There is no way I could have predicted that three days into our trip I would find myself wearing devil horns. I’m justifying it as a cultural experience.
The expatriate scene in Hong Kong is a culture all its own. Sandeep’s brother has lived here for 4 years and has a wide group of expat friends. An expat in Hong Kong is the term used for the 5% of the population that is not of Chinese origin and didn’t grow up in Hong Kong. They know each other well enough to party in droves every Friday and Saturday until 4 AM. Even though the crowd spans at least 4 decades, the scene is like college with funds. Towards the end of the night I figured, if Asian business leaders wear Minnie Mouse ears and slurp Jello every weekend, then I better stop being a puritan and get on board.
That’s probably all the partying you’ll see from us for the next 10 months.
On a more low key note, the most memorable meal we had in Hong Kong was at a private dinner. There is debate as to the origins of private dinners. Some say they are a way for the culinarily skilled to show off without dealing with Hong Kong rents. Another theory is that these spots sprung around the city in the wake of SARS, when people were afraid to go out to restaurants but still needed a venue to meet friends. Regardless, many are still speakeasies in their original apartments, such as the unnamed one we visited above Al’s Diner (scene of the devil horns). To avoid any gripe with law officials, only beer is served (beer is not considered alcohol here from what I am told) and all other alcohol is BYOB.
This private dinner venue was run out of a no-frills apartment (yes, that is the bathroom you see behind the fridge) by a family from Chengdu province, which is known for their spicy food. Our wine, along with the seven bottles shared with our neighboring table, were perfect complements to our flaming palates.
Where were the kids? We took the opportunity to leave them with a friend, to whom Ava said “When I grow up I am going to give my Mommy and Daddy away to Dora the Explorer.” Clearly they weren’t missing us either.
It’s liberating to know that from now on, all we need to worry about are the kids and two bags. And between the loud personalities and bright colors, I am hopeful that we don’t lose a kid or a bag.
Before departure, what we dreaded most about our adventure was the 16 hour flight from JFK to Hong Kong. How on earth were we to entertain two toddlers in a confined space for that amount of time? Our strategy of a 1:20 AM flight paid off. The kids slept for 13 of the 16 hours, allowing us to watch 3 movies and do some napping of our own. The MacGyver in me made Kayan a little crib on the floor of our seats and he passed out immediately. Laying down an airplane blanked between him and layers of passenger dirt was probably not hygienic, but the kid’s got to build his immunity for this trip anyway.
Here are two things I learnt on day 1 in Hong Kong.
It’s much cleaner than Manhattan. Not a high bar but, given that the cities rival each other in population density and general energy, I figured it would be a closer call. For once I didn’t cringe when Ava wanted to use the bathroom at the playground. It had a personal attendant whose bleaching skills I had already admired while watching from the swing set.
Hong Kong a culinary wonderland. We arrived at Sandeep’s brother’s apartment at 7 AM, ready for dinner. Lin Heung Tea House is around the corner from the apartment and the dim sum was already flowing. I confess that I couldn’t tell that much of a difference in taste from it and my favorite New York joint Chatham Square, but the crowd of elderly sipping their morning tea and workers fueling up for the day was entertaining to watch. I’m not sure that they were equally entertained by our to kids who broke every rule of chopstick etiquette.
– Do not drop chopsticks. Dropped. Three times.
– Do not stab food with chopsticks. Stabbed to pulpy heaps.
– Do not make noise with chopsticks. In all fairness, Wednesday is music class at home.
Dinner at La’Taste was the freshest Vietnamese I’ve had and their grilled chicken was the only thing other than candy that Ava ate since leaving New York.
First day on the trip – total success. Happy kids, happy parents. Let’s hope this holds for the next 304.