HK Alphabet :: M

M :: Mooncakes

photo by visualdensity

or Mid-Autumn Festival, which is today and which is also the occasion for eating said mooncakes. Mooncakes are one of those Hong Kong delicacies that we have tried to like, but just can't. They are beautiful, little molded cakes with characters on top for words like harmony, or the name of the bakery that made them or the type of filling inside. The problem is that they are heavy, rich, and typically filled with things like lotus seed paste and a preserved egg yolk (to represent the moon.) The other problem with mooncakes is that they are truly considered a delicacy and are well-loved by Hong Kongers. They also aren't cheap, so if someone serves you one, you really need to choke it down and try to be positive about it. People queue up 12 deep to get these bad boys—bakeries, grocery stores, any stores selling food were all swamped this past weekend with people getting ready for the festivities. It reminded us of going shopping the week before Thanksgiving, and of the lines for pies at King Arthur Flour. (Just now, I'm sitting in a coffeeshop in an office park, and it's 4 pm, normally a quiet hour. Today, though, streams of people are flowing past, headed to the trains, with that happy pre-holiday chatter in the air. Tomorrow is a public holiday, and offices must be closing early. It really feels something like Thanksgiving.)

The Mid-Autumn Festival itself is a delightful holiday, celebrating the harvest moon (though why it's called Mid-Autumn, I don't know. Isn't this the first day of autumn? Not to mention that it still feels like summer, and will for weeks yet … ) Families typically go someplace in the evening to watch the moonrise, light paper lanterns, and eat mooncakes. It's also when the Tai Hang dragon dance takes place, which Finn is eagerly anticipating (dragons and drums and incense, oh my!). 

We've hung our lanterns and Finn made one at playgroup, and we've been gifted with several of the “gweilo” mooncakes which I think we'll have no trouble choking down: the Haagen-Dazs ice cream version (yum), and a slightly more traditional version made from glutinous rice (which may not sound like much of an improvement, but believe me, it is.) Now if only the weather would clear up (so we can see the moon) and cool off (so we can pretend it's actually autumn).  


HK Alphabet :: L

L :: lychee

Lychee is a fruit that comes into season in late spring/early summer, just when the rising heat and humidity makes its juicy sweetness so rewarding. With a rough brownish-reddish skin that conceals a translucent white flesh, eating lychee is a messy experience, one that is best fully attended to, preferably around a table after a meal. Part of what I love about it is that it is so demanding—you can't snack on it while knitting, say, or typing on the computer. You just have to set those tasks aside, no matter how enjoyable, and give yourself to the task of eating lychee.
Peel back the skin, trying not to think about that snake you saw on the path earlier in the day whose coloring matches the lychee's exactly—the snake who was either so busy or so invincible eating his mouse that even the barking dogs up ahead hadn't scared it away. Pop the whole golf-ball sized flesh into your mouth if you're brave like that snake and don't want to risk losing even a drop of juice, again not thinking about your toddler's newfound love for exploring the bushes and straying from the path. Or you use your fingers to break open the grape-like flesh and dig out the seed, letting juice run down your arms and all over the table before indulging in the seedless delicacy, and decide that hot weather (read: snake season) is better spent inside eating lychee than out on trails anyway. 

Lai chi is also, by the way, the name of the street where we now live, or perhaps it's the area or neighborhood. We can't quite tell. Our official address is on King's Road, but the actual building is on an alley one block over. A taxi driver told us in our first week here that we should say “lai chi” (pronounced the same as lychee, except that the emphasis goes on the first syllable instead of the second--I think. I still have been laughed at by at least one taxi driver for saying it—according to him--the same as the fruit) and then they would know where to bring us. It mostly works, except that they never seem quite ready to turn where they're supposed to, so I'm not sure if it really means what we think it does. We've heard that there used to be a famous nightclub back here called “lai chi”, and that's where the name came from. Our building is called Lai King, and the neighboring building is called Lai Wai, so there must be something to it. In the meantime, I keep saying “lai chi,” hoping to sound confident and keep the questioning, final, rising tone out of my voice, which (I think) is what causes it to sound like the fruit. And I've always made it home so far. 


Hong Kong Home #3

Our new home is ever so slowly becoming a home, with pictures on the walls and a functioning, if somewhat odd, kitchen. It is both the largest and most inconvenient kitchen we've had yet ... I mean really, one drawer? for a whole kitchen? And the only counter space was the foot on either side of the sink, which is of course most commonly used for dirty dishes and clean, drying dishes. But look--a double oven! I've always wanted a double oven! (actually just two toaster ovens stacked on top of each other, with a third on the floor. Two of the three don't work.) 

But now--we've upgraded from a dorm-size fridge (which involved kneeling on the floor to get anything out, something my pregnant self didn't love but my 2 1/2 yr old son sure did) to a regular one (regular for Hong Kong, that is), we've unstacked the washer and dryer and added a countertop (wood, no less, which doesn't match the tile kitchen whatsoever but feels oh-so-comforting to Matt and me!), added some hanging storage fixtures, and fixed one of the larger ovens, with the two others still waiting in the wings. You still have to manually drape the dryer's exhaust hose over the dish drainer and out the window in order to dry clothes, but I can live with that.  

And the best part of all that tile-covered space in the kitchen is that it's a great place for messy art projects, which we have all thoroughly enjoyed. An old shower curtain on the floor, a washtub and some old towels in the corner, this recipe for fingerpaint (we used the "original"), and mama's heat avoidance activity #1 was a success (and held its appeal for several days, no less).



(Note: this is an old post, that I started but never finished back in August. I'm finishing and posting it now just to document for ourselves these feelings and observations.)

So here we are, still in the fog of jetlag and culture adjustment. Still unpacking and settling, and still working hard to be extra consistent and extra loving with a boy who is tired and confused and testing boundaries, making sure the same rules apply.

It's hot here, and humid, but at least the skies are blue and the air con is working.

This is the third August we've arrived in Hong Kong--every August of Finn's life we've made this journey. And every time, certain things about Hong Kong are evident immediately upon exiting the plane--stifling humidity, crowds of people, surprising efficiency.

This year, though, is a little different that past ones. We're more connected, have deeper and richer friendships, have more to look forward to. But on the other hand, we weren't just traveling thus summer--we actually made a home. We had glimpses of what life would look like for us as a family in the States. There's a lot to like--more convenient grocery shopping, more kids' activities at the library, more grass, more fresh air, more local and organic food. But there's also a lot more time in the car, and a lot more house to clean and keep safe for Finn.

All that is to say that we have very mixed feelings right now. Mostly, though, we are committed--and I think ready--to soak up all that we love about Hong Kong for one more year, without just trying to recreate our American life (easier said than done.)

Many people have asked about Finn's adjustment, which is, of course, largely unseen to us. But we have witnessed a few signs that he knows what's happening, and is fine with it.
1. On one of our first mornings back, Finn said, "no grass, no ball," with which we sadly agreed, while also laughing at his observation. He responded to our laughing by just repeating it over and over, laughing himself like it was the biggest joke he'd heard in a long time: no grass, no ball.
2. Going to bed the other night he said to me, "this is a beautiful house." (which, in my opinion, it most certainly is not, at least not yet.)
3. He revised this sentiment with Matt later--"this is a house of boxes and trains." Most definitely true.

In the weeks since this post was originally written, we have greatly enjoyed many of the things we love about Hong Kong--cheap food (there is nothing like a cold Vietnamese noodle salad with roasted pork on top and a fresh lime soda on a hot day, unless it is a some cold Japanese udon noodles with shrimp and vegetable tempura), hanging out in the heavily air-conditioned malls (you'd love it too if you were here), going to the beach, going to our church, great public transportation, seeing our friends.

And we've remembered some of the nuisances of Hong Kong life too, like the amount of walking involved in daily life (which Matt loves, helping him to shed those Vermont-ice-cream-butter-and-cheese-pounds, but my pregnant self does not), the difficulties of navigating stairs and lifts with a stroller, the grocery stores that inevitably have almost everything you need but not quite.

We've discovered some new loves--bubble tea and frozen yogurt shops have sprung up on literally every corner since we've been gone. And while I'm still not into the pearl-jelly-in-my-drink thing, Matt has gone native and truly craves the stuff. (I think yesterday's beverage was a Golden Ovaltine with pearl jelly and cornflakes--the cornflakes thrown in because Finn is so cute. There are some aspects of his taste-bud development for which I will take no blame credit.) On the other hand, I have absolutely no problem with the frozen yogurt shops, except that they all offer non-fat frozen yogurt. Come on people, where's the love?

I feel I should apologize for this word-heavy, no-pictures post after months of very sporadic posting. But as much as I truly have missed writing more often, my need for sleep has won out, over and over again. But now I'm feeling a need to document a little more about this time, knowing it won't last. Future updates coming about our new home (yes, another new address), books I've been reading, projects I've finished, thoughts I've had: the usual random assortment.

blessings to you all ...