Take Off Your Necklace

Traveling has given me this terrible identity crisis. My looks confuse people, I already knew that. At home, the most frequent guess I get is Hispanic. I’ve had people come up to me speaking Korean, Japanese, and even Armenian, completely shocked when I don’t understand. That’s why I was so excited when I came to Hong Kong – everyone here knows I am Chinese! 9 times out of 10, people speak Cantonese to me before English, even if I’m surrounded by people who are obviously foreign. Of course, I hate the look of disappointment on their faces when they realize I have no idea what they’re saying. That’s what made Beijing so awesome – I could actually respond! Usually I just said, “Please speak slowly, my Chinese is terrible,” but it’s something at least. Then I went to the Philippines this weekend, and it started all over again. So many people asked me if I was Filipina, and were surprised when I said no. People ask where I’m from, I say I’m American, and they say “But, but… you don’t look American.” How does one “look” American, anyway? That’s beyond me. But I’ve realized that I can look like a local pretty much anywhere I go. I’ve decided that from now on, when people ask where I’m from, I’ll give them a random answer and see if they call me out on it. Next time, I’ll be Vietnamese. Maybe after that I’ll be from Guam. Then Indonesia. I bet they would believe me.

Anyway, I spent this past weekend in and around Manila. The city is really unlike any I’ve ever been to. It’s beautiful, but very run down, and there are homeless people everywhere. I can deal with people begging, I’ve seen that before, but I wasn’t prepared to see so many homeless children. You walk anywhere in the city and a three or four year old child will run up to you with their hand stretched out.

Since the city is kind of (really) scary, we took two day trips on Friday and Saturday, and just spent half of Sunday around the city before our flight. Friday we went to the Taal Volcano, about 30 miles south of Manila. We took a van to Tagaytay, then a small boat across the lake to the volcano, which got us completely soaked! My friend said she saw online that we might get a little wet on the way, but we thought it couldn’t possibly be that bad, and turned down the offer for a plastic poncho. By the end we were completely drenched.

Once we made it to the island, we rode horses up to the top of the volcano. I don’t know if you could really call them horses… They were all very small. But definitely way too big to be called ponies. I don’t know. But mine was named Jericho and my butt still hurts from his stupid saddle. When we finally made it to the top, we were greeted by one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Back down the hill on the horse, back across the lake on the boat (we got soaked again), and there was lunch waiting for us at the boathouse. When they had asked me if I wanted my fish fried or grilled, I didn’t realize it was actually my fish. That is, they gave me a fish. A whole fish. Tilapia. With scales and fins and a face. A FACE. Staring at me. Making me feel terrible for eating him. But he was delicious. He even had bell pepper and onion fish guts inside. They catch them out in the lake; I’ve definitely never had fish that fresh in my life.

On Saturday, we were supposed to go to the Pagsanjan waterfalls, but the weather had other thoughts in mind. Instead we ended up at Villa Escudero, a coconut plantation about two and a half hours outside Manila.

This place was weird. They’ve tried to make it into this tourist attraction, but it just came out all strange. You ride in a cart pulled by a water buffalo to the other side of the “resort,” and all along the way are these cheesy colorful statues made to look like people working in the plantation. The weirdest part is the museum, which is a huge hot pink building made to look like a church.

It’s not really a museum. It’s a bunch of crap collected by the Escudero family all stuffed into one building. They’re pretty much just rich hoarders. There’s a ton of religious stuff, like crosses and awkward Jesus statues, hunting knives and the heads of animals killed by the guy, coins from around the world, old perfume bottles, spoons, WWII memorabilia, and tons of Chinese porcelain. They won’t let you take pictures inside, and the guides continuously stress how rare and expensive all the items are.

The coolest part of the whole place is the restaurant. There’s a fake waterfall and you sit right in it. You take off your shoes and sit with your feet in the water. Such a neat idea! And it’s a big buffet of Filipino food. My favorites were the jicama just because I love jicama, green beans with pumpkin or some kind of squash, and the fried bananas. I must have eaten three or four of those. Yum.

This was the first time I’ve eaten a big piece of chicken since I started eating meat again. When I have to eat meat, I prefer it cut up into little pieces so I don’t really have to look at it. With the tilapia, I could at least use a fork, but I had to use my hands for this. Freaked me out a little. Okay, a lot. But I was determined to try everything.

On Sunday we went around Manila for a few hours. We rode jeepneys to the national museum, Rizal Park, and finally to Chinatown. If you’re ever in the Philippines and are in the mood to buy useless crap, Chinatown is the place to be.

I kept my eyes peeled for Taco Bell the whole time I was there, but never found one. Manila has even more American fast food than Hong Kong. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Dairy Queen, even Krispy Kreme! I really could have gone for a seven-layer burrito though…

Gobble Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I made you a Google Doodle to celebrate!

It’s official – I go home in less than 40 days. The whole thing is pretty bittersweet. I miss home, my family, my friends, obviously, but I really could stay in Hong Kong forever. That being said… I have no Asian food to talk about this week! Terrible, I know. It’s not that I didn’t eat any, of course, just nothing blog-worthy. Although I did go back to that Japanese place, Miso Cool, and had some melt-in-your-mouth eel.

On Sunday I went to the horse races in Sha Tin. Since I obviously know absolutely nothing about horse races, I decided to bet on the horses with the coolest names: Dreams Maker and Forest Fountain. I wanted to bet on Super Pistachio, but that race wasn’t until much later in the day and we didn’t want to stay that long.

Well, Dreams Maker did not make my dreams. Neither did Forest Fountain. But I only bet about $5USD, so it was okay. The guys I was with did win, though, so of course they had to gloat.

On Monday I walked around TST looking for a new lens for my camera. Everything is all decorated for Christmas already! I swear, Christmas starts earlier every year. They’re building an ice skating rink right by the school, but I don’t understand how it will stay frozen since it’s outside. Outdoor ice skating rinks in Pittsburgh make sense. Pickwick in Burbank works because it’s inside. An outdoor rink in Hong Kong? How is that possible? Anyway, I walked all the way to Harbor City, a ridiculously expensive mall, and they had a huge Toy Story Christmas display. They Toy Story section of Disneyland just opened up a couple weeks ago, and I am so excited to go!

Of course, Christmastime doesn’t really start until after Thanksgiving. Depressed over missing out on a huge dinner, most of the Americans went last night to Outback Steakhouse, the most American restaurant within walking distance from the dorm (besides McDonald’s). It was the least Thanksgivingy Thanksgiving I have ever had, and it was great.

We got a Bloomin’ Onion, of course, which was inhaled in about three minutes.

Instead of my usual Tofurkey, I had shrimp and mushroom alfredo. That’s what the Pilgrims ate, right?

For dessert, no pumpkin pie. Instead, the Chocolate Thunder From Down Under, the most ridiculously named brownie a la mode ever. Also inhaled within 3 minutes.

It was a pretty great evening, I must say. Plus, in case you couldn’t tell, I got to use my new lens! It’s 50mm f/1.8. I’ve been having tons of fun with it. There are honestly about 3 camera shops per block in Hong Kong, so no shortage of new toys to buy… I might end up coming home with a couple more.

Last Hurrahs

Finally, I have my first class today. Artificial Intelligence from 6:30pm-10:00pm. I can’t believe how late classes go here! It’s ridiculous. My evening classes are already making me miss out on things, like the exchange student dinner tomorrow. Bah. If it weren’t the first week, I would ditch.

The past few days I’ve been having a lot of foods reminding me of home. I’ve gone out of my way to eat simple things like sandwiches. It’s not that I’m really tired of Chinese food or anything, I just need some variety! Every meal seems to be a choice between rice or noodles. There is plenty more Chinese food I need to experience! I haven’t really had dumpling soup or dim sum or anything like that, and I’m getting tired of constant noodles.

The other day we went to a burger place called BLT. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. I had a falafel burger (vegetarian yes!!) that was only so-so, and the fries tasted kind of McDonald’s-y. What was amazing though was the milkshakes. Let me just start by saying that being of age is amazing. I’m only 20, so I can’t drink at home. Not that I’m dying to go get drunk every night, but sometimes you look on a menu and the drinks just sound amazing! Because of that, I’m definitely taking advantage of my age while I’m here. I ordered a milkshake, called Silk Road, made of Kahlua, Bailey’s, espresso, and coffee ice cream. That thing must have been over 1500 calories, and I enjoyed every last drop of it. It’s something I can definitely make on my own, too. Yum.

Another taste of home I had this week: frozen yogurt. Froyo is such a big deal here! It’s actually very inexpensive too, considering most dairy products are pretty costly. There’s a Tutti Frutti pretty close to my dorm. I’ve seen it at home but never had it (I’m much more into Yogurtland or Menchie’s) so I’m not sure how the flavors compare, but it definitely had some unique options. I got half guava and half red bean yogurt – the guava was to die for but the red bean was only so-so. Then, as I usually do, I only topped it with fruit and mochi, plus the little jelly things you can get at bubble tea places. They had dragon fruit! If you haven’t had it before, it’s that hot pink scary looking thing but it’s white inside with black seeds. It tastes a little bit like kiwi, but less sweet.

The other day, my roommate went over to Macau for the day. Macau and Hong Kong are the two Special Administrative Regions of China, meaning they belong to China but are separate for the time being. The ferry to Macau only takes about one hour, so I definitely have to go! Anyway, she brought me back some “cookies”…

They look like normal cookies, right? Crunchy outside with maybe a chocolatey filling or something. When I looked at the box more closely, I realized they weren’t cookies at all. It says “Phoenix Egg Roll with Seaweed and Shredded Pork.” Not a cookie. I ate one though – very interesting. I know it says pork but they taste extremely fishy. Nice to try, but I don’t know how I’m going to finish the whole box.

Yesterday I went to Repulse Bay, a beach on Hong Kong Island. It was so nice! Everyone says that beach is so dirty, but honestly, compared to LA beaches it was ridiculously clean. Very little trash. Afterward we went to this fantastic Japanese restaurant in the Tsim Sha Tsui subway station. It’s crazy, almost every subway station here is its own little shopping center, with tons of places to eat and small boutiques. The TST one is a full mall with multiple floors, clothing stores, and sit down restaurants. This was a trendy place called Miso Cool. Not too expensive and absolutely delicious! I will definitely be going back.

I’ve been trying to eat more meat for a more balanced diet, so I decided to go with spicy ramen with shrimp tempura. It was delicious! I haven’t had anything spicy since I got here, so the ramen really hit the spot. It came with corn, a bit of bok choy, and half an egg on top. The tempura had two shrimps plus one piece of eggplant and one piece of squash. It was really great, not too greasy or anything. And the presentation was so cute! All of us were gawking when our food came out. There’s a little picture on the inside of the bowls, and they’re all different. They also have some interesting smoothies, like green tea with Yakult, that I’ll have to try when I go back.

Oh, and one strange thing I’ve noticed here: The Chinese drink 紅茶 or 綠茶, which translates to red tea and green tea. The only problem is that when they say red tea, what they are actually talking about is what we call black tea. Since this bizarre translation was already explained to me by my Chinese teacher this year, I wasn’t surprised by it, but I know a few people were a bit confused. When my friend and I both ordered red milk tea the other day, I knew exactly what I was getting but she thought she was trying something new!