Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shenzhen (again)!

We've already written one post on Shenzhen (hence the title), but this was our first trip together, so we thought we'd write another one. Shenzhen (for those of you who don't remember) is the booming city of 9 million people just across the border from Hong Kong (in China). It was Emily's first visit to the People's Republic of China, so we took a picture:

Shenzhen has lots to offer the day-trip tourist. It was only a fishing town until 1979, when Deng Xiaoping declared it a "Special Economic Zone" of the PRC. That means that the majority of the buildings are less than 30 years old. In Shenzhen, unbridled capitalism combines with architectural whimsy to create one of the world's most garish skylines:

(My favorite is the building in the background that looks like a hypodermic needle)

During our day in Shenzhen, we saw lots of interesting things. There was a karate-themed restaurant chain called "Kung Fu," with Bruce Lee as its logo. Who says death has to stand in the way of lucrative endorsements?
One of the fun surprises of Shenzhen was Wal-Mart. We didn't go inside (we were late for our massages), but we did snap a picture:
Did you notice that other symbol of globalization in the background? Makes you wonder - Which influences the world more strongly: American government policy or American corporations?

Before you all accuse me of a diatribe against the evils of multi-national corporations, I'd like to share one of the best parts of our day - a trip to Papa John's Pizza!

Oddly enough, Emily and I have never eaten at a Papa John's in the US. We did, however, order it almost weekly when we lived in Cairo. It's funny that even in Hong Kong, there are some things we can't get. Good thing China's only a short train ride away!

After splitting a giant pizza, we spent the afternoon shopping and getting massages. I (Brad) bought a sweet pair of ski pants (feel free to comment on their usefulness in tropical Hong Kong in the comments section). Emily, who doesn't ski and is too ticklish for massages, got a pedicure.

We crossed back into Hong Kong around 6:30 - we had been invited for barbeque and board games at Noah and Maria's place (their blog is in the list on the right). We didn't get home until after midnight. What a great way to spend a Saturday!

Suggested comments for this week:
  1. Where will Brad wear his new ski pants in tropical Hong Kong?
  2. Have you ever traveled across the planet and found a piece of your home culture waiting for you?
  3. What sort of food do you think they should serve in a "Kung-Fu" themed restaurant?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin patch

The weather is finally getting cooler and not so humid. We can sit in our apartment with the windows open instead of with the AC blasting. We are no longer sweating each time we walk outside and Emily's attitude about Hong Kong is getting better. Fall must be here!

I (Emily) was missing the whole fall experience of going to the pumpkin patch; traipsing through the mud, brisk cool air, searching for the perfect pumpkin to carve back home. My friend Kalina (her and her family are featured on Loves Amazing Journey blog on the right) inspired me to take the picture below. I have labeled it "my Hong Kong pumpkin patch"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


About two weeks ago, our friend Julie (who also lives on the 7th floor - see their blog on the right side of this page, entitled: "Our New Territories") offered us some "Kefir" starter. I had to google the word, as I had never heard of it before. My search yielded results that were initially quite disgusting. I think I got squeamish when I saw the words "ferment," "effervescent," and "bacteria" used to describe this beverage.

"Kefir" is a drink that is made by adding a "start" (similar to a sourdough "start") to milk and allowing that milk to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Here's what the "start" (or "grains") of kefir look like:

Although they look like cheese curds, they have a more grainy consistency. According to wikipedia (which we all know is an authoritative source on everything), they're made up of a combination of bacteria and yeasts.

Here's some finished kefir that we drank this morning (If you click on the picture, it will open much larger in a separate page and you can see the separation that occurs during the fermentation process):

After the kefir sits for 24 hours, you can strain off the grains and add them to a fresh batch of milk which will, in turn, become kefir as well.

The finished product tastes a bit sour, not unlike yogurt, although with a slightly carbonated quality. We like to make it into smoothies. So far, we've added peaches, mangoes, and banana. Here's a glass of peach kefir:

I (Brad) am easily wooed by gimmicky things. Emily is the level-headed one in our family. Kefir appeals to both of us. Emily enjoys kefir because she loves the consistency of yogurt, custard, pudding, and smoothies. Kefir appeals to me because I can't resist a trendy new food. For the time being, one beverage satisfies both of our fickle palates.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Trip to the Dentist

On Thursday, Brad went to the dentist. Actually, it was an oral surgeon. In order to explain why, we'll have to give you a bit of background on Brad's mouth.

Back in college, Brad had a root canal. That cost $1100 (there's a reason why we're telling you the cost - it will make sense at the end of this post). Back in January of this year, while we were living in Cairo, Brad's tooth (the one with the root canal) became abscessed. He had it removed and replaced with an implant (which cost $1200). We felt like we'd gotten a great deal, as implants cost at least double that price in the US. Over the last couple of months, Brad's implant started feeling sore and began to wobble in its socket. This isn't supposed to happen, as implants are actually screwed into the jaw. So, when we went to the dentist a couple of weeks ago for our routine checkups, we discovered that Brad's implant had been rejected by his body. It needed to be taken out.

So, we made an appointment with the oral surgeon (Thursday of last week), and had Brad's implant removed... for the low low price of $800. The procedure went fairly smoothly, although we got a bit of a cultural lesson when Brad inadvertently insulted the surgeon. Just before the surgery took place, he asked the surgeon (who was about 30 years old) "How many times have you done this?" The surgeon replied, "You should never speak to a specialist that way!" Apparently Brad had bruised the doctor's ego. He apologized and the doctor very graciously offered his forgiveness.

Brad took the day off work on Friday to recuperate, and is feeling well enough today to stop taking painkillers (thanks to all of our wonderful friends for their kind prayers).

So, have you been adding up the prices as we went? By our reckoning, we have essentially spent $3100 (US) for a hole in Brad's mouth.

Our questions for you this week (and we'd love to hear from you in the comments section):
  1. Which do you think was more costly: Brad's tooth or Emily's engagement ring?
  2. An alternative question: since it was so expensive, should we save the implant (pictured above) and make it into a piece of jewelry for Emily to wear?
  3. Since Brad is now missing a tooth, which Halloween costume would suit him best: Pirate or Hillbilly?

Birds, Brides and Babies

(bus to Ikea to get a few things)

This post is long overdue! Ruthanne has been here for a week already and we are just getting around to blogging about it. It has been so fun to have her come over for dinner, spend the night and explore Hong Kong together. On Sunday of last week after she spent a few days with us, we took her to the Mid-Levels and explored her new neighborhood. Funny story: we almost dropped her off at the housing for the Chinese embassy employees but found Mother's Choice when the guards told us to leave :-) The whole time we were wondering why babies needed a basket ball court and a swimming pool.

Ruthanne or "Anne" in front of the wrong housing estate. Chinese people can't say the "r" or the "th" so we changed her name. Brad really wanted her to pick a more interesting Chinese girl's name like: Winky, Purple, Rainbow, Flame (honestly these are all names of students at our school or Mc Donald's employees we've met.)

(Ruthie's living room/dinning room)

Ruthanne lives in a very cool part of Hong Kong and the view from her cute (and much larger apartment than ours) is amazing: Hong Kong Park! After unpacking some of her stuff we ventured off to the aviary in Hong Kong Park.

The whole park was amazing. As we ventured down to the lower part of the park we realized that Sunday is the day to get married and to get your wedding pictures taken at Hong Kong Park (maybe the date 10-10-10 was also an influential factor). We spotted 9 brides and their bridal parties. We had a fun time looking at the pretty (and pretty weird) choices of wedding dresses, tuxes and brides maid dresses. Two brides' accessories really made us giggle: the feather head-dress (show below) and the fur shawl (mind you it was about 80 degrees with 85%humidity that day)

We ended the day with an evening church service close to Ruthanne's house and dinner at a great Taco place. All in all a fun day but Ruthie was a little sad when we left. Good thing we do live close enough that she can come by twice a week. She is learning how to navigate public transportation quicker than I did! Pray for her as she adjusts to her new life at Mother's Choice. She is LOVING holding all the beautiful babies and is becoming an expert at giving them baths.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Phuket, Thailand, pt. 2: "Tuk-Tuks & Sunsets"

In the last post, I told you all about time we spent in the water in Thailand. In this second post on Thailand, I'll tell you all about our adventures on land.
In the three days leading up to our trip to Phuket, I (Brad) was away at High School camp. I had a great time with the kids, but after 2 nights at camp, I was pretty tired. We had planned this trip to be a relaxing "getaway," and so we selected a hotel suited to that purpose.

We chose the "Sugar Palm Grand Hillside" in Kata Beach, Phuket. The hotel was very trendy, with lots of glass and concrete, but for me the most exciting feature was the pool. Our room's balcony (pictured below) was adjacent to one of the hotel's 11 pools, and there was a pool-access ladder right there on our patio. Each morning when we got up, we were able to roll out of bed and straight into the pool.
Although Tuk-tuks (see picture below) can be a bit hair-raising, they are also a blast. Given the option between taxi and tuk-tuk, I will pick a tuk-tuk every time, even if it's more expensive. The reason is a bit difficult to articulate as there are a lot of factors that make a tuk-tuk ride enjoyable. The sputtering staccato of the motorcycle engine, the warm wind that whips through the 3 open sides of the cab, and the sense of total freedom you can only experience in a sheet-metal box without seatbelts as you careen around corners and shoot through gaps in traffic. There should be a box on life insurance policies that asks, "how often do you ride in tuk-tuks?" It would probably be listed in the same category as tobacco use.

Our hotel was located in Kata Beach, which is a quiet town by Phuket standards. There are bars, hotels, and massage parlors like anywhere else, but the town definitely lacks that hedonistic element that most people think of when they hear the word "Phuket." For that sort of thing, you have to go to the town of Patong, which is about 15 kilometers north of Kata Beach. We visited Patong one afternoon to buy a wetsuit for Brad (see photos in "Pt. 1" of our Thailand story), and were glad we had chosen to stay elsewhere.
On our last night in Phuket, we went down to the beach to watch the sun set. As mentioned earlier, Emily was convinced that the sunsets we saw in Phuket were the most colorful she'd ever seen. We had watched 2 days' worth of sunsets from the dive boat, both of which were breath-taking. I think the prettiest, though, was the one we saw from the beach in Kata.

After the sun went down, we continued to walk on the beach, and were approached by a man selling Thai "Sky Lanterns" for $3(US). A sky lantern is fairly simple. It's usually made of oiled rice paper with a candle inside. Once lit, the candle fills the lantern with hot air, causing it to rise. Feeling impulsive, we paid for a lantern, lit the candle, and watched it soar. It went surprisingly high, and eventually disappeared from view.

A lot of the trips that we've gone on in the last several years have been all about sightseeing: cramming in as many historical/cultural sights as possible. For this vacation, we decided not to visit any temples, museums, or historical sights. Instead, we swam, dove, ate, and slept in. We've decided that it is impossible to relax if your vacation runs at the same crazy pace as the rest of your life.

Here's your question if you'd like to comment: What sorts of tips can you share on how to return from vacation feeling well-rested?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Phuket, Thailand - pt. 1: "Adventures at Sea"

As many of you already know, we had a long weekend ("Mid-Autumn Festival") from September 22-26 and we decided to travel to Thailand. We've already been to northern Thailand and Bangkok, so this time we decided to explore a tiny corner of Southern Thailand. We chose Phuket. We flew directly there after work on Sept. 22, returning to Hong Kong on the evening of Sept. 26. We had a blast and did loads of stuff, but in this first post (there will be a total of two), I'll just discuss our seaborne adventures.
We spent two days of our time in Phuket aboard a dive boat. Although I (Brad) am the only one of us that dives, Emily came along as well to do some snorkeling and relax onboard the boat.
Our first day on the boat was spent in the Phi Phi islands, where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. (The name is pronounced "pee pee" - feel free to post your jokes in the comment section). I (Brad) did 3 dives: Koh Doc Mai, Koh Bida Nok, and Koh Bida Nai ("Koh" means "island" in Thai - hence the similar names). While I wasn't initially impressed with the visibility in Thailand (as compared to the Red Sea in Egypt), we were very impressed with the variety of sea life.

At Koh Bida Nok (above), I (Brad) had a great "drift dive." I saw all kinds of barracuda, coronet fish, and even sting rays. It was much different than diving in Egypt, with strong currents carrying me all around the island. But it wasn't the currents or the colorful fish on the reef that made the dive memorable. The most memorable part of Koh Bida Nok was the jellyfish. While getting out of the water, a detached tentacle from a jellyfish drifted across my face. It was an electrifying experience. I'd never been stung by a jellyfish before, and I found myself bombarded by advice from the veteran divers in my group: "You got stung by a jellyfish? It often helps to urinate on the affected area." I calmly explained to the good samaritans around me that I had been stung on the face. "Oh," they replied. "Well, I suppose you'll have to find yourself some vinegar then." I sought out a crew member who quickly ducked into the galley and returned with a gallon jug of vinegar. We were off to our next dive site.
...Where Emily decided to go and find her own jellyfish. Not being covered in neoprene, she was less fortunate than me, and was stung on her leg, arm, and lip. Fortunately, we knew where to find the vinegar.

Our second day took us to the island of Racha Yai (pictured below), which is about an hour and a half south of Phuket by boat. We saw loads of sea life, including 2 sea turtles and a sea snake (both of which would be a rare treat in Egypt). It was a more relaxed day of diving, with only 2 dives on the itinerary. Much of the day was spent relaxing and chatting with divers who had come from around the world (there were divers from Iran, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany to name just a few).

When lunchtime rolled around, the crew prepared a delicious buffet of Thai curries, rice, and salad. It seemed like the fish somehow knew that it was lunchtime, because as we finished our morning dive and climbed aboard the boat, I noticed a school of damselfish and triggerfish gathering around our boat. Once lunch was served, I realized why. When finished with lunch, passengers began absentmindedly dropping their scraps into the water. The fish loved it, and although I don't have an underwater camera, I was able to snap a picture of some of Thailand's sea life:
Jellyfish and all, it was still a relaxing couple of days. Emily is convinced that out of all of our travels, this holiday saw the most beautiful sunsets of all. I'll try to include some of those in our next post. I would, however, like to add that after 2 days on a boat, Emily did not get sick.

She did, however, sunburn her bum so badly that she couldn't sit down at the airport on the way home:
Feel free to comment with either "Phi Phi" jokes or statements of sympathy towards Emily's sunburnt bum.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

One Day in Macau

Yesterday we decided to go to Macau for the day. For those of you whose Asian geography is a bit shaky, Macau is a small territory about 40km from Hong Kong. For over 400 years, it was a Portuguese colony (compared to Hong Kong's short 150 years under British rule). Today, Macau enjoys a similar status to Hong Kong under China's "One Country, Two Systems" rule. So, although Macau is technically a part of China (just like HK), you get a separate passport stamp when you go there. Thus, we are counting it is another country visited (making the country count 32 for Brad & 31 for Emily).

Our day began with a boat ride. From Hong Kong, there are a number of companies that operate high speed catamaran ferries to Macau. The ride is an hour-long, nausea-inducing, 40 knot skip across the waves of Hong Kong harbor. Emily would like everyone to know that she did not throw up.

While in Macau, we saw loads of lovely Portuguese colonial buildings. There was the fort, built in the 16th century to defend the colony:
A beautifully colored Dominican Church:
And the facade of a long-gone cathedral:
There were even culinary remnants of Portuguese colonialism. Emily's favorite was the Portuguese egg tart. Called "Pastéis de Nata," they basically consist of custard in puff pastry. As you may or may not know, custard is Emily's favorite dessert. I think this was the best part of her day:
But for most visitors to Macau, architecture and pastry are not even on the itinerary. The number one draw in Macau these days is gambling. Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal, and with a growing middle class, the Chinese have made Macau into the world's number-one grossing gambling city. More nest eggs are lost in this city than anywhere else in the world.

We had a look around a couple of the casinos, starting with Macau's very own branch of Las Vegas's Venetian (Macau's Venetian is the world's largest casino, by the way), complete with fake canals and all:
Neither one of us is much interested in gambling, but on our way out of town, we decided to stop by one of the older casinos to try our luck at roulette. We only made one wager of 100 Patacas (the equivalent of $13 US), but we won! The dealer (and everyone else at the table) looked very surprised to see us walking away after only one wager. I was convinced that we walked out of that casino with more money in our pockets than anyone else that day: $13US.
If you'd like to comment on this post, here are a couple of possible topics:
1)What should we do with our winnings?
2)Is it a stretch to count Macau as a separate country in our list of places we've visited?
3)How many egg tarts could Emily have eaten before spending an hour on a rocking boat?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Our Stuff Arrived!!

While we were in Thailand last weekend, we received an email saying that our shipment from Egypt had arrived into the port in Hong Kong. On Monday morning, I called the shipping company and arranged for them to drop it off that afternoon at 5. At 4:30pm, Emily went to the corner grocery store to buy ice cream. We didn't really believe that they would deliver it. We expected that we would get a phone call at 5:30 saying that something had once again delayed its arrival.

So, it came as a great surprise to me when Emily called me from her cell phone at 4:45. She sounded out of breath. She said she was walking up the stairs (we live on the 7th floor). I asked why. She said that she had run into our movers down on the street and let them use the elevator (and was therefore using the stairs herself). It's hard for me to explain the excitement that I saw on Emily's face when she walked onto our floor and saw the workers unloading boxes.
It took them about an hour and a half to unpack all 11 boxes. We didn't help much, but just stood by - mostly in shock - watching our possessions emerge one-by-one, unbroken, from the boxes (some of which were a bit crushed as you can see in the picture).
Piece after piece of pottery, porcelain, and glassware emerged from the boxes. Each item was perfectly intact. Then it came time for the movers to assemble our antique Egyptian table. I noticed that it was much more wobbly than it had been in Egypt. I had a closer look and discovered that one of the legs had been snapped almost completely off. I was pretty disappointed, but one of the movers spoke English and assured me that he could have it fixed by a handyman. So, I let him take it away again. I still haven't heard back from him, but I am hoping he is able to fix it.

So, although one very valuable item was damaged, we feel very fortunate that after so much time has gone by, and after so much incompetence was displayed on the part of the moving company, so many of our things were in such good condition.

It's taken us 4 days to write this blog post. Since our things arrived on Monday, we've been working steadily to organize our things. It's a difficult task to fit 3 bedrooms' worth of stuff into a 1 bedroom apartment without creating what I call the "Sanford-and-Son Effect." (Anyone get that reference?) I think we've been fairly successful. But I invite you to judge for yourself. Below I have included pictures of our apartment before and after we moved our things in.

And after...

And after...
In the first few weeks that we were in Hong Kong, we did a bit of soul-searching about the cause of our frustration over our missing shipment. For awhile, we felt a bit guilty for our materialistic attachment to all of our stuff. But we've decided that our excitement over the arrival of this shipment wasn't (entirely) rooted in materialism. For us, most of our things have memories attached to them. Our quilt (pictured above) was made by Mom Christensen as a wedding gift. Our living room rug was a wedding gift from Mom & Dad Condie. Even our kitchen utensils have special memories attached to them. (Emily still teases me about the food mill that I bought while on a school trip to Milan. I firmly believe that we will one day be able to use it) We've decided that, in addition to cooking familiar foods, one of the ways that we add familiarity and stability to our life overseas is by keeping a few key items with us wherever we go.

So, for today's question: If you were to move to the other side of the world, what single item would you bring with you to make you feel like your new house was "home?"