Monday, April 29, 2013

Old and New Friends in Aberdeen

So this is totally out of order, but Justin is just quicker to get up blog posts than me. As you might know by now, my wonderful friend, Jessica, from Frankfurt came to Hong Kong for a few days before we traveled together around Singapore and Malaysia. I can't even begin to express how great it was so see her. 

Jessica, also had some other former colleagues from Frankfurt that lived in Hong Kong and they were gracious enough to have us over to their home. Did I mention that their home is a boat? Stephanie and Matt live in Aberdeen and we had not ventured over there since moving to Hong Kong. So we were definitely game. We enjoyed some drinks as the sun went down over the harbour then headed to the famous Jumbo Kingdom, a floating restaurant.

Taxi boat to their home

Reunited and a sweet introduction to Elina

Not a bad place to live

Heading to the Jumbo Kingdom

We have heard about this place, but had never made it out. There are three different restaurants on it and we tried the top deck which is fusion food.

All lite up at night

All in all it was a fun experience, but the food was just alright.

A night out is not complete until you take Star Ferry home even if it is foggy.

It was nice to meet Stephanie, Matt and their adorable daughter and it made for a very enjoyable Sunday evening. 


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fisher Warren Jackson has arrived!

     Although this post is embarrassingly late, I must announce the birth of my new nephew - Fisher.  He's named after both of my late grandfathers and I'm excited to get to meet him when I visit this summer.  Luckily he's in good hands with my niece and his big sister, Arden.

Fisher Warren Jackson
March 20th, 2013
8lbs 6oz and 21inches

     Congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law once again!  We are truly blessed with another healthy addition to the family and I thank God for you all.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hong Kong Rugby Sevens 2013

     If you're anything like I was a month ago then you haven't the slightest clue as to what Rugby Sevens is.  After talking to a British expert on the subject, my current understanding is that there is such a sport as 7 v. 7 rugby that takes place on a field larger than a soccer field and has two 7-minute halves.  Some people prefer it because it really shows the athleticism of the players since there is so much space and you've got to move the ball a long way to score.  These teams travel around the world and play in weekend tournaments nearly all year-long and they tally up points to have an overall winner for the year.  One of those tournaments takes place in Hong Kong every year and it's apparently a popular event for both the expats that live here and out-of-town guests.

     We scored tickets to the first games of the pool play on Friday night through our school so I pretty much had to go and see what all of the fuss was about.  Basically they run through these games so fast with literally only enough time in-between to get the next two teams out there, that you can barely get up to use the bathroom or get something to eat (if you plan on catching all of the action anyways).  On that note, it seems that a lot of people that attend don't care much about the rugby at all.  Instead, they hang out next to the concession stands to drink at tables and watch the games on little tv's.  Alternatively, you can join one end of the stadium which is the only section that allows alcohol in the stands.  Apparently you have to dress up in a ridiculous costume with a group of people if you plan on sitting there though.

Hong Kong Stadium (I think that's the name) - it was pleasant with the open air and city skyline just outside (let's face it, EVERYWHERE in HK has a skyline)

the alcohol section, featuring this group of Angry Birds

A little action shot from the nosebleed section with Portugal vs. Scotland

back to the alcohol section, with a group of nuns

apparently the U.S. does have a rugby sevens team.  they played quite well all weekend, but fell short to Kenya, New Zealand, France, and embarassingly.......Hong Kong.  They did knock off Scotland, however.

We came with a Scot, and Englishman, a South African, and an American - and none of our teams won on Friday night!

One of the marquee teams was the New Zealand "All-Blacks" squad.  They were very impressive, I must say.

     Friday night was the perfect amount of rugby for me.  I really enjoyed the action and surprisingly, there were several scores in all of the matches despite the short game time.  I cannot, however, imagine coming for the Saturday games that go from 9am until 9pm or something along those lines.  Some die-hards even come for the championship and consolation matches on Sunday.  I'll definitely do my best to come to this again next year.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Behaving in Singapore

     For our Easter break we were joined by a friend from Frankfurt to explore Singapore and Malaysia (the peninsular part at least).  My earliest memory of Singapore came in 1994 when the U.S. was intrigued to hear about an 18-year old boy (Michael Fay) who was sentenced to caning for vandalism.  I still didn't know where Singapore was exactly until probably a few years ago, but most of us know it as "that country where you can't chew gum".

     Well as it turns out, there are a lot of things you can't do, but chewing gum isn't one of them - you can chew but cannot spit it on the street!  I should also mention that when we filled out our immigration card for Singapore they made it very clear on the form that "Drug Smuggling = Death".  These guys don't mess around!  Going with that, I wasn't so sure how I'd like Singapore since it was reportedly "sterile" for Asia.  While we only had three days there, we found it enjoyable and interesting enough if you go to the right neighborhoods (i.e. Little India, Muslim Quarter, Chinatown).

Our first stop was to the Botanical Gardens which had an amazing Orchid Garden.  It was quite a contrast to the lack of greenspace in Hong Kong - and it's all free (except for the Orchid Garden which was a nominal fee).

It was an unbelievably humid day - rainy season plus 1 degree North latitude and you've got a rainforest climate.  Regardless, we saw lots of beautiful flowers - many of which I hadn't seen before.

I really liked an indoor cold section which featured some carnivorous plants like this pitcher plant.

One of the few pictures of the whole crew on this fantastic voyage.

     Since Singapore is known for having a blend of cultures and great food, we checked out a place called Newton's Circus for lunch.  It's basically an outdoor food court that offers everything from Indian to Malay to Chinese to Singapore specialties.  You place your order at the mom-n-pop restaurants, tell them which table number, then grab a cold beverage from a drink vendor and await the bounty.

We had this "butter chicken" from an Indian restaurant, that basically changed our lives.  We would talk about this dish for the rest of the week and never came close to getting anything else like it - we only wish that we had ordered three of them.

We had to try the Singapore Chili Crab, which is a specialty here.  We're also glad that we knocked it out the first day because honestly - it's not that big of a deal and it's a pain in the butt to eat with chopsticks.  Would've been easier if it was "Singapore Chili Imitation Crab Meat".

Our first stop in the funky neighborhoods was Chinatown.

We dropped in to the obligatory Buddhist Temple, which was quite large and had an informative history of Buddha.

After having the chili crab, the other thing to check off of our list was the Singapore Sling.  We went to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel and sucked down the most expensive drink of my life - 26 euros or so ($30).  They were good, but not that good.  Seems to be the biggest tourist trap in town - I'm sure the mixer at the grocery store is just as nice and a fraction of the price (that rhymes).

The "happenin'" part of town seemed to be Clarke Quay.  Both sides of the river were packed with restaurants and bars with live music.  We were able to catch a wicked blues band after dinner at Brewerkz (a brewery restaurant).

There was no shortage of really cool graffiti - mostly on Haji Lane.

We took a walking tour of the Muslim Quarter with this lovely lady who showed us the interesting parts of Arab street, Haji lane, and the main mosque in the area.

Here's a disheveled-looking cemetery.  People aren't really buried that close together - for Muslim burials, they mark the head and feet.  Due to the lack of space in Singapore, you may only be buried for a certain number of years (15 or so), before you must be exhumed and cremated or otherwise disposed of.

In Little India there was a nice vibe and some great food.

Back on Haji Lane - I like this artist's style.

     With regret, my highlight of Singapore isn't included on this post since no photos were taken.  There's a well-known zoo in Singapore and next to it is the Night Safari, which is a must-see.  It's mainly a tram ride through different open pens where the animals can come up as close as they're comfortable with.  Of course, there are plenty of animals that require a trench in-between them and the patrons, but it mostly felt very open.  Alternatively you can take a foot path to see some other animals which otherwise might be inactive during the day.  Altogether Singapore was plenty interesting for a few days and we could've stayed longer.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Homebrew Part 1: The First Batch

     I have several passions in life and one of those is craft beer.  While my dad is more of an "MGD" kind of guy and my brother is satisfied to go through his entire life on Bud Light, I must have variety.  Even while living in Germany where beer is cheaper than water and they make arguably the best pilsners, wheat beers, and bock beers, I found myself longing for some more variety.  It was a slap in the face to be so close to Belgium, who's known for their endless varieties, and not be able to buy any of it in the stores.  All of that to say that I love the craft beer scene and it is absolutely blowing up in the States and surprisingly in Asia.

     One of my dreams has been to start brewing my own beer, but I've always made excuses since living overseas that I need to wait until I have more space or a home with a dedicated room for brewing.  That actually would've been true in Germany when our apartment was tiny, but now that we've had a substantial upgrade in our place in Hong Kong, my mental roadblocks were unfounded.  We were initially shocked to find out that so many craft beers are available in bars, stores, and online shops in Hong Kong, which raised my spirits and got me thinking about trying out home brew here.  Marisa found an online distributor (Beer Necessities) of Beercraft USA products such as starter kits and ingredient kits for different beers.  After talking it up with a colleague and receiving enthusiastic support, I decided to purchase a starter kit and try my hand at home brew.

     Initially I chose to try a Rogue Dead Guy Ale and later I'll try my hand at a Cooper's European Lager to attempt at least two different varieties.  This post will outline our first brew day experience as well as the bottling day.  Stay tuned for a follow-up post in a few weeks for the release party:

You'd be surprised how many ingredients go into  this puppy.  Of course it really only takes four: water, malt, hops, and yeast, but this recipe had three types of malt and three types of hops.  I like to try running before walking!

Brew day mostly involved sanitizing equipment and then boiling a bunch of ingredients.  As long as you have a huge pot then you're good to go.  Here we have the first bag of grain steeping to start our beer soup.

Then we're adding different types of malt to add to the sugar needed to make alcohol.  You've got to boil this brew for nearly an hour, but it smells delightful.

Vlada's favorite part was the addition of the bittering hops, flavoring hops, and aroma hops near towards the end of the brewing.  This balances the sweet flavor with the bitter flavor characteristic of beer.

A bit more malt is added here as Jonny enthusiastically stirs the pot.

Once the brewing is complete - which took nearly two hours altogether - then you're supposed to cool it down as quickly as possible.  This was where our biggest mistake/learning opportunity was made.  If only there was a physics teacher on hand to suggest that we should cool off the liquid while it's still sitting in the pot, which happens to be a great thermal conductor!  Unfortunately we didn't think it through and instead, dumped the steaming mixture directly into the insulating container.  Little did we know, this mistake would cost us a lot of time!

Adding more cold water to the wort helped to cool it down, but not enough.  We probably should not have put as much water in at this point either, since it affected the alcohol content of our beer - as we would find out later.

Once the cold water was added, we were just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Before we could add the yeast we needed it down to below 80 degrees - otherwise the yeast cells would be killed upon contact with the wort.

This is where the shenanigans began, trying to cool off the fermentation bucket.  We started by spraying cold water on the outside of the my shower.....

....then we decided to try an industrial-size sink to try to let it sit (in a garbage bag) in cold water - this was not how I envisioned my first brew day.......later we put the fermentation bucket out on the breezeway of our apartment and wrapped wet towels around it.......then we settled on just letting it sit in the apartment with the air conditioning cranked up.

The hydrometer here was used to measure the specific gravity of the beer, which is basically a density measurement compared with pure water.  The only way to know how much alcohol the beer contains is to take a measurement of the wort before adding yeast, and then taking a second measurement after fermentation.  The difference in density tells you how what percentage was converted to alcohol.

Brewing started at 6pm and I sat with the tank in a freezing room until the temperature dropped below 80 degrees at around 1am.  At that point I added a packet of liquid yeast cells and sealed the container with an airlock (not pictured).  This bucket then sat in a darkened, cold guestroom for about three weeks to complete fermentation.  Next comes the bottling day!

In preparation for our release party I ordered some pint glasses and the goal that we're striving for - Rogue Dead Guy Ale.

I was worried during fermentation that nothing was happening and that perhaps all of the yeast had died, but when I opened up the lid on the fermentation bucket all I smelled was sweet bliss!  Whether there was alcohol or not, this stuff is going to taste great.  All of our bottles were sanitized and we were ready to transfer the beer from the tank.

"A country boy can survive" and a country boy could step up to the plate and demonstrate a little siphoning technique to transfer the brew from the fermentation bucket to our pot.  We had to do this to remove the sediment from our fermentation bucket before bottling since we didn't have a second bucket with a tap.

Once we transferred to the pot we cleaned out the fermentation tank and then transferred it back into the bucket.  Now I'm filling the hydrometer to take a second specific gravity reading.

Then we painstakingly inserted the caps onto our bottles to prepare for filling.

Then the gratifying step of filling the bottles.  In one batch we were able to fill 26 750-mL bottles.  That's just under 20 liters of beer, so we were happy about that.

The test of truth came with the final gravity reading, which turned out o.k.  With my measurements, we're projected to have a beer with 3.6% alcohol.  It's definitely lower than the original Dead Guy Ale, but you've got to start somewhere.

     The whole process has been very gratifying work and we're excited for our first batch release party in two weeks.  Our beer needs a little more time for bottle conditioning and we don't want to rush things.

     Plans are already in the works to get the lager brewing in a couple of weeks, but since it needs much more time in the bottle, we might not be able to enjoy that one until we get back from summer vacation.

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