Handover Day

Today is the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover. Streets are quiet. I saw some demonstrators in black shirts carrying black banners calling back to a leader with a megaphone. They were escorted by a squad of a dozen police (regular gear) in front of the group, and another squad behind. Regular people on the street took pictures with their phones. I’m always surprised that one of the phone photographers always seems to be a young man, scoffing. Anyway, I was amused that the protest went up the escalator over the sky bridge.

I kept going on my morning walk, and strolled past MTR Wanchai Station. It was quiet. I walked down and around Lockhart street where the 24 hour clubs are, and saw bouncers dressed in black, hanging out at 7 am.

I came back through Southorn Stadium, past Wanchai Station again, and it was super quiet. Except there was a young Filipina in a yellow t-shirt talking loudly into her phone in Tagalog. She kept saying “Serado lang sa Wan Chai,” and telling her followers to go to Central. Then I remembered I understood Tagalog.

I am now parked at the boulangerie on the corner in front of my hotel. I ordered a mini croissant with lox and cucumbers. I defaulted to Mando but looked up and I saw the lady’s name tag said “Rosario.” I asked her “kabaybayan pi ba kayo?” And she answered “oo” very discreetly, like, don’t make a big deal about it.

Are there going to be demonstrations today? Yes. Is there going to be trouble? Sure, there are going to be radicals at the front who will want to f.s.u. From what I’ve heard from my friends, most people will join the march. Our host school has a diplomatic “no comment” about the demonstrations.

Update: both WanChai and Admiralty stations are closed. My friend reports there are clashes at the exhibition center. It’s raining too hard for me to be out right now. I might get a baguette and some cheese and go back to my room.

Filipino Day Off (HK Days 5, 6)

Day 5: Breakfast and Lantau Island

I managed to order breakfast in Cantonese but I got surprise spam in my fried egg noodles.  Met the kids at MRT Tung Chung station and bussed to Big Buddha.  Some people hiked; sat and ate snacks.

Later, bussed to Tai O fishing village and had a photo sesh and then more snacks. Bussed back to MRT Tung Chung and bought sandals to replace my bad chanclas.

Day 5: Chinese Banquet

I loved this but it was mostly lost on the kids. We should make banquet optional if the kids don’t really want to be there. Same food as in Seattle Chinatown, higher quality. Hong Kong people are much more precious about food than we are in Chinatown, however, they have no qualms about flipping a fish. I was like, no.

Day 6: Filipino Day Off

Woke up early, had my egg sandwich and coffee, and then tried to walk to mass.  There are a lot of churches and chapels around, and I thought I was going to find all the OFWs. I saw them setting up all over Central but they were decidedly not at the cathedral for mass. I attended a Cantonese mass. Some cultural differences: they bow at the sign of peace. They dip the host into a tipped chalice, like a sawsawan.  They bow deeply after the mass is ended, i.e, “thanks be to God.”

I cabbed back to Wan Chai and suggested a cab to Beijing Garden restaurant in Moko way over by Mon Kok East. Had to turn the cab around when I forgot my bag. Met R and his wife and son at Beijing Garden and ate very well. Then went to a foot massage place that they recommended, it felt great. I was surprised that I could understand everyone, and then realized they were speaking Mando. Went on to see the new Spiderman movie and then MTR back to Wan Chai, stopping for shrimp and mushroom wonton noodles before calling it a night in the hotel room.

Wan Chai Breakfast Discovery (HK Day 4)

img_3794Good morning from the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. It’s day four of our exchange.

This morning the group doesn’t meet until 9:30 but I was up at 5am as usual and out the door by 6am.  I went to the local breakfast place I saw yesterday, telling myself I must order noodles for breakfast.

Well I stood there reading the menu for a long time and didn’t see noodles, so I just ordered an egg sandwich and coffee.  A lady sat down next to me and as soon as my food came, her food came too:  FRIED EGG NOODLE SOUP.  I looked up and two other men were eating noodle soup for breakfast a well. They all know my face now, so I’ll just ask for it.

My Cantonese is so bad.  I know I can ask for things in Mando but I feel gross about it.  I’m currently paying for breakfast but repeating the total they tell me in canto, and then digging for all the coins in my pocket and letting them pick out the right amount.  My fried egg sandwich and coffee this morning was 27, so now I know how to say “twenty seven.”

Later I went for a walk and bought some curry fish balls, by pointing.  Again, I paid by laying out my coins, but I didn’t learn the number.

Then I bought shaving cream and came back to the room and did laundry, and hung up my clothes to dry in the shower using a tension rod I bought at the hardware store last night. So far it’s staying up.

I’m going to shave now and then find get a macchiato at the espresso bar downstairs.  We’ll see how that goes.  More later.



Hong Kong Exchange

So I’m in Hong Kong now, up in my hotel room, exhausted.

A few days ago, back in Joshua Tree, I bit it while up at Keys View, and I reported that I jammed my finger. I now know that during my fall, a bunch of material actually jammed itself up under my cuticle, and has been there for the last 72 hours. I realized it tonight at dinner that here was stuff jammed up under my cuticle, and it was causing the painful swelling.  My dining companions encouraged me to take a toothpick and dig out the material right there at the table, before we ate, and it turns out that there was enough material up there to fill a dumpster.  I think it’s out now, and my finger feels relieved.

So Mr. T gave me a ride to the airport, where I met a student. We flew to Seattle and my sister H picked us up. We met up with a second student and his family at the Waterfront and had dinner at the salmon cooker.  Went to ice cream, hung out at my sister’s house. Finally back to the airport to start our odyssey.

It was 13 hours on Cathay Pacific. We arrived at HKG at 5am. We took a rented coach to the school, Wah Yan College, a Jesuit high school.  I was struck by how overtly Jesuit it is.  There was a tour of the school and a tour of the neighborhood. Our WYC counterparts took the other teacher and I to lunch, and then I checked into the hotel and got situated. There was a long rain shower, and when that died down I went into the streets and bought an umbrella and snacks. Got lost. Ate at the Lili’s/Potsticker King.

This morning I got up early and had egg toast on Hennessy Road and also found a lady that sold bean curd skin stuffed with shrimp. I walked back up to WYC which is on the top of a hill, and the hill is a killer walk; exhausting. It puts Seattle Prep’s Jesuit Hill to shame.

Today at school there was an awards assembly, a calligraphy lesson, a Mandarin Chinese lesson. Had lunch at a Chaozhou Noodle place. There was an MTR adventure to the Ladies Market in Kowloon, a walk to some shopping area, and the Avenue of the Stars.  Later we took a Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island and walked our way back to Wan Chai, stopping for dinner at some “Little Kitchen” whose name I can’t read:  炒油菜, fish with broccoli.

Last Chance: Joshua Tree

Today:  Joshua Tree National Park, Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center. Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum–Noah Purifoy Foundation, Pioneertown

National Parks are America’s Best Idea. I’ve been in living in the shadow of Joshua Tree for three years, and only now, one of my last Saturdays in California, did I go. This morning I was mad at my white friends for not having taken me. They all went years ago; one of them had a year-long pass! Why did they never take me?  I’ve been thinking about it all day. I took them to all kinds of Asian things that they would never have done without me…

Later, I remembered we were often slammed on the weekends, and that I always bolted to do Asian things. I can’t blame them that they also bolted to do their fun white people things–which they just consider normal and obvious, not culturally specific. It was really my job to ask to go with them, which I finally started doing this spring. Some people said no, but thankfully Mr. T said yes.

And we had a great time; we learned a lot about those big boulder rock formations, that Joshua trees are a kind of yucca, that cholla cactus create a sea of pain.  That the desert floor is like the ocean floor, and we are the shrimp. We saw wood rats, jack rabbits, both black and white lizards. We stopped all the information exhibits we could and learned about the woodrats’ cocaine habits.

Up at Keys View, there were gale force winds, and Mr. T lost the map when the wind blew it out of his back pocket and returned it to the park.  I temporarily got internet up there and had to deal with some nervous travelers and their parents (we go to Hong Kong tomorrow).  On the walk down from the view point, I bit it! I tripped and fell one direction, shifted my weight to recover and ended up falling the other direction, skinned my knee, scratched my glasses, and jammed the tip of my index finger.

Later, we saw a fancy man in get out of his BMW and ask us if there were bees, as the sign suggested. We said no, but sternly warned him about the wind.

Later still, at the other end of the park, bees swarmed all the cars in the parking lot, including mine.  When we approached the car, bees would come after us. Mr. T got in the car quickly and fearlessly, and I had to swallow my fear and just walk into the swarm of attacking bees. Miraculously I got into the car unscathed, and closed the door without trapping any bees inside the car.

Joshua Tree was great. Asian people, it’s ok to go alone, I saw plenty of Asian tourists, black folks, and latino families up there, along with European tourists. You can stick to the road, you can picnic, you don’t have to hike like the white people. If we can’t do it together, we can still do it, we’ll just do it differently.

Sunrise from my front door in Palm Desert.  Got up early to get gas and pack the cooler.

#AsianSquatBombs at Quail Springs.

Mr. T at Quail Springs.

Quail Springs

Intersection Rock #AsianSquatBombs

Keys View

Keys View, Coachella Valley below.

Keys View, selfie

Keys View, pano.

Keys View, hero pose

Mr. T, Keys View

Keys View, selfie with gale force winds. 

Hall of Horrors, “Snake City,” #AsianSquatBombs

Hall of Horrors, pano

Hall of Horrors, lizard

Hall of Horrors, lizard (2) 

Skull rock

This was some random geology exhibit at the side of the road. 

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden, elote, #AsianSquatBomb

Cholla Cactus Garden, more like a forest

Cholla Cactus Garden Selfie

Falafel plate, Palm Kabab House, 29 Palms

Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum (Noah Purifoy Foundation). 

Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum (Noah Purifoy Foundation). 

Mr. T in jail, Pioneertown

Street scene, Pioneertown

Pappy & Harriets, Pioneertown selfie. 




My California Accomplishments

T and I are planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park tomorrow. I’ve driven through the town dozens of times on my way to Las Vegas but it never occurred to me to actually go visit until very recently.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “bucket lists,” ever since many of my friends and I decided we were leaving Southern California. It was obvious to me that white folks have different goals in the Desert than other ethnicities, but I’ve found myself having to explain the concept to several people, since we all have our perspectives and our blind spots.

The big three sites to see that were most obvious according to my white friends: Salvation Mountain (I went a few weeks ago), Idyllwild (I went two months ago), and Joshua Tree National Park. I had assumed I wasn’t going to make it to JTNP because nobody seemed interested in going with me; luckily T stepped up and we’re both pretty stoked. I might never have gone to any these places on my own.

So I was asking the lovely A for tips about JTNP, and I found myself feeling like I had to explain to her why it’s cultural that I didn’t go. She grew up as a hiker, and feels she needs to go, alone sometimes, it’s an itch she gets occasionally.

Filipinos don’t really hike, culturally speaking. Of course many Filipinos probably do love hiking, but none of them will say that it’s their cultural heritage to hike. No, our cultural heritage is to picnic. I guarantee that if you told a Filipino person you were going to go on a hike, the first and most important question that a Filipino would ask you is, “Ha?! What will you eat there?!

So no, hiking and discovering nature did not ever occur to me in my four years in the desert.

So now, the mistake that some white folks make upon reading that statement above, is that they think I did nothing. They think I stayed home and watched TV.  They think I plugged into my alcove and stopped existing. They think I do not have a sense of discovery.

Let’s review: some karaoke-phobic people, people who aren’t comfortable with chopsticks, who can’t tell a nopal from a saguaro, some people who are afraid to eat any Japanese food because they think it’s all raw fish, they think I don’t have a sense of discovery about the world.

Asian life.  I tell people that I drive out to Asian supermarket during the weekend, and that doesn’t really spark their imagination. What they don’t understand is that I’ve been to Asian supermarkets in LA County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, and San Diego County.  I can tell you which ones have tanks of live seafood, which ones have great delis for kimchi, which ones have the vegetables that white people don’t know about.  I can tell you which Asian groceries in LA are easy to park at. I have a devastatingly complete mental map of Asian supermarkets in Southern California. You think I’m kidding.

After a year of being here, someone asked me if I knew about the Asian market in Cathedral City. “Did you know there’s an Asian market over on…. Date Palm….?”

I was like, “You mean Fil-Am Oriental Market?  Yes I know about them, they are from Agoo, La Union. They are nice but the food at their steam table is a little greasy. They gave me a recommendation on a barber.”

That person that was trying to be helpful in suggesting that place. I didn’t let on that I was actually annoyed.  Did they think I didn’t find that place in my first week in the desert? Yah, I don’t need any help being Asian, thank you. Did you think I lacked a sense of discovery about the world?

I happen to know there are 14 Daisos in LA County, 14 in Orange County, one in San Bernardino County, and four in San Diego County.  I’ve done several Daiso introductions to my white friends, they have all lost their minds in there. How have they never been to Daiso?! They must not have a sense of discovery about the world.

Beaches. I’ve been to nearly every beach from Santa Barbara to Rosarito, Baja California, México. I know some people who have lived in Southern California for as long as I have that never made it to Mexico at all.  They must not have a sense of discovery about the world. I think my favorite of all was Aliso Beach, in terms of the beach itself, the parking, the food options around it.

Mexican culture. First of all, Mexican birthday parties. I know some people who lived here as long as I have and didn’t make it to a single Mexican birthday party.  Little kids, turning one, or five, or seven. Or forty.  It’s not like an American birthday party.  When you walk into a Mexican backyard birthday party, there are minimum three events going on simultaneously. I’ve seen bouncy castles, clowns, comedy, mariachi, taco carts. Every twenty minutes there’s a new event: cake, candy bags, musical chairs, scavenger hunts, face painting, prayer, a formal toast, gelatina, popsicles, someone showing up with dates, piñata… I usually only stay for a couple hours, not long enough to get drunk and embarrass myself. My friends the hosts always seem so gracious, busy running the show but also very much at ease; it’s a Mexican superpower. I tried to never miss a Mexican birthday party, and I exhorted my friends to go to at least one while they were here. Sense of discovery.

Second: Mexican food. I stopped eating meat a few years ago, but eating cheese enchiladas has taught me something about the Mexican cuisines of this region.

In LA, there are restaurants from Oaxaca, CDMX, and of course Tijuana. There’s an overall norteño feel, and chile rojo is more soulful, deeper, darker, than anything that I ate in Seattle.

In the desert, enchiladas verdes are more interesting; spicier and more vibrant. The signature regional dish is chiles gueritos rellenos de camarón, which are served with soy sauce of all things, which makes me recall the Chinese population in Mexicali.

There is as much bad Mexican food in Southern California as there is in Seattle. There are good places, but it’s not always easy to find them; it takes a lot of research. Asking Mexican American friends for their recommendations is not always productive; mostly because they eat Mexican food at home and have no reason to eat it in a restaurant.  On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten bad recommendations from a Mexican American friend because they liked the drinks; when I tell the the food was bad, they say, “well yes of course the food is bad. Don’t eat the food, make good food at home.”

I also think I have a rather complete mental map of the frozen yogurt shops that serve no-sugar-added frozen yogurt.  I know all the places in the desert that serve falafel–the best by far was the now closed Aladdin Deli, the only place I ever Yelp reviewed.  I even know where to go in Southern California to find a juicy roast chicken, despite being a pescatarian.

So no, I didn’t prioritize all the places that my white friends do.  I never saw Frank Sinatra’s grave, I never played golf or tennis, I barely went to the pool. I did, however, discover a lot of things, some of the things long-time desert residents don’t know about. I’ll never forget the time I had to explain the difference between a nopal and a seguaro to a gentlemen who has been in this community for years… where was his sense of discovery?

That said, I do have some regrets.  I didn’t go to karaoke enough. I failed to take my friend to casino bingo. I didn’t go to the Thousand Palms Oasis, or sit in a hot springs.  I didn’t go to Smitty’s Famous Fish and Chicken, or the Broad.  Maybe I’ll still have time to do these things next month before I move.  Tomorrow:  Joshua Tree National Park.



Fish in parchment

I taught my mama how to cook fish in parchment a little while ago, and it blew her mind; this is her main way of cooking meaty fish now.  Of course, for bangus she sticks to pan roasting.

Anyway, “fish in parchment” is not an appetizing name. In French, it’s en papillote, in Italian it’s in cartoccio; in Spanish I’d probably say en paquete; all of these languages refer to the pouch. In English we refer to the paper apparently. Also, in a pinch you can use aluminium foil; I did that once on the beach in Kauai with some tuna. I try to avoid aluminium just in case it causes some Alzheimer’s. Also, some people refer to cooking in aluminium pouches as “hobo packets,” which is demeaning.

So rip out a big piece of parchment. The fancy people fold it in half and cut it into a cartoid, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Lay down a little olive oil, or not. Put down some solid vegetables, like thin sliced potatoes or onions or whatever. Put the fish on top of that, salt and pepper, olive oil if you want; do whatever, it’s your packet. Top with herbs, crushed garlic, and thin sliced chiles. If you have a green veg, put it beside the fish. Or whatever; it’s all going to work.

You can get a little technique-y if you want when you fold it all shut.  I just start at one end and twist it up along the seam so that no steam will come out.  As you can see, I didn’t leave a lot of space for air. Your French culinary teacher will probably say to leave more room for air to puff up. Do what makes you happy; just make sure it’s folded or twisted up hard, so that the steam won’t explode your seam.  

At cooking school they will tell you to put it on a baking sheet and bake it off at 400º or 450º for 15 minutes. Of course I don’t do that, I just put it in a dry cast iron skillet and put the lid on, who cares; medium flame or whatever.  Somewhere after between 12 to 15 min, you’ll smell cooked fish, and you know it’s probably done, so you can turn it off and let it rest for a bit. Then spatula it onto a plate and let your guests tear into the paper at the table. The point is to give yourself a facial in the steam that escapes when your rip it open, and if your guests don’t ooh and ahh when they tear the hot packet open, drop them from your lives. People that pray until the food is cold are themselves a curse.  People that find other things to do once the hot food has hit the table are too stupid to eat this, send them to Burger King with a bus ticket. Idiots.

So I served mine with fried mushrooms and some jicama that I chopped up a week ago. This meal is ketogenic, even though I’m not.

If you’re grilling on the beach in Kauai, you can put these packets right on the grill, or on top of a sheet of foil.  I think I got impatient and put the foil right on top of the cooling coals.

If your fish is undercooked, cook it longer the next time. If your veggies are undercooked, chop them smaller the next time. Make stuff small enough to steam in the same amount of time that it takes fish to smell cooked. As long as you got a hard seal, this technique is going to work.