Friday, June 14, 2013

Hong Kong Day 1

This summer, I am taking my first Asia vacation! My boyfriend (hereafter referred to as BF) and his family invited me to come with them to Hong Kong in June to celebrate his grandma's birthday. As a graduate student with an advisor who puts down strict regulations, I only get 10 vacation days a year. Additionally, it is difficult to take a long time off of work, because research does not take a break. Luckily, though, I saved up all but one of my vacation days to use for this trip this summer, and we have undergraduate assistants over the summer that are capable of doing what I need when I am gone. So, I am able to take this long trip without worrying too much about losing valuable research time.

Monday night, BF and I flew back home to Orange County from Texas. I came home, got fed a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup called Bun Thang (homemade chicken broth, noodles, cha lua (Vietnamese steamed meatloaf), and egg) and got to eat a slice of amazing Asian-style cake from our favorite Van's Bakery. Asian cakes are much lighter, airier, and less sweet than Western-style cakes. It is more of a sponge cake with a lightly sweetened whipped cream frosting. My family always gets the mocha flavor with slivered almonds decorating the side. So delicious. I definitely want this to be my wedding cake, not some cloyingly sweet American sugar-butter bomb of a cake.

Tuesday, my mom, sister, and I went to get measured so that we can get our ao dai sewn. We are getting our fancy Vietnamese traditional dresses made for my uncle's wedding on September 1st. I am so excited. I have not been to a wedding since I was maybe in middle or high school. My uncle's fiancee is such a sweet, nice, and generous young woman. She loves going out to eat with my sister and I. She also knits really well. Last Christmas, she knitted nonstop to make scarves for everyone. She is very talented.

After getting measured, my family went to my Ong Ba Noi's house (grandparents). We brought along both Cody and Hershey, my sister's dog and my dog, respectively. The two dogs would not stop playing the night before. They were so excited to see each other. My family was just happy Cody was not bullying and attacking Hershey like he did when I brought Hershey home the first time during Tet. Now, they wrestle, but they do it for fun and Hershey loves just following Cody around. They are so cute.

We ate good noodle soup (Bun Soong) and eggrolls made by my ba noi. She cooks so well. She also made banh bo nuong. Oh man, I cannot stop singing it's praises. She got the texture perfectly: the raised honeycomb airpockets in the center, the nice brown skin on the outside. The best part, it was moist, not dry like the ones you get at the supermarket. She really perfected making it. I really have to learn from her!

My ong noi likes Hershey. He fed him chicken and pork fu, petted him on the couch, and even - get this!!!!i - playfully run with him between the living room and family room. My grandpa is not one to get up and move around much or smile too often. He smiled, laughed, and played with my dog!!! He loves him ^_^

At 9pm, I went with BF's family to the international airport and we flew the red-eye flight at 1 am. It was a 14 hour, nonstop flight with Cathay Pacific. Wow! Asian airlines are awesome! The airplane was more spacious, and economy class had 3 rows of 3. Each seat has a TV screen on which you can watch movies, TV shows, select music, see the location and progress of the airplane, request service. The tray is better designed than on American planes. Instead of just one large rectangular platform that comes down, it is folded in half so you can have a short tabletop for jut a drink or small item or a full one for eating or your laptop or writing.

Supper, breakfast and snacks were provided. Supper was a selection of either chicken with rice and vegetables or salmon with mashed potatoes and green bean. They were out of the salmon, so I went with the chicken. The sides included a delicious and refreshing shrimp quinoa salad, a surprisingly tasty bread roll with butter, and always delicious Haagen Daaz vanilla ice cream!

Throughout the flight, you can ask for tea (Chinese, English, or green tea), coffee, other sodas and fruit juices, snacks (spring onion cracker, macadamia nut shortbread, peanuts, apple), and small meals (cup'a'noodle, lettuce wrap, mini turkey sandwich). BF skipped supper and ate 2-3 cup'a'noodles.

I watched "Mind of  Chef", where in the chef of Momofuku, David Chang, went to Japan and tried out some amazing ramen places and talked about how ramen is made and how he makes it at home and at the restaurant. With BF, I watched "This is 40" (hilarious! good movie about a crazy mid-life crisis, like a sequel to "Knocked Up"). I also peeked over as BF watched "Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters" and "Identity Thief". Both seemed entertaining to me, even though I couldn't hear what was going on, although BF said "Hansel and Gretel" was good but lacked character development.

I really hate long flight though. I kept feeling sick throughout the flight, and it didn't help that I ate all the meals so I kept feeling full, which usually exasperates my nausea. I was so happy to get off, but up until the late afternoon today, my body just felt messed up. I think I was still suffering from jetlag and too much food.

Breakfast was served about an hour and a half before touchdown. We were given a choice of chicken mushroom congee (rice porridge) or scrambled egg. I chose the scrambled egg, which came as a fluffy egg patty, with a sausage link, spinach with a bit of cheese, and herbed potatoes. Sides included strawberry yogurt, bread roll with butter and jam, juice coffee or water, and fresh fruit. All very tasty. I was surprised how good the egg platter was. (I didn't take a picture because I felt embarrassed to).

We finally arrived in Hong Kong and after being greeted by BF's aunt and cousin, we took the train to their home in Tsuen Wan. The train is so clean and nice; nothing at all like the dirty BART in the Bay Area.

Hong Kong is full of high rises. Residences are actually flats, which is basically a large apartment per floor. The train connects the different parts of the island and we drove past tropical looking trees, but when you get into the city, it is primarily roads and buildings; little greenery. Cars drive on the right side of the road, and there are more taxis and buses than individual cars. Lots of people walk around. You can see people's AC machines and clothes hanging right outside their windows.

We went to Jade Garden and had dim sum for breakfast. Wow oh wow. This was real Chinese food. His family ordered several dishes and we just selected whatever we wanted off the lazy susan. At the beginning of the meal, you are supposed to wash your dishes with some of the hot water from the pot on the table. My BF showed me how by pouring a little water into his teacup, swirling it around, and using the same water to clean another small bowl and chopsticks. There were to teas on the table: one was Pu-erh tea (pronounced "bo leh") and the other was Ti Kuan Yin. I really liked the latter and am definitely going to bring some real tea leaves of this kind back with me.

Egg tart with bird nest jelly on top
Something like fried wonton wrapper
Legit baked BBQ pork bun (with pineapple bun topping)
Fried fish and corn cake
Inside BBQ pork bun

Cantonese style soup dumpling (with pork, cordyceps, and shredded conpoy)
Steamed bun with some egg-like filling
 There were also red bean (or red date?) thick pudding cubes, beef in rice rolls, shrimp in rice rolls, BBQ pork bao, corn and fish congee, and carp filled green bell peppers in black bean sauce. Everything was rather tasty, and you can choose to eat what you like and not to eat what you didn't. I did not particularly like the steamed bun with egg filling. The filling was not smooth and had little coagulated balls of yellow egg inside. At the end, the cost basically amounted to about $10 a person.

We went back to BF's aunt's flat and rested for a bit. I got extremely jet-lagged and my body kept going through phases of slight nausea and fatigue. Eating more made the gross groggy feeling go away temporarily but then it would return in a few minutes with a vengeance. I eventually too a nap in the afternoon, after having lunch. BF's grandma made steamed glutinous rice dumplings, filled with fatty pork, dried shrimp, and mushrooms. Tasty home cooking. She also made an herbal broth that helps fight colds, which is what Michael and I have right now. These herbal broths are also good for your general health, so other people can drink it when they are not sick too.

After my nap, I felt a lot better, but I was still uncomfortable because all I did all day was eat and sit or sleep. I made BF walk with me around the local street markets. We walked by gorgeous looking Asian bakeries, affordable shoe stores with a shoe that I am thinking about getting because it's only about $20 instead of like $80 in the US, and a 7-11. I mention this 7-11 because it has so much more awesome stuff than in America! They had Asian ready meals, like fish ball curry, Portuguese baked rice, congee, tofu, soybean milk of all different flavors, Dreyers and Haagen Daz ice cream in interesting flavors (mango and green tea bars!!!!), and more. I am so getting one of these ice creams.
Pineapple pastries!

We returned to the flat and had a special dinner prepared by BF's grandma. It was special in honor of the Dragon Boat Festival which happened yesterday. The spread included grouper, abalone and bok choy in oyster sauce, mushroom and sea cucumber and greens, some cashew vegetable stir fry, roast goose, roast pork, and scallops over cucumber. My favorite was the abalone and bok choy in oyster sauce and the cashews in the stir fry.

The way his family eats (and I'm assuming Hong Kongese people) is by placing everything in the center and a bowl of rice for each person. You use one pair of chopsticks to put the mains into your bowl and the other pair of chopsticks to eat with. The table is lined with a disposable plastic tablecloth so you can your refuse like bones and skin on the table.

That's it for today! I am excited to go shopping at the big malls, street stands, night markets, and more! We also plan to g to see the Big Buddha among other sights! So stay tuned and continue with me on my trip through Hong Kong!

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