Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Living in Hong Kong

We've been here three weeks now, so I thought I'd share a few things.

First, you're perhaps wondering why we came.  We visited HK a few years ago during vacation from our teaching gigs in Seoul, South Korea.  While it was very hot and humid, pretty much everything else about Hong Kong excited us, and we pledged then that if we ever could live and work here we would.  Fast forward a few years.  Nora returned to school to get her teaching certification, realized that she wasn't all that jazzed about being a teacher halfway through, and settled on being a school librarian (these days they need teacher's certifications and a Masters in library science).  Nora took on both programs at the same time, which was a pretty astounding workload; I continued working online, and took on a lecturing position at MTSU because we were living about a mile away and it seemed like a good idea.  Long story short: we moved out of our apartment, I left my lecture position after three semesters, we went to India, Sri Lanka, and Ecuador, and meanwhile Nora applied to a lot of positions around the world.  Two in Hong Kong called her back, and a lot of paperwork later, we were all set to go.

(us at the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island in 2010)

So we sold our car, our desktop computer, our Xbox, and my bicycle (the bicycle was the hardest to let go) and bought flights to Hong Kong.  We arrived the night of August 1st, got to our hotel, and slept.  When we woke up, it was my birthday, which I thought was a pretty good sign.  And aside from still very slowly recovering from the ankle I sprained in India, just about everything else has been a very positive experience.

(milk tea and Pearl dumplings in spicy sauce)

We gave ourselves 3 days to find an apartment, but thanks to Nora's research and emails in advance, we signed a lease on the first day and paid the deposit and rent on the 2nd and got the keys.  The building is relatively new, in a quieter (for HK) neighborhood, and has a gym on the 5th floor.  Across the street are two more buildings of the same complex, and they have a larger gym and a pool.  It's a 4 block walk to Nora's work, and so far I've visited four bakeries and six grocery stores within a ten minute walk.  Several major bus lines stop on the corner, from whence we can go downtown, to the subway station, or to the other side of HK island.

(rush hour at the Central subway station)

Within a 5 minute walk of us there are several cafes and bars, a public library, as well as restaurants specializing in Chinese (obviously), Korean, Vietnamese, Indian, Spanish, Italian, French, American, and English pub foods.  We got a ridiculous amount of furniture delivered from Ikea and assembled for less than $200, and any of the above restaurants offer free delivery.  I've recently discovered that the grocery stores do, too, but to be honest grocery shopping is one of my favorite activities, so I'm not cutting it out anytime soon.

(Chinese breakfast: eggs, bun, noodles and soup, and milk tea)

Our apartment is on the 20th floor, and has a balcony with harbor views. We've got a kitchen with fridge, decent counter space, 2 sinks, 3 gas burners, and a washing machine.  We've got a table with two chairs, a chest of drawers, and a couch and coffee table in our living room.  the bedroom has a double bed and wardrobe.

(our apartment before we got furniture)

Potential downsides: we've got 410 square feet in our apartment, including the balcony. So it seems pretty small.  The weird thing is, after getting all our furniture moved in and our things stored properly, it actually seems larger.  It's plenty of space for us, though the shower could be a little larger.  It's difficult to turn around in for someone with arms as long as mine.  The washer is supposed to also be a dryer, but I can't get the drying function to work, and I broke the latch that opens it on the first day.  So I'm using a pair of scissors to open the washer, and we have to hang dry our clothes on the balcony, but these are minor inconveniences, and we hung all our clothes to dry the year we lived in Korea, too.

(light show from Kowloon)

Imagine, if you will, a city that is caught somewhere between the future and the past, a place where light shows illuminate skyscrapers to the sound of a symphony orchestra, and where bamboo scaffolding surrounds construction work on a traditional herbal dispensary.  Where you can buy 1 Gigabit internet service for the same price as 10Mb service in the States, and within a short walk also by dried shark fins.  Where ferries cruising above the waves on hydrofoils jostle for space with sampans, junks, and cargo vessels. There are tree everywhere, and from afar the buildings seem to rise up as if out of a forest.  The harbor on one side and the mountains on the other are omnipresent; no matter where you are, you can always orient yourself.  This, to me, is Hong Kong.

(walking along the harbor in Kennedy Town)

It's fast, loud, hot, and always humid.  It's a polyglot, gastronomical wonderland that encompasses the best of what big cities have to offer. The only thing it's missing is you.

(sunset over the harbor from our balcony)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

India: the Story You Never Want to Hear

This is a first for Wanderlust for Beginners, but I'm going to post excerpts and a link to an article written by someone else. In this case, it's from University of Chicago student Rose Chasm, and covers her experiences as a study abroad student for 3 months in India.

When people ask me about my experience studying abroad in India, I always face the same dilemma. How does one convey the contradiction....

“India was wonderful," I go with, "but extremely dangerous for women.” Part of me dreads the follow-up questions, and part of me hopes for more. I'm torn between believing in the efficacy of truth, and being wary of how much truth people want.

Do I tell them about bargaining at the bazaar for beautiful saris costing a few dollars a piece, and not mention the men who stood watching us, who would push by us, clawing at our breasts and groins?

When people compliment me on my Indian sandals, do I talk about the man who stalked me for forty-five minutes after I purchased them, until I yelled in his face in a busy crowd?

Do I describe the lovely hotel in Goa when my strongest memory of it was lying hunched in a fetal position, holding a pair of scissors with the door bolted shut, while the staff member of the hotel who had tried to rape my roommate called me over and over, and breathing into the phone?

All of this is to say, Rose, you aren't alone.  I read some of the comments at the end of her iReport, and many of them call her a racist, a biggot, a hatemonger, etc.  In my opinion, these people fall into one of several categories.  Either (a) they have never been to India; (b) they are Indian; (c) they are men; or (d) they are women who are not white.  Because every white female I know who has been to India has faced similar things to what Nora faced, or what Rose faced. 

In a weird way, I love that country: I love its food, I love its history, I love its geography, and I even love some of its people.  But I can't go back, because far too many men there treat my wife like an object on display, or, even worse, like an object that is available for taking. 

You can find Rose's full post by clicking here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Overdue Ecuador Recap

Ecuador was our 5th South American country and 3rd South American trip, so we went into it with a certain amount of experience and expectations.  But it was our first trip with either of our parents; Nora's came for the entire 4 weeks, and my mother flew down for 8 days.  This made it a rather unique trip for us.

(Ecuador's flag flying over the presidential palace)

Ecuador is a beautiful country, with very diverse geographic regions thanks to the Andes.  We started our trip in Quito, which for an Andean city was a bit disappointing--it reminded us a lot of Lima, in that it had good food, good weather, and very friendly people, but didn't feel all that special or unique. We've found that most big cities end up feeling very similar to one another these days (in South America Cuzco is a notable exception, and Buenos Aires deserves honorable mention).  This is not to say we did not enjoy Quito; on the contrary, we had a lot of fun there, and would consider going back.

(a brother and sister waiting on the bus after school)

From Quito we took a day trip to Otavalo, where most of the region's handicrafts originate.  We went to see the market, but were unlucky as only a few vendors were open.  It rained, so we ducked inside a cafe for a few drinks, and Nora found a "green" beer--beer mixed with creme de menthe.

Leaving Quito, we stopped overnight in Banos, famous for its hot springs--which ranged from ice cold, to lukewarm, to a scalding 120 degrees F; no tolerable soaking pool there, but it was still very relaxing.

We journeyed on to Cuenca where we had rented an amazing apartment with a long balcony.  This was probably the nicest place Nora and I have ever stayed. The neighborhood was a couple km from the sights in the city, but as taxis are so cheap (about $1.50 for a 10 minute ride), it was not a problem at all. And there was a Chilean empanada place around the corner that was fantastic.

(Cuenca crafts market)

Cuenca we liked a lot, but for different reasons than Quito. It is still a big city, but it feels a little smaller, a little greener, and the weather is a little better--not withstanding the sudden rainstorm that Nora and her parents got caught out in. There's a reason so many Americans are retiring to Ecuador, and specifically locating in Cuenca.

(women in traditional dress, Cuenca)

(the central plaza in Sigsig)

From here we went to Salinas and spent a week on the beach, and from there to Puerto Lopez and spent another week on the beach.  Puerto Lopez was interesting for the place we stayed--Hosteria Mandala--and its host's whale obsession, as well as a boat trip we took to Isla de la Plata.  Otherwise, our time on the beach can be summed up as a lot of beer and wine, a lot of good food, and general relaxing fun all around.

(the porch of our cabana at Hosteria Mandala in Puerto Lopez)   


(a beach vendor selling cold coconuts in Salinas)

On back to Quito, and from there homeward.

The really exciting part of Ecuador was, like most trips we take, the food.  Ecuadorean food is generally very good, though you can get--and we certainly did on several occasions--garbage versions of it.  Beach towns don't seem to care about flavor or quality as much unless you're spending a lot more (notable exceptions: in Salinas there was a corner place that grilled over charcoal, and an English fish-and-chip shop; in PL a tiny Spanish restaurant run by a couple).  The Andean food was the best: secco de chivo (a thick stew of lamb or goat), llapingachos (cheesy potato griddle cakes), and locro de papas (a potato soup with chunks of queso fresco and avocado in it). The ingredients were familiar to the Peruvian food we've had before, but used in new and delicious ways.

 (locro de papas on the left, and llapingachos with lomito on the right)

(choclo con habbas -- large kernel corn with something like a lima bean)

(secco de chivo) 

Overall, I'd say if you can only take 2 weeks for South America, go to Peru or Argentina, depending on what you're hoping to find.  But if you have longer, or if you can take several trips, Ecuador will definitely reward your time and curiosity.

Happy travels.

 - A

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hong Kong

We've been lax in keeping up with the blog, but here's the long and short of it:

We returned to India from Sri Lanka, still did not enjoy ourselves, and so flew home early.

We spent a lovely 4 weeks in Ecuador.

We moved to Hong Kong, arriving just over a week ago.  We have a tiny, wonderful apartment in Kennedy Town overlooking the harbor, there are supermarkets and bakeries within walking distance, and we are very pleased with our decision to relocate here.

More details to follow in the coming days.  And pictures, naturally.

Hope your summer was as great as ours.