Winter in Hong Kong Part 1

We arrived in Hong Kong just before eleven Thursday night for a long weekend of visiting friends, shopping, and – most of all – relaxing.  Since a requirement of my visa is that I have to leave the country every ninety days, short trips such as these make for good quick vacations as well as jumping through the appropriate immigration hoops.

The weather is cool here – highs about 74 F / 22 C – but muggy.  The sky is mostly overcast and if you catch the occassional gust of wind the day is pleasant.  When the sun breaks through you can quickly get sweaty despite the low temperature.

All the locals are wearing jackets and sweaters.

We booked the room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, located in Causeway Bay across from the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  It is a nice enough hotel, but the original “basic” room we were booked in had frosted-over windows.  All of the basic rooms do, we were told, because that side of the hotel faces an old Chinese cemetery.  After paying for an upgrade, we found ourselves in a larger room with a view, with dinner and internet access included.

I’ll try to do a post with some pictures tomorrow, but so far I haven’t taken very many.  After enough visits and having lived here, I’m less inspired to click away.


Of pumpkin pies and upside down sconces

Paul and Aori came over last night.  They thought they were coming over to see the condo then we’d go out to dinner, but I cooked dinner for them.  Nothing fancy: linguine with homemade pesto, a mixed green salad and a baguette.  For dessert, homemade pumpkin pie.  From scratch.  Yes, really.

Started out with this … and ended up with this

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The crust didn’t work out correctly.  I had this “foolproof” pie crust recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that uses a vodka/water mixture to keep the dough pliable but not tough when cooked.  But it is made with a food processor and my food processor is in Kansas City.  So I cut the fat in by hand and it just didn’t work out the same.  For some reason the dough already seemed moist before I ever added any water.  It didn’t hold together when being rolled out.  Maybe I mis-measured, although I thought I was being very careful.  A tablespoon of butter is 1/2 oz or 4 grams, right?

Maybe I really need to have a food processor to distribute the fat correctly?  Jenn, if you’re not using my Cuisinart, I might be bringing it back to Thailand next time I’m in KC.  No budget left for buing one here.

Anyhow, crust aside, the pumpkin filling tasted great.  It really is so easy to make it from scratch that I don’t know why you would bother with canned filling and that tinny flavor that accompanies it.  I’ve never been much of a fan of pumpkin pie, but this was seriously tasty.  Roka was the one who first asked if I knew how to make pumpkin pie, so as soon as I get the crust figured out, I’ll make one for her.  Anyone else want to come over?

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P1030701 This morning the mirror men (glass men?) came to install the handles on the mirrored cabinet doors.  This involved drilling into the mirror and through the wood behind it.  It looked like a complicated process as they changed drill bits frequently and were sprinkling water on the mirror as they drilled, I guess to either keep it from cracking or to keep the glass dust from flying around.  Considering that nobody had any protective gear on, either reason would be fine with me.

The electricians showed up unexpectedly after that to install the final two sconces, which Paul had hand carried from San Francisco.  Unfortunately, when the question came whether to install them facing up or down, I chose up.  I tried calling but he was in a meeting and I couldn’t get through.

Feeling empowered, I told the electricians to install them facing up.

They’ll be out Thursday afternoon to correct that and turn them to face down.

So much for being empowered, eh?

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P1030705 Afterwards I had to run an errand so while out, I met up with Ken, Bill and Roka at Kalpapruek Restaurant off Silom. 

I’ve eaten at their locations at Paragon and Emporium many times, but it wasn’t until I walked onto the property today (the restaurant is situated in an old house and adjoining buildings between Silom and Sathorn) that I recognized it: this is the place Tawn brought me for lunch the day after we met, eight years ago.  There has been remodelling since then but I knew it in an instant.  Above, Ken tries to navigate the menu as our waitress looks on, very patiently.  Below: Kalpapruek is known for their baked goods.  Here is their orange cake with a meringue frosting.



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P1030712 Back at the Surasak BTS station, I took some pictures of the abandoned office building immediately next to the station. 

There are hundreds of these ghost buildings in the greater Khrungthep area, victims of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. 

While dozens of new buildings are being built today, there are countless relics that for whatever reason are never finished.  Most of them just stand empty, others have been taken over by squatters or have been targets for what I assume are mostly farang graffitti taggers.

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Funny election picture.  From the New York Times is this picture of John McCain.  All I can think is, “I hope he doesn’t try to hug me!”



Thursday evening Tawn and I are heading to Hong Kong for the weekend.  It is the end of my 90-day visa and I need to renew it, so a border run is necessary.  Temperatures are wintry there – highs forecasts of 25 C / 77 F and lows of 20 C / 68 F.  Where is that parka?


Lots of visitors.  Paul is in town.  Daniel and Joe are coming to town.  And yesterday I received a call from Claude, who, while being from New York, had found himself in Singapore about to board a flight to Bangkok.

“Can I crash at your place?” he asked.

“If you’re okay with a little Japanese style futon,” I replied.

As my aunt says, there’s always room for one more.  Most of the time, Tawn agrees with that, but I’m not going to test him to see where the limit is.

Very-Thai1 So I picked Caude up at the airport.  On the way there, sitting at the intersection of Thanon Ramkamhaeng, I noticed these interesting planters.  The mayor of Khrunthep has made a lot of effort to beautify the city, planting more greenery.  What I liked about this particular intersection was the clever (and Very Thai*) way that the people with the green thumbs had gone about overcoming the very tall concrete barrier.

First off, put the plants in trash bins.  They’re large enough, there’s plenty of them around the city, so why not? 

Second, if the bins aren’t tall enough, just keep piling on concrete footpath pavers until the plants can peer over the top of the barrier.


Waht I love about it is, it is such a practical and elegant (if not pretty) solution.

Claude was very thoughtful and bought us a bottle of Absolut Vodka at Singapore Changi Airport’s duty free.  They are selling a limited edition “Absolut Disco” bottle, which is a regular bottle sold in a funky disco ball case.  Very cute!  There’s even a hole at the top so you can hang it from the ceiling on a little spinning motor.  I’ve suggested to Tawn that we take down the chandelier and replace it with this bottle.


This morning, Claude went off to Koh Samed for a few days at the beach.  We’ll see about reconnecting this weekend in Hong Kong.  Meanwhile, it is off to Thai class for me.

* I’m thinking that I may start using this “Very Thai” picture to denote entries or observations that I find to be illustrative of Thai culture.  The original book is by Philip Cornwel-Smith and is full of many “oh, now I understand” moments.  I’ll try to contribute more of them along the same vein.


As ruuduu naw (cold season) continues, there has been a whole lot of nothing going on.  Errands, mostly.  Seeing friends a bit.  Watching the Iowa caucus results and reading the pundits.  So I’ll just address some odds and ends this morning:

P1030381 Regarding the bookshelves/china cabinets (leftsee entry here), thank you to those of you who offered your opinions.  Tawn was amused at the responses. 

Ble, our designer, stopped by Friday with the original plans for the cabinets.  Sure enough, they were built too large: 10 cm too tall, 5 cm too deep (both the upper and lower sections), and 15 cms too wide. 

Additionally, the pattern on the glass was not done correctly.  It was supposed to be etched with thin lines that made a diamond pattern, rather than being etched with diamonds themselves.  The difference would be in the opacity of the windows.  The idea is that we should still be able to readily see the contents of the shelves.

No explanation how the cabinet makers managed to mess these details up, but they did.  Ble will work with them to either fix the current cabinet or, more likely, build new ones at no cost to us.


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P1030615 Markus’ brother and sister-in-law are sister-in-lawthree weeks along with their two children, from Aptos, California.  In addition to picking them up from the airport, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with them. 

One of these opportunities was a trip to the Ancient City, a park to the southeast of Khrungthep and not far from the new airport, that has recreated at half scale over 100 of the most important historical structures in Thailand.  Built about twenty years ago, many of the structures now are surrounded by lush flora that more closely resemble the actual settings where these sites are located. 

Additionally, some of the structures are built to show what they would have looked like at their glory.  For example, some of the palace buildings that were destroyed when the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya is 1767 A.D. have been rebuilt (half scale) to their ancient splendor. 

The pavillion I capturpavilion right isn’t the prettiest thing on the grounds, especially given that the workers were in the midst of repainting it.  But I liked that it isn’t so typically Thai.  Also, the purple color was unusual.

You can travel the grounds either by rented golf cart or on bicycle.  With the weather sunny but not too hot, the bicycle proved a good way to go even though the bicycles were almost as ancient as the structures depicted in the park!

P1030624 The only drawback was ruin and wat burnout.  Had we purchased the guide book before touring the site, we would have been much better informed about the significance of the sites.  After a while it began to feel like “yet another palace” and yet another temple”.  I have a guide book now, which you’re welcome to borrow if you ever go to the Ancient City.

On the way home in our comfy Toyota tour van, we were stopped at a light in Khlong Toei and a friendly teenager on the back of a motorbike was smiling at us, so I took a picture, left.


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Roka had an interview at a language school on Thong Lor, so afterwards Tawn and I met her for lunch at J Avenue.  I love J Avenue.  The J stands for “Japanese”, and ostensibly this outdoor, upscale strip mall is aimed at the local Japanese expat population.  True enough, there are several Japanese restaurants in it and there is a Villa Market, the grand-daddy of all expat supermarkets.  But then there is a bowling alley, a Greyhound Cafe, an Au Bon Pain, and a bunch of other places that don’t have any obvious Japanese connection.

The center’s design is very good and if makes use of two huge old trees that were preserved right in the middle of things.  They have used misters and good landscaping to create a cool (temperature-wise) central court that is very pleasant to sit in even on a sunny day.  Best of all, it is within walking distance to our house.

Greyhound Cafe at J Avenue is much better than the Siam Centre location, because the service is organized and more attentive.  For examples, orders don’t go missing.  Here’s a selection of our dishes:

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From Left to Right: Asparagus soup, lasagna salad, and Thai-style spaghetti.


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We also ran some errands to the Ratchaprop and Siam areas, parking the car at Gaysorn to avoid geting any more into the messy traffic.  Here aregetting streets all within a three-minute walk of each other, to give you an idea of what traffic this weekend looked like:




Thankfully, we were walking on the pedestrian skyway so we could see the traffic rather than be a part of it.

Speaking of Gaysorn, this high end but nearly always desserted mall often features nice sculptural works indesertedntral courtyard area.  A few months ago it was a giant splash (further below) and now it is this interesting grouping of lanterns.



In a country where public art is sorely lacking, it is nice that this mall makes the effort to support local artists in this way.


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Side Notes:

Wilcox HS On Facebook, I’ve started a group called Adrian Wilcox High School – Alums of the 80s.  If you graduated in the late 1980s from this venerable Santa Clara, California institution of secondary education, feel free to join!

As of this morning there are already ten people signed up as members.  Some of these are the high school friends I’ve long stayed in touch with.  Others are people I do not know or barely remember.  Would you believe my 20 year reunion is coming up this summer?  Aiee – so old!


barack-obamaRegarding the results of the Iowa caucuses, while I try to maintain a fairly politically neutral stance in this blog since that isn’t really what I want to write about, let me say this: I’m happy that Barack Obama (right) did as well as he did.  Along with a lot of other Americans, I’m ready for a change in the tenor of our political debate. 

I’m convinced that the “red state – blue state” depiction of the United States is an artificial one, designed by news organizations, politicos, and pundits to play up the drama of divisiveness.  I believe that on most issues, the large majority of Americans can agree on many points, and do.  We are desperately in need of leadership, both in the domestic arena as well as on the world stage, that can start from the large common ground and build outwards, rather than starting from one extreme and demonizing the other.

Have a good week!


How Tawn and I Met


Above: Chilly and breezy morning here in Khrungthep, as Tawn huddles under a blanket on the sofa.

Some of you have heard this story, but many of you haven’t.

In December 1999, in a friend’s loft in Tribeca, I made the decision to quit my job.  Having accepted the position of Senior Manager at the still under construction AMC Empire 25 theatres near Times Square, I had traveled to New York from San Francisco to meet my team and to look for an apartment in advance of my move in January.

After an afternoon of meeting with the people who would be working under me on the adventure of opening the largest, most complex theatre AMC had ever opened, I realized that I was being set up for failure.  The team was rife with inexperience, several people having never working in the theatre exhibition industry at all.

That evening, in Michael’s Tribeca loft, I considered my options.  A few weeks prior I had interviewed with another company, IKON Office Solutions, just to be aware of what was out there.  The interview had unexpectedly resulted in a job offer, tendered by a former AMC colleague who was now a recruiter for IKON.

I called this recruiter friend and confirmed that the offer was still on the table.  Within minutes, he faxed over an offer letter which I signed and returned.  I then drafted my resignation letter and called my boss in California.  Not surprisingly, he spent most of the call talking about himself.  No attempt was made to empathize with me or to understand my concerns.  After almost thirteen years with the company, on the brink of opening the most prestigious theatre in the chain, he didn’t seem concerned that I was leaving.

Having worked nearly every holiday since 1987, as one does in the exhibition business, I chose December 30th as my final day.  I was not going to work New Year’s Eve again.

My roommates Colleen and Nina had spent several months the previous year backpacking through Southeast Asia and they had enjoyed it very much.  Intrigued, I decided the best way to spend my two weeks between jobs was to go explore the north of Thailand.  On December 31st, using family passes from my employee father, I boarded United Airlines’ San Francisco to Hong Kong flight, on my way to Thailand.

This being the last day of 1999 – remember the Y2K scare that computer systems worldwide would shut down because they hadn’t been programmed to recognize the new century – the flight was nearly empty.  The 747, with more than 300 seats, had only 35 passengers in the entire plane.  The number of crew members almost matched the number of passengers as we sat in the gate area.  Boarding took all of five minutes and we pushed back a half-hour early.

The flight was an interesting one.  Each flight attendant stopped by my seat to chat with me for a while, apparently lacking anything better to do.  When we crossed the International Date Line, the flight attendants went running down the aisles wishing everyone a Happy New Year and pouring champagne.  But of course at that point, it was already seven in the morning local time.  Because of the cruel nature of westbound transpacific travel, I never did get my “end of the century” New Year’s Eve.  The crew asked me to take a picture of them, posed in the cabin, a picture that the purser mailed me several weeks later.

After spending a few days in Hong Kong visiting friends from when I lived there in 1998-1999, I set out to continue my journey to Bangkok on the evening of January 3rd.  Standing in the employee check-in queue at Chek Lap Kok airport, there was this cute, skinny guy with a long face and beautiful eyes standing in front of me.  He turned around and we made eye contact.  He smiled.  I smiled back.  He was checking in with a group of other guys, who I assumed were his friends.  Later, I found out they were the boyfriends of his colleagues.

Looking at the round orange tag on his luggage, I could tell from the code (BKKFS) that he was a Bangkok-based flight attendant.

After checking in, he and his friends disappeared.  As I went to the gate and stopped for some dinner, I ran into my roommate Nina’s friend Perry and her mother, who were on their way to India!  We spent an hour or so visiting before I continued to the gate.

At the gate I saw the cute guy and his friends again.  The load for the flight was very light and when I boarded and took my seat in the downstairs part of business class, I observed that one of his friends asked the flight attendant if he could move to the upper deck.  Figuring that they would all end up sitting upstairs, I asked if I, too, could change seats.  The flight attendant said yes, so I went upstairs and selected a seat at the back of the cabin, calculating that it would be easier to see him because he’d be sitting in front of me.

Sure enough, the cute guy came upstairs and sat in the emergency exit row, three rows ahead of me and on the other side of the aisle.  Every so often he would turn around and look back at me.  The on-duty flight attendants stopped by to say hi to him and he went back to the galley once or twice during the flight.

Throughout the two-hour flight I noticed that there were a lot of flight attendants who came upstairs.  Of the fourteen flight attendants scheduled on the flight, it seems like all of them came up to offer me refills on my orange juice and nearly all of them tried to use my name.  “More orange juice, Mister… um… Schultz?”  Something was up.

Finally, shortly before descent, I worked up enough courage to say something.  I was at a major turning point in my life, leaving a long-held job for a new one, leaving one century for the next, traveling across the world before returning home.  Why let this opportunity pass me by?

I walked to the lavatory at the front of the cabin.  When returning to my seat, the cute guy was watching me over the top of the Thai newspaper he was “reading”.  The sports section, featuring Thai kickboxing, was on the front page.  Struggling for something to say, I stopped, said hello, and asked…

“So, are you a fan of kickboxing?”

I know, not the most suave and sophisticated of lines, but it was enough to jump start the conversation.  As it continued, I confirmed that he did indeed work for United, his name was Tawn, and he wasn’t that interested in kickboxing.

“Let me ask you,” I continued, pushing my luck, “this is only my second time here in Bangkok and I’m not sure of the best way to get to my hotel.”

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“The Crowne Plaza on Thanon Silom,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s near my house.  I’d be happy to give you a ride there.”  I figured out many months later that it was about 15 km away from his house, nowhere “near” by any stretch of the imagination.

So upon landing we went through our separate immigration lines, I collected my backpack, and we met again outside customs where Tawn was waiting with almost all of his colleagues from the flight.  He drove me to the hotel, made sure I was checked in properly, and then offered to collect me the next morning and show me around town.

. . .

The next morning, I waited in the lobby as the appointed time came and went.  Not surprised, I figured he had come to his senses and in the light of day had decided against the folly of hanging out with some strange passenger he had met.  But about fifteen minutes after the prescribed time, Tawn pulled up in his grey Nissan, the same one we drive today.

Over the next three days we visited many sights and had a good time hanging out.  But on the fourth day he had to fly back to Hong Kong, overnight there, fly to Tokyo, overnight there, then come back through Hong Kong to Bangkok.  Since I had more family passes to use, I agreed to fly with him to Hong Kong with the plan of waiting for him then flying back to Bangkok.

On the flight from Bangkok, Tawn switched safety demo positions with a colleague so he wouldn’t have to look at me while doing the demo.  Because of a broken seat, I was reassigned to a seat in his section of business class.  He held the safety card in front of his face the whole time to avoid making eye contact.

During the flight, the passenger seated next to me seemed confused about the highly attentive service I was receiving, the recommendations on what breakfast dish was best, the endless refills of my coffee, etc.

In Hong Kong, we stayed on United’s bill at the Renaissance Harbour View in Wan Chai, and then when Tawn left for Tokyo I stayed with Stephanie.  The following evening I went to the airport and waited for Tawn outside customs.  He came walking out with the same group of colleagues as had been on the flight on which we met.  Amidst the twittering and whispers between the other flight attendants, Tawn told me the sad news that he had been rescheduled and would have to fly back to Tokyo the following morning.

No problem, I assured him, I would just use my passes to fly to Tokyo and then we’d head back to Bangkok together.  Tawn asked the captain if I could ride the crew bus back to the hotel and the captain, with a look that said there’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, said okay.

The following day Tawn went to the airport with his crew and I met him at the ticket counter later on with his purser, Jack – the one person who has known us since the day we met.  Because of the heavy loads on the flight, the agent couldn’t give me a boarding pass yet, but I assured Tawn I’d see him onboard.

He and Jack went to the flight and I stayed at the check-in counter, patiently waiting for my name to clear the list.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on the flight.  The Y2K fears had subsided and the flight was full.  I even checked with Japan Airlines, All Nippon, and Cathay Pacific, but last minute flights to Tokyo were just too expensive.

As Tawn relates the story, he kept scanning the manifest after the aircraft doors closed and walked up and down the aisles, searching for me.  Surely I was somewhere on that plane.  Sadly, I had not made it.

Deciding that the fates had sent me a message, I checked in for the next flight back to the United States, the nonstop to Los Angeles.  Before heading home, stuck in a middle seat in coach, I called the hotel in Japan where Tawn would be staying and left a message for him: “Sorry I couldn’t make the flight.  Will talk with you soon.”

While that could have been the end of the story, it wasn’t.  I started my new job on January 17th, and am still employed with IKON as I work remotely from Thailand.  Thankfully, with Tawn as a United employee, he was able to fly over and visit every four to six weeks.  That gave our relationship an opportunity to take root and survive until the end of 2000, when Tawn moved to the United States to study for his Master’s degree.

But it all started on that Hong Kong to Bangkok flight, January 3rd, 2000 – exactly eight years ago today.

Happy Anniversary, Tawn!

As a prologue, while I said that December 30th was my final day with AMC, I actually continued to work for them for two more years.  The person who followed me as General Manager of the Kabuki 8 and Van Ness 14 in San Francisco recognized my value and convinced me to work part-time on weekends helping their cash handling and accounting operations.  It wasn’t until February 2002 that I finally left AMC.


Fireworks galore as we stay home

SukhothaiNew Year’s Eve was thankfully quiet.  It is a public holiday here in Thailand, essentially giving people a four-day weekend.  Roads were quieter than normal, car parks and malls emptier.

In the morning I drove to the Sukhothai Hotel on Sathorn Road, right.  The sister of a friend was in town from Hong Kong and had a package to give me.  I met her and her husband pool-side and visited for a few minutes.

Such an attentive staff and so gorgeous a hotel!  When I arrived, I didn’t see Julie.  Turns out that she had gone up to her room to get the package and since I hadn’t met her husband, I didn’t know what he looked like.  The staff made a great effort to locate her and fortunately she showed up a few minutes later.

In the afternoon, Tawn decided it was time for him to do some cooking.  Craving linguini with pesto sauce, he pulled out the blender and made some fresh pesto.  We enjoyed a light lunch before he headed to his parents’ house.



I worked throughout the afternoon and then started preparing dinner as we had decided to spend our New Year’s Eve at home.  The menu was a bit of a reprise from Saturday.  I had leftover mozzarella cheese and ricotta and spinach mixture, so I bought some more mushrooms and made another vegetarian lasagna. 

There was still some broiled zucchini and eggplant mixture, so that became a gratin.  The flavors of the cucumber-mango salad were nicely melded by now, so that rounded out the trio nicely.

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For dessert, the final two individual chocolate souffles were unwrapped from the freezer, puffing up nicely in the oven as if the batter had been prepared just minutes beforehand.  All in all, a simple menu, but a delightful one and spent with the best of company: Tawn.

Shortly before we moved into the condo, I bought a bottle of Möet & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne to celebrate.  It has been waiting patiently and last night seemed to be the best time to open it.


To kill time waiting for the clock to strike midnight, we watched an episode from season two of “The West Wing” on DVD.  I don’t watch TV and hadn’t really seen this show when it was on the air.  Vic loaned me the discs and the series is really good.  If all TV were like this, I’d be watching all the time.  Heck, I’d even go out and buy a TV.

About three minutes before midnight some over-eager locals began setting off the fireworks.  Limited in the US to only “safe and sane” fireworks or official public displays, it seems everyone in Khrungthep gets their hands on some pretty serious munitions.  There was an excellent view from our balcony of a large display just up Thong Lo from us, complemented by a half-dozen adjacent properties setting off their own Roman candles and other more spectacular fireworks.  For a quarter-hour there were bams and booms and howling soi dogs.

And thus we start 2008 (2551 in the Buddhist calendar).