Belated Bangkok!

So... not exactly sure what form this blog will take now that Grace and I are doing the long distance thing. Maybe I'll start posting random thoughts that no one is particularly interested in? Perhaps that can go in a separate section. I guess I rarely posted except about our vacations, anyway, and we're still planning on having plenty of those.

Life was pretty busy for August through October, but it has slowed down enough for my guilt about not updating in a timely manner to surface, so I'll start with Bangkok and eventually get to talking about my life in Seattle.

Grace and I went to Bangkok as a bit of a farewell adventure for myself (I continued on to Seattle from there, while Grace returned to Dhaka). The perpetual problem with my delayed posts is that I forget half the details of our adventures, so my recollection might be a bit bare bones.

We honestly didn't do all that much typical sight-seeing. Just lots of food-eating and city-wandering. On the first day we visited the Jim Thompson House (Wikipedia). Pretty interesting dude, credited (however fairly, I'm not about to do a ton of research) with revitalizing the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 1960s. He also built this crazy fancy house in Bangkok by combining six different antique Thai houses from various places in Thailand. Nowadays you can visit, view some of the art collection, and ogle the fancy (and correspondingly priced) silks. Definitely worth the visit, even if you're not in the mood to drop $100+ on a scarf.

Oh, we also saw a tortoise just chilling, walking through the house's grounds. And I took a video, because tortoises, being an animal not of the sort I see every day, are inherently neat.

The second day featured our now-requisite walking food tour. Seriously, Grace and I are complete converts. So worth it! Anyway, we walked all around the city eating delicious things (I tried chicken feet for the first time!). I don't remember everything we had. Fruit, duck, chicken feet, papaya salad, curries, ice cream... and probably a few other things. Papaya salad might have been one of my favorites.

On the third day, we doubled down on food by taking a vegetarian Thai cooking class from May Kaidee's school. We completely lucked out (possibly by booking early on a Sunday morning) and had a class completely to ourselves: just the instructor, Grace, and me. Capacity is up to 10 or 15, so we got way more personal attention than I think we would have otherwise. I was slightly skeptical, but it ended up being a whole lot of fun. The fact that all the ingredients were selected and prepped ahead of time helped a lot (i.e. we didn't spend 90 minutes just chopping things up). We cooked (and ate) a pretty absurd number of dishes in just a few hours: Tom Yam chili paste and soup, Pad Thai, peanut sauce, Massaman curry, spring rolls, pumpkin hummus (so good, though maybe not super Thai), green papaya salad, and sticky rice with mango.

Our instructor was not May Kaidee herself, though she showed up about halfway through to instruct another class (fruit carving). She also led us (perhaps reluctantly) through this song and dance routine that is apparently her thing. I will grudgingly admit moving around a bit was a good break from just eating a whole ton of food.

We did a few other things while we were in Bangkok, but they mostly involved inconsequential wanderings and shopping for souvenirs. We also saw Inside Out and some super-fancy movie theater (they had loveseats! why is that not a thing in the US?). The malls there (as in most of Asia, from what I have seen and been told) were pretty insane. As evidence, see the below picture of women being made up to resemble dogs while a guy in a dog head mask stands at attention.

Did you think I was joking?

Unfortunately, our time in Bangkok was all too short. But many more adventures await!

Hong Kong: Day 4

Our last day in Hong Kong. Boo! Overall a great day, though it suffered from some poor planning on my part.

We decided to get a bit outside the city so took the MTR out to Lantau Island. Daniel (our food walk tour guide) had recommended taking the cable car up to Ngong Ping, where the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha are located. What we didn't know is that the line would be absurdly long. Apparently if we had just bought tickets online we would have waited like 10 minutes. Instead I think we waited the better part of two hours. Blah. Still worth it, I think, but I wish I had planned better.

While waiting around in the line I took a few pictures of our surroundings. One thing I found really interesting about Hong Kong was how dense it was even in the "suburbs." And how immediately it transfers into basically undeveloped land. Around MTR stops you'll have a little island of high rise apartment buildings and only a few hundred meters away it will all be vegetation. Really interesting and visually striking. I imagine it's a consequence of the geography: mostly islands with very steep hills.

Finally, we reached the end of the line, got our tickets, and hopped in the cable car. The view was fantastic and the ride was a lot of fun, but poor planning struck again when our good camera ran out of batteries. So most of the pictures are from my phone (still pretty decent quality, but no analog zoom is pretty limiting).

Panoramic view from the cable car.

Arriving at the end of the cable car ride was a bit strange. In addition to the Buddha statue and the monastery there is a touristy recreation village area. We didn't spend much time there (though to be fair it was stupidly hot out and we bought some ice cream later on, so I guess I can't complain too much about commercialization).

After leaving the village we headed towards the Buddha statue. As huge as it was, it's actually pretty far down the list of statues by height. For reference, it is 112 ft, whereas the Statue of Liberty is 151 ft and the tallest statue in the world, the Spring Temple Buddha, is 420 ft. Not much to say about the Buddha statue, really. It was cool, but pictures are more interesting.

We briefly visited the monastery afterwards, but the day was getting on and we were getting hungry so we decided to head back down the cable car and into the city.

Our walk from the MTR stop back to the apartment was interrupted by a pretty sizable Falun Gong march. Not something you see every day. We stopped to watch and take some pictures. If nothing else, they were very colorful and well-organized.

For dinner we revisited The Diner, as we were pretty exhausted and it was only a couple steps away from our apartment building. Yummy burgers, though the fries and milkshakes stole the show.

We got up super early (boo!) for our flight the next morning. We were both really sad to be leaving Hong Kong. It's a pretty fantastic city and I'd love to spend some more time there, though it might be a little overwhelming (not to mention expensive) to actually live there full time.

Hong Kong: Day 3

Over the first few days we had noticed an American-style retro diner near our apartment. It was named, imaginatively enough, "The Diner." We were a bit skeptical, but decided to grab brunch there on our third day in Hong Kong. Our skepticism was misplaced, as it was quite good (particularly the milkshakes!), though it definitely did not share its pricing with a traditional American diner.

After brunch we got ourselves to a nunnery (hardy har har). The Chi Lin Nunnery, in particular. While it would be interesting by itself, it is particularly fascinating in the context of such a modern, developed city like Hong Kong. It was built using traditional Tang Dynasty techniques utilizing interlocking wood with no metal nails. There were many beautiful Buddhist shrines inside but we weren't allowed to take pictures of those, so pictures of the buildings and grounds will have to suffice.

A panorama of the courtyard.

Right across the street from the nunnery is the Nan Lian Garden. This was a nice little oasis in the middle of the city, though there's not a whole lot to say that can't be better conveyed pictorially.

Later that evening we went to Victoria Peak, one of the more famous tourist attractions (for good reason!). From the peak, you get magnificent views of pretty much the entire city. Going up at night was particularly cool, as many of the more prominent buildings have interesting light displays. The tallest, the ICC, had by far the most elaborate, as you can see below.

Dinner that night occurred in multiple stages. For the second night in a row we tried to go to Ho Lee Fook. This time, we were determined to put up with the 60-90 minute wait to try it out. I mean, how hip is a restaurant whose only website is a tumblr page. Right? Anyway, we put our names down and went a few doors down to one of their sister restaurants, Chôm Chôm. This place was pretty good, and also unabashedly hip (meaning Grace and I were very much out of place). We got a couple rounds of drinks and some delicious roast corn and spring rolls. Yum.

Ho Lee Fook definitely stole the show, though, and was most certainly worth the wait. I can't recall the last time I had such terrific food. Wagyu tartare; perfectly stir-fried asparagus, broccoli, and sugar snap peas; grilled pork belly, and a really interesting Szechuan pepper whiskey sour to top it off. Szechuan pepper is really interesting (I had never tried it before - apparently all that Szechuan chicken I'd had in mall food courts was not quite legit): unlike "normal" pepper (to which it's not actually related) you get a distinct numbing, tingling sensation in your mouth. Neat.

Our long wait for dinner meant we didn't get home until around midnight (although we did grab a milkshake from The Diner as a delicious nightcap), so it was a very full, very enjoyable day.

Hong Kong: Day 2

Whew! Second day! This was a good one. Taking a cue from our experience in Istanbul, we had again signed up for a food walk. We went a little fancier this time, opting for a private tour (just Grace, our guide Daniel, and myself). A bit pricey, but it was a really great experience.

We met up early (for vacation at least) in the Sheung Wan neighborhood. We got there a bit before our guide, so I grabbed a couple shots of what is probably more the "real" Hong Kong than the pictures from yesterday showed.

Once we met up with Daniel, we took us to our first stop: a snake shop. Apparently a very old institution that, despite the somewhat shabby appearances, caters to a lot of the top end restaurants and hotels in the city. Snake is traditionally a winter dish, so we didn't have any, but we did try some snake wine. The kind we tried was made with King Cobra and was actually the standard variety. Fancier options included bottles with the snake still inside, with a bunch of snake penises (why not?), or one made with only gall bladder. In all, I'm glad we tried the one we did. It didn't really taste particularly snakey (if that's even a thing). Mostly reminiscent of Jägermeister.

After the snake shop we visited a little congee place nearby. A little more typical breakfast fare than snake wine. No pictures, but the food was delicious!

The next stop was at an interesting Whole Foods meets Hong Kong delicacy supermarket. I'm not sure which was crazier: the prices or the fact that a lot of people were in there actually buying things. There is also an interest (obsession?) with genitalia and food that resembles them (see also: snake penis wine) which will become rapidly apparent in the photos.

While interesting, I can't say dried sea cucumbers or frog ovaries were particularly appetizing. Our next stop was, though: roast pork belly and roast goose (a Hong Kong specialty). So very, very good. Pictures below, though they feature lots of roast meat so maybe skip if that's not your thing.

After eating we hopped on a cab over to Wan Chai, another neighborhood. Daniel also explained just how much of the city was built on reclaimed land. Wikipedia page on it (with an interesting map) here. Doesn't look like that much in terms of total land area, but a huge portion of some of the busiest and most dense areas of the city are built on reclaimed land.

The Pawn. Used to be a (very successful) pawn shop, now a high-end shop and restaurant (of course). Also used to be just off the docks, but due to reclamation it's not about 10 blocks from the waterfront.

While in Wan Chai we went through a more everyday market. Pretty interesting. Pictures below (again, some butcher shops, so be advised).

Our last food stop was at Kin's Kitchen. A much fancier dim sum experience than any we'd had before. An interesting tidbit that Daniel shared with us: the "authentic" dim sum experience with the food trolleys is actually pretty much entirely gone from Hong Kong. So maybe not all that authentic any more. All that aside, the food was absolutely superb. There was a smoked chicken dish that was absolutely fantastic (and apparently put Kin's on the map). Yum. Should have taken some pictures, particularly of the desserts (black sesame rolls and these gelatinous coconut treats in fancy shapes).

We said goodbye to Daniel underneath a bridge, but not before he pointed out to us perhaps the most unique thing we'd seen so far: an area where elderly women would curse people on behalf of customers. Yes. You'd write the person's name on a piece of paper, give it to the old woman, and she'd then proceed to violently beat the paper with a shoe. Yes. I think there was a bit more ritual (perhaps with some incense and/or incantations) but that was the gist of it. Apparently they congregate in certain areas because this sort of cursing must be carried out under a bridge. Also this was like 50m from the metro. Just a normal thing. Pictures (and video!) below.

After ending the food walk we headed over to Sham Shui Po on the Kowloon side. Grace had heard good things about the fabric market there. While silk and cotton fabrics are fairly easy to get in Dhaka, some of the more specialty stuff isn't. On our way to the fabric shop we stopped in a bunch of other neat places - shops entirely dedicated to ribbons, to buttons, to bedazzling (well, not in name). Our trip was a definite success: Grace got the fabric she needed and made best buds with the shopkeepers. Yay!

Dinner that night (at a place called The Drunken Duck) was solid but suffered a bit in comparison to all the other amazing things we had eaten on our trip so far.