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