Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I know the secret doorway

Secret doorways. They’re great, aren’t they? Just so secretive. Yet door-like. I found a fantastic one the other week. I think you might be a little jealous.

If you’ve ever been to an Ikea store, you’ll know the format. You wander for miles and miles along a snaking path through the fake living rooms and fake kitchens and fake bathrooms until you finally reach the down escalator to take you to the homeware section, which was where you wanted to be in the beginning because you only wanted to buy some cheap glasses and an industrial-sized bag of tea lights. On your way out you think “I’ll remember how I exited this place so I can bypass all the crap next time”, but with a sinking heart, you realise that Ikea has terrifyingly managed to read your dark thoughts and has only installed an up escalator. Gah! Rumbled!

Well guess what? I managed to find the secret entrance into the Causeway Bay branch of Ikea. And it’s through the doorway in the above picture. Yup – no signs at all. But just walk inside, get in the lift, and go to the basement. Ta daa! However, I would like to pass on this information with a caveat. It is hard to imagine, but you have no idea just how weird it is walking through Ikea backwards, so to speak. To the point where I felt so disconcerted, I almost wished that I had taken the usual lengthy route. It was a bit like being a salmon swimming upstream. But at least I now know the secret. And that is all that matters.

Monday, 9 November 2009

An oven of one’s own*

*With apologies to Virginia Woolf.

So, two months in, I decided to have a housewarming party. Why, you may ask? Well, why not? Of course, it did require some careful planning. As my flat is pretty damn small, and really can’t fit that many people, I decided that while I wanted to invite all my friends here, I was worried that if they all turned up, I’d have to get some of them to hang outside my windows cause there simply isn’t enough floor space. So I came up with two solutions. 1. Have the party on a week night. 2. Send out the invite only a few days beforehand so most people will be booked up already. And it worked a treat!

Of course, limiting the number of guests turned it from a housewarming party into more of a haphazard dinner party. I decided to make some food so that we would have something to soak up the booze. So thought to myself, what can I make that’s easy, feeds a lot of people, and can be cooked in one pot (I only have a one-ring electric hob). Ahh yes – the vegetarian Moroccan cous cous dish.

Well let me tell you now – that’s only easy in Europe. Sourcing the ingredients here was a nightmare. No one sells cous cous, the relevant spices were pricey and a pain in the ass to get hold of, chickpeas aren’t available in all supermarkets and are imported from the States (and called Garbanzo beans – who knew?!), and I couldn’t find courgettes anywhere. So I ventured to my local wet market to have a look at what vegetables they had in stock. Saw some things that looked like courgettes. Held one up to the lady on the stall, and asked “courgette?” She nodded and added something in Cantonese. Hmm. Was she agreeing with me or giving me a price? I picked out another green vegetable that may or may not have been a courgette and repeated my question. And got the same response. Hmm. This technique wasn’t going to work. I had already asked a friend what the Cantonese word was for courgette and she didn’t know. (So she asked her mum…who also didn’t know. Sigh…)

Suddenly I had the solution. I whipped out my camera and started photographing a number of green vegetables that quite frankly all could have been courgettes and then went home and emailed them to the gang, two of whom were able to correctly identify them, and lo, I was able to complete my shopping for the meal. (They’re much paler and larger than the ones you get in Europe, just in case you were wondering after all this hoohah, although perhaps you may have paused for a nap by now).

Managed to make the food successfully (although a ton of it splattered onto the floor – my cooking area is small and the pot I was using was even smaller. Fear not, I didn’t scoop it up and back into the pot…I think…) and everyone turned up – one to two hours late – but I was drinking red wine by this point and wasn’t too bothered.

So as it was now turning into more of a dinner party than a let’s stand around and get drunk party, I decided to dish up the food. In paper bowls. With plastic forks. Ah, the art of fine dining Chez Howe. And once we had all sat down to eat (an amazing accomplishment in itself given that I only have four seats and no one sat on the floor), we decided to indulge in some classic dinner party conversation. Thankfully it wasn’t as boring as some of the ones I have engaged in in London (talking about property and house prices is officially boring, people), although at one point it did slip into the dull Hong Kong Island vs Kowloon debate – see my previous post.

But the highlight of the evening’s conversation was…kitchen ovens. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. Only one guest had an oven. And damn, but the rest of us were jealous. There was even a moment of silence while each of us indulged in our individual fantasies of what we would do if we had an oven of our own – roasting vegetables, cooking a turkey, baking a cake – the possibilities seemed endless…

Maybe I’ll have to write a nice letter to Santa.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Not so Happy Valley

So I decided to explore the cemeteries in Happy Valley in advance of zombie film director Andy Edward’s visit (thought I’d show him the real sites). My HK mates thought that was a weird…presumably because I haven’t yet dragged them around any graveyards as I am wont to do with my UK-based friends.
Anyway, I headed to the ironically named Happy Valley to check out their offerings – all of which were pretty different from each other. The Parsee (or Zoroastrian – y’know, like Freddie Mercury) cemetery was amazingly lush and tropical and fittingly, I was listening to Bali Ha’i on my iPod as I wandered through the foliage.

Next up was the military cemetery which was extremely quiet and austere. And featured this rather imposing grave:

Like many HK cemeteries, it is stepped up a hill, and as I climbed, venturing deeper and deeper into the cemetery, I realised that this could become one of those “in space no one can hear you scream” kind of situations because there was no one around. In fact, I’m not sure there was anyone in the place at all (apart from the dead – boom boom).

However, I brushed the paranoia away and reminded myself of how ridiculously safe HK is and carried on. When I reached the back of the graveyard, I ventured down a dark winding path and was rewarded with an unlocked gate. It led to St Michael’s Catholic cemetery and the most amazing steps I have seen in HK. An India Rubber tree had wrapped its roots around the steps – beautiful.

In this graveyard, I saw two warning signs – one which made me laugh (the Triad one) and one which I ignored (the dengue fever one). Of course I should have paid attention to the history of the area and its significance. Many British soldiers in the early 1800s contracted malaria and died there. So yeah – they still have mozzies. And yeah – they got me – again. Although luckily they appear to be disease-free ones. Well, I’m not dead yet in any case…although you now know some spots in HK where you can dispose of my body.