Winter in Hong Kong, and China in general, means one thing: hot-pot!
And what with the chilly temperatures hitting Hong Kong recently, dangerous lows of 5 degrees coupled with 100% humidity, it took until our 4th restaurant to get a table last weekend. Now, eating hot-pot is an experience. And like many other experiences, like bungee jumping or a night out in Kirkcaldy, it’s not always the most enjoyable couple of hours. The basic idea is to boil a mind-boggling variety of meat and vegetables in a pot of boiling stock. Here’s a small snapshot of what I had:
A selection ranging from shrimps, rashers of pork and lamb, corn, chicken wings and tofu, to frog, intestines, stomach and fish air-sacs (the things that look like inflated condoms in the right-hand picture – you have to pop them before cooking…) There are also fish and beef balls (balls made from fish and beef, not what you’re thinking) and, yes, that is a fish’s head. Unfortunately, I have no idea what those yellow tubes in the red basket were, but they tasted alright.
The problem I have with hot-pot is not the taste, although everything does merge and bubble together so that finally it all tastes the same. Nor is it the ingredients. I’m not a fussy, squeamish eater, really. It’s more the thought of adding a dripping, bloody chicken wing to cook alongside some broccoli. And the scum that inevitably floats to the surface, adding an air of dishwater to the scene. Still, it is an experience. And it does warm you up. Which is probably the point.
I woke up this morning and foggily reached for my phone. Nothing more than a lazy Sunday morning beckoned. How wrong I was. I bolted upright upon discovering that, during the night, a ‘Cold Weather Warning’ had been issued by the Hong Kong Observatory. How can one enjoy one’s weekend with THAT hanging ominously above one’s head?
Eagle-eyed readers will notice, though, that the temperatures as I write this sit at 15 degrees celcius. Across vast swathes of the world, 15℃ is a ‘nice day’. In the north-east of England, where I used to live, 15℃ is ‘T-Shirt Only’ weather (a sort of unofficial Weather Warning) and the wearing of jumpers, or even of a light cardigan, will cast doubts over your moral fibre.
What, then, is a ‘Cold Weather Warning’? Well:
My favourite part is the pleading ‘If you must go out (in 15℃!!), please avoid prolonged exposure to wintry winds’, which suggests that the HK Observatory is actually run by a group of over-fussing grandmas. People in the UK, ‘Daily Mail’ readers and the like, complain of a ‘nanny state’. What would they make of this? Surely people who need gentle reminders to not ‘light fires indoors’ (bearing in mind that no house in Hong Kong has a fireplace) shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.
The worst part of all this, however, is that later this week, as temperatures dip to a bitter 9 degrees, I will moan that it’s too cold. It’s all relative. I, a Scot, have been here two years and have gone soft.
A couple of weeks ago I was nominated for a Liebster Award, very kindly, by thisgirlabroad. My blog is one of, and I quote, ‘amusing stories’ and ‘photos’. Which is the best summary any one could give my efforts. It’s fair to say I haven’t felt as proud since I won a colouring-in competition aged 5.
The Liebster is an award for lesser-known blogs: sites that may not have much clout or presence in the grand scheme of the internet, but that brighten up the days of those who stumble across them. As a nominee, I had to answer these ten teasers:
1. What made you choose the life of an expat and/or traveler?
Ouch. Tough opening question. Let’s try some generic responses: I didn’t choose this life, it chose me… I left home to find myself and, well, I’m still looking… Truth is, the majority of Hong Kong expats are a world away from the stereotypical traveler – they’re here to work, earn money, live in their Pret a Manger world. I’ve tried to delve a little deeper in to the local culture but it can be tempting to retreat into the expat bubble.
2. What country have you enjoyed playing tourist in the most?
Hmm… Maybe Italy. Because it’s Italy. Or maybe a country where a Westerner walking down the street attracts honks, refrains of songs by the Carpenters, requests for photos or simply just bug-eyed stares. China, Thailand, Japan – thank you. You made me feel like a star.
3. What country would you never want to step foot in again?
There truly isn’t a country I wouldn’t go back to BUT to return to China and Vietnam will require some proper mental preparation. Not that they’re terrible places; they’re just the sort of places where, every five minutes, you have to take a deep breath and count to ten.
4. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who was thinking about expatriating, what would it be?
Try, in some small way, to connect with the local people and culture. I have met too many people who happily (dare I say proudly…) admit that they don’t know how to say ‘Thank you’ in the local language after 5 years.
5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Jesus, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in five minutes. In five years? Well, I might still be in Hong Kong. Or I might have moved back to the UK. Or I might be living in another country. Or I might have invented a mosquito repellent that actually works, even for pasty, ginger people, and be impossibly rich and own my own island, or even archipelago.
6. In your opinion, what country has the best food? Favourite dish?
I would love to be able to choose something odd (snake’s blood, monkey brain…) but I’m a bit squeamish and I’ll have to keep it simple. Thai or Italian? Italian or Thai? If Thai, then creamy, curry Kao Soi noodle soup. If Italian, then Pasta alla Norma in Sicily. But wait, what’s this, Japanese curry coming up on the inside lane? A late contender? I can’t decide.
7. Most embarrassing travel moment?
Being completely unable to control my bowels in a busy hospital waiting room in Thailand. Before that I’d always been skeptical of the phrase ‘Oooh, it were coming out both ends…’ Surely that doesn’t really happen. Not simultaneously. But it does. It does.
8. Why did you start blogging?
When I saw what pass for ‘English’ names in Hong Kong (hello ‘Vodka’…) and felt compelled to share it with the world. Turns out lots of people got there before me. Also, I love writing, and a 500 word blog post is just much more manageable than a novel.
9. What do you most miss from “home”?
Undoubtedly, football matches that don’t kick off in the middle of the night.
10. Post one of your favourite travel shots. (Not really a question, but I’m going to break the rules).
It’s sunrise from the deck of a ferry, with the coast of Sicily in the distance. It sums up the travelling experience: go to Italy, land of Roman ruins and the Renaissance, yet the most beautiful scene actually appears at 5.30 am when you’re in a foul mood through lack of sleep.
So, here are my 10 nominations:
http://eastraveller.wordpress.com/ – Blog on Middle Eastern living.
http://criskiwy.wordpress.com/ – Wide ranging travel blog – nice pics!
http://brittanyhite.wordpress.com/ – Covering Hong Kong, and Asia, and beyond.
http://hongkongblong.com/ – Funny observations on life in HK.
http://spacebetweenideas.blogspot.hk/ – A genuinely useful blog on living in Hong Kong, with lists and all.
http://awordfromjapan.wordpress.com/ – Japan, and some other bits and pieces in between.
http://www.mexicaninscotland.com/ – A nice blog from my home country.
http://ebostick1212.wordpress.com/ – Representing Spain (a country I once thought about decamping to) and beyond.
http://florenceforfree.wordpress.com/ – A lovely blog from my favourite city in Italy.
http://lanivcox.wordpress.com/ – Finally, to Thailand, where I lived, once.
And here are the 10 questions that my nominees must answer. Some are travel related; some aren’t, but will reveal a lot about your inner workings:
1. Bungee Jumping? Yes or No?
2. Favourite city? Why?
3. Favourite country? Why?
4. Least favourite place to visit?
5. Dogs or Cats?
6. Hot, sultry weather or shivery, cold weather?
7. What language(s) would like to learn?
8. Best mode of transport upon which to travel?
9. One next place to visit/food to eat/thing to try before you die?
10. Favourite travel picture?