HK Alphabet :: G, H

g :: gai daan jai

You didn't really think I had a choice on this one, did you? Since gai daan jai (pronounced guy don tsigh) happen to be my husband's favorite thing about Hong Kong, and since they happen to be my retirement and all. (Oh yes. We're going to travel the art and folk-music festival circuit, selling Hong Kong waffles and organic fruit drinks like rhubarb-ginger fizz. I've agreed, on the condition that we get an Airstream camper, and that I get to paint the inside yellow.)

h :: hot pot

On a cold night, there are few places I'd rather eat than a crowded hot pot restaurant, steam filling the air from the bubbling broth, glasses of beer happily refilled by the Asahi girl, and food cooked the way I like, with no guessing about the ingredients. Atmospheric it is not, unless you like fluorescent lights, but it's fun, it's delicious, and it's just a good way to eat. (Oh, and the reason those shrimp are a little bit blurry? They were jumping. That's right, still alive, just skewered and ready to go. Needless to say, as soon as our soup was boiling, we cooked those poor guys up. Then ate them. Yum.)


HK Alphabet :: E, F

E and F, really? That's where I am? In my head, these have been done for literally weeks now, and I'm up to, and stuck on, q. (You Hong Kongers, any ideas? Yes, I, know, it could be Queens Road, but I don't really love Queens Road and that seems too obvious, anyway.) I guess other things like advent and Christmas and Thailand got in the way, and I just didn't progress ... but enough procrastination. Onwards!

e :: exercise

...but not just any exercise. What I love is the way people (especially old people) go to the park, in whatever they happen to be wearing, and move. Sometimes it's a scripted series, like in Tai Chi or another martial art. Often, though, it's just movement. Bending, stretching, high-stepping in place. True story: Some family friends were visiting us back in Hanover, and their son, around 5 at the time, was helping us crank the homemade ice cream. We commented on his strength, and he declared it was the result of his daily morning exercise. This being news to his parents, they asked him what he did each morning, and he nonchalantly replied "Oh, some bending of the knees, some bending of the elbows." Now I know what that looks like. 

f :: flower market, food courts   

The flower market is coming up soon. Oh, there's a year-round one, and it's wonderful to behold and to breathe in, but the one I really love is for the lunar New Year. These pictures are from last year, but I'm quite sure there will be some new ones in just a few weeks' time. Rows of orchids, orange trees, peach blossom branches, and cut flowers? Oh yes.   

Food courts in Hong Kong are really quite tremendous. Especially the one we frequent, at Cityplaza Mall. Comfortable seating, a low noise level, pleasant lighting, real dishes, and oh--did I mention the food? Freshly cooked, appetizing, healthy food--for cheap! What's not to love? It never fails to amaze us that we have gone to the food court for our date night, not just once on an "off" night, but more than once. Several times, in fact. Maybe we'll do it this Saturday. Handmade udon noodles, freshly prepared sushi or tempura, teppanyaki (where they grill food in front of you), handmade dumplings, spicy Thai, they have it all. And we love it all. (This picture hardly does it justice. I think it's because it's such a commonplace thing--who takes pictures of mall food?--that I never really try to capture it.) 


Follow that impulse ...

Our hearts have been heavy--as I'm sure yours have been too--at all the news coming out of Haiti. Both the total amount of destruction and the proportional amount--the % of Haiti's population affected--are overwhelming. Our pastor said something this morning that struck me--she prayed that we would follow our impulses in responding to this situation, follow the law written on our hearts. What an odd thing to pray, I thought, until I remembered how many times I have witnessed or heard of a tragedy and felt that immediate impulse to do something, but then haven't. Either life and its daily duties got in the way or else reason did: "my contribution won't matter", "whom do I give through? who will use the money responsibly?", "someone else will know what to do."
But this time, I'm following that impulse that says give. And also the one that says don't take your life for granted. Having a toddler forces you to appreciate the little things, but we're trying to do so all the more these days. Today we were thankful for:
  • an early morning walk through the aviary
  • an outdoor table at our favorite neighborhood Japanese place
  • finding a shaved mango ice stand mere blocks from our flat 
  • a borrowed sewing machine to make a slipcover for our ugly inherited couch 
  • Finn's impulse towards dirt, rocks and sticks--we're doing our best to raise a woodchuck, even here in Hong Kong.       

May we, today and every day, follow our impulses, especially those towards generosity and love and gratitude.


Postcards from Chiang Mai: beauty

from the top:

  • scenes from a temple--Chiang Mai has many. 
  • close-up of a textile. This will have to stand in for so much beauty filling the markets. These markets made me want to open a store, so overflowing were they with inexpensive, beautiful items: clothes, leatherwork, silverwork, lanterns, textiles, bags. Since coming back to Hong Kong I've noted that many shops here source from those markets.  
  • And the lilies. Flowers are everywhere in Chiang Mai--lush, larger-than-life and dripping with fragrance.
You're going to have to use your imagination for the final bit of beauty--the picture is more to help your mind's eye rather than actually embodying the beauty itself. On New Year's Eve, the skies above Chiang Mai are filled with fireworks, sparklers, and these floating lanterns. Like mini hot air balloons, the lanterns are open only on the bottom, where an attached candle is lit. Once the lantern fills with heat, it rises above the treetops, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of the sender. Can you imagine? Even now it makes my heart rise up just to remember such magic. We rushed out the next morning to buy some before our flight home, and luckily found a stallholder not too hung over to open up and sell us some lanterns. But I'm thinking we should be able to figure out how to make them too ... any suggestions?  


Postcards from Chiang Mai: food

from the top: sugared (and salted!) strawberries for sale along the street, waffle-covered bananas and hotdogs (guess who loved that?), fixings for pad thai at the cooking class I attended, and green  curry with chicken from said cooking class. Needless to say, it was a delicious week.


Christmas part three: Postcards from Chiang Mai

On the day after Christmas (Boxing Day, they call it here) we skipped town and headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand. And friends, if Hong Kong is, as I said recently, not our city, then Chiang Mai most definitely is. We loved it ... felt comfortable and new all at once, with plenty to learn and explore but the quirky, artsy feel of a college town. If HK is designer, then Chiang Mai is handmade. It's the Renegade Craft Fair of Southeast Asia, the Madison, Wisconsin of Thailand, the--oh, enough with the comparisons.  Suffice it to say, we're already hoping to go back. For the next few days I'll be sending you (virtual) postcards. Enjoy! And if you ever have occasion to be in northern Thailand, do let me know and I will happily happily give you more details and recommendations.  

Just to get things started ...

(photos taken at the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand.)


Christmas part two: How to build a kitchen in 3 easy nights

... and one dumpster-diving afternoon (along with a few Asahi beers, countless bowls of popcorn, and one set of plans downloaded from this mama's etsy shop.)

Finn's gift this year was a kitchen. A cardboard kitchen.

I've been planning to make this since before he was born, so smitten am I with the idea. A genius mother in Philadelphia, also living in a small apartment and on a limited budget, wanted to build her daughter a kitchen using recycled materials, but without tools or a workshop. Enter corrugated cardboard--incredibly strong and incredibly available. Her design uses no glue, but instead some clever little joins that slide together.

Matt was more than skeptical the whole way through. From exploring the back stairs of area shopping centers to cutting and measuring without a proper straight edge, he thought this thing would fall over the first time Finn used it (and was both graciously and happily proved wrong ... so far, anyway.) It took a bit longer than we expected, but I, at least, gladly joined the ranks of parents who spend Christmas Eve putting together their childrens' presents.

We had some hearty laughs along the way over the thought of our Hong Kong friends who would never in a million years make their children cardboard kitchens, much less the cute crafts I recently saw made out of toilet paper tubes. (!) We even considered putting a Miele label on the oven, just to make it fit in to brand-conscious Hong Kong.

The kitchen is far sturdier than we expected, and Finn, I am happy to report, has been busy cooking ever since. He first offered me some make-believe pancakes about two weeks before Christmas, and I knew the time was ripe for this little kitchen to enter his life. With wooden eggs, yogurt cups, anchovy tins, and a blossoming imagination at his disposal, you just never know what he might serve up.


Christmas in three parts

Part one: celebrate

So we spent Christmas in Hong Kong. And in spite of all my brave talk about how glad I was not to be stuck in an airport due to the inevitable weather delay--or once arrived, stuck inside due to that same weather--being far away from home at Christmas is just hard. Especially when you've spent a lot of time thinking about how this place--the place you are--is just not your city, which is the conclusion we've come to.

And though we have decided to stay one more year in this not-our-city, it still somehow feels good to say out loud that we have sought out what is good, we have made friends, we have made it our home, but it has not been easy. I'm going to speak in broad, sweeping generalities here, but the folks who live in Hong Kong who share our culture--who are from the US or Canada or even western Europe or Australia--mostly don't share our values. They are bankers. They spend more on afternoon tea than we do for our fanciest dates. They belong to not one, but two or more clubs, and the clubs are where they spend their time. They buy designer clothes and vacation at Club Med. And that's just not who we are, both by circumstance and by choice. And the people in Hong Kong who do share our values, who care about the environment and about the poor, who like to make things--they don't speak English. And while of course these statements are not universally true, they are true enough.

But here's the thing we've also found ... we don't have to have kindred spirits in order to have friends. We can--and do--have meaningful friendships with people based on little more than, in some cases, a shared nationality, and in others, children the same age. My closest friends here couldn't be more different from me or from each other. Some of them come from India and China, and we sometimes have difficulty understanding each other. Some of them come from unbelievable wealth, and we also have difficulty understanding each other.

And those people who vacation at Club Med and spend all their time in yacht clubs and cricket clubs? I don't blame them anymore. I know the fatigue that comes with constantly navigating a new culture, and how good it feels to go someplace familiar. I know how quickly I can feel at ease with someone just because they are from America and also grew up with, say, Cabbage Patch Kids and The Cosby Show. I know that they are just doing the best they can with what they have.

So Christmas Eve was, for us, a little tiny experience in Incarnation, in God-with-us. Looking at those around us as if they were Jesus, and inviting them in to our little stable on the twentieth floor. There were friends who had never been to a Christmas Eve service before, and friends whose names I can't ever pronounce correctly, and friends who I seriously hesitated before letting them see this humble apartment with its peeling paint and bare lightbulbs. It was lovely and chaotic and only a tiny bit awkward. And Jesus was there, in the wine and the meatballs and the crumbly cookies, reminding us that he too came into a strange new world and made it his home. And where he is, there is our home also. Then we all piled into taxis and went to church together, letting candles and carols fill our hearts, until we spilled back into the warm Hong Kong night, glad to be in exactly this place on exactly this day.