About Dani

I am a pre-medical student at Northwestern University who also studies film. In another life (ie High School) I was a Shakespearian actress, and occasionally still dabble in theatre. I passionately believe that theatre should be spelled with an "-re" NOT an "-er." I like to travel, read, write, and cook. My college classes keep me pretty busy so no promises this blog will be updated often, but occasionally I'll throw my two cents out there. Enjoy.

Hong Kong 2017 – Day 3

This morning we had a leisurely breakfast upstairs. Dad had avocado toast with a poached egg, Mom had smoked salmon (as always), but I went rogue and tried all the unusual dishes, including chicken bao (with mustard) and congee (a rice porridge with various ingredients and toppings).

Yvonne told us many people work a half day on Saturday so it actually isn’t a bad day to  do touristy things. Sunday, however, should be avoided at all costs. Given that, we decided to venture out to the Hong Kong History Museum in Kowloon.

Our taxi driver had to take a very roundabout route to get there (imagine trying to get from 4 o’clock to 2 o’clock but going the long way round). We also ended up on the opposite side of the building from the entrance, but once we did manage to get inside it was blessedly cool.

It’s a wonderful museum. There exhibits are arranged in chronological order, starting with the beginning of time with the formation of the islands from shallow seas to volcanos to all the various types of rock formed along the way. The ground floor also covers pre-historic Hong Kong, the earliest people to live in the area, and the ebb and flow of various peoples throughout the early dynasties of China.

The aesthetic design was lovely. They created numerous environments to give you a flavor and general impression of what the time period in that particular exhibit was like. We saw  lush jungle forests, sandy beaches, grocery stores, sailing ships, rice paddies, and towers of buns.

 

The exhibits were very interesting, and didn’t suffer from Too Many Words syndrome (again, perhaps because everything has to be presented side-by-side in two languages). The museum flow allowed you to wander at your leisure but provided directional signage suggesting a chronological path. It was fairly easy to focus on the things that piqued your interest and gloss over those you found boring.

The ground floor was enormous. The exhibits just kept going and going and going… And then we discovered there was another entire floor dedicated to Hong Kong’s history since the British took over.

 

Really interesting display about land reclamation in Hong Kong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toward the end of the timeline, my parents began to encounter items they recognized from their childhoods’ (many toys in particular, like slot cars).

By the time we finished going through the museum, it was past lunch time and I was quite hungry. We had dinner reservations that evening but definitely needed a light bite. I pulled up Google Maps and discovered that Yum Cha, a dim sum place famous for their cute buns, was quite close. Though not big dim sum fans, my parents indulged me and we set off.

The walk was relatively short, but we had some difficulty finding the place. The map told us we were right on top of it, but it was nowhere in sight. Eventually, we deduced it was on the third floor and found an elevator.

Despite not having a reservation, they sat us right away and gave us the dim sum menu (which works very much like ordering sushi in the states). My major criteria was that it had to be cute. We succeeded admirably.

Spicy minced pork & shrimp with assorted vegetables buns in sichuan style

Doggy Sausage Rolls

BBQ Piggy Buns

So cute!

I liked everything.

Dad did not.

After our mid-afternoon snack, we took the train across the harbor, but couldn’t quite figure out how to walk to our hotel through all the various levels and construction sites, so we cheated and got a taxi.

We relaxed in the room for a few hours and then headed to Joël Robuchon’s Hong Kong outpost of L’Atelier.

As always, the meal was phenomenal, each dish a delightful combination of flavors and textures. Dad also ordered excellent wines!

I particularly liked the potato puree in the amuse-bouche, the scallop, and the tilefish (complete with scales).

Hong Kong 2017 – Day 2

Early morning thunderstorm

A rather impressive thunderstorm woke me up early. The rain drops clattered against the window and there were several long rumbles of thunder. I’ve always thought thunder sounded different in Orlando and Chicago. In Orlando, it’s deep and rumbles and rolls for a long time. In Chicago, it’s more of a crack and it dies down quicker. I’ve always thought it had to do with the tall buildings and large body of water reflecting the sound in Chicago. But here, thunder sounds more like it does in Orlando. So perhaps it’s the air temperature that has more of an effect. It was a muggy 85 already at 6:30am.

Fortunately, the forecast predicted the weather would clear up by 9ish, which is when our walking tour with Little Adventures in Hong Kong started. This company offers small private tours (capped at 3 adults) that can be tailored to your interests.

We asked for a mashup of their “Essential Hong Kong” history tour and the street food frenzy, “Won-ton-a-thon.” In my initial communications with them, I tried to emphasize a focus on food over history. The end result turned out to be reversed, but that was just as well (which I’ll explain in a bit).

We took a cab from our hotel to the lobby of The Pottinger hotel where we met our lovely guide, Yvonne. Her life story is incredible. I’m not sure where she was born, but she went to boarding school in London, college in the US, lived in Wisconsin and Philadelphia, lived in East Africa working at a museum, traveled extensively, and settled in Hong Kong about 10 years ago. She studied anthropology, worked at several museums, but also worked as a film editor and a journalist. It was hard to keep track!

She was incredibly knowledgeable about the history and layout of the city. We explored a few areas of the Central district, including Soho (South of Hollywood Street) and the Mid-levels.

Since we hadn’t had anything to eat yet we headed off for food. Along the way, we stopped to admire the menu of a Cantonese restaurant, that wasn’t open yet. We stopped for a couple of reasons. First, history. The sign said they had been proudly serving since 1860. However, Yvonne explained they hadn’t been serving that long in Hong Kong. They were refugees from China.

The history of Hong Kong is punctuated with waves of refugees from China, fleeing from communism in the 50s, and then from Mao and the Cultural Revolution in the late 60s and early 70s.

Cartoon of how Swiss sauce got its name

The second reason we stopped was to hear a funny story about how this restaurant’s signature sauce became known as “Swiss sauce.” An Englishman came into the restaurant and ordered chicken wings in sauce, which he really loved. He asked the waiter what the sauce was called. In an east meets west misunderstanding, he heard “Swiss” though the waiter was trying to communicate that it was a “sweet sauce.” It would have ended there, except the Englishman settled nearby and continued to return to the restaurant ordering the chicken wings in “Swiss sauce.” Eventually, it stuck.

 

 

Our first bite on the tour turned out to be more of a gulp. We went to Tsim Chai Kee, a noodle shop. The owner insisted we take a nice booth in the back of the restaurant because it was cooler. She was very friendly and chatted away with Yvonne in rapid-fire Cantonese.

Noodle shop

Yvonne ordered us three types: beef brisket, fish balls, and shrimp (or prawn in this part of the world) wontons. The bowls were enormous!

The large portions were the result of a rivalry. This restaurant opened its doors across the street from a famous noodle shop, Mak Noodles (which only opens later in the day). Mak serves traditionally sized (i.e. snack sized) wontons. Tsim Chai Kee attracted customers by serving very large portions.

The bowls were packed with noodles and protein. Each broth was different and incredibly flavorful. The noodles were perfectly al dente.

The wontons were the most familiar. The mark of a good wonton is the thinness of the wrapper. A delicate wrapper is more difficult to cook, so it means you really know what you’re doing. Thick wrappers and the mark of an amateur. That bowl had the lightest broth.

The beef brisket’s broth was more savory and had a bit more umami flavor from the beef fat. The way the meat was cut is a bit different than what you get in the states if you order brisket. This was thinly shaved pieces of beef that didn’t fall apart.

The fish balls were the most foreign to us. The best way to describe the balls themselves is like a cross between a fish sausage and a fish meatball. Dace is ground up and mixed with herbs. They’re shaped into amorphous blobs and cooked (I presume in the broth), which was salty and herbaceous.

Yvonne also ordered us a side of steamed bok choi with oyster sauce. It was very delicately cooked and quite refreshing.

I enjoyed sampling each dish. In the US, we would have tried a few bites of each but left most behind to save room for other food down the road. But it turns out, the downfall of a food tour in China or Hong Kong is that it would be very rude to leave food uneaten. It would be an insult to the chef’s cooking.

So I ate the fish balls, Dad ate the brisket and half of Mom’s noodles, and Mom ate the wontons. And we were stuffed. So it’s a good thing the tour was mostly about culture and history!

There’s no tipping in Hong Kong, so we simply told the owner how delicious the meal was (but since she didn’t speak much English, that mostly meant smiling and nodding a lot).

Dolling out personalized medicinal tea blends

We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and ambled uphill. We passed a Chinese herb shop and saw someone wrapping custom blends of medicinal brews in brown paper packaging.

We turned off the main drag and passed a couple of dai pai dong (street food stalls). These used to be incredibly common in Hong Kong but are now endangered. The government didn’t think they looked modern enough and it was difficult to enforce health codes, so they passed a law that said you could only transfer the license to a blood relative. That meant if your son or daughter didn’t want to continue the family tradition, the stall died out. There are fewer than 20 food stalls left in Hong Kong. They used to be exclusively patronized by old people, but now that they’re in danger of disappearing completely, there’s renewed interest from the younger generation.

One stall we passed serves breakfast sandwiches made of shredded cabbage, peanut butter, and condensed milk. Dad and I would totally have tried it if we weren’t so stuffed and there were any tables available.

Yvonne had some interesting insights about the health and safety of the street food stalls. She said if you see locals eating at them you know they’re safe (and probably delicious) because these people are feeding their friends and neighbors. If they poisoned anybody they’d be out of business! Also, everything is bought fresh daily and cooked to order, so nothing sits around spoiling.

To emphasize her point, we turned the corner and were suddenly in the middle of Graham Street Market, one of the few remaining wet markets in Hong Kong (named that because their streets are often very wet). These markets are a mishmash of vendors selling fresh fruits, tofu, eggs, and other ingredients. Some things we recognized, others we didn’t at all.

Exploring Graham Street Wet Market

Shop cats in a dry goods store

The market was a colorful jumble or organized chaos. The patrons were mostly locals. Yvonne told us this market was more tourist/camera-friendly than some others because they’re currently fighting to remain open. That said, we were obviously tourists, and the atmosphere wasn’t exactly welcoming, more neutral. I suspect the locals felt about me the same way I feel about tourists when I’m trying to carry groceries on Michigan Avenue (“You may make the economy go round, but for the love of God don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to gawk!”).

Colorful wares

Mom had a brief run-in with a cantankerous old lady when she tried to tie her shoe on the edge of her stall. In fairness, it was pretty decrepit and didn’t look like it was occupied.

Bamboo-scaffolding sprouted around construction sights all along the street market. That’s one of the reasons they’re fighting to stay open. Much of that area is being torn down and replaced with high-rises, threatening to push them out. So far, they’ve dug in their heels and the local community seems to be supporting them.

The bamboo scaffolding is strong but bends in the wind (unlike steel) so it’s good for typhoon season

At the top of the market, we turned to the right and walked along the meat and fish stalls. Each stall specialized in butchering only one kind of meat. The fish was also incredibly fresh (still flopping around in one case!).

This is the pork butcher

After the markets, we passed a small Taoist shrine tucked in a steep alleyway amidst a jumble of residences and shops. The incense coils burn slowly with prayers attached. You can also light incense sticks and place them in bowls of sand. These should be done in groups of three, as prayers are sent up to heaven, earth, and humanity.

Yvonne explains how Taoists burn incense in groups of three

Incense should be burned in threes

Yvonne led us through many side streets we never would have found on our own. We passed the historic YMCA. It’s a western-style red brick building, but to make it more inviting to the Chinese the roof tiles were made of green ceramic shaped like bamboo.

You can make out the inscription above the door, “Young Men’s Christian Association”

We also passed run down or condemned tenement houses, another endangered Hong Kong sight. There’s a very large bias against old things in this city. The tenement style houses are very unpopular with the locals because of their age and lack of elevators. So many have been torn down and replaced with high-rises that there is only one row of livable houses left in all of Hong Kong! A small indie film made a few years ago (actually set in 1940s Kowloon) had to film on this particular street.

Row of abandoned tenements

Looking at abandoned tenements

One reason these tenements still survive is that until fairly recently this district was a very undesirable location. Hong Kongers are a superstitious lot, and this sector was associated with death because of the plague outbreaks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Locals feared ghosts and bad luck permeated the region. As a result, only things associated with death ( like coffin shops and antique shops – because antiques are dead people’s former possessions) populated the area. And the only people who lived there were poor. That history is slowly being forgotten and the neighborhood is in the process of being gentrified (hence all the construction). It will be interesting to see what the city is like in 5 or 10 years.

Along the way, we did sample some more food (in smaller sizes). We had chilled sugar cane juice (refreshing but very sweet) and chilled five flowers tea (incredibly delicious and very floral).

We visited a British Candy Shop and then TAI Cheong Bakery, which is famous for their egg tarts. Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong before it was turned over to China in 1997, loved these tarts so much he acquired the rather unflattering nickname of “Fatty Patten.”

The British candy shop and a line down the block for egg tarts at TAI Cheong Bakery

The tart was delicious, served warm in a buttery flaky crust with smooth eggy/lemony custard in the center. Ten out of ten would eat again.

Lunch hour is officially 1-2pm in Hong Kong, but restaurant lines become ridiculously long starting about 12:40pm. Since we still hadn’t quite digested all the noodles, we opted to finish out our tour in an air-conditioned English pub (which is actually very Hong Kong, given the colonial influence).

I had a Hong Kong summer beer, Yvonne had a traditional British witbier, Dad had alcoholic ginger beer, and Mom had a virgin Bloody Mary (most importantly, with ice).

Yvonne gave us some recommendations for the rest of our stay. I decided to stick around and explore the area a bit more while Mom and Dad headed back to the hotel via tram.

Yvonne left me with directions to the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science and deposited me onto the outdoor escalators that carry you up from Central to The Mid-levels. The escalators are about one story up, so you have an interesting perspective on the shops and restaurants you’re passing.

I was able to follow her directions right to the museum. The building was very similar to the YMCA in layout and design. Originally it was the Bacteriological Institute, Hong Kong’s first public health laboratory, founded in 1906 because of the plague outbreaks. The governor of Hong Kong pleaded with Britain to send an infectious disease specialist. Eventually they did, and the Institute was founded in 1906.

Main entrance

It was well done and didn’t suffer from Too Many Words (a problem many exhibits have). Possibly this is because every sign had to be in Cantonese and English.

The ground floor had exhibits on the human body, reproduction, and an interesting oral history of the SARS outbreak in 2003. Upstairs had historical displays and a well done video presentation about the plague outbreaks, which lasted almost 30 years (1894-1923). Senior medical students were tasked with dissecting rats to monitor the spread.

After the plague crisis, the Institute continued to test water, dairy products, and other sources to help prevent food poisoning. After the discovery of vaccines, they produced vaccines for several diseases (including smallpox).

Making smallpox vaccines was not very glamorous work. It involved strapping down a calf, shaving its belly, infecting it with cowpox, and then taking samples.

After the museum, I went to Man Mo Temple, dedicated to literature and war. The temple is famous (basically, if you see a movie and there’s a Taoist temple, it’s probably this one). It’s being heavily renovated right now, which made for an interesting experience. The outside is completely covered in bamboo scaffolding but it’s still open to the public. The inside is also being renovated (though not quite as heavily). This means construction workers, tourists, and people praying are all jostling elbows.

Incense coils against a backdrop of bamboo scaffolding and tarps inside Man Mo Temple

After the temple, I headed back to a street we had walked along with Yvonne. I stopped at a local Hong Kong Chain, G.O.D (Gods of Desire), that sells locally made products: clothing, kitchen goods, and souvenirs. Then I started wandering back towards the hotel.

Google maps told me it was only about 1 mile, but I sorely missed Yvonne’s guidance about which streets slope up versus down, where pedestrian over- or under-passes are located, and how to navigate crazy intersections. This city was definitely not designed with pedestrians in mind and it would be a terrible place to be in a wheelchair.

It was a fascinating walk, though. The transition from old Hong Kong, with shabby local establishments, street stalls, and crumbling architecture, is replaced suddenly and sharply with gleaming towers of shiny glass and steel. You’d never guess the other part of the city existed in one place or the other.

An interesting juxtaposition of old and new architecture

Wall trees grow in the most unlikely places here

There are also lush parks that mask the city. I wandered through one past the Former French Mission Building and St. John’s Cathedral. At the edge of that park, a right turn would have taken me towards Hong Kong Park and the Peak Tram, but a left turn took me towards the hotel (sort of).

It took about an hour, but eventually I wound my way through a maze of streets, overhead walkways, and buildings (blessedly air-conditioned) and found the hotel.

I found both my parents conked out napping.

For dinner, we stayed in the hotel, but sampled the Cantonese restaurant. It’s beautifully decorated and had mirrors everywhere (including the ceiling).

Self portrait

We didn’t have a reservation, so we ended up at a giant table with a large Lazy Susan. That actually made it very easy to share dishes.

It was a VERY large table

The menu offered half portions, which were perfectly sized for us to sample several dishes. I don’t think I’ve ever been someplace where the portions were larger than America before!

We had a bbq meat sampler (with honey bbq pork and crispy chicken skin), prawns with chili roe sauce, tilefish and pea sprouts, crispy chicken, asparagus, and wagyu foie gras fried rice. Everything was very tasty (even Dad liked most things). We also had a fantastic bottle of wine, a 2010 Clos de Vougeot de la Vougeraie that Dad was extremely pleased with.

After such a full (and hot) day, I crashed as soon as we got back to the room.

Check out the day’s snap story here: https://youtu.be/05oBiEF-g18

And here are some more miscellaneous pictures:

So fluffy, so sleepy

Brief rain shower

A leprechaun door (a twist on the local Door Guardian shrines)

The tiny door at the bottom left is a Door Guardian shrine.

Hong Kong 2017 – Day 1

Our first morning in Hong Kong dawned sunnily but with some ominous dark clouds on the horizon. After a fairly restful night’s sleep I felt pretty much on schedule. I decided to shake off the lethargy of sitting in one place for 16 hours and went to the fitness center to run on an elliptical. It felt good to move all those muscles! I also discovered the wi-fi was good enough to stream DS9 on Netflix while I sweated.

I had the best shower of my life (OK, only shower in two days) and still had time to grab some delicious wok-fried turnip cakes from the complimentary breakfast upstairs.

Wok-fried Turnip Cakes

Our first stop in Hong Kong was (drumroll please): Disney.

Our taxi ride out to Hong Kong Disney essentially reversed our ride from the airport the night before. In daylight, it was much easier to appreciate how the islands connect to one another. There are some pretty spectacular city views along the way.

The ominous clouds from the morning did let loose a short deluge, though it was still sunny. That, combined with the heat and humidity, made it feel just like Florida. We weren’t sure how long it would take to find a taxi, so we played it safe and arrived very early for the backstage tour Dad arranged through some unique attractions.

Backstage at Hong Kong Disney

Our guide Todd, was a connection made via the former head of the French AMI outpost, Henry. Even better, we were able to add Glenn Birket to the tour (he arrived on time, being very familiar with the local transit options). Glenn is an old friend of Mom and Dad’s from Epcot days. He’s also my Godfather, though this was really the first time we’ve ever had a chance to get to know one another.

The park seems a bit small compared to other locations, but it is incredibly lush and tropical. Todd was a gracious host and spent several hours with us, walking us through the park and sharing some insider trivia.

Fun fact #1: The park was vastly over-planted, so every time a typhoon comes through and knocks down some trees, they just drag them out and turn them into firewood. They haven’t replanted a single tree since the park opened (and it’s still densely forested).

The park wasn’t crowded, in fact, it seemed rather empty. We thought perhaps it had to do with the threatening clouds and brief downpour, but it turns out…

Fun fact #2: Hellaciously hot September and October are slow months for HK Disney. But although Halloween is not a particularly big event in Hong Kong, it is a huge attendance draw (especially in the evenings and on weekends).

We saw that the park was already decked out with pumpkins, fall leaves, and trick-or-treat stations for the kids. It was also hot. Really, really hot.

Good sun shade

Todd kindly lent us umbrellas since it was still drizzling when we arrived. However, by the time we entered the park the sun was out and steaming things up. I finally understand why people use umbrellas for portable shade. They help a surprising amount.

Our first stop was Mystic Manor (an attraction with some similarities to Haunted Mansion). The story follows Lord Henry Mystic and his pet monkey, Albert. Their story ties into the Society of Explorers and Adventurers from Tokyo DisneySea. Todd pointed out the real life designers, engineers, and composer who were featured in the pre-show “sketches” chronicling Lord Mystic and Albert’s adventures.

The ride starts when Albert opens their latest treasure: a music box. Legend says the box can bring inanimate objects to life, which of course it does, to disastrous results.

The ride vehicles are trackless, meaning they can go all over a room, including in circles, over and over again. This leads to a very interesting ride experience where your attention is sharply focused on particular elements at particular times. The show was cute and made excellent use of the ride vehicle’s capabilities.

We ate lunch at the attached restaurant, which served Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, and Cantonese dishes. Dad and I opted for the Indonesian vegetable curry. It was decent (by theme park food standards), but the roti were a bit indestructible. I did enjoy my watermelon juice (which would be called a watermelon fresca in the states).

After lunch, we continued our tour of the park, including a brief stop at an optical illusion that managed to make Mom look taller than me. That’s quite a feat of forced perspective!

This isn’t something you see every day!

Next, we strolled through the Toy Story. My favorite part was the cleverly understated Tower of Terror pun.

It’s a pun!

Our final stop was the Iron Man simulator ride. The pre-show would be good for hard core Marvel fans because there are some cool movie props on display. Stan Lee also makes a cameo appearance in the safety video (which ran twice, once in Cantonese, once in English). Unfortunately, Stan Lee’s cameo distracted from important information both times!

The story is a bit thin for the 3D simulator. Like with all simulators, you’re there to watch a demonstration, something goes wrong (bad guys want to steal Tony Stark’s new arc reactor) and you have to help stop them and save the world (Hong Kong at least).

Mom and Dad got more of a kick out of the equipment room we visited after riding.

We elected not to stay in the park. Instead, we headed out with Glenn, who is very familiar with Hong Kong, so he could show us the ropes.

He showed us how to take the MTR, a train system that feels like a CTA-tube hybrid. It’s very convenient and reasonably easy to navigate (once you know the ropes).

Route map

The train just a little before rush hour

We stopped briefly at Glenn’s office so he could introduce Dad to a few folks.

Kowloon Business District

Then, we went on a mission to obtain a specific selfie-stick and micro-SD card for Dad. This involved a visit to Sham Shui Po, a district with a vast collection of merchants selling any electronic gadget, piece, or gizmo you could ever want. There’s an outdoor market, but we opted for the four story indoor (and more importantly air-conditioned) option.

I hope there’s never a fire in this building…

Dad found both items fairly quickly though the sheer amount of stuff (and people) packed into the teeny tiny hallways was incredible. The experience reminded us a bit of Akihabara, the electronics district in Tokyo.

Mission completed, we hopped back on the train and headed to Kowloon (the island to the north of Hong Kong island). We walked down Nathan Ave (a shopping street) and past the famous Peninsula Hotel (sadly, we did not stop for tea).

As we went, Glenn shared some very interesting Hong Kong history and facts. A few memorable items included:

  • All toilets in Hong Kong are flushed with salt water – though it requires separate plumbing, this drastically reduced their water shortage problem, even as the city continues to grow
  • The construction scaffolding is often made of bamboo. There are special classes and certifications to make sure people know exactly how to use it, but when done properly, it can rise many stories and is very strong.
  • The district Glenn’s office is in used to be factories (from a time when everything was made in Hong Kong). After everything switched to being made in China, the buildings were repurposed into office buildings. Now, a global toy distribution company occupies many of the buildings where the toys used to be made.

We made it all the way to the tip of Kowloon and walked along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, which is directly across the water from our hotel. The view of Hong Kong island was stunning.

Panorama from the promenade

Just chillin’

At Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade

Sun hiding behind the International Finance Center

We took the famous Star Ferry across the water to the convention center attached to our hotel. The sun was setting as we sailed across, and it made a striking back drop for the skyline.

Hong Kong Convention Center and Grand Hyatt

We relaxed at the hotel for a bit before going to the Japanese restaurant in the hotel for dinner. We had a nice dinner, which included a delicious lotus root and sesame oil amuse bouche, crab and seaweed salad, some kind of broth with a dumpling, 5 pieces of sashimi, wagyu, tempura, and a mini matcha bunt cake for dessert.

Morning view

Sunset view

Night view

Check out my snap story for the day: https://youtu.be/EE9xv3_Ea4A

 

Hong Kong 2017 – Day 0

Mom and Dad had access to a deluxe lounge in the airport before our flight to Hong Kong because of their business class tickets. They indulged in such wonders as buffet snacks, a full service kitchen, and free flowing champagne.

She looks like she’s ready for vacation.

Flying coach, I ate a salad out of a plastic container at the gate.

Slightly less fancy

Once aboard, though my accommodations for the next 16 hours were not as swanky, I was pleased to discover the middle seat next to me was unoccupied. This meant extra leg room (albeit on a diagonal) and a place to put stuff other than my lap.

Business class versus steerage

 

Though it looked a bit like a prison tray, the lunch of teriyaki noodles with vegetables and a side of couscous was actually pretty palatable. I stockpiled the bread and butter for a mid-flight snack.

Looks like a prison tray, tastes like a frozen dinner.

I took an afternoon (Chicago time) nap for a couple of hours. After I woke up, I finished going through the Lonely Planet Guide Book for Hong Kong and watched a movie. At this point it was time for another afternoon nap (this time on Hong Kong time). Mom offered to lend me a nifty contraption that converts between a square pillow and a neck pillow. It was actually pretty comfy and I managed to get a few hours of sleep.

Slightly grim mid-flight snack: turkey and cheese sandwich with M&Ms

When I awoke the second time, I was pretty able to convince myself it was late afternoon… until they served breakfast. Oh well.

I had a window seat so I got to observe the mountainous islands that dotted our approach. One bridge was so long I couldn’t see the end!

If you look to the right hand side, there’s a REALLY long bridge that disappears into the distance

Approach into Hong Kong at sunset

Very dense!

After landing, our trip through immigration and customs was painless. Plus, the “priority” stickers a nice young man put on our checked bags in Chicago (thanks first class!) did their job and our bags were the first off the plane.

A limo driver from the hotel met us and stowed our bags away. In all that guidebook reading it never occurred to me they would drive on the left side of the road here! But it makes sense, given the British colonization.

The drive from the airport (at the end of Lantau) to The Grand Hyatt in Central (on Hong Kong Island) was a bit mysterious due to the gathering darkness. By the time we approached Kowloon and Hong Kong we could see the elaborate lights on many of the high rises.

The lobby of the hotel was palatial, which is particularly impressive given that real-estate is so scarce in Hong Kong. Dad booked a beautiful suite with a killer view of Kowloon’s skyline. There was an entryway, sitting area, dining table, bedroom, and large bathroom (with an opening into the bedroom… I guess so you can admire the view while you shower?!?). Mom also discovered a small bathroom and closet off the entry way that just looked like part of the wall at first. There were an incredible number of doors in the room (six, not including the shower door).

The package also included free minibar snacks, drinks, some extra goodies delivered in very nice cookie jars, and a bottle of 2015 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone (too bad it wasn’t the 1982 Petrus Mom and I saw displayed downstairs).

We ate dinner (or possibly second dinner) in the hotel’s cafe and then crashed.

Tasty tile fish, and fantastic chicken chili fries

When the Cubs Won the World Series

Intellectually, I wanted the Cubs to win the World Series.

Though it would have been better in 2015 as predicted by Back to the Future, I figured better late than never. But over the past seven days I saw an entire city come together to witness a piece of history. And I was there for it. The way I felt at 11:47pm on Wednesday November 2nd was so much more than intellectual.

Prior to Saturday October 29th 2016, the sum total of my knowledge about baseball amounted to three strikes and you’re out, remembering about 80% of the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and whatever I gleaned from a tour of the Louisville Slugger factory last summer.

My girlfriend and I tuned into the Saturday night game somewhere around the fourth inning and proceeded to watch us get slaughtered by the Indians’ superior pitching. Even I could tell we were falling apart at the seams. But I paid attention, started figuring out the rules, and listened to my girlfriend’s commentary about the players (which was so much more informative that Joe Buck’s).

The next day, an article was published that said, “Good news Indians fans, your team is probably going to win the World Series. Bad news Cubs fans, your team is probably not going to win the World Series.” The Cubs were losing 3-1 and would need to win the next three games in a row to win the series. Statistically, if the teams were evenly matched, they had a 12.5% chance. Not great odds.

I figured we were doomed.

That night, I had a couple friends over to carve pumpkins and watch the game. I was shocked to realize I actually cared if we won. And it was an exciting game. The Cubs upped their game significantly and played as a team. But the Indians were at the top of their form too. It was a nail biter.

Carving pumpkins during the Cubs game

Carving pumpkins during the Cubs game

When the game ended with the Cubs victorious and headed back to Cleveland, still in the running, we cheered.

Monday and Tuesday I saw people wearing Cubs gear all over the city. There was a real feeling of collective excitement. There was this thing, this potential piece of history, binding Chicagoans together.

I agreed to meet my girlfriend at Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch, a Cubs themed restaurant in Water Tower Place, to watch the sixth game of the World Series. In my Uber there, the driver asked in a thick Russian accent if we could listen to the first inning on the radio. I said of course. I realized that over the last two games I’d learned enough baseball terminology that I was actually following the game. As we cruised down Lakeshore Drive we listened to Kris Bryant hit a home run in the top of the first and we cheered together.

At the restaurant, we scored a table nestled in amongst other Cubs fans, young and old. We cheered and groaned together, heckled the Indians players, and high fived after Addison Russell’s grand slam.

The game was magic. The Cubs were on fire, and though we all knew they couldn’t hear us cheering states away, we did it anyway. At the end of the night, screw the odds, we’d made it to game seven of the World Series.

The next night, it felt like the entire city was out to watch the game. My girlfriend and I tried to return to Harry Caray’s but it was booked up, and the next three places we tried couldn’t seat us either. But the magic continued, because we saw Fowler’s home run through the window of a restaurant we considered.

Finally, we spotted an Italian joint that didn’t seem completely packed. We ended up with a table right away and watched the game unfold, surrounded mostly by large, multi-generational families, all rooting for the Cubs.

Watching game seven

Watching game seven

Game seven was an emotional roller coaster. I was on the edge of my seat when we goofed in the seventh inning and let them tie the score. That was the moment I realized how invested I was in this, not exactly as a Cubs fan (having only seen two and a half games so far), but as a Chicagoan, surrounded by other Chicagoans who had all literally been waiting their whole lives for this moment.

The rain delay before the tenth inning was a blessing and a curse. My girlfriend and I moved into the bar where the sound was up on the TVs to watch the final inning. The sound the bar made when Rizzo caught the ball that ended the game was incredible: one part elation, one part celebration, and one part surprise that we’d really done it. We’d won the World Series.

They poured prosecco and we toasted and cheered and hugged and kissed. Outside, everyone honked their horns, yelled, and sang “Go Cubs, go! Hey Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today!”

For a moment, the whole city was united and celebrating an achievement 108 years in the making.

I will probably never care that much about the outcome of a sporting event again, but I am so glad I was there and fully present when the curse was broken.

Go Cubs!

Celebrating the end of the curse

Celebrating the end of the curse

Millions gathered for the Cubs parade

Millions gathered for the Cubs parade

Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch: A True Midwestern Experience

This weekend was Homecoming at Northwestern (a fact I would normally find completely irrelevant). The only reason it registered at all this year is that  Tori helped organize a CA reunion on campus so she came down to spend Friday and Saturday nights at 802.

After her festivities ended she, Zoe, and I planned to head out for a fall-themed midwestern adventure.

The original plan was actually to go apple picking. However, a little internet researching lead us to discover that apple season is actually almost over and most of the pick-your-own orchards are actually just charging an exorbitant amount of money for a ride out to the orchard and the privilege of putting 5 or 6 apples selected out of a giant tub into a flimsy plastic bag. The orchards were all at least an hour and a half away to boot.

All was not lost however! We wracked our brains for other fun, fall-themed, adventures we could go on and we came up with something amazing: Corn mazes.

Midwestern transplants that we are, Zoe and I had never been to a corn maze before and Tori could not let this stand. A quick Yelp search turned up a promising farm in Waukegan called Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm.

Our course decided we headed out. It was a pretty easy drive (about 45 minutes north) and the scenery was beautiful. It was pretty overcast but not raining and all the leaves have started to turn brilliant shades of canary yellow and fire engine red. Once we started to see corn we knew we were getting close!

I was a little afraid the place might be swamped but there were only a handful of other families around. We could see the pumpkin patch ahead and some sort of farm area off in the back corner. We made a bee line for the corn maze and bought our tickets. We were shown a quick (and probably not highly accurate) map of the maze. This wasn’t just a maze, it was an educational scavenger hunt!

We would be learning about soybeans (about halfway through the maze we stopped to wonder why we weren’t learning about corn, but whatever). The first section of the maze wasn’t really a maze, it was an easy path in the shape of the slogan “We Are Family.” Throughout that first section there were 6 educational signs about soybeans for us to study.

Soybean facts

Soybean facts

When we got to the end of the “Y” we would enter the real maze, which was divided into 3 sections: 1-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

End of the first section

End of the first section

End of the second section

End of the second section

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden in each section of the maze were signs with questions on them about soybeans. The signs all had hole punches for our score card. Zoe was kind enough to repair one who’s hole punch had come unmoored.

Question 2: Soybeans were first grown in Africa or China?  Answer: China

Question 2: Soybeans were first grown in Africa or China?
Answer: China

There were also people scattered throughout who would be as helpful (or unhelpful) as we wanted with hints. We made a pact to tough it out. No hints for us.

Starting the maze

Starting the maze

We had a great time exploring the maze, taking turns choosing our path. It was a lot of fun to wander, trying to deduce the logic behind the sign placement (theoretically they were easiest to find in order – though that was not how our search algorithm seemed to work!). Though we repeatedly turned down offers of navigational assistance, we did ask someone to take our picture.

This is the quintessential midwestern fall experience

This is the quintessential midwestern fall experience

We kept trying to establish landmarks (“No, no, I’m sure I saw this strangely curled corn husk before!”) but discovered we all have decent senses of direction. Sign number 7 almost eluded us, but Tori spotted a flash of orange down a dead end branch and we prevailed.

Surprisingly we never ran into another guest, though we could occasionally hear other people through the corn stalks. The maze is actually open until 10pm most nights. Navigating it with a flashlight would be an interesting (and perhaps creepy) experience.

It took us about an hour to completely explore the maze (some sections more than once… or twice…). We had a blast!

Once we emerged victorious we went to get hot apple cider to warm our hands around. It was exactly what we needed. Contextually, that was the tastiest cider I’ve ever had. Cider obtained, we wandered over to the back corner and discovered a corral full of goats, sheep, an alpaca (named Lola), a donkey, and a donkey foal. There was also an impressively fluffed up Turkey who did not like us getting too close to his mate.

It's. So. Fluffy.

It’s. So. Fluffy.

The best part was the goat kids. A very nice young man picked one up so we could pet her (all the kids had princess names!). She was very fuzzy and made the most adorable bleating sounds.

We forked over several dollars in quarters to feed them cheerios.

"Her name was Lola. She was a show girl."

“Her name was Lola. She was a show girl.”

Tori made friends with the owner of the farm (Kroll himself!), who knew all the animals’ names (Oreo and Socks were adorable little goats) and seemed like a very nice gentleman.

Just as the sun was about to set the clouds cleared off, yielding a beautiful sunset that laced all the trees with gold.

Sunset

Sunset

We ended our visit with a trip to the pumpkin patch. Zoe and I picked out beautiful $10 pumpkins for carving next weekend. It was a tough decision because ALL the pumpkins were beautiful. I’ve never seen such attractive gourds all in one place!

We hauled our pumpkins out to the car in a little red wagon and loaded them up. We took the scenic route back and wiggled along Sheridan and Green Bay. We ended our evening at home with hot chocolate and Bailey’s.

All in all, a truly wonderful day!

 

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Chip Cooffins

The scuffins last night were such a success I started to wonder what other kinds of scuffins I could dream up… chocolate obviously came to mind.

Ultimately, the experiment was quite successful. I realized after I took them out of the oven that I forgot to add the vanilla, and I think that would be a great addition, but they are still pretty fantastic, even without.

The outsides of these are a little crispier than the pumpkin scuffins turned out, but the inside is still soft, although not quite as moist. The consistency of these is more like a cross between a muffin and cookie, hence “cooffins.”

Delicious!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cooffins

Prep: 15 min
Bake: 22 min
Yield: 15 cooffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance
  • 1/4 agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 1 egg substitute (3 tbsp water, boiled, with 1 tbsp flax meal)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cocoa powder) together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Bring 3 tbsp of water to a boil in a very tiny pot or pan. Add flax meal and stir. Boil for about 2-3 minutes or until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In another mixing bowl cream slightly softened earth balance, sugar, and agave together, until creamy.
  5. Add egg substitute,  vanilla, and almond milk to the wet ingredients and stir until smooth.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir. I ended up using my hands to combine at the end. Dough should be slightly sticky.
  7. Add chocolate chips and work into dough.
  8. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray (grapeseed oil).
  9. Form approximately 3-inch patties out of dough and place on baking sheet 1.5 inches apart. Just shape the patties gently, don’t compress them too much.
  10. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  11. Enjoy!

Recipe: Pumpkin Scuffins

What is a scuffin, you ask? A scuffin is the offspring of a muffin and a scone. They turn out roughly scone shaped but have a consistency closer to that of a muffin. And they are delicious.

I found this recipe at ohsheglows.com when looking for vegan dessert ideas. Oh She Glows is a great resource for vegans because the author posts tons of recipes.

These pumpkin scuffins were a huge hit. They came out moist and delicious. I will definitely be making these again!

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20-25 minutes
Yield: 12 scuffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • dash allspice
  • 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance
  • 1/4 agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup canned pureed pumpkin
  • 1 egg substitute (try 3tbs of water with 1 tbs flax meal)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt) together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Bring 3 tbsp of water to a boil in a very tiny pot or pan. Add flax meal and stir. Boil for about 2-3 minutes or until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In another mixing bowl cream slightly softened earth balance, sugar, and agave together, until creamy.
  5. Add pumpkin puree, egg substitute, and vanilla to the wet ingredients and stir until smooth.
  6. Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir. I ended up using my hands to combine at the end. Dough should be slightly sticky.
  7. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray (grapeseed oil).
  8. Form approximately 3-inch patties out of dough and place on baking sheet 1.5 inches apart. Just shape the patties gently, don’t compress them too much.
  9. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  10. Enjoy!

Day 32

Months ago I saw Pearl and the Beard, a band Tori introduced me to, was playing at SPACE. I immediately bought tickets and secured the front and center table. Life is good.

The show was tonight. Sadly, Tori ended up having CA commitments and couldn’t make it to the show, but Rachel, Charlotte, Zoe and I went. Rachel was intrigued by the warm-up band, Midnight Moxie, but actually the warm-up to the warm-up was better.

The first warm-up was Abigail Stauffer, a singer-songwriter from Michigan. Her voice is truly beautiful. It was basically just her and an acoustic guitar although she did bring one of her friends up on stage to play a washboard as percussion for a couple of songs.

The real standouts from her set were “Beloved,” “College, Love And Cheesecake,” as well as a gorgeous cover of “Hallelujah.”

Abigail Stauffer (and Vince)

Midnight Moxie, is an all girl Chicago-based doo-wop rock trio. Their songs have pretty clever lyrics and they have a fun stage presence, but the performance lacked a little polish. I also suspect they may have been having some monitor issues so they might not have been able to hear themselves, which might have messed with some of their harmonies. I bought their CD and will definitely give it a listen because I think the band has a a lot of potential in a controlled setting.

Midnight Moxie

The crowd was so pumped for Pearl and the Beard. The amount of noise made when they took the stage was incredible.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pearl and the Beard I highly recommend you check them out. They have a unique and varied sound, from the upbeat “Voice in My Throat,” to the somewhat rockous “Oh Death,” to the slower more plaintive “Mistakes.” Pearl and the Beard is Jocelyn Mackenzie, Emily Hope Price, and Jeremy Styles. All three musicians sing, and many of their songs are built around complex harmonies. Jeremy plays guitar, Jocelyn plays the drums, and Emily makes her cello laugh, cry, and sing. Until I saw the band live I had no idea how integral the cello was to their sound.

These performers have great chemistry on stage

This is a great band to see in concert because they talk. A lot. They talk to each other on stage, and have a great rapport. The girls occasionally gang up on Jeremy, but he takes it in stride and his humor is self-deprecating. They also talk to the audience, telling anecdotes, and responding to the occasional comment. When they first came on stage the audience roared and Jocelyn, who was still setting things up, turned and looked out at the crowd and said, “Wait for it. We haven’t even done anything yet!”

Near the end of the show, a joke got started where someone from the audience called out that they could basically play anything, including the phone book, and everyone would love it. A while later, Emily said they only had time for two more songs, and someone in the back yelled, “Phone book!” Without missing a beat, Emily started singing a very dramatic version of the ABCs accompanied by her cello, while Jeremy pretended to chug his gin and tonic.

Emily just makes that cello emote

The band played a lot of louder upbeat numbers, but wasn’t afraid to pull it back and do some of their quieter stuff. Jeremy stepped forward, away from his mike, and played a song essentially unplugged. The audience hushed to listen and the experience was very intimate.

Unplugged acoustic number

The fans were enthusiastic, and the request for an encore was loud and genuine. The response was so positive that Emily actually got a little choked up, confessing that even after all this time, every time they play she’s so nervous no one will come, and telling the fans how much the band loves them and appreciates their support.

All in all, a wonderful evening. Good company. Fantastic Band(s). SPACE was, as always, the perfect venue for this type of concert: small enough to be intimate, professional enough that the bands sound great. Two thumbs up, and definitely check out Pearl and the Beard if they come your way.

Day 31

This was a rather impressive cobweb we discovered in our living room. I suppose it was likely to catch bugs attracted to the light.

Conical Cobweb (wouldn't that be a good name for an alternative rock band?)