Sunday, December 30, 2012

Forever free

Here's a reason to ring in the new year: 150 years ago on New Year Day, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect and all slaves in the rebelling states were declared forever free. Celebrate the men and women who struggled against slavery, and look forward with hope that one day all mankind will be forever free.

The National Archives will hold "Watch Nights" following a tradition that dates back to 1862 when abolitionists waited in congregations on the night before, for word that President Lincoln had officially signed the proclamation as he had promised during his initial proclamation speech in September 1862, after the Battle of Antietam.  In the wake of so much tragedy this year, it is good to remember reasons to hope.  This year's trials and tribulations have caused me to reflect on my values and ponder the definition of justice.  What does it mean to seek justice, to be free, and what rights must we protect to ensure liberty for mankind?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hong Kong's hidden water city

In wake of recent disasters that have shut down cities in the United States, NBC aired a news segment about the complex drainage system that begins in the hills and runs beneath the roads and other infrastructure in Hong Kong.  While Hong Kong's location behind the Philippines allows it to escape a lot of the brunt during storm season, we still weather an average of seven tropical storms each year.  And we can thank the ingenuity and preparedness of many civil and drainage engineers within the region for why we won't be sitting in our darkened living rooms with stale crackers and 7-up any time soon.

Please check out the two minute video clip.  It shows part of the amazing labyrinth of tunnels beneath us, which most of us will never see or even realize is below.

I would love to tour the drainage system.  So far the only drainage system that I have toured was below Paris and it wasn't a storm water system, if you get my drift (har har, a pun).  The tour, though informative and interesting, was also fragrant and I spent the rest of the day discreetly sniffing at my clothing in fear that remnants of the overwhelming experience had ingrained themselves upon me.

Last year I spent enough time charting the progress of the Hong Kong West Drainage Tunnel to start wondering if I was becoming a groupie.  Some of you may recall my blog post in September 2011 regarding my nervousness because my office building was vibrating.  Smoggie directed me to the DSD presentation showing that there was tunneling going on right next to my office.  After reading about the project I was hooked on following the progress.  In fact, like a romantic storybook ending, Nuwa and Oshin (these were the names for the tunnel boring machines), both majestic creatures at 7.2 and 8.3m diameter respectively, reunited near Stubbs Road right next to my office after struggling through 11 kilometers of volcanic rock and granite.  And thanks to all their struggles we can now live happily ever after.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

silent night

Knowing that I was alone for the holidays, some well meaning friends would not take no for an answer and dragged me out with them for a boozy night in LKF.  I will admit to feeling sorry for myself now and then without SB but I have also been enjoying the peaceful state of our home and the opportunity to curl up on the couch with some warm cider and my Kindle.  I would have enjoyed spending last night finding out what happened to [the fictionalized] Cromwell after Wolsey’s death but I suspected that this night of cheering me up was more necessary to my rescuers, who granted themselves a rare and guilt free night away from their children in order to carry out their mission of mercy.

The well intentioned couple brought along their neighbor, an architect, who they seated me next to with the assumption that the two of us would enjoy talking to each other or at the very least, have something to talk about.  They were wrong.  After the initial, "who do you work for?" question that was met with a firm that I confessed that I didn't know about, I asked him if there were any projects that I would be familiar with.  His response: "We're a very conceptual firm and we don't do a lot of mainstream stuff.  You wouldn't know any of my work." Well, okay then. After forcing myself to ask a few more polite questions I discovered that his firm specialized in using animation programs such as Maya.  Creating geometric designs using NURBS (Non-uniform rational basis spline) surface modeling is definitely a specialty field in architecture though not as special and elite as he might think; I took Maya classes along with 1/3 of my graduating class back in the day.  Though tempted to throw out some comment on bifurcation to clue him in (imagine the horror of a "mainstream" architect knowing your secret language!) I decided that it was horribly selfish of me to commandeer all of his attention and vacated my seat under the pretense of ordering a drink.  

Jake, a fitness instructor, ended up taking the seat next to His Hipster Holiness and I was free to start a conversation with two random South African women at the bar.  We talked about all sorts of meaningless things for almost an hour while I carefully avoided Jake's attempts to make eye contact. When I excused myself to the ladies' room, Jake cornered me in the hallway.

"Following women to the restroom is creepy," I told him.

"Please don't leave me with alone with that guy," he begged, "all he does is stare at the wall." I looked over and sure enough, His Hipster Holiness was staring off at apparently nothing with a cool, bored look.

"I'm sure you can find something to talk about.  You're both hipsters." I desperately wanted to return to conversing about socks or kittens or whatever it was that I was talking about with the random women.

"I'm not a hipster.  I just wear tight clothing."

Sadly, my conscience got the better of me and I agreed to join Jake in attempting to converse with HHH.  Of course, five minutes into the ordeal Jake jumped up to buy me a well earned drink and somehow got side-tracked.  Eventually I saw him chatting up the two South African girls, leaving me to suffer alone.

And that is how I spent the evening instead of feeling sorry for myself at home.

Monday, December 24, 2012

the best things

'Tis the night before Christmas and I'm alone in my house, quiet as a mouse.  Or considering the feast I just partook in, maybe I'm more of a fluffy gerbil.  Anyway, I am here and missing SB but I did have a wonderful time with some of my favorite people.  I am losing track of the days; after another rugby party on Saturday I found myself creeping home at 6am and then proceeded to miss most of Sunday, only to rally again today.  As there is a boozy brunch at 11am tomorrow I am staying inside tonight.  Our Christmas Eve group ordered a ham dinner from Great that really was great except that they forgot to include our potatoes when we picked up the dinner.  Great would not deliver and no one in our party was interested in taking a taxi back to Admiralty for the missing spuds so we had to make do with roasted apples and brussel sprouts.  There was plenty of delicious ham to everyone's delight except the two vegetarians in the group.  Next time we will take inventory of our food pick-up.  It was annoying to find part of our feast missing no matter how good the ham was.

I haven't come up with a gift for SB. He is gone for a month so I have time.  In the past I have gotten him electronic devices such as a GPS, a phone, a camera, and a Wii.  Then I started thinking and realized that while my gifts are really useful and appreciated now, I haven't gifted him with much that can be considered a keepsake.  So this year I want to give him a gift that he can look upon fondly in the future.

SB has gotten me some real stinkers such as that French cookbook that the only thing French about it was that it was written in French, or the coffee mug and weird figurine that were clearly bought at the airport on his way home.  But he has also come up with some wonderful presents that have amazed me.  I list my top five presents, not necessarily from Christmas but full of joy nonetheless.

  • Wood Buddha: It is not very large, about the size of a bowling ball and about as heavy.  It is a very smooth, round sculpture with minimal features but mostly just a curved and very dense piece of beautiful ebony wood.  I love how heavy and smooth it is.  I like to cradle it in my arms and run my hands across it, trying to distinguish the faint wood grain.
  • Lilies: He buys me lilies every few months from the flower store downstairs.  I love the way they fill the entire flat with their sweet fragrance. Strange how I hate flowery perfumes but love the scent of fresh lilies.  
  • Tiffany Necklace: SB's family has a tradition involving this store.  He and all of his cousins were gifted with silver key-chains when they graduated from high school.  He received cuff-links upon completing his undergraduate degree and a card case after completion of business school.  I had never even set foot in a Tiffany store when we met but two years later I had my own robin egg blue box with a pretty, little necklace.  I love it more for what it means to be included in his family than its beauty.  And I love him.
  • Lacrosse Stick: I don't really play lacrosse but the stick meant a great deal to me because it signified that SB wanted to spend more time with me.  By gifting me with my own stick, he ensured that I would accompany him when he wanted to throw the ball around.  As an added bonus it was perfectly acceptable to club him with my stick while playing with him.
  • A Dog: Okay, he didn't quite gift me with a dog but he borrowed one once and it was bliss.  I was at home in NY when I heard some strange noises outside of the back door.  Then a black shadow rushed past the window and frightened me half to death.  It was Ozzie, SB's sister's dog.  I met Ozzie before I met his sister (she met me the next day) and it was love at second sight.   

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hypnerotomachia Hoplophilia

When I lived in Italy I once engaged in a lively debate over a court ruling that pinching a woman's posterior was not illegal or even unacceptable as long as the [male] pincher did so in the spur of the moment due to being overcome by "appreciation" for the woman or her appendages.  It was a surreal moment when I realized that the debaters in the butt pinching camp were serious.  Years later I read about the antics of Silvio Berlusconi and thought to myself, how does this country manage to survive when run by buffoons?

And then I read the statement released by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre calling for armed guards in every school while blaming rap music, movies and video games for the perpetuation of gun violence.  I am still waiting for the subsequent press release revealing that he lost his carefully prepared speech notes, accidentally consumed some magic mushrooms in his breakfast omelette and then suffered a stroke right before giving his statement.

By the way, right before LaPierre unleashed his findings on the causes of homicide using firearms, Slate's Chris Kirk published an interactive chart indicating every school shooting since 1980. You can read about it here:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

fir your health

I have been enjoying the wonderful scent of fir that permeates the air from the nursery selling Christmas trees opposite to the Happy Valley racecourse entrance, as well as when I pass various flower shops and wreaths adorning businesses.  If only I could get my hands on some mistletoe.  Other favorite Christmas scents include mulled wine, hot cider (I have been making this every other morning), peppermint, and brandy.  

The other day in the grocery store I was given a sample of sparkling lemonade.  I almost spit it out when the taste that hit my tongue was not only the delicious, tangy citrus taste but something that reminded me of furniture polish.  I then looked more closely at the display and discovered that my sample was fir flavored.  I was not aware that you could consume fir sap.  I have also never consumed pine/fir scented furniture polish but as soon as the lemonade hit my mouth, that is what I thought of.  

The lemonade part of the drink was not bad.  The drink comes in fancy glass bottles.  Other "flavors" include something with what I suspect were real gold flakes, fruits, and a range of lemonade mixed with wine.  Interesting.  The sample lady told me that the fir lemonade was good for my health.  I should have asked her how so.  Regardless, it smelled like holiday happiness in a bottle even if the taste wasn't quite the same.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

prickly things

SB announced to me that he was flying to New York in three days and would be there for a month.  His father is in the hospital and apparently is a handful.  The exact term used by the suffering hospital staff was 'combative.'  I agree that SB needs to be there to take care of his father and spend time with the family.  I am, however, annoyed that he only just now informed me that I would be spending the holidays alone.  I am not exactly pleased that he forgot to tell me that his father was unwell and then purchased the plane tickets before informing me that he was leaving or inviting me along.  I feel that he should have invited me even though I wouldn't have gone while he claims that he didn't think I would go so he didn't see the need to invite me.  Is this one of those Mars vs. Venus things?  Because Venus would like to club Mars over the head for his lack of inclusiveness in all of this decision making.

Then he tried to convince me to go shopping with him for gifts but I quickly disabused him of that notion.

We did have time to go on a small walk above the valley together.  We noticed some quills lying near the beginning stage from the Parkview to Dragon's Back.  I didn't know that porcupines exist here.  Has anyone seen any on your hikes?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

flint and steel

First, my disclaimer.  I come from a family of gun owners.  Mostly, we have rifles and shotguns that are used on the fish and game preserve.  A few of my family own guns for protective purposes.  In a more ideal world criminals wouldn't be able to so easily access guns and no one would need to exercise their second amendment rights.  I also acknowledge that the amount of damage that one person can cause with a firearm is a reason for alarm.  We need to do something about this and we need to do it soon.

When gun control is mentioned, the NRA uses their clout to shut down almost all attempts at legislation.  SB is one of the gun owners who is against most forms of gun control legislation that is proposed, and to an extent I am as well.  Most gun control legislation is agreeable such as banning those clips that carry hundred of shots without needing to reload (it should only take one shot to fell a deer) but then there is always something tacked on to the proposal that is unpalatable and keeps the legislation from being passed.  Both sides of the debate appear unwilling to agree on theoretical issues regarding gun ownership and rights in the US, and we are turning blue debating our points without attempting to look at the problem creatively.

Let's work on what we can agree on first.  Both sides will agree that violent crimes involving the use of guns, handguns especially, are plentiful and concerning.  I think that the first step is to set aside attempts to further handgun legislation (for now) and instead increase punishment for crimes involving the use of a gun.  The NRA can't find fault with that because it would also address their issues of disreputable people ruining it for all of us.  This would not curb all crime but there would at least be a segment of the population who would think twice about carrying a gun with them if they knew that getting caught would result in a high price to pay.

My next step would be to take a page from the anti-abortion groups.  A lot of states have found ways to deny abortions despite being in a pro-choice system by enacting TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) policies that make it almost impossible for an abortion clinic to operate such as requiring extremely stringent building codes including excessively wide doors and huge operating rooms, and forcing doctors to live closer to their clinics where they can more easily be harassed and threatened.

I would suggest that instead of attempting to abolish the second amendment, which would be long, costly and most likely unfruitful, gun control proponents should borrow from the TRAP regulators.  Maybe include mental heath assessments to be provided by licensed psychologists.  Perhaps require fingerprints to be added to a federal database; a lot of libertarians would have huge issues with this.  How about adding some building codes for gun shops that required beefed up security and surveillance?  While resolving the larger questions regarding free will and rights versus safety and prevention seems to be a long way away, there are things we can do now if only people would think more creatively.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a black day today

                                                     Nature's first green is gold,
                                                     Her hardest hue to hold.
                                                     Her early leaf's a flower;
                                                     But only so an hour.
                                                     Then leaf subsides to leaf.
                                                     So Eden sank to grief,
                                                     So dawn goes down to day.
                                                     Nothing gold can stay.
                                                                         - Robert Frost

                                                     Rest in Peace David Tait

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Brought to you by the Oregon Zoo, a baby elephant playing in wood shavings.  Because we all love baby animals and suffer for our love of charismatic megafauna.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Merry, merry

We had our rugby club holiday party last night.  Fun was had by all in a relatively trouble free way with the exception of the moron who swiped the golf cart and broke the boom gate to King's Park.  He is about to become a CCTV star, albeit a poorer one once he gets the bill for his shenanigans. 

Finding the correct venue fell into SB's hands and the effort was carried out in a method similar to how Goldilocks chose her accommodation.  We wanted a place that would provide a party befitting rugby players as well as our supporters, that was at an affordable price, and would be enjoyed by all of our club's population cohorts.  We needed beer for the antipodes and Brits, wine for the Frenchies, and a buffet for the Chinese.  We got a surprisingly good price quote from Azure in the Hotel LKF but felt like it was too nice a venue.  If anyone is looking for a place to host a large party for normal people I would recommend calling Azure.  I love the art deco feel to the place and you can't go wrong with rooftop cocktails.  We also got a reasonable quote from Champs but we wouldn't have had the whole place to ourselves so we decided to go with King's Park and their vendor, Delaney's.

There was a small bit of gripe from a few club members that the location was sub-optimal and too familiar because we play there a lot.  For SB and me, the location was perfect because the isolation meant that we wouldn't be unleashing our teammates on unsuspecting bystanders.  We had a great dinner buffet consisting of turkey, ham, two kinds of potatoes, several vegetables, stuffing, pudding, and enough booze to over-serve all interested parties.  At the end of the night we had finally drained the enormous punch bowl but there were still unopened bottles of wine and beer despite valiant efforts made by a few very large men.  Two of the very large men were found defeated and sleeping off their efforts on the pitch.

A few days before the party SB began to confirm the number of attendees.  We found a dozen names on the club's Facebook invite that we didn't recognize.  SB tried to message them but their profiles didn't allow any contact options.  Then we looked at the profiles and discovered that one of the attendees liked to upload pictures of her hamster while another had lots of Manga and basketball.  Holy crap, we had some 14 year old from the colts team on their way over to Bacchanal 2012!  And because of their ages, Facebook wasn't allowing us to contact them to let them know that this was an age inappropriate event.

We tried to keep an eye out for any dewy faced members drinking beer and warned the less intelligent members to ID any women they managed to woo.  The only two fourteen year olds that we saw thankfully arrived with their mother.  On the bus ride over from So Kon Po, where we had been playing, mom had her jacket over them as underwear started flying past our heads.  Then the songs began.  I wasn't sure if the bus was taking us to King's Park of straight to hell.  Either way, I hoped that we had enough beer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

getting into the spirit

This morning I woke up chilled and so tonight I will finally be using my duvet, which makes me happy because it is starting to feel a bit more like winter, or at least a tropical facsimile of winter.  SB of course is still in t-shirt and shorts with the windows wide open.  He claims that it's only chilly because I just got over being sick.  I lost half a kilo over the past week so SB won't be receiving any awards for his nursing or lack thereof.  I would have called cousin Shoils but she's pregnant so I was left with my only other option.  Acquiring chicken noodle soup from my a partner with ADHD meant receiving a phone call from the grocery store because he forgot the shopping list followed by a long wait for the soup to cook because he got distracted watching the football game.  But he made the appropriate noises of sympathy and acknowledgement of my misery carried a lot of weight.

I played in the rugby match for my team last night even though I was still feeling a bit under the weather but I needed some activity and it was the last match before a long winter break.  Next weekend is the club's holiday party followed by a month of cheery activities.  Maybe it was a good thing that I starved for the past week.

In the next few days I will be dragging down ornaments and attacking the windows like a jolly elf to prepare our home for the holiday spirit.  Right now, even the air smells right.  Every time I'm on a tram out of the valley we pass a nursery that has recently started selling fir trees.  The scent of fir is amazing.  I wish that I could buy the scent.  I tried an essential oil last year but it ended up smelling like disinfectant.

Friday, November 30, 2012


The White House channel on Youtube released this heart warming holiday video and being a fan of all creatures great and small (and fluffy) I had to share it.  Really, I had to.  It's one of those compulsions.  SB, stop rolling your eyes at me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

hello birdie

Like a phoenix arising from it's ashes...I'm baaaack!

Did you miss me?  No?!  You didn't realize that I was missing in action?  Well, I have been dormant for a spell because SB lovingly shared his winter cold with me.  But before I went into the sick room I had quite a few wonderful adventures to share.

Whee!  Little did I know that I wouldn't be feeling so bouncy in a week.

First, my undergraduate teammate was cleared to visit me for a couple of days coinciding with the American Thanksgiving holiday.  We both went to Texas A&M University back in the day.  And now for some shameless promotion of my undergrad alma mater: the Aggies have had the biggest winning season in football (that would be the glorious American football and not the Chelsea brand) in recent memory.  I have never experienced my team being the winning team and don't quite know how to handle it.  I hear that riots are a good way to celebrate.

My friend is a pilot but her employer doesn't fly to certain countries.  We were only given a small window to catch up on nearly a decade of separation but we made the most of it.  We hit all of the typical tourist spots in HK and added Macau as well.  I had never been to the newer areas since I don't have the least interest in gambling but I'm glad that we went because I enjoyed the spectacle.

Doing the tourist thing

The best part of the visit was that we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving together.  With our packed activity schedule I knew that it would be nearly impossible to do dinner at home so we joined a large group of friends for a meal at Blue Smoke in LKF.  Dinner comprised a delicious butternut squash soup with sage and carmelized chestnuts, smoked turkey, heaps of traditional side dishes such as garlic mashed potatoes and roasted carrots, and three types of pies for dessert.  I had not eaten at Blue Smoke before but I will definitely be back for seconds in the near future.  After stuffing ourselves to resemble the turkeys that we consumed our group waddled down to the bar areas for a long night of dancing and carousing as if no one had to work the next day.  I heard that few of the night owls wouldn't have passed a concussion assessment the following morning.

This was my favorite of all Hong Kong Thanksgiving events.  For my family, Thanksgiving has always been the most important holiday because we were all able to gather together and catch up on each other's lives as opposed to Christmas when my parents wanted us to be alone with them.  I was always more extroverted than my immediate family and longed for the rowdy, raucous Thanksgiving with extended family.  Since my friend's last Thanksgiving consisted of her eating a lonely meal at 11pm in an empty mess hall in Afghanistan with only a group of evilly staring contractors at the next table to keep her company I know that she had a good time.

On Saturday we found our way to another Thanksgiving feast, this time at a residence.  The place was around 6000 sq. ft., the largest home that I have entered in Hong Kong.  SB and I estimated that our entire flat could easily fit into the living room space.  So this is how the other half five percent lives.

Overall it was one heck of an amazing few days although I paid for it later.  I am thankful for good friends and wonderful company here in this home away from home.  As we enter into the holiday season I hope that everyone out there is safe, warm and in comfort.

We're only as old as we feel, right?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The FBI, the CIA and ghosts from the past

While the Petraeus Affair is playing out like an absurd soap opera (the CIA, the FBI, mistresses and sex under a desk, oh my!), author of Legacy of Ashes and NYT reporter Tim Weiner is questioning why the FBI has not been called into account for agent Frederick W. Humphries II's actions leading to the scandal.  Weiner points out that the agent acted not out of concerns for national security or breach of law, but because he believed that he knew better than his superiors and that somehow not reporting Petraeus' private behavior was part of a conspiracy to re-elect president Obama.  Humphries' "whistle blowing" was reminiscent of the backstabbing, CIA-hating, paranoid rule of J. Edgar Hoover.

While these agencies have the extraordinary power to access emails, eavesdrop and survey targets such as Broadwell for as little offense as sending catty emails to the agent's special gal pal, they can't be counted on to share the most basic of materials with each other when more important interests are at stake.  Anyone who read the 9/11 commission's findings could see that the failure of the CIA and FBI to cooperate with each other led to the major failure to protect our citizens.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

work in progress

Several weeks ago I was flipping through the complimentary newspapers on offer during brunch at my favorite local pub when I glanced at the political cartoon.  Hey, I thought, that looks a lot like my old boss!  Then I read the accompanying commentary and discovered, that the subject was indeed my former director.

source: SCMP

I will admit some surprise that an architect was chosen to be the Secretary for the Environment but then again, he has vast experience in issues relating to ventilation and building related matters, which I think make up the majority of Hong Kong's environmental concerns.  Or at least its addressable issues since we have limited means to affect pollution that is carried over in the air or by sea onto our shores.  K.S. has been a long time collaborator with other environmental experts and has co-authored many studies regarding mitigation measures and building standards.

In the waning days of my tenure at the old firm the highlight of my week was not so much the design work but when I was asked to look over various abstracts and presentation materials for him.  The papers appealed to the part of me that also pursued a planning degree.  In a career that more often than not had to cater to wealthy clients and unscrupulous developers it was refreshing to know that my studio's director was a good man.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

moral obligations

Before I entered Texas A&M, my uncle, a proud Texan, felt obliged to explain the difference between conservatives and liberals to me.  In the simplest terms, liberals hold individual rights as the most important virtue, followed by obligation to the country and then obligation to God.  Conservatives inversely believe that God is the most important factor of all, followed by obligation to our country and that individual needs are the last consideration.  My uncle advised me not to debate about which set of beliefs was correct, but to accept the viewpoints of liberals and conservatives to better understand their mentality.  My uncle was all too aware that his idealistic, left leaning niece was entering one of the most conservative universities in the nation.  His advice paid off; I thrived at school despite holding almost entirely opposite views from my friends.

I believe that David H. Petraeus is the best man to lead the CIA despite having had an extramarital  affair.  I think that it's a shame that he had to resign but the military institution espouses conservative beliefs.  Honor, integrity and loyalty are part of the foundation that the men and women who serve our country are built up upon. Petraeus believed in these virtues and has lost his position for violating them.  According to the conservative values, failure in morality means that you are no longer honorable or trustworthy.  I don't agree but I understand.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

wedding season

It's that time of the year when the weddings start picking up after a summer/rain season hiatus.  I have two weddings this weekend and one next weekend.  On Saturday I'm playing an afternoon match against that team whose player previously went at me like a wolverine.  It should be an interesting time.   SB suggested that I wear some sort of a gimp mask to avoid any unwanted facials.  My hooker is part of the wedding party but has been given special dispensation to attend our match between the ceremony and reception.  She will play in full hair and makeup.  What a tart.  Hooker jokes will likely abound.  We won't be able to help it; as forwards we are inherently lazy (I prefer to call it energy efficient) and we will always pluck low hanging fruit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

the tally

The 2012 US presidential elections weren't as close as I thought they would be.  I was going to meet some friends at the FCC for tea but by lunchtime the race had been called by a few news outlets.  All the states that I thought would vote blue did so while some of the states I thought would go red surprised me.  I was more interested in the Illinois congressional race between Joe Walsh and Tammy Duckworth.

I thought that Romney's concession speech was short, sweet and gracious.  I thought that Obama's speech was...weird.  SB was disappointed and wished for better manners from the supporters of both parties while I thought everything went as expected.  Mitt's supporters were unhappy and can be forgiven for not clapping for the winning team considering that they had pulled in marathon hours to have their hopes shattered.  Not the best of manners, but not unexpected.  Barack's supporters were euphoric and celebrating their victory so they can also be forgiven for not giving appropriate applause to the beginning of Obama's speech that said nice things about reaching across the aisles.  It was also the last lucid part of the speech.  Caught up in the moment and possibly functioning on only adrenaline at that point of the night, Obama went on an on about hope, dreams, and happiness ever after..and possibly rainbows and unicorns.

Among other issues resolved last night: potheads can relax in Colorado and Washington but surprisingly not in Oregon.  My rugby teammates can get married in Maryland.  Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown, and not because she is an Indian.

Perusing the Facebook comments I discovered that many of us are obnoxious in victory or defeat.  I give a special shout out to several of the residents of Florida.  To paraphrase my friend Danielle (speaking to her Floridian relatives), losing an election is not the same thing as losing your liberty.  Your racist comments are still protected under the first amendment, though your threats are not.  And you are free to move out of the country as you keep threatening, and I wish you would.  Just don't move to Hong Kong.

In case you were wondering, I voted for a third party candidate.  As a Texas voter I can afford to do so.  And no, it wasn't the Objectivist party.  I remember thinking that The Fountainhead was the bees knees when I was fifteen but then I reread it in college and discovered that the hero was a rapist, the plot was dazzlingly single minded and the author was a narcissistic hypocrite. So I went with the party that was closest to representing what I believe in.  It's good to know that my vote may not have been the most relevant, but it was guided entirely by my principles.  In previous years I joined the circus of two party hype to protect the one or two principles that were most important to me even though the rest of the party stance was opposite.  This year I went with my conscience.  It's nice when you can do so.

Monday, November 5, 2012


SB and I conducted a small experiment last week.  We changed our Facebook profiles to indicate that we lived in heavily contested states.  SB moved back to Denver, Colorado and I moved to Ohio.  I originally chose Cleveland but upon closer inspection we noticed that it was very racially and economically segmented so I instead chose Toledo, Ohio.  Within days we notices that the Facebook ads went from Chinese to English.  A few days later we started raking in the political ads.  In Denver, there were a lot of ads that featured friendly cowboys in pastoral settings.  Upon clicking on one of the cowboys SB was redirected to a survey that asked questions where the only answer choices were conservative and right wing. At the end of the survey he was asked for his email address.

My Ohio ads were more forthcoming about who was sponsoring the ads.  Overall it seemed like the ads were overwhelmingly right leaning.  I would have thought the opposite because previously the left seemed to be more adept in utilizing social media.

Years ago an especially unsavory law office was attempting class action litigation and sponsored internet ads seeking others to join the suit.  It was reported in the media that this company was paying over a hundred dollars for each time a person clicked on their ad.  Anytime SB was on a different computer, he would look for this company's ad and click on it.  I don't know how much these political interest groups are paying Facebook but I was more than happy to click on some of the more extreme statements.  Repeatedly from my phone and laptop.  I wanted those statements to be as costly as possible.

Overall it's been interesting to observe who is using Facebook to reach the voting audiences in the battleground states.

Friday, November 2, 2012

ecce too Brutal?

This year I dressed SB as the Spanish masterpiece, Ecce Homo (not the original by Elías García Martínez, but the restoration by Cecilia Giménez).  Overall it was a success, though we noticed that a certain segment of the population was more likely to recognize the costume.

I had to work really hard to top last year's Star Wars theme, which was a revelation on many levels.  While SB revealed his fantastic gams to most of Wanchai, it was also discovered that while quite a few men and women accused him of destroying their Princess Leia fantasies, others were strangely attracted.  One particular gentleman of discernment could not control himself from repeatedly attempting to lift SB's skirt and catch his eye to show off some dance moves.

The two costumes had surprisingly similar reactions across Facebook.  Horror, fascination, speechlessness and quite a lot of loss of appetite.  We have been asked to refund the cost of two lunches and one chocolate bar as well as provide the ability to un-see things.  

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to outdo myself next time but then I remembered that truth is indeed stranger than fiction and I have faith in my fellow mankind to provide some other outrageous fodder when the next costume party rolls around.  I shall have to keep a keen eye on the goings on in North Korea, Iran, Italy, and certain landlocked regions of the United States.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

this wheel's under fire

The follow up to yesterday's post:

Actual dialogue from the Greek consulate (regarding LK's dual citizenship process):
"As an American, you exist. As a Greek, you do not yet exist." (pauses to check email) "However, the local prefecture has erroneously classified you as a military deserter because there is no record of your military service."

LK now understands why the Greeks invented stoicism.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Greece the wheel

Below is a transcript of an actual phone conversation between one of SB's friends, LK, and the Greek Consul in New York City.

Consul: "Well, my predecessor had left a lot of citizenship applications pending..."
LK: "From 2008? I haven't heard anything since then, despite numerous emails."
Consul: "That does not necessarily mean that your application has been lost ... you may already be a citizen of Greece!"
LK: "Pardon?"
Consul: "In fact, it is possible that you have been a citizen of Greece since 2008, except that no one has let you know."
LK: (stunned silence)
Consul: "I have the sense that this conversation is not making you feel better."

Monday, October 29, 2012

writing on the wall

For the past decade the majority of my handwritten communication has been in architectural script.  I have acquired proficiency that would have received approval from the modernists, who were the last generation of architects to care about such things.  No one really hand letters their drawings anymore.  As fast as I am in laying out rows of slightly angled and canted text, I will never write as fast as I can in cursive. Additionally, grammar sticklers may not be so easy to overlook missives written in all capital letters.  I excuse my loud writing by stating that I am doing my part to preserve a dying skill.

Of course this is not entirely true.  The biggest reason I have for my script is that it is androgynous and neutral.  My block print makes me cringe.  I don't know how it is that boys and girls are taught the same writing skills and yet they write very differently.  My writing, like that of my sister and best friend, is horrifyingly "girly."  I have tried to vary my letters over the years but I still feel like my block print conveys immaturity.  It is like my hand has permanently retained the muscle memory of a ten year old girl and all that is missing is for me to draw little circles in place of punctuation dots.

My cursive fares only slightly better.  While I am only thinking of expediency when I lay down cursive text, I have discovered that handwriting experts see something entirely different.  Apparently the angle of my letters conveys high emotions while the size of my letters conveys tension.  Given the choice of presenting myself as a ten year old girl or a neurotic mess, you may be able to understand why I went for a new form of handwriting.  An advantage is that writing in capital letters makes it hard for lettering sleuths to glean personality traits.  If you want to learn about me, you will have to rely on the content of my letter as I exclaim my greeting in all caps.  Hopefully my letter doesn't communicate like a crazed pre-teen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

geek stink breath

Having strained some muscles in my neck and upper back, I have been given a reprieve from all but light household duties.  This means that SB has had to provide our sustenance since Sunday.  On Sunday night he cooked rosemary crusted pork chops, one of his three go-to dishes along with penne alla vodka and spaghetti alla carbonara.  So by Wednesday, having exhausted his vast repertoire he scoured the refrigerator for something quick.  We ended up feasting on toasted bagels with cream cheese, smoked salmon, chopped red onion and capers.

After dinner we discovered that after six years of cohabitation there are still frontiers that remain to be crossed.  We puckered up for our habitual after meal kiss only to discover that no amount of mutual affection can overcome the aroma of salmon-caper-onion breath.  "You smell like a sea lion," said my beloved.  "But just think of how many essential oils and vitamins we can exchange," I joked as he fled from the table.  "You know, love is supposed to endure all things, even fishy onion breath," I called after him.  Because if anything is sexier than smelling like Sea World, it is quoting bible verses.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

make your own way

During our month-long US visit I was able to catch up with an old friend who I hadn't seen in 15 years.  Jan was the first friend I made when I started high school.  During freshman year we were two peas in a pod; I had nine earrings and was fond of braiding my hair in all sorts of interesting arrangements while Jan had waist length hair that was often dyed in all colors of the rainbow. The two of us began spending almost every waking hour together.  We spend lunch time painting and sketching.  We had sleepovers almost every weekend where we would go swimming at the beach or lie in my back yard and talk about all sorts of random things.  Then we started to grow apart during our sophomore year when I chose running as my drug of choice for school pressures and she chose...well, drugs.

When I last saw her she was mostly living out of her car, occasionally stopping off at my place or her sister's to do laundry.  She had a steady job at a book store that could have paid for a small apartment but she preferred the nomadic existence.  She told me that she was going to drive across the country to find herself.

Fifteen years later Jan and I ran met up in San Francisco, where she ended up after her long drive.  She still lives out of her car when not spending time staying with an older brother in Oakland.  She is still trying to find herself.  She showed me a large pile of books in her car that consisted of philosophy, psychology and mystical writings.  I don't know what she's looking for but maybe it's time to stop searching.  Maybe it's time for you to write your own book, I told her.  With all of this time that she's spent looking, I bet she has enough information to compile her own story.  Maybe it's time to start creating herself.

On the plane ride home I thought a lot about the two of us.  She had so many dreams while I hardly thought about my future.  I didn't know what I wanted for myself and still don't in many ways.  So much could have gone wrong but somehow it all worked out.  I met my best friend, Tobin, only because she was interested in the boy who sat next to me in pottery class.  I was fortuitously exposed to architecture through a required arts elective.  I met SB during a small window of opportunity when he was walking by and saw me in my room unpacking my suitcase.  Aside from cruising the bars with my college girlfriends I can't say that I've really gone looking for anything.  But I am an opportunist and I have definitely snatched up anything good that has found me.  Maybe Jan was too busy looking into the horizon and she missed the good stuff.  Or maybe her happy ending is still yet to come.  I don't know.

Friday, October 19, 2012

it's a jungle out there

My friend Mike, who is not known for his grace and agility, broke his ankle tripping over a metal railing that was only shin high and placed in front of his bus stop for no apparent reason.  He had experienced a couple of incidents with this nefarious shin guard in the past and had become wary, but sadly he had forgotten about it as he was rushing to catch the bus.

I should have had Mike's downfall in mind when I was navigating my own stretch of Hong Kong's concrete jungle because less than five minutes into my errand I was hopping around on one foot.  Luckily I am better off than Mike in terms of grace and agility.  I even managed to hop on one foot while writhing in pain and swearing.

It seems that someone decided to remove the railings between the pedestrian area and the street along Blue Pool road.  This someone also decided that only one post needed to be ground to street level and left the other one protruding out of the ground.  I decided that Halloween is still too far away to be posting a photo of my mangled layer of skin but I assure you that it is a fright.  Even more frightful was the look on my face when I realized that my leather flats had a long gash along the entire side.  I just bought those shoes in July!

What kind of workmanship is that?!

After that I hobbled slowly along my way to my destination in So Kon Po, ever vigilant for other hazards.  I had to document these two beauties along the way.

Who needs a boundary peg when you can just stick a nail in the concrete in the center of the pavement?  Just paint the divot around it blue so people can see it.

 This new development at 1 Ventris road has concealed the unsightly, torn up sidewalk with a red carpet.  Or maybe this is on purpose as a clever marketing ploy for people to stumble into their lobby, which is conveniently located adjacent to the hazard.  Salesmen wait for their prey just beyond the doorway and then pounce, confident that the turned ankles will prevent escape.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In Memoriam: 10th Anniversary of the 2002 Bali Bombings

Today is a somber day as we mark the 10th Anniversary of the October 12, 2002 bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, including 27 participants of the Bali Tens rugby tournament:

I.S.C.I. Rugby Club: Scott Lysaght, Merv Popadynec, Ben Roberts, Nathan Swain, Robert Thwaites, Jamie Wellington

Singapore Cricket Club: Tim Arnold, Neil Bowler, Chris Bradford, Chris Kays, Dave Kent, Peter Record, Chris Redman, Charlie Vanrenen

Hong Kong Football Club: Tina Brandes, Tom Holmes, Anika Linden, Dan Miller, Stevie Spiers, Ed Waller, Clive Walton, Jake Young

Taipei Baboons RFC: Daniel Braden, Godfrey Fitz, James Hardman, Craig Harty, Eve Kuo

lower than low

There are bad people and then there are those bad people.  It is stomach turning to hear about persons who take advantage of vulnerable citizens and Joyce's recent posting regarding Ted Thomas' sticky fingers in regards to Clare Hollingworth's savings generates much disgust.  What kind of person loots the bank account of a centurion, I asked myself.  Mr. Thomas has his own blog if you want to find out.  You will have to find it yourself since I won't be directing any traffic his way.  In case you are wondering, he doesn't appear to be remorseful about those HK$2.2 million that haven't been paid back despite a court ruling.

I would like to thank Joyce for writing about Ms. Hollingworth.  One of my favorite recollections is the delightful shock I experienced in my younger days of talking to my neighbor, who had been a paratrooper, and realizing that I was getting a first hand account of the contents of my 20th century history reader.  Living relics should receive similar treatment as national treasures, in my opinion.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

to all the little people who helped me get here...

Having won the distinction of an Ulaca Award (Best PR for Cornell University Disguised as a Blog) and having further ignored my doubts about the message behind the award, I submit my gracious thank you speech.

I would like to thank the Hong Kong chapter of my university on the hill because they are the most active of all the university's alumni associations and they put on some really wonderful events.

I would like to thank all of those obscenely rich citizens of HK who have built private playrooms and clubs that no mere mortal can set foot in...unless members of aforementioned alumni association can arrange a private tour or meal for the rest of us riff raff.

I would like to thank the way of life here that has me spending so much time in the office that the last thing I want to talk about is anything job related, thus freeing up time to wax poetic about...other things.

And finally, I would also like to point out that I am an alumnae of Texas A&M University as well, and joined their alumni association but it has sadly been radio silent all these years.  And we know that Texans aren't usually known for their reticence.  If there are any Aggies out there who would like to watch football, barbecue, and drink beer with me, I would love to hear from you.  With any luck I will be winning my third (!) Ulaca Award next year in the "Good Lord, can't she stop talking about Texas" category.

So to start off on my quest for that third award...

About a month ago I applied online for my Texas absentee ballot and this week I finally received it, or so I thought.  Actually what I received was another absentee ballot, this time the "official" application as opposed to my apparent application for an application.  In the month that it took the Office of the Secretary of State to send this application to me, they somehow did not find it necessary to include the return address.  While searching online for the correct address to apply to, I shared my frustration with several friends.  Being the sympathetic sort that one would expect out of my friends, they immediately responded with the following:

  • A fellow Texan informed me that any Texan who leaves the lone star state could be unfortunately influenced by liberal, hippie foreigners and therefore measures should be put in place to impede contaminated Texans from voting.  
  • My friend from Oregon, who had forgotten to register to vote, went online and registered, voted, and received a receipt of his vote in less time than it took me to affix a stamp on my second application and walk to the post office.  He then proceeded to rub it in.  
  • My friend from Washington informed me that registered voters form her state automatically were mailed ballots.  
  • SB suddenly realized that he wasn't registered to vote and applied online for the New York ballot.  He will probably receive his ballot before I do.  I just hope that I receive it with enough time to telegraph my choices back to them. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

the new Gestapo of big lies

SB heard something to the effect that the first party to bring out the Nazi accusations is going to lose the argument (Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies). I hope that this is the case.  A few years ago you couldn't watch news programming without hearing the word "hero" being bandied about.  Everyone from the driver who braked for a deer to the dog who barked when it smelled smoke were being hailed for their courageous actions.  Now I can't seem to watch the news without images of Nazis dancing marching across the screen.  For example:
  • Angela Merkel was greeted on her trip to Greece by protesters dressed in Nazi uniforms, waving swastika flags and chanting "Out with the Fourth Reich!"
  • Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, compared gay marriage opponents to Jews in Nazi Germany who were persecuted by a totalitarian regime (source: The Telegraph).  
  • Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, likened Republican Governor Nikki Haley to Hitler mistress Eva Braun (source: USA Today). 
  • John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, accused Paul Ryan of using the Joseph Goebbels' “big lie” technique of propaganda (source:  
  • Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage, an opponent of the Affordable Care Act, called the Internal Revenue Service "the new Gestapo" (source: Politico).  
  • Liberal blowhard Keith Olbermann has made Nazi references in comments relating to Obama’s surrender to Republicans on taxes as well as in comparison with individuals like Bill O’Reilly, Kenneth Starr, former President George W. Bush (and his cabinet) and even Democrats who were willing to compromise with Republican (source: Mediaite).  
  • Conservative blowhard Glenn Beck has an even lesser grasp of Nazism, having compared President Obama to Hitler. He has also compared Nazi Germany to global warming, Al Gore, the United Nations, ACORN, the Peace Corps, and even the National Endowment for the Arts, as highlighted in a hilarious video clip by Lewis Black on the Jon Stewart Show (source: the Daily Show).
Who needs history books when you can learn so much about the Third Reich in current media?  Move over, Sir Richard J. Evans.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

pain and suffering in Hong Kong

One of our friends suffered a horrifying leg injury yesterday on the rugby pitch.  The ambulance arrived within fifteen minutes and the medics were all you could ask for in promptness and professionalism.  But once they assessed that his condition wasn't life threatening things got very slow.  Bureaucratically slow.  He was given a questionnaire to answer, which from my rather unfortunate familiarity with sports related accidents appears to be the standard.  While answering our friend became more and more pale and began to breathe heavily due to his tremendous amount of pain.  The medics could do nothing about the pain because they didn't carry any pain relief medication and possibly weren't qualified to administer it.  So all we could do was try to hurry the questionnaire along while pretending not to notice that our friend's knee cap was located four inches above where it should have been.

Last year I accompanied one of SB's ice hockey teammates to the hospital when he dislocated his shoulder.  The situation was very similar and the poor man had been moaning in pain in the Accident and Emergency department for twenty minutes before I finally resorted to practically prostrating myself upon the nurse's station and begging for help.  After an hour of excruciating pain the man earned a morphine injection.  And after that he didn't care that his shoulder kind of made him look like Quasimodo.  In fact, he offered me his wallet and told me to take whatever I wanted as compensation for my good deed.  I was nervous about leaving him in the hospital overnight with no one to guard him from his generosity.

Our friend of the curiously mislocated knee cap was fortunate in that his wife is a nurse and was on shift when he arrived at the hospital.  There was no wait between arrival and oblivion.  By this morning he had already been operated on and was recuperating in a nice, private room, and apparently with enough meds to leave him in good cheer.  His heavily pregnant wife could use some of that cheer herself though I suspect that she would be happy enough if someone could look after their toddler while Daddy is in crutches for the duration of her pregnancy.

These may be famous last words but I have never had a truly bad injury.  My broken nose didn't really hurt and the finger deformity was pretty bad but not to the level that I was about to pass out.  The Achilles rupture of 1997 was probably the worst but I received a cortisone injection before even being stretchered from the track.  After witnessing the long wait for pain relief I am seriously considering bringing my own meds with me when I play.  We still have an unused bottle of painkillers that SB never took after his ACL surgery.  If I do myself in, I wonder if I would be brave enough to wait an hour for relief.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

meet, greet and eat

Don't you love those times when an average day expands into something more?

Today SB and I had only one activity planned: to attend the “Three Chefs Abroad” Q&A, one of the events of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. We specifically went to see Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, who was joined by Fuchsia Dunlop and Tracy Griffith. As well as being a writer who recently published "A Tiger in the Kitchen," about her journey to rediscover (and learn how to cook) her childhood foods from Singapore, Cheryl is the sister of our friend Daphne.  Even if I hadn't liked Cheryl's book enough to gift it to SB's epicurean favorite ex-girlfriend (that's another story, and she loved the book btw) I would have gone to the event because SB and I simply adore Daphne.  She's a fellow Cornellian, neighbor, hospitality specialist, and simply one of the friendliest people around.  And she loves to cook and entertain which is everything SB could ever want in a neighbor.

But back to her sister, Cheryl.  As I'm beginning to suspect from encounters with mom and Daphne, there is a strong adventure gene in the Tan women.  In the middle of a career as a fashion writer for the Wall Street Journal, Cheryl took a sharp turn into the world of book writing, with a relatively unknown subject no less.  Cheryl explains in the beginning of her book that she had barely adequate cooking skills before deciding to fly back to Singapore and learn how to cook her grandmother's dishes.  What follows is a heartwarming story of family ties, shared secrets, and celebration of life through communal meals.  I will be making those pineapple tarts in the future.

Our day did not begin auspiciously. The event was held at Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Hotel & Tourism Management, which is located near to the main campus but not within.  Unfortunately when I downloaded the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus map, it appeared to show the School of Hotel & Tourism Management to be in the center of campus.  SB and I arrived with fifteen minutes to spare at what was really the school's recreation center.  When we asked where the School of Hotel & Tourism Management was, the two staff members at the recreation center shrugged their shoulders at us.  Then they turned away. I was so sure that they misunderstood our question and weren't really brushing us off so I asked again and was reassured that both of them didn't know where the school was and weren't interested in helping us find out.  Well eff you very much.

Luckily we located a campus map five meters from the entrance to the recreation center.  During the ten minute walk I ranted to SB about how at Cornell or Texas A&M (my undergraduate university) people would have actually tried to help out.  I may have waved my arms a bit.

The “Three Chefs Abroad” Q&A is over but if you are interested, there are more events going on as part of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which you can find here:

Afterward SB and I managed to be in the right place at the right time and were invited to tag along on a tour of the hotel school's kitchens.  This led to us being invited to join Daphne, Cheryl, and another woman for drinks at Ammo, the restaurant/bar at the Hong Kong Asia Society.  The Asia Society is located in a former explosives magazine, and well worth a visit.  I have heard that I would have an easier time adopting a panda than successfully completing a reservation at Ammo unless I sit at the bar so I stuck to the Tan sisters and their reservation like a barnacle.  The other woman in their party was a journalist who had recently moved to HK from Paris.  What is it about journalists?  Is there such thing as a journalist groupie?  Because I could see SB's face turn rapturous at the speech cadence that seems common among journalists. The evening only got better because it turned out that Cheryl was meeting several more journalists from the Asian American Journalists Association.

 the bar where you don't need a reservation

Ammo's overhead decor

We will probably join AAJA, even though we aren't journalists.  I am barely a blogger and barely Asian but we are assured that that's okay.  SB and I are telling ourselves that we're doing it because of our interest in journalistic freedom in Hong Kong as well as current affairs but maybe we're just wanting to hear politics and social media being discussed by people that sound like Walter Cronkite.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

phở goodness sake

I am starting to understand how some Italians feel about lasagne. It is wonderful that the rest of the world loves their food so much and it may be acceptable when other cultures tweak the dish to suit local tastes...within reason. There is a point when you are pouring that block of melted Velveeta over crumbled breakfast sausages that you may have lost the right to call it lasagne.

I feel this way about phở. It is gratifying that the rest of the world has gotten caught up in Vietnamese cuisine and especially in this soup to the point that they have coined the term "pho-natic" to describe aficionados. Phở differs from region to region in Vietnam as well as varies from beef based to chicken based so I don't see a problem in a chef in Russia wants to add some local herbs to their version of the soup. However, there is a point where you have taken it too far.

People who have taken phở to places it should never go seem to misunderstand the basics of what makes it phở as opposed to, say, beef noodle soup with an "Asian" twist. As with various Chinese cuisines, Vietnamese cuisine follows the five flavor principles of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy, along with yin and yang.  Vietnamese cuisine often incorporates fresh and distinct layers of flavor.  Phở is a showcase of this with all of its different textures and subtle flavors.

First, your foundation is the broth.  There should be a lot of it; a proper bowl of phở should contain enough broth to keep the noodles hot for the duration of your meal.  The broth will take the most effort because the high quality stock bones must be cleaned and blanched once to remove any impurities before being simmered gently to yield a clear broth.  Charred ginger and onions round off the base, along with spices per personal taste (fish sauce, star anise, cloves, etc.).

Next, you want the neutral and chewy textured banh pho noodles or rice sticks.  Traditionally, the 1/16-inch-wide variety is used.  Your third layer will consist of thinly sliced raw sirloin that will cook in the broth, along with any other textured meats that you prefer such as beef balls, tendon bits or tripe.  The fourth layer is the garnish layer of thinly sliced onions, scallions and/or cilantro.

Serve the bowl of phở along with a platter of bean sprouts, Vietnamese herbs, chilies and limes.  These items will be added as the diner eats, creating the last and freshest, crispest layer.  Unlike with Western cooking, the spices should make a layer to the dish, and not just a few lousy strips of chiffonade.

Southern Vietnamese phở-natics like to add fish sauce, hoison sauce, or other savory flavors to their finished product but my family hails from the more unbending North and you will not find me adding anything more than a squeeze of lime and perhaps a sprinkling of chili.  If I were ever to raise a bottle of hoison sauce to my phở then something must have gone terribly wrong.  I want to taste the unadulterated deliciousness of the painstakingly created broth.

 I have seen phở recipes that have included Italian pasta, bouillon cubes, ketchup or sweet and sour sauce mix.  I say blech but if that's what tastes good to you then bon appetit.  But I draw the line when you dump all of your fixings into a pot and cook it into a single taste.  That isn't phở; it's faux and it's foul.

Amen, end of rant.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Recipe: Almond Cornmeal Biscotti

I was looking for something to pair with the New Orleans style chicory coffee that I received when I came across David Lebovitz's cornmeal biscotti recipe.  What could be more Southern than cornbread flavors?  I made a batch for our weekend brunch and enjoyed the crunchiness of the stone ground cornmeal but couldn't taste the almond extract or the lemon.  I decided to tweak the recipe by adding ground almond, forgetting about the lemon, and then attempted it in my toaster oven. So to the readers who previously complained that the Chinese style kitchens in Hong Kong apartments do not provide proper ovens (or room to install ovens), this recipe is for you!

You can make this recipe in one go but after reading a New York TImes interview with Shirley O. Corriher, the author of “CookWise,” who advocates long resting times for dough so that gelatinous and slow absorbing eggs can fully incorporate with the butter and flour, I decided to mix up the dough the night before and then bake the biscotti fresh in the morning.  The results were given a hearty thumbs up by SB.

Almond Cornmeal Biscotti (the original recipe claims 60 biscotti but I only managed 30):

Adapted from David Lebovitz who adapted from Anita Chu's Field Guide to Cookies 

1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1/2 cup (70g) cornmeal, preferably stone-ground (you can buy Bob's Red Mill and City Super)
1/2 cup (70g) ground almonds
1 cup (200g) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 medium eggs
4 tablespoons (55g) melted butter (if you use salted butter you may omit the 1/4 teaspoon of salt)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC.) Line your toaster oven pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, almonds, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then make a well in the dry ingredients to add the eggs.  Stir to incorporate as well as you can. Add the butter, then stir to a uniform consistency.  Refrigerate overnight or continue to the next step if you are baking in one go.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until smooth. Divide the dough in two and roll each portion to almost the length of the baking pan (mine was about 28cm).  Place the logs on the baking sheet, leaving at least 5cm of space between the two logs for the dough to spread while baking.  Pat down the logs slightly so that when you cut them, the cross sections won't be too tall.

Bake the logs for 20 minutes, or until they feel set. Remove them from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat of the oven to 230ºF (110ºC.)

Using a sharp serrated knife, slice the biscotti crosswise into individual cookies, each about 1/3-inch (1cm.) Place the biscotti on the baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the biscotti from the oven and turn each one over, then continue to cook for 10 minutes more to make them dry and crisp.

Serve to your significant other and watch him gobble them up or store the completely cooled cookies in an airtight container for maximum two weeks.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

save your kisses for me

Last night before retiring to bed I noticed that the bathroom fixtures were accumulating some mineral build-up and set about scrubbing them with a recycled toothbrush.  Then I was distracted by a football game.  When I returned to the bathroom half an hour later the toothbrush was nowhere to be seen.  After looking around for a bit I noticed that there was one additional member of the toothbrush holder.

I asked SB to verify that his toothbrush was blue while the cleaning brush was green but he didn't remember which one was his.  Then I realized the great likelihood of him having just brushed his teeth with my cleaning brush before replacing it in the holder.  The look of horror on my face must have clued him in because all of our toothbrushes were violently expelled into the trash.  Then he stormed off into the bedroom while I wrung my hands.  Eventually he came back and we replaced our toothbrushes.  Then he took out a knife.  Oh, now I know that brushing your teeth with a cleaning brush is kinda terrible but shanking me seems kind of like overkill.  Luckily he was not interested in carving me up though he did proceed to mutilate his new toothbrush so that he would be able to identify it.  He may have been trying to carve his initials but a craftsman he is not.

Later that night I generously informed him that although I would prefer to wait a week before kissing him, I would do so then because I loved him so much.  "Thanks," he replied.  Then as I was leaning in with the smallest pucker I could manage he grabbed my face and licked me from my chin to my nose.  This led to a fight to the death, or at least until I was gasping for air from laughing too much while struggling in his octopus-like grasp.

He is so lucky to have me.  I tell him so all the time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cornell goes Gangnam style

photo by Mandy Guo

My experiences with the Korean architecture students at Cornell was that they were a force to be reckoned with.  The younger students would appear like clockwork right before dinner because according to culture, my older, male classmates would be the ones to pay for the meals.  This was not such a bad deal for my two Korean classmates because come finals, the younger Korean students moved into our studio and became a model making factory for them.  These undergrads had an uncanny ability to mobilize once the call was made.

With the recent craze over the K-pop single, "Gangnam Style" by PSY and his gleefully silly dance moves you knew that it was only a matter of time before others would be posting their Gangnam Style dancing debuts (the performance by the US Naval Academy midshipmen in their dress whites is notable). A few weeks ago, a Cornell dance troupe, BreakFree Hip Hop Crew, created a flash mob in Ho Plaza on campus and posted the video online.  It always makes me smile to see McGraw tower and the Arts Quad.  Ah, the memories...

Here is the original video by PSY:

And here is the Cornell flash mob:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I like it when

I like it when I walk home from rugby training and people actually make room for me on the sidewalk.  When I am on my way to training (and clean) I still have to dodge and weave around other people who appear to be oblivious to my presence, walking in the middle of the sidewalk toward me without a care in the world.  But when I am sweaty and slightly muddy I suddenly warrant a care.  Goodbye obliviousness.  People step aside to share the path.  Couples part like the Red Sea.  Congestion clears.  Birds sing.

I need to always carry a bottle of water so that I can spritz a nice sheen onto myself when I need to get somewhere in a hurry.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


A friend recently attended dinner with several other friends at a new restaurant where the meal went from bad to weird.  Upon being presented with a particularly strange food combination he joked that the dish was some sort of health potion that would improve sperm count.  Another man at the table took exception to the comment (he and his wife had apparently been trying for a second baby for three years) and my friend apologized for the perceived insensitive remark to this man's personal issues.  24 hour later, the offended party still was steaming over the remark and send my friend a series of texts that ranged from enraged to sarcastic and insulting.  My friend apologized again though I told him that I felt his friend was insane.

I understand that for some people, having a "natural," biological child is greatly important.  I understand that to these people, the inability to produce that child leads to great strain.  I try to feel empathy but frankly, as someone whose life does not revolve around the need to see my progeny populating the earth, I am lacking and I know it.  During a conversation with a colleague who was discussing her aversion to pregnancy I suggested adoption and she responded with concern that she wouldn't love the child as much as her own [biological child].  She looked at me with surprise that I didn't understand while I looked at her in similar disbelief.

I was friends with a woman who had been unsuccessfully attempting IVF for several years.  Our group of mutual friends spent years supporting her and commiserating over her trials and failures.  The friendship eventually broke up after another friend became pregnant and we all received a ranting email over how the pregnant woman was rubbing the woman's face in her pregnancy by having the indecency to invite us all to her baby shower.  I heard through mutual friends that IVF woman and her husband are experiencing financial troubles but are continuing their (expensive) quest to have a biological child.  Yes, by her actions I understand that infertility is a dominating issue in her life but no, I don't get it.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

getting what you asked for

While visiting my parents in Tucson, and being trapped indoors for most of the day by the oppressive heat, I helped them complete a few projects including sorting through old photographs.  Some of the older photographs were in sad condition due to being stored in acidic paper albums so I was only too happy to remove them and scan them into digital files.

Some of the photographs can't be improved easily, though a digital media graphics expert could probably fill this one in:

early 80's.  I'm the smallest person.  Yes, I know that I looked like a boy.
Yes, I also am aware that my shirt reads, "fondle with care."
But a few more years of weathering will erase that fact.

Other photographs I was able to scan and then edit in Photoshop until they were close to their original condition.  I am a huge fan of Adobe products.  Here's a photo of my father with his sister and their family pets:

circa 1946 in Whitesboro, New York.  I love how "Americana" this photo is.
But perhaps any rural photo looks that way to someone who grew up as an expat.

For my last batch of scans, I chose an album of high school photos.  One of my favorite photos is this one, which was taken during my sophomore year.  It was my first time wearing the white varsity top instead of the orange junior varsity top:  

I posted the photo on Facebook and several of my high school classmates responded with their own favorite photos.  I had a good chuckle at my friend Shannon's photo because I knew the background story.  Shannon used to work in the food service section of an independent theater.  It was a seemingly ideal job for a high school actor and drama club member, except that it wasn't.  The manager of the Cinema Grill might have benefited from reading up on workplace sexual harassment.  One of his less odious moves was to dictate that the female members of staff were required to wear lipstick.  Shannon eventually decided to comply.  Enthusiastically.

Technically, her manager did get what he asked for.

Thank you Shannon for reminding me that sometimes rather than protesting unfairness I need to think of more creative solutions.  I should keep a copy of this in my wallet for inspiration.