Thursday, September 29, 2011

My First Typhoon 8 Experience in HK

I am used to thunderstorms in Malaysia but that did not prepare me for my first typhoon 8 experience in Hong Kong. Yesterday evening, the HK Observatory issued a typhoon 3 warning which means strong winds are in store. When we first arrived, we experienced a T3 signal but it did not go further than that. In the wee hours of the morning, the typhoon 8 storm signal was issued, courtesy of Typhoon Nesat. With maximum gusts ranging from 82-115 kilometres per hour, it was no wonder I did not get a good rest last night. Despite securing all doors and windows, the strong gusty winds somehow found their way in through ducts and I could hear rattling throughout the night, accompanied by the sound of crazy howling wind outside. Schools and offices are closed. Buses do not run. So, it's a holiday for the majority. Since I work from home, it doesn't make much difference. J is away and is scheduled to fly back today. For now, it appears that the flight is on schedule, but we'll have to wait and see. Thankfully, I managed to take Kess out to relieve herself this morning before the rain hit. There were lots of debris and broken branches on the road and we did not stay out longer than necessary. When the rain started, the view from my window was like this:
Half an hour later, I could hardly see outside.
So, what should one do when a typhoon 8 signal is in place? Well, the HK observatory tells us to: Complete all precautions now before gales commence. Lock all windows and doors. Fit bars into positions and insert reinforced shutters and gates if available. Adhesive tape fixed to large window panes in exposed positions will reduce damage by broken glass. Do not stand near windows on the exposed side of your home. Move all furniture and valuables away from these areas. Make sure you have a safe place to shelter, should windows be broken. Now is the time to decide which rooms you will use to shelter if the windows on the exposed side of your home become broken. Owners of neon signs should arrange for the electricity supply to their signs to be switched off. Park your car where it is least likely to be damaged. Avoid staying in the street. Return home as soon as possible if conditions so permit. The T8 signal is supposed to be on for the whole day. Let's hope it doesn't increase to a T9 or T10 signal. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The changing season in Hong Kong

Autumn is here. The change from summer has been gradual. The days are shorter - the sun rises a little later in the morning and it gets dark by 6.30 pm now. It used to be that the late evenings were cooler. Now, even the late mornings are cool. This means that Kess and I can go for longer walks in the morning, even if we get a later start. Before, during the peak of summer, our little beagle will let me know when she wants to go home by doing her own u-turn and pulling me back, usually only after walking for about 15-20 minutes. She would be panting not long after we start our walk. Today, this beagle was raring to go and we actually walked past the Wan Chai Gap Road for the first time since she arrived in Hong Kong. In fact, I had to gently nudge her to do the u-turn as we would have to cover the same distance back.

Having lived in Malaysia where the only seasons we have are rain and shine, and daylight is fairly constant throughout the year, I look forward to experiencing the four seasons in Hong Kong. We were told that last year's winter was quite cold by Hong Kong standards. I wonder how our beagle will adjust to the cold weather, having lived her 9 years in a tropical country. J and I noticed that she has more fur now on her belly. Before, we used to see the spots on her belly. Now, those are covered by soft white fur. I suppose being in an air-conditioned home during this past summer is good preparation for her!

It's now 3 months since we've relocated to Hong Kong. I guess I've finally adjusted to it being home. It's been fun exploring new places and experiencing new things. Recently, our families came for a visit and we were able to revisit some of the places we used to go to, like Stanley and the Peak and explore new places like Lamma Island. Shopping was fantastic and we were all a little poorer after our shopping spree. At least we now have a fabulous new wardrobe! Of course, being Malaysians, we tried out new restaurants as well. It is so much more fun to have a big group for meals coz we get to try more dishes. I really must put together a to-do list for visitors and post it on this blog. I guess this will go on my to-do list!
Hong Kong by day and by night

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adjusting to Hong Kong

It's been 5 weeks already. How time flies. We are slowly finding our way around Hong Kong, our new home. It's the second time we're living away from home so we know what to expect when adjusting to a new country. I still remember standing at a loss at the detergent aisle of a Bangkok supermarket trying to figure out which laundry detergent to buy because I couldn't read Thai. I couldn't even decipher the brand logos. This time round, grocery shopping was a little easier. Sure, we still had to figure out which supermarket suits our needs best. But, it's all part of the process of familiarization. I enjoy the huge selection of imported food products. But I do find it odd that fresh chicken is so expensive and not readily available. I still miss my car for grocery shopping! Now I have to make multiple trips as I can only carry 2 bags if I'm on my own. Alternatively, I plan my purchases so that it exceeds HKD500 and get delivery. Even so, I have to carry all fresh and frozen produce home coz those can't be delivered.

Another aspect of living in HK is the walking. Since the majority of HK residents use public transportation, walking is part and parcel of daily life. Gone are the days of home to car to mall/restaurant/class/whichever the destination and back to car then home again. I've never walked so much in my life! The good thing from this is it's good exercise. Top this off with the 2 daily walks with our beagle, I should be getting fitter (and hopefully, trimmer).

Summer time in Hong Kong is humid and balmy. Even though we are used to the humidity in Malaysia, the humidity here is much worse. We are always amazed each time we empty our dehumidifier at the amount of water in the container. Add that to the amount if walking we do in HK, it's very common for us to be drenched with perspiration as we make our way from one place to another. Summer time also means rain so we never leave home without our umbrella. The good thing about the rain is the much cooler weather that comes with it. Summer time also means typhoon weather. So far, we've experienced Typhoon 3, with gusty winds and lots of rain. Living on a high floor, we can really hear and feel the strong winds. I can't imagine what Typhoon 8 would be like...

Summer time is also sale time! I haven't had much opportunity to go crazy shopping as yet, but I've scored some pretty good deals. The only thing that one needs to contend with is the crowd. Locals and tourists alike flock to the malls. So one must really be prepared to deal with the large number of people.

Eating in HK is great. There is a huge selection of cuisine here. Dim sum brunch is very popular. We've discovered that the trick is to go before 12pm if you want to get a seat more easily.Apart from the larger Chinese restaurants, a lot of the eating places in HK like the "tai pai thong" are small, probably due to the high rental cost. One has to get used to sharing a table with strangers. Don't expect to linger and chat during peak meal periods. You're expected to vacate once you have finished eating. In fact, some restaurants give you an allotted time for your meal once you're seated. Since we've been to HK many times before, we're used to this. But I suppose it would feel quite strange if one is a newcomer here. While I love the food here, I miss Malaysian food. Can't wait for my friend to come with supplies of curries so that I can have a taste of home at home.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

First Day in HK

The last couple of weeks have been hectic as J and I prepared to relocate to HK. After all the planning and preparation, we've finally arrived in HK to begin a new chapter in our lives. I must admit that I leave home with a heavy heart. Despite its many imperfections and the high rate of migration of our friends to the Land Down Under, Malaysia is still home for me. I will miss my family and friends. I will also miss my favourite local dishes, ranging from nasi lemak to "har meen", roti canai to rojak. What can I say? I'm Malaysian :-)

We touched down today this afternoon and was greeted by a beautiful summer day in HK, with sunny blue skies (a real treat in HK). After a late lunch, we went grocery shopping as we had nothing at home. Thankfully, the supermarkets here offer free grocery delivery as we had over HKD1,000 worth of groceries. It would have been a challenge lugging all that back home without a car. I will have to get used to the high HK prices for some of the goods here, especially dairy products, which is almost double the price in Malaysia. We bought take-away food from the supermarket for dinner so that we didn't have to go out again. So, our first meal in our new home comprised of rice with small portions of steam chicken, siew yok, tofu and fish and brocolli and cauli stirfry.

Tonight, I look out of the window of my new home in HK and admire the bright lights of HK city from one view. I am thankful for the lovely green hills on the other side of our apartment, as it reminds me a little piece of my backyard in our home in KL. It'll continue to be busy in the coming 2 weeks as we open accounts, get new mobile numbers and sort out all the other administrative issues that come with moving to a new country. Kess will arrive next Friday. We do miss our little beagle, but she's in good hands at the moment with my parents. Can't wait to see her again. Hopefully, she won't be too traumatized by the journey. I was told by a fellow blogger who's also moved with her Great Dane that us humans tend too worry too much and that the dogs actually cope better than expected. Let's hope so. Then of course, there will be quite a lot of unpacking to do when our shipment arrives in about 2-3 weeks time. Once we have our things, we should be feeling more at home.

Well, one door of our lives are closed, and a new one has just been opened. I don't know what's in store for us but I do know that God does. That is enough for me.

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”
Flora Whittemore

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Best of Takayama - Hida Folk Village (Hida no Sato)

It's been nearly a year since my trip to Japan. The earthquake, tsunami followed by the nuclear plant disaster has changed the landscape of Japan. I considered if I should continue to post about my trip and came to the conclusion that in the midst of the horror and tragedy, I want to remember the beauty of this nation.

One of the highlights of our visit to Takayama is the Hida Folk Village - a large open-air museum with a collection of antique houses from the region. We bought a bus and entrance pass from the Takayama bus station for 900 Yen.

Make sure you have on good walking shoes as the village is quite large, featuring over 30 farmhouses and traditional houses. Slip-on shoes would be preferred because you have to take your shoes off before you enter each traditional house.

Before I talk about the traditional houses, I have to talk about the view. We were blessed with a beautiful weather that day. This is what we saw...

...a breathtaking view of the peaks of the Japan Alps. This more than made up for not being able to see Mount Fuji when we were in Tokyo!

The village itself was no slouch either. The houses surround a lake and has rolling hills as backdrop.

The Japanese have such a keen appreciation for their culture and have taken great steps to preserve it. A lot of these houses were dismantled from their original sites and rebuilt in the village. I had originally wanted to visit Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO world heritage site to see the famed gassho-zukuri, the thatched A-frame style farmhouses. However, due to lack of time, we had to scratch that off our list. I was very happy to have gotten the opportunity to see an original gassho-zukuri at the Hida Folk Village.

The gassho-zukuri has steep thatched roof, designed to withstand the heavy snowfall in the region. Apparently, the name means "constructed like hands in prayer", as the roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The steep roof provides a large attic space to culivate silkworms.

Each house will display a sign to tell visitors a little bit about the history and time period of the house.

In some of the houses, you will get to see traditional crafts taking place, like weaving.

Most of the houses will have a traditional fireplace near the front of the home...

Some larger than others...

The Taguchi's house (village headman) is beautifully furnished with multiple rooms.

Others are much simpler...and used to display artefacts, such as this sledge.

The Hida Folk Village gets a thumbs up for showcasing Japanese culture and history, in a beautiful surrounding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Be Still

Water is life. Yet, the very thing that man cannot survive without also brings death. I just cannot believe my eyes when I saw the giant waves of the tsunami sweep everything on its path, tossing trucks and ships like toys, destroying homes and buildings in Japan last Friday. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami resulted in thousands killed, thousands missings and tens of thousand homeless.

It is incidents like this when one realizes how helpless mankind is. Despite how much we have progressed and think that we're self sufficient, we all need God more than ever.

Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God
Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pigging out at Elcerdo, Changkat Bukit Bintang

I've heard so much - all good things about El Cerdo, a Spanish restaurant in Changkat Bukit Bintang that I decided that it was time to check it out myself. So, despite the rain, J & I, together with two of other "makan" buddies made our way to the city centre for a pig-out. After all, Elcerdo specializes in all things porky!

To start off our gastronomic journey, we ordered the Spanish Ham Platter, an assortment of Jamón Serrano & Jamón Iberico ham with a Variety of Chorizo Sausages and Condiments - salad, nuts, cheese and rock melon balls. The ham eaten with the rock melon balls combines the salty and sweet beautifully.

Next, we had ribs, which is supposed to be black pig ribs, if I'm not mistaken. The grilled ribs had a wonderful spiced flavour, very different from the American ribs we've eaten before. Whilst, it was a little tough to get off the bone, nevertheless, it unique flavor makes this a worthwhile dish to order.

We then moved on to the reason we came to El Cerdo - the famous roasted suckling pig - so tender, you can even cut it with a plate...I kid you not. When the waitress served us the suckling pig, she would tell us the story behind the chef who came up with this dish. Then she would demonstrate how to cut the pig with a plate and invite one of the patrons to cut. And then for good luck, you then break the plate into the wooden barrel (I suppose it helps reduce the cleaning up). So, when you eat at Elcerdo, be prepared for a little bit of fun and lots of plate breaking!

Our next main was our only non-pork dish for the night - paella with king prawns and scallops. Cooked just the way I like it, moist, but not too runny, the paella was also a winner.

Finally, for dessert, we ordered their homemade tiramisu with mango sauce and their special, off the menu raspberry ice-cream cake. The tiramisu, was light and fluffy, whilst the layered tangy raspberry ice cream complemented the sweet cake. All in all a good way to finish off out meal.

Our verdict?
We were as happy as the pigs on our doggy bag.

The food is fantastic - the bill for an appetizer, three mains, which included a 1/2 suckling pig), two desserts, two sangrias (the white wine pear sangria was delicious), two juices and two bottled water came us to close to RM500. It's worthwhile to save up to dine here for a special occassion!

43&45 Changkat Bukit Bintang
50200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2145 0511

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The simple spirit of Muhibbah

It sometimes amazes me how simple unity or Muhibbah can be. It's not a trumped up call by the politicians or a slogan/propaganda that every Ali, Ah Kow or Raju latches on for personal gain. Instead, it's simply appreciating, respecting and enjoying each other's culture.

On the eight night of every Chinese New Year, one of our neighbours will host a lion dance performance - a troupe that performs amazing feats on stilts. When we walked over before the start of the show, a young Malay boy was already sitting outside the house, waiting eagerly for the troupe to start the dance. Later, more neighbours start trickling in - young and old, Malay, Chinese and Indian, all out to enjoy the lively and loud performance. More than that, it was a great time catching up with each other, people whom we may not have time to talk to apart from the occasional "Hi".

And really, that to me is the best example of Muhibbah.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Best Of Takayama, Japan - On the Trail of Food and Markets

Takayama is a foodies' paradise. A compact town, the main sights of the old town are located within walking distance, which is a good thing as we really appreciated the walk to set-off our non-stop eating.

We started off the day with a visit to the Miyagawa morning market. This small market which caters to both the locals and visitors is located by the river with a row of shops on 1 side and make-shift stalls on the other side.

At one of the shops, we bought some Hida beef bun for breakfast - hot, steamed fluffy bun with minced beef filling. It was delicious. The bun was incredibly soft, and the beef, succulent. The Hida beef bun rivals the best char siu pau (barbeque pork bun) in Hong Kong.

For dessert, I tried a Sukune Kabocha pudding, a pumpkin pudding topped with a rich brown sugar syrup. It had a smooth velvety texture and was full of flavour. Yum!

Energized after a delicous breakfast, we wandered around the shops, sampling the various local offerings from the Hida district region. We came away with black bean tea, Hida beef granules and wasabi granules (both are wonderful condiments to add to cooking).

We also did some people-watching...

Next, we headed to Sanmachi Suji, the centre of the old Takayama. The three main streets - Ichi-no-Machi, Ni-no-Machi and San-no-Machi are lined with aged-dark wood traditional buildings which houses shops, sake breweries and museums. It really is quite pleasant wandering in and out of the various shops, admiring the traditional wares, sampling some sake and local food.

The exterior shop front of a sake brewery

The sake brewery at the back of the shop

Pretty sake bottles on display

A pleasant discovery - a serene indoor garden located within a souvenier shop.

Not surprisingly, we walked away with bags of Takayama goodies, ranging from Propolis essence to doggie figurines!

Later that day, we had one of our best meals of our Japan trip at Maruaki Restaurant (look out for the large cow display at the front of the shop). We splurged on a Hida beef lunch (knowing that we won't have an opportunity to taste such high quality beef for a long, long while. In any case, most restaurants have cheaper lunch sets, so if you want to enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant, it's best to eat during lunch).

We ordered the grill beef set - check out the lovely marbling on the beef.

We also tried the Sukiyaki beef set. Seeing our puzzled faces, the waitress showed us how to cook the Sukiyaki. First, she took the huge chunk of pork lard to season the shallow iron pot. She then took out the lard, poured some sauce (soy sauce, sugar and mirin) and gestured to us to start cooking the meat and vegetables. She then cracked the raw eggs into a small bowl and made dipping gestures to tell us to dip the cooked food into the raw egg before eating. It was amazing that despite the language barriers, the waitress was able communicate to us the right way to eat sukiyaki.

The Maruaki Restaurant in Takayama gets a double thumbs up!

After such a heavy meaty lunch, for dinner we opted for a simple roast pork ramen noodle at what I would call the "Red Dragon" Restaurant since I couldn't read the Japanese sign. Fortunately, they had an English menu with pictures so we had no issues ordering our meal.

This simple but delicious noodle dish was just what we needed to finish off our trail of food and markets at Takayama.