What Month Is It?

I’ve been back in sunny Southern California for about two weeks now, loving this weather and absolutely dreading my return to Pittsburgh and the snow. It’s “cooled off” a bit here, down to about 75 everyday, but it was high 80s last week. Feels like summer. I hate snow.

I’ve got a couple recipes for you. It’s been so hot that I’ve been making smoothies almost everyday for lunch. This one has hidden veggies in it, but unlike my Tropical Green Monster it doesn’t have a scary color.

Berry Green Smoothie

Ingredients
1 C frozen mixed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
1/4 – 1/3 C milk, as needed (I used soy but any milk would be fine)
1 Tbsp chia seed
1 Tbsp flax meal
soy protein powder
1 large handful fresh spinach leaves
agave nectar, to taste

Instructions
Blend until smooth and serve.

Then the other day, my mom and I tried out a new recipe for vegetarian chili. It was really delicious but it took a lot of work. It wasn’t difficult but just cutting the vegetables took forever because there was so much. I must say, though, this is a pretty substantial chili. Some of my meat-eating friends seem to think there’s no such thing as vegetarian chili – I think they should try a bowl of this. It’s got some really interesting ingredients – coffee and chocolate – that give it a really unique flavor.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili
Original recipe from Food Network Magazine, Jan/Feb 2012

Ingredients
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large bell peppers (1 red, 1 green), chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1/4 tsp adobo seasoning
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
1/2 C brewed coffee
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, crushed
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 head cauliflower, grated
1/2 C fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese, onions, corn, etc. for topping

Instructions
1.
 In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell peppers, carrots, and salt, stirring frequently for 8 minutes or until carrots are soft.
2. Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
3. Stir in chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, chipotle, adobo, tomato paste, and tortillas. Cook about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a splash of water if the mixture begins to stick.
4. Add coffee and let simmer 30 seconds until almost completely reduced.
5. Reduce to low heat. Add tomatoes, cocoa powder, beans, and 2 1/2 C water, and let simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Stir in cauliflower and let cook an additional 10 minutes.
7. Dig in!

How do you eat chili? Just in a bowl? My mom puts it over rice, or sometimes we put it on baked potatoes, but my first choice will always be the Frito Pie. How do you make a Frito Pie, you ask?

Just like that. Asian noodle bowl is optional.

Fly Lice

Christmas in Bangkok! By far the least Christmassy Christmas I’ve ever had. I went with one of my friends (hello, I know you’re reading) and her friend from home who was visiting. I didn’t take the same flight as them, so I got to have a fun three hours waiting at the airport by myself, but it was okay in the end. Just like Taipei, Bangkok was mostly temples, shopping, and street food, and I was okay with that.

Our first day, we wanted to go to some of the cool temples near the river. We pretty much got scammed by a tuk-tuk driver into taking a very expensive longboat instead of the public ferry, but as far as scams go, it wasn’t the end of the world. After that though, it was all ferry all the time. Definitely the coolest form of public transportation I’ve ever taken.

First stop: the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. It’s a gigantic statue of Buddha laying down, and it looks even bigger because it’s in a room barely big enough for it. Very impressive. The bottom of Buddha’s feet have a really intricate mother-of-pearl design, and the walls inside the building are painted as a huge, extremely detailed mural. After that, we went to Khao San Road and then Patpong Night Market. So much cheap shopping! Lots of cheesy souvenirs and bad knockoffs, sure, but I managed to find a few decent things. There were also plenty of food carts, so I might as well go into the street food now.

Pad thai pad thai pad thai. I think I had it three or four times, including Christmas dinner. Stir fried noodles with shrimp, egg, peanuts, sprouts, chili, lime, green onions, yum yum yum. Also satay, fresh squeezed juice, Thai tea, scrambled eggs with rice, mango sticky rice, fried bananas, red curry, green curry… We ate so many meals on the street. Pretty much everything I’ve had before, since Thai is tied with Mexican for my favorite cuisine, but obviously it was a lot cooler (and cheaper) eating Thai food in the street in Thailand than at a restaurant here in Los Angeles. What was new to me, though, was coconut pancakes. They’re not like fluffy pancakes, but rather a crunchy shell filled with cream and coconut shavings. We had those our second day, at the floating market.

We booked a day tour since everything we wanted to see that day was at least two hours outside the city. First stop was the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi. Plenty of boats and stalls were selling tourist crap, but I was way more interested in the real stuff. Little old ladies sitting in the water cutting fresh produce or handing bowls of hot noodles to people standing on the side of the canal. Definitely awesome to see. We took a boat through the market and then looped around through other parts of the canal where people actually live.

These houses were gorgeous! Sure, they were all a bit run down, but most were pretty big and almost all of them had tons of potted plants and other decorations out front. It was so beautiful. After that, we hopped back on the bus which took us to lunch.

This meal was really different than I expected. Not at all spicy like Thai food usually is – just really fresh tasting. Tons of bell peppers, onions, tofu, pineapple, cashews, and – my favorite – broccoli. Then we were off to the River Kwai Bridge, and finally, the place I was excited for most: the Tiger Temple.

It’s a conservation center run by monks. Some tigers are born there, but a lot are brought in as cubs after their mothers are killed by poachers. There were so many tigers! You wait in line for a bit, and then get two volunteers assigned to you: one holds your hand and walks you from tiger to tiger, where you sit and rub their adorable tiger bellies for a bit, and another takes pictures for you. Besides that you can walk around the rest of the center on your own. They also have other animals, like boars and deer, and you might run into a monk taking a tiger for a walk. Such an unbelievable experience.

Right near Wat Pho is the Grand Palace, which is half official government buildings, half temple, all tourist attraction. We went on Christmas day. The buildings are really beautiful, completely covered in tile and gold. They have a free tour in English a couple times a day, and we were lucky enough to get there right as one was starting. We got to learn all about what the different statues represent, the types of architecture, the function of each of the government buildings, etc. Afterward we went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It has something like 8,000 stalls, making it the largest in southeast Asia. It’s definitely a local market – souvenirs were actually hard to find amongst all the clothes, dishes, furniture, and food. We went more just to see the market than to do any actual shopping, but I did get something amazing:

Coconut ice cream, served in the coconut it was made from, topped with red beans, sticky rice, and pineapple jelly. Merry Christmas to me.

For our last days we laid on the beach and got tans, and then just walked around a bit. Sometimes my favorite thing to do is just walk around and look at people going about their business. The sidewalks in Bangkok are overly crowded with people cooking different foods, and any alley big enough to accomodate a market is filled with stalls of fresh fruit.

Thailand was amazing. I want to go back. Maybe not Bangkok – after five days, I definitely feel like I got a sense of what the city is about – but somewhere else definitely. Just for the food.

The Final Countdown

My finals are over!! Finally. (Haha bad puns.) Glad I don’t have to deal with them anymore, but it does mean that this semester is actually over. Considering I was supposed to be studying all last week, I did quite a bit. Knocked out a few good bucket list items.

I finally had conveyor belt sushi – something I’ve wanted to do forever, but it’s a little difficult when you’re eating vegetarian. They did have one of those yummy egg sushis though. Basically the way it works is sushi on small plates comes around on a conveyor belt and you take whatever you want. The cost of each plate depends on the color – that purple plate was my one splurge item. Crab and crab roe. Yummy. No, I did not eat all those plates by myself. I’m not that much of a fatty, I was with a friend!

I also took a ferry out to Cheung Chau for a day, one of the smaller islands in Hong Kong. There’s a small neighborhood and a couple beaches and trails. It’s actually so small that there aren’t any cars on the entire island! Everyone just gets around on bikes, even little old ladies. Most of them use training wheels though, which I thought was pretty adorable. Cheung Chau is where they have the bun festival every year, but that isn’t until spring. I don’t actually know much about it except that people climb up this gigantic structure covered in buns. It sounds pretty weird. The buns were delicious though! Just steamed bread with red bean inside, my favorite.

Like most tiny little islands, Cheung Chau also has amazing seafood. We had a gigantic meal of ginger crab, clams with bell peppers in some sort of gravy sauce, steamed shrimp, some kind of fish, and mantis shrimp. Mantis shrimp are also called pissing shrimp, and they’re sort of purplish inside. Really good but not worth all the effort it took to get their shells open.

Whenever I have a really great meal here I’m always shocked by how cheap everything is. All the seafood I could possibly stuff my face with, and so fresh. It came out to less than US$10 per person. Really, the little places with folding tables and plastic chairs are always the best.

On Saturday I went to Ozone, the highest bar in the world. It’s on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton in the ICC building.

Super swanky, super expensive. The view was really nice, but honestly I more just went so I could check it off the list. I had an unbelievably overpriced “dragontini,” which was delicious, and got really sad when I remembered I won’t be able to do any of this when I get back home. I don’t turn 21 until next August, so it’s all pretty miserable.

Sunday was probably my best day ever in Hong Kong. The plan was: wake up early to watch the live stream of the dance show at CMU, go to Tuen Mun where my local friend lives for a nice lunch, study, and then finish up with a free concert. I made it through the dance show (which was AWESOME guys, so proud of you! and so jealous I wasn’t in it this semester!), but then about ten minutes before I was going to leave for Tuen Mun I started feeling really sick. Spent the rest of the day going back and forth between sleeping and throwing up my guts. It was a fun time. I still don’t know what got me so sick, but I woke up on Monday feeling great again.

So that was my week, besides two finals and an essay. The next couple of weeks until I go home are going to be absolutely crazy, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have for blogging. I’m off to Taipei tomorrow, then Bangkok and back to mainland China before I leave Asia for good. Well, not for good, but for now at least. I’ll be back.

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…

Scorpions Taste Like Bacon

Today was the last day of my Chinese class. For whatever reason, it ends three weeks before all the rest of my classes, so now I have five day weekends. For the oral portion of my final, I had to choose a topic and talk for two minutes – I decided to talk about my trip to Beijing! Here’s my script, in case you’re curious:

上个星期我去了北京旅行。我的朋友都不会说汉语,所以我跟北京人说了很多普通话。我们在北京玩儿得非常好!我们参观了前门,天安门,故宫,天坛,还有 颐和园 。颐和园的风景最漂亮。那儿有一个很大的湖,可以坐船。我们在金山岭长城走了四个多小时。走完以后,我们太累了!我们也去了王府井小吃街。那个地方有很多好吃的菜。我吃了冰糖葫芦,羊肉串儿,煎饼果子,还有麻团儿。这些东西都很好吃!还有,我吃蝎子了,吃得坏!我很害怕!

Of course, now I have to tell you that same story but in English, but I really don’t know where to begin. I had an amazing five days in Beijing. I was with a couple Americans and a ton of Danes, and I was the only one who knows (well, sort of knows) Chinese, so naturally I got quite a bit of practice in! Sure, I was speaking in broken sentences the whole time, but it was great to talk to real people outside of a classroom.

Our hostel was right by 前门 Qianmen, so the first day we mostly walked around there. Qianmen means “front gate,” meaning that was the southernmost gate on the wall that used to surround Beijing. A ton of places in the city end in 门 “men” because they used to be gates!

In addition to the actual gate, Qianmen has shopping (regular and market-style) and tons of food.

My first meal in Beijing! The best thing about being in restaurants was speaking Chinese to the waiter/waitress. I can’t tell you how many times I asked 您有没有英文菜单?Do you have an English menu? First thing I noticed right of the bat was that restaurants serve a lot more vegetables than the ones in Hong Kong. The one on the right was my food – chicken with peanuts, cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, and onions. I miss veggies! The little cakes in the center are fried pumpkin with a bit of red bean inside.

Beijing street food is generally amazing, but especially in Qianmen. Everywhere you turn there’s a little counter selling all sorts of cakes, buns, fried tofu, hot dogs, and corn on the cob. One of my favorite things was 冰糖葫芦 bingtanghulu, skewers of candied haw berries. They have just haws, haws covered in sesame seeds, or haws cut in half with orange slices in the middle, and even skewers of candied strawberries, grapes, pineapple, or kiwi. I like the plain haws the best, but you have to look for ones with cuts down the middle – that means they’ve taken out the seeds, which can be pretty painful if you bite down on one accidentally. It’s a bit more expensive when you get it that way, but even then it’s only about 8元 max. The ones with seeds are a cheap as 1元.

On the second day, we got up bright and early, left the hostel around 6am for 金山岭长城, the Great Wall at Jinshanling. It’s a couple hours northeast of the city, but I’d say it’s definitely worthwhile to make the trek all the way out there rather than going to the 八达岭 Badaling section which is much closer. There’s nothing I hate more than pictures with people in them, and once you’re all the way out there it’s pretty easy to get some gorgeous shots of the wall without any tourists, whereas Badaling is super crowded. That also means it isn’t as well restored in some places, but that can be good, too. We walked for around four hours; I didn’t realize it would be so steep in some places!

It was the perfect day for the Wall. Pretty cold in the morning, but once we got walking we warmed up quite a bit, and it was the least hazy of all the days we were there. You really could see on forever, mountains behind mountains behind mountains.

After a long day, we finally made it back to the city and went to 鬼街 Guijie, Ghost Street, for dinner, near 东直门 Dongzhimen. It’s a couple blocks of all restaurants, and at night people will set up little tables where they try to sell you overpriced souvenir crap.

We were in need of some delicious 烤鸭 roast duck, so we got some of that as well as something called 杂粮包 zaliangbao. I’m not sure if it has a real English name, but Google Translate tells me that means “cereal package.” So I’ll just stick with zaliangbao.

It’s little bowls of steamed bread, with veggies and meat that you put inside! I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this before. Such an interesting change from the usual noodles and rice.

Friday we headed first to 天安门 Tian’anmen Square and 故宫 The Forbidden City, both of which were walking distance from the hostel. I couldn’t believe how crowded these places were. There were tons of tour groups – 20 or so little old Chinese ladies all wearing the same bright orange baseball cap, following some guy with a big flag and a megaphone. In the Forbidden City, you can look inside the buildings but you can’t go into most of them, and wherever there was an open spot to look people were pushing and shoving! After awhile, I just decided it wasn’t even worth it to fight my way through. The buildings themselves are already gorgeous, not to mention the gardens, so who really cares whether or not you get to see the Emperor’s favorite concubine’s dressing room?

After that, we made our way over to 西单 Xidan for some 火锅 hotpot! I had a recommendation for a place called 海底捞 Haidilao, and it was soooo delicious, and very inexpensive. They have a few locations, and apparently they’re pretty popular – you should have seen the size of the waiting area.

Then we went to 天坛 Temple of Heaven. We got there after the actual temple was closed, but it’s a huge park, so it was still nice to walk around. There were so many trees! That’s one thing Hong Kong could definitely use more of. We also did a bit of market shopping.

Finally, the thing I had been waiting for: 王府井小吃街 Wangfujing Snack Street, a little alley off of 王府井大街 Wangfujing Street that sells tons of crazy street food. There was some normal food, of course, but I was most interested in the crazy When-In-China type food. They really do eat anything and everything in China, and in Wangfujing you can get it all, usually on a stick.

From top to bottom, left to right, that’s pidgeon; sea urchin; squid tentacles; scorpions, starfish, and seahorses; lizards and more seahorses; quail eggs; 羊肉串儿 yangrou chaur (lamb kebabs); mini lobsters (who knew they came that small?). I kept pretty tame with my choices: a corn on the cob, lamb, squid, and some chicken dumplings. I did, however, do something a little crazy. I ate 蝎子 xiezi. Scorpion. A big, huge, deep-fried black one.

Gonna be honest, I screamed a little, but who wouldn’t? It really did taste like bacon though. Disgusting bacon, but bacon nonetheless. No amount of peer pressure could get me anywhere near the grasshoppers or centipedes though. Nuh uh, no way. The scorpion was immediately washed down with some delicious haw berries.

On Saturday we headed northwest of the city toward 圆明园 Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace) and 颐和园 the Summer Palace. Yuanmingyuan was the Summer Palace for the Qing dynasty emperors until it was burned down during the Second Opium War in 1860. That’s where the newer Summer Palace comes in.

Three-quarters of the park is a huge manmade lake. Really, you see this thing and you’re just blown away. Definitely the best scenery of the trip (which I said in my Chinese final! 颐和园的风景最漂亮!)

Then we made our way back to the city, stopped by the 雍和宫 Yonghegong Lama Temple, and then 798 艺术区 Art District, basically the hipster-central of Beijing. Tons of interesting art galleries, cute little boutiques, and small coffee shops. We also went to the Olympic Park, where the games were in 2008; the stadiums were beautifully lit at night. Finally, we ended the night with cocktails at 什刹海酒吧 Shichahai Bar Street in 后海 Houhai. We found a place called the Lotus Blue that had a live reggae band! In the middle of Beijing, of all places.

Finally, it was our last day in Beijing. I really wanted to make it to the Ming Tombs, but that’s a bit outside the city and I was afraid we wouldn’t make it back in time for our flight. Instead we stopped by 孔庙 Temple of Confucius and did a bit of last minute shopping at the clothing market in 三里屯 Sanlitun. And got some more street food, of course.

The one on the top left is called 麻团儿 matuar in Beijing and other parts of northern China, but I usually call it 煎堆 jiandui. It’s fried glutinous rice flour covered in sesame seeds, usually with lotus paste inside. My favorite is when it has red bean, so I was a little disappointed to bite into the lotus paste, but I kept eating and found that there was red bean INSIDE the lotus paste! The top right is a crunchy, eggy pastry. Bottom left is a chewy cake-type thing with red beans, and the bottom right is a flakey, buttery bun. Outside of Qianmen, most street food comes from the back of someone’s bicycle. They attach a box of food to the back and just hang around somewhere. People sell fruit, roasted chestnuts, and my personal favorite, baked sweet potatoes.

Outside the Confucian temple, we got stopped by these adorable guys from Beijing University. They were all holding cameras, so at first I thought they wanted pictures of us (that happens when you walk around with blonde people in China), but instead they asked if they could each have a conversation with us and film it. It was homework for an English class. It was seriously the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me! They were all obviously very nervous, and kept checking their scripts whenever they forgot what they were supposed to say.

My last meal in Beijing. It was good, nothing special, but what I really liked was the English translation on the menu: eggplant face. The word for noodle, 面 mian, has several meanings, one of which is face. I laughed so hard when I saw that!

My five days in Beijing were definitely some of the most memorable yet. Honestly, I wish I could have stayed longer! Being able to practice my Chinese with real people was so great, too. I’m really sad I won’t have time to make it to Shanghai during my stay here in Asia, but I guess that just gives me a great excuse to come back.

Hong Kong Halloween

Two weekends since my last post! I’m terrible. Sorry Mom. I’ve been way too busy being a good girl, doing homework and studying.

Last Friday I went to Shek O, on Hong Kong Island, which is pretty much the best beach in all of Hong Kong. Man, I love not having class on Fridays. Getting there isn’t even that bad, just a couple of buses.

It was such a perfect day. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot, there were hardly any people, the water was warm, the sand was unbelievably soft. Honestly, I could have laid right down on the sand instead of my towel and it would have been just as comfortable. Out in the water, they’ve got these huge raft things, so we swam out there and just sat for awhile. It was so relaxing! I really need to take advantage of this weather while I can and go back.

There are a few little restaurants right by where the bus lets you off, and we decided on a little Thai place called Happy Garden. I was pretty stoked, since it had been awhile since I had Thai and that’s pretty much my favorite. I got red curry, my favorite food ever, and it was aaaaamazing. Full of eggplant, green beans, bell peppers – everything I love. I was in heaven. Seriously, perfect day.

A couple weeks ago, I came across something called a hotchocspoon. My Dutch friend was all excited, because it’s made by a Dutch company; basically it’s a huge chunk of chocolate stuck on a spoon that you melt into hot milk to make the most amazing hot chocolate ever created. I made it the other night while I was studying for a (super dumb/easy) midterm…. so delicious. Apparently they make like 75 different flavors – the store where I saw it had maybe 20, but it was still a huge decision. They have regular things like milk, dark, hazelnut, but also crazy flavors like green tea, blackberry, tiramisu, and cardamom. Then they have ones with alcohol in them! It’s got a little plastic bulb of alcohol that gets released as the chocolate melts – what a cool idea! I finally settled on orange and Cointreau.

It was dark chocolate with pieces of candied orange peel, with just enough Cointreau to give it a really nice orange flavor without overpowering the richness of the chocolate. Seriously the best hot chocolate I have ever had.

On Friday, I decided to do some more solo exploring of the city. I went to Soho, which, in Hong Kong, means south of Hollywood Road. It’s a pretty trendy hipster-type area, with plenty of overpriced boutiques, but also a handful of super cool vintage stores. I didn’t end up buying anything, but there was some pretty cool stuff to look at – old suitcases, 1970’s Dior sunglasses, battered leather boots and rotary phones. I thought vintage stores in Hong Kong might be a bit different, but honestly they had pretty much the same stuff we’ve got at home.

Enter stage left: Halloween. I’ve been hearing nonstop about how Halloween is such a big deal in Hong Kong, which I wasn’t expecting. Everyone says, “They go crazy here!” “Professional costumes and makeup!” “It’s insane!!” That was only party true. Saturday night, we head over to Lan Kwai Fong, the area full of bars and clubs that’s usually all foreigners. There were plenty of locals that night, sure, but not to celebrate. They come to gawk at the crazy white people wearing costumes.

I went as Buzz Lightyear, and I felt like a celebrity. Literally, I couldn’t walk anywhere without being completely bombarded by cameras. Everyone wants a picture of you or with you. At first, it was kind of funny and cool, but after awhile it was really just annoying. They walk up to you and shove cameras in your face! The worst is the people with kids. It’s a few streets of just bars and drunk people, and parents bring their little kids and ask you to take pictures with them. Sure, they look adorable, but they should not be in Lan Kwai Fong on a Saturday night.

They trick-or-treat, but completely backwards. Little boys would come up to me, say “trick-or-treat!” and then hand me a piece of candy from their bag. I have no idea how or why that tradition got changed, but it was very strange to experience.

Sunday was a day to relax. For dinner, I tried out a place close to the dorm called King of Noodles. I will definitely be going back – it was so cheap, and they had fish cake. Not the super artificial pink kind, either, but the good stuff.

The only thing I really like about eating meat again is being able to have everything I loved as a kid. That means fish cake, cha siu bao, duck, dried squid, and siu mai. Especially siu mai. I really have a problem with that stuff, especially the fish kind you can get on the street. They are seriously the best snack. I found a place really close by that sells siu mai and all sorts of other street food until 3am… very dangerous. I will really have to limit my midnight snack intake. That stuff is too delicious.

I really can’t believe it’s almost November. I go home in exactly two months… how depressing. I want these next two months to go by so slowly, but I know they’ll fly by just like September and October did. Le sigh. I don’t want to leave.

Buddhaful

School is finally into a regular schedule, and it’s official: my Tuesdays are awful. Sure, I only have one class on Monday and Thursday, and I get Wednesday and Friday off, but I definitely pay for it with Tuesday. I have class from 12:30-10 with only an hour for dinner. Yeah, that’s right, 10pm. Last Tuesday, classes were cancelled, and the Tuesday before that was the first week and only two of my classes met, so yesterday was my first real hell day. I was absolutely exhausted by the end! And I thought I had packed enough food with an apple and some crackers, but my stomach was growling the whole time.

Last post, I talked about the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which literally has over ten thousand Buddha statues. As a follow up to that, last Friday I went to the Big Buddha. It’s literally a gigantic Buddha. They’re not very creative with names here, I think. Either way, it was awesome.

It’s way up on the mountain in Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. The subway doesn’t go that far, so after that you can either take a bus or go with the more exciting/expensive option: cable cars.

(I say expensive, but really it’s only about $150HKD roundtrip, or 20 bucks for the fans back home.)

If the cable cars weren’t cool enough, you can pay a little extra to ride in a crystal cabin. What does a crystal cabin entail, you ask? Glass. Floor.

Those are my stylin’ Birkenstocks, if you were wondering.

Anyway, once you get there, there’s plenty to do. The cable car lets off in Ngong Ping Village, a ridiculously touristy area of shops where all the buildings are made with stereotypical Chinese architecture – think Disneyland’s Main Street but Asian. They did have a shop filled entirely with vending machines, which was awesome! Not like food vending machines, but the kind where you put in a coin and hope/pray the little plastic ball that comes out doesn’t have something lame inside. I got a couple of ridiculously adorable cell phone charms.

Besides that, there’s plenty to just look at. There’s the Po Lin Monastery, where lots of people were praying, burning incense, that sort of thing. Plus there were tons of flowers, which I love, and I was able to snap a couple National-Geographic-esque shots:

At the monastery they have an all vegetarian restaurant. Yes, that’s right. All vegetarian. I can’t even explain how happy that made me. I had asked a friend – a local – why it’s impossible to get tofu at a restaurant here. He said, “Are you kidding? Tofu is cheap! No one goes out to eat and orders tofu!” Well, the monastery is my new favorite restaurant. It’s a set menu based on how many people are at your table, but everything was delicious. I haven’t seen so many vegetables on one table since I got here! There was an all-veggie soup, a cauliflower dish with fried tofu, bell peppers and cucumber with something very similar to Tofurkey, curry with corn and soft tofu, veggie spring rolls, mushrooms with bok choy… I was in tofu heaven.

After that, finally, what I had been waiting for: Big Buddha. You have to climb about a million stairs to get up to it, which is actually really awesome because it looks bigger and bigger the closer you get. I’m not kidding, this thing is huge – over a hundred feet tall. And since it’s way up on the top of the mountain, you can see it for miles! Pretty crazy.

At the very top, there are six smaller (but still pretty big) statues circling it, giving offerings of flowers, fruit, and other things Wikipedia tells me are necessary to enter nirvana.

Then on Saturday I made a complete turnaround from Buddhist temples and went shopping. Considering my bargaining skills are unbelievably poor, I think I did pretty well for myself – shorts, a shirt, a belt, sunglasses, a wallet, and a reusable grocery bag for under $50USD. Mong Kok is the best.

After that we went to Pui O beach (again on Lantau) for a concert-type thing at a bar right on the shore. I felt like, just for that evening, I left Hong Kong and was back in California. The band playing when I got there was really great – calm, beachy music, very appropriate for the occasion. The sand on the beach was the softest I’ve ever felt on my life, and it was so relaxing to stand with my feet in the water and listen to the music in the background. The band that came on after that was pretty terrible, but at least I still had the waves! I definitely want to go back to that beach in the daytime.