Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taiwan and Tofu

Hello!

I've been talking about writing this blog for over two weeks so now it's time to stop procrastinating and just write. Apologies in advance if this entry is a little haphazard but it's been a busy few weeks and in HK time that's more like six months...so here's to hoping I remember all the things I wanted to include about Taiwan, my new favorite place in Asia.

Two weeks ago the ADT (American Dream Team) headed to Taiwan (Long's motherland) for the weekend. We had quite the crew - Long, Devin, Julie, Dave, Floyd, Kevin (our host for the weekend) and me. We were particularly excited about this trip because Long and Kevin had our entire weekend planned and what a weekend it turned out to be!

We arrived in Taipei just in time for dinner so we changed clothes and headed to the night markets where people eat at street stalls. I was a little nervous since I have serious issues about eating unfamiliar food in unfamiliar places but as they say, when in Rome. We started with spicy deep-fried chicken cutlets the size of my head and I couldn't get it down fast enough. It was the BEST fried chicken I've ever had in my life. Better than Bojangle's, better than Price's Chicken Coop and even better than Brady's fried chicken at tailgates! After chicken cutlets we had fish balls, sausage, some kind of pancake thing with scallions, vegetable buns and these strawberry kebobs that were dipped in the same stuff used to make candy apples. IT. WAS. INCREDIBLE. On the other hand, however, they were selling chicken anus (no joke), pig's blood and stinky tofu which might be the most foul-smelling stench I've ever smelled in my life. It made durian smell like peaches. The initial onset isn't so bad - I told Longo "no big deal, it doesn't smell that bad" but after getting whiffs of it in all directions I nearly dry-heaved, had to pull my shirt up over my mouth and nose and begged the group to haul ass out of the area before I lost my lunch. IT. WAS. INCREDIBLY. BAD.

After eating our faces off and getting away from the stinky tofu, we went to a chill lounge to meet Kev's brother who I will call "BC". Let it be known the moment I saw BC I started to develop my first case of yellow fever. He is  attractive and SO friendly. FYI - for those of you who don't know what I am talking about, yellow fever is not an illness. It's a term used to describe when a white person is attracted to someone Asian. I've also learned the term "banana" which is what I call Long --- Asian on the outside and white on the inside. I've been called an "egg" which is white on the outside and yellow on the inside since I've embraced the Chinese culture so strongly. Speaking of which, have I mentioned I started taking Mandarin lessons? I am absolutely awful and I am the only girl in a class of investment banker boys but I've learned a few key words to impress a Chinese boyfriend one day...HA!

Anyway, back to BC. He escorted our crew through the crowd and into a private room where we were VIPs for the evening. The bar itself was a lot like an LA lounge but with even prettier people. Seriously. Don't visit or move to Asia if you want to feel good about yourself. Taiwanese women are the most beautiful I've seen so far and even the men are attractive! We had a fabulous night talking amongst ourselves and partied with 10 bottles of high-end champers.

The next day we got up, ate a traditional Taiwanese breakfast and walked all over the city of Taipei looking for some pagodas and the National Museum that holds some of the most impressive Chinese art and artifacts in history. We finally found the pagodas after a 45-minute walk that would've been a 5-minute cab ride (but where's the fun in that?) and stayed for all of 30 minutes before getting into cabs to find the National Museum. And this is when things started to get really interesting...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don't sing in public. Ever. I am 33 years-old and have NEVER done karaoke. Sure, I've gone up on stage and pretended to sing with my sorostitute sisters in college and even faked it in Hamilton Island earlier this year with Lizard but I've never actually sung in public. And there's a good reason for this - I am tone deaf! There. I said it. So when Julie, Long and I realized we got into one of maybe 5 karaoke cabs in the entire country of Taiwan (we separated from the boys to get some "girl time") my immediate reaction was to get the hell out of the car and fast! But I decided it was time to face my fear and "man up" to the challenge. Julie handed me the mic, selected a love ballad and told me to start singing. So I did. A few seconds into my performance Julie and Long exchanged strange looks at each other. Before I knew it Julie belted out a huge, belly laugh that only Julie can and said "Steph, sing for real. Quit pretending to be that bad" to which I responded "this IS for real - I told you I couldn't sing!" She told me I sounded like Cameron Diaz in "My Best Friend's Wedding" so we laughed for a few minutes to the point where I think we all had tears streaming down our cheeks and then, deflated, I picked up the mic again and continued with my song. By the end of our 20-minute cab ride I was becoming quite the back-up singer. Why was I the back-up singer you ask? Because Long and Julie both sang in a chorus growing up and have beautiful voices. Figures!

I was so exhausted from the excitement in the cab that by the time we got to the National Museum all I remember seeing was a giant jade cabbage and a lot of ancient scrolls that looked almost like caligraphy. What can I say --- true history and culture is wasted on me!! We were so tired from our day we decided to get foot massages on the way back to the hotel. And I am so happy we did. It was the best foot massage I've ever had and halfway through I almost proposed to the guy rubbing my feet. His name was #119 and I plan on finding him the next time I am in Taipei...

Now for the real highlight of the Taiwan trip. Words can't describe how unbelievably cool Saturday night was but I am going to give it my best effort. We got ready and met Kev downstairs in the hotel lobby. I have to say we were a fine-looking group that night! We met up with BC (Kev's brother) and had dinner at a fabulous fusion restaurant called "Raw" where we noshed on the best sushi of my life - tuna, salmon, mahi, flounder, scallops, even sea urchin followed by oyster shots - literally a shot glass filled with tomato juice and two gigantic oysters. Dave went to take his back but one of the oysters was too big to go down his throat. It was a little touch and go for a few seconds and I swear he was gagging - I thought he was going to hurl and had to look away. Devin handed him a napkin and said "spit it out, man" but Dave being a proper English gentleman managed to get the sucker down. I will think twice before eating raw oysters again and I don't think Dave will ever eat another. On a happier note, we also had a magnum of sake (correct pronunciation is sock-ay) and I fell in lust with the waiter, Dominique. It might have been the combination of raw oysters, sake and sea urchin (they are all apparently aphrodisiacs) but I was definitely developing the "fever" for Taiwanese men. Little did I know that was barely the tip of the iceberg!

Enter Nick. He is BC's buddy and barely legal. Okay, maybe not BARELY legal but he's a baby at 22. He is adorable, quirky, and he sings. For a living. Yes, he is the Justin Timberlake of Taiwan the way BC is one of Taiwan's movie stars and hence the reason I cannot put his real name in this blog. We hung out with Taiwanese superstars all weekend! After dinner we went to another lounge for a quick drink and were off to the "club" where we had a private table, bottle service all night, and bodyguards! It was unbelievable, surreal, and so much fun! We danced in a big group all night and BC broke it down. He was such a good dancer (and here I thought Asians didn't have any rhythm)! Nick didn't dance much because he didn't want to show us up but he was quite the entertainer. At one point one of the "groupies" broke through our circle to dance with him so he stopped immediately and went back to the table. It was kind of sad because he wanted to have fun with his friends but he has to constantly think about his "image" and how others will perceive him. If ever given the choice, I would choose wealth instead of fame. It's a lonely life being in the public eye. I guess it's a good thing I won't have to worry about either in this lifetime :)

After 5 hours of dancing and drinking at the club, we left and headed to K-TV which is a private karaoke bar. It was as if the universe didn't get enough entertainment from the car karaoke episode with the girls earlier that day I had to be mortified in front of 15 people and a famous, professional singer! The good news was that we had been drinking for about 10 hours so nobody paid much attention. Out of nowhere Dave busted out with a Robbie Williams song and he sounded amazing! He is one of those guys who never stops surprising you - he is very unassuming and modest but the guy is what I call a Renaissance Man (a term coined for the late Mr. David Mayo who was a dear friend to my parents, a fellow Brit who played for Man United and a total hottie even at 60) which means Dave is well-educated and well-traveled, knows how to cook and sing, enjoys the classics and culture, is learning Mandarin and Cantonese for fun and has a big job for a big bank here in HK. In other words, he's the total package --- and he's become a great friend to us. He's been officially adopted as part of the ADT and we call him "token" because he's the only non-American member of ADT. Wow, that was quite the 'shout out' to DAC!

Back to Nick. After a little coaxing, we talked him into singing a few of his songs for us. It was like having our own private concert and as soon as he opened his mouth and started singing Long and I were in love. YELLOW FEVER. YELLOW FEVER. YELLOW FEVER! We were completely mesmerized by him and became instant groupies. I've never understood why women swooned over singers - I always thought of them as not very masculine but I have completely changed my tune (no pun intended)! His voice is sultry and smooth and he knew exactly how to hold a mic :) I didn't even care that his waist is probably a size 28 or that he definitely weighs less than me. Nick is a hottie!

We finally left K-TV at 7:15am and went back to the hotel to crash before waking up and having beef noodles for lunch, another Taiwanese traditional dish. It was all good in the 'hood until Kev found a cockroach in his soup. No, I am not kidding nor am I exaggerating. I was sitting next to him and he showed it to me. That's when I decided to order plain soup with noodles, no beef. Just in case.

We boarded the plane and headed back to Hong Kong at 8pm Sunday night but not before walking through the airport to find Nick on the cover of a popular Taiwanese magazine! Longo and I both bought a copy of the magazine and I have pictures of Nick pinned up on my bedroom wall just like NKOTB when I was in middle school. Ok, Ok, so I didn't really follow NKOTB and I definitely didn't have their posters on my walls growing up but am I joking about Nick? You will have to visit to find out :)

A few pictures from our amazing weekend below.

 Some of the night market food - candy covered strawberries
 One of my favorite signs

 My karaoke debut in the cab
 Jules about to belt out something great
 Longo loved the mic
Me, our waiter Domenique and Longo w/ the sake bottle
 The crew at dinner - BC, Dave, Devin, Jules, Me, Longo, Kev
 Me and Nick - I heart him
 Nick - the Justin Timberlake of Taiwan
Me and Jules in the airport with Nick's picture on the mag cover

It's taken me almost two hours to write this entry so I am going to bed but before I sign off I want to give a 'shout out' to the BFFs - I miss you lovely ladies more than I can describe. I am so thankful to have you in my life! Your emails and FB messages mean the world to me. Thank you!

And to my wonderful parents, sister, and niece - you make my world go round. I hate being so far away and this 13-hour time difference is killing me but you are talked about constantly and thought about even more. Give Abs a big bear hug from her crazy Aunt Stef and tell her I will see her in April!

Steph

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random Thoughts

Clearly my idea about writing more frequently with less content wasn't exactly a slam dunk. It's been a month since I sat at this computer to type a blog entry and to be perfectly honest I don't really feel like writing now. But I made a promise to myself that I would chronicle my asian adventures as much as possible since there is an expiration date on my time here.

It's been a whirlwind month filled with meeting new people and welcoming friends from a past life to Hong Kong. My dear friend and her hubby moved from London to Hongkers and having her here has made living in Hong Kong even more incredible. There's something about true friendships that make everything so much more fun. Even the most mundane things are better shared with girlfriends and I've been lucky to have found a great little niche of them here in HK. I want to give them a 'shout out' because without them my time here wouldn't be the same...Longo, Jules, Ash, Tijana, Monica, Eren and V you ladies make my world go round!

As for new friends, already this week I met an authentic Italian Stallion at our Monday night mussels dinner. It was mostly Americans but we had two Frenchies in attendance and last time there was a girl from the Netherlands. Anyway, the stallion's name is "P" (I don't want to write his full name to protect the innocent) and he educated all of us on Italian culture and language. I was my typical spastic self and prodded him with question after question. He was a gentleman and answered them all - even when I asked if most Italian men cheat on their wives....for those of you wondering the answer was YES. He is coming over to my flat next weekend to teach the Americans how to cook risotto and make homemade cannolis. It's going to be so much fun and Devin is really excited for his first cooking class :)

I also met a cool kid from Montana a few weeks ago. He's been living in Germany for almost 5 years and is spending two months in HK before moving to NYC. We randomly met at a bar and he's been indoctrinated into the American Dream Team using a temporary membership pass. So many people have similar stories - sometimes it feels like I got a late start living my ideal life because I was afraid or too cautious or too concerned about what other people would think to take life by the horns and go for what I really wanted - but as the saying goes "it's better late than never." Too bad I am not 25 and just starting this adventure...although at that age I wouldn't be able to afford to live in the sewer on the Kowloon side!

A few weeks ago I also went to my first rugby tourney with my friend James from London. What an incredible experience! It was the Australian Wallabys versus the NZ All Blacks and I had no idea what to expect. While I tried my best to pay attention to the game (James gave me a play by play so I could learn the rules) it just wasn't meant to be. All my pictures are of these gorgeous, athletic, muscular men wearing short shorts - in other words I was in heaven. My new crush is on a guy named Daniel Carter who is apparently quite the hearthrob in NZ. The Wallabys ended up winning in the last 3 minutes of the game but from what I've been told it was at least a good match. The funniest part of this story is that it was cool at the end of the game so I put on my zip-up jacket...which was a South Africa Springboks warmup and one of the Wallabys and All Blacks biggest rivals. James wanted to KILL me!!! Oops.

Just as things started getting a little dull in Hongkers, 8 of us are heading to Taiwan for the weekend to dip in the hot springs, eat Taiwanese dumplings, shop at the night markets and go clubbing. Yes, you read that correctly - apparently I am going "clubbing" this weekend to learn how to 'pop and lock' from none other than Jules herself! It sounds dangerous but she keeps telling me it won't hurt. We will see about that! It's going to be a crazy, fun-filled weekend and I am even more stoked that Kevin is coming back from London to accompany us on this adventure! Now if only I could find something appropriate to wear.

However, as much as I like living out here it's far from perfect. I am increasingly frustrated by the fact that many HKers can't walk in a straight line. They do the 'bob and weave' on busy sidewalks because they are too busy texting while walking. Seriously people - get out of the way! And can we talk about how S...L...O...W they walk? I totally understood why when it was 500 degrees with 800% humidity this summer but now that it's cooled off there's no good explanation. I've also started carrying my camera with me at all times because this city is great for random photo opps - you should see some of the wardrobe selections! I must have missed the memo that states Hello Kitty clothing is cool for adults!? And if I see one more skinny Asian woman chowing down on noodles, fried rice and fatty beef chunks I am going to scream. How do they stay so thin and beautiful when they eat like garbage? It must be all the green tea...

It's getting late but before I sign off I want to say please don't send anymore 100-calorie packs unless you want me to gain 100 pounds. All other gifts are welcomed and appreciated :) Does anyone write letters or cards anymore???

LP - T minus 30 days before you touch down in Hong Kong and we begin our adventure
Jess - send more pics of Jack
T Bone - I am calling you tomorrow morning my time
Jules - get healthy
Tina - where's my invitation?
Joyce - I miss you more each day
Apes - where the hell are you girlfriend

Love and miss M&D, Michelle and Abbie.

Steph

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Boracaylicious

Okay, this is becoming a problem. It's time to rethink this whole blog thing because I am clearly not making it a priority. Maybe I should start posting stuff more frequently with less content. I wonder if that would even work?



So let's see..where to even start? I can hardly remember what I did yesterday so the thought of racking my brain to come up with everything that transpired three weeks ago will be daunting. Let's see how well I do.

Nine of us went to Boracay (an island off the Philippines) the last weekend in September and it was an adventure (especially for me but more on that later). First off, we had to spend the night in Manila for our connection to Boracay early the next morning so we piled into a van and headed out of the airport into the vast city of Manila. When we arrived at the Marriott they brought out drug-sniffing dogs, checked underneath the van using mirrors, and we had to go through a metal detector just to get into the hotel. There were closed-circuit cameras everywhere in the hotel and it didn't look like anyone else was there. CREEPY. Thank goodness Long and I shared a room with Devin and Julie because I was a little freaked out.

The sad thing is, the highlight of that night was finally getting to read the one and only hot scene in the Twilight series --- and that was ruined by LL, Julie and Devin constantly talking to me and interrupting my concentration. I think I read the same sentence five times before finally giving up and going to sleep. They made fun of me but I didn't care (for those of you who are Twilight fans and I know most of you are closet fans and know exactly what I am talking about) because it was well worth it. The embarrassment was far worse going into the bookstore to ask for help finding the series - only to have the clerk tell me it was located in the "tween" section of the store. NICE.

The next morning we landed in Boracay at 9AM and it almost immediately started pouring. It didn't stop until almost 10PM that night. But we took it in stride and had a spa day at the Friday's resort. It was great because LL, Jules and I had the ENTIRE spa to ourselves. We were pampered for nearly half the day before finally deciding it was time to go home and find the rest of our crew drunk and hungry.

The next day started off a little touch and go but it ended up being sunny for about 5 hours which was just enough time for all of us to get fried to a crisp. Seriously - my entire face peeled and I looked like a snake molting from its own skin. It looked H-O-T in the office Monday morning.

Once it started raining again, Devin, David, Koco and I had a brilliant idea to go jet skiing. We figured we were going to get soaked on the jet skis regardless, so what did it matter if it was raining? Well, we were in for a surprise because by the time we actually got out to the floating dock (we had to take a motorbike taxi down the beach followed by a boat ride about 2000 meters out into the water) the rain had turned into a full-blown thunderstorm complete with 6-8 foot swells. We were told to sit on the floating dock to wait out the storm but once we realized the water temp was warmer than the air, all four of us took off heading for the ocean. It was such a huge adrenaline rush to be out in the open ocean in big swells and hear the thunder overhead!

But almost immediately after surfacing from my swan dive I started thinking about the movie "Open Water" where a couple gets lost at sea and terrorized/killed by sharks. Before I said anything, Devin and Koco got out of the water. Once I shared my thoughts with David, he too called it quits. The next thing I knew I was left in the open water all alone (granted, there was a floating dock with about 10 people on it only 10 ft away but still) and started thinking about the Shark Week episode where a woman was climbing out of the water back onto a yacht and had her leg ripped off by a Great White. I treaded water for another 3 minutes to prove to myself I was overreacting but decided not to tempt fate and swam over to the floating dock to get out of the water. We never saw a shark nor did we get to go jet skiing because the storm lasted longer than expected. It was raining so hard everyone got pelted in the face on the boat ride back to the beach but for the first time I was glad I brought my hotel towel to wear over my bathing suit because it made a perfect shield for me and David! This story is probably not that exciting to read but it was one of the highlights of the trip simply because it was so random and spontaneous...and in my mind it was another example of how I nearly escaped death by shark :)

That night we went to a local wet market and picked our own seafood where they cooked it in front of us for dinner. It was a delicious meal filled with prawns, mussels, and a giant fish I picked for the table to share (my eyes were bigger than our stomachs).


We went out like ROCKSTARS after dinner where we danced on the dancefloor, at the bar and on the table. It was a fun night except for the parts of the night I still can't forget because they were so traumatic. I was witness to not one but two girls getting sick - one at the table where she sat and the other in the ladies room. I had my usual reaction - immediate headache, stomachache, and the sweats but I rallied and didn't lose my lunch. I wonder if I am finally getting over my phobia? Ummm.....nope.....definitely not.

And now for the grand finale of this tale. I toyed with not sharing it since it doesn't do anything to instill trust in me but in the spirit of complete transparency I've decided to go for it. Please keep in mind that when I left for this trip I also apparently left all my grey matter behind.

Example #1 - I was in a rush to get out the door so it wasn't until LL and I were in the lift that I realized I left my passport somewhere in my apartment. Luckily, I found it in the second place I looked (another great thing about living in an apartment the size of a thimble).

Example #2 - Jules let me borrow her iPod nano since I lost my iPod on the Macau ferry (notice a trend yet)? I was so excited to get off the plane in Boracay that I left the nano in the seat. Luckily, Jules recognized her own iPod in seat 2A and brought it off the plane for me. SorryJules - love you mean it!

Example #3 - I was so excited to hear the Boracay airport bathroom had "western" toilets that I took off and left my luggage at baggage claim. Luckily, my PLUS ONE (aka Long) saw it, grabbed it and wheeled it out to me. The worst part was that I had already walked to the bus and didn't realize I didn't have my luggage until ABL asked if I was missing anything?!

Example #4 - When we landed in Manila on the way back it was a mad dash to get off the plane because it was colder than the Arctic on the plane. I had been taking pictures out of the plane window during landing and must have put the camera on the seat to get my bags from the overhead bin because I left the dang thing on the plane. Luckily, people in Asia are incredibly honest and ethical so one of the airline reps brought the camera to the bus, held it up and asked who left their camera. I didn't even have to look in my bag and didn't need to look up to know that all my friend's eyes were on me - we all knew it was mine.

Example #5 - We were rushing to get through customs, collect our luggage, recheck it, and cross terminals at the Manila airport (think Amazing Race with 9 people) to get on the last flight back to HK that night, so when someone asked for our return flight details to fill out their arrival card I very calmly pulled out our itinerary, read the information for our return flight and told everyone that we were on flight 2115. It wasn't until we were in line at immigration that someone realized 2115 wasn't our flight number but our ARRIVAL time of 9:15pm into HK. Needless to say, I still haven't heard the end of it.

We are planning our next trip to Taiwan in Novermber...should I take it personally that nobody has asked for my help???

On another note, I've missed a lot of special occasions lately and I want to say that's the hardest part of being so far away. Happy bithday again to Vicki, Tim (my brother-in-law), LP and Tara ---- wish I could've been there to celebrate with you. A special shout out to Joyce and the girls from the baby shower - it was so much fun to be at the baby shower via skype, even if it was 3AM my time!!! I love and miss you ladies so much. It's about time Joyce's baby bump started showing!

Alex --- where is that plane ticket? How was the ortho doctor's appointment? LOL.
Lizard --- when are you and Sally coming over next year?
LP --- T minus two months until you get here!!!

Abbie - I want you to draw me a new picture for my refrigerator and make sure to send me a picture of you in your Halloween costume. I love you more than words...

To my wonderful parents and sister - I love you lots and think about you everyday. Thanks for being so supportive - I couldn't do this without you!

Steph

PS - will upload more pictures and another entry soon.



Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Version of the Taj Ma"Small" and Other Random Stories

Fasten your seat belts and get out the vino because this is going to be a longer blog entry. Perhaps I am making up for taking almost a month of not writing or perhaps I still can't believe all that has happened since I last wrote. Either way I had to share the latest and greatest in my ongoing HK escapade.

Let's see - where to begin? The first weekend of September was spent in Koh Samui, Thailand with the American Dream Team counterparts of ABL, Ashley, Devin and Julie. We stayed at a little bungalow-style resort off the beaten path. It was fine for a long weekend but not sure I would stay that far away from Chewang Beach again. I might also feel that way because Ash, ABL and I slept 3-people deep in a king-sized bed all weekend! We spent most of our time relaxing by the hotel pool or on the beach. We had multiple massages and even had a 60-min one on the beach our last day for about $20 USD. We also saw some of the 'local' flavor of Thailand and by that I mean "lady boys" and prostitutes. Lots of them. All shapes, sizes and ages. It is really sad to see women selling their bodies to feed their families but it's apparently quite normal in their culture. It was like watching a bad car accident over and over and over - I knew I shouldn't watch but I couldn't stop staring. Men are disgusting creatures...but I love them nonetheless. We also partied like rockstars Saturday night and stayed out until 4AM after Julie challenged an Irish guy to a push-up contest in the middle of an Aussie bar wearing a white dress and heels. The best part? Devin (her hubby) watched the whole thing and was cheering her on! The other highlight of our trip was eating brunch on beds directly on the beach. We ate for nearly 2 hours straight after realizing it was all-u-can-eat (and we wonder why Americans are some of the fattest people on the planet).

The following weekend was spent moving 35 boxes, a bed and couch from NC, and an air shipment into my 680 sq. ft. permanent apartment. I've moved many times in my life and this was by far the most exhausting and challenging move. Period. It started when my practically brand new couch wouldn't fit into the lift or the stair well of my building. We tried for hours to figure out a way to make it work but to no avail. The couch is now sitting in a warehouse somewhere on HK island and will be thrown away next week since I haven't found a home for it. So sad. I also had to throw away almost half my clothes just to fit everything into the two, very small wardrobes in the flat. My shoes are in a cupboard in the living room and my suitcases are at the foot of my bed. In a nutshell, let's just say I've learned to live with a lot less and I think I am actually happier! It's surprisingly cathartic to 'purge' your life and start over...not to mention a great excuse to buy all new clothes :)

To add insult to injury, however, in addition to unpacking and trying to organize my new life without having a complete meltdown, the hot water wasn't turned on and my freezer was leaking water all over the living room floor the first day. It was classic. Both of those problems were fixed in a few days and then last week I came home from work to find a window leaking in the bedroom. If that wasn't bad enough, I called the super and he said they will fix it sometime in the next week and in the interim to put a towel by the window to keep the water from getting all over the floor. The icing on the cake happened two days ago when the elevator broke twice in 48 hours and I had to hike up 20 floors to my flat. Brilliant. So, when people ask if I like the apartment I answer by saying I will learn to love it but it definitely wasn't the smoothest transition. I don't really miss much about the States other than family and friends, but I have a whole new appreciation for service providers "back where I come from" because they make sure things get fixed immediately. To make up for my apartment frustrations, we went out like rockstars until 5AM that Saturday night. I couldn't believe we did it again but it's so easy to stay out late around here. This place is truly adult Pleasure Island but not always in a good way. There are more drugs, affairs, and divorces here than almost anywhere else in the world. So for all my single ladies - this is not the place you will date easily or meet your future husband. The good news is that you will make wonderful friends from around the world and not really even have time to notice or care that you are single :)

On a happier note, I've made multiple trips to IKEA and should own stock in the company by now. My dear friend Eren and her husband taught me how to survive the "IKEA experience" and even helped me find my new sleeper sofa (translation = everyone has a comfy place to sleep if/when you visit)! But the funniest IKEA visit happened this week with Long. We went Tuesday night at 8:30pm after a long day of work and stayed until the store closed. We had 5 bags of stuff and couldn't get it all on the escalators in one trip. So we improvised. LL took a few bags and I took the others, leaving the heaviest bag behind. We went up the escalator properly and when the IKEA associate wasn't looking, I hauled it back down the escalator going the wrong way in flip-flops. I nearly tripped and cracked my head open but I somehow caught myself and made it to the bottom. I looked back at LL and she was laughing so hard she couldn't speak. I grabbed the last bag and we were headed for the second set of escalators. Instead of repeating the same performance, I got smart and put a bag on the escalator by itself for Long to catch at the top. Unfortunately, the IKEA guy caught on to us and starting yelling in Cantonese (sometimes it's nice not understanding what people are saying). He eventually started laughing at the ridiculousness of our behaviour and helped us shlep the goods to a cab. We called Devin and Julie on our way home for reinforcements (aka help me bring my purchases up to my flat). This might not seem funny as you read it, but it was one of the funniest moments I've had since moving here.

Another recent highlight has been my two friends visiting from Sydney. They were here for a week and we had so much fun! They arrived last Thursday and we were nonstop from the evening they arrived until the moment they left yesterday. We did a few hikes, went to the beach, shopped, ate at a private kitchen, and somehow swallowed the spiciest Szechuan chinese food ever. I burned the roof of my mouth from all the red chillies in the food but it was well worth it. We also showed the boys what it's like to go out "HK style" so we had another late one. But it was pretty tame, all things considered :) I hope Angelo and Mike are having a great time in Shanghai and I can't wait to see them in Sydney in a few months!

This weekend will be spent buying the last few things to make the apartment feel like home. It will be a very low-key weekend filled with drinks at Upper House after work (my fav bar in HK for reasons everyone knows about here), dinner at Eren's house and a hike to Dragon's Back followed by serious beach time at Shek-O. I need a break from the buzz before heading to Boracay in the Philippines for the upcoming long holiday weekend.

Above all else, however, I am most excited about the Lionel Richie concert Tuesday night. We've decided that September 28th can be Valentine's Day when two hearts beat as one to Endless Love! Too bad I don't have a love in HK or anywhere else in the world. But Julie will be my plus one that night since Devin doesn't want to go. Yay!!!

I promise to get Internet so I will have skype and regular Facebook access again soon. In case you want to reach out in a different way, below are my permanent contact details.

Address:
Fook Kee Court
6 Mosque Street
20/F
Mid-levels
Hong Kong

Bones - have a wonderful, happy birthday! I wish I could be there to help you celebrate. Good luck blowing out all those candles :)

Love and miss my friends and family, with a special shout out to the BFFs. You know who you are!

Steph

PS - will post pictures soon!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Miso Cool...Definitely Not!

Hello!

Sorry I've taken longer than usual to write my latest entry but there's been so much going on I haven't had the time (or energy) to write lately. Where to begin???

Well, I found my "plus one" in Hong Kong. No, it's not what you are thinking -HER name is Long-Long (we call her Long for short - LOL) and she is quickly becoming my BFF here. She's originally from Dirty Jersey but she lived in Charlotte for 5 years before moving to HK six months ago. We both work for BAC (we will soon be on the same COO team), are the same age, and know some of the same people from our pasts. CRAZY!!!! Our friends have started calling us "StephandLong" because we are always together...and as soon as she's back from two weeks in the States we will be neighbors! Yep, that's right - I found an adorable, renovated 1-bdrm apartment in mid-levels on Mosque Steet (a great location in the middle of everything) and we are going to live on the 20th and 15th floors of the same building!!! I am moving Monday afternoon and LL moves October 1. It's an older Chinese building with one unit per floor. It doesn't have amenities like some of the newer buildings (no gym or pool) but it's almost 700-square feet, has 1.5 bathrooms and a full-sized refrigerator/freezer. I know most of you are thinking so what Steph - 700-sq. ft. is tiny, what's the big deal about a full-sized fridge and 1.5 bathrooms isn't that important.....but when you've gotten used to showering in a peanut, sleeping in a teacup and eating out of a a jewelry box because everything (including the people) are so small you come to love full-sized anything! I will post some pictures of the flat as soon as I figure out how to download them from my work computer.

What else has been going on? I went to dinner at a Moroccan restaurant with 14 people two weekends ago. It was mostly Americans but we had a sprinkling of Brits, Aussies and Chinese in the group to mix it up. I don't think I will ever get sick of how multicultural this place is! We had a good dinner with incredible wine that Jay selected (a fellow Italian-American from Jersey who I've been teasing constantly about the show Jersey Shore). He's a great guy who might as well run for mayor of HK because he knows EVERYONE. We wrapped up the evening with sheesha (hookah as we know it in the States). There were two flavors, apple and grape --- and they were delish. I don't normally smoke but I love flavored nicotine. It's like healthy smoking (well, not exactly but close enough)!

That same weekend Long, Devin, Julie and I (aka the American Dream Team) went to the Peak so Devin could finally see the city from above. It was another clear afternoon so the views were spectacular. We laughed at how we looked like tourists with our SLR cameras and American clothes but we didn't care because we knew we weren't leaving in a few weeks like most of the people there....we actually LIVE in this magnificent place! To celebrate having the guts to leave our comfortable lives back in the States and live a million miles away from family and friends, we decided to go for the gold (or rather the suction) and got fish pedicures! It's the only one in HK and is an experience none of us will ever forget (even if we tried). Devin might be one of the coolest guys EVER for going to a pedicure salon with three girls...he earned his badge of honor for putting up with me and Julie who screamed, laughed, kicked and cursed almost the entire 20 minutes we had our feet submerged with the fishies. From the way we were acting (mostly me but Julie was also a willing participant in this behavior) you would've thought the 1-inch black guppies were Great Whites who hadn't had a proper meal in weeks. We were terrified!

But let me back up and set the stage. We entered the salon and immediately thought maybe we shouldn't do it because the place was empty. But after a few minutes of talking each other into it, we decided to go for it. Our strategy was simple - we would put our feet in the water at the same time and hold them in place for 20 minutes for the fish to, um, eat our feet. And that's what we did...until Julie and I looked at each other, shrieked in Long and Devin's ears and yanked our feet out almost as quickly as we had put them in the warm water bath. It was one of the strangest feelings I've ever experienced. It wasn't painful but it wasn't pleasant. The best way to explain it, as strange as it sounds, is like when a baby "gums" your finger but on your feet instead. Your immediate reaction is to pull away but it's kind of like wet paint - you shouldn't touch it but you can't help youself. I was by far the biggest pansy (not one of my proudest moments) but I eventually got the guts to leave my feet in for longer than a few seconds. What happened next is hard to describe but let me try to paint a clear picture. Tamra, Elly, Gretchen, Sandy, Tara, Alex, my sister and my mom are all going to lose it when they read this part: if there were let's say 100 fish in the water, 9o of them swam over to my feet for a proper meal! It was so humiliating to know my feet were a steak dinner when three other people's feet combined were merely a McDonald's burger. Devin told me to NEVER bring a date for a fish pedicure because the fish would be eating my feet instead of the man's....and that wasn't cool! We took a zillion pictures (all blurry, of course because we couldn't stop laughing) and much to my demise Long took a short video -



video

Last weekend was another adventure. Devin, Julie, Long, some work friends and I met up at our friend Rickesh's bar in LKF called Otto Lounge to celebrate Julie's birthday. It's a very cool, chill lounge similar to what you would find in NYC and not HK. They played 90s hip hop most of the night and we drank the most incredible french and lychee martinis...a little too incredible for my head the next morning :) I left early to go home and mentally prepare for the next day....my first junk trip with my dear friend Ashley!

I woke up feeling pretty good besides having a minor headache but by the time Ashley, Allison and I arrived at the ferry pier I was already feeling a little queasy. I popped a motion sickness pill and hoped for the best (BTW - I've never been seasick in my life). But after getting on the boat and having to wait 10 minutes for a few more people to arrive while docked in Hong Kong Harbor (one of the roughest in the world) I was feeling downright BAD. So I popped another pill and figured this trip would be an excellent way to get over my phobia of puking. Well, the 2-hour trip to the island we visited was probably the worst two hours of my life. I sat in the corner of the boat curled up and unable to speak. Thank goodness for Tijiana - she kept talking to me and getting me soda water to sip because my mouth was so dry. I LOVE YOU!

I never did get sick but two other people on the boat did for me. Awesome. As soon as we docked I jumped off the boat into the warm waters and realized my body was in shock. I was freezing, my body was shaking and my teeth were chattering (it was 92 degrees). Even more awesome. So I took off with a few other people and swam 2500 yards to shore to get warm and spend time on dry (and not moving) land. We stayed on the beach until we had to swim back to leave. And of course, the way home was incredible - not even a twinge of seasickness for nearly 2 hours. I don't understand how that happens but I wasn't complaining! I did find out later that it was unbelievably choppy on the water that day so I feel a little better about being sick but let's just say I am not signing up for another junk anytime soon. I will gladly swim in the dirty HK water but there's no way I will be on a boat in the open ocean again for a long time. I think it's 80% mind over matter but  getting older isn't helping. I grew up boating in Long Island Sound, used to go deep sea fishing and have trolled for fish in the Outer Banks without ever taking meds or feeling bad. What happened??? I've decided to blame my dad for this new fear since he gets seasick (I love you Bones)! I was supposed to go out that night but was wiped out and slept most of the remaining daylight hours, woke up to eat dinner, watched a movie in Chinese and went to bed by 11PM.

Sunday fundays are becoming a regular occurrence around here. Last Sunday I went on my first hike with Jay and his friend Jane who should be called St. Jay and St. Jane after what I put them through. Let me explain what a "hike" means in HK terms. It's not a slight incline on a perfectly manicured footpath with restrooms and water fountains abound - it's like being in the friggin' outback! The "trails" are mostly steps after steps after steps on what seems like a 75 degree constant incline (is that steep? I don't even know but it sounds good) and it's more humid than hell itself. I struggled my way up to the top (we had to stop 3 times so I could make sure my heart didn't beat out of my chest) and some guy actually asked if I was okay. How embarrassing ---but I can't wait to do it again!

After struggling on the trail, I met Ann (ABL) for brunch to catch up since she was in the US for two weeks. Ashley joined us for coffee and we decided to get foot and neck massages aftrwards. The best part? The place we found is about 200 yards from my new apartment and it's CHEAP. I ended the weekend by having dins with Ashley at one of our fav neighborhood joints. We noshed on tapas and cheap white wine before heading home to start the work week. Have I mentioned how much I love living here?

However, as much as I love it and as busy as I've been meeting people, exploring and trying new things, this week was the first I felt pangs of homesickness. It was a long week for a few reasons (everything is fine so nobody freak out), but I could've used some familiar faces or friendly messages from the people I love and care about back home. It's been somewhat eye-opening to realize that for some friendships being so far way means "out of sight out of mind" and for others it doesn't seem to make a bit of difference. Speaking of which, I want to thank the BFFS for being such incredible, loving and supportive friends. I know it's been harder to figure out how and when to chat but thoughts of you are constantly in my mind. I love you girls! I also want to give a 'shout out' to a dear friend of mine. We worked together briefly back in '02-'03 but our friendship has survived distance and the test of time. She just had a beautiful baby boy less than a week ago and while she was literally about to go into labor she read my blog, wrote down my address and sent me the funniest care package - 4 enormous jars of peanut butter, one tube of grape jelly and two boxes of 100-calorie packs (that I've already taken down)! Shannon - you are an amazing friend and wife and I know you will make a terrific mother. Congrats!!

Well, it's taken me almost two hours to write this blog entry so I need to get up from the couch and get ready for dinner with Monica, Michael, Michelle and Danny at an Australian restaurant called Wooloomooloo's in Wanchai tonight. I am preparing for Angelo and Mikey's visit to HK in a few weeks...this place won't be the same after those two crazy Ozzies come to town. And Shanghai doesn't stand a chance against me, Long, Angelo and Mike ---- watch out!

I hope everyone is doing well. Much love to my family and big hugs and kisses to my adorable niece Abbie. I miss singing in the car with you :)

Steph

Below are pictures from the fish pedicure and junk trip. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Oh What a Night.....at Vanessa's House!

I knew moving to a new country would bring a lot of frustration and emotional turmoil because everything would be foreign...

I knew it would take time to make friends (especially the locals since they don't necessarily love having all these expats living on their island that I affectionately now call a little slice of heaven)...

I knew I would lose weight because I wouldn't have the courage to eat half the food and would get sick of rice and noodles...

What I didn't know was that I would embrace the new culture and the people so easily, that it would be easier to make friends here than back in Charlotte or that I wouldn't lose a pound because of all the incredible dishes, both local and international that are readily available.

Getting to my original point (yes, there is one) I realized I feel more at home in Hong Kong in 5 weeks than I did in Charlotte in 5 years this week. It happened Wednesday night when we had a team dinner hosted by my peer, coach and friend Vanessa. I was super excited because it's not very often Westerners are invited to a local person's home for a meal and from the minute we arrived I felt like I was back at home. It was a combination of things, really - from the sheer amount of food she prepared to the fact that her adorable daughter called me "Auntie Steph" to the fact that we were given the choice to put on slippers to be more comfortable (it wasn't a requirement, just another way to make everyone feel at home). We literally stood around the dining room table and drank wine, ate our faces off and talked to each other for four hours. My friend's mom was also there and she said it seemed more like a social event for friends than a work function. Have I mentioned how much I like my work colleagues? Is anyone getting sick of me writing that yet? The home itself was incredible - she lives on the Peak so the views are breathtaking and everything in the house was feng-shuied (is that a word) for balance. I love the Asian decor! And of course Vanessa was a fantastic hostess. She is 5 months preggers and didn't skip a beat making sure everyone had everything they needed or wanted at all times. Becoming friends with her and Eunice has shown me the Chinese culture is a lot like the Italian culture - everything is about family and food. Joyceee - now I know why we are BFFs!!!!

Gotta go but I wanted to share one more thing ---- after looking at 10 overpriced, old, shoebox-sized apartments for a gazillion dollars a month in 120 degree heat (that might be a slight exxageration) I was taking the escalators back to my corporate apartment....and.....I......fell......on the stairs in front of about 1 million people (okay, more like 20). I was so embarrassed and humiliated that I got up and tripped again! My flip-flop fell off in the second mishap and I skinned my big toe. I just started laughing because what else can you do? The worst part - I was sporting my "Italy" tee shirt today so I completely mortified my peeps back in the motherland.

I guess some things never change :)

Below is a picture of me with Vanessa along with two pictures of our team (minus me, Vanessa, and Jennifer).

Love and miss,
Steph

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Anniversary To Me

Jo-san! (that means good morning in Cantonese but I know I spelled it wrong)

It's Monday night and I just got back from seeing some of the most magnificent views from The Peak, the tallest point on HK island that overlooks the entire city. I chose to do this tonight because I wanted to celebrate my one-month anniversary in style! And it didn't disappoint. It was a pretty night (less visible air pollution than usual) so you could see across Hong Kong Bay to Kowloon pretty clearly. I will try to upload some pictures to share but not sure they will capture the amazingness (is that a word) of this magical place I now call my home. One of the coolest things about living in Asia is that nobody makes fun of me for taking a bazillion pictures and bringing my camera everywhere!!! But I am developing a serious case of "camera envy" so before too long I will invest in a new lens. Any recommendations?

The only bad thing about going to The Peak tonight was that I missed dinner and much to my parent's dismay I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I got home. I don't think PB & jelly has ever tasted so good. There's something comforting about it that makes me soooo happy. The problem is I have to ration out the peanut butter because it's almost $10 a jar and anyone who knows me knows that I can take down a jar of peanut butter in a few days. Speaking of food (again), I went to a local, traditional dim sum restaurant for lunch last week with my work buddies Eunice and Harris and ate goose! What's more disturbing is that I really liked it minus all the bones. What has gotten into me here? I never try new foods at home but the Chinese really know what they are doing so I keep eating...thank goodness I live on the side of a mountain and walk up/down the mountain almost every time I leave my apartment. These glutes are made for walking!

This weekend was interesting. I went to dinner at a French restaurant called Pastis with the "American Girls" Friday night (we have to stick together b/c there aren't many of us over here) followed by a drink at a nearby bar. It was the perfect evening after a long week at work and I was home by 11:15pm.

Saturday morning I woke up, showered, even shaved my legs, got dressed and took a cab down to the central pier #9 to meet a friend of a friend from Charlotte who I still haven't met in person despite her best efforts to include me! and 20 of her closest friends on a junk trip (aka boat ride around the islands) for the day. However, it was raining pretty heavily at 9:30am so when I arrived at the dock I realized there was no way I was going to enjoy being on a boat for 8 hours in the rain, especially when I could possibly be seasick...Cate and Sandy this probably brings back funny memories of us shark diving in Gansbaii Island!!!  So I left the pier and went to eat breakfast at an organic restaurant with my friend Ashley instead. We sat and talked for nearly two hours when we realized the sun was now shining brightly up above (can anyone say Charlie Brown)??? Just my luck that it ended up being a gorgeous day and I missed out on the junk.

It was still a good day b/c Ashley took me to South Bay where we swam in the water and lived to tell about it. Many people (locals AND expats) have issues with the waters around HK island - they say the water is polluted and dirty...my boss won't even let her dog drink it! While it's certainly not Moorea or Bermuda it's not as bad as Long Island Sound in the early 90s with all the syringes. I still can't believe I swam in the water since it wasn't clear (ever since I started watching Shark Week a few years ago I haven't dipped my big toe in water that I couldn't see through). Did you know that something close to 80% of shark attacks happen in 5 ft. of water or less? SCARY.

Saturday night is when things got interesting and I am not sure I should even include it in my blog, but the whole point of writing this is to capture all my experiences (good and bad). A group of girls went to dinner Saturday night at one of my favorite restaurants called Cicada, folllowed by dancing to music from a Phillipino 80s band at a bar called Insomnia. All was good. But we left and went to another place called Sense that was SO NOT MY SCENE. We walked up two narrow flights of stairs to a smoke-invested bar where people were playing (banging) bongos, strumming guitars, dancing and high on something...so I nicknamed it the "opium den" and left after 15 minutes. A work colleague said he's been here almost a year and has never seen drugs. I've been here a month and have seen drugs twice already....what does that say about me?! My parents would be so proud :)

But yesterday made up for Saturday night's debacle. I woke up without an alarm clock at 9AM and went for a 90-minute walk on Bowen Road, followed by meeting up with my friend Verity, her husband and 10 of their friends at a floating restaurant called Jumbo. It was a great time and the free-flowing champagne didn't hurt either :) I left the restaurant around 3:45 and met up with two other friends, Julie and Long. We got foot massages followed by sangria and a light dinner. Jules gets the award for finding the funniest sign so far - HK is filled with funny signs, like "No Hawking" which means no spitting (it's somewhat common here but a lot more common in mainland Chna) - I have a picture of it to upload one of these days -- it simply states "do not scream" which was hilarious since we were in the middle of the quiet massage parlor. You probably had to be there to fully appreciate the humor but we were in a silent treatment room with mostly locals. Nobody was even whispering so the fact they had a sign about screaming was pretty ironic.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy living in Hong Kong? Everyday is something new, bright and shiny - I hope it never stops. I am meeting some of the most interesting people which makes an already wonderful experience even better. I feel like for the first time ever I am living the life I was intended to have - and it is exhilirating! I certainly miss certain things from home like "low-fat" anything, 100-calorie snacks, Banana Republic, Big Daddy's, and my house but I can say with complete conviction that I haven't been homesick...yet. Of course I miss my friends (especially the BFFs), my family and a certain someone else but overall there is so much going on here all the time that my biggest challenges are trying to manage conflicting priorities (meaning trying to avoid double-booking social engagements) and trying not to go broke while enjoying life!

It's now very late for a school night so I am signing off. I have a pretty busy week - team dinner Wednesday night, girls night Thursday and sheesha bar Friday night. This weekend will be spent looking at apartments (wish me luck).

Joyce - when are we going to skype so I can see that belly getting bigger?
Tracy/Tara/Danna/LP - when are you coming to visit?
Jess - get a FB account or else!!!
Lizzie - bring it this Sunday night!

Love and miss,
Steph

Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's Official....I Am A Hongkie!

Hello again!

It's Saturday night here in Hong Kong and I just got home from another great day. I went apartment hunting for a few hours this morning (no luck yet so keep your fingers crossed) followed by pool time in Discovery Bay with Monica, the best pedicure EVER with Michelle and dinner at a Portugese restaurant. I decided I was too tired to go out because tomorrow will be filled by a long walk on Bowen Road followed by brunch and free-flow champagne with Eren, Cheryl and Naomi at The Pawn in Wan Chai.....to add insult to injury, I was out until 4AM last night (yes, you read that correctly) so I can barely keep my eyes open. This place parties more than ANYWHERE I've ever been - NYC, London, Buenos Aires or even Sydney. It is absolutely ridiculous!!!

Last night's evening started with a work dinner at The China Club, a local Hong Kong institution and one of the most exclusive restaurants, hosted by my coach and mentor Vanessa(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Club). We noshed on Peking Duck (they make it into little pancakes with spring onions and sweet sauce - I loved it), sweet & sour pork, dan dan noodles and the infamous century egg which I tried but didn't like too much (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century_egg). I have gotten so adventerous with my palate lately that I am just asking to get sick (I am crossing all my fingers and toes as I write this). The crazy thing is that I haven't had any stomach issues that a lot of expats complain about....yet.

Once dinner was over (have I mentioned how much I adore my new team?) I met up with my new friend Sumaya (Sumi) and a bunch of her girlfriends for a night out on the town. It was like being at the United Nations and I couldn't have been happier - we had representation from France, Germany, Slovakia, Malaysia, Canada, Pakistan and the good ol' USA. We danced to 80's music in the street at Lan Kwai Fong and took jello shots off the back of our hands (yes, just like we did in college). At 3:45AM I decided it was time to take myself home so I hiked up the side of the mountain in heels to my apartment in mid-levels (the escalators stop running shortly running after midnight) which took about 20 minutes by stairs. I finally got home and it looked like I had just gone swimming because I was dripping from head to toe with sweat. I would call it perspiration but that would be a bold-faced lie. As much as I like it here, it is NOT GOOD for hair, skin, or high heels because of the humidity and hills everywhere.

A few other key things to share so my mom and the BFFs don't worry - I went out for dinner and drinks with a girl I met in Dubai in 2007 along with her friend Tanya from Russia Wednesday night after work. We had a great time and Ash is definitely going to be a great friend here. I also met a girl named Kelly through a colleague who lives in London. We met for drinks at Sevva, a bar with one of the best views of the Kowloon side, and I think we are going to start hiking together (and drinking together). It's so easy to meet people here and although there are 8 million people on the island it feels like a smaller community.

This week was also monumental because a VERY exciting thing happened yesterday....I officially became a Hongkie! Yep, that's right - I finally got my HK ID card so now the communist government can track my every move...literally. It felt similar to when I turned 16 and got my driver's license (on the FIRST try which is more than Jess can say!) I have to say my ID picture isn't too bad, either :)

As for the locals, here is an interesting observation. Many men and women of the older generations burp and dare I say "fart" in public with absolutely no regard for anyone around them. I was in a taxi the other day and the driver kept burping...with his mouth open. I couldn't figure it out at first - did he forget I was in the backseat? Did he suffer from serious indigestion? Was he just being rude? I asked someone in my office who explained that it's quite common....who then proceeded to tell me about the woman who sits behind him and burps/farts all day. He actually keeps count of how many "infractions" there are each day!!! I completely lost it when he told me and I am cracking up again just thinking about it (have I mentioned how much I like my colleagues)?

I've got to sign off and get some zzzzzzz's. I hope everyone is doing well and please keep the emails/skype/FB updates coming. It helps me feel close to home!

Elle - good luck on the house closing this week!

Love and miss,
Steph

Monday, July 26, 2010

Welcome to Hong Kong!

Hello everyone!

Sorry it's taken over two weeks to start this blog. It's been a whirlwind! I arrived safe and sound in Hong Kong the evening of July 10, 2010 at 6:38PM to start my new adventure after a very emotional 22-hour flight from CLT via JFK. The good news is that I flew business class on Cathay Pacific from JFK and the seats converted into completely flat beds. Amazing! I also heard the food is delish but I didn't have much appetite. Instead, I listened to David Grey and 80s music on my iPod most of the time.

That first Saturday evening was a very lonely night. In fact I don't think I've EVER felt so alone in all my life. I had trouble communicating with the locals (who call themselves Hong Kongese so I was close when I said Hong Konganese Joyce!). The funny thing is they THINK they speak good English but many of them don't. And they talk really fast so sometimes you honestly don't know if they are speaking English, Chinese or Greek. Once I got to my corporate apartment my frustration increased because I couldn't figure out how to use my computer, make a phone call or turn on the hot water in the shower (they have metal boxes in the shower and kitchen that you need to turn on and set the temp -- which by the way is in Celsius! - why does the USA have to be difficult and not use the metric system?) which certainly didn't help matters or my mood so I went to bed. BUT, I woke up Sunday morning (4:15am) and called my friend, mentor and guardian angel Eren at 7:45am to come save me. She and her hubby Jack scooped me up and spent the entire day babysitting me. They showed me where to get groceries, how to ride the Escalators (the longest set of escalators in the world that literally people take down the side of the mountain in the AM and up the mountain in the PM) and out to Causeway Bay where they live. I also got to see IKEA (yeah!!!) and a public outdoor swimming pool where I plan to start swimming again...or at least that's what I told myself.

After my HK tour Eren and I met her friend Cheryl and got hour-long foot massages for $25USD. It was incredible and it's one of only a few "bargains" in Hong Kong - the others being public transportation, medicine and water. Nobody drinks the water here but I've been using it to brush my teeth and so far so good. To that extent, guess what I ate last week...chicken feet and jellyfish! I liked them both but the chicken feet don't have much meat so I am not sure why people put forth all the effort! Next up is durian fruit (it smells like dirty socks - they won't even let you open the fruit in a restaurant or store b/c it's so pungent). I don't think I am going to like it but as they say "when in Rome." The locals are having a great time with me because I try everything, including trying to speak their language. OMG - it's so difficult to form their sounds!!!

Everything else is very expensive here - it's the 4th most expensive city in the world behind Moscow, Tokyo and somewhere in Norway. For you shopping lovers (LP, Danna, Jess) it would be heaven --- Prada, Tod's, Tom Ford, Missoni, Gucci, YSL, DVF, and the list goes on an on. I just politely smile as I walk by and wonder A) what people do to be able to shop there and B) if they make sizes large enough to fit my birthing hips and ta-tas. Speaking of which, Asian women are thin and beautiful. It's incredibly annoying and using Elly's term in Spanish I feel like a "monstradante" - I know I butchered that word, sorry Elle! I also noticed their complexions are entirely too perfect - they don't age at all! I plan on getting one of them to let me in on the secret to their fountain of youth because it works....stay tuned.

Have I mentioned how much I like my job so far? It's incredibly I-N-T-E-N-S-E an I've never felt so dumb in my life. Everyone on my floor has educational pedigrees that make Condaleeza Rice look like she went to community college. We are talking Stanford, Cambridge, Brown, Dartmouth, UPenn and....wait for it......NC State! I guess they needed someone from a public, non-Ivy university to help their diversity metrics :) My boss is cool - she's Irish with a wicked and witty sense of humor. She's also one of the smartest people I've ever met in my professional life. I am learning so much from her already and I am just scratching the surface. I can't wait to learn more about this complex, challenging and sometimes crazy investment banking business! Did I mention my boss is also a shoe whore? We are talking CLs out the wazoo! It's a shoe fashion show everyday in the office so I need to quickly step up my game...

I've met a lot of people since my arrival (mostly Brits and a few Aussies) and I've made a few friends along the way, mostly from work. The bank sometimes makes me nuts but the people who work there are generally pretty friggin' awesome. I should give a shout out to Eren, Jack, Cheryl, Ann, Monica, Michelle, Ali, Harris, Eunice, Vanessa and Verity. These people have been exceptionally inclusive and welcomed me with open arms. And because there's very much a feeling of "we're all in this together" friendships are formed much faster. I feel like I hit the trifecta again - great job, great boss, and probably the most important --- a great team. I feel so lucky.

I am going to do a better job of writing posts more regularly (more for myself than for the readers!) because I want to capture my thoughts and experiences while living here more accurately. I would love for you to read my posts but I understand that my life probably isn't that exciting to anyone else...

Just in case you are wondering if I am lonely --- I have a little "buddy" named Cleo. He's a chameleon or salamander and he lives on my living room wall. I don't know what he eats or what he does all day but he's here when I get home from work and we hang out until I go to bed :)

Below is all my contact info. I still don't have a mobile (I kind of like it) but I am getting one this week and will include the number in my next update.
Work Phone:
852 2161 7462

Skype:
US2HKsteph

Love and miss my family, friends, JG and my BFFS (you know who you are!)

Steph

PS - below is a picture of Cleo, my buddy :)