London, Day 3 – Off to Paris

October 4th, 2012 – Thursday

We woke up this morning at a more normal time and hung out in the hotel room for a bit before heading out for breakfast. It was a pretty nice morning, slightly cold but still very pleasant:

Nice London Morning

Pleasant morning

Today we were adventurous and went to a cafe about a block away from the hotel. There, we had scrumptious full English breakfasts (we both agreed they were better than the ones from the day before), and the coffee that came with my breakfast was once again the white variant. I find it very interesting how different people can refer to different things with the same name. We are all used to our own lives in our own geographical locations, thinking that ours is the standard. There’s a sort of pride to it, like growing up Cantonese vs. Mandarin. In our family when we say “speak Chinese” we mean “speak Cantonese”. In our cousin’s family “speak Chinese” means “speak Mandarin”. I will admit, sometimes I think being Cantonese is better than being Mandarin. 😉

White Coffee with Breakfast

White coffee with breakfast…


And… breakfast

(Astute readers may notice that I’ve posted these breakfasts before, back when I was torturing myself. No matter, you can never get enough good food.)

The entire breakfast at the cafe was under 10 pounds, less than half of what we paid at Garfunkel’s the day before. Ouch. Maybe because the Garfunkel’s was attached to the hotel, it had hotel prices. I don’t know, are mom and pop places always cheaper than chains? Maybe not, but this one certainly was, and the food was better, too.

Mom and Pop Cafe

Mom and Pop Cafe

Although we still had a few hours before our Eurostar boarding, we like taking it slow so after breakfast we went back to the hotel. Snapped a couple of photos on the short way back:

London Street Sweeping Truck

Street Sweeper

Paddington Station Early Commute

Morning commute

A couple of hours later, we were all packed and ready to go:


Packed and ready to go

Checkout was a breeze, and once again I noticed that the people serving us (this time, the hotel staff) were immigrants as opposed to native Londoners. I’d wanted to go to England all my life, so perhaps in my mind it had reached a fantastical status, where white English people roamed the streets and greeted you in their British accents. This might be the case in a smaller and more remote area of England, but not London, a major international city that attracts its share of immigrants. Again, I thought it was a lot like San Francisco, except it was Eastern Europeans instead of Latin Americans.

We made our way back onto Praed Street towards the Underground station. it was turning out to be quite a beautiful autumn day:

Praed Street in Autumn

Praed Street in Autumn

After having practiced riding on the Underground the day before, I was smart this time and took the Hammersmith and City line. As we got on the train, I was very excited to see that the train was also a Metropolitan Cammell train, just like the original stock of Hong Kong’s MTR. I’ve always been fascinated with buses and trains and planes, so it was a particular treat for me to ride on this train.

Metro Cammell 1969

Metro Cammell 1969

A few stops later, we were at our destination. We had about an hour and a half until departure, so we used the time to explore the station and to buy food for the train ride.

St. Pancras International

St. Pancras International

Something that JC and I both like to do when we visit a new place is to browse the aisles of a grocery store. You can learn a lot about people from the foods that they eat. In this case, it was at a Marks and Spencer’s M&S Simply Food, the supermarket offshoot of the famous department store. For example, I would venture to guess that British people love their sandwiches (perhaps because a British lord invented it?). At first, I thought that because the supermarket was inside a train station, it had a lot of pre-packed meals and sandwiches. Later, I found that it wasn’t just the store inside the station, but supermarkets everywhere that sold pre-packed sandwiches. There were so many varieties, including the traditional cucumber sandwich. For the ride to Paris, I picked roast beef, horseradish, and mayo (Wow! Yum!), and JC had roast chicken salad. So much fun!

Train Food

Train Food, Part II

It was great being able to bring food (and liquids) into the customs/security area (to facilitate easy deboarding in Paris, passengers go through customs in London, similar to flights from Canada to the U.S.). Now, it was just a matter of waiting for our departure.

Waiting for the Eurostar

Boarding Time

As the train left the station, I couldn’t help but think of Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown. Like Charlie Brown, I asked myself if what we were experiencing was real. Could it be that we were actually in London, and now headed for Paris? Surely these were places that just existed on TV and in picture books? As we emerged from the tunnel and sped through the French countryside, I thought it looked rather similar to how it did in the movie. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. Sometimes, when looking back on it now, I still can’t believe it.

Next: Our First Day in Paris

New Orleans Iced Coffee

IMG_20130104_163518 IMG_20130104_163457

When I was living and working in the East Bay I would often get New Orleans Iced Coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee. The first time I had it JC and I were on a date in San Francisco, so I always associate good feelings with having it. Of course, it is delicious in its own right as well.

Since I’m currently not working, I have to watch how I spend. At $3.75 a pop, I made sure I savored it. 🙂

Paris, Day 2

October 5th, 2012 – Friday

Our second day in Paris, almost 3 months ago…

Based on their intertwined histories, it occurred to me that it might have been worthwhile to try Vietnamese food in France. We made our way to the 13th arrondissement, home of Little Asia and Chinatown. Walking from the Métro to the restaurant we got a feel of what it would be like to live in Paris. We passed quite a few apartment blocks, and it was certainly more of a residential area than a tourist one. For a moment, it seemed as if we were Parisians walking home from work after getting off the Métro.

Soon, we found the restaurant that I had looked up online earlier:

Pho Bida Vietnam

Pho at Pho Bida Vietnam

Well, I have to say that although the meal was good, nothing beats pho in the Bay Area. Probably a matter of personal and localized taste. We walked further into Little Asia and noticed a lot more pho restaurants, in addition to a sprinkling of Chinese places. It seemed to be mostly Vietnamese, though. Not surprising due to the history.

We made our way back to the hotel for a short rest. Actually, it was a short rest at the laundromat near our hotel. It was our first time using a French laundromat. Instead of paying individually at each machine, you paid at a central box and punched in your washer’s code. Luckily, English instructions were available and with the help of a nice French lady we were able to launder our clothes.

French Laundry

Lessive means soap

While waiting for our laundry we had a snack at the bakery across the street. Afterwards, I also got myself a haircut. I never imagined that I would be getting one in Paris. Amazing!

Tart & Cap

Tart & Cap

Now, we were rested and ready to walk over to the Trocadéro, which wasn’t far from our hotel. I hadn’t done my homework on Paris so I didn’t realize that after the Trocadéro was the Eiffel Tower. We got to the roundabout and the Palais de Chaillot, and we crossed the street on the side of the Théâtre National de Chaillot. As we made our way around the theatre, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of the Eiffel Tower. Oh, man, you mean it was here all along?! What a tourist.

Théâtre National de Chaillot

Théâtre National de Chaillot

La Tour Eiffel

La Tour Eiffel

La Tour Eiffel

A beautiful autumn day

La Tour Eiffel

Famous around the world, people come to see it

La Tour Eiffel

Getting closer

We made our way down to and across the River Seine. Now, we were right beneath the tower. Usually, when we see it in pictures, it isn’t up close and you don’t realize how much detail and texture there is to the Eiffel Tower. There are actually names engraved into the tower. Fascinating.

Up Close and Personal

Up close and personal

There was this pond next to the Eiffel Tower that was curious. It was like a nature reserve or something, complete with fish, ducks, and other birds. There was a fence around the pond and the grass surrounding it, and what was curious was that a lot of people were leaning on the fence and feeding the ducks and birds and having a grand old time, as if the Eiffel Tower wasn’t even there. Kinda funny, actually. We got sucked in ourselves, taking dozens of duck photos.


Quack! Welcome to my home. Please don’t litter.

Since we were already by the river, we decided to take a river cruise on the Batobus. Boat in French is “bateau,” pronounced “bato,” so there you go. The best part was we really were going to the Champs-Élysées (see the map below), so we got our money’s worth on the cruise.


Batobus, cool!

So there we were, sailing along the Seine at sunset. We passed under many bridges, including the famous Pont Neuf (actually I learned about it from the Bourne Identity). To me, it was like sailing past history. Of course, there were the famous landmarks such as the Notre Dame de Paris and the Musée du Louvre, but many of the “plain” residential buildings were old as well. I imagined what we might have seen had we been making our cruise 150 years ago: the warm light of candle chandeliers escaping out of the tall windows, the sound of classical music playing in the background, men and women dancing in their elaborate suits and dresses.

Sunset on the Seine

Sunset on the Seine

Last Stop

Last stop of the Batobus

The Batobus stopped just shy of the Place de la Concorde. We wanted to walk the entire length of the Champs-Élysées, so we backtracked our way over. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Place was where hundreds of people were beheaded during the French Revolution. When I think about it, it’s really unbelievable. I was actually there! I remember watching as a child in Hong Kong an anime series that was set during the French Revolution: the Rose of Versailles. The images in my mind of the candlelit rooms and people dancing were probably scenes from that series. I remember an ending, either of a specific episode or the series, in which the guillotine was being prepared for someone to be executed (probably Marie Antoinette), and there was a huge crowd in the square. There was a sort of finality and futility to that scene that has stayed with me all these years.

Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde

As the sun set and day transitioned into night, we made our way up the Champs-Élysées. We had already been walking all day, through Little Asia, from our hotel to the Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower, and from the Batobus to the Place de la Concorde. We were tired! Avoiding the many tourist-trap restaurants in the area, we got on the Métro and headed back to our neighborhood for a nice, quiet, French dinner, turning in early afterwards to dream about all those places that we had been to on our second day in Paris.


Champs-Élysées at dusk


Let’s use the facilities at McDonald’s…

Crowded McDonald's

One of the busiest McDonald’s locations in the world

Arc de Triomphe at Night

The Arc de Triomphe at night

Next: Paris, Day 3 – Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame

Eating in Tokyo

Eating in Tokyo was a delight. Japanese cuisine, as well as Japanese interpretations of foreign cuisine, really appeals to me. It’s about the presentation, the meticulousness and formality of it. There is also the variety, even within a single meal. Eating a bento is an adventure. Which part do I eat first? Or perhaps I should eat it out of order? The possibilities are endless.

Recent Hong Kong Meals

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

One Week Recap

So, it’s been a week since we’ve arrived in Hong Kong. Here’s a recap of some of the things we’ve done.

We have gradually acclimated to the time change, waking up on our first morning at 2 AM, then 4, then 5, and this morning at 9. The timestamps on this blog are hardcoded to Pacific time, but if you do the math (+15 hours), you’ll find that some of the posts have been made just before the sun comes up.

12-18-13 Update: timestamps are now in local time for historical accuracy.

Empty Streets

In the early morn, the streets are quiet and empty

The Sun is Coming

Just before sunrise

The Sun is Here

20 minutes later

We have spent a lot of time with family, both living and dead. Last Friday we went to visit my aunt in her final resting place, a columbarium located up on a peaceful and quiet hillside. We burned offerings of incense, currency, and clothing, and also shared a McDonald’s meal, one of her favorites. It’s pretty nice up there, and I’d be so lucky to stay there when I’m dead.

Wild Bananas

Wild bananas in the jungle on the way up the hill


A pagoda and temple complex in the distance


The city seems so far away from up here

Burning Offerings

Burning offerings to my dearly departed aunt


Another one of the beautiful sights on the way up

Speaking of meals, we have been eating at various restaurants, as well as eating many times at one of my favorite restaurants. We’ve stayed in and eaten stuff we bought from the supermarket. We’ve even had a home-cooked meal, thanks to my aunt and uncle. Below are just some samples of what we’ve had. Be sure to check out the food galleries for more.

Minute Steak Breakfast

By far we’ve eaten at Cafe de Coral the most

Cup Noodles

Cup noodles have their place when you don’t feel like going out




Can’t eat out too much, gotta have some homecookin’ once in awhile

Razor Clams

Razor Clams in Black Bean Sauce

Cafe Sua Da

Cafe Sua Da, made with Trung Nguyen no less

We have definitely stayed in our hotel a lot. As I said before, we’re not really tourists anymore, and we get tired walking around in the heat and humidity and the big crowds. We’re trying to live it like it’s going to be when we settle here, live it like it was when we were at home in Oakland, live like the homebodies that we are. I have said so many times before; all I need is my laptop and an internet connection. Well, I have that here, and I have air conditioning, and I have a pretty good view of what’s going on outside. Have a look:


A view of the sunset from our hotel room

Sunset = Traffic

Sunset means end of workday, which means traffic

Cold Fog

It looks like a cold fog, but it’s actually hot outside

The Dog Days of Pre-Summer

The dog days of pre-summer

Towering Menace

The ICC towers above all in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a beautiful place. When I look at the sunset behind the skyscrapers, I let out a sigh at how beautiful it looks. When I see the ferries, boats, and ships slowly cruising across the harbor, I feel completely at ease. Like everywhere else, however, Hong Kong has its downsides. Pollution. Crowds. Weather. Eventually, it’s going to be a matter of deciding which downsides we can live with, and which upsides we can’t live without. For now, it’s only been a week, and we’re going to continue enjoying ourselves.

Today’s Lunch

Today we tried eating at the Java Road Market across the street from our hotel. We’ve wanted to try it since the last time we were here but never got around to it; after seeing it on Anthony Bourdain’s the Layover, we made a point to go there this time.

The first floor is the wet market where stalls sell fruits, vegetables, meat, and seafood. A place like this is probably where you’d want to buy groceries if you were local.

Once you’re on the second floor, the entire hall is lined with establishments vying for your patronage. Staffers greet and try to convince you to dine in their section.

We decided to try the one that had the most people. It didn’t hurt that the lady was very friendly as well. Two plates of rice and two drinks, $54, and quite good!

Curry beef brisket and tendon over rice:

BBQ pork and preserved/pickled vegetable omelette over rice:

Iced lemon tea, iced coffee:

This was just lunch, can’t wait to go for dinner!

Recent Meals

I’ve had some pretty good meals recently and would like to share them here. First up, Vien Huong (aka VH), probably my favorite restaurant in Oakland Chinatown:

Chow Jew Ho Fun

Chow Jew Ho Fun

Iced Coffee

Iced Coffee from VH

My usual standby is Chow Jew Rice Noodle, but I got the Chow Jew Ho Fun (潮州河粉) instead on this occasion. Of course, gotta have the iced coffee as well.

Next, a homemade steak dinner:

Bone-in New York Steak with Baked Asparagus

Bone-in New York Steak with Baked Asparagus

My buddy from work took me to Ruth’s Chris about a week before this, so I was starting to crave red meat again. It wasn’t Ruth’s Chris, but it was red meat, and it was satisfying.

And now, Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodle with Beef from Seoul Gomtang in Oakland:

Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Beef

Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Beef

It was so hot that day, I had to get a cold noodle. There was actually ice floating in the soup. Add some hot mustard and vinegar, and what could be cooler and tastier?

Next up, Shredded Pork and Tomato Soup Noodle at Ba Le in Oakland Chinatown:

Shredded Pork and Tomato Rice Noodle

Shredded Pork and Tomato Rice Noodle

Tried this place for the first time and it felt pretty authentic. In the middle of Chinatown, a bit rundown, a bit dirty, but delicious food. Pretty authentic indeed. Of course, my rule-of-thumb when in a Vietnamese establishment is to always try and judge them by their iced coffee, and they passed with flying colors.

Finally, some more home cookin’:

Elbow Macaroni with a Fried Egg, Kalbi, and Veggies

Elbow Macaroni with a Fried Egg, Kalbi, and Veggies

My usual routine is to wake up, wash my face, and brush my teeth. Imagine finishing your morning routine and then being greeted with breakfast from your spouse, made with love. It wasn’t dessert, but it sure was sweet.

Life is short. Eat and enjoy the food, and enjoy the company of the people eating it with you.