Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014

Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014
Admiralty, Umbrella Revolution 2014

Monday, July 28, 2008


Today was SOOO hot. It was up to 34 degrees. That’s about 93.5 degrees, which is cool by Arizona standards, but imagine 93.5 plus humidity. Lots of humidity. And smog. Lots of smog. It’s like wading through a dirty sauna with a beautiful backdrop of lush green tropical foliage. Very odd. When I first looked outside I thought, ohmygod, it’s so smoggy. Then I thought, no, this is Lantau, that has to be fog (that’s how smoggy it was). Nope. Smog was right. Hazy and hot. Kath is right: it is so depressing to think about millions of people spending their lives in an environment that is shortening their lifespan and making them ill. Uhm…I guess we are now some of these people? As former Los Angelenos, I guess we were those people there too.

This was a Mui Wo tour day. A day in the life for Kath, a day of Keohi, really. We went to the wet market where we bought some greens (the name escapes, they were stir-fried with garlic and oil and slightly resemble light green ivy or lotus leaves…have to remember their name but can’t) and guava straight from the seller’s yard, then some veggies for tomorrow’s gazpacho, and a fresh fish, killed there right on the spot. Keohi loved seeing the fish. The guy gave it a whack and scaled it for us. I'm limiting our fresh fish to once a week tops. It comes from nearby waters. We're probably imbibing tons of mercury. At my age brain damage isn't as much of a big deal, I'm done growing, but Keohi could face a lifetime of screwed up neurons due to the pollutants in the fish. Anyway, the market is crowded in the morning, that’s when the locals do their shopping (or send their amahs to do the shopping). Later in the day everything is gone and even the clothing/bags/plastic shoes vendors right outside of the wet market shut for the day. Beating the heat. Still, overall it must be said that HK is not an AM city, even in this heat. Most regular stores open at around 10-11AM and close late. HK people are night oriented. Kath was impressed by the cleanliness of the wet market. Since Mui Wo is quite small, it’s clean. When I lived in Sheung Wan, I will be blunt, the wet market was rather grim. Hot and grimy (but you can always wash veggies so I went) and in the summer, the drag was the smell of the meat when you walked in and the swarm of flies that would move every time you passed the meat stall. Yuck. I still don’t buy meat from the wet market, although the meat in this wet market looked much better. Not many flies at all. That didn't convince me though. The HK government has now bought out the licenses of many of the local live chicken vendors to curb the spread of disease. I actually avoided the wet market during the most recent hullabaloo about the avian flu. I don’t think that stuff is airborne, but I’m kind of a disease paranoid type. This is what happens when your dad is an immunologist.

After the wet market, we went on to the church where Keohi has his playgroup for a few hours. This is the first time we stayed until the end in over a month. Usually, by the time the song portion starts at 10:45AM, Keohi is trying to run out the door and wants to leave. Today he seemed to enjoy himself, particularly the high heeled shoes. Most of the adults who attend the playgroup are helpers. The parents, specifically, the majority of the mothers, are often working and/or they simply send their Filipino or Indonesian helpers to attend these short play sessions with their children. The daycare center is unheard of here in Hong Kong; people simply rely on extended family members or hire overseas workers.

Preschool starts at age 2 years and 8 months for those who wish to attend. I remember when I did an article on education in HK some years ago and learned that locals must start formal learning quite early—many begin writing characters at age 3. And many have homework at that age. We haven’t decided where we will send Keohi to preschool next fall, but I am hoping that we can find a local school that doesn’t assign homework so that he can learn Cantonese. Mom told me that the reason she didn’t send me to a local Korean school the year we lived in Korea when I was five or six, was her fear that I might literally fall down the toilet. She inspected the bathroom facilities and decided that the risk was not worth it. Years later, I laughed at that, but thinking of Keohi going to school I realize that I too might check out the bathroom facilities. Falling in a deep hole full of excrement and urine really might put one off to learning or going to school. Hopefully things aren’t that bad here in HK in 2008, after all, that was Korea 1970! I want him to learn Chinese because I want him to be able to have local friends and also navigate locally as this is now our home. Everyone blathers about how Mandarin is more useful to a child here, particularly Westerners who are keen for the kids to learn Mandarin--it's taught at all international schools by first grade. But the truth is that HK is a Cantonese speaking place and not a Mandarin speaking place and I want Keohi to experience life here on a level that we cannot.

After daycare was a quick bite at Tom’s café and then we went home. When Keohi napped, we had Cecily watch him and I gave Kath the Mui Wo bike tour to the Silvermine Bay waterfall and around a few villages. I hadn’t even seen a few of the places we went to today, so it was good fun. Then it was back to Luk Tei Tong to pick up Keohi to go to the playground where the highlight was spotting a toad. I had to do some toad intervention and save it from a group of 3 to 7 year old Filipino boys. There was a brief Lord of the Flies moment when a few started to scream KILL IT, KILL IT and so I was compelled to say that the frog had to go home to eat dinner and his mommy was waiting for him. This was sort of believable to them, but didn’t exactly stop the desire to touch or wound the frog, so then I had to yell DO NOT KILL IT. The kind reasoning appraoch is often ineffectual in matters of life and death.

Finally, we made our way to Mr. Mok’s, the appliance dealer's. I just realized no one ever uses the name of the shop here, except for Soft and Hard. Everyone says Tom’s or Leo’s or Mr. Mok’s as you know the proprietors and the shop name itself seems rather unimportant. Village life. At Mr. Mok’s we bought a washing machine. A new era for us. No more local laundry service. Like everyone else, we will be hanging our clothes outside to dry. Could be problematic during the rains, but we’ll see how it goes. Do people know how much energy dryers use? If at all possible, one should really hang up one’s clothes. I know some communities ban it because of what it looks like—that was our old place in Tucson! That was so frustrating to me. Prior to living in that complex, we lived in a little cottage near the university and we hung up our laundry and it always dried in a few hours of the desert heat and smelled so nice and clean. Then we bought a house and ended up living in a place where they banned the hanging of laundry outside! Well, I guess we won’t have that problem here, land of the laundry line…tomorrow is Central. Kath's first trip into HK proper, and Keohi's first allergy skin test.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kathy Arrives!

Our First Overseas Visitor (other than Dad who dropped us off)

Kath is now here in ole Luk Tei Tong Village. I went to the airport yesterday, enduring that terrible road that leaves all feeling carsick. She came back to our place and was sweating to death on the walk on the bike path and said: “It’s HOT.” Cecily was pushing the luggage cart and we’re all trudging along, picking up the computer bag when there was a hill, taking in the heat. Then a few minutes later: “Yeah, Dad said you were in the sticks.” Yep. Nothing here in the rural village…But, she did say, as most do, that it is a beautiful place. Even with the sun beating down mercilessly at 34C it is still beautiful.

We hung out at the apartment and she unpacked her Trader Joe’s CARE package, some Advil, sunblock, and a special bike lock. There were a whole slew of toys and books she brought for Keohi, along with a cute outfit for him from Holly, and 30 pounds worth of books that I will need for teaching. She took a nap and then early evening we decided to head to town for a bite. Stephen had had the bike tires of the mountain bike fixed for her and so we all rode to the Mui Wo Cooked Food Market and ate dinner. Keohi is really popular at the restaurant, so staff walk around with him a bit and give us a break. Really, he is an extremely poor dinner companion on every level, so it’s about the only place we can go. He likes the chicken tofu dish and then can run up and down the little walkway (site of where he first skinned his knees…). The sun set, a pink and purple splash against the dark mountains as we sat under the bright lights of the local restaurant.

Today Stephen left for Singapore. There was the usual whirlwind of his leaving, lots of packing and looking for stuff and then forgetting stuff and finding stuff. The standard way his journeys seem to begin. Adeline came over from Central and then we all took a cab to Cheung Sha beach and the South African restaurant The Stoep, a mostly grilled food/Mediterranean restaurant. Again, the really curvy road up the hill (Mui Wo is in a flood plain) and then voila, we are dropped off and walk down the road to a beachside restaurant. The place is much nicer than the food, which was fairly mediocre at best. If you could combine that environment with some decent café food from the Mustard Seed on Hillhurst Avenue, you’d have a great place. Honestly, when in HK, it’s simply best to eat Chinese food. You can get okay Western food here, but it’s not like dining in the Bay or in Los Angeles where you are surrounded by many good and different restaurants. It was worth it to go to see the beach though. Down the beach is a gay bed and breakfast. Lots families were out on the beach, many Westerners. I heard quite a bit of French today. We could not get a cab on the way back and it began to rain, so we took a bus. It was a crazy twisting and turning bus ride back and Adeline, Keohi, and myself all felt a bit whoozy when we got off. Then it’s the wave good-bye, Adeline hops on the ferry, and Keohi gets plopped on the back of my bike and we (and Kath) are off, cycling back through Mui Wo to get back home. We dodged a land crab and called it a day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much food is imported into HK and the agricultural situation here in HK and in China. I’m wondering why there are so many imports given the vast geography of the country. Then again, maybe not much land is arable.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Miscellaneous ramblings and The Helper

Today was another scorcher. When it isn’t pouring rain, it’s blazing hot here in Mui Wo. The weather here is more extreme than HK, though I am not sure if it is really do to anything geographic, probably more architectural. Tall buildings and smog seem to shelter one from weather conditions. Nothing like smog and pollution and steel and concrete to make you feel all safe and cozy.

On days like this, Keohi plays outside very briefly before 9AM and then must be in the house or at any indoor play place until afer 3:30PM if at all possible. Semi-tropical weather is hard on a little hapa baby and I’m not up for being responsible for skin cancer or early wrinkling. I heard that you do most of your sun damage before age 15. So gee, does this mean he can blame me in the future for either one of the aforementioned conditions? There’s been a lot of Aloha Swimming Pool time and he’s been back at the playgroups—one at the local kindy, the other at the local church down the street from the supermarket. I’ve made some trips into Central with and without him this week, thanks to the assistance of our new helper Cecily.

Today I was at the physio and wow, it’s true what Stephen said, the Australian trained physios are the best. I’ve been to various physical therapists, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such a sharp and astute diagnosis. Australia has a very good national health program. And since they cover surgery, they have rules about back surgery, for example. Unlike the US surgical mode when treating back problems, you are required to go to physical therapy for one year of intensive work before they even allow you to get surgery.

On Wednesday, I went to the book fair at the HK Convention Center in Wanchai. Okay, the book convention was fine, mostly books in Chinese, of course, but I also went to see what was going on in the English language section and to check out kid’s books. Got one for Keohi that had a HUGE typo, no wonder I got a discount. Grumble, grumble. And then I wanted to leave. HAHAHA. It took me 25 minutes TO EXIT the place. It’s designed with all of these barricades so you keep going around and around and when I asked for help to exit, I kept getting directed to circle around. It was like being a hamster in a large cage without the cedar shavings. Finally I was about to lose it and went to the First Aid station and they found someone to guide me down to the exit. He too got lost on the way of guiding me OUT. We finally got to an exit and he left me standing there about to go out when I realized—IT WAS THE WRONG EXIT in the BACK OF THE BUILDING and so I had to figure out all over again how to get out. By this time I thought I was so mad I told the HK Business Development Council in the bottom of the building on my way out that this was a lousy floorplan and lodged a general complaint. Stephen told me that most shopping places are designed so that you do have to stay longer, so you buy more stuff. There were numerous escalators taking you into the convention center, but only one tiny escalator that would lead you out in the far corner of the building. All I can say is that I am glad I wasn’t in a fire as I’d be dead.

Cecily the new helper is from the Philippines. So far, several days in, it’s worked out well and Keohi seems to like her very much which will be handy once I start teaching part-time this fall. Cecily’s last gig sounded like a big bummer, but of course, was quite standard for the exploited domestic helper from overseas. Cecily’s last boss made her work from 6AM -11 PM and also farmed out her cleaning services to every single one of her relatives without giving Cecily any financial compensation in return, and made her give massages every AM. Cecily lost 25 pounds in a year’s work due to exhaustion. She was not allowed to use the same silverware or plates as the rest of the family. This family apparently believes in cooties. The mistress of the house was a Chinese Australian stewardess married to a HK movie director.

There are tens of thousands of these women from the Philippines and from Indonesia here in HK, desperately sending wages back to their home country. They work for roughly $500USD a month, 6 days a week, not including room and board. Mind you, this is still lower than it was pre-SARS or 2001, when the HK government in some brilliant move, decided that the waves of the foreign domestic helper could be reduced by $50 a month. Why they decide to tax some of the poorest people living here is ridiculous. There are more Rolls Royces here than in any other part of the world. Why doesn’t it ever occur to government to tax the wealthy? Not just the HK government, but all governments? Many people have domestic helpers and the rule is that employers need to only have a total household income of $1898USD a month in order to legally qualify to employ one. It must get pretty bad as the contract stipulates that you can’t make your helper sleep in a hallway!

Anyway, to get back to the subject of the DH—okay, well, while they are entitled to a long term service bonus, the rumor is that no one pays it, particularly local families, thus many are quite eager to work for Westerners who they say, or rumor has it, more frequently pay the long term bonus. It seems that the majority of helpers are let go after two years on average, two years being the contract term and that means too that the long term bonus does not have to be paid. The helpers may spend a portion of the first year’s salary paying off the debt to the agency that sponsored them to come to HK. In the worst case, they are beaten, given little food, no respect, and are exploited and expected to be at the beck and call of their employers to the degree that they are even (illegally) made to work at the employer’s business. For example, some years back, I used to go to the wet market in Sheung Wan and would often see a very very young Filipina woman who was eager to make change and talk to me when I came in. Her employers were clearly the farmers who came in to sell their produce, so my guess is that she worked all day for them, went home and worked all night for them cleaning, cooking, and taking care of household stuff. Someone in our village is about to have a baby and was looking for a part-time worker. Part-time in her eyes meant only 40 hours a week! Oh, great, so the domestic helper didn’t have to also work ALL NIGHT LONG? Why what a generous employer? This was the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard in a long while. The crazy thing is that the helper who told me this was retelling this as if the employer could even legitimately look for someone who was willing to accept part-time wages for a 40 hour week. (Then again, who does work 40 hour weeks? See previous post) In all fairness, it’s not simply the locals who exploit the workers, there are a number of expatriates who do things like demand that their helpers iron dust ruffles 4 times in a row. Dust ruffles? Hey, but it apparently could be worse. Most domestic helpers say that the Mideast is harder and that there is a greater fear of rape occurring than here in HK. Seems pretty bleak to me. You are overworked and underpaid here, but at least you don’t have as big of a chance of getting raped?

The Philippines has been functioning as a U.S. colony for many years and its economy is in such poor shape that its primary source of income are the wages that women and men send from overseas. You can imagine what this does to a culture and society, to split families and communities and scatter them across the globe to do menial labor in order that their families survive. Mark Twain wrote prolifically about our intervention and colonization of the Philippines. Mark Twain. That’s a long time ago.

Indonesian domestic helpers are also common here and may suffer even more financial hardship due to an apparent collusion between the Indonesian government and the agencies that sponsor these laborers. The workers are obliged to only go through certain agencies, agencies that have been officially approved by the government. Many of these workers are not even given more than a day off a month and have their wages garnished by their agency for months.

On Sundays the domestic helpers or amahs, have their day off and the streets of Hong Kong are filled with women who gather to see each other, eat together, and generally spend time away from their employers home. They sit in the street or walkways, lining all of Central. There is something quite profound about seeing thousands of women, usually gathered in groups according to their villages, pressed up against the upscale designer shopping area. To me, it was one of the most profound images I have of HK and is one that I think very much defines the city. It says everything about wealth, globalization, women, and poverty. This movement of people, primarily women, many who must leave their families behind to scrape a living overseas and send their money back is a testament to the fearlessness of many when it comes to their families survival. What we consume, what we buy, how we live, has an effect on people across the globe. How does my country affect your country? What is it about the world that has enabled me to be the one that employs Cecily as opposed to Cecily employing me? You can say it is education, but how do you even begin to frame it like that when the disparity of wealth in the US and the Philippines is so great to begin with?

Kath comes tomorrow! Hooray! A visitor!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Early Morning Rush

An Aborted Attempt to do a Day in the Life...

Luk Tei Tong Morning Last Week Friday

I was going to do a Day in the Life, but got sidetracked, so this will have to do…

7:15AM wake up. This is pretty late. We are usually 6AM risers, 5:30AM on a bad day and 7:30AM on a day when Keohi has been up during the night quite a bit. By now Stephen has been up, showered, and is on the floor trying to do his exercises to get his back warmed up. He has a broken spine so this routine is crucial. Keohi helps by taking the small exercise balls that Stephen uses to loosen up the muscles in his back. He also tries to jump on his chest and give his dad’s head a kick. We are trying to curtail this English thuggery, but maybe it is genetic.

7:20AM Squash a millipede.

7:22 AM Fix bed. Throw a ball to one end of the apartment. Keohi chases it. This gives me 20 seconds to throw on some clothes. Let’s be honest. I look very rumpled lately. Stephen keeps saying I should go shopping. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about your wardrobe when you have to bear in mind that the key thing is that it has to be bike friendly and be able to withstand a small child, torrential rain, and 95F weather with humidity. I can’t be bothered. Diaper change. Keohi asks to nurse (“neh-neh”) and I try to give him some milk in a cup instead. Turn on Australian nursery rhyme CD.

7:30AM I down a bowl of cereal or oatmeal. A variety of breakfast foods are tried. Keohi asks for apple then spits it out all over the carpet. He asks for it again. We try oatmeal, yogurt, bread. Given the double fold in his thighs, he is clearly eating plenty although he seems to spit a lot out. Both Stephen and I eat everything, so I’m not sure how we got a kid like this. Then again, I ate baloney sandwiches for one entire school year—first grade. Every single day. Baloney and white bread. Blech. Fussy eaters are lousy travelers and poor dinner companions. In my humble opinion, one of the first signs that you are really someone to be avoided is if you are a picky eater. That’s my son. How embarrassing.

7:45AM Diaper change. Possibly diaper change #2. Computer goes on. Ichat phone may begin to ring.

7:47 AM Stephen can’t find his keys.
7:49AM Stephen finds his keys, but can’t find his sunglasses.
7:50AM Sunglasses found. Brief discussion about some mundane household detail. Keohi spits bread out all over the carpet. I chat phone continues to ring. Stephen’s cell phone has rung twice already. Australian nursery rhyme CD begins to grate on nerves. Hawaiian lullaby kicks in. The Itunes are scrambled. Can’t be bothered to fix the order.

7:51AM Kill a few more bugs. Get Keohi ready to go outside. If it’s raining, he wears his red Hello Kitty rain boots. Put his shorts on. I wash my face. I do not manage to brush my hair until 10AM. The Luk Tei Tong garbage collector ladies, local senior citizen village folk, and Keohi do not notice. My bald spots from the stress I had earlier in the year have grown in, so I now have more hair. Stephen dashes out the door to catch the 8:05AM ferry. He has to cycle 2km but manages to do this in under 2 minutes—no joke. Fridays he goes to press, so he is more casually dressed, but on most days he hops on his bike in his suit and zooms down the bike path. Very reminiscent of some TV ad but I don’t know which one… Keohi gets a sad look on his face. During the week, Stephen gets home after Keohi’s asleep. It’s hard on everyone. Long long hours and commute. But Stephen was adamant that Keohi not grow up in HK proper as the pollution is really terrible. HK life.

I read in the South China Morning Post that the average HKer sees his/her kid 7 minutes a day. I wonder if that includes the weekends? People talk about work ethic and how it’s great, but my feeling is that it is more a matter of exploitation and people being ground into working 60-80 hour weeks. I worked 80 hours a week at my old job the first year, 65 the second while pregnant and 55-60 with Keohi as an infant. And this was in the U.S. –so are we so much better? The 40 hour work week doesn’t exist for people of my generation. What about quality of life? That’s what happens when you dismantle unions. Unions protect the average Joe. The only union I’ve been a member of was the Screen Actors Guild. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where there was a union to speak of.

And to any of you who rag the French, sorry, but they have it right. Why SHOULD people want to slave away for some corporation their entire lives, a corporation that won’t show them any loyalty and that will cut their pension to pay their upper level executives? Why shouldn’t people work 35-40 hours a week and have a month long holiday? That fact that Americans don’t and that most can barely allow themselves the 2 weeks a year might actually say that we Americans willingly accept less, and ultimately care less about our families and quality of life, and are fearful of looking at our lives as a whole, beyond work, beyond income. We should demand 1 month holidays and not dismiss them as frivolous. The French see quality of life and family time as important as work itself. Work to live. Don’t live to work.

Vive la France! Hey, and don’t just think that this holiday business is only Europe. In CHINA there are more public holidays than in the US.

8:00AM I chat to family for 10-15 minutes.

8:17 AM Keohi hands me his bike helmet. Time to go outside. Slather on sunblock if it’s sunny, grab hat and bag, and we’re out the door. If it’s raining, put on my new rain poncho.

8:19AM Out the door. Hello Luk Tei Tong Village….

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When in Rome...and American Junk Food

Sometimes it is embarrassing to be an American. And I’m not talking about when we do things like bomb poor countries under the pretext of freedom and democracy when all we want to do is grab some natural resources or land.

I’m talking about when someone rocks up to a small tiny café like the one here in Lantau, plonks himself down and says in a snobbish tone: “So you DON’T do Eggs Benedict?”

Eggs Benedict? Does this tiny café the size of a cubbyhole LOOK like it is geared up for Eggs Benedict? Did the guy read the menu? Everything on it is British—does a toastie or beans on a breakfast plate sound even remotely American? This is like going to a steakhouse and saying: “Do you make a tofu scramble?” Why stroll up and ask in a poo-poo tone if the owner can whip up something even if you do throw some money around. Why can’t you read the menu like everyone else? Wow…this is somehow a metaphor for American foreign policy…


The English owner replies (very English, he knew he was being insulted but just held this strained smile): “No, we don’t do Eggs Benedict.”

Then the American says: “No Eggs Benedict, huh?” Again the tone. GEEZ. Is the guy hard of hearing or what?

The American’s son asks: “What are Eggs Benedict?”

The American says in a LOUD voice so that the owner and everyone else will hear: “OH, it is DELICIOUS. You start off with a piece of bread. And then there are poached eggs and then a CREAMY BEARNAISE SAUCE.” Blah blah blah blah blah (I can’t even remember all of the details, but he did ramble on)

At this point, I should add, not only is the guy insulting the café owner, but the guy had it wrong. Eggs Benedict uses a hollandaise sauce. Both are egg yolk and butter, but the hollandaise has lemon juice and the béarnaise has tarragon and vinegar. You know how I know this? Wikepedia. As the overbearing bossy American continues to ramble, I have to cringe and/or slink away. I have an Asian face, maybe no one will guess that I’m American. I feel embarrassed. I’m not even wearing a fanny pack or a sweatshirt with rhinestones on it. I don’t even have a Dodgers cap on. Still, I feel so conspicuously American.

The drag is that I saw this guy and his son bike away with groceries and a large pack of toilet paper. That means that the live here, in Mui Wo, our little town of 3000 people. I told someone this story which led to a conjecture that these people are probably Discovery Bay overspill…hmmmmm.

Now about this being American business with respect to food. I am most definitely American, but I try, at least I hope I do, not to go around with the expectation that everyone should be familiar with my cultural/eating references, I’m also not particularly pleased with a lot of the foods that we do export such as Coca-Cola, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

First of all: Coca-cola. A) It rots your teeth B) It consumes your bones and C) It’s just plain bad for you.

McDonald’s has a prime spot on the Mui Wo pier. Instead of a lovely seaside café we have the ole Golden Arches. I had an orange juice from there when we first arrived. First of all, the smell of McDonald’s usually makes me gag. I haven’t eaten at one in years. The last time I ate anything at McDonald’s was when we lived here in 2002-2003. I ate some fries, a shake, and one of those ice cream cones. Here they are only about 25 cents. HK has one of the cheapest McDonald’s in the world. (Note: did you know that the McDonald's menu prices are considered a good indicator of a particular locale's cost of living and that there is what is called a McDonald's economic index?) I’m all for saving money and have known to be expedient when wanting a fast meal, but Mickey D’s ain’t my cup o’tea.

To anyone who defends ole Micky D’s I say: Read Fast Food Nation. It really breaks down with gruesome detail that gastronomical adventure. For example, did you know the fries are all double fried? They are fried; then they are packaged frozen and fried again when you order them. Then there’s the section on the meat…brace yourself.

Starbucks has really invaded HK since we were here in 2003. There's a local chain here, Pacific Coffee, and I'm wondering how long it can hang on. I’m a big defender of local coffee shops—they give a neighborhood character. We were living in Oakland when a 14 year old kid protested the opening of Starbucks on the corner across from a local place. I know that for some places in the US, a Starbucks is like an oasis in a desert. Last summer I was in the Memphis ‘burbs and it was the only coffee shop around. But there were so many Starbucks in the neighborhood that it got me wondering: why weren’t there any local coffee shops? I have to wonder about all of us—why don’t we support our local businesses and the mom and pop place? Are we all that desperate for Starbucks? Is saving ten cents really mean that much to us? Do we all like saying TALL instead of SMALL or GRANDE instead of LARGE? Is this our idea of linguistic sophistication? I also have a low opinion of Starbucks after visiting one of their Balinese cocoa farm suppliers.

The Balinese cocoa farmer said to me: “You know of Starbucks?” He wasn’t sure if I would by the way he had asked me.
“Our chocolate,” he said pleased.

First of all, Starbucks must be killing the cocoa because the stuff in Bali tasted nothing like anything remotely chocolate from Starbucks. Secondly, if Starbucks is buying cocoa from this guy, things must be on the up, right? Well, from the looks of the family farm operation, he wasn't making any money. One family member said to me that they spend their evenings making soaps and oils FOR FUN. For fun—yeah, I believe that, all families love to hang out over big vats of boiling water and oil for entertainment while they swat at a million mosquitoes and sweat to death in tropical weather…

All I can say is to read the menu before making strange food requests, check out Fast Food Nation, and boycott food chains when and if possible.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Another Luk Tei Tong Cooking Segment

Filipino Dessert or Biko

Cook some glutinous rice. That’s the real sticky kind. Make several cups. This should be done over a slow flame and frequently stirred.

If you have fresh coconut, use young coconut and squeeze the juice and some pulp—about 12 ounces. Otherwise a can of coconut milk is fine, that’s what we used here.

Brown rectangular chunks of brown cooking sugar. Use a few of these. Have to judge on your own how sweet you want it…

Cook sugar and coconut milk—boil it and constantly stir.

Add sugar and milk mixture to the rice…

Enjoy. Not for the dieters in the room…you can add some bananas or mangos on top.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Strangers, Keohi Updates and Creepy Crawly report

Help from Strangers, a Memory from Seoul 1997, and a brief overview of Confucianism

Pushed Keohi through Central the other day on the MTR (the metro system). First of all, the signs are not joking when they say that it is a high-speed escalator service. They are also at times very steep and narrow. I only managed to go up the escalator as M., a helper, accompanied us on our journey into town. What also encouraged me was seeing another mother with a stroller navigate the escalator system. I just followed her lead.

At one point a local man helped pull Keohi through the turnstile. A few minutes later, I dropped my Octopus card, a debit type of card that works for the public transport system and places like 7-11. Another local man tapped me on the shoulder and handed it to me.

I was heartened by this, remembering what my friend Andreas told me years ago about Confucianism and “in society” and the “out society” when I had written to him in 1997 from Seoul, completely disturbed that I had fallen up to my hip between the subway platform and the subway car due to the large gap when the crowd of people waiting to get onto the subway pushed their way through. I was luckily wedged in due to my winter coat and side position, so did not fall all the way down. I was obliged to hoist myself up as I did not have anyone come to my aid. The great crowd of people simply went around me and a few nearly jumped over the top of my head to get into the subway car. I was so infuriated and disturbed that I had fallen in the first place, that I screamed in the car once the doors shut in the crowd of people. All passengers looked away or pretended they did not hear me swearing and yelling. Finally I heard a lone English speaking voice with a heavy French accent: “Are you American?” (Implying that only an American, of course, would yell and curse in the subway after nearly falling through to the tracks)
“Yes,” I answered, feeling contrite.
“I thought so. You are lucky. My friend, she is your size, maybe a little smaller, she fell down to the tracks. It happens.”
Andi wrote that the reason that no one came to my aid should not be taken personally, and in fact, was due to the influence of Confucianism and a cultural difference to be taken in stride. In Korea, as in many places influenced by Confucius in Northern Asia, the family ties remain the strongest, followed by the ties one has to other people connected to the family. One is obliged to do so much for this large extended network or “in” group (i.e. employ my unintelligent slightly autistic son, please; or can you bail me out of fail for embezzling money from the family; or will you make sure that my aunt sees a specialist for the hip operation that has a waiting list of 9 months tomorrow and so on….) that ideas of community and of participation of community for the welfare for the larger population is almost entirely non-existent. You may indeed be treated if not like a complete stranger, almost like an individual who is dead, and there should be no upset because of this. In many Asian countries, there is a dearth of adequate social services as one is supposed to rely upon one’s family for help. Confucianism is based on five relationships: ruler to subject, husband to wife, parent to child, sibling to sibling and friend to friend. It’s a complex philosophy, religion to some and a general understanding of its philosophy is immensely helpful when socially navigating Asia.
Well, before I ramble on any more about this:
People say that in Asian countries, one is faceless and that there is a lack of consideration for strangers and those outside one’s family due to the old Confucian influence, but within a few minutes of each other were some examples of moving beyond the “in” and “out” group.

Bug Update

Orange Matchstick like head and black and white striped body caterpillars in abundance here in Mui Wo. They are everywhere. Keohi keeps yelling “dog” when he sees them.

Pink nearly fuscia metallic beetle spotted and yes, killed by yours truly. It looked like a piece of jewelry.

Snake Alert

A HUGE BIG FAT gray RAT SNAKE went across the bike path today going from one side of the bog to the other. I was about 5 yards away, madly ringing my bike bell (as if a snake would hear my bell?)

Water Buffalo

An elegant and beautiful vision through the green, right beyond the fence. Amazing. Quite profound and a reminder of the superiority of the beast in its ability to blend so naturally with its surroundings as compared to us... self-destructive humans...
Still, the best water buffalo spotting was the traffic jam a herd caused in Langkawi, Malaysia. Buses and cars stopped. Nothing could move. Well, what can you do when these huge creatures decide to roam through an intersection?

Keohi’s New Favorite Foods

Roast Duck and Rice.





Roast Duck and Rice.

Roast Duck and Rice.




Keohi’s New Vocab

The article “the” is more pronounced as in: “The Ball”
“Do” means shadowy figures, or anything shadowy.

And for some titillating future interest, I think I will add a section on local gossip, names and identities somewhat disguised, as then I think my dear readers will get a better understanding of this humble hamlet I call home…stay tuned for the saga of…dah-dee-dah…the Welsh librarian and his ex-wife, the Filipino manicurist…

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Havin' Green Thoughts

Eliminating The Paper Towel and The Paper Napkin

We have not used either on a regular basis since early 2002 when we moved to Hong Kong, land of the inexpensive nice cotton/linen napkin. We buy a pack of paper towels and napkins per year—usually when my mom visits or for the very rare outside picnic. This stash stays around for a long time, I bought a pack of paper napkins in 2006 and gave it away when I moved in 2008. Anyway, the cotton/linen napkins can be bought for cheap in any Chinatown.

We used them for everything, from regular mealtime use to paper towel-like wipe-ups. I threw them in the washing machine and here in HK, hung them up to dry; our dryer back then was pretty awful. We had one of those Italian washer/dryer all-in-one numbers. Very sleek design but didn’t work. I should have bought the German one…

Here in Mui Wo, I haven’t been able to find any cloth napkins, so what I have done is bought a ton of inexpensive tea towels, or dish towels, and I use them for everything. I cut up some the cotton ones to make them dinner napkin size.

Before continuing on what sounds like a ridiculous conversation, but actually has to do with paper conservation and the elimination of petrolelum packaging that such paper products necessitate, I will add, that the cloth napkin is not for those who get into that shady zone of ironing, folding, and worrying about stains. Mom, for example, would rather die than have a drawer full of rumpled cloth napkins with random wine and food stains like I do.

Further in that direction—

The last time that I lived here my pal Ayako from Tokyo came to visit and brought me a handkerchief. She said, “You don’t use them in the States, but here in Asia, people use them.” I wore one like a bandana covering my head and then the other have just carried around in my suitcase, only recently opened when I moved back here to HK.

Let me be frank. As the daughter of an immunologist, there is no way that I am going to blow my nose and carry around a mucous covered hankie, pink embroidered flower or not. It’s the kind of thing you might use to hold a scummy looking door handle. So I’m a tree killer in the name of germ paranoia, you might say.

7-11 and Little Tissue Packages

Every time you buy a newspaper at 7-11, the salespeople hand you a little package of white tissue in plastic packaging. In fact, these packages are ubiquitous, and almost always carried by women, the primary reason being that toilet paper in restrooms is a hit and miss thing. I have a couple of different opinions about this: first, that it’s great to get a freebie like this, second, that I shouldn’t buy my newspaper at 7-11 as I am loathe to give any chains business, particularly evil ones like 7-11, which in my opinion promote bad eating and bad habits internationally and drive everyone local out of business and gee, suck you in by giving you a pack of tissues that wastes a lot of plastic, and finally, thirdly, should all that petroleum really go to little plastic packages of tissue paper?

Sometimes packaging is really hard to deal with and then there is the realization that no matter what we do, it could very well be too late. By the time Keohi is 70, he'll probably be standing in a line to get water rations and have charred black lungs. This is just where we're heading. Sad, but true. Where I worked before, they never bothered getting any proper dishes, even plastic ones, so thousands of meals were cooked every week for students and teachers and served on styrofoam with plastic utensils that were thrown away. That's on par with HK and its conservation habits, and that was in a semi eco-friendly supposedly educational-environment in LA, where they had kids do things like pick up trash from the beach!

On that uplifting eco-note, I have to go blow my nose.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Keohi, Snakes and Stars

Keohi’s Aloha Swimming Pool

It’s now open…come on by! It’s set up right by the tiny mango tree that has yielded only green mangos so far because various individuals (first Keohi, then yesterday his Aussie pal Bodhi) pick them prior to ripeness. This is a good feeling as the landlord’s mom counts the damn mangos and also, we were supposed to get some room so that we could grow some vegetables and the landlord didn’t leave us any. The picking of the green mangos is my small…needling…revenge…

Keohi’s first guest was 18 month old Bodhi—Bodhi came by with his mom, Katie. Bodhi went in the buff, but Keohi was consigned to his diaper given that at the time of the pool event, he had still failed to do his AM business. McDull the spokespig would be so pleased that there was no pooing in the Aloha Swimming Pool.

Boho Chic Toddler Fashion

Today I made a trip into Central with Keohi on my own. Not easy given his hefty weight—around 27 pounds now, and I hauled him on my back all the way back. We went to see the tailor who had fashioned some light cotton clothing for Keohi from fabric we had bought in Bali. Warning: don’t use a tailor in Central. I had no time to run around to Kowloon so no choice for me, but Central costs an arm and a leg. I didn’t exactly have to rob the college fund for some anti-sun and anti-mosquito wear but put it this way: his wardrobe of three outfits cost more than my entire summer wardrobe—mine purchased in Bali at a low cost, but still. So he will be the uber hip baby with cool Ubud cotton clothes, kind of the Mumbai look, if I would bother to embroider, but forget it, I’m not embroidering for someone who spits food on his clothes for sheer entertainment value.


Mabel killed a snake. Stephen went to take some photos and reported that it was still wiggling due to nerves, as it was clearly dead. The snake was in the front yard and it looks as if Mabel might have done the job with the shovel. Didn’t get the details. It was a common rat snake. More grisly updates and photo to follow.

At least we don’t live in Guam. All I hear about Guam is that there are tons and tons of snakes. Guam is one of the most popular places for Koreans to go for their honeymoon.
That’s the other thing I hear. Oh, and that there are lots of sweatshops that do the Made in the USA label there. I also think there are quite a bit of U.S. intelligence operations there. Gee, sounds like Guam is a fun place…

I think I’ll pass.

If anyone wants to report on their fabulous cultural experience and holiday that they had in Guam and skewer me for the above, go ahead. I’m sure there is more to Guam than the above, but that’s the buzz on Guam is all I am saying…


Last night I biked down to meet Stephen at the waterfront pub, The China Bear. We got Mabel to sit for Keohi and went for a few beers. There is some memory that is recalled doing this, biking in the warm night, zipping through the green, surrounded by the dark, brushing against the twigs on my legs, and feeling the warm air on my neck. I was taken back to those times so many years ago, maybe only for a few moments really, of playing outside in the night in Iowa under the summer stars and giggling with friends; riding home through the salty night air under a Nantucket moon after a round of drinks and singing through the quiet narrow streets; cruising down the road with the wind in the car in Honolulu on a summer night, driving against the humidity and the sleepy sea breeze. It all comes back cruising through the night, on the way to meet Stephen—only I am not 12 or 19 or some other young age, but 43, and riding my bicycle with an empty childseat and an umbrella, to meet my husband who has just knocked off a long day.

When we lived here before there were a few months when Stephen managed to get out earlier than the usual 2-4AM early Saturday morning time as a result of the print edition, and we would meet up in Lan Kwai Fong on the late Friday night, me, after either lecturing at the college, or working as a copy editor, and have a few beers at the German bar. We would walk then through the streets, stopping sometimes at Barco for a round before heading up to our building and the 21st floor. The street would have the smell of incense and orange peels highlighted with the putrid stench of garbage, urine, and exhaust, even at night, but the shadows against the building and the nooks and corners seemed to come alive walking home. If you were late enough, there was even a sense of quiet in this late night city. Hong Kong was romantic, mysterious, and the towering city seemed to shrink in the dark and seemed infinitely approachable.

On the way home last night we biked under the stars, me racing to keep up with Stephen who was zigzagging around the long painted lines in the middle of the road. The rain had cleared up the pollution and up in the sky were the white spikes and dots that can only make one wistful and happy at once—for the moment, for the past, for the planet, the memories colliding that one has and doesn't have, that one will make and that one has forgotten. Suddenly the body is alive rin the present and a chilling realization takes place, that this will all vanish, that one may love and live with enormous passion, but still will not escape the reality of the painfully short and brief time that all have here on this earth. Time will collapse and will end it all, and there is a fleeting sense of regret and hope...swiftly tucked away as the bike slows in front of the house, stepping inside to the tiny breath of a baby in the dark.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bugs, Disease, and Squashings

The wasp nest is outside of the first floor window. This is my landlord's apartment, specifically, the one that his own mother lives in along with the helper, Mabel. Under ordinary circumstances, and given the number of bugs that this place has, an exterminator would be called. I wrote a note to the landlord, but my gut feeling is that he will try to get Mabel to give this nest a whack with her broom handle because a) he wouldn't want to spend the money despite the bugs and b) there is probably no exterminator in Mui Wo... this will cause the wasps to get pissed off and sting (probably me) as I step out the gate of our place.

I am very UNthrilled about this.

Poor Keohi, I have to make sure he mellows out later about bugs. Maybe it was the scream about the spider, but now, when he sees insects moving (millipedes, for example in the AM, on the carpet), he says UH-OH in a very alarmed voice. Stephen said that this was good, we've trained Keohi to watch out for bugs that could hurt him like centipedes. But it also means that Keohi goes around and says UH-OH if anything is moving around on the ground, like bits of lint in the wind, like the juice drops that he spilled on the carpet, like the ball that rolls under the table. Oh well... I suppose he will be saved from snakes.

Disease and Random Death Report: Chicken pox is definitely around this village and TB killed one woman who was in Tai Po and who went back to the UK. They now have to locate 300 people that were on her flight and in her school where she taught. And yet another person got flattened and killed by a falling sign in Wanchai. A Thai restaurant sign, I believe. I am kind of wondering if it was that Thai place where I've eaten. What a way to die, killed by a neon sign that was probably flashing something like FRAGRANT BAMBOO PALACE and SET LUNCH SPECIALS...The bloody (literally, the real red stuff) sign was very heavy so the passer-bys could not lift it off the woman, they had to wait for help.