Food in Hong Kong: Modern China Restaurant

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In response to my early posts about this recent trip to Hong Kong, some commenters expressed concern that I wasn’t eating at any Chinese restaurants.  Rest assured, I did eat a good amount of Chinese food while there.  One of the best meals was my final dinner, enjoyed at a Shanghainese restaurant called Modern China.

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Located in the Olympian City Mall in West Kowloon, right above the Olympic MTR station, Modern China blends in among all the other glass-fronted restaurant in a mall that, frankly, could be any other mall in Hong Kong.

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The waiting queue is very modern, with numbers posted on an LED monitor along with a map of tables and their status.  On a busy Sunday evening, Big Michael and I only waited ten minutes for a table.

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The interior of the restaurant is clean and spacious, although tables are packed pretty close together.  The wait staff was professional and attentive, although in typical Hong Kong style were not overly friendly.  The menu is accessible, offering lots of pictures and clear English descriptions.

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A small dish of sweet dried shrimp were served as a complimentary appetizer.  Very flavorful, although when I lived here it took a while to get used to eating shrimp with the shell still on.

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On the autumn special menu was an intriguing sounding dish: braised seafood in pumpkin.

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Sure enough, a beautiful orange pumpkin arrived on our table and upon removing the lid, we discovered a medley of fresh seafood in a rich pumpkin broth.  We also scraped the sides of the pumpkin to dislodge some of the cooked, but still firm flesh.  Very tasty.

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Can’t go to a Shanghainese restaurant without some Xiao Long Bao!  Very tasty, too, with delicate wrappers.  Really, though, will I ever like any XLB better than those at Din Tai Fung?  On the menu, these are rather cutely described as “Mouthful Small Steamed Meat Buns”.

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Braised noodles are always a favorite, especially these fried noodles with twice-cooked pork.

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Our final dish were these fried pastries filled with chopped beef and preserved vegetables.  They were kind of like turnovers, with a very flaky crust and a savory filling.

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There was a lot of juice inside and trying to cut them open neatly proved to be a chore.  But this will give you an idea, at least.

Overall, I give Modern China good marks for tasty, reasonably priced Shanghai style food served in a convenient location.  Good enough to be added to my Google Map of Hong Kong.  If you are looking for a break from the Cantonese food while in Hong Kong, head over to Olympian Mall.

 

Would you believe five years alreday?

After more than a year of planning, my move to Bangkok occurred the morning of Sunday, October 30, 2005.  I departed from New York, spending my final two nights in America there.  As with most of my trips, visiting friends and eating food were the main pastimes.  Saturday evening was a 5-course tasting menu at Blue Hill just off Washington Square.  The fantastic menu and wine pairings were a perfect goodbye gift from the land of my birth.

Thankfully, Daylight Saving Time ended at 2:00 Sunday morning, giving me an extra hour’s sleep before having to head out to the airport.  The friend with whom I was staying flagged a taxi while I pulled off a minor logistics miracle and got my three large/heavy suitcases, one heavy trolley bag, and fully-stuffed backpack down three flights of stairs and through the front entry doors.

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A few hours later, I was situated in seat 44D aboard a THAI Airways A340-500 as we rolled down the runway for a more than seventeen hour flight to the capital of Thailand.  Since the flight crossed the International Date Line, it arrived on October 31 at 4:20 pm.  Exactly five years and fifteen minutes ago.  My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

If you’re curious to read all the details of that flight, which has since been discontinued, check out my trip report here on airliners.net. An interesting bit of trivia, that picture above is of the actual flight I was on that day.  Through sheer coincidence, a member of airliners.net was taking pictures at JFK airport that morning and shot my flight.  After reading my trip report, he emailed the pictures to me.

 

Inform Yourself and Rock the Vote

rock-the-vote-18x24rev On Tuesday, November 2, Americans will head to the polls in an important mid-term election. The outcomes of elections have a real impact on us from the national level to the local level. The best electorate is an informed, involved one. Whatever your political leanings, I encourage you to take a look at the following tools to make sure you have the best possible information with which to make your voting decisions.  These links come from OpenCongress, a non-profit and non-partisan public resource, independent from Congress and any political party.

To find who your current senators and representative are, use their zipcode look-up tool.

RaceTracker – See who the candidates are, learn about their positions, and get a snapshot of the fundraising race.  This is a collaborative wiki project, so if you have information about a particular candidate, this is a great place to add your knowledge and share it on a fully-referenced, free and open-source platform.

AdTracker – In the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision allowing outside groups to spend unlimited money on campaign ads, it’s more important than ever that we have transparency in how these ads are affecting the election and exactly how they’re funded.  AdTracker is a wiki project for tracking and watching all the ads in congressional races across the country and providing background info who’s sponsoring them.  It provides a unique view into the advocacy work of low-profile independent political groups.

Voting Records – We typically find out about candidates’ voting records when they are being spun by their competitors, but on OpenCongress it is possible (and easy) to look at the actual vote data yourself.  From your senators’ and representative’s profile pages, click the “Votes” tab and search for any topics you’re interested in.  Looking at the actual data gives you a more accurate picture of how your lawmakers really voted on the issues that matter to you.  To find more votes, check out our one-of-a-kind listing of Hot Bills by Issue Area.

Compare Votes – In this election more than in most, independence from party leadership is considered an especially important trait.  Our head-to-head vote comparison tool gives you a view of party loyalty that you can’t get elsewhere.  Compare the voting records of any two senators or representatives to see how often they vote with their colleagues and on what votes in particular they agree or disagree.

Bill sponsorship – In addition to vote records, it’s important to look at the bills your incumbent candidate has proposed.  From senator and representative profile pages, click the “bills” tab to browse or search all sponsored and co-sponsored bills.  Even more than votes, the bills lawmakers support are indicative of their overall vision and ideology.

Money – Last but not least, take a second to look at your candidates’ campaign funding sources.  Time and again it’s been show that campaign finances are directly related to how members of Congress vote.  Click the “Money Trail” tab on your senators’ and representative’s profile pages to see which industries and special-interest groups have donated to them.  This is who they’ll likely owe favors to if elected to Congress in the next session.

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If you need help finding out where to vote on Nov. 2nd, try this simple tool from Google and the New Organizing Institute. I sincerely hope the resources in this email help you make a satisfying decision at the voting booth.

Source of most of this content: OpenCongress.org

 

Hiking in Hong Kong

Sunday afternoon my host Chris and I went for a hike up to Victoria Peak.  It was a pretty good workout, two hours to cover more than seven kilometers and an elevation gain of, I think, about 300 meters (more than 900 feet).  It was also a chance to get a different point of view on a city that many consider to be a veritable urban jungle.

This is how most people view Hong Kong – tremendously dense and tremendously vertical.  But just a short distance from where I took this picture of an urban landscape, I also shot the picture below.

It could hardly be more different, right?  This hike was a pleasant break from a few days of being surrounded by concrete.  There were so many people hiking on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, enjoying the overcast weather and the temperature that dropped several degrees as we gained elevation.

A lovely waterfall on the back side of Victoria Peak, facing the south side of Hong Kong island.  Amazing, too, how much cooler the weather gets just by getting away from the pavement and concrete.  What a heat sink “civilization” is!

Here’s a map of the route we followed.  If you don’t want to gain quite so much elevation, you can walk the approximately 2-km circuit starting and ending at the Peak visitor center.  It is mostly flat and offers a view from several different angles.

All this hiking not only helped break in a new pair of cross-trainers, it also whetted my appetite for some Shanghainese food, which I’ll write about on Friday!

Dinner Party at Chris and Antony’s House

While in Hong Kong, I stayed with a friend I first met some fifteen years ago, also named Chris.  He and his partner Antony are dear people, just wonderful to visit with.  They also live in a gorgeous flat in the western Mid-Levels.  Trying to be the best guest I could, I let them know that I looked forward to spending time with them but also didn’t want them to feel obligated to bend their schedule around my visit.  One thing Chris insisted I must be a part of was a dinner party they were hosting on Saturday night.

I’m glad I did as it was a lot of fun.  I also got pulled in as sous chef since it was a public holiday and the maid had the day off.  This is fine as I enjoy cooking and the opportunity to let someone else run the show is a good way for me to learn.

First, though, back to the topic of bamboo scaffolding.

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Here’s a view from the guest bedroom.  I noticed that some work was being done on a unit across the street, on about the twentieth story of the building.

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Notice how the bamboo scaffolding seems rather… rickety?  But it seems to be the safest way to get the exterior work done.  I’m curious how it is actually attached to the walls, though.

Okay, back to food…

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Chopping herbs, a combination of cilantro and Italian (wide leaf) parsley.  The little roller device was kind of a mess and I think just using the chef’s knife would have been easier.  Mix all that with a hefty amount of freshly-ground black pepper.

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Slice really good quality tuna into batons about 1 inch (3 cm) square.

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Coat the batons with the herb-pepper mixture.

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Here Chris is doing the coating while I take pictures.  Notice the huge library of cookbooks in the back.

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Sear the tuna in a hot pan for exactly 30 seconds on each side.

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The goal is to have the interior cooked like this, still pink.  These were lovely.

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I’m pressed into service slicing apples and cucumbers into matchsticks which are then soaked in a very lightly salted water bath.  These were served as a light salad to cleanse the palate before the main course.  Very nice idea, although I think it needs some color.  That would add flavor, though, which isn’t the idea.

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Dining room and living room ready for the guests to arrive.  Beautiful, isn’t it?  The antithesis of the style Tawn and I did our home in and I quite like it.  Very modern but still with an Asian undertone.

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Antony did the amuse-bouche, super easy but really complex in flavor.  Toasted whole grain bread circles topped with goat cheese, shredded baked beet root, and a few toasted pine nuts.  Bake in the oven for just a few minutes until the cheese gets soft and creamy.

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The appetizer course.  The tuna batons served with some pieces of fresh mango.  So simple, so good.

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The main course would have benefitted from some advance work as it took almost thirty minutes for the two Chrises to pull this together as the guests chatted.  Slices of salmon with a egg white and soy sauce mixture brushed on the skin side, which is then crusted with toasted sesame seeds and then pan fried.

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The salmon is then served over cold soba noodles with some citrus slices and a small rocket salad.  Very nice and I’ve recreated this at home since returning.  I think this needs to be something that you sear in advance and then maybe finish in a low oven, that way you don’t smell smoky while your guests are here.  I’ll work on that.

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For dessert, little molten chocolate cakes served with vanilla bean ice cream.  A bit rushed as two of the guests had to head to the airport, but very nice nonetheless.

As we neared midnight, fueled by two bottles of champagne and several bottles of wine, the guests became more animated.  One of them who has a history of performing in drag, decided to give us an impromptu runway show set to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”.  Since his identity isn’t clear in the video, I guess it will be safe to share it with you here.

Notice the disco lights.  Would you believe Chris and Antony had these built into their kitchen bar area?  They are hidden under the seating area.  Handy to have at such an event!

 

Seeing Hong Kong Through a Tourist’s Eyes

Hong Kong is one of those cities that, when I visit it, I feel more like an insider than an outsider.  That may be a bit presumptuous of me, but then who is to judge another person’s feelings about these matters?  I lived in Hong Kong for just over three months in 1998-99 and I made it a point to get out and explore with every free moment I had.  Since then, I’ve been back to Hong Kong a dozen times visiting friends and retracing my old stomping grounds.

On this visit, though, I had an opportunity to spend a day seeing the city once again through the eyes of a first-time visitor.  Another American expat who lives in Bangkok timed his first visit to Hong Kong to coincide with mine, and I offered to play tour guide on Friday.

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This is Vic.  If you think he’s cute and would like to date him, let me know!  (Ha ha…)  We started our day at his hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and walked along the harbour front to the Star Ferry terminal, taking the ferry across to Central.  Of all the things you can do and see in Hong Kong, I think the Star Ferry is the best value.  Eight minutes for less than US$1.00 to cross one of the most scenic harbours in the world.

From Central we took our time walking along the elevated pedestrian paths, taking in the significant infrastructure development going on near the waterfront.  In a few years, the entire waterfront from Central to Causeway Bay will be open to pedestrians, a wonderful improvement.  We then continued to the Mid-Levels for a late breakfast at Tsui Wah on Wellington Street.

Afterwards, we walked back downhill and caught a ride on one of the island trams.  These trams are over 100 years old and in addition to providing transportation for nearly one-quarter of a million passengers each day, they are an inexpensive and very effective way to take in life in Hong Kong as you slowly make your way down major thoroughfares and into various neighborhoods.  Some of the sights that caught my eye:

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A serpentine staircase works its way up a steep hillside with the retaining wall painted an interesting checkerboard pattern.

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Bamboo scaffolding, which is much stronger and more flexible than metal scaffolding, perfect for a city that is often buffeted by typhoons.  In fact, one blew ashore a week after I departed.  Despite knowing that the bamboo is much sturdier, I have a hard time reconciling that fact with the flimsy appearance of the structure.

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A colorful side street.  Most buildings in Hong Kong are very drab, painted once in their lifetime and rarely repainted.  This small street, though, had a lot of color going on.

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Our destination was North Point, a neighborhood in the Eastern District of Hong Kong Island.  Primarily a residential and retail area, the island tram terminates in the midst of a crowded market street.  We walked around for a bit, taking in the sights and heading to the waterfront to see the view.

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Among the interesting sights was a truck full of slaughtered pigs.  While I was standing there, this bundle of guts fell to the floor of the truck.  The man kicked them towards the door before picking them up and resecuing them.

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After lunch at Pacific Place mall in Admiralty, we caught the #15 bus to Victoria Peak.  Sure, you can take the Peak Tram to the summit but it is pricey and touristy.  Better to take the inexpensive bus which spends an hour winding its way up the mountains, giving you fantastic views of Happy Valley and other parts of the city.  I was tickled by this construction fence that was built to hide some work being done alongside the road.  Located directly across the street from an international school, the fence has a vista painted on it that is incongruous with the view that lays beyond it.  Just above the fence you can see the end of the Happy Valley Racecourse.

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Atop the Peak we walked a short way away from the masses of tourists and schoolchildren and took some pictures.  It was a hazy day (which are never in short supply here) but managed to get a few good pictures.

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I’m tempted to use this one to replace my current profile photo.  Thoughts?

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After the Peak, I turned Vic loose on the city as I had an appointment with an old friend for dinner in Mongkok.  Above, the chaos that is Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station at about 7pm on a Friday night.  Madness, I tell you!  I shot some video and may get it edited together to share with you.

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After walking for a little bit, Edward decided on a Cantonese restaurant just off Nathan Road.  I didn’t get the name and while the food was good, it wasn’t so good as to recommend you to visit it.  Above, Edward, whom I met when I lived here in Hong Kong.

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Braised eggplant with minced pork, served with bok choy.

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Crispy roast chicken.

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Steamed dumplings.

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Baked rice.

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The meal was fine but the company was definitely better than the food.  Afterwards, we strolled around the neighborhood, remarking how much this part of Kowloon has changed in the past decade.  When I lived here, this area had a lot of red light activity and was always featured in police and gangster movies.  Nowadays, thanks to the clean-up effort brought about by the Langham Place Mall, it is much nicer and the illicit activity has moved a block or two to the west.

We wandered through the wholesale fruit market and over to Olympic MTR Station, another area that is radically different than a decade ago when it was the initial stages of landfill.  This is a city that is always changing.

 

My Most Viewed YouTube Videos

While uploading a video to YouTube the other day, I discovered that I’ve posted 139 videos since March 2006.  That’s a crazy number!  Who knew I was so productive?  I guess that degree in Communication with an emphasis on TV production actually amounted to something.  What was more surprising is that a number of them have received a large number of views.  I thought you might be curious to know what the top ten most viewed videos are.

#1
Rice Harvest in Central Thailand
Views: 18,429

This video is a short one filmed while I was out bicycle riding in Minburi, to the east of Bangkok.  I happened to ride past a paddy where they were harvesting rice with a combine and thought it was interesting.  It seems that several thousand other people thought so, too.

#2
Amphawa Floating Market

Views: 16,474

While I recently posted a short video showing the view from the boats at the Amphawa Floating Market, this video above was the first one I made upon visiting the market.  Kind of a travelogue overview that, despite the low video quality, is well made.

#3
Hong Kong Bus Ride

Views: 15,643

While I think the particular line is no longer in service, I filmed a short video of the twists and turns of one of the buses on Hong Kong Island.  Rather like a roller coaster!

#4
Suvarnabhumi Airport Test Flight Part 1

Views: 10,631

In advance of the new airport’s official opening, I secured a ticket on an inaugural test flight.  This trip actually has three other segments that also were highly viewed: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

#5
Jack’s Traditional Thai House

Views: 10,180

While up in Ayutthaya Province we stopped by the house of a friend’s parents.  It is a traditional Thai house and very pretty, but why it managed to get 10,000+ views is beyond me.

#6
Linger Performance Piece

Views: 9,479

Some performing arts students in Bangkok wrote and produced this performance piece about three female friends and their challenges.  I made a short video from it and it received a lot of views, probably from people searching for videos related to the song “Linger” from The Cranberries.

#7
First Attempt at Making Pasta

Views: 9,142

The popularity of this video doesn’t surprise me.  Who doesn’t want to learn more about making pasta?

#8
Tiger Temple Thailand
Views: 8,131

This temple in Kanchanaburi Province is popular with tourists and controversial among animal rights activists for alleged mistreatment of the tigers.  There were a number of comments that became heated as people threw around accusations.

#9
Macarons Attempt 2

Views: 7,420

Like the attempt at making pasta, there were many people curious about baking macarons.  Lots of helpful advice given, too, some of which contradicted advice give by other commenters.

#10
Erawan Waterfall

Views: 6,244

Thai tourist sites always do well among my videos as people search for images of sites they might go visit.  The Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi Province is very beautiful and well worth a visit.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the videos.  I’ll return to more coverage of my Hong Kong trip tomorrow.