October 9, 2008

New Digs, New Neighborhood

We moved out of the hotel Thursday morning. We're staying temporarily at the home of a colleague who is out of the country and Paul blogs about it here.

While Paul was at work I spent the day sort of sussing out the neighborhood. We are in the district of Wan Chai, which is fairly vast. But I kept close to the apartment. I discovered three whole blocks of market streets selling everything from vegetables to live fish to hair barrettes and jade. I enjoyed it so much, and have a little regret that I won't really be cooking here. At least not in this apartment.

I tried to take photos of the live fish flopping. I know some people have issues with this -- live fish, not photos. I guess I don't put fish into the same basket, so to speak, as animals. I probably wouldn't be happy to watch a chicken get beheaded, but the whole fish episode sort of tickled me. Am I twisted?

After walking around for a while, I came away with an idea of what's available, but not many purchases: bananas and pumpkin seeds. (And have I mentioned just how amazingly good the bananas are here? I think they're from the Philippines, and I have no idea why they're better than the bananas we get at home, but they are.)

I also discovered a dim sum shop, a barber shop for Paul, a dozen different tiny restaurants and the laundry.

We don't have a washing machine in this apartment, so I need to send out the laundry. It is
something I've heard of people in New York doing. It seems like an extravagance. But here, it costs between 26 and 30 Hong Dollars (about $3.50) for up to 6 pounds. That's a deal. I dropped it off at about 4 and it was supposed to be ready at 7 p.m. I actually don't mind doing laundry, but it would be a tempting option if I had it at home in Long Beach.

After that I made my way to the grocery store, Wellcome. I prefer the Park and Shop, but haven't seen one nearby. I think Park and Shop is more for Westerners. They have tons of imported things and more variety. For example, Paul discovered he likes vanilla soy milk, and Wellcome doesn't have it, although it has about 8 other varieties. I think he opted for soy milk in the wake of the whole tainted Chinese milk thing. (He now tells me he chose it because it's sweet).

I also made a stop at the phone monopoly PCCW, like AT&T I think. They handle phones and internet and television. I was concerned about getting an internet hookup in time to work, and had borrowed a start-up CD from someone at the IHT so I could use the existing broadband hookup in the apartment. Turns out I didn't need it.

By the end of the day I'd accomplished a ton, but was seriously overstimulated. I capped off the night late -- at 11 when Paul got in -- by going downstairs and next door to a hole-in-the wall restaurant for some dinner. I asked the woman for an English menu. No go. She offered me a variety of noodles. I stopped her at won ton noodles and ended up with a take-out bowl of soup.


October 7, 2008

New Photos

I've uploaded a few photos to flickr ... find them here

Random Observations

Things I've noticed this week but probably can't write a whole lot about:

  • The elevators here seem incredibly slow. Soul-suckingly slow. And the buildings are tall. It takes forever to get to the 27th floor. This seems slightly less true in the newest buildings.
  • Chinese are, apparently, lactose intolerant. This means there's not a lot of cheese in the grocery stores, which is bad for me. There is milk, but more soy milk. There is yogurt, thankfully. But this is the really interesting thing: other products, like crackers, have extra calcium added, and advertised on the label. At first, I was thinking "Who wants to buy high-cal(orie) crackers?" My yogurt has "50% more calcium than ordinary yogurt." I guess to make up for the lack of dairy in the diet.
  • There are plenty of hairdressers here, but a surprising number of people have bad hair. Women and men alike have bad dye jobs with skunk stripes of gray on lots of people's heads. It's incredible. At first I thought perhaps since I'm in a non-Western neighborhood, that it's only my sense of vanity. Then I realized for the gray to show, someone had to dye the rest of it first ...
  • The yogurt comes with tiny fold-up spoons in the lid. This is very cool.

  • The MTR system is awesome. The trains are frequent and wide and air conditioned. So are the stations. So far, it takes me where I want to go; I don't know if this is true for most residents.

  • People in the neighborhood where I'm staying are in no hurry, no hurry at all. They mosey. Again, perhaps this is different in, say, Central, which is the hopping bank district. But boy, you walk down the street and not only are the people in front of you moseying, they're meandering. You can't pass them. An expat Brit we talked to the first night had a bizarre theory for this, suggesting people look down when they walk so they don't have to greet people they might know. Um, yeah.
  • There is no shortage of places to eat. This is a very good thing. Groceries seem quite expensive here, and eating out much less so.
Now these are just random, ill-informed, first-impression, been-here-all-of-a-week observations. Isn't it fascinating???

Eating Out

I've discovered a slight flaw in my plan to eat my way through Hong Kong.

It's rather insidious, actually. Or maybe that's not the word I want. How about naive? I didn't really think this through. I went from point A. Mmmmm, Chinese food!! Dumplings!! Street food!!! to point B. What else is there to eat?

The thing is, I'm discovering that I'm only familiar with a tiny bit of Cantonese cuisine, and precious little other Chinese cuisine. So when we go out, I order things that look familiar. We've gone out enough times that while I haven't ordered everything I know about, I've come close.

And the menus we see are vast ... So part of the problem, I think, is the language -- in two ways. First, the menus available in English are only a small part of what is really available. I know a lot of things fall under the "Not for you, Western eater" category. But it's more than that.

At the Nice Garden restaurant, where Paul and I have eaten twice, we have seen billboard-like advertisements on the wall, offering specials and dinners and all sorts of deals, it looks like. But when we get the menu, it's pretty small and straightforward. No specials. No deals. There are tanks full of fresh fish, but no seafood on our menu.

The second problem is my apparent lack of adventurousness. Do I really want to try pig knuckle and beef tendon? I've already made up my mind about chicken feet. And I'm not a big fan of tripe. And these are the things that are on the Western menu.

So I'm not sure how to proceed. Do I go to the little restaurants, ask for something generic (soup, please) and see what I get? In the little places, there are signs on all the windows but they are all in Chinese. There are dozens and dozens of dishes. I don't know what any of them are. I could point, blindly, and see what comes out. I'd like to go in and have someone just bring me food, knowing I'm a Westerner and taking that into account.

I wonder how that works.

October 5, 2008

Working 9 to 5 (am) -- What a Way to Make a Living

Today is the first night of my approximately four-month overnight schedule. Since it's Sunday, I'm easing in, starting at 8 p.m. instead of the weekday start time of midnight.

I have no idea how well this will work and I haven't really figured out the logistics. Do I just sleep late? Do I nap? Do I sleep until midnight, then work, then go back to sleep? The jet lag doesn't make things easier. I was on a perfectly nice schedule the first 48 hours and then bam -- sleepy at all the wrong times.

It's approaching midnight now and I'm four hours into an eight-hour shift. Paul is asleep and I'm at the desk in the hotel room. I've turned off the television and we're both in the dark -- which is good for him, at least.

I'm eager to get into an apartment, and a routine, so I can figure the best way to deal with this. We've been looking for a one-bedroom apartment, in part so one of us doesn't have to sit in the dark (or be very quiet). Neither of us makes a lot of noise, but it's the little things, I think. Even in our apartment in Long Beach, which is comparatively spacious, when one of us is sleeping the other will try not, for example, to use the toaster or the microwave. (The smell of toast would surely wake me, and I worry that the hum of the microwave will wake him)

In theory, once Paul starts working, he will get back around 10 p.m. and won't likely be asleep for another few hours. That might offer me some company in the first few hours, but I'll still be on my own for the next few. Tonight he fell asleep around 9 p.m. (it's tricky, because I have the only chair in the room ... he has to sit/lay on the bed or, well, that's it.) and I'm sure he'll be awake by 4 or so, just in time for me to go to bed.

And if we don't get into an apartment with internet right away? Then I'm looking at working out of the IHT office in the middle of the night. The logistics aren't supposed to be the hardest part of this job ...