Monday, September 29, 2008

Please, I would like mango juice, please.

I'm getting really good at asking for mango juice. And fervently working on "apple juice" just in case my dad, who requires several gallons per day for survival, visits.

In other unrelated, yet equally fascinating news, we have hired a third actor. An American, one of the roughs. He goes by the name of Eric (not to be confused with "pretty" Eric) and has been performing Italian arias on a casino boat in Macau since last year. Macau is also a Special Administrative Region of China (part of the Republic, but not quite as Communist) about an hour away from Hong Kong via ferry. I'm legitimately excited that he's joining us, despite the fact that he wants to live on his own, leaving me posting ads to find a roommate.

I taught a class for English proficiency exam preparation for 3 year olds. They have to recite a poem and a short story, and then answer questions about each to ensure comprehension rather than rote memorization. Three year olds are doing this--and not in their native language. It's not a Wallace Stevens poem or anything...but still.
This is probably the most embarrassing post I have ever and will ever create because the only new photos I have are from--------prepare yourself for this---------a Taiwanese boy band concert I willingly attended. Angel has a serious and perhaps even unhealthy obsession with a "band" called "Fahrenheit". Two concerts in Hong Kong to end their "Fantasy Tour"--both sold out--to 200,000 person crowds. They sing in Mandarin, so I was confused during most of it. I was even more confused when they broke out into "Uptown Girl". One of the guys in Fahrenheit is named Kelvin. My obvious question is, "where's Celcius?" I had low expectations and they were all met. They have no talent, so fortunately, they have great pyrotechnics to cover that up. They also have a large lit sign:
They look kind of mystical in this photo. I think it exemplifies my feelings for Fahrenheit:
My favorite: Chun.

Group photo of Fahrenheit's biggest fans. Tim, myself, Joan, Angel, and Amy.Angel and I posing with a poster. If I ever had any dignity, I may never regain it. I was laughing on the inside during the entire concert. I can't even describe what I saw and never want to ever think about what I heard.

In case anyone was worried, I survived the latest typhoon, Hagupit. If anyone needs a name for a baby, your search is over.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Apparently, I was too caught up with pirates in my last post, that I completely forgot to mention what "the essence of the bun" means. On Cheung Chau, the island we hiked last week, they have a huge Bun Festival every year in April or May. About a century ago, illness struck the island, so the people offered lotus paste buns to the gods and since the plague or whatever it was left, they continue to not only set out buns, but construct bamboo towers covered with buns. They used to leave them out for three days for the gods to eat the essence of the bun---and then the people would eat the rest of it. I don't know about you, but when I eat a bun, I don't care if there's essence in it or not; I do care if after 3 days of sitting outside in a tropical climate, a moldy film encapsulates it. This practice has been banned. People are so concerned about health in this area.
I actually mean that, though in that context, one might mistake my comment for sarcasm. But in all seriousness, every single day I see maybe 5-6 people wearing a paper medical mask. And these are people with temporary upper-respiratory conditions, not over-zealous doctors. The government seems to gently mandate it. Also, a true story set in a real-life grocery store:
I had just picked up a box of Honey Nut Os.
Guy: Don't get that one!
Me: But...I like it.
Guy: You need something with more fiber.
Me: Oh. I do?
Guy: Yes, come here.
And now I eat flax cereal.
On Saturday, I helped with the first rehearsal of "The Jungle Book"--kids aged between 6 and 11. Tattling is universal, the charges are not.
"Miss Camber! Miss Camber! Ho Fi was speaking Chinese!"
"Ho Fi, remember the rules."
I decided that I needed a keyboard to hone my non-existent piano skills. I found a really cheap 4-octave one on a website for expats. I had to travel almost all the way to China to get it, but ultimately bought a decent Casio from Tobias, the theology professor at Chinese University, and his wife, Gabi. Delightful people, despite the fact that Tobias wasn't wearing a shirt. He seems to be the type that never wears a shirt and when society mandates that he wear a shirt, I'm sure it's a very thin fabric and probably flows in the wind. Then I had to carry the thing back to my apartment (over an hour journey).
Now, whenever I'm tired of walking in the city, I can ponder that I could be carrying a keyboard in a moldy cardboard box, and I will feel better.
Today, I attempted to go to a Baptist church, but never found it. Last week, there wasn't an exit; this week, there wasn't an entrance. One day, I will find a church with adequate doors. So since I was close by, I went back to the "colonial" Methodist church. I met an American (they're rare since something like less than 15% of them have passports)--and he knows about the wonder that is South Dakota State University. His name is Ross, which is convenient because he looks like a blond David Schwimmer. He moved to HK to live for a year and is currently on year is indeed a seductive place. Go now, and eat your buns, essence and all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Essence of the Bun

I have learned the story of Scott. Scott is a guy I've seen kind of lurking about the office with a generally mysterious air. Turns out, Scott is a Kung Fu master who spent years trying to break into the Cantonese film scene. He got so good that they offered him a fight scene with Jet Li. Then the day before shooting, he cut his foot open on a sword.
I went to aMoon Festival celebration a few nights ago, and here is some photographic evidence:

This is I with swan lanterns. Lanterns are a big deal for this festival. In the past, before people worried about minor issues like public safety, they played a game called "Candles." Apparently, this game involved making a giant fire and throwing candles into it. Now, something may have been lost in translation, but since this is the only story I have, I will assume its truth.
Here I am, holding a lantern (they still have real candles inside). The guy is Tim, my castmate, coworker, associate, and other euphemistic terms.
Joan, Angel and I in front of another lantern display. Yes, family, that is a rainbow.

Now here comes the good stuff. Joan and I both had Monday off (for the Moon Festival is a public holiday), so we took a ferry to Cheung Chau, an island west of Hong Kong and formerly a pirate haven. We hiked the entire island and almost never passed out. A highlight was the pirate cave of Cheung Po Tsai--you know, the notorious and treacherous pirate from the early 19th century. I wanted to go spelunking, but as you can see, the cave is still guarded by impenitrible forces:
Actually, this kid just told me to be careful (in Cantonese, which I appreciated--people old enough to see that I'm a Westerner assume I can't speak Cantonese. They assume correctly, of course, but it was nice not to be a foreigner for once, even if it was in the eyes of a little boy.)
Joan and I outside the "bulu" or "cave"--to be honest, it looked more like a crack to me. Cheung Po Tsai must have been a narrow man, or perhaps a shape-shifter.

Boat parking lot in Cheung Chau. Many fisher-families still live on boats.

A highlight of Cheung Chau is the Pak Tai Temple. I don't take pictures of monks (they're devout religious men, not tourist attractions), however, I will take a picture of the creepy giant whale bones they keep in a backroom of Pak Tai:

On our hike through the mountainous island, we came across do-it-yourself fire extinguishers. We practiced, just in case. At the end of the day, we took a sampan (some guy's little boat) back to the main ferry for $5 (about 64 cents American). And for anyone who says that Hong Kong is "soul-less":

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fly Me To The Moon Cake

As I am sure everyone is aware, tomorrow is the Moon Festival. At DE, we've already been celebrating. We do this by eating moon cakes. When someone offered me a moon cake, I of course accepted, as is my custom when offered anything with the word "cake" in it. As I should have expected, a moon cake is not a cake at all. It looks innocent enough on the outside, but inside is lotus seed paste and a ball of hard egg yolk. It's actually not as loathsomely disgusting as it sounds.

Speaking of new culinary experiences, I ate chicken feet and ox stomach at dim sum last week. I highly recommend the ox stomach. Chicken feet have too many small bones, and I haven't gotten used to the fact that's it's proper table etiquette to spit them out onto the table.

A couple nights ago, a random guy on the street stopped me asked if I was an American. I asked if I just reeked of liberty or something and he said that they were registering voters for absentee ballots. He was stunned to hear that I had already taken care of that before I left--and even more shocked that I'd be sending a ballot to South Dakota. He was even from Illinois--working at a university in Hong Kong.

Saturday, I helped backstage with the kids' show, "101 Dalmatians," doing costume changes and generally attempting to keep the peace during a 7 hour rehearsal followed by a performance. The show went off without much of a hitch, but the epic struggle to reach the theatre was even more dramatic. We knew that the theatre was on the 5th floor, but once we made it through the 3 floors of wet market (I saw pig faces for sale) there were no more escalators after maybe 20 minutes of walking all over the place and going up 9 flights of stairs with no doors, I managed to ask a guy--in Cantonese--"Where is the 5th floor?" And he understood!! I probably said something like, "Five floor, is the where?" But I don't care because he got it and told us where to go to get to the 5th floor. So marks my first successful Cantonese exchange of more substance than "good morning."

Since we're on language, I suppose I should inform everyone that I told my male personal trainer that he was pretty. I thought I said, "Eric, you look nice." No. I said, "Eric, you are pretty." I also ordered death for breakfast at McDonalds this morning (I know, I know, I shouldn't go there anyway) I wanted to try to order by number since I know my numbers so well. Problem was that whatever I wanted was #4 (saai), and since I couldn't remember what tone went with it, I just said it however and ended up ordering death with an orange juice. Sort of reminded me of an Eddie Izzard sketch...anyone else?

I have more pictures. They're all still from last week at Stanley. I have Monday and Tuesday off this week, so perhaps pictures of different places will follow. Statue of Kwun Yam. One of the few female deities.

I had to hike up quite a ways to get up here. Here was the path I intended to take to descend back to Stanley:

I made it about 1/4 of the way down. I turned around after I almost flipped myself over some waist-level intertwined vines and ended up underneath the temple. Sorry, Frost, but I had to go back to the road just a little more travelled by. There were also a lot of giant bugs.

This is not from Stanley. I missed posting this earlier. I took a cable car from Ngong Ping (near the big Buddha) to Tung Chung (where I could get on the train). Amazing views of the landscape.

Chinese cats are the same as American cats. This one was at Kwun Yam and I repeatedly called for him to approach me (in English, Cantonese, and French, just in case) and he never did. Some things are universal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Only Freaks Eat Fish Eyes

Ancient Chinese Proverb: Not Everything That Looks Like A Doughnut Is, In Fact, A Doughnut.
Contrary to the picture I have painted thus far in this blog, I actually am working here in Hong Kong. Most recently, I have helped backstage with the upcoming kids' production of the musical version of "101 Dalmatians," facilitated auditions for "The Jungle Book" and "Alice in Wonderland" (I'll be working on Jungle Book later on), completely rewrote the script of the "Oops, I Killed A Penguin" show and just today started rewriting the Shakespeare show.

In other office news, Wendi--remember? my very American roommate?--has decided to break the contract and go back to the States. So in addition to all the script work and kid corralling, we're also searching vehemently for a replacement.

But on to other, perhaps less boring topics. I managed to find an allegedly Methodist church (they didn't have the fire on the cross, so I can't be sure they're legit) and while nothing absolutely blasphemous happened, I was a little disconcerted at the fact that everyone in charge (pastor, musicians, readers...) were all Western and most people in the congregation were Chinese. Just seemed a little colonial to me. This may be the first time I won't go back to a church because it was "too colonial." I did, however, make a new little friend--Lindie from South Africa, with whom I went out for tea following the service (you know, just to really establish those British ties).
In the afternoon, I worked on my haggling skills in the Wan Chai market: ask how much, offer half of whatever they said and work up to what you're willing to pay.

A very typical trip through a Hong Kong market: You stroll along and the vendors yell out "missy!" (to me) or "boss!" (to men). You stop at a certain booth, do the haggling bit and decide to move on. No, no no...the vendor quite literally grabs you, pulls you back and offers you a lower price. Lather, rinse, repeat...
Side note: at this particular market, I saw a tail for sale. Since it was detached from its beast of origin, I can only guess that it was a cow or donkey tail. Someone, please, tell me why it would be beneficial to buy a cow tail and what one could potentially do with such a purchase.

Sunday night, I went out for my first real sushi experience under the able guidance of Joan. Joan works in HR for Dramatic English. She's Canadian-born Chinese, speaks both English and Cantonese fluently, and having lived in HK for 2 years, it is a delight to go around town with her. I learned that I love sushi, especially the raw salmon and eel (sorry, mom).

I also had Monday off (hey, I worked Saturday) I went down to Stanley Village on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Kind of a quiet place where all the hoity-toity expats lie around. However, they do have Murray House, the oldest surviving colonial building. Here's a picture of it:
This was the site of the formal surrender of British troops to the Japanese in 1941. (sorry, dad). But the insane story about it is that until 1982, this building was located in Central--on the complete opposite side of the island. They took it apart, brick by brick (4,000 of them) and put it all in storage. In 1998, they reassembled it here in Stanley. The best part is that when they put it all back together, they messed up somewhere and ended up with six extra columns. So, like anyone would, they just stood them up between the building and the bay. Here is a picture of some columns:
Oh yeah, they were filming an epic motion picture at this site. You can tell it's epic by the camera on the tripod and the guy in the pink shirt.

I met some hip Hong Kongers in Stanley who took my picture (again, to appease the maternal parental unit who likes the pictures "with me in them"). We crawled through the rocky shoreline:
And yes, of course I knew he was behind me:
A typical Hong Kong broom (for my dad, who relishes the ordinary, for it is the essence of life):

Saturday, September 6, 2008

To Appease the Parentals...

Hi Mom and Dad!
This is for you. However, anyone who does not happen to be one or both of my parental units, is also welcome to take a gander at these semi-ridiculous photos. 1: Tim, Louisa, and I trying on some beards for the Greek show. Everyone in ancient Greece had a beard; that's just science.
2: A building.
3: A street.
4:This is I, posing with a Chinese movie poster. Aren't you proud?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More Pictures. Fewer Words.

I'm still not sure how to arrange the pictures and text so as to create a "caption," so you will have to use your superior sense of matching. I will assist with numeration.
#1: My current view from my 26th floor flat. Bamboo scaffolding.
#2: This is a guy riding his bike behind the Island Tram.
#3: A beach on Lamma Island (First time in the Pacific)
#4: At Man Mo Temple. These are incense coils. They can burn for weeks.
#5: This is I, at the top of Victoria Peak, with a daytime view of Hong Kong below.
#6: A view from atop the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. The photo doesn't do it justice.
Unrelated: Wendi and I went to Pizza Hut last night-----please don't judge. It was incredibly bizzare because the Pizza Huts here are definitely fine dining establishments. The menu is includes and eclectic mix, with pizza ranking rather low on desired food items. And they put clams on their pizza.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Photographic Evidence to Suggest That I Actually Am in Hong Kong

Please bear with me as I attempt to post photographs. These pictures are in no order, and I have no idea why I chose these particular five with which to impress you. One of them is of the Bank of China building, which Batman (apparently) did not blow up, for you see it still stands. It looks even more majestic at night. I may or may not post some night shots in the future, so stay tuned.

I had the last two days off, so I took the opportunity to explore and seek enlightenment or something. Monday, I had my first voice lesson in the morning and set out after lunch for Victoria Peak. Just north of all the skyscapers is this famous peak (my guidebooks tell me what is famous). I rode the "Tram" --which celebrates its 120th anniversary this year--to the top.
It appears that they have not updated the technology of the Tram since the colonial days; yet, I feared for my life only once and it had more to do with the unruly group of middle-aged Japanese women in matching faux-canvas baseball caps than it did with the tram itself. Yes, faux-canvas; I didn't know that was possible either.
At the top, I gazed at the incredible views and yearned to have a photo of myself in front of the skyline. As luck would have it, I caught the eye of a young guy in a Red Sox hat, so I said,

"Excuse me, Red Sox fan, would you mind taking a photo..." yada yada yada, he became my insta-friend for the day. He had 5 weeks off between finishing NYU Law School and starting with a firm in NYC, so he took a trip around the world. Turns out that he and I lived in NYC at the same time in the same neighborhood. But I never saw him there. So we took the tram back down, browsed and haggled in a few markets, ate dinner at the Press Room, formerly the home of a colonial newspaper, visited Man Mo Temple (one of the oldest in HK), walked down to the Harbour, and took the Tram across the Island. Then we departed without exchanging contact information so as to make it all the more mysterious.

Today, I took a ferry out to Lantau Island (there are about 234 islands considered part of Hong Kong--some are just rocks jutting out of the ocean) Lantau is home of the FAMOUS Tian Tan Buddha, aka Big Buddha. I have included a few pictures. In one, you will notice that I am in it and displaying the peace sign. This is not my customary practice. It is everyone's customary practice in China. I asked someone why people always do that, and she said it's because they think cool Americans do it. I'm not a dream killer, so I kept that fable alive for them, and they rejoiced.
I ate at the vegetarian restaurant (no meat or alcohol is allowed on the premises) and made several self-discoveries there. Self-Discovery #1: I like peppers. When one's meal is comprised of tofu and peppers, one quickly discovers an appreciation for peppers. Self-Discovery #2: Soup is scary. Perhaps this is less of a self-discovery and more of a general observation, but I'm almost certain that they gave me a vat (yes, vat) of soup that had previously been on someone else's table. I have no problem with this method of preventing waste. The scary part was when I laddled a cup for myself and multiple unidentifiable objects came up. I ate it anyway, banishing my first thought that there were eel carcasses in my soup by remembering the vegetarian nature of the establishment. Besides, I ate a lung the other day, so I figured I couldn't sink much lower than that.
I climbed to the top of the Big Buddha mountain and up there, I made another insta-friend. I noticed her American accent when she asked if I could take her photo, and the obligatory questions ensued. She was/is the head of PR for the US Olympic Team. She had been working in Beijing for the past month and took some time off to travel around Asia before going back to Colorado and start work on Vancouver 2010. Fascinating people exist!

Ok--the other pictures on here (maybe, if I make it work): the highrise covered with bamboo scaffolding and green plastic is my flat building, Nan Fung Sun Cheun, and the 26th Floor thing is what I see every time I get off the elevator.

If I feel like it, I might post more pictures for you later.