Cheesecake Party

I’ve gotten behind on my blogging again :( But I’m SO excited for all of the cooking I’m going to do over Thanksgiving! Since I’m so behind, I’ll make this a double recipe post just to make it up to you. The first one is a dessert you can definitely have at your Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s pumpkin. Of course.

A couple weeks ago, we had a party at our house. I’d been wanting to use my mini cheesecake pan again, so I thought, why not make cheesecake for the party? My roommates said, “WHAT? What kind of college party has cheesecake?!!” The best ones, of course. And everyone appreciated the cheesecake, so I win.

If you don’t have a mini cheesecake pan, you can still bake this in a regular springform pan, but scale everything back to 2 packages of cream cheese.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Ingredients
for the crust
26 regular (not Double-Stuf) Oreos – 2 rows in the package
4 Tbsp butter, melted
for the cheesecake
3 8oz packages cream cheese
3 eggs
1 15oz can pumpkin
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Instructions
1.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease cheesecake pan.
2. Put Oreos in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Pour in melted butter, stir. Press about 1 1/2 Tbsp into the bottom of each well in the pan (I found a shot glass works best for this – it’s really difficult with your fingers).
3. Bake crusts for 10 min. While they are cooling, begin the cheesecake.
4. With an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla until completely smooth.
5. Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg until combined.
6. Pour into each well, filling completely to the top. Bake 20-25 minutes until set.
7. Let cool about 15 minutes then remove from pans. Chill in fridge (or on your porch if it’s cold enough and your fridge is full like mine…) for at least 1 hour before serving.

So to go with all that cheesecake, I guess you might need some real food… maybe… Sometimes…

Quinoa Risotto
Serves 2-3.

Ingredients
1 C uncooked quinoa
2 C vegetable broth
1/2 C sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/2 C diced red onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 C white wine
1/4 C parmesan cheese
1/4 C goat cheese
3/4 C fresh spinach
salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
1.
Cook quinoa in vegetable broth, either on the stove top or in a rice cooker.
2. Saute mushrooms and onion in oil over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add quinoa and cook a couple more minutes.
3. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Turn off heat.
4. Add cheese and spinach and stir until cheese is melted and spinach leaves are wilted. Serve immediately.

Breakfasting Alone

This semester is going by so quickly – I can’t believe it. Only five weeks left in the semester, including this one, and then it’s finals and then my internship. I’m starting to feel like I haven’t done nearly as much cooking as I wanted to. Well, let me rephrase that. I cook everyday, but usually it’s lazy cooking. Pasta, sandwiches, whatever. I haven’t done as much fun and exciting cooking as I wanted.

I’ve been experimenting with tempeh quite a bit, actually. I like the taste and texture better than tofu, and it’s more versatile too. I have a hard time putting tofu in anything that isn’t Asian. I know how to put it with noodles or rice, but anything else and I just feel like it doesn’t belong! The other day I made fake Spam musubi with tempeh, which was pretty good (and super Asian), but you can definitely do more with it than that. For example, my bbq tempeh, or the really great sandwich I made the other day. I cut the tempeh really small and grilled it with some baby bella mushrooms, then stirred it up with some pesto I picked up at Trader Joe’s. Put that with some spinach and wheat bread, and you’ve got yourself a really great meal.

I have this bizarre obsession with vegan baked goods. I’m not a vegan, of course, but I love baking things and then saying GUESS WHAT THAT’S VEGAN! What I hate, though, is “vegan” recipes that call for “vegan butter” or “vegan cream cheese” or whatever. Taking a regular recipe and subbing in vegan versions of the ingredients doesn’t make a real vegan recipe.

This past weekend my Weekend Breakfast partner in crime was busy, so I decided to go vegan just for fun.

Blueberry Walnut Muffins 
Vegan. Original recipe here. Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients
1 C quick or rolled oats
1 C soy milk
1 Tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp almond extract (or vanilla)
1 flax egg (1 tbsp flax meal mixed with 2 tbsp water)
1 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1 Tbsp flax meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C chopped walnuts
1 1/3 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Instructions
1.
Preheat oven to 400F.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together oats, milk, agave, and almond extract.
3. While the oats are soaking, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, chia, flax, salt, and sugar.
4. Stir in the flax egg, walnuts, and oats. Last, add blueberries.
5. Spoon into muffin cups and bake 20-25 minutes.

I used frozen blueberries, which was fine I think. As soon as I stirred in the berries, the batter turned a crazy greenish color. They looked like zombie muffins but they tasted great! Not too sweet – perfect for breakfast. Although I will say you have to eat them fast. Since there’s no oil in the batter, by the second day they’re already pretty dried out. I wrapped them in a damp paper towel and zapped them in the microwave for 15 seconds, which helped, but these are definitely meant to be eaten the day of.

Iron Woman

I have a bunch of disjoint thoughts in this post, but it’s been a week since my last one so I felt like I had to blog. Also I’m putting off writing an essay for my Chinese film class, so this seemed like a good way to pass the time.

This weekend, instead of Weekend Breakfast, my friend and I went to the Strip District. I’ve heard about it but I’ve never been before. It actually made Pittsburgh seem kind of… I don’t know… Cool? Lots of little shops selling specialty foods. We went to a coffee and tea store where I bought about a half pound of Kahlua and Cream coffee beans, a store selling all sorts of overpriced spices (honestly, how many types of cinnamon are there?), a biscotti shop, even a pasta shop that made their own olive oil. It gets pretty crowded on Saturday mornings, and some bakeries even set up tables on the sidewalk to sell all sorts of pastries.

Do you like brussel sprouts? I’ve only ever tried them once. I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, and I didn’t like them. But how can you really know whether or not you like something if you’ve only ever tried it once, ten years ago? So I had some. And they were delicious. I didn’t make them – my friend did, and she saved some for me to try. They were two days old and microwaved and I still liked them. Who knew?

On to the main event: the recipe. I love things that are fast and delicious. If you are like me, you will love this recipe. It’s so simple, it’s not even really a recipe. Do you know what tempeh is? It’s a “meat alternative,” made from soy, but it’s nothing like tofu. It comes in a block and it’s pretty dense; the soy beans are actually kept whole. I started eating it this summer at Google – they serve it all the time in the cafes – but this was my first time cooking with it.

Ten Minute BBQ Tempeh

Ingredients
tempeh (4 oz. per person)
olive oil
barbeque sauce

Instructions
1. Heat olive oil in a pan over high heat.
2. Add tempeh and cook each side for one minute.
3. Pour barbeque sauce into the pan (the more the better, I say), making sure to coat the tempeh evenly.
4. Reduce to medium heat and cook another 2-3 minutes.

I cut my tempeh into little squares and ate it in pita with spinach, red onions, mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella. I bet it would be good as a burger, too.

I made this a few days ago, and then again tonight. So quick and so delicious! And it fills you up, which was definitely what I needed. I donated blood today for the first time in four years, which is a major achievement for me. I’ve tried and been turned away a couple of times because my iron levels are always too low, but today the nurse told me that for a vegetarian my iron was actually HIGH! How awesome is that? Guess I’m eating right!

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.

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.

My Bucket List

School has forced me, and everyone else, into a routine. We’re not as adventurous as we used to be, and time is running out. I have less than two months left in Hong Kong, and multiple weekends will be spent out of town (read: I will be in Beijing in approximately 36 hours). Realizing this, a couple of friends and I have written a Hong Kong bucket list – things we absolutely have to do before we leave. It’s actually a pretty long list, but I think I can finish it. I just can’t have so many lazy days.

Last Wednesday (have I mentioned how much I love having no class on Wednesdays?) I went to Big Wave Bay, another beach on the island. It’s mostly for surfing, but since I’m not exactly pro after my one lesson in Santa Cruz and the waves were a lot bigger than they were that day (hence the name Big Wave), I decided instead to just lay out on the sand, read my book, and watch my friends surf. Fine by me, it was so relaxing. I still can’t believe I went to the beach in November… it’s even too cold at home for that.

That evening, a friend and I found a great pasta place for dinner, cheap and pretty close to the dorms. I eat noodles almost everyday, but I still find myself wishing I had pasta sometimes! I had spaghetti with pesto, chicken and mushrooms… Mmmm. We stopped at a little fruit stand along the way because my friend spotted rose apples, or jambos, which she used to eat all the time in Malaysia. I’d never seen anything like it before, so I got one at had it for breakfast the next day. It was like a really crisp, crunchy apple.

Friday I knocked out two items on the bucket list. My two co-authors and I went to Kowloon Park, over in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s actually a pretty big park, with an aviary! We didn’t go in, though, so I’ll have to go back another day. It was really nice, but strange to be around so much green and see the skyscrapers in the background.

Eventually we found our way to a footbridge, and on the other side was the most beautiful sunset. We were looking straight out into the water, and you can see the whole island skyline. Seriously, the pictures can’t do it justice.

After that, we rushed over to the Ko Shan Theater in Hung Hom for a Cantonese opera! It was pretty good, and the costumes were amazing. It would have been even better, though, if it hadn’t been three and a half hours long. The story wasn’t even that complicated, they just took forever to say anything! It reminded me of when I read The Good Earth in ninth grade. It takes five minutes for the girl to say something as simple as “I’m cold,” and another five for the guy to say “me too.” Without all the fluff, that show would have been an hour and a half, tops. The whole thing was in Cantonese, but they had subtitles on screens on the sides of the stage. That was fine, except the screens randomly shut off for a couple minutes a few times… It’s funny how quickly you can get lost. Also, the three of us where both the whitest and youngest people in the whole theater. I’m pretty sure people were staring.

The show was called 一捧雪, A Handful of Snow. Basically some guys were fighting over a jade goblet called “A Handful of Snow,” while using the goblet to get at this girl whose name was 雪艷, Xueyan. The first character in her name means snow, so I felt pretty cool and knowledgable explaining the double meaning to my friends. Spoiler alert: Xueyan ends up killing the bad guy while yelling “STAB, STAB, STAB!” It was pretty funny.

On Saturday I had a lazy day. I didn’t feel like doing homework, and I really wanted to go outside, so I decided to take a walk to the water. It was such a nice day, and the view of the skyline was absolutely clear. There’s a bit of grass, some benches, and a little boardwalk all along the water, so I took my book and read for a couple of hours. I wish I had a place like this back at school where I could do homework… not that we have the weather for it, anyway.

On Sunday, I finally got to try congee. I can’t believe I’ve been in Hong Kong for over two months and I haven’t had it yet! Wikipedia says it’s the same thing as jook, which my mom makes, but this seemed different. Maybe it’s just been too long since I ate meat for me to remember. Mom, I know you are reading this – is congee the same thing as the jook you make? Anyway, congee is rice porridge, and you eat it with this delicious fried dough stuff.

I got PUMPKIN congee with corn and pork. Yes. Pumpkin. Pretty much the first pumpkin food I’ve had all fall! It wasn’t exactly pumpkin pie, but it was good. Ugh, I could really go for some pumpkin pie now. I’m really sad I’m going to miss Thanksgiving. Best food of the year besides Christmas, and I’m missing that too. Someone, please make stuffing and sweet potatoes for me when I get home. I will love you forever.

Hung Sweet Hom

I had a really traumatic incident yesterday. I was at the grocery store, casually looking at some apples, when a fish committed suicide. It somehow knocked the top off of the tank and jumped out onto the floor. It was a pretty huge fish, too. I really wonder how often it happens, because the workers really had no idea what to do, but they weren’t exactly scared, either. I, on the other hand, was screaming bloody murder. It flopped around pretty violently on the floor for at least three minutes before the people could catch it, and by that time it was dead. So depressing.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system… I took it pretty easy this past weekend. I had a couple of midterms this week, in networks and Chinese, so not tons of free time. On Saturday I walked around the goldfish market in Mong Kok, which was pretty cool. It’s a full block of shops selling fish and turtles and any of your other aquarium needs. A lot of the fish are in tanks, but there were also racks and racks of bags of fish! I felt pretty bad for them, but hopefully the ones in bags are the ones that sell quickly. Those fish shouldn’t be cooped up like that for so long.

On Sunday I went to the Kowloon Walled City Park, which was very beautiful. Kowloon used to be a fort, and the park sits where that used to be. The original south gate of the fort is there, which is pretty cool. Going there just made me wish we had parks like that at home…

Tonight, I went out for dinner with a friend, and then we stopped at a bubble pancake place. I’ve had those a few times, but this time I decided to get a “Hong Kong Style Waffle.” It was heavenly. The waffle was really eggy and soft, freshly made. They fold it in half and in the inside they put peanut butter, condensed milk, margarine, and sugar. Talk about sweet! It was seriously to die for, and so cheap. I’m gonna have to try really hard not to go back there all the time.

That’s pretty much it for this week. Since I didn’t do much, I thought I’d explain a little more about the area where I live, Hung Hom, and just Hong Kong in general. Here are some differences between Hong Kong and home.

Cars
There are two kinds of buses here: the regular public buses, which are all double-deckers, and the “light” buses, which are teeny and only seat 16 people. The light buses usually cost more, but since there are fewer people they stop less often and usually get you where you want to go much faster.

Hong Kong is too crowded for cars. Besides buses, you really only see taxis, delivery trucks, and expensive cars. Seriously, almost everyone who drives has a Mercedes or a BMW. Bentleys and Maseratis aren’t uncommon either. You do see some more affordable makes, too, like Toyota, but they’re all within a couple of years old. No ’98 Camrys here. And definitely no Karmann Ghias.

Exchange rate
The exchange rate confuses me. It’s approximately 1 US dollar to 8 Hong Kong dollars, but you can’t buy anything for a dollar here. In a cheap market, you can get clothes for like $50, but in a real mall they cost anywhere from $200 to $1000, and stores like H&M are a little more expensive here than they are at home. At the same time, a pair of Nikes will only run you about $500-600. A cheap dinner will cost $30-$40, and dinner at a nicer place will be at least over $100. A drink at Starbucks is maybe $35, but you can get a giant flavored milk tea with boba for $15. It’s really strange how some things are much, much cheaper, but other things cost more.

Eating
Another thing about restaurants: a lot of the time, I eat in a mall food court on the walk back from school or one of the infinitely many hole-in-the-wall places nearby. None of those places give paper napkins; you have to bring your own. If you want free napkins, you have to go either to an American fast food chain or a real restaurant with a hostess and everything. Not necessarily a fancy restaurant, just a real one. I haven’t been anywhere with cloth napkins, either. Plus, you never ever tip the waiters.

Food is different here. I don’t just mean the types of dishes, but just how they describe it. Whatever you read on the menu is EXACTLY what you get. If it says “rice and beef,” you get white rice with beef. Never expect vegetables unless they are explicitly mentioned, because 9 times out of 10 you will be disappointed.

Cellphone picture of "fried noodles with mushrooms" from the school canteen. How many mushrooms do you see? Because I only see one. This was a bad dinner.

Things are a little different at supermarkets too. You know how lots of foods at home say things like “added blahblahblah” or “great for blahblahblah”? Like, how the blue orange juice carton is always “plus calcium and vitamin D”? They don’t put any of that stuff, and black it out with Sharpie on the imported items. I have no idea why, but I can usually read what it says through the marker anyway.

Nutrition facts are different, too. It will still tell you what the serving size is, but the calorie counts and everything else is all based on 100g. So, that means, even if there’s only 40g in the package, it will trick you into thinking you’ve just eaten 750 calories because that’s how many are in 100g. Plus, sometimes they’ll randomly put it in kilojoules instead of calories. Who knows what a kilojoule is? I sure don’t. It’s all very confusing. Speaking of strange units, fruit is priced by the pound, but everything else is metric.

Pretty much everywhere, but especially in Hung Hom, there are little corner markets for fruit. You can get fruit at the big supermarkets too, of course, but it seems like the locals go to these little places more often. They have a very farmers’ market feel, until you see the stickers on the fruit saying they’re all grown in California or Florida. New Zealand, sometimes, too. But they’ve got all sorts of fruits – regular ones like apples, bananas, grapes, and oranges, but also dragon fruit, starfruit, and pomelo. They usually sell chestnuts, too.

The picture on the left is sort of a dry goods store – I don’t know what else to call it. They usually have a sign that says 茶, tea, so my guess is they’ve got loose tea in some of those huge crates. They also have lots of nuts and dried beans and that sort of thing. These are everywhere.

Shopping
Most clothes here are one size only, and you can’t try anything on. Only real stores have dressing rooms, and by that I mean they have an actual cash register instead of a calculator and an envelope, and the clothes have tags on them, sometimes even with barcodes. Sometimes. The one-size clothes stores only keep one of each thing out, and if you want to buy it, they run into the back closet and come out with a little plastic baggy with your shirt or whatever inside. Can you believe that? All the clothes are packaged, like when you order them online. I don’t know why they keep it packaged that way, but it’s always strange to unwrap my clothes from a little plastic bag.

Also, every subway station is a shopping mall. I don’t know how else to explain it. Most of them are in the basement of a multistory mall, and the ones that aren’t still have tons of stores and are probably within a 2 minute walk from a mall. Hong Kong has more malls than anywhere I’ve ever been in my entire life.

Backpacks
Girls don’t wear backpacks here. I showed up on the first day of school with my Google backpack, feelin’ supafly, and people are staring at me like I’ve got my pants on backwards.

Me on the first day of school.

The girls always either hold their books or put them in some gigantic “purse” that really has no business being so large. A lot of guys even carry messenger bags! I felt pretty stupid until I got to my computer networks class, where my backpack gave me the instant cool factor. I am always the coolest geek in the room.