Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas with the Family

Ryan came to Hong Kong for Christmas. It was my turn to go see him, but we decided he should come here. Mainland China isn’t the best place for Christmas. It’s just not an important holiday there. Hong Kong isn’t anything like home either, but it’s better than China.

Lily & Kevin were also feeling a little homesick during the holiday, so we decided to all spend the day together. All of our families are in the United States and Canada and going home to see them wasn’t going to happen this year. We are all the closest thing to family we have in Hong Kong, so it makes sense that we spend holidays together.

Since a one bedroom apartment is a little too small for 4 people – and since it was Christmas – we decided to splurge and go to a nice hotel. I don’t know whose idea it was originally. I think it was Kevin’s. Lily & Kevin talked about it and then brought it up to me. I told Ryan.

We went to the Auberge Discovery Bay on Siena Ave. It’s nowhere close to any MTR stops, but the hotel has shuttles to the airport, Disneyland and area attractions. This was more like a resort than a hotel. It looks a lot nicer than most Hong Kong hotels and has a full service spa, it’s on the beach and has several dining options besides the usual restaurant.

Lily & I had to work a lot around Christmas, so I suggested we go to a hotel close to Disneyland. That way we could all spend time together at a nice hotel and Lily & I could easily go to work when we had to. This one was very close. I’ve never gotten to work so quickly. Since it was at Discovery Bay, there was plenty for Ryan & Kevin to do. Discovery Bay is full of expats and vacationing foreigners, so they could hang out with other foreigners and talk about football and hamburgers – or whatever they talk about in bars. They probably talk about girls and their balls, but I prefer to think about it my way.

The hotel had plenty to eat & drink, a nice pool and the rooms had new TVs with more than enough channels and free internet. I don’t know why all hotels don’t have free internet. This was a great place for Ryan & Kevin to be lazy for a couple of days.

The Auberge Discovery Bay is an expensive hotel, but we got a Disneyland discount. That made it a lot cheaper, but that also meant we couldn’t book the best rooms. The more expensive rooms face the ocean and have great views of the bay. The discount rooms are in the back and face the mountain. They were still very nice rooms and the view wasn’t bad at all. The mountains on Lantau Island are pretty green. Our rooms were very large by Hong Kong standards and looked a lot nicer than most hotels here. It didn’t look anything like discount rooms. That’s the way any good hotel should be.

Since we weren’t in the city, we tried the hotel breakfast. If we’re in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island there’s no way we’re going to eat a hotel breakfast. There’s just too much food that’s a lot better in every direction. Here, we were away from the city and going out to get food took longer than just walking outside. The hotel’s not in the middle of nowhere, but it’s in an overpriced neighborhood where people who don’t like living in Hong Kong live. The breakfast was pretty good. It was still a hotel breakfast, but it wasn’t all microwaved food sitting under a heat lamp. It actually looked appetizing and some of it was made by chefs rather than short order cooks.

I don’t know if we’ll ever go to this hotel again, but I’m up for it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cold Weather Warning

The Hong Kong Observatory issued a Cold Weather Warning. People are being told to take precautions and do what they can to keep warm. The daytime temperatures are around 15 degrees Celsius/59 Fahrenheit and just under 10C/50F degrees at night.

I’m from Minnesota. 50 degrees is autumn weather to me. It’s not winter – and it’s definitely no reason to be alarmed.

What I have to remember – and what other people who don’t understand why anyone would complain about such a warm winter have to remember – is that in this part of the world anything even close to freezing is considered very cold. In Minnesota we have heating systems in our homes, heavy coats, plenty of blankets and houses with lots of insulation to protect us from the cold. People don’t have heaters in Hong Kong. You can buy a little portable heater but it’s not the same. Hong Kong houses are designed to protect people from the humid summers. Everybody has air conditioning. I’ve never been to a house in Hong Kong with a heater. The insulation here is terrible. If I stand next to the living room window I can feel the wind from outside.

There’s also usually very little difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. In Minnesota it’s always colder at night. In Hong Kong it’s usually about the same, just not sunny. People from Hong Kong aren’t used to being warm in the day and getting chillier at night. Right now they’re just cold all the time – especially at night.

It’s easy for me to say this is a very mild winter, but that’s because I’m used to blizzards and plenty of snow every winter. For people who are used to 90% humidity 90% of the time, this is a very cold winter.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peter O’Toole

Peter O’Toole was one of my favorite actors when I was younger. I haven’t seen any of his latest movies.

His performances in “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Lion in Winter” still blow me away – as much as “Night of the Generals” still creeps me out. I remember how surprised I was when I first saw “The Ruling Class”. I was pretty young and didn’t realize that a serious dramatic actor could do comedy. He did both very well.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hong Kong Smog

Hong Kong changed a lot after the British handover. Since then, Beijing has been exerting more and more influence on Hong Kong. The laws and rules are more Chinese than British. Cheaper Chinese paint and poisoned milk are more available than before. Now Beijing has increased their export of smog into Hong Kong.

Smog has always been a problem in Hong Kong. A trip up the Peak could get you great views of the harbor and Kowloon or great views of a giant sheet of dirt. It’s always been best to go up just after a typhoon. The air is much cleaner and everybody’s out shopping.

But it’s getting worse. When the wind comes in from the ocean, we get good days. When the wind comes in from the north, you can’t see your spring rolls in front of your face.

A fine day in Hong Kong

Sunday, December 8, 2013

John Lennon


As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Til the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function, you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

“The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

“It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

“The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

“Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

“As commander in chief of the army and navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

“I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 12/8/1941

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela

I just heard about Nelson Mandela’s death. He was 95 years old, so I don’t think anyone was surprised that he died. He was in and out of hospitals for a long time and I’m sure his family is happy that his suffering is finally over. The rest of us can only look back at what he did in awe.

South Africa before Nelson Mandela was about as divided as you could get. When Americans talk about politics, we like to say we’re a deeply divided country these days, but it’s nothing compared to the way South Africa used to be. Even the American South during segregation was fairer to black people than South Africa during apartheid. Black Americans were seen as less than equals. Black South Africans were seen as less than human. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be told I’m not a citizen of the country I was born in just because of my race.

Now all of the world leaders are making speeches and putting out statements about how great Nelson Mandela was. None of these people are fit to change his socks. Why doesn’t anyone elect people like him anymore? Was he such a rare person that we can’t have people like him today? Or have we settled to the point where we’ll elect whoever our TVs tell us to elect?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Lily, Kevin and I went out to Thanksgiving dinner together. They’re Canadian, so their Thanksgiving is in October, but it’s not nearly as important in Canada as it is in the United States. It’s one of our major holidays. To them, it’s just a day off. So they celebrate mine with me when they can. We’ve never celebrated theirs. They don’t even notice theirs until it’s come and gone.

We went to Otto e Mezzo. This is currently one of the trendy places for the fancy people to eat in Hong Kong. It’s an Italian restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. There are lots of Italian restaurants in Hong Kong, but most of them don’t have any stars. I think the main difference is that this one is owned & operated by a famous Italian chef.

That’s really the main reason I wanted to go there. Non-Asian food in Asia is usually more Asian than anything else. Hong Kong has lots of Italian, French, American and Indian restaurants, but most of them are nothing like what you’d find in those countries. Everyone puts a little of their own style in whatever food they make. Chinese food in the United States is more American than Chinese and American food in Hong Kong is more Chinese than American. Otto e Mezzo is genuinely Italian. The Michelin people even said so.

It’s also very expensive. That’s what you get with a 3 star restaurant owned by a famous chef. Since this was a special occasion, we didn’t mind the price. I’m willing to pay extra for Italian food that actually reminds me of Italy. Paisano’s Pizza is pretty good, but it’s nothing like Italy.

What I really don’t understand is why these hip fancy restaurants serve tiny little portions on huge plates. I get that the portions are so small because you have so many courses, but what’s with the jumbo plates? It just makes the food look even smaller. It also must be murder on the waitresses to carry a single olive on a plate that weighs more than the entire tree.

I hate to say it, but the food wasn’t all that great. It wasn’t terrible, but you expect more from 3 Michelin stars. I had better food at restaurants in Italy that the Michelin people will never know exist – for a fraction of the price. The wine was good and the bread was excellent, but we definitely paid for the stars and famous chef more than for the food.