Hyvää ruokaa

Some friends invited me up to their house for the day yesterday. I'd been up there the week before, and the husband and wife couple each had their family visiting. Her family is from Finland, and his is from Canada, of Russian background. They both speak English, Finnish and Estonian. She speaks Swedish and some German; he speaks Russian and some French and Japanese. They've been here six years. We had a wonderful time last week, playing card games and eating chocolate and talking about a common obsession: food.
They asked me a few days afterward to come back up and cook with them on their day off. I was under the impression (due to the term with) that other people would be cooking other things and we'd all kind of contribute. She asked me what I'd like to cook and what I needed, and she'd buy the ingredients.
I was surprised but pleased to find out upon arriving yesterday that it would be all me. They'd cleared out two kitchens for me, both theirs and their neighbors' next door, as they're out of town for a month or so. There would be a few friends from the congregation, and three or four of their studies, along with the family. 11 total.
My first contribution was that fish soup I seem to be making a lot of for people. It's delicious, quick and easy. I was also excited to do a creme brulee, and I decided we'd do a lavender chocolate creme brulee, one I'd done before in America. Between two kitchens I had only a total of four burners, and the two ovens were more like large toaster ovens than real ovens, but they were convection and did the trick. They'd bought tons of red meat and a lot of great produce, and requested a beef stew.
When I started really cooking, I was vegetarian, so I cooked a lot of seafood and other stuff, but didn't do much with beef. I had a volunteer to start a rough chop on carrots, onions, celery and potatoes and a ton of garlic. I had probably.... 3 pounds of blade steak (flat iron steak before it's been cleaned of the tendony, fatty bits, so it's perfect for a slower cook) that I trimmed a bit and cubed up. Seasoned with salt and pepper and browned in a pan, just until it looked and smelled nice. Had we had some red wine and tomato paste, I'd have added it and cooked down before caramelizing the onions a bit. After the beef was all done, I divided it and the veggies between two nice ceramic pots and put them on to slow cook for about two hours.
At this point, there was a bit of absurdity. Dials were set wrong, one oven used Celsius, and one Fahrenheit, so I set one to about 180ºC or something, and i set the other one to 180 as well, but when I went to check on it after an hour, I could still touch the pot in the oven. It was 180ºF. No matter, we still had plenty of time. After blowing a circuit with the oven, dishwasher and exhaust fan all going and fixing a pipe in the kitchen, we'd gotten most of the slow cook out of the ovens (after trading one out for the creme brulee so it could cool and trimming a Halibut and making the fish soup). Put each of the pots on the broiler and got them going. All the stock and juices cooked down a bit, and the veggies were just right.
That being said, people started coming in around 7, and I'd made myself comfortable in the kitchen. The table had been set and all that was left was service. After some debate and awkward soup kitchen ladling, we started the first course. I was very confident about the fish soup. I've made it a ton before and the fish she'd bought was beautiful. After having trimmed it and done it all myself, I knew it was great. The beef stew, on the other hand, I kind of winged. It's a basic thing to make, but I was worried about the doneness of the meat, veggies, etc.
It was fabulous. It had all cooked together nicely and the meat had cooked through without drying out, and just fell apart so nicely. I was so pleased.
Creme brulee was a little bit of trouble. Pressed for time, and couldn't chill it as long as I wanted. For some reason it didn't set up as well as it should have, and the creme brulee torch was worthless for the sugar, and it wouldn't melt under the broiler either. Didn't look so great, but it still tasted wonderful. I love the combination of lavender and chocolate. Next I think I'll do an Earl Grey creme brulee, whenever I'm in a kitchen with an oven again...
That is to say, cooking is a lot of work, especially with multiple things going (in multiple kitchens), but there's something of the attention to detail, the production of something good and the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when everyone enjoys it.
After all the guests left, the Finns and I played lupaus, a card game similar to spades. We ate tons of chocolate and fruit and sipped on some whiskey and I learned how to count to 100 in Finnish and say some essential card-game related phrased. All in all, a very enjoyable evening.


Kinds of food

Been reading some very cool books lately (and not posting, obviously). After watching tons of food-related movies and television, I've started cooking a lot more lately.
One book is "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry" by Kathleen Flynn.
Another is "Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter" by Phoebe Damrosch.
"Molecular Gastronomy" By Herve Thís.
It is just too bad that I don't have a real kitchen. Two burners, no storage or counter space, no dishwasher or oven (no one here has dishwashers or ovens), horrible pots and pans. But at least I bought a nice knife set. There's a market behind my house where I can go get pretty decent produce and some meats (which I've only recently started buying since the weather has cooled off; I wasn't keen on beef and pork sitting out all day in 100º weather), but when it comes down to it, I'm left having to make pretty simple things and find ways to make them taste good. I have no good heavy bottom pans, no cast iron skillet; I have about three paper-thin pans of varying sizes and shapes, and one thicker one that feigns as a decent frying pan. Despite this, I have found things I can still cook or assemble. Thai salads are easy: cucumbers or papaya are easy to slice or shred (I bought a mandolin) and toss with fish sauce and lime and chilis and the like; I keep chicken stock on hand for soups. I usually have celery, onions, carrots, garlic around and can get something going with those. Potatoes, cabbage and bacon always make for the beginnings of some really heavy Irish type slop that tastes delicious with lots of butter and a beer... Have a few Moroccan dishes planned for this weekend, but am going to have to hunt around a bit for things like coriander, paprika and golden raisins.
The more important kind of food, though, is the kind we're helping other people here get: the spiritual kind. I have more studies now than I've ever had, and to have a chance to get to know them beyond the confines of my one-hour-a-week session with them has proved wonderful. I have this little set of studies on Saturday afternoon, right behind my house. A sister in our hall is a teacher at the local middle school, and ran into one of her former students in service. She told me she wanted to bring me by to meet him and try to start a study. I was initially skeptical of her overwhelming enthusiasm, and recall having just laid down for a nap when she called and asked me to go with her. I did. He lives at the back of my block, and was home. He's about 15, and we started the study that day. I invited him to the meeting, and told him I could go to his house and walk with him, since it's only a short distance from where we live. I got to his house the following morning and he and his little cousin were waiting outside for us. The two of them have been to the meetings every week since then. One Saturday on the study (after the young cousin, 10 years old, whose English name, hilariously, is Oscar), his older brother was home, and sat down at the computer in the next room; I was nervous to see how he would respond, but after the study, he was cordial and we all exchanged email addresses. He began to sit in on the study every week. Long story short, he asked for his own study, and is now a few chapters ahead of his little brother. He studies on Tuesday afternoons, and then sits in with his little brother on Saturday, along with the big brother's girlfriend and the little cousin. All four are attentive at the study, and I'm in chapter 7 with big brother, and chapter 5 with the other three. All but the girlfriend are now attending the meetings every Sunday and commenting or reading a scripture at least once at the Watchtower. They prepare their Watchtowers, and asked me when they can start going in service. There's so much more to say, but in short, it's one of those experiences that, as much as we as the teachers are doing, makes it clear that we can take very little credit for the progress the student makes to learn about Jehovah. It's so enjoyable, and makes ever clearer the importance of the work we're doing.


Language Scents

I had a thought recently.... follow me.
It's been established that smell is the sense most closely related to memory. Many of us have experienced this (I do constantly): walking through a mall or a park or a place with smells... and something or someone suddenly comes to mind, seemingly out of the blue. A split second later, I realize it was cued by whatever smell I just encountered. Memories flood back very clearly.
So I got to thinking.... one of the necessities of effective language learning is a good memory; the increased retention of information obviously provides a greater return on your investment of time you devote to studying.
I did a cursory google search to see if anyone else had considered this, and there was only a small glimmer of hope. More on that later. I give you: the limbic system.
Wikipedia tells us that "the limbic system (or Paleomammalian brain) is a set of brain structures including the hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, and limbic cortex, which support a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, long term memory, and olfaction."
In as little detail as possible, the other little tidbits of information that seemed relevant were the dentate gyrus, which "is thought to contribute to new memories" and "is notable as being one of a select few brain structures currently known to have high rates of neurogenesis in adult humans." The entorhinal cortex (EC) is an important memory center in the brain. [It] forms the main input to the hippocampus and is responsible for the pre-processing (familiarity) of the input signals." The hippocampus is also a big important chunk of the brain dealing with long term memory. All that is to say that it makes sense that the olfactory system (and it's relation to memory and emotion) easily prompts us to recall very clearly things that may not have crossed our minds in ages.
The wrench in the gears is finding/creating a synesthetic-enough correlation between emotional memories and cold hard linguistic knowledge, which usually doesn't carry any emotional weight. However, if there WERE any relation, think of the impact of having the near-total recall with language as we do when we (arguably involuntarily) recall a long-unthought thought.
But again, in a practical sense, how does one combine the general experience of those two senses in a linguistically relevant way? It didn't seem to make any sense until I found an article written by a doctor working in the field of deaf-blindness who is currently working to use the sense of smell to improve (what I suppose you would call) comprehension of objects and their surroundings.
Unrelated application? Yeah.
Possibly very strong means of communication with someone who has no other means of speaking (as are, to a certain degree, students of a new language)? Yes.



Cars are rare here. That's not to say there's not tons of them and traffic and general chaos, but the majority of the general population does not own one. They drive the two wheeled variety.
I guess we are raised around/in/with cars in America, and are just used to that. I've noticed a number of people here have car problems and are entirely unaware of what to do. If the car won't even turn over (clearly because of a dead battery), sitting there for half an hour cranking and cranking and cranking isn't going to do any good. I've seen this phenomenon more than a few times here. Just this evening I went to grab a bite to eat, walking, and on the way there a poor guy was trying to start his car. It just didn't have enough juice to get started. I ate dinner, and on the way back, he was still sitting there grinding the alternator, but this time it was far more hopeless since he'd drained the battery down.
Just another one of those things we don't think about culturally, I guess. If I saw a guy in a Walmart parking lot (in America; goes without saying, no?) who was having car trouble, he'd probably fix it or know what was wrong before I made it in the store.
Cars are a part of our childhood(s[?]), I think. I remember when I was little and we'd all pack in Mom's Buick and I'd sit in the front seat with dad while mom was in the back with my brother and we'd be going to Savannah or Augusta or Florida and listening to Elton John or Fleetwood Mac or Bob Segar or something (but it did seem like any time we went to Savannah we ended up listening to Natalie Cole and Bonnie Raitt). I remember the words to all those songs and they're fond childhood memories.
That is to say, even in small ways it's interesting to see how backgrounds are different and what we remember fondly.
"Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane..."


Tonality, Language aptitude, learning patters and (microcephaly-related) genetics


Pretty incredible stuff. I was doing some reading today on tonal languages. Google will tell you that it is estimated that between 50-70% of the world's languages are tonal. Tonal languages are found the world over, with the overwhelming exception of Europe, the Americas and the Middle East (although there are languages even in these places that exhibit at least some elements of tonality).
A largely foreign concept to English speakers (and those of the western world as a whole), it is interesting to consider where languages come from, what molds them and how the become what they are.
This got me to a question I've asked and discussed before.
Knowing that there is such correlation and transparency with a culture and its language (i.e. what the language reflects about the culture and vice versa), the chicken-or-egg question is: does culture influence language or does language influence culture? There is clearly a give-and-take relationship here, and opinions and viewpoints are biased. Those that know nothing of a language and only (possibly the stereotypes of) the culture obviously do not have the insight that those do who possess knowledge of the language and DEDUCE linguistic and cultural relations rather than superimpose them onto a people.
That being said, I find it interesting that not only is it just personality and character that make languages unique, such as things for which one language might have a plethora of words that another lacks entirely, but that even grammatical and phonological traits can (or might) be linked to fundamental genetics.
In our next issues: how languages (and learning them) are like cars, why you can thank Midlands English you're not conjugating, and what vikings, leprechauns and Zeus have to do with the dental fricative.


Personalized Language list

Reading an article from a Lebanese linguistics professor and people had been asking him about what "essential" "key" or "must learn" languages they should study. Many people would put Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, French etc (aside from English) on this list, but his was not a static, hard-and-fast list of the most important languages. He stated that for someone with an interest and motivation to learn various languages, a solid half-dozen is an attainable goal, and they should be under the following guidelines:
1. Classical language related to your culture
2. Modern Culturally significant language
3. Language of International significance
4. Exotic language
There will be opportunity for more than one language for more than one of these listings, but for someone of American background or culture he suggested Classical Greek or Latin for the first Criteria (I took Latin for four years, but you'd be CRAZY to pore over it alone for no reason), something like German or Spanish or French for the second, English naturally as the predominant international language, but Chinese certainly qualifies. For the exotic languages, people were suggesting everything from Thai and Russian to Breton and Basque. They're obviously less useful, as are learning Classical languages, but I understand their significance. Arabic can certainly make it in there in one category or another, as well as Hindi or Japanese.
I found it interesting.
And I should be updating about my recent much-awaited trip to Thailand. I was only there for three days and intended to post three separate entries for each one. I probably still will, but I didn't bring my computer with me and have been swamped since I got back. Thoughts and impressions of Bangkok are forthcoming.




Been busy here. Since I've moved we've had Memorial, English special assembly day, CO's visit, and I'm keeping up in service. It's hot and humid, and only getting worse.
The CO suggested that during the week of his visit we focus on starting studies on the initial call: the basic question, scripture, paragraph type thing. There are about 55 publishers in our hall, about 25 of whom are pioneers, and we had about 6 auxiliaries this month. In 5 days of the CO's visit, we tallied having started 43 studies. Granted, not all will continue, but it's still overwhelming the response we have in this territory.
I have one or two studies almost every day of the week now, and it's a lot to keep up with. Some aren't terribly regular, but others have started coming to the meetings and have their own publications. The ministry here is wonderful.
I told some friends the other day the three things I enjoy most about Taiwan are preaching, eating and sleeping, which is what most of my days consist of anyway... so it's a pretty good gig I suppose.
They sprayed for roaches or something a few nights ago and I had to fight them off on my way to dinner. One scurried into the house as soon as I opened the door to leave but there's a second door to get into the house, so I apprehended him before he got away. Aside from that, I haven't had any unwelcome visitors aside from the occasional fly (and this crazy really fast jumping spider I can never seem to catch. I've probably eaten him by now), so I'm pleased with that.
My first visa trip is coming up shortly. Everyone everywhere else makes brief daytrips over land borders, but that doesn't so much work on an island, so we all have to fly. I'm going to Bangkok, and very excited about it. The flight was only marginally more expensive than going back to HK for a day, and I've been to HK, so I'll be spending three days in BKK. Won't have much time to explore outside of the city itself, but I'm confident I'll be going back. My next trip will have to be sometime in July, and despite the monetary hit, it is rather nice to be obligated to make an international trip every two months (although July will probably be the last one, as I hope to have all my visa issues sorted out shortly thereafter). Suggestions?
I'm supposed to go back out in service in about an hour with a brother, but it's SO humid today. The temperature is lower than it has been (it's only about 86 or so today) but it's stiflingly humid.
It's also cool to run into other foreigners here and have to use Chinese as the common language. I was eating lunch at this little... place... today and there were a couple of old Chinese men walking around barefoot and we were chatting about whatever, and he said I was the first American ever to come there (it wasn't that scary). A Turkish guy (who spoke awesome Chinese) had just left and this female student walks by and the owner asks me "Hey, where do you think she's from?" pretty loudly, so she turned around and in perfect Chinese says "你沒有辦法猜對" (or something): you'll never guess. So he tried German, Italian and French. She was from Israel.
Go figure.



Yeah, I live in Taiwan now.
I've been here about two weeks. Short version of the story is that I visited and very quickly knew it was where I needed to be. I love Hong Kong, but it's not the place I should be living right now.
That being said, I love it here. I'm collecting places: my dry cleaning place, my breakfast places, my lunch places, chicken curry lady, 炒飯 guy, 白香绿茶 place. I have a routine and I love it. I have a bike, and am starting to get to know my way around. I'll post some pictures. Went to Ikea and got a bunch of furniture for my room. I'm living with a Japanese brother who's in a nearby Chinese congregation.
There's a Costco here! And a really tall building. And pollution and awesome food and cheap things and people that want to learn the truth and traffic and mopeds and humidity and roaches and happy people and hot springs and cheap massages.
So I've been here two weeks. That's as much updating as I'm willing to do now. More later. I love it here.


Food again

Beautiful weather today. Strong wind cut the slight heat in the air, and it was clear all day.
I've been dying to cook, and have gotten some ideas together for when I finally have a kitchen of my own (assuming it'll be functional), and running around HK training for work or meeting for service or whatever has kept me busy, but I've tried to find good food. And I have succeeded.
Last night's dinner was a success. There was a suggestion on Wikitravel HK about a place in Wan Chai that's always packed and has cheap delicious food. They said the beef brisket rice noodle dish was only HKD$13 (USD$1.68, but the price has since gone up to HKD$16. Travesty) and is the big crowd pleaser. After walking around the same block three times, I finally spotted it. It was physically and mentally satisfying. A success. No one spoke English, and I managed to find the dish I wanted on the all-Chinese menu. Wonderful.
That was shortly before the meeting. A few more stops over on the island line on the MTR, and I was at the meeting about 45 minutes early, so I decided to walk around a bit. Found a bakery, and grabbed one of these little guys. Sweet, rich, but crumbly. I don't know pastries, but it was delicious. After the meeting I went back and bought four more, a muffin, some soymilk, some chocolate soymilk, canned coffee, bottle of water, some chocolate and a coke and paid HKD$60 (USD$7.75) and it will be my breakfast for the rest of the week.

Today was busy. Simple errands became far more complicated and I had to sort a few things out at the bank, but all in all it ended up okay. I was down in HK and didn't have anything else to do. I live so far away that if I go into HK, I'm going to spend some time there, and if I'm going back in the afternoon, I won't be dropping in again for dinner. (That'll be changing soon since I'll be moving into my new congregation's territory). So I headed back home today around 4 and had such a late lunch that I wasn't hungry until a little later. Really wanted to cook, but ended up being too lazy. Didn't want to go get something and bring it back here and sit around some more, so I decided to find a place to eat nearby. There's a mall-ish type thing about a five minute bus ride away, but I opted for real Chinese food. Found myself walking into a very small, somewhat scary restaurant just down the road, like one of those places in America that's always got a few people hanging around at all hours of the day smoking cigarettes and stuff. Yeah. I wondered after I got my soup what I was doing. The tea tasted like the water here, which tastes like dirt, and the soup wasn't much better. I had ordered from a woman who spoke nothing but Cantonese and a patron who could barely speak Mandarin. I told him I wanted some genuine Chinese food: a dish with pork, and a dish with chicken. The soup made me nervous, but I heard all sorts of things going on in the kitchen: the roaring of a wok on a burner, smelled oil and scallions and onions and general deliciousness. When I saw a clay pot coming my way, I knew I had made a good decision. Pictures didn't turn out, but it was a large clay pot with huge chunks of chicken on the bone, slices of chicken breast, huge slices of ginger, scallions, roasted onions (the outer layers were carmelized and crunchy and they were sweet) in this smokey sweet sauce. It was amazing. The second one came on a plate and was a pork pancake that was some kind of cross between a flattened meatloaf and homemade sausage. It had a great texture to it and had scallions and veggies and all sorts of porkbits in it and it was very good despite it's malformed pinkish appearance. I asked the lady to write down what it was I had. That pic will come later perhaps... I did take a picture of it.
I think the visa process will finally start tomorrow or early next week. That's the biggest thing right now; after that's confirmed I can sign a lease on a flat, move my publisher card and really get settled in.
Oh, this is the place I ate tonight: besides my table, there's only one more (left of the frame) that's not visible, with some picnic tables outside. She was helping her son with his homework and he'd take a break every once in a while to clean up a bit or do something in the kitchen.


So... I just had my first entirely helpless foreigner moment. I'm sitting on the train on my way into HK, and my phone rings (my local mobile phone). It's an unknown number, but a few numbers here, as well as calls I receive from America, are unknown. So I answered it, and almost immediately a polite sounding man started speaking to me in Cantonese. Being the only westerner on the train, I was somewhat self conscious about speaking Cantonese (I'm usually not, but was feeling incompetent anyway) and after his little 30 second spiel I asked him to speak in Mandarin. So he started over and I still didn't catch a whole lot (it's hard to understand people over the phone to begin with, especially on a crowded train), but was almost positive I caught words and phrases like "our company" and "credit card" and "cheaper" and "convenient." I'm used to recognizing the de rigueur egregiously fake friendly quality in an American telemarketer's voice. However, a friendly voice in a foreign tongue (especially Cantonese) doesn't yet carry any ulterior motive.
I was almost positive he was a telemarketer and repeatedly said "no thank you no thank you" (不要,不要 and 沒有興趣) and he seemed genuinely sorry to bother me and said so. I couldn't bring myself to hang up on him, but felt terribly rude all the same. He didn't address me by name like any of the friends here would, not even any of the brothers or sisters who I need to speak to and as of yet have not met.
But I got to thinking: What if he's the brother at the British Council I've been wanting to talk to, or someone at the bank I need to speak with, although I was sure it was a solicitation. I was confused and worried, and pulled out my ipod in lieu of continuing to read my book.

PS: I got another one on the way home. It was also an unidentified caller, and I was more confident this time. I told him I didn't speak Cantonese and that he'd have to speak in Mandarin or English. He said 不好意思 and thankfully hung up.
I don't know...



Today I bought Ruth Reichl's book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, and I'm about 60 pages into it. Really cool so far, about her taking the job as food critic of the NY Times and what goes along with being a food critic of that magnitude: not blowing your cover, disguising oneself, being objective, etc. Also reading Molecular Gastronomy, an informative but terribly bland and straightforward book of interest. Casual reading (the kind I can do anywhere for 30 seconds between trains or for 30 minutes on a train) has been keeping me occupied in down time, as our study material for the meetings is hard for me to do stop-and-go between trains or with babies screaming in the background.
Food has been exciting here, but I obviously don't have any idea of what's a great restaurant and what's not worth a half-hour train ride to. Obviously, restaurants like Amber (Two-star Michelin at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental HK) would be phenomenal (and cost a small fortune), and there are more and more high-end western-style (and owned) restaurants in the high rent districts. But I suppose for the most part, when it comes to noodle shops and HK BBQ, there's only so much one can do, and what I've had so far has been very good. Soups and noodles and rice and all sorts of animals (tripe even made an appearance in a noodle soup last night). I've been finding negligibly legitimate reasons to enter local businesses and upon departing will ask about food recommendations.
So today I ate at this place recommended to me by a lady at a teahouse that was supposed to be a really good true HK noodle place, their answer to a greasy spoon diner, I suppose. It was busy and tables were turning. I sat down and was immediately given a menu with about four options on it: a vegetable dumpling soup, a noodle soup, and a few dry noodle bowl type things, accompanied by a list of about 25 different items to add to the soup, from sliced pork to fish ball to cow stomach to slices of fat. I ordered the vegetable dumpling soup medium hot. The smell and color, accompanied by the reddish oil slick of chili paste on top when I got it was exciting, but it was so hot I couldn't finish it. Dumplings were great. Veggies were great. It was all good.
I've had some extremely hot food before, and love it, but this was a different kind of hot. It wasn't even a flavor-ish delicious hot as much as a caustic sinus-frying experience. I did my best, but couldn't finish it. It was more than my ravenously empty stomach (and my table void of quenching liquids) could take. I did a respectable job with it.
Needless to say, I'm terribly excited to try so much food here. We did 飲茶 (Cantonese: yam cha- literally "to drink tea"/Mandarin 暍茶) dim sum last week, which is more a ritual or experience rather than a meal. It was fabulous, and I love the reckless abandon with which people approach food, and from a Westerner's point of view, oftentimes at the expense of table manners, but it's wonderful.
If something here ever had a bone in it, it's almost assuredly still in it when you eat it. Pork, duck, chicken and (disappointingly) fish. People gnaw and chew on bones and dispose of them creatively, talk with their mouths full, grab for food, eat fast and messily. Food in Hong Kong is wonderful, and I hope to share regular food stories and pictures.


Internal Compass

Traveling around last year we spent a number of months in different cities. For whatever reason, I became the navigator in Belfast, and got to know my way around. I paid attention to street names and how we got places, but Belfast was laid out in a horrible excuse for concentric circles and radiating streets from the town center, and wasn't exactly logical. I got to learn my way around from memory. London wasn't difficult, but I completely shut down in Barcelona and John navigated there.
In Hong Kong, I feel like I'll be training my internal compass much more. I was thinking about it last night on my way to meet some friends and although I got turned around a few times coming up from subway stations underground or whatever and had to get my bearings, there are landmarks and points of reference that are great for those of us that are a little more directionally challenged. The MTR is terribly easy to navigate and get around in, but just walking around hasn't proven difficult either, especially in the larger parts of HK. I find myself using the actual cardinal directions for things ("I'm in Central HK, and the ocean is that way, so this must be due west"). It's small, I know, but I'm wondering how much quicker I'll learn my way around here having to walk or take the subway most places. Things are pretty easily recognizeable, and it's all laid out pretty well.
It's funny to think that this city is my home.



I've been so tired after getting home the past few days that I haven't really posted anything. I've fully intended to, but have had other minor adventures, like drying laundry, buying more groceries and trying to find a new Thai restaurant yesterday in the Mid-levels, where I was instead greeted with scores of Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Arabic, English and Indian restaurants. Stopped and had a pint at a little English pub called the Pickled Pelican (before it got packed) and sure enough when I walked by it after dinner at another Thai restaurant, it was noisy and crowded.
I started teaching. The company I'm (most likely going to end up) working for is basically a third party provider of Native English teachers (NETs) to schools in HK. So I observed an advanced class thursday that was preparing for the oral part of an English exam. They attend one of the more prestigious schools in HK, and the principal is very demanding. So I was supposed to meet the same teacher (an elder in an English congregation here) yesterday for one class in the afternoon, a phonics course that our insitute developed that we usually teach as part of our curriculum at schools. However, another teacher fell ill and couldn't make it, so we ended up having almost a full day. Four classes, and I taught half of them. Held an English examination for Kindergarten-ish aged kids, and earlier in the morning was a drama class for a behaviorally deficient group of 20 sixteen year olds. Conducting the exam on 5 and 6 year old chinese kids was far easier. There was a list of words they were to identify the individual sounds of (three or four letters each), and then another set I was supposed to ask them to read at random. One little girl, sonya, wouldn't even look at me. She was so shy, and had some problems with b vs p and the letter u. She was so cute though. I had to have them write their name and class on their exam paper and she took my pen and it was like she needed two hands. No joke, I cold have almost put her in my backpack. And closed it shut. She was tiny. And freezing outside. It got really cold outside, at least for HK.
Rainy season started this week, and on thursday at the first school it suddenly started raining and within minutes we'd gotten at least an inch of rain, and it continued for almost the entire afternoon. There were rivers inches deep of water pouring down stairs out of parks. I'm told this lasts until about September.
There were so many things I was going to mention, if only briefly, but I'll get around to it later. On my way to service and going to be a bit late. It's cold again today, down to like 50F here, going out in svc in 15 mph winds right on the harbor. I think I'm dressed warmly enough.


Food and Clothing

I tried to make dinner yesterday.
I was too irritated about it to actually post it. I had frozen/packaged food from the store yesterday, but didn't have much else to do and kinda wanted to cook. So I decided I'd stroll into "the village" (which sounds like an African or Vietnamese cluster of thatched roof homes, when in reality, it's something like fifty 40-story buildings that make up the community, so it has its own mall and schools and playgrounds and parks and squares and a market.
This place is like a maze. I can get to it and into it fine, but I get so turned around so easily. I navigate my way through Hong Kong no problem, but this maze of identical looking buildings with sidewalks every which way and children running and playing and old Cantonese men smoking, and hacking and playing Mah Johng gets me every time. I asked one lady in Cantonese where the market was, and apparently said it wrong, because she pointed me off in some direction where I had to ask another guy who pointed me in an entirely different direction and gave me three or four commands, and after following the first two (all I could catch), I started heading in the direction from which the people with bags of produce were coming. I made it to the market.
I bought the following: some Thai chili paste, onions, ginger, garlic, carrots, (had something in mind with all of this) oranges, a few nice (looking) filets of freshly cleaned fish and a big one liter (or something) bottle of Tsingdao beer (for lack of white wine or chicken broth). The idea was this: sweat the veggies a bit, let them soften some. Add the beer, chili paste, ginger and orange zest and the fish, cover, let simmer for a bit and I'd have a decent thickish brothy substance with yummy veggies . I had some rice going too, to which I added some orange zest as the water was boiling. Gave it a nice... orangeyness.
It just didn't work. The fish was absolutely full of pinbones, and any attempts to remove them proved futile. I even found some needle nosed pliers and washed them clean and tried to pull 'em out like they do in restaurants... nope. The beer didn't work, the veggies were kinda icky from the start. I didn't have a lot of the extra stuff I really would have needed to make it work. it was an improv. But I ate it and it sufficed.
I did my first load of laundry tonight. It didn't take that long. There is a washing machine here, and it sings like one of those rice cookers when it starts and stops (cuz it's Asian). What I lack (and I knew I would) is a dryer... My clothes came out of the washing machine wrinked. I let them sit no more than five minutes and it looked like I'd braided them all together and bungee jumped from a bridge with them. They're hanging dry now, and we'll see how stiff and crunchy (and still wrinkled) they are tomorrow.
Oh, yeah, I hung them inside. It's not that I don't trust the neighbors, who have all hung their clothes outside, but I just don't feel comfortable leaving my clothes outside two stories up on the top floor of this building to dry. I don't know why we don't actually have a rack on our own balcony... anywho, I was told adding a cup or so of vinegar to the rinse water in the machine would soften them a bit, so I'll try that next time. Any other suggestions?



Woke up this morning rather early. I went to bed rather early last night. The brother I'm staying with left for France this morning, so I'll be here by myself for three weeks. I didn't know what I was going to do, but decided to go for a run. It was nice today. Only about 62 or so, and threatening to rain. I ran a few miles and went into the grocery store/market for breakfast, which was only going to be bottled water and some buns or something, but I ended up getting real groceries. Fruit, soymilk, cereal, Coke, bread, etc. I think I spent around HK$350, or about US$45. Came home and had a shower and now I'm having lunch and heading out to go do something or other. Might try to meet a few people about jobs, but I don't have any appointments. Service today isn't until 6:45 and I'm unclear as to exactly where they're meeting, but I'm going out tomorrow I believe. Service arrangements have been a little hit-or-miss, as I guess they are when you don't actually belong to a congregation yet. I'm visiting the other two Mandarin congregations this week, in Shau Kei Wan (a newly formed one) and Tai Po. The one I went to last weekend is in Aberdeen. Over.



Sitting on the train on my way back home. It's only 930 pm (at the time of beginning this), but it feels like midnight. I actually got up early and was going to head to the Kingdom Hall in Shau Kei Wan for service in Mandarin, but didn't know if I'd get there only to find they met somewhere else. Long story short, I made some calls, and those people made some calls, etc until I finally cought up with someone in Aberdeen Mandarin and decided to meet them around 130ish. I was out in English with the French brother in Tung Chung and we met a guy from Salt Lake whose great aunt was in the truth. He said his family was always very mean to her because of it, so he always makes a donation when he meets the witnesses. He did, and took a Bible Teach book and the Truth tract.
After that, we caught up with some folks in the English congregation for lunch. About 4 Filipino sisters, and then I had to meet in HK with Mandarin. Their preaching work is at a ferry station where many of the mainland Chinese come to when they arrive at HK. I spoke to a man and placed a number of brochures and mags. He was very very nice. Afterward, we closed up our little booth and took the bus to Aberdeen. Dropped our things off at the hall and went to grab a bowl of soup before the meeting at 5 pm. Public Talk, Watchtower, and had a chance to meet most everyone in the group. Wonderful congregation. I loved it, but it's almost as inconvenient to where I'm living as anywhere in HK, but I got the word out that I'm looking for work and a flat, and people talked ab things they've heard ab that are available. So we'll see. I thought a bunch of them were going to go to hospitality w me and a few others (including the brother I spoke with at Bethel yesterday. He attends that congregation). As it turns out, they had to leave, but I ended up meeting a lot of people, and at a few points I forgot what language we were speaking. I'm understanding a bit of Cantonese, and fool myself into thinking I inderstand other parts of it, but one sister today insisted on speaking in Cantonese. Dunno if she wasn't aware she was switching languages, but I did as best I could to keep up, and hardly spoke any English today. It made me very tired. I'm still like 30 mins or more from being home. I have quite a walk from the MTR and am really hoping this job works out next week. It'd be awesome.
Some awesome shirts I've seen:
-"naughty a flavor it is lovely"
- "one... Five... Two... GO!!!"
-"I am despicable"

Wish I could remember more.


I live in Hong Kong

... my first legitimate post, seeing as I live in Hong Kong now... I am actually here. More to come later. There are language barriers everywhere, even with the brother I'm staying with, who is French. From what I gather (from speaking in person a number of times about it) we're having people over for dinner, so I won't be able to discuss a ton at length, but I certainly will tonight. We went to the market near the house and bought all kinds of fish and fruit and vegetables and I got to barter in Cantonese with the people. It was nice.
Maybe I will... my flight got in this morning at 7:30 am HK time (thursday) and it's now going on 1900 thursday evening. Upon arriving in HK, I had just finished about 25 hours worth of travel after being up and packing frantically all day Tuesday (my blood still runs cold at the panic that ensued despite my preparation).
However, after schlepping probably 180 pounds of luggage thru the airport, to the bus stop, onto and off of the bus and then a twenty minute walk to his apartment, then up three flights of stairs. After that, I washed my hair and face and was given a one-hour run down of basically everything, but in about five minutes: "Here's your key. Here are the air conditioners; these doors stay open to keep the wine cool, these stay closed; you head down this way and then left for a while, pass the whatever and that gets you to the bus station to get to the Subway, where you'll get off here and take..." and so on thru everything from banking to cell phones to wifi to unpacking. And then roommate was gone for work. I unpacked a bit, arranged things and decided to head into HK and do stuff. Got everything together into a small backpack I brought (satchel, perhaps), filled with Cantonese phrasebook, pad of paper, my address, American and HK cell phone, etc etc and headed to the bank. I had walked probably ten minutes before realizing I forgot my passport, which I obviously needed at the bank. Long story short, I eventually got into town with the help of a few very nice people with whom I was able to speak about directions in Cantonese (!), and when I decided to get off the subway a few stops early to walk the rest of the way, one of them said "No! No! This isn't your stop." I almost wanted to sit back down, but told her I wanted to stop here. Checked out a market I would later return to and finally found HSBC. Took a half hour; filled out some forms, they made copies of my passport and got some other info and I made a deposit and got a debit card! Sha-zam. Oh, and roomie got me a prepaid SIM card, so I put it in the spare phone I got today and was ready to go. I also have a subway card. I covered A LOT of ground today and just walked around and took the metro places.
Company has arrived and I'm sipping on an aperitif. The advantages of a French roommate.... more later.


It's almost time

I've been so ridiculously busy the past... two or three weeks. Almost every single night for like... the past month I've been doing things with people before I leave. I'd been in the same congregation for almost 18 years and in my current one for about two, and making plans to catch up and say goodbye in the same evening, not to mention visiting family out of town and making preparations and arrangements for leaving has left me with an elusive cough (that rears its ugly head in the middle of certain paragraphs at the WT reading) and an almost nonexistent voice.
I've got congestion issues and some here-and-there coughing and stuff that's only really bad in the mornings after I've been horizontal for hours. It'd be nice to say I'm taking it easy these next few days before I leave, but tomorrow's going to be another busy day. Service with the family and then errands before I finally come home to chill. Not much of anything constructive (as far as errands, per se) will be happening Tuesday before my departure, but I NEED TO REST. I suppose the 21 hours I'll be spending on a plane could be used for that....


Four days

I'm leaving in four days. I have two bags to check, one to carry-on, and then my backpack (for my computer, HDD, etc). The next four days are going to blow by because I've already got almost every minute of all of them planned out. Leaving to go see extended family tomorrow a few hours outside Atlanta, spend the night there, drive home Sunday just in time for my (last) meeting where I'm reading the WT, then to a couple's house for dinner with my family. Monday Dad wants to do service with us as a family and stuff with them all day. Tuesday I finish everything up and leave for the airport sometime mid afternoon. That's it.
That being said, I pretty much know what I will and will not be wearing over the next four days, and am hence able to start packing. Of the two large backs (to be checked) one is quite a bit smaller than the other, but neither can exceed 50 lbs. SOO I started packing up the heavier things in the small one today: books, shoes, extra toiletries, jackets, etc. I weighed it once (it felt SO heavy), but I still had around 13 more pounds free in it, so I stuffed some more in there. That bag can take more (heavier) stuff since the bag itself weighs less. The larger bag can't take as much weight because it weighs more, so I saved all the T-shirts, sweaters, socks, and lighter wear for it. We'll see what I can pack in there, and everything else (changes of clothes, reading material, COMPUTER, will go in my carry on and backpack.
It's really coming down to it. Four days. I'm starting to realize this is the last of everything (at least for a long time): last time to see this person, last time I'll go here or drive by there or do this... even things like going to the gas station and filling up... probably won't do that again. Going to the bank, walmart, it's all winding down and finishing up...


I can't pack yet!!!

I want to pack. I want to have everything squared away and done.
However, as close as my departure is, I still have eleven days. That's eleven days of service clothes, suits for the meeting, casual clothes, bum-around-the-house clothes, sleep clothes, jackets, etc etc.
I'm cleaning at this point, I suppose. I've got a lot more books that I want to bring than I thought (old notebooks, notes, Chinese books, etc) and I've decided to bring a larger carry-on in addition to my backpack (which will then be masquerading as only my "computer bag"), so I'll be able to distribute the weight a lot easier.
I have a lot of errands to run lately, and I feel like for every one or two items I mark off of my to-do list, I add two or three more. And some of them are just stupidly small things I need to do. I need to go get my watchband fixed today. And get a haircut. But then I also need to clean my entire room from top to bottom, reorganize the office and clear out my car before I sell it.
We accumulate a lot of stuff... and, in a similar vein with a conversation I was having with someone last night, it just gets moved around. Even thrown away, it's just moved from one place to another. I've moved many of my things out of my room to another part of the house, given them to my brother (clothes) or to someone else, and the rest of my stuff I'm just setting aside neatly in my closet. Much of it I have thrown away, but that really was just crap, stuff I'd held onto for ages, and it was the right time to get rid of it, but I have ~hundreds~ of books in stacks and shelves and cases in my room, and I'm bringing precious few with me, and with some small exception, they aren't things I'll give away (or even lend) and certainly not throw away. So they're staying. It's nice that up till this point I've still lived with my parents and everything I'm not taking with me can still live here.
That being said, my laundry is almost dry, which means it's time to leave the house and go run errands. I think. There's a few books I've been wanting to read, and if I were a terrible person I'd check them out at the library and abscond with them, but I suppose I will go get pillaged at B&N or somesuch... we'll see.


My luggage needs to go on a diet

In the interest of preserving my own dignity, I shall not disclose the extent to which I prepared to pack today. Suffice it to say I wrote down every item of clothing I own and now know such things as the weight of my entire wardrobe (divided by category), the average weights of bundles of specific garments, and that it takes about twenty wire hangers to weigh a pound.
I shan't blather on about details, but without toiletries, books and other knick-knacky-non-clothing items accounted for yet, my luggage needs to lose about ten pounds...


Trial Pack 2009

It has begun.

A friend of mine told me that I always call her during my trial pack ritual, and the three phone calls go something like this
1. I'm going somewhere and am very excited and can bring all sorts of everything I own
3. I made it fit.

Trial pack has been an annual event, as I've taken significant trips for the past two years. This is my third.

TP'09: For each of the trips I've taken, I've wanted to get an idea of how much I can bring with me. I'm not a great packer, and if i pack in a hurry, even just for a three or four day trip, I find myself having arrived with nothing more than a t shirt and a pair of socks OR six pairs of pants, 8 pairs of shoes, a jacket, three ties, 80 shirts and no socks or wallet. It's one or the other.
SO, especially seeing as I won't be coming BACK within a few weeks' time, I want to get an idea of what I can feasibly bring. The clothes are going into stacks next to my suitcase on the floor (who am I kidding, they're folded up in the suitcase like i'm not leaving for three more weeks), and rather like an episode of American Idol, I decide whether or not they qualify to make it in. After the first round of eliminations, only some clothes I didn't realize were in line got the cut... this process will go on until my departure, at which point I will weigh the bags and hope they're not fifty pounds over my fifty pound limit. So, my wardrobe (and everything else I own) is now campaigning to be taken with me to the new land, to have a shot at the big time...
and ugly huge red long sleeve shirt that has holes in it cuz it was really thin to begin with... I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to turn you down...


I need a new name

My blog needs a new name... I don't know.

I also made pizza (three pizzas) last night for seven people. It was a last minute thing at my house and I got to cooking around 6. I roasted some garlic until it was all soft and buttery and spread it on ciabbata bread. Then I made a typical margherita pizza (ricotta, basil and tomatoes), a pepperoni (for the carnivores) and a third with roasted onions and peppers, feta and spinach. I had roasted the veggies ahead of time and was worried it would all be a little soggy on the dough, but it came out really well. I took some cool pictures of the pre-pizza work, but completely forgot to snap the finished products... A friend brought a Hefeweizen and some Guinness, and we watched Psycho.
Dinner/Movie nights are awesome.


on with it already!

Today I feel mentally and emotionally prepared, stable and ready to move. However, I have 26 more days left and there is no "biting the bullet," as it were. I have yet almost four more weeks. I also as of yet do NOT have any luggage. I am going to leave service early today to check out any kinda luggage they have at Costco and maybe Marshall's. I need to try a few trial packs to see what I can feasibly take with me. I think I'm allowed two bags at something like 70 lbs each! Huzzah. That's in addition to a carry on item, etc. so my computer will definitely be with me. 'Tis a long flight. Hopefully I can check my luggage through to HK since I'm only on a codeshare with Singapore airlines on the way to San Francisco... I'm not sure how that'll work, but it'd be great not to have to schlep my life through there at midnight...


on 5.10.06 i posted a list of my language bottom ten: the ten languages I have no interest in learning, for whatever reason. In the post, i talked about the languages I was currently interested in and that I was (proudly) able to hold tiny (very negligibly) meaningful conversations in a smattering of different languages (might I add now that I cannot recall most of what it was i was using then). The list is as follows:
  1. Laotian
  2. Yiddish
  3. Cambodian
  4. Thai
  5. Esperanto
  6. Turkish
  7. Anything Creole/Pidgin
  8. Welsh
  9. Basque
  10. Myanmar (Burmese)
Of those, five are languages I now feel are awesomely cool, and would really like to be able to speak more of at least that many (I have since started learning some Thai, and studied Turkish for a little while and can remember none of it at present). Yiddish, Esperanto and Creoles/Pidgins (aside from cool linguistic studies-ness) do not interest me still.
It's just funny to look back and see how our opinions of things change. At the time, I had no interest in learning Chinese (or any Asian language) and now I'm moving there....
Funny ol' world, isn't it?

I steal...

(but not really cuz I've done this before)

Get your own Visited Countries Map from Travel Blog

So I leave in four weeks... four weeks from today. About 680 hours from right now. That scares me. Many of the things I feared and stressed about (I feel) have been taken care of, at least to the extent that I can take care of them here. Chinese New Year has inhibited my most recent job inquiries from getting responses, but I leave in four weeks (did i say that already?) and feel pretty settled about all those things, really.
What it's mostly come down to is the last few things I'm going to do for the four weeks I'm here. I tend to overcomplicate, analyze, overthink and overplan, BUT I feel that with only 28 days left in America, I need to make wise use of my weekends and free evenings and enjoy every single little thing that's left to enjoy here before I go. I was very glad to go see my family in Charleston over New Year's, as it turned out that most of the cousins on that side of the family showed up and we had a few days together. I can mark that off the list (that I've decided not to make in efforts not to be dramatic and draw finality to my departure).
All that being said, I am very excited to go, but the most difficult part of leaving (as much as I am so excited and thrilled to go and want to move abroad) will be... well, leaving. I do not (as of yet) know anyone in HK (like I do here). I've met people and spoken with them on occasion, but my friends and family and the past 22 years of my life are here. I am looking forward to establishing myself there and know there will be friends and family there that I simply haven't met yet. That's great.
But it plays more like one of those situations where you really want to get to sleep and try to get to sleep so hard that you can't sleep... I'm going to enjoy my last four weeks in America.


Writing about Thinking about Leaving

I'm leaving soon. 30 days from today.

I'll keep this blog, I suppose, as I'd rather not create a new one (mostly it was that I couldn't come up with a creative name, and this is the same as my email, blah blah). I'm not much for the mass emails and sending things to mailing lists, so this is where my travels and such will be documented. That's all for now. I have a 守望台 to prepare.
Pictures will be on my Flickr unless they're so mind-blowing they deserve a double post here. I'll have to be vigilant about getting the two to work in conjunction with one another.