates, but they’re also super handy for having to do a little wash in your hotel (and saving you from paying $15 to get the Mr.’s boxers washed). They also do double duty as stain remover.

4. Skinceuticals B5 Hydrating Masque. So more on the skin troubles… after you’ve had you’ve settled in and had your breakfast, sneak into the bathroom and wash your face and put this on. I leave it on for the entire flight–it’s not obvious in that wrteched plane light and it really protects your face and prevents massive drying out.

5. Cashmere socks or slippers. Any will do really, but I am obsessed with these. I wish they weren’t $300! Maybe I will have to learn how to make them or try to convince my Mom or MIL to make them for me–I think they’re beyond my ability, see no. 7.

6. Platypus. This is a new one for me and was a sweet going away gift from my friend Tam. It’s awesome because you can fill it up (for free) post-security and after you’ve downed it, it doesn’t take up room post-plane. Also, I’ve learned not to be shy with the flight attendants–go right ahead and ask them to fill that entire bottle right up when they ask you what you want to drink. You really should be drinking gallons–planes have very low humidity (looking forward to Airbus’s new Dreamliner!)

7. Knitting. I knit this blanket for Morgan on our last set of travels and have already started my second. I’ve read that knitting is used in anxiety disorder treatment and I can definitely say it makes me less anxious. It’s perfect for taxying to and from the gates–that wretchedly drawn out waiting period. And it’s also great for when you’re too exhausted to read.

8. Earplugs. This really, truly helps me with my fear of flying. Regardless of how many flights I’ve taken, I’m still a scared / nervous flyer and so often I swear ‘that sound was just not right’ or that ‘something is direly wrong’ and it’s just better when you can’t hear as much.

9. Ambien and/or a drink. The most important thing you can do when flying is to sleep. In closing, two facts you might not have known about why transcontinental flights take so much out of you:

–Planes are not pressurized to sealevel, where you are likely coming from. An aircraft planning to cruise at 40,000 ft (12,000 m) is programmed to rise gradually from take-off to around 8,000 ft (2,400 m) in cabin pressure altitude, and to then reduce gently to match the ambient air pressure of the destination. So if you spend 12 hours on top of say Tahoe or Park City when you’re not used to the elevation it will tucker you out.

–There are actually limits on how often flight attendants and captains are allowed to fly over the North Pole because of the high exposure to ozone–I’m not sure about the exact rules, but I know that it is related to the growing hole above the pole.

What else am I forgetting?!

Maid’s “rooms”.

Uh, wait, people live in that closet? Seriously? In that 3×4 foot box without windows?

It seems quite unethical to me that people let people live like that here, but apparently these ladies often support their entire family back home on what they make here. In fact, they’d give anything to have these jobs.

Literally every single apartment we’ve seen (and we’ve seen close to 40) has a maid’s room because apparently there is a law here in Hong Kong that domestic help must live with their family hence the little closet and tiny 2 square feet combo shower/toilet room.

Now the Mr. assumes that we’d never actually go for one of these helpers–even though they do only cost about $200 a month. I’m going to reserve judgment as everyone here seems to have one… the paper yesterday said there are over a quarter of a million domestic helpers living here, or over 3% of the total population. My main reluctance is that I want to be able to say exactly what I am feeling (i.e. have a fight with the Mr. if need be) and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a maid overhearing all of that. Also, I’m so excited about what we could do with this extra room… a post to come about that is forthcoming!

One of the other evidences of the fact that everyone has a maid is the distance from the kitchen (which is often tiny and is usually stuffed into the back of the apt, right next to the maid’s room) to the dining room table–which is usually the entire length of the apt. I guess the idea is for the maid to be back in the steaming kitchen while you’re up front enjoying her hard work, as well as the breeze and the view. Another piece of evidence is that not only are the kitchens tiny, but even modern kitchens with other very modern appliances often don’t have dishwashers.

Some of the apartment’s have outfitted their maid’s rooms rather nicely, like this:


I thought the forgotten little angel in the corner was quite sweet–it really made me wonder about the family and the maid who used to live here.