Friday, December 28, 2012

Leaving Hong Kong

The morning after Papau's birthday party Ming Ye and Eugena picked us up to take us to the airport.  Mom was staying in Hong Kong for a couple more weeks but still wanted to ride to the airport with us.  We were treated to our final yum cha before we had to report for our flight.  I was so sad to leave and felt like a week wasn't nearly long enough for me to be in Hong Kong.  I was already plotting when we could make our next visit.  Here we are making frowny faces.  At least that's what I told Ryan to do.  He doesn't listen.
We had a stop in Bangkok because I had originally planned for us to spend some time there.  I changed my mind because I felt like just one or two days in a place wouldn't be enough so we nixed the nights in Bangkok but still kept the flight pattern.  We felt more self portraits were necessary in the Bangkok airport.

After only a few hours of travel time we reached our destination:  Chiang Mai, which means New City.  We were told that Chiang Mai has 1.5 million people and I couldn't believe it because it really didn't look like a city of that size and the infrastructure didn't seem able to support a city of that size.  I soon found out that it was a sprawling city.  Here is the view from our room.
We decided to eat at a place recommended to us that was close to the hotel.  The walk there was certainly an experience.  We quickly found that our American understanding of traffic flow and crosswalks was not going to help us as there were no crosswalks and there weren't a lot of traffic lights either.  Oh, and did I mention that speed limits and driving lanes seem to be mere suggestions?  So, we did as the locals did and stepped confidently into the chaos and shockingly came out unscathed.  It's kind of a simultaneous game of frogger played by both the pedestrians and the drivers.  Phew.  Ryan needed a beer after that.

 "Chang" in Thai means elephant.  Chang beer is good. The restaurant was really cool.  It was set back off the road in a wooded area and you could go upstairs and sit on a wraparound balcony/porch.  This was our first experience with the Thai way of taking your shoes off when you enter places.  It was a little strange at first to be barefoot in a restaurant but after awhile it kind of made you feel like you were at home because that is pretty much the only place we eat with our shoes off.  You can kind of see the place in the background of this picture.

Here's my beautiful and delicious fresh squeezed watermelon juice.

Here's an awesome fried banana thing.
After we completely stuffed ourselves we were on a quest to find the Sunday Market.  Chiang Mai has a Night Market every single night of the week but the Sunday Market is completely different and only guessed it...Sundays.  We had heard it had better selection and prices than the Night Market so we wanted to check it out.  We walked and we walked and we walked and we walked (all while risking our lives every time we crossed the street) and we finally found it!

Except it was not what we expected.  There were only a few rows of stalls with not much selection.  We couldn't figure out why everyone was making such a big deal about it.  And then we found out later in the week that we weren't at the Sunday Market at all.  Oops. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

HK Day 6 - Final Full Day

Our last day in Hong Kong came much too quickly.  We ran around town a little bit with Mom (after breakfast of course) to try to buy some things since we hadn't purchased a thing since we'd been in town.  We didn't end up finding much in the short time we were rushing around but if I had to plan for next time I'd want to buy some jade, since my family knows what they're doing in that department, and a watch, since nice watches seem to be cheaper there.

Later we met Bot Gau Foo for lunch and conversation.  He tried to take us to a foot reflexology place he knew of because our feet hurt from walking so much all week...but it was booked up for the rest of the day.  Ryan and I decided to go back to our room and start packing our bags as we were leaving very early the next morning.  Mom went to play mah jong (sounds like mah jurk in Cantonese). 

Bot Gau Foo picked Ryan and me up later that night for Papau's 89th birthday party.  Because the family is so large and because everyone lives in such small spaces, the party was in two connected private rooms in a restaurant.  When we showed up several family members were singing karaoke (I remember lots of karaoke in Hong Kong from when I was a kid) and several others were playing mah jong. 
I didn't know how to play mah jong (and Ryan certainly didn't) so my uncle Hubert (aunt M Ye's husband) taught us and his daughter/my cousin Polly. 

Basically, it's kind of like Chinese Rummy.  There are characters that you try to match either 3 of a kind or get a straight.  You either draw from the "deck" or you can take discards from the pile.  You can declare each match you get or you can hold everything and go out at the end.  I am by no means good but I got the basic concept.  One of the hard things was remembering the characters and what they meant.  I know how to read/write one (yat), two (ye), and three (sam) but that is it.  So for four (say), five (m), six (look), seven (chut), eight (bot), nine (gau), and ten (sup) I had to try to remember which character was which.  Thankfully I had help from Siel Ye and then Bot Gau Foo when Siel Ye needed to sing karaoke.  :)

Ryan also had some help too and even ended up winning a game.  This is his celebration of that victory with his partner, my Mom.

Mah jong was so much fun and I think it would be something I would like to play more if I could completely figure it out and had people to play with.  I really like playing with the blocks instead of cards too.  They feel very substantial in your hands and I like how they make clacking sounds.  I loved hearing the loud clacking of mah jong combined with excited chatter and background karaoke.  Yes, this was the Hong Kong I remembered and it made me happy.  Eventually we were all ushered to our tables for the celebratory dinner.  There were three huge tables with giant lazy susans in the middle.  I think there were 8 different dishes that were brought out.  There is some significance to the number of dishes served but I can't remember.  I also found out from my Mom that women have bigger celebrations on their odd birthdays while men have them on their even birthdays. 

Oy, the food, the food, the food.  The food was glorious.  We had my favorite dish on earth:  abalone, Chinese mushrooms, and lettuce, and we had fish, and barbecued meats, and magical fried crab thingies, and veggies, and so much more.  Here Mom is dishing up walnut shrimp (totally different than walnut shrimp in the States - other than walnuts and shrimp are involved in both and you wouldn't think that should work but it just does).
Mom, Lok Yan (cousin), Ka Yan (cousin), boyfriend, friend

We got to sit at the table with two of my cousins, two of my uncles (and their significant others), and one aunt and her friend.  We were able to take tons of pictures throughout the night of everyone there.  We felt like celebrities.  My cheeks told me they wouldn't want to be a celebrity because they were very tired from smiling all night.  But I had a lot to smile about.  Some of these pictures are fuzzy but I want to post them anyway.  M Ye's family:

Starting in back: Hubert, Ryan, me, M Ye, Polly, Roy
Sam Ye's family:
From back: Lok Yan, Ka Yan, boyfriend, Sam Ye, friend, me, Ryan, Mom

M Gau Foo and his wife:
Some other group shots:

Back:  Ye Gau Foo, me, Ryan, Mom, Sam Ye, Lok Yan  Middle: Miu Ye, Winnie  Front: Hing Hing (cousin), Siel ye, Papau, M Ye
Back:  M Gau Foo's wife, Hing Hing, me, Ryan, Mom, Sam Ye, Ka Yan, Lok Yan, Chut Gau Foo, Chut Gau Foo's son, Bot Gau Foo, Chut Gau Foo's wife  Middle:  Look Gau Foo's daughter, Ye Gau Foo, Siel Ye, Papau, M Ye, Polly  Front:  Miu Ye
Back:  friend, friend, Hubert, M Gau Foo's wife, boyfriend, Ka Yan, Papau, Sam Ye, Bot Gau Foo, girlfriend, me, Ryan, Mom, Ye Gau Foo  Middle:  Siel Ye, Winnie, M Ye, Look Gau Foo's twin girls, Great Aunt, Say Ye  Front:  Miu Ye, Polly

A funny note about seeing my Great Aunt:  I didn't remember her at first but the minute my Mom said "Do you remember spending the night at her house?"  And I said "Oh my goodness!  Yes!  I cried all night and made her call you to pick me up at probably 3 am!"  I even remembered exactly what her flat looked like (koi at the back of the room) and the room I slept/cried in.  How can I possibly remember those things?  I apologized profusely for my actions 26 years earlier.  Oy.

Here Ryan and I are with Polly.  Polly was very little last time I was in Hong Kong and says I used to kiss her all the time on her eyes and nose.  I apologized to Polly too. 
I just went back through the pictures and realized I didn't have Look Gau Foo in here so I'm attaching the group picture below.  You've seen everyone else in the picture except Look Gau Foo, (only guy in the picture besides Ryan), his wife right beside him, and Valerie, the little baby in Siel Ye's arms.  Valerie is my cousin Ming Ye's (Day 3) daughter.
Phew, I think I got pictures of most the people there.  And I got a lot of contact information, too, so I can keep in touch. 

We once again were back to our hotel late at night and this time I was sooooo sad that our visit to Hong Kong was coming to an end.  I was extremely thankful that I was able to make the trip and it was so fulfilling to be in touch with a side of my family and a part of me that I haven't been able to experience for a lot of my life but somehow I still knew I missed.  I wonder if it's like that for everyone whose background is from two distinctly different cultures.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

HK Day 5

Like every other morning, Ryan and I were up a lot earlier than everyone we headed to Starbucks.   It was nice to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee and get wireless access for a little while.  Even though almost everything was the same as we get in the States, there were a couple of different offerings.  For example, I got an English Toffee Latte and I've not seen those here and it also seemed like they had more food offerings (and tastier looking too).  I think the picture below is actually from Day 6 but I'll put it here anyway.
We had breakfast with my Mom (I bet you can't guess what we got) and later my cousin Lok Yan and aunt Siel Ye met us for lunch at a sushi joint because Lok Yan thought maybe we were getting tired of Chinese food.  I don't think I could ever get sick of authentic Chinese food but the sushi was really good.  And honestly, it was different experience than getting sushi in America as there were different offerings, such as custards with seafood baked in. 

Then we were on a mission to find Chinese dishes because I had mentioned earlier in the week how pretty I thought they were so my family wanted me to be able to buy some.  We searched what seemed like everywhere and there really wasn't a lot to choose from and I decided it might be difficult to ship stuff back anyway so we called off the search.  I found out later that Chinese dishes are hard to find now because most people don't use them because they aren't microwavable and everyone is into either eating very quickly at home or eating out these days.  It kind of made me realize how everything does (and should) change but I also thought that sometimes it's still a little sad to see some traditions go. 

Me and Lok Yan

I did become obsessed with Lok Yan's shoes and asked her where I could find them as I have never seen anything like them before.  They were SO cute! They're little platform type high tops with cool designs and studs on them and I just had to have some.  So Lok Yan and Miu Ye (aunt) took us to the department store, SoGo (pronounced shogo), to look for a pair.  Apparently it was "Thankful Week" (I still haven't quite figured that out...Thankful Week that's not the same as American Thankgiving but during the same week in Hong Kong?) so the store was SO busy.  Lots of elbowing and squeezing and basically pain and suffering.  We didn't stay too long and we didn't find the shoes.  The store isn't set up like department stores in America.  Basically each brand has it's own area of the store instead of having all shoes in one department and all jeans in another, etc.

We decided to go to the bar district and have some drinks.  :)  There are rows and rows of hip bars and restaurants in this particular area but I can't remember the name of it.  We went to a brewery and had Hong Kong beer (literally, that was what it was called...I think it was that bar's own brew). 

Ryan, Lok Yan (cousin), Miu Ye (aunt), me

This is a picture of the area right outside the bar as we were leaving.  But no, the bar district was not called Italy Station.  And no, I don't really know what I'm doing.   Actually I think I photo bombed Ryan's picture.
Lok Yan and Miu Ye took us to a restaurant that is very well known in Hong Kong for it's chili garlic crab.  We got there pretty early (in Hong Kong time) so we didn't have a wait but by the time we were done there was a wait out the door (so you know the place was good).  Anyway, the server actually brings the live crabs to your table for you to pick out which one you want.  Talk about fresh seafood.  The crab was AMAZING!  Look how beautiful it was!
We also had conch, congee, Chinese vegetables, and something else I can't recall right now.  And again, I could not believe I'd been missing this kind of food all my life. 

It was so much fun to spend time with my cousin who I remember very well from childhood and I'm so glad Ryan got to meet her.  I was blown away by her, and the entire family's, generous and welcoming nature.  I could only hope to be half as good of a host as my entire family was to me. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

HK - Day 4 (Thanksgiving Day)

On Thanksgiving Day, Ryan and I had the morning to ourselves so what did we do?  Sha shan tang.  And what did we get?  Yep, you got it...noodle bowls.  I don't think I'd ever get tired of those things.  (Note:  Usually we got chopsticks but this morning without any family with us they pegged us as Americans - I don't know how - and gave us forks.  Hmpf.)
After that we walked around a bit to see if we could do some shopping while we had some time to ourselves but remember how I mentioned in a previous blog that we found out shops don't really open until 11 am or noon?  Yep.  Really nothing to buy other than tasty drinks from 7Eleven, which I actually did about every day.  I LOVE soy milk and Arnold Palmer's.  And I know those are both things that I can get in the States but they taste different there, I swear.  Even without a lot open we still managed to while the morning away until Mom met up with us.  Later we met up with Bot Gau Foo (uncle) for a late yum cha.  It was the first time I had seen him in 26 years because he was in college in Australia when I was in Hong Kong 24 years ago.  Bot Gau Foo is the youngest of my Mom's 12 siblings and he is only 14 years older than me. 

We didn't have any plans for the rest of the afternoon and I think our exhaustion caught up with us because Mom and I fell asleep up in our hotel room!  We didn't get up until it was time to meet up with family to go to Ye Gau Foo's flat.  Ye Gau Foo had asked Siel Ye to cook a large meal for us because we had been discussing earlier in the week what a good cook she was.  Before we made it to the flat we stopped by Ye Gau Foo's shop where he sells all kinds of paper items that Buddhists burn at funerals and at certain times during the year.  These paper burnings are believed to follow people in death to their after life, so if you buy paper shoes, shirts, and pants to burn then the person will be clothed in the after life.  Anything you can think of was available as a paper product to burn:  sushi, jewelry, animals, cars, money, etc.  I don't know why I didn't think of taking a picture of some of the items.  Ye Gau Foo's shop is conveniently located across a river from his flat.

Siel Ye made so much food for us and there was even poultry involved (not that it had anything to do with American Thanksgiving). 
 Mo (cousin), Ryan, Ye Gau Foo (uncle), Papau (grandma), Siel Ye (aunt), Winnie (friend), Miu Ye, aunt, Mom
Miu Ye (aunt), Mom, me, Choy Ye (cousin Ming Yun's daughter), Mo (cousin), Ryan, Ye Gau Foo (uncle), Papau (grandma), Siel Ye (aunt)

Because Ryan hadn't napped like the rest of us, he was very tired after the dinner.  It could be beacause eating seems to take quite a long time (lots of visiting) so we were still there very late at night.  It could also be because Ye Gau Foo kept filling Ryan's glass with wine.  We're still not sure how much wine he consumed that night but he once again fell asleep sitting up.    At least this time it was on a couch and there was no sliding out of his chair fiasco.  Poor guy.  Can't even defend himself on this blog.  Miu Ye, Winnie, and Mom got us back to the hotel safe and sound and we crashed after another awesome day in Hong Kong.  I couldn't believe how fast the time was passing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

HK Day 3

On Day 3 in Hong Kong my cousin Ming Ye and his wife Eugena picked us up for breakfast.  Eugena wanted to take us to a more typical breakfast than yum cha for someone our age.  She said that for our generation it is not appealing to go sit and visit over tea and what I'll call small plates for several hours, so instead people our age go to sha shan tang.  To me, sha shan tang basically means Chinese diner.  They're very small places where you can get in and out quickly and they have very large menus with several Chinese and western options.  Because we were in Hong Kong, I opted not to have eggs or toast (or anything I could get at home) and ordered a noodle bowl.  MMMMMMMMM.  I think we need more noodle bowl breakfast joints here.

Then we drove to Lantau Island to visit the Big Buddha.  To get to the top of the mountain where the Big Buddha is, you must travel up by gondola.  The floor was clear so you could see everything you were travelling over...not good for anyone afraid of heights!
It was raining when we got to the top and none of us foreigners were prepared so we slipped into a couple of little theaters, one that showed Buddha's life journey and another that featured animated monkeys teaching the lesson that excess and selfishness are no good.  It was still raining when we came out but, of course, there were plenty of ponchos for sale.  We walked around the little village for awhile before we were hungry again.  They had lots of little stands (kind of like food carts here in the States) set up with food so we stopped to get some snacks.

When we were replenished we began our walk to the Big Buddha.  Once at the top you could go inside the base of the Big Buddha but I forgot to get any pictures of that.

Just like at the top of The Peak the day before, it was very windy, cold, and foggy at the top of the Big Buddha.  Considering I live right by the Rockies perhaps I should have been a little more prepared for the extreme weather difference between  mountains and lower elevation, but I wasn't!  I was prepared for upper 70s/lower 80s weather only!

At the bottom of the steps of the Big Buddha were some temples that we stopped to explore.

That night for dinner, Ming Ye took us to the most amazing place to celebrate Eugena's upcoming birthday.  It reminded me a little of our experience with Hush.  So, in Hong Kong, no one has very much space in their flats so for parties everyone usually goes out to a restaurant; however, this new concept has sprung up where a chef rents out an apartment and uses that space as a restaurant to host small to mid size parties.  Because it is such a personalized experience, you can work with the chef to serve pretty much anything you want.  The dinner was absolutely lovely.  We had oysters, lobster, and steak, among many other beautiful and delicious dishes.  And it was an incredibly intimate, yet hip, setting.

Please disregard my strange, disfigured looking hands and body in that last pic.  I was wiggling around when Ryan was trying to take a panoramic.

We had so much fun spending all day with Ming Ye and Eugena and it was enlightening to learn from them some of the things that our generation does.  It made me think if I lived there that would be how my life would be.  And Eugena speaks flawless English and has been to the States several times as a flight attendant, so she was able to relate to some of the things we would talk about and also explain/translate things for us very quickly.  I am amazed that most of my family can speak two or more languages.  Eugena speaks three!!!

Thankfully, this was the first night Ryan and I were able to stay awake and function reasonably well.  After our fun filled day and night, we fulfilled Mom's quest of taking every form of public transportation by grabbing a taxi for our ride back to the hotel/Miu Ye's flat.