October 25, 2008

Gosht Vinadaloo

Last night I hit a tipping point. I couldn't, as one colleague put it, bear to eat one more slimy noodle.

We went to grab some dinner last night in our new neighborhood of Tin Hau. Now, we've been in Hong Kong for 23 days, and I've probably had Chinese food (or food, as my brother Dan likes to say) 21 of those 23 days. My aim had been to hit a Thai restaurant I'd seen as we walked to the park in the afternoon, but before we got there, I spied an Indian place.

I'm not too proud to say I came just short of begging Paul to go in. He likes Indian, but is allergic to curry. I promised him there would be something he could eat. The menu was in English, the smells were exotic and nothing came with noodles. We ordered papadam (which I adore) and chicken tikka and lamb vindaloo and cheese naan. It was delicious.

My vindaloo, which supposedly had potatoes as well as lamb chunks, was incredibly spicy. Apparently, I have lost much of my ability to handle really spicy food, and this was a bit over the top.

Hong Kong has a long-established population of South Asians, according to Wikipedia, including more than 20,000 Indians. It is my understanding that a large number of them live Kowloon-side. Regardless, we haven't seen any Indian restaurants that I can recall.

Like Wan Chai, Tin Hau is dotted with dozens of restaurants. Unlike Wan Chai, however, there is a greater variety of cuisine available and a bit more attention given over to decor and presentation in the restaurants, without, it seems the prices going up dramatically.

We passed three Thai places, two Vietnamese, a Japanese and two dumpling restaurants. There also were two Chinese sweet shops serving only dessert. One of them, Ching Ching Desserts, is noted for its cream of almond and black sesame soup. According to one blogger "It's like drinking marzipan . . . and could find its way onto the menu of any five star restaurant in the world but you can get a bowl in Hong Kong for less than three bucks. "

And all this -- including the usual Chinese fare -- in a three block stretch.

The place we're staying now is well-located. We are surrounded by restaurants (there is a Chinese hot-pot place just across the alley) and food stalls and there is both a grocery and a laundry across the street.

Each neighborhood we go to (and this is our third) I find something even more appealing than the last one. If things go as planned (and of course, the never really do) we will try at least one more neighborhood and perhaps two before we leave.

It's been a blast discovering all these things. Now I have 10 days or so here to take advantage.

October 20, 2008

Relax -- Please Don't Rush!

This, apparently, is the motto of Hong Kong.

It's posted in the MTR and the people here have clearly taken it to heart. There are lots of signs in the subway, and most seem to have little effect. There are the constant admonishments to hold the handrail on the very steep escalators. There are signs encouraging people to take the steps for "good health." But mostly, people pay attention to the request not to be in a rush.

I have a few city traits, like walking quickly to get to where I want to be. For some people, it's because they are late. But I only walk quickly in comparison to others here. People here mosey. They meander. It doesn't help that I tend to go out about 2 p.m., when everyone is finishing up their lunch hour so the streets are crowded. But they clearly are in no hurry to get back to work.

It's rather maddening. The streets are crowded and it's not easy to maneuver around people -- especially because they have this uncanny ability to sense when you are about to go around them, and then they move in that same direction.

There is a theory that things here are slow-moving, contrary to most great and cosmopolitan cities, because of the weather. I haven't tested it in jam-packed Central, home of bankers and expats and movers and shakers. But I am not optimistic.

It's just unexpected. I know that Mexico and the Middle East have "manana" cultures. But I'm not living there and trying to get something done. And, it seems to me, Acapulco and Hong Kong and Marrakech are worlds apart in more ways than one.

OK. I feel like I'm not explaining this well. Imagine you are in Paris or in New York. You are going about your daily business, trying to get to work or run errands and the city is filled with tourists who are gawking. They stop to look up at the skyscrapers, they stop in the middle of the street to look at their maps, to find the metro, to marvel at a window display. This is daily life in Hong Kong. The residents behave like this. It's crazy!

Even if I learn to slow down, which is probably healthy, there will still be people in my way. The security guard in the MTR who decides to stop right in front of the escalator. The old woman who zig-zags down the sidewalk. The hordes of people going nowhere in particular.

I'm not relaxed, and I'm not in a rush.

Calm in the Eye of the Storm

Today Paul convinced me to leave the apartment.

It's a subtle thing he does: Makes a suggestion for a way I can go outside. It always sounds so innocuous. Why don't you go take a walk on the beach? How about reading in the park? He does it in Long Beach, too. We both know it's a good idea, but I always need a little push to get out and about. He's been going out to Victoria Park to run a few times a week, and when he got back this morning, he suggested I spend part of my afternoon there. And I did.

It's two stops away on the MTR and as you walk into the park you can feel the calm envelope you. I'm not being melodramatic. The farther into the park you go, the more obviously you leave the city behind until you're so far in, all you can see outside the tall trees are the tops of the glass skyscrapers and mountains right behind them.

Inside, I found a bench in the shade near the jogging path and started to read. The benches with the backs were mostly in the sun, so I took one of the flat benches. There was almost nobody around. There are signs all around the path telling people the track is only for jogging. If you need to rest, you must get off the track. If you feel the need to walk slowly, you must give way and stay to the side.

There are policewomen/track watchers out to make sure people obey. On a crowded day they shoo the kids on skateboards, and the people who meander across, seemingly oblivious to the fact that people are actually trying to run.

Apparently, they are also the park bench watchers.

The park was pretty empty, mostly older residents strolling very slowly on the jogging path. The stray faster-paced jogger. An amah with a stroller. That's about it. And me. Reading quietly on the bench. On my back. With my feet on the bench.

Apparently that's not allowed.

I noticed someone watching me, and I sat up to see what was up. Once my feet hit the ground (I think perhaps this was key ... no feet on the bench?) The park bench policewoman smiled and said thank you. I felt properly chastened. But there were no signs. I think there are some things you're supposed to know. Like in France, you don't sit on the grass. Ever.

A little later I moved to a bench with a back on it, although the view wasn't as nice. People here in Hong Kong mostly leave me alone. I'm acutely aware that I'm different, but if they notice, they don't make it obvious. They just walk on past. I read for about two hours, rejoicing in the quiet leafy-ness and the incredible breeze that made the whole place feel so livable.

When I walked out (I'd had a disagreement with a bee of some sort) I knew what I was leaving behind, and the temperature change was palpable. It rose about 10 degrees as I came out of the greenery and walked onto the pavement.

Back to the storm.

October 19, 2008

In Search of Sustenance

You would think that feeding oneself is a pretty simple concept: I am hungry, therefore I eat. But I swear it seems more complicated than this.

Each night, pretty much, I venture from the apartment to find some dinner. Now we have plenty of grocery stores here, easy and convenient. But we haven't stayed anywhere long enough to build up a pantry. And in the current place we're in, we won't. We also have an oven (too hot!) and two electric burners, but that's it.

So when I want something to eat, it's usually far easier, and cheaper, to go out to one of the dozens of restaurants nearby than to cook something. I can get barbecued pork and rice, for example, for around $3.

We keep milk (which is very expensive -- about $2.50 a quart) and cereal and yogurt and bananas in the house, but not a whole lot else. That's fine for breakfast, and even lunch, but for dinner, I want something that's going to hold me most of the night, since I'm up until 7 a.m.

I also need something that I can eat cold, if need be (see kitchen limitations, above).

When I go out, I sort of have an idea in mind: The soup place below and next door, the new (to me) malaysian/chinese laksa place. Once, when I went to Kowloon side to pick up the keys to the apartment, I brought back Thai satay.

There are many choices, to be sure. But there are more places that offer unknown choices. I think the soup place also has real food -- there are picturse of vegetables (ok Chinese broccoli and kale, the only real vegetable available) and I saw the owner eating something that looked like fish and rice. But when I went there, they told me they only had noodles. The woman who runs the place doesn't speak much English, but maybe I'll try to ask for something else next time.

A majority of the small restaurants only have window signs in Chinese. The might have menus with some English on them, but then I feel committed and what if it's too expensive or I don't like it? (Although in reality, neither is likely.)

Tonight I ventured a little farther afield than usual, in search of barbecued pork and rice. (Last week I found the barbecued pork, and chicken, but it came without rice -- it was just a butcher stand, apparently). I went in a direction I don't usually go and didn't come upon a barbecued pork place (They are the ones that also have the barbecued ducks hanging in the window).

But I did find a Thai stand. I'm ordered Thai green curry. I asked for rice, and they seemed baffled as to why I'd want that. I just like it that way. I also picked up a bag of fried squid. That would have been tasty if it wasn't lukewarm and a little soggy. I may, indeed, drag out the frying pan and see if I can crisp them up tomorrow.

The curry has chicken in it -- parts, anyway. I think I found a foot. I don't really want to know what's in it, honestly. But it's very tasty. Although I don't see it keeping. I don't mind cold Chinese food normally -- the Yang Chow fried rice Paul and I like, filled with little bits of pork and egg and other things is just fine cold. But cold curry, not so much.

If we ever get into a long-term apartment, or are sure we're staying here longer than another week or two, I will buy oil and pasta and rice and spices. And a microwave.

And then, presumably, it won't be such a big deal.