Monday, January 26, 2015

the sparkling south china sea

source: AP Photo/Kin Cheung via Gizmodo

This beautiful and deadly image has been circulating through the media for the past week. It's a picture of Hong Kong's shoreline in Tai Po, awash in Noctiluca scintillans algal bloom. I first saw and wrote about the luminescent waters in 2009, though back then I didn't know that they were not positive for the environment. The plankton at the bay in Farjado, Puerto Rico are a tourist attraction and it never occurred to me that their presence could spell disaster. I now know that the glowing shores of 'sea sparkle' feed on nitrogen and phosphorus rich industrial run-off and in turn give off ammonia byproducts that disturb marine life.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

dodging the bullet

Brent Rose posted a review of the bulletproof coffee craze that I would recommend anyone to read before deciding to embark on this latest diet craze. You can find it here:

I wish that I had found this type of a review six months ago when I thought, hey, why not, but then I wouldn't have this story to share. Six months ago everyone who wrote about bulletproof coffee was raving about it so how was I to know how it would end?

From the beginning I was a sceptic, but I am a big believer in the power of a placebo so I decided that if I achieved the promised results it wouldn't matter to me if this was due to the cumulative effects of the ingredients or due to the placebo effect. There is no conclusive proof that ice provides any restorativve properties to tissue and muscles but I believe that it does and feel much better when I apply ice to sore ankles and knees.

I have a couple of very fit friends who are also intelligent and they had embarked down the rabbithole of paleo/caveman/body hacking with positive experiences. They agreed to the claims that the combination of coffee, MCT oil and Kerrygold grass fed butter would boost mental performance and facilitate faster weight loss.

So here's where they lost me: how was drinking coffee laden with butter and oil going to make me lose weight? I am familiar with how the Atkins diet works and but the Atkins doesn't even ask dieters to drink down hundreds of calories in fat. Bulletproof claims that the MCT oil, due to its organic composition, will promote weight loss. If I were to compare my glass of MCT oil with someone who was drinking the same amount in peanut oil, I may burn the calories faster, but if I didn't drink a glass of oil in the morning, I wouldn't need to worry about burning hundreds of calories of oil.

But the claims of better mental performance had me interested so on a fateful Monday morning I 
purchased a cup of coffee from the organic coffee roaster near my office and then poured it into my shaker along with one tablespoon of MCT oil and one tablespoon of free range butter and shook it up until it looked like a milkshake. I would like to note that the recipe that I was given calls for two tablespoons of each but at the risk of foreshadowing, may I share with you that I am so glad that I didn't do that.

It didn't taste bad at all, but it wasn't delicious to me either. My friends had claimed that it was like a milkshake but I can't agree. Anyway, that wasn't really the problem. The problem began approximately an hour later when my stomach began to cramp and make small gurgles. These were followed by more ominous rumblings which compelled me to make a hasty trip to the bathroom. I took the rest of the day off.

As far as weight loss, I may have lost weight that day because I didn't really have an appetite. I'm not sure about the mental boost since most of my mental powers were diverted to employing my sympathetic nervous system's flight syndrome, my body having given up the fight. I packed up bag and shut down my computer in record time. The taxi ride home was completed in acute stress response, followed by extreme relief that I somehow didn't have any meetings scheduled for the day, a rarity. Taking into account how much worse the day could have gone, I dodged a bullet on that buttery coffee decision.

Friday, January 23, 2015

about that bathrobe

It all started when I was scrolling through my news reader and came across a Jezebel feature titled, 'The Engagement Ended. What Did You Do With The Ring?' There were more than a couple of replies stating that the ring was returned and the ex-fiance immediately re-engaged to the woman he was cheating with. I resemble this, I thought.

I wasn't really engaged though. We made it as far as a hike into Friedrich Park where he had once erected bat houses for his Eagle Scout project, up to a hill, and then he started talking about our future. The problem was that it came with a lot of rules. Who begins an engagement by laying down restrictions? We had some rather significant problems at the time and as immature as I was at 23, I was not so immature not to recognize that getting married was not going to solve our problems. I asked for an extension. He didn't take it too well.

A month later it was his birthday and we had plans for dinner but when I phoned him, he never picked up. I called and called for several hours, getting increasingly concerned because it was not like him not to answer his phone. For some reason I stopped myself from driving to his place, thank goodness because I later found out that he was in bed with his colleague.

And just like that, he was in a new relationship, his confession a week later having sufficed as reason to end things. Except that I still had things at his place. I was not interested in going back there and meeting the new girlfriend so I called him and told him that he could trash my stuff, but I wanted only two things: my bathrobe and a pair of carved stone wine bottles that my friend Dan had brought back to me from a trip to Korea.

Joe, the ex, told me that he really liked the wine bottles and asked if he could keep them. Joe, the cheating jerk. I told him that I really liked my present as well so, no, I wanted my stuff back. He kept them anyway.

As for the bathrobe...well, he explained, the new girlfriend thought that the bathrobe was his and she had started wearing it. You wouldn't want it back, he explained, because it was now covered in makeup stains. So apparently he cheated on me with Tammy Faye Baker.

I was haunted for many months with the thought that the bathrobe had two different users and probably had not been washed in between.

In the end I am grateful that Joe cheated on me. It was a horrible experience, through and through, going from the devastation of being betrayed on by someone I loved, to finding out months later that he were married, but from failure came realization and clarity. Joe, who went to Texas A&M, didn't support me going there and thought that I should finish university at the local school to be close to him. It was one of his pre-engagement stipulations. Freed from Joe, I applied to A&M and went on to thrive in College Station. I did so well that my school chose me to be the gonfalonier and I had the honor of leading my class into the arena for convocation. I did so well at A&M that I was accepted into the Cornell M.Arch I program, and I thrived even more in Ithaca.

Meeting SB hit me like a thunderbolt, how right it was. It was as though all of my life experiences had been preordained to set me up for the moment that I would meet this man. We met as I was unpacking my suitcase from a prior adventure and as he watched me, I felt as though I was unpacking my life and laying it out for him: this is who I am and these are my experiences. Six months later we were packing together for Hong Kong. Just like that.

So thank you Joe H, wherever you are (probably still in San Antonio), because without that hardship, I would not be who I am. And I am loved.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


How long is the Hong Kong government going to avoid confronting China about the pollution? We have steadily been declining in air quality thanks to our proximity to the mainland and the Northern winds that carry nitrogen dioxide and particulates over into the territory. By the way, this measurement is not accurate because the air quality monitors maxed out.

Air quality in Central yesterday. Source: EPD

You can read qir quality readings here:

You can find the EPD's recommended precautionary measures for air quality measurements here:

The Hong Kong government has kindly advised us to stay indoors until the pollution disperses, rather than confronting the cause of this toxic haze. How many times have we heard the troubling lack of visibility due to pollution as "haze" and "fog"? How brown and murky does it have to get before something is done? It seems rather silly to issue smoking restrictions when the bigger health problem is widely ignored.

Aside from being concerned that I could not see the other side of the harbour from my window yesterday, I noticed during a four hour site inspection that my eyes would not stop watering. I was under a bridge and out of direct sunlight for most of the inspection, yet my eyes were watering like I was staring at the sun. I had tears rolling down my cheeks. This was obviously worrying, and my dismay turned to disgust when I saw that the HK government entirely ignored the source of the problem in all of their reports. 

Personally, I would like to thank the mainland for this smog blanket that has so snugly and warmly enveloped Hong Kong. 2015 is positioning itself to be the year of the nuclear winter.

Friday, January 16, 2015

vocation communication

Today was one of those days when I feel like I didn't accomplish much at all. I spend most of the day in discussions with what seemed like everyone in my contact list. My face hurt from all of the jawing back and forth. I'm not used to spending so much time talking and feel mentally drained with nothing to show for it. What can be sadder than a person in a tangible vocation without anything tangible?

Actually, a lot was accomplished by way of agreements on how to go forward, or in more cases, agreements on what wasn't going to be pursued any further. There was a lot of posturing and representing that will apparently pay off by positioning me as someone who is a confident decision maker and knowledgeable, which I understand, but I don't enjoy all of the bluster and pretenses that seem to be required to make yourself stand out.

Once when I was a brand new designer I thought that the quality of my work would decide my value. but even the best designer in the company has extensive training for client relations in the age of representative partnership and litigation. I'm learning but some things are not easy. There are a lot of rules for manners and communication that seem to complicate matters rather than ease understanding.

My boss told me that he appreciated how straightforward I am and for the most part this remains true but I have been instructed to learn the very British format of pleasantry. If I were the client I would like you more if you got to the point and went away so that I had the rest of the day for myself but instead it seems that the majority of my clients appreciate being fed polite blather. We say 'oh yes, we will take it into consideration," when we mean, "we would never consider that idea". So then we spend the next hour fleshing out various proposals, including the one we would never consider instead of just outright saying no and moving forward to a workable solution.

This reminds me of the translation table that I saw in BBC America, which was hilarious due to its spot on accuracy.

source: BBC America

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

a final resting place

SB and I hike with the furbabies every weekend and one of the go-to hikes is along the Hong Kong Trail stage 5. We have skirted Mt. Parker on many occasions but now I will never go by the route without thinking about a plane from the Torpedo Bombing Squadron Seven (VT-7). On Sunday night as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post from my friend, Ruth: "Read what Craig's up to", with this picture attached:

Image by Brent Jones Collection, reposted from South China Morning Post

I followed the link and embarked on a long forgotten, or in my case, unknown, history regarding two planes that crashed and five lives that were lost on the hillside. It also was a wonderful tale of amateur historian Craig Mitchell and his team, who meticulously researched the case and eventually set out to successfully locate the crash site of a missing plane, and possibly the final resting place of two missing airmen.

I spent a good portion of my day yesterday gazing out my office window at Mt. Parker, marveling at Mitchell's accomplishment. My boss once had to bushwhack through the brush in Lantau to retrieve a crashed paraglider and he told me that it was an excruciatingly slow and painful event. The team that searched for the missing plane have my awe.

Monday, January 12, 2015

thanksgiving revisited: pumpkin french toast

I resolved that my food photography would do better than the beige lumps of yesteryear and what do I show for my first recipe post of the year? Brown food. I am a moron. But this did not stop me from sharing my breakfast from Saturday morning because it was as delicious as it was nostalgic.

After thanksgiving I was pretty sure that I didn't need to see another pumpkin or turkey for another year; SB and I had attended three feasts in three days, a new Hong Kong record. I was in a tryptophan coma a turkeyed out...or so I thought.

We decided to have a low key Christmas, mostly due to the post-Thanksgiving hangover combined with the multitude of holiday events that we would attend due to work or social groups. I was slated for an office party, an SCAA banquet, and mini rugby potluck, a senior rugby committee dinner, and a senior rugby club banquet in the month of December. A few of the events featured turkey, but none featured pumpkins.

The extended holiday season combined with the lack of pumpkin at the tail end meant that on Friday evening as I was picking up a few grocery items in the store, I could not resist the discounted canned pumpkin that was sitting among marked down candy canes and Christmas puddings. I brought my prize home with intentions of baking a prize winning pie.

There's a saying about good intentions, but I can only remember it when SB fails to do something. Anyway, at 10pm on Friday night I was no longer enthralled with the idea of making a pie crust from scratch. Luckily, years ago, I had scanned my grandmother's dog eared index card collection of recipes and knew that there was a pumpkin bread recipe. I even had a few leftover cranberries to throw in to jazz up the loaf. Unfortunately as I was placing the loaf pan into the oven at midnight, I looked up to see SB walking across the room with a toothbrush in his mouth, clearly signalling that he would not be eating my delicious pumpkin bread when it was fresh from the oven and still had a crisp crust. This is when the idea of pumpkin french bread sprung into my head.

When I presented breakfast to SB the following morning, he was skeptical. He is a food purist except when he isn't, meaning that he always begins by resisting my culinary creations and ends by gobbling most of them down with relish. The exception is when I try to feed him broccoli, brussel sprouts, or organ meat. He took a tentative bite and then we waited for his mind to undergo a paradigm shift. Then he ate the entire plate of eight slices and I had to make more for myself. I'll mark this recipe down as a success. Unless you're one of those British folks who can't wrap your mind around eating sweet breakfast (Tony), then you're not going to go for this.

Pumpkin French Toast Recipe:

3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
butter for frying
8 slices of pumpkin bread, sliced 1 1/2 cm thick
Maple Syrup or preferred syrup

Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon, and pour into a shallow, rectangular dish. 

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat and lightly grease it with a pat or more of butter.

Place a slice of bread in the egg mix. Wait ten seconds and flip over. Place the bread on the skillet and cook until golden brown, approximately one and a half to two minutes. Flip over and cook the other side. Serve immediately with maple syrup on the side.

Pumpkin Bread Recipe:

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Wet Ingredients:
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
16 ounces cooked pumpkin puree


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C). Butter a loaf pan. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, gently whisk the eggs for about a minute until they are lightly beaten. Add butter and incorporate. Add the pumpkin puree and mix together until incorporated. Slowly add in dry ingredients and stir together until fully blended. Add in nuts or cranberries if preferred.

Pour into load pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly. Let stand for 10 minutes and then remove from pan. Note: when making the pumpkin bread specifically for my french toast I only baked it for 25 minutes until it was slightly wet.