Archive for May, 2006

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Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Before I came here, I thought I knew what crowded was, I thought I knew what rich was, I thought I knew what culture was. And then I experienced the MTR subway at rush-hour, the outrageous cost of living in Repulse Bay on the south part of Hong Kong Island and the fantastic food, art and, mostly, architecture that this place has in abundance.

The first day we were here, we went straight for the waterfront along the northern edge of Hong Kong island to see the tallest building in Hong Kong.   We saw a TV documentary on this building once and now, we have actually been to the real life version! Does it get any better than this?

Jan - Victoria Harbour1.JPG

Victoria Harbour.JPG

The next thing we did was to take the tram up the unexpectedly steep slope to Victoria Peak for the view.

View from Victoria Peak.JPG

I won’t go on about how amazing the view was because the interweb is littered with such descriptions. I will, however, mention that the people who live in the houses on the road leading up to the peak must be exceptionally wealthy. The kind of wealthy I wouldn’t even know if it bumped into me on the street, which it may very well have already in a city this busy. I am invigorated by the crowds. There are more people on this island than I can even fathom and when everyone decides to take the MTR at the same time (when the drivers of their Mercedes and Jaguars have the day off, I presume) it is too crowded to move. The crowds at the Temple street Night Market can’t really compare but the lights, colour and traffic make up for the density.

Temple Street Night Market.JPG

Today, we visited the Graham Street market which is known for its food. From start to finish, from one end to the other, we were wishing desperately for a kitchen in which to cook.

Marc - Graham Street Market1.JPG

There were many vegetables and a myriad of fish that we’ve never even seen before, let alone can imagine cooking. What I wouldn’t give for just a chef’s knife! (Though the hostel does have a corkscrew for happy hour so we’re not completely lost.)

Speaking of food, we went for dim sum today at the “famous” Yung Kee restaurant in SoHo.

HK Dim Sum.JPG

Apparently, the roast goose at this restaurant has been the talk of the town since 1942. We didn’t have the goose, but we did have steamed dumplings with shrimp and bamboo fungus, yummy steamed pork buns, spring onion pastries, garlicky squid,spring rolls, mango pudding and an appetizer we didn’t order: century eggs.

Century Egg.JPG

I think they’re hard-boiled eggs that have been… um … preserved (?) for a few months. I tried them first and then coaxed Marc into trying. They weren’t bad but they’re weren’t something I would’ve ordered. Who cares, I tried them, and that’s the whole reason we went on this trip.

P.S. Typhoon Chenchu is due to pass through Hong Kong tonight. Should be.. interesting.

Hot, Hot, Burn

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

The temperature here is remarkable. When we left Canada, it was mild enough to be comfortable outside, though it snowed on our penultimate day in the country. When we arrived in LA, it was on the warm side but we still couldn’t abandon the long underwear. Finally, upon arrival in Taiwan, we experienced heat.

May 08 2.jpg
May 08 3.jpgOn our first day, it seemed so lovely to be so warm and let our skin absorb the moisture in the air. “Isn’t it so nice,” we said, “that we can walk around in the evening and not wear a jacket!” Then the rain started falling, and we thought “Oh my, a little sprinkle. We had better go back to the hostel.” And then we got trapped by the DOWNPOUR of rain, under an awning fifty feet from our door. (That was Lesson #45 of being in Asia- we continue a burn-rate of 20 Lessons/day.) The next day, we began our touristing with a walk to Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world. The building was great, the heat was astonishing.

May 08.jpgAfter having bought about 10 bottles of water, I convinced Marc to try something new: sweetened rose water. It tastes great and, when the cold bottle is held to the forehead, it seems to create the illusion of being cool for a couple of seconds.

Now, we are at Meg and Kent’s apartment in Kaohsiung the heat is consuming. The good news is that our extremely generous hosts have a balcony with a fantastic view of the city and the mountains beyond, which is a perfect place for happy hour. Surely, we will become a little more acclimatized as our jet lag wears down and our beer consumption increases. It’s not for nothin’ that my favourite beer is sold cheap at every convenience store, which are conveniently located every two blocks.

Number of Times That We Have Been Lost So Far: 6
Number of Items That We Have Lost So Far: 4

P.S. I can hear the experienced travellers we know reading this and scoffing, “You think this is hot?! Wait until you reach Beijing/Dubai/India/Thailand.” Yes. We know.

A Culinary Tour of Halifax

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Halifax 1.jpgWe had to pack a lot of food into one day and two nights. On our first night I insisted we order from Salvatore’s Pizza. They make a plain cheese pizza to die for. We also split a mushroom and garlic pizza, a meatball hero and a salami-pepperoni hero. This was a traditional meal of Danny J and me. I used to favour the salami-pepperoni hero over the meatball, but this time was different. The meatballs are sliced and covered in cheese and sauce. The texture clearly states the sandwich is full of fat. It’s worth it.

Halifax 2.jpg The next day required an extra lunch to fit in all the mandatory stops. Ray’s at Scotia Square has a wide selection of Lebanese food. I hadn’t been there in three years. Nothing is fried. Everything is low fat. I always order the barbeque chicken pita. Rather than lettuce, he adds salad with tomatoes and pita croutons. The croutons add a great crunch. The oddest ingredient is roasted potatoes. He finishes it off with hummous and tahini sauce. I guess I’ve been there a lot. Ray looked and me and says, “it’s been a long time.”

Lunch two was chirashi sushi from Dharma. It wasn’t as good as I had remembered. That may have been purely because of the plating. Normally chirashi is served in a bowl with sushi rice at the bottom and assorted shashimi on top. The unique element at Dharma is barbeque eel sauce on the rice. On this occasion the rice was on one side of a plate and the fish on the other. All the fish was excellent, but it didn’t have the usual visual punch.

Halifax 3.jpg Steve-o-reno’s has the best coffee in Halifax. We both ordered the double short latte. It wasn’t as good as the Blue Bottle Company in San Francisco, but still very good.

Our next stop was Dio Mio for chocolate ice cream. They do have many more special flavours, but the chocolate is better than almost anywhere. It’s not too sweet. The cocoa flavour is strong. I remembered it being even more so, but the ice cream still tasted very good. I used to eat a small tub of it every week along with another of strawberry sorbet.

Dave and Karen picked up Indian takeout on our last night. Some couple with a hole in the wall sells their own frozen dishes. We had paneer, butter chicken, curry goat, curry vegetables and samosas. All were excellent. The best Indian food I’ve had at a restaurant was only marginally better.

Taipei Supper 101

Friday, May 5th, 2006

We quickly learned how to get necessities in Taipei. Someone told us Taipei is a good city for us to transition to Asian travel. Most people speak at least a little English. Most signs are posted in English and most places have very good signs. The metro is very easy to use. They even provide a very good map of the city for free.

Taipei day 1.jpgFood can be a little challenging. The key factor is selecting a food stand where we can communicate what we want. Some restaurants and stands have pictures, others have English menus. Some just have food on display at which to point. It’s also possible to point at meals that have been served to other people. Most food vendors seem used to selling food in this fashion.

On our first night we selected a small restaurant with pictures of noodle soup. We pointed at what we thought was chicken, but were served barbeque pork, which was better anyway. The pork and broth were very tasty. The soup also included baby bok choy, an egg and a slice of white something with a pink flower that had no flavour at first, then tasted like fish or fake crab. I suspect it was some sort of fish log. The smiling proprietor brought us some ice tea at no extra charge.

Taipei day 1B.jpgDessert was a bit of surprise. I picked out something pink from a display case with the assumption it was soft, fluffy and creamy. I’m glad we didn’t wait until we got back to the hostel to eat it because it turned out to be frozen. The outside was covered in sticky gelatinous rice. The inside was like strawberry ice cream, but with a slightly waxy texture. We’re sure to have more pleasant surprises.

There are so many places to go in Taipei and so much food to try. We could spend a three weeks here instead of a few days.