Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Patrick's Day 2013

     Although there's not a significant host of Irish descendants in Hong Kong (excluding the ex-pats of course), that doesn't mean that St. Patrick's Day should pass without much ado.  Of course my wife who claims to be 1/32-Irish couldn't let this holiday slide by without a themed party with our resident staff colleagues.  And let's be honest............who wouldn't be up for some festivities in March?

     We hosted a few friends over for a delectable menu including, but not limited to:

Emerald Isle Dip (bottom right, with the clover shaped bread bowl, featuring mostly sour cream and corned beef) - courtesy of our neighbor, Malcolm.

Cheddar Potato Soup (bottom center, topped with bacon and parsley)

Cottage Pie (bottom left, beautifully stuffed with beef seasoned with Guinness and red wine)

     It goes unsaid that there were all of the classic Irish beverages available:  Guinness Stout, Guinness Export, Jameson Whisky, and Bailey's Irish Cream.  We left out the classic ciders since the previously mentioned line-up is plenty to throw off your stomach for a day.

     To cap it all off we had an Irish-themed playlist with some new additions by the Pogues and five rounds of St. Patrick's Day Trivia.  Just to give you a taste..............what country is John Jameson from?..............what did St. Patrick drive out of Ireland, according to legend?...............what are the five largest counties in Ireland (the republic, that is)?

I think it's pretty clear that Americans are way more stoked about St. Patty's Day than most true Emerald Islanders.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hong Kong Food Tour

Two weeks ago two of my colleagues, Andrew and Katherine, invited us to join their food tour. For the past few years they run the occasional food tour and donate all the proceeds to the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre. We didn't really know what we were getting into but Andrew and Kath are good fun so I knew it would be a good time, plus the weather was absolutely perfect for walking around Hong Kong. Andrew is from Hong Kong and speaks Cantonese which always gets us into places we would never go on our own. We literally ate from 10:30am to 2:30pm and had an amazing time. The whole tour took place in an area close to us called Jordan. We have eaten there before and we knew all about the hidden gems. None of the restaurants had English on their menus and I just ate anything put in front of me. I thought I would be against trying some things but in the end I tried everything and none of it was bad. I might actually go as far to say that I liked everything and I would eat it again. I totally surprised myself.

The Menu:
Preserved egg congee-got to order in Cantonese
Fried dough (savory and sweet) Think funnel cake.
Egg tarts (Chinese style and British style)
Chinese candy
Suckling pig....AMAZING 
Traditional tea shop for sampling
Traditional Dim sum 
Boiled Coke with lemon and ginger
Herbal tea shop (cold)
Snake soup-tasted like chicken
Fish ball soup with fish skin to dip in the soup
Mango desserts

This is the boiled Coke. Just straight up corn syrup because all the carbonation was burned out. Don't knock it before you try it.

This bad boy was prepared by a flame thrower.  Keight you would have loved the fat to meat ratio, dripping with greasy goodness.

One of the sights we saw along the food tour. Too good not to post.

For anyone that comes to visit I am definitely arranging the food tour. It is the best way to get a real authentic food experience in Hong Kong. Thank you Andrew and Katherine!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Good Morning Vietnam 2013 - Hue & Hoi An (Central Vietnam)

     After a chilly, but amazing time in Ha Long Bay we passed back through Hanoi before flying down to Central Vietnam to visit cities that reflect the imperial times of the country.  We spent a few days between visiting Hue and Hoi An.  Unfortunately, it was this part of the trip where the English ability of our tour guides decreased proportionally to our latitude.  We saw a lot of great things, concentrated greatly to understand fun facts and historical stories about the places, and came away with some pseudo-knowledge about Vietnamese history.  Amongst our pictures we'll share our Top Five Historical Facts about Vietnam...

1.  When Vietnam split into two dynasties, the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen in the south, Hue served as the imperial city for the Nguyen from 1802 to 1945.

Hue's old imperial citadel

We took one of these dragon boats down the Perfume River to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda.

2. The Thien Mu Pagoda is now home to the car that the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc used during a demonstration in Saigon before setting himself on fire in protest to the Ngo Dinh Diem regime that persecuted Buddhists.

Here's the actual car used by Thich Quang Duc, with the famous photograph of his self-immolation on the wall.

The Thien Mu Pagoda is a place where under-privileged boys are sent by their parents to be educated.

The pagoda was situated on the Perfume River with beautiful views at the landscape around.

3.  The French invaded Vietnam in the late 1800s, establishing Indochina in 1887 which included Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Tomb of emperor Minh Mang (1791-1841)

It was hard to believe that this tomb was less than 200 years old, since parts of it look like ancient ruins.

For comparison, we also visited emperor Khai Dinh's Tomb (1885-1925).

Khai Dinh wasn't too popular since he basically bankrupt the country building his tomb.

After Hue, we took a nice drive through the Hai Van Pass towards the city of Hoi An.  We passed some picturesque rice fields along the way.

We were also able to take a break at this beach on the South China Sea.

Another point of interest was this set of battlements in the Hai Van Pass that was used during the Vietnam War.

4.  The kingdom of Champa, a Hindu and Buddhist kingdom, ruled Vietnam from the 7th century to 1832
I'd never heard of the Cham people, but apparently a French archaeologist dug up a bunch of sites in the area between Hue and Hoi An and now there's a sizeable museum dedicated to sculptures by the Cham people.  It does appear to be an interesting mix between Hindu and Buddhist inspired.

Before reaching Hoi An we visited some caves in the Marble Mountains, which had some stunning views.

5.  Vietnam was split into two countries in 1954 with the Geneva Conference, following years of fighting between the Communist Party led by Ho Chi Minh (mainly in the North) and their opponents, comprised by nationalist Chinese, British and French.  From 1954, Ho Chi Minh led North Vietnam from Hanoi and Ngo Dinh Diem led South Vietnam from Saigon.

It turns out that Hoi An has a nice beach, as well as a really neat central part for shopping and looking around.  We were really disappointed to have our afternoon cut short here by arriving a couple of hours behind schedule.

View from our hotel over a waterway.

Since Marisa loves to cook we decided to join a Vietnamese cooking class while in Hoi An.  We collectively made a beef salad (which I actually ate for a change), some fried spring rolls, and a fish wrapped in banana leaves.  They also hooked us up with some bonus features, like a stuffed wanton that is locally famous.  It wasn't as hands-on as it could've been, but we were happy to have something a little different.

The streets in Hoi An were loaded with all of these colorful lamps.  Of course we had to bring some home.

So the historical facts are kind of random and don't necessarily go with all of the pictures, but hopefully that gives you a better idea of some of Vietnam's background.  After our time in Hue/Hoi An, our adventure continued further south to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).


Monday, March 4, 2013

Good Morning Vietnam 2013: Ha Long Bay

Four hours from Hanoi is the amazing UNESCO World Heritage site and geological phenomenon known as Ha Long Bay. According to Wikipedia, the bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. We opted for a night on a small cruise ship to truly take in the amazingness of this natural wonder.

Our ship, "Paloma"

Our better than expected cabin

In sticking with Justin's list theme I am going with one of my favorites- high/low. In keeping with my way of doing things I always start with my low only to end on a high note. The biggest low had to be the weather. Every other day on our trip was sunny and over 25 degrees Celsius.  The 24 hours we were on the bay had to be 12-14 degrees, gray, and cloudy skies. 

We look so happy despite the weather. Justin didn't bring any pants so he was staying warm with a pair of shorts, a long sleeve shirt, and a rain jacket. 

But even with the unfortunate weather it was hard not to be in awe of Ha Long Bay. The formations went on for as long as we could see.

So this starts the list of highs:

1.) The unbelievable scenery. I have never seen anything like Ha Long Bay. One thing I enjoy about traveling is seeing the amazing things God has created and when you visit a place like this it is hard not to be in awe.
The view from the boat

2.) During our cruise we also visited one of the four fishing villages that still exist on the bay. This was interesting because I don't think I have ever seen this size village on water. We were taken by a local on a boat tour around the village. In the small rowing boat the bay seemed enormous. The formations were huge and all around you. I still can't believe that they live completely on water.

Small homes hooked together form the village. 

Our means of transportation for the village tour

Justin called these the village wolves, but we know better

I think my bubblegum rain jacket and my flotation device slightly clashed

Sticking with the Communist theme even the homes in the fishing village rocked the national flag.

And when your arms get tired just use your legs. This kid might have been 8 years old and he was just cruising around using his feet.

This gives you a good idea of what it looked like in the fishing village

We called this 7-eleven on water. She rowed around selling all kinds of goods

Amazing right?

3.) The amazing cave and no I am not making that up that is what it is called. You be the judge. 

It was pretty spectacular

My science teacher of a husband informed me this is an example of a stalactite and a stalagmite. He wasn't sure what it was called once they connected.

And a small added bonus we got to stuff some spring rolls

Technically, Ha Long Bay is one of the seven New Wonders of NatureOne New Wonder of Nature down, six more to go.

Minus the awful weather, which is just our luck, we still enjoyed Ha Long Bay. It is something you don't see very often and something truly to be appreciated. 

From here we head to the middle of Vietnam!

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