HK Travelogue - Day 5: Macau

On this Sunday, the second-to-last full day of our trip, we actually woke up rested. We'd gotten almost a full night of sleep and really felt the difference from the previous mornings. We returned to Canton Road for breakfast, where we found a Café de Coral in the enormous Pacific Place mall. Café de Coral is an inexpensive local chain that has outposts all over Hong Kong. Erik and I ordered similar breakfasts: two fried eggs, a piece of toast, milk tea, and more protein (fried hoki in his case, ham in mine). These were about $2 US per person. Erik also got a bowl of macaroni soup. This soup seems to be a big HK thing. We saw it at KFC as well as pretty much every cheap eatery serving Western-ish breakfasts like this one.

I think it's basically macaroni cooked in some kind of broth, with shredded lunchmeat ham and kernels of corn in it. It tastes better than it looks, and you can also get it with instant noodles instead of macaroni. I've heard it said that HK (and Asia in general) is experiencing an obesity problem for the first time in its history, but I doubt you could get very fat eating this kind of fast food, as opposed to all those giant value meals available in the States. (Is there any breakfast place in the whole US that would give you only one piece of toast?) But I don't know very much about it.

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Brief break from HK entries!

Well, I haven't stuck to my neat little plan of matching up HK travelogue entries with the appropriate days-of-week, since I neglected to do my Macau entry yesterday and I won't be getting to today's entry either. Our dear friend Tina is staying with us for a few days, so I'd rather spend my time with her, and these entries have been taking me about two hours each (including the flickr albums). But never fear, you'll hear about Macau eventually -- probably Thursday or Friday after Tina returns to Ann Arbor.

Each night I've had at least one dream in which I was back in Hong Kong again. :) Usually it's a completely fictional HK of my invention, but still... I miss the place! And Joanna!

HK Travelogue - Day 4: Hong Kong Park

This was the day when my feet started to really resent all the walking I was making them do. According to my pedometer, each day we were in HK, we walked about 5 miles, maybe more. I wore my all-weather/trail running shoes the whole time, but I think my poor soles just aren't used to hitting the pavement all day, every day. Every night when I got up in the wee hours to use the bathroom, I'd be limping because my feet were just so tender. On some level I liked it, though; I liked going out first thing in the morning and then coming home just before bed. I think it's probably closer to the way we were meant to live. Since we've come back, I've tried to adapt my lifestyle to involve more walking and more time spent outdoors in the morning and evening. It's a challenge, but it feels good to try for it.

Central district

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HK Travelogue - Day 3: The Peak, Stanley, and Repulse Bay

Our third morning in HK dawned bright and sunny. We thought we would have a fine day for our trip to the Peak, the territory's highest point, but before long the grey clouds were back. At any rate, it didn't rain. After our discovery of iSquare the night before, we headed over there in hopes that one of the eateries would be open for breakfast, but none were -- though someone was setting out trays of enticing treats at Panash. Instead we set out to meet Caroline. She'd struck up a conversation with a man who worked at a tailor shop, so we ended up spending a fair bit of time there as I talked to the designer and weighed whether I wanted to have a dress made.

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HK Travelogue - Day 2: Shopping, tea, and more shopping

My title makes it sound like we spent this whole day buying things, but we didn't. We just went to a lot of places where we could buy things. It was quite exhausting.

We began our day with another bountiful breakfast at the YMCA, then Caroline met us and we set out to explore Tsim Sha Tsui (the neighborhood where we were staying). Our first stop was Chinese Arts and Crafts, described in the guidebook as "the best place to buy quality bric-a-brac and other Chinese tchotchkies." What does that sound like to you? I imagined nice teapots, embroidered cushion covers, cute jewelry, and other such gift items. I did not expect two stories of intricate ivory carvings with five-digit price tags, antiques that looked exactly like those we saw the day before in the Museum of Art, and silk and wool clothing so fine that I couldn't justify wearing it even if I could afford it (which I couldn't). After a brief dalliance with a Mongolian cashmere sweater I liked (at $53 US, one of the cheapest things in the shop), we left the store empty-handed.

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HK Travelogue - Day 1: Big Buddha, ancient accessories, and a celebrity sighting

When I crashed into our bed at the YMCA last Tuesday, I was exhausted from our 14-hour flight and hoped to sleep well. I slept very soundly for about five hours, but then I woke up. It was morning at home, and my body knew it and wanted to get up and have its breakfast. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn't, so around 6:30 we showered and got dressed and prepared to go out for the day... dizzy, sleepy, but eager to see Hong Kong.

This was the view from our hotel window.

I have to say, the YMCA's breakfast buffet is fantastic. It may cost about $17 US, but it is totally worth it... especially on that first morning when I was ravenous. There was a giant selection of hot food, both Western (fried fish, bacon, ham, sausage, boiled eggs, omelettes made to order, sauteed vegetables) and Cantonese (congee, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, siu mai, stir-fried noodles), very decent croissants, Danishes, waffles, breads and muffins for toasting, fresh and canned fruits (including fresh papaya and canned lychee), a cheese board and crackers, muesli, sprouts, tomatoes, and various beverages. The best thing of all, from my standpoint, was that they made their scrambled eggs Chinese-style. Oh, scrambled eggs!! As anyone who's ever breakfasted with me knows, I like my eggs wet and runny. At American buffets, the eggs are always hard-cooked and generally flavorless since they're made from powdered eggs. But at the YMCA, the eggs were real, and they were cooked into soft, wet big curds the way Chinese people tend to do them. With a giant plate of these eggs, and a flaky croissant with jam, I couldn't ask for more! (Of course I did eat more than just that though. ;b )

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HK Travelogue - Day 0: Introducing my world travels

Two weeks ago, after an hour on BART, two hours at SFO, and fourteen sleepless hours on Cathay Pacific, I arrived in Hong Kong. I say that it was my first international trip, but that isn't strictly true; I visited Canada twice (at ages four and ten), and on cruises, made daylong excursions to Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. I figured these cruise excursions are a little like travelling with one's parents: the grown-ups take care of all the details of currency, itinerary, guides, and whatnot, so that one is really babysat the entire time. This Hong Kong trip, in contrast, would be my first self-arranged journey abroad, my first international flight, and my first time in a foreign hotel. Quite a departure (ha ha!).

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First thoughts
To my surprise, I wasn't scared at any time before or during the trip. I had thought I would be -- after all, part of the reason I'd never gone abroad before was that I was afraid -- but I guess in the past couple of years I've done so many new and intimidating things, I'm not as easily fazed anymore. Quite honestly, preparing for this trip was oodles easier than getting ready for a craft show! Oodles! In retrospect, I think my baby-step cruise excursions also eased my way a lot more than I anticipated. They hadn't seemed like much (frankly, I don't even remember most of them), but after I got to Hong Kong I was struck with the similarity between this experience and those days out in Mexico and Honduras. Seeing new terrain and vegetation, navigating a different culture and language, sizing up unfamiliar foods and people, doing lots of mental-math conversions while shopping -- I'd done all that before. Doing it in Hong Kong was even easier, because one huge thing I found out on this trip is that I'm more Chinese than I thought. Maybe I can construct better sentences in Spanish, but I understood nearly all the basic Cantonese and Mandarin I heard, and I could even figure out many written characters I hadn't known I'd known (case in point: I got to the HK airport and read "self move" on the bathroom faucet. Aha! That must mean "automatic"!). I'd thought it would be alienating to be surrounded entirely by Chinese people and their languages, but instead it just felt like being in Chinatown or any Chinese enclave (the Ranch 99 plaza in Richmond... Cupertino Village... Monterey Park/Rosemead/Arcadia). To put it simply, I felt as comfortable in Hong Kong as I feel in any of those locations in the States. I had not expected that.

I felt more at home than I'd thought I would, but there were definitely some things that felt very different. First off, traffic felt different: not just auto traffic, but the flows of crowds and people seemed foreign too. We drive on the right side of the road, they drive on the left... and this opposite habit seems to extend to other things as well. Upstairs and downstairs escalators were always on the "wrong" side from what I expected, and I guess by extension, people chose the opposite side of corridors and stairs to walk on too. For the first couple of days I was constantly bumping into people because I didn't expect them to be coming at me from that direction.

Also, the restrooms are different. I'd expected the worst, based on what people told me about China (and my parents' recollections of Hong Kong in the late 1970s), but the ones we encountered were as clean as -- and usually cleaner than -- public restrooms in the States. Nearly everything was automated, and many of the malls' restrooms had an attendant constantly on duty with her mop and one of those ubiquitous surgical masks over her face. However, there doesn't seem to be any kind of standard for restrooms.

I can only surmise that Hong Kongers don't assume a Western-style toilet/paper/seatcover setup, since just about every restroom I visited had some kind of notice inside asking users to flush and to keep things clean -- as though this might be confusing, and perhaps it was. Restroom amenities varied quite a bit more than in the States. Some toilets had seat covers, some didn't. In the airport and the public areas of the YMCA, stalls had sanitizing-gel dispensers and instructions for cleaning the seat yourself. Occasionally the only toilet paper would be a communal roll by the sinks, rather than in individual dispensers in the stalls. I encountered two squat toilets during my visit, and though one was outdoors at a rural monastery (where you might expect conditions to be less Westernized), the other was in a café in the crowded hangout neighborhood of Lan Kwai Fong. Quite frankly, once I got over my shock at having to use one, they weren't bad at all, except that the stalls were so tiny there was a real danger of "falling in"!

Moving on to daintier subjects, HK style is also quite different from American style. I knew this -- anyone who spends time among immigrant populations would -- but I didn't fully appreciate it until I got to HK. I'd be in a department store and the brand names would all be familiar, but the clothing would be very different. People seem to pay more attention to detailing on clothing; I saw many different kinds of distressed denim, but very few plain jeans... maybe the iconic, simple American jeans-and-tee look really is unique. I'd been thinking of HK girls as very dressed up, but it seemed like every kind of clothing was represented, from the expensive and put-together to the casual and even schlumpy. And most women didn't wear much or any makeup, which I liked. On the other hand, shops and restaurants were ridiculously fancy. In constrast to American stores where you can't find an employee when you need one, in HK there were staff people everywhere, even to direct shoppers to which elevator to use. Restaurants glittered with chandeliers, bright lights, white linens, and gold accents -- no subtle mood lighting here! Most people and places didn't look like they would have been bizarrely misplaced in the States, but the overall effect was different from what you'd find here, and that was fun to immerse myself in.

There's tons more I could say here, but I've already run on too long. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about scrambled eggs, a giant Buddha, and a Hollywood-esque star sighting on our first full day in HK!

Click to see more photos!


More protein = I feel better?

I'm planning to post my first Hong Kong travelogue entry today, but first I have to get this off my chest. (No, not a purring cat. That's at bedtime.)

Erik was doing a little internet research today, because he's been thinking his climbing/running progress is slower than it should be, and he wondered whether this was due to diet. To make a long story short, he figured out that according to the USDA guidelines, we're both eating much less protein than we should be. This was a shocker for me, because my entire veggie or quasi-veggie lifestyle for the past 9 years has been predicated on what I've read in vegan book after vegan book: don't worry about protein, because Americans all eat more protein than they need to. What Erik figured out was: (a) we don't eat like normal Americans, so the above mantra doesn't apply to us, and (b) protein RDA is calculated by weight, so since I'm about 20 pounds overweight, my body requires more protein than I think it does.

The overweight thing first: for years, ever since I first started to take an interest in nutrition, I've assumed that I need to be eating for my goal weight, not my actual weight. The USDA says to eat 2,000 calories per day; weight-loss calorie calculators tell me to eat between 1,500 and 1,800. So this is what I've been striving for. It's probably a good standard when it comes to stuff like sweets and refined starches, but maybe it doesn't hold as true for fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, or protein. This was something that had never occurred to me before.

Now to the SAD (Standard American Diet) stuff: frankly, I have to say I don't even know what most Americans eat anymore. If the supermarket flyers are any indication, it's a lot of high-sodium, high-sugar, heavily processed convenience food. But truly I don't know. When forced to make a guess, I imagine something rather heavy on protein: sausage, egg, and cheese at breakfast, a bacon cheeseburger at lunch, and maybe a big piece of chicken or beef at dinner. There's protein in wheat, too, so the breakfast bagel, burger bun, and evening pasta would contribute to the protein count as well. My food choices are nothing like these. A normal day for me might go like this: a boiled egg and whole wheat toast, a tuna sandwich for lunch, beans and rice and vegetables at dinner. In my mind that's a lot of protein, but it's nothing compared to eating big servings of meat and cheese, and it's not at all unusual for me to skip protein with a meal either. Even when I eat meat -- which is much more frequent now -- it'll be maybe a drumstick with dinner. So all those times when I thought I was going kind of heavy on the protein, I'm realizing now that I probably wasn't.

The reason I think this not-enough-protein theory is probably true is because of what we ate while in Hong Kong. My Hong Kong diet was completely different from my diet here. Partly the serving sizes and meat/carb/veg proportions are different there; we also ate substantial restaurant meals that were not ordered by us. Here's what my standard Hong Kong day looked like: two eggs, a piece of ham, and a single piece of white toast for breakfast, a lunch that consisted of several different kinds of seafood and meat and only a single bowl of rice, dinner the same. I ate a shockingly low amount of starches, far fewer sweets than I do at home, a little less fiber, and way more protein. Probably too much protein, but the fact remains: jet lag made me dizzy, and we walked about 5 miles a day in heat and humidity. Normally that would leave me exhausted, but on our trip I felt fine (aside from sore feet, and the sleepiness). I didn't crave sweets, I didn't feel disgustingly stuffed after meals, and I didn't want snacks. I never got headaches. We existed on a dramatically smaller dose of carbs and sugar than we're used to, but I never had a problem with low energy. This goes against everything I've been thinking for many years.

Our Hong Kong eating habits have been on my mind ever since our return. The way I felt when I was there was just so different from the way I feel here, and the way I responded to food and eating was so much more balanced. I still can't believe how little dessert I ate there! I've been pondering many things: variety in each meal, freshness, flavor, and portion size. Now I'm thinking about protein too. When we came back, we bought some eggs, ham, and roast beef; we ate the last of the lunch meats yesterday. Today I was out shopping and I picked up a package of smoked salmon and another of veggie meatballs. I felt like I was buying tons of protein, but it felt like the right thing to do... then I got home and Erik explained his protein theory.

I think it's very possible that if I want to feel as good as I did while we were on vacation, I need to start eating a lot more protein. Intellectually I don't really like this, because I was just on the point of wanting to cut out meats again, but from a purely objective standpoint, it's going to be harder for me to change the protein ratio in my diet if I do it veggie-style. (I've written about my veggie diet difficulties before.) But from a brainless, instinctive, physical standpoint, I really really want to try this more-protein diet (and I also want to walk more, like we did on our trip). I was sleep-deprived and hot and dizzy, but I felt really good in Hong Kong. I want to hang on to that feeling. So... possibly... I will be eating omnivorously for a while. I'm still not quite sure how this will work, because our trip also reminded me, more than ever, that meat is death (not a value judgment, just the truth -- more on this in later entries). But I'm guessing I'll continue to order veggie food in restaurants, while preparing veggie meals and humane meat at home, since this is how it's panned out since we've returned.

I know this entry is already getting ridiculously rambly, but one more thought. When I first went veggie as a college sophomore, it was always an emotional and intellectual choice. I've never been one of those vegetarians who actually can't stand the sight, smell, or taste of meat. Then when I started eating some meat again, it was also an emotional choice; I was having all those worrying stomach troubles, and I was just feeling rebellious and wanting to eat food that felt comforting and good. So it's going to be interesting, this time around, to try it from a place of instinct and intuition... I think of it as "thinking without using my brain." I know it sounds crazy, but I've lived long enough with overanalytical thinking to know that there are all different kinds of intelligences, and the body does have its own. If my conscious brain provides the exercise opportunities and the good-quality foods, will my body be able to do the rest? If I just let it make its own choices, will it be able to make me healthier and happier? Let's find out.

Oh, and dear readers, I'd love to hear what a normal eating day looks like for you! What's your standard diet?

The plan for my post-HK travelogue

[x-posted to art blog]

The day before yesterday, we arrived back in the Bay Area from Hong Kong. There is so much I have to say and show you about this trip, but for now I'll just say: it was wonderful.

HK view
View from our hotel room, first morning in HK.

I took more than 600 pictures, made a few sketches, and wrote as much as I could every day (which sometimes meant only a hasty bullet-pointed half-page in the evening). I'm still very jet-lagged -- it doesn't help that we had to drive down to San Jose yesterday so we could take my parents to the airport at 5 this morning, for their vacation -- and so I'm holding off on blogging and posting pics, so I can do them full justice when I'm a little more coherent.

The plan is as follows: six entries on this blog, one for each of the six full days we had in HK, bookended by an introductory post and a concluding one. That makes eight days of entries, and I'll upload photos to flickr as I go. Probably this will amount to a mini-novel, but it's as much a personal travelogue as a public account of our trip, and I think a first international journey is worth remembering in detail. :)

In the meantime, I'll be doing my best to stay upright while my body works its way out of its jet lag!

Hong Kong!

I'm supposed to be putting in massive work today on my inventory for next Saturday's craft show, but my mind is abuzz with thoughts of Hong Kong. Last night we booked our hotel for our upcoming trip (April 5-13): we'll be staying at the Salisbury YMCA, which is very well reviewed and across the street from the fanciest hotel in the territory. The Salisbury costs a little bit more than we'd hoped to pay (it comes out to $200 more over the duration of the trip), but after looking at page after page of dismal cheap rooms, we were prepared to spend more for a more comfortable stay.

Digression: However, the often hilariously descriptive reviews on need to be shared. My favorites were a New Delhi man who wrote of a tiny-roomed establishment, "I want hotel, not cage for pigeon," and a lengthy review from a Filipina lady which began, "Oh! it is very horrible! terribly horrible!!!!... its almost 9am when we arrived at the hotel. nobody there except a fat cat who greet us with his meow,meow..." And do not go to; there's only a one-letter difference but it's a quite different kind of site...

I'm not super-thrilled that we're going to be staying in what a guidebook calls the "tourist ghetto" of Hong Kong, but on the other hand, there's no denying it's a convenient location. And perhaps, being forced into the tourist ghetto, we'll see some things we would otherwise have avoided (for better or worse!). On the other hand, we can take high tea at the Peninsula across the street, which I understand is quite an experience. And, strange but true, since we're staying at a YMCA, we'll have access to a climbing wall. Heh.

I guess our trip, my first proper international one, feels much more real to me now that we have a "home base" for the trip, with an actual address and Google Street View photos and everything. Well, I can't think about it now... I've got some binder dividers to make!

Back to work!
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