Good Morning

The first leg of our journey is complete. We are back in Hong Kong after spending 11 weeks in San Francisco. The trip was uneventful; the most exciting thing that happened was when I spilled whisky all over my behind. Otherwise, so far it has been pretty routine. We came in, ordered some takeout, and then went to sleep. Like clockwork, I’m once again up at 2 AM on my first night here.

Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef Tendon
My first meal in HK: Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef Tendon

My heart felt heavy as I said goodbye to my family, for the past weeks have been the first time in many years that we have actually lived together. For me, it was a little bit like going back in time. Sleeping in my room and hearing my mother and sister heading out to work in the morning, bickering with my sister over little things, hearing the sound of my mother playing video games, it wasn’t much different from when I used to live at home. Of course, it was also the first time that my wife lived with my family. I will leave it to the reader to imagine what the pleasure of living with the in-laws is like.

Despite the few natural conflicts that arose from being in such close proximity for so long, I will always remember this period fondly.

Believe in Our Dreams

When we were in Hong Kong we watched a lot of television, and one “commercial” we saw a lot was a music video of a song written to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. It’s pretty catchy, and I find myself wanting to hear it every now and again. Could it be subliminal propaganda?!??! You decide:

Noticing the Differences

It’s been three weeks since the last update, and almost as long since we returned from Hong Kong. The last few days in Hong Kong were uneventful (save maybe for the start of Euro 2012), so nothing to update there. In the time since we’ve been back, it’s been nonstop cleaning and rearranging. Prior to leaving for Hong Kong, we moved out of our 1100 square-foot apartment back into my 121 square-foot bedroom at home, so you can imagine the amount of rearranging, donating, dumping, and cleaning we’ve been doing. It’s still pretty messy in the house, but at least the floor is visible now. Just have to take it a day at a time.

As such I haven’t really been out and about, haven’t really had a chance to absorb my experience in Hong Kong, haven’t really been able to notice the differences between life in Hong Kong and life in San Francisco. Today, I had an opportunity to do so.

Hygiene

Ever since the SARS epidemic in 2003, Hong Kongers have been very cognizant of hygiene and the threat of infectious diseases. You really see this everywhere you go. Signs point out that escalator handrails, in addition to having an anti-bacterial coating, are disinfected every hour. Plastic film covers elevator buttons. People use “public” communal chopsticks instead of their own when dining family-style.

Alcohol Rub

One of my favorites, though, is the touch-less bathroom. Walk away from the toilet or urinal and it flushes by itself. Place your hand under the faucet and the water starts running. Wave your fingers below the soap dispenser for a squirt of antibacterial soap. The first thing I noticed walking into a public restroom today was the pot of yellow urine that I had to manually flush away. I actually had to place my hand on the handle, push it, see the water trickle out, and then hold it down. What a noticeably different bathroom experience.

Naturally, not all the bathrooms in Hong Kong are automatic, but there were enough to get me to become accustomed to them. There are also an increasing number of automatic bathrooms here in the Bay Area, but I don’t think they will become the norm.

Traffic and Pedestrians

The traffic culture is also quite different. As a driver in San Francisco, you can expect people to suddenly walk out into the street and expect you to stop for them. In this situation it would behoove you to slow down and stop. As a driver in Hong Kong, you can be pretty reassured that you are the one in a dangerous, heavy machine and that people understand this and will not challenge you. No need to slow down. Jaywalkers know that they are taking their lives into their own hands.

Air Quality

We tend to take the Bay Area’s air quality for granted. One of the first things I noticed getting off the plane is how much easier the air is to breathe. Take a deep breath and the air just flows in and fills your lungs. It’s crisp. In Hong Kong, before we even start to talk about the pollution, we have the summer humidity to deal with. It’s just the nature of the beast. Add to that the added heat from air conditioner exhaust, the particulates from motor vehicles, and soot from Chinese factories, and taking a deep breath becomes a labored process.

Conveniences

Because of the density of population and the fast pace of life, there are a lot of conveniences in Hong Kong that I miss. In just a single block near our hotel, there were two supermarkets and three 7-Elevens, not to mention all the restaurants and mom-and-pop stores. More places are open late. There aren’t as many lines. One afternoon after we returned to San Francisco, we went to Safeway to buy some lunch. All we bought were a couple of salads and drinks. There were three registers open, and it took us 10 minutes to wait in line, just to buy those two things. At that moment I really missed Hong Kong.

Final Thought

At the end of the day, home is home, no matter where you are. You take the good with the bad. It can be hard, though, for people like me who have called multiple places home during my lifetime, especially when the multiple places are so different. It’s been a recurring theme, trying to balance the pluses and minuses of both places, and trying to balance them with each other. Which one is better? It’s hard to say. At this point in my life, I grow tired of living in the U.S., so it’s Hong Kong for me. I know I’ll miss aspects of life in San Francisco, but at the same time I’ll be getting away from the aspects that I don’t like. I’ve lived here for 23 years, and it’s finally time to switch it up.

A Unique Opportunity

Sunset

This thing we call life is a unique and rare opportunity. When I think about human life as compared with the age of the Earth or the age of the universe, I am amazed at the things we get to experience despite our insignificance. If we accept the Earth to be 4 billion years old, then my time on Earth is a fraction with 8 zeroes after the decimal point. If I remember my math right, that’s like comparing the width of a human hair with the height of Mount Everest. Insignificant indeed!

So, we are insignificant beings in the grand scheme of things, but by being alive we have the opportunity to experience so many great things. Imagine a photograph, an image of a moment in time captured in less than a second. You are in that photograph with your parents and siblings, and you are all smiling and happy. Think about how you felt at that very moment. As sentient beings we are able to replay that moment indefinitely in our minds, remembering how we felt, what we saw, even what we smelled.

A few minutes ago, I was sitting in this room, watching the sunset, feeling the breeze of the air conditioner blowing on me, reading previews of Euro 2012, and eating my dinner. I got to do all these things because I am alive. What a wonderful opportunity. What a moment to replay in the future.

In the past I have said that life is a joke. It is another perspective, and I would not say whether each perspective is right or wrong. Just like the universe, we are constantly changing as people, and as we are affected by external stimuli the way we see the world changes as well. Nonetheless, I think that if people maintained this idea that we are all insignificant, there just might be less conflict in the world, and everyone would get to enjoy this rare opportunity we call life.

Second Week Recap

Two days into our 3rd week here in Hong Kong, let’s recap our second week.

At the end of the last recap, I had written that we would continue enjoying ourselves. Alas, I must have jinxed us, because we spent half the week bedridden with fever and flu. I thought I must have caught dengue fever from a mosquito bite a few days prior.

The day started off fine. Around lunchtime I started feeling weak, and when it was time to enjoy high tea with my family I was barely hanging on. When tea was finally over, it was a nightmare trying to get back to the hotel because people were just getting off work; the subway and buses were packed and taxis were few and far between. It was hot. When we finally did get a taxi, it was a Kowloon taxi whose driver took the long way back. I collapsed into bed and sweated it out.

Miraculously, the next morning my fever was gone and I was feeling pretty normal. I had thought that it was going to be like the last time I had a fever when I was out for days. We went to Stanley in southern Hong Kong to enjoy some fresh air, figuring it would be good for our compromised respiratory systems.

Hawk
Fresh air, pristine water
Crabs
These crabs certainly like it here

Well, it didn’t work because the next day we were both feeling weak and had to sign out after lunchtime again. We ended up staying in the whole weekend.

When we were well again, we visited my Granny two days in a row. At this point in her life, she is no longer able to care for herself and lives in a senior home. Dementia has taken its toll and she can sometimes be moody, but she is always happy to see me.

Granny
Hi Granny!

Because it takes over an hour to get back to our hotel from Granny’s home and taking the subway entails a lot of walking to and from the train, we tried some alternative modes of transportation. We tried two different buses that go to the ferry pier across the harbor from our hotel, and then took the ferry back to our hotel. It was the first time we’ve taken this particular ferry, and it was quite pleasant.

Ferry
Watch out for traffic

Finally, the other highlight of the week is that we finally ate roast goose. Dip it in some plum sauce and then eat it with some rice, mmm!

Roast Goose
Delicious

Eating Outdoor Street Food Indoors

On Monday night we tried Tung Po (東寶小館), one of the more popular “restaurants” around here. Back in the day Hong Kong had a lot of food stalls out in the open (大牌檔, “dai pai dong“); I remember eating under a tarp in one of these places when I was a kid. Due to sanitation issues and legislation, there aren’t really any outdoor food stalls in Hong Kong anymore, and a lot of these food stalls have moved indoors to “cooked food centres” usually located near or above wet markets. I don’t know if Tung Po used to be outdoors, but they are at the Java Road Cooked Food Centre now helping people relive the good old days.

An Old Tradition
Clean before you eat
Tonight's Menu
Tonight’s Menu
Napkin, Sir?
Napkin, Sir?
Beer in a Bowl
Beer in a Bowl
Water Convolvulus
Water Convolvulus
Pork Knuckle
Pork Knuckle
Razor Clams
Razor Clams
Shrimp and Egg Yolk Dust
Shrimp and Egg Yolk Dust
Ice Bucket
Ice Bucket

WTF McDonald’s commercial

I’ve been watching the same commercials all night, and one that really caught my attention was one advertising 24-hour McDonald’s restaurants in Hong Kong. The commercial shows a bunch of happy young people at McDonald’s late at night, making silly poses for their camera. But what are they doing? One of them is putting onion rings on his face, around his eyes. Another is sticking french fries under his glasses, simulating tears. The third is rubbing french fries all over her upper lip. My wife said that since it’s a 24-hour McDonald’s, the people in the commercial must be drunk. Yes, they must be drunk, that’s why they’re rubbing greasy food all over themselves.

The sad part is, I’m thinking about ordering McDonald’s some time.

Homecooked meal, 5-27-12

We enjoyed a much needed home-cooked meal this past weekend, courtesy of my aunt and uncle. When traveling, pretty much the only option for dining is to eat out, and it’s nice to be able to stay in for dinner every so often.

Recent Hong Kong Meals

A super gallery containing tons of photos from our recent meals!

Sega Mega Drive Original Box

I was at my aunt’s and she brought out this Sega Mega Drive box thinking that it was originally mine (it wasn’t, it was my cousin’s). Talk about WOW. When I was a kid, the Mega Drive was like the holy grail to me. I had a North American Sega Genesis and I loved it, of course, but there was this notion that all things Japan were better, more exotic. I still remember buying my first imported Mega Drive game, Devil’s Crash MD for $75, which was a lot to ask for from my mother back then (most Genesis games were in the $49 range). I’ll never forget that day, because it was the day of the Oakland Hills fire. We were indoors most of the day and when we came back out with my new game in hand, the sky was orange, and we were in San Francisco! Anyhow, here are photos I snapped of the box.

Sega Mega Drive Original Box

Sega Mega Drive Original Box

Sega Mega Drive Original Box

Sega Mega Drive Original Box

Sega Mega Drive Original Box

Sega Mega Drive Original Box