Sunday, September 19, 2010


Yesterday (Saturday), our friends Rus & Mel Beasley invited us to go with them to the town of Stanley on Hong Kong island. We hadn't been there before, and as we are always up for an adventure, we said yes. Stanley is located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island, which led me to believe that it would be just another section of the Hong Kong urban sprawl. In reality, it was very different from anywhere we'd been so far in Hong Kong.

The town itself sits on a small harbor where a few fishermen still keep their boats. Apparently, Stanley was home to a village of about 2000 people before the British arrived in the 1800's, making it one of the largest settlements on Hong Kong island at the time.
While not much remains of that original settlement, there are still elements of local culture to be seen in the village (like the small Buddhist shrine that we found near the waterfront - pictured above). Not surprisingly, what attracts locals to Stanley is its sense of distance from the city. With a wide-open corniche area filled with alfresco cafes (charging tourist prices), Stanley feels almost more European than Asian. I suppose the throngs of white tourists contribute to that atmosphere as well.
Before we went to Stanley, I didn't know anything about its restaurants or its corniche. What I had heard about was the shopping. There's nothing that the people of Hong Kong love more than a bargain. And while the prices in Stanley weren't anything special, there were still plenty of people packed into its marketplace, searching for bargains.
We wandered through the market for an hour or so, looking through racks of suspiciously inexpensive "authentic" name-brand merchandise. But it wasn't the Salomon shoes or Deuter backpacks that drew our attention. We were more interested in the tourist kitsch. Here are a few of the things we found for sale:
XXXXXXL shirts - for the plump gentleman in your life.
T-shirts featuring your favorite head of state, complete with Chairman Mao hat.
And odd little journal-style books filled with perplexing sayings. I don't quite understand why there were so many products with pictures of Obama on them, as most of the tourists we met seemed to be either European or from Australia or New Zealand. Still, I guess they wouldn't sell it if people didn't buy it.

Before we left Stanley, we decided to have a little bite to eat down by the water. We were planning on having "tea" at one of the cafes by the water. But, when we saw the prices they were charging (remember: it's a tourist destination), we opted out of the alfresco dining experience. Instead, we stopped in at the local grocery store, where we each bought a pastry and a drink. We took our food down to park benches by the water and enjoyed a very cheap snack with a priceless view. And of course, we had to take a picture while we were there.

We were planning to meet some other friends from work at 6:30 up in Kowloon for a birthday dinner, which meant that we had to leave Stanley before the sun set. This meant that we had to take a bus to Central (downtown Hong Kong - on the opposite side of Hong Kong island from Stanley) and transfer to the MTR (subway) for the trip across the harbor to Tsim Sha Tsui (in Kowloon). This meant that, for the first time in 2 months, I found myself in downtown Hong Kong at dusk with my camera. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures. Here's my favorite:
Which leads me to my last question (and remember: we love to read your comments, so don't be shy in answering!). We've traveled quite a bit over the last few years, and I have decided that I love cities at night (in places like Cairo, it's the only time you can't see the dirt!). I haven't decided what my favorite is, but Hong Kong is in the running for most beautiful city at night. Here's our question: What's your favorite city to visit (or just look at) at night time?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rudy's vacation

Rudy is loving his American vacation.The first part of his vacation included playing with Chester (see pic), stealing baby Henry's toys, enjoying grass (see pic) and terrorizing my aunt's cat. The second part of his vacation has involved sleeping with Max and Lola, snuggling with Max on the couch (see pic), going for walks with Ruthie and Lola and barking at all things that move outside Max and Lola's house (not the most endearing quality).
Thanks family for taking care of our pup before he comes to Hong Kong. You guys are amazing!

Our First Mooncake

In the days leading up to the "Mid-Autumn Festival," in Hong Kong (and probably elsewhere in China), it is customary for people to give and receive small pastries called "mooncakes." Much like Christmas cookies or fruitcake in the west, giving mooncakes is considered a gesture of affection or respect. Mid-Autumn festival begins at the end of next week, and today I (Brad) was given my first mooncake.

When teaching overseas, some of the best tips and hints on local culture often come from students. My students have informed me that the style of mooncake I was given today is the most traditional of all. The greenish paste visible in the inside is either taro root or mung bean paste. It tastes a bit like sesame paste, or red bean paste, or like a slightly sweeter version of peanut butter (although without that distinctive peanut taste). The yellow part is actually hard-boiled egg yolk (it's difficult to describe what that part tastes like after it's been baked into a cake and left to sit on a store shelf for a couple of weeks). Emily took a picture of my face as I ate my first bite.

I generally enjoy desserts in almost any country. I love baklava, mochi, and have even been known to put away a creme brulee or two in my time. Traditional Mooncake, however, will not be on my Christmas list this year. Fortunately for me, there are "trendy" versions of mooncake that taste much better (I've sampled a couple of these over the last few weeks). My personal favorite: Starbucks Caramel & Coffee flavor.
What it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in caffeine. So, here's my question to all of you (there are actually 2 this week):
  1. What's your favorite seasonal dessert from your home country/culture?
  2. Have you ever tried dessert from another country? If so, tell us about it!
I know how fashionable it is to pair up wines and foods, but with mooncake, I don't think wine is appropriate. If you ask me, the best accompaniment to a bite of mooncake.... mouthfuls of water.

Crown Relocations - A Customer's Review

Usually, we use our blog to post happy things - pictures of fun weekends exploring Hong Kong, funny stories about our new jobs or interactions with students. In this case, I'm using our blog for the first time to have a bit of a rant. I promise this won't happen often.

As you can guess, after 3 years in Egypt, we had accumulated quite a bit of stuff. We each had a closet full of clothes. We had a kitchen full of pots, pans, and assorted pieces of pretty pottery that we'd picked up during our travels. (Can you spot the alliteration in that sentence?) When we began to transition out of Egypt, we realized that our household could no longer be moved using just our suitcases. Thus, we decided to hire a "Relocations" company to ship our household goods to Hong Kong. We chose "Crown Relocations," which is apparently the largest relocation company in the world. Our assumption was that Big = Established = Efficient. We were wrong.
Crown picked up nearly all of our worldly belongings on June 17 (Brad's 30th Birthday). They told us that our things would be delivered to our apartment in Hong Kong on July 25 (which was the day we were scheduled to arrive). It sounded like a seamless timetable. We now chuckle at our own naivete. When we got to Hong Kong (on July 25), we called and asked where our things were. A whole host of excuses were given and July 25 turned into August 31. When I called on August 31, the same excuses were given (mostly blaming office staff in Egypt, although with a creative new excuse about the month of Ramadan and its effect on the global container shipping industry), and August 31 turned into September 8. When September 8th rolled around (I'm sure you can guess where this is going)...disappointingly uncreative excuses...September 12th. September 12th turned into September 16 (although at this point, we were assured, "Your shipment just left Singapore"). Well, today is September 16th and I will give a buffalo nickel to anyone that can guess what happened when I phoned Crown Relocations this morning.... Give up? Ok, I'll tell you. The lady (who I won't name, but with whom I am now on a first name basis) informed me that, "There is no record of your shipment." I (Brad) got nicely upset (I'll leave it up to those of you that know me well to guess what that looked and sounded like). She then informed me, "It looks like it is still in Singapore." (I got very nicely upset at this point and for the first time demanded to speak with her supervisor).
After 10 minutes of argument I was talking to the supervisor of Crown Relocations' Hong Kong Inbound Department (lots of jokes went through my mind at this point about the distinction between "Assistant Regional Manager" and "Assistant to the Regional Manager" - I won't bore you with those here). I was quite clear about my disappointment with Crown. I articulated myself with an impressive combination of passion and maturity. I avoided swear words. He listened quietly, expressing empathy at appropriate moments. When I finished my rant, I had achieved a small victory: He promised to "look into it and call me back."
It is now 10AM on September 16th. 53 days have gone by since our shipment was supposed to arrive in Hong Kong. 91 days have gone by since the last time I saw most of my clothes, all of our dishes, and the quilt that my Mom made for Emily and me for our wedding. And it's beginning to look like all of our possessions are making some Somali pirate very happy. Either that, or they are serving as an expensive artificial reef on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Whichever is the case, we are learning to live simply, to hold onto our things loosely, and to have a sense of humor. At this point, we have decided that the only thing we can do in this process is pray. We ask that you join us in this effort.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Queen of Egypt

I was asked by my neighbor, one of the 1st grade teachers, to come to her class and talk about Ancient Egypt. I brought some pictures of the pyramids. The children were more interested in "who that tall boy was who was standing next to me" UNTIL I told them there were trap doors inside the pyramids as a safety measure so the Pharaoh's stuff stayed safe (although they didn't really work)....a million questions later about the trap doors....that I didn't know how to answer, except with answers from an ancient Egypt FICTION novel that I read :-) I learned a valuable lesson....don't bring up something to kids if you don't know MANY of the answers.

Cute little stinker......

Can you guess who this fat baby is? The blond hair should be a dead give away. Lets just say that I probably weighed as much as Brad did in this picture as when I was about a year old. :-) He was (and is) a cute little stinker (a mom Christensen term of endearment).
Stacy also sent us a few pictures of Brad from his Air Force days but he won't let me put them up. Maybe when he is a middle aged man he will let me post them.

A little off the top

I was trying to plagiarised this posting from the VanNoord Family Blog, our neighbors here on the 7th floor. Jack wrote it so well that I see no need to write about the experience again. However, must have a conscience and sees it as intellectual theft, so you will have to read about the hair cutting experience on Jack's blog: (blog posting "a little off the top".

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Here kitty kitty......

At work they wanted us all to put up our baby pictures in the staff lunch room (last month we all had up our wedding pictures....which caused some irritation to the singles). Not having baby pictures us abroad, my mom managed to find this one of me when I was 4. The cat belonged to my Grandma and his name was "Rambo", he wasn't that sweet of a kitty so I am not sure how I got him to hold still....I guess I liked getting my way (or maybe I should say I still like to :-)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mystery Fruit

Brad went grocery shopping last night when I was making dinner (something I always have appreciated him doing). So far when he goes grocery shopping here in HK he comes back with what is on the list plus two extra items. Yesterday it was sushi (which is sold in all grocery stores pretty much) and a type of new fruit that we haven't tried. "Longan" taste a lot like lyches. I thought they were ok, but Brad really liked them, as usual. There is not a fruit in the world that Brad doesn't LOVE.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


In Cairo we ate pizza about once a in HK cheese and Italian is not super prevalent. I made homemade pizza last night and it was AMAZING. I realized that a lot of our blogs are about food....I guess Brad and I are big eaters/food lovers :-)Here is the picture of the master piece.