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Monday, December 31, 2012

From There and Then To Here And Now: 2012


Dubai:  Castles on the Cloud
Photograph taken from our Fairways apartment by Weng Ho

To paraphrase Mexican songwriter María Méndez Grever (María Grever), what a difference a year makes. 

So this time last year, I was in Dubai, my home of four years, in which I saw a city grow with mad abandon, deny reality, sputter and stall, and then gingerly pick itself up with untold bailout funds from the Capital.  It was a heady time to be in the Gulf and be right in the thick of, or at least, a witness to, some of the region's more implausible wheelings and dealings.  But it was time to move on.   I was consolidating my earthly belongings - all expertly packed by professional movers into 40-something boxes - to start a new job with another luxury hotel group, in a city I've always wanted to live in since, well, forever - Hong Kong.

And what has happened in the past 12 months? 
Well, here are the bulleted highlights:
  • Started this little blog.
  • Moved into Happy Valley.
  • Created my first meme.
  • Started hiking.
  • Re-commenced surfing.
  • Gained five pounds.
  • Lost eight pounds.
  • Dog turned 11.
  • Dog got really sick.  Wasn't eating for five straight days.  Couldn't even stand up.  Spent an astronomical HKD17,000 on two substandard but well-meaning vets who threw every expensive medication and test her way. Found out later that the dog had eaten a piece of rawhide, couldn't digest it, and finally got better when she pooped it out in her own time.
  • Travelled to new cities: Ningbo (work,) Manila (work,) Kota Kinabalu (vacay) and Shenzhen (curiosity.)
  • Had my first Shanghai pedicure.
  • Lost a boss in March.
  • Gained a new boss in August.
  • Survived my first Typhoon 10
  • Made a new BFF.
  • Had a Starbucks chai green tea latte obsession for a month.
  • Interviewed by eight different people over three months and was in a shortlist of two for a regional Starbucks job that didn't eventually go to me.
  • Lost all interest in Starbucks products.
  • Reconnected with old highschool friends from KL, all of whom look annoyingly very much like how they used to decades ago: yes, I'm talking 'bout you - Cheng-Yi, Bhavani, Salina, Chick, Suraya.
  • Got my first Burberry trench.
  • Finally claimed my name on my Twitter account.
  • Ferried to Macau twice.
  • Flew to Singapore for a record four times.
  • Celebrated when Evelyn got married to a lovely Ducati-riding, chocolate-loving marathon hiker banker.
  • Binge-watched entire latest seasons (usually in one or two retina-glazing couch seatings) of Breaking Bad, Dexter, True Blood, Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, The Walking Dead, Damages, The Vampire Diaries, Revenge, The Killing, Pretty Little Liars, Desperate Housewives, Ringer, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Throne of Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Survivor, Gossip Girl, The Newsroom, Parenthood, Homeland.
  • Discovered existence of buttery baked pork buns.
  • My goddaughter turned four and I was there for the party.
  • Vacationed in Adelaide and the South Australian wine region for two weeks.
  • Contracted the dreaded 100-day cough. Again.
  • Started a Pinterest account.
  • Won HKD180 on my first ever bet at Happy Valley Racecourse.
  • Quit my job and got a new one.
  • Welcomed a bumper crop of visitors to Hong Kong - more in 12 months than I'd ever had in four years in the desert (and I wonder why.) So hello and howdy: Susanne, Des, Gerry, Lisa, Seema, Stefano, Suraya, Mom, Dad, Vic, Antony, Kate, Johnny, Joe, Tony, Tina, Jason, Anton, Liviu, Chris, Sarah, Lily, Vincent, and Marion - y'all come back soon now, y'hear? 
That's it in an abbreviated nutshell. 
All glibness aside,
I'm truly grateful everyday for what I'm lucky to have in my life:
family
friends
health
love
laughs
some common sense
a good life
good times
I wish you all of these and so much more.
Happy 2013.
The ceaseless churning, screeching, lurching, roar, movements and lights of Causeway Bay.
One of my favourite Hong Kong photos by Weng Ho
 
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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bite-Size Review: A Hereford Beefstouw in Adelaide

I loved dining in Adelaide. Especially during that kooky shoulder season where the Weather Gods are dithering over whether to retreat back to the acrid, UV-overkill springtime chill or hurtle forward to the acrid, UV-overkill summer scorchers. The results of this cosmic ambivalence are these climatically gorgeous 20-something-degrees-Centigrade days where one gets to dine alfresco - morning, noon and night - under bright, sunny, clear skies.   It was on one such evening when I was hankering for a good steak that my cousin introduced me to the wonderful A Hereford Beefstouw that had opened in Adelaide just a little over a year ago.  

With its origins as a renowned Danish steakhouse and outlets in cool sounding 'burbs such as Kastrup, Aarhus, and Skive, this relatively new joint on Hutt Street (aside: there also used to be an HB at Terminal One of Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok International Airport - it's now closed - and another in, of all places, Nuuk, Greenland - double aside: would love to meet the franchise development team that signed those up) has its provenance, or at least its Hereford beef supply, from South Australia.  So the local thinking is since these prized cuts are already being enjoyed by carnivorous gourmands halfway around the world, it just made good business sense to give South Ozzies their own taste of what the big fuss over their beef in Europe's all about.

Here's some of the highlights of our dinner: 

The 250g dry-aged sirloin, medium rare.
The oven-baked, lightly seasoned Hervey Bay scallops
My 300g ribeye, also medium rare
Something to offset all that red meat.
Formerly the Women’s Christian Temperance Union building,
now the site for excellent cuts and wines. 
The Adelaide menu, which features at least 10 cuts of beef.
A Hereford Beefstouw - 143 Hutt Street, Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia Telephone +618 8232 6868
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Friday, December 28, 2012

Bite-Size Review: Louca's Seafood Grill

My cousin Evelyn's kids love fish and chips.  Just love them. Adore them. Crave them. Fanatical about them. Would eat them pretty much daily, if permitted, and sometimes they are. For breakfast (well, the fried fish part, at least, which then makes it ok.) So when during a recent holiday to my coz's home turf in Adelaide, and she suggested we dine at her kids' favourite neighbourhood fish and chips place that was within walking distance from her house, I braced myself to schlep to some greasy takeaway joint - you know, the type that wraps your order in newsprint, stinks of stale deep-fried batter and cheap vinegar, plastered wall-to-wall with faux vintage posters of haddock and plaice, and posits a generous supply of smeary ketchup packets in a plastic tray by the door.

The reality couldn't have been any more different.
First off, the restaurant - yes, for that is what it is - a proper restaurant - is delightfully homey, modern and as befitting its corner location, filled with natural light.  There was not a whiff of weeks-old Canola wafting from the open kitchen, and I suddently felt a bit underdressed in my Uniqlo tartan tunic, tights and FitFlop sneakers.  Luckily, the amiable owners Peter and Caroline Louca overlooked my sartorial faux pas, welcomed us warmly and proceeded to fuss over my four-year old goddaughter Annabel, as most people are wont to do. 
 
And then, came the food.
Our server Angela gamely setting down our ginormous surf and turf platter.
Aside from the ubiquitous battered fish and flat-cut chips for Annabel, we'd ambitiously ordered the massive surf and turf platter (picture, above) consisting of char grilled skewered prawns, scallops, octopus, calamari, soft shell crab, lamb, chicken and garfish that seemed to envelop our table top.   This magnificent bounty came with a side order of Greek salad (picture, below) with just the right servings of feta cheese (not really my favourite) and olives (a recently acquired taste.)  Oh, and more fries than my carb-deprived appetite can handle.  Now, from past experiences, I was initially concerned that the seafood would be, well, too carcinogenic (aka burnt to blackened crisps,) but they, especially the calamari and giant prawns, were char-grilled to perfection.  And that chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio that accompanied the dinner was especially spot-on.  So much so that from now on, I'll keep my preconceived judgemental stereotypes about fish-and-chippy joints to myself, especially when I head down to Adelaide again.
Our Greek Salad
Standing at the corner of Hutt and Gilles streets; enroute to dinner. 
Louca's Seafood Grill is on the right side of the photo.
Louca's Seafood Grill - 1/242 Hutt Street  Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia.  Telephone +618 8232 6792
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Surfing in Hong Kong


It's been awhile since I bade a farewell aloha to Hawaii and its perpetual rainbows, flower leis and awesome waves, and so I decided to scratch my seven-year surfing itch in, of all places, Hong Kong.  Thankfully, ye gods of Google came to the rescue which was how I found out about this little outfit called Surf Hong Kong that runs classes out of Sai Wan Ho beach (picture below.)

Now I was so determined to hit the waves again that I didn't really pay that much attention to Surf Hong Kong's online map that detailed precisely how to get there.  Everywhere's just 15 to 20 minutes away from everywhere else in Hong Kong, I thought, so I didn't take into account the travelling time preceding my 2 p.m. surfing lesson appointment with the affable Kevin of Surf Hong Kong.  Biiiiiig mistake.    

It turned out that from my home in Happy Valley to the seaside fishing village of Sai Kung took about 45 minutes on the subway and a bus; from there, it was a 10-minute wait for a private mini bus to shuttle me for 15 minutes to the entrance of Sai Kung West Country Park, wherupon I had to grit my teeth, gird my loins and hike an additional 30 minutes to what the website blithely states "is about as far East in Hong Kong as you can get," at the end of which is Sai Wan Ho beach.  So yes, you can say I'd underestimated my journey's schedule and was just a wee bit late for my lesson.

Aside from the large number of sleeping stray dogs along the path, the above ramshackle bar was what first caught my eye when I got to the village clearing.  I turned around - there are perhaps only five or six small single storey buildings adjacent to this beach bar - and saw Surf Hong Kong's "office" not 10 meters away (picture, below.)  Since I was tardy for my lesson, Kevin had left me a helpful note on his whiteboard.
I was initially worried I couldn't find him as instructed, but I walked out another 30 steps or so to the "second" bay, and there he was, catching some baby waves with his pal.
That day, the water was still warm - so no need for the heavy-duty wetsuits - a light rash guard was fine - and the waves were maybe three to five feet at the most.  Perfect for my rusty, surf-deprived self.  Due to the fact that it was a weekday, a tad cloudy and somewhat off-season, Kevin and I had the entire bay - and set after set of rolling waves - all to ourselves.  It was truly worth that long, drawn out journey there.

Me on the tail end of a ride in.
View from the country park
But I have to say, getting there was only half the work. 

Leaving is a whole different ballgame, not least because it was a brutal, cramp-inducing, 40-minute mostly uphill slog back up the mountain, all the more uncomfortable in damp, somewhat drippy clothes, done in rapid fire time just to catch the last shuttle bus out of the country park that would take me back to the relative civilization of Sai Kung.  The alternative would be to call for a cab that's willing to get all the way out there to the boonies, and that's on the off-chance that the cellphone reception is even working.  But after the gnashing of teeth over the extremely inconvenient location of this sweet surfing spot has passed, I know I will be back there to ride the waves again.  Of course I will....no doubt about that.  Only next time, I'll have with me an extra set of dry clothes, songs loaded on the iPod, and lots more hours on the clock to hang, to chill, to be.

Surf Hong Kong
Telephone +852 5410 5015
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I Do Hear The People Sing

I first saw Les Misérables when I was 18.  It was in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and I was lucky to catch it in its first year when the original cast - with Michael Burgess as Jean Valjean, no  less - was performing.  I was captivated by the music, the songs, the costumes, the sets (that barricade was nothing short of awesome) and of course, the characters.  I didn't really analyze then what it was about a Victor Hugo long drawn out, convoluted tome about 19th century French revolution in dank, depressing Paris that appealed to a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant living in Canada; I mean, I went back to fork out good money to see the musical three more times (once more in Toronto, another in Singapore and the third in London's West End) and buy the 10th anniversary "dream cast" DVD for good measure.  And of course - was there any doubt? - I stood in line at my local cineplex box office a few days ago and snapped up tickets to the big screen version for Christmas Eve. But if I really had to dig down (and frankly, not even that deeply,) I guess I can readily admit that, bloody Paris uprising or no bloody Paris uprising, it was the sub-plot of young, unrequited love and first thunderstruck crushes which reasonated as subtly as the hunchback madly clanging the Notre Dame church bells in my former teen self which got me hooked on this musical in the first place. I mean, with boy-band worthy lyrics like "In my life, she has burst like the music of angels, the light of the sun"?  Every swooning die-hard romantic could definitely relate.  Like, totally.

For that reason, I had to laugh when I read Rachel Maddux's "I Dreamed a Tween" article in Slate. An excerpt:

The ABC student revolutionaries are understandable as perennial childhood favorites: young, passionate rebels willing to fight and die for their freedom! What could appeal more to a kid on the cusp of middle school, that most oppressive of human institutions? Perhaps only Éponine, the stage's most tragic third wheel, the patron saint of square-peg girls in love with their oblivious best friends the world over. Reports of kids weeping the first time they saw the show live are not uncommon, and it's usually the fault of “On My Own.”

So contrary to Eponine's lament, I'm not on my own with my Les Miz tween/teen obsession after all.

But how then, the movie?

Meh.

The much-lauded and oft-gushed about "live" singing concept was fine by me.  Having sat through live performances at the theatre, I wasn't concerned about not hearing "prettified" singing in Tom Hooper's film version.  But Russell Crowe's mumbled mangling of my favourite song "Stars"?  Oy, not cool.  I so wished they could've cast any one of the scores of Hollywood actors (presumably, they want a name to headline this movie - no problem with that bit of marketing reasoning) but General Maximus singing Javert's Suicide?  For the first time, I couldn't wait for him to [SPOILER ALERT] jump off that bridge.  And I also caught myself reflexively rollling up my eyes one too many times at the over-the-top, overwrought overacting that was unfortunately magnified by the handheld camera movements that were milimeters away from the singing cast; and I have to say the biggest culprits of the ham-fisted, down-your-throat, and dammit-watch-my-suffering-in-all-its-bloodshot-eyes-and-snot-nosed glory are Anne Hathaway, and yes, even song-and-dance man extraordinare Hugh Jackman.

The younger characterizations of Marius, Cossette and Eponine were more than competent (who knew Eddie Redmayne could sing so well?) and the two kids were downright good.  However, the entire Master of the House scene was a disappointment.  I know what the director was striving for - to depict the unrelenting chaos and thievery that are hallmarks of the Thenadiers' saloon, but unfortunately the execution fell way short of the mark; the bawdiness and tawdriness of the two conniving Thenadiers' - played with utter camp by triple-barrelled monikered duo of Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter - didn't and couldn't for some reason translate into its full debauched glory on screen.

One highlight for Les Miz geeks is the casting of Colm Wilkinson - the originator of the musical's lead role in London's West End in 1985 and later on Broadway in 1987 - as Bishop Myriel in the film.  Think it would've been cool if he'd stepped in to play Valjean in the final third act - age-wise, it could work. 

But - sigh - all these what-ifs are now water under the Pont Neuf - the movie's made, and that's that (something that Star Wars fans - and I'm one of the legion - still can't reconcile with the Prequel Trilogy.)  Ah well, at the very least, we still have the inevitably gorgeous cast photo spreads below by Annie Leibovitz to look at - this time for Vogue.  And yes, despite the anti-climax of this disappointingly mediocre movie, my heart, which was ramped up full throttle by those excellent trailers in the past couple of months, is still "full of love" for Les Miz.
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne
Isabelle Allen, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne

Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Let There Be Light...Lots and Lots of It - Causeway Bay, HK

According to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA,) light pollution is defined as
"any adverse effect of artificial light including sky glow, glare, light trespass,
decreased visibility at night, and energy waste." 

Don't think anyone in Causeway Bay has seen a star in decades.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Back to Work: My 1st Press Release for LHG

(Figures it would be about a Toronto hotel.....)

The current Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, on the corner of Yonge Street and Gerrard Street West
(Photo by Delta Chelsea Hotel)
December 19, 2012 - Hong Kong-based Great Eagle Group, owner of Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, Canada, will assume management of the 1,590-room property under its subsidiary Langham Hospitality Group. Starting 1 July 2013, the landmark hotel will be rebranded The Chelsea Toronto. Ideally located near the central business district, shopping centres, theatres, art galleries, and well-renowned medical facilities, the upscale property will be the first Langham Hospitality Group hotel in Canada.

Having recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation that includes all hotel corridors, selected guest rooms and the Market Garden restaurant, this latest addition to the group's global brand portfolio features well-appointed guestrooms and suites, more than 23,000 square feet of meeting space, a variety of dining options, an adults-only indoor swimming pool and fitness centre, and family-oriented leisure facilities such as Toronto's only indoor four-storey waterslide, and a Kids' Centre.

"Having been in the city of Toronto since 1996 with the acquisition of this landmark hotel, we are looking forward to manage The Chelsea next summer," says Chief Executive Officer Brett Butcher. "Our group's relationship and association with Delta Hotels and Resorts have proven to be both positive and productive, and we look forward to retaining this hotel's premier position in the domestic and international marketplaces."

"All the current employees will continue to be retained by the new management at The Chelsea," says Mr. Butcher. "We are strongly committed to all the colleagues at the hotel and we welcome the existing team to the Langham family."

As the most populous city in the country, Toronto is a strategic feeder destination to other major North American cities for Langham Hospitality Group. The decision to have a strong presence in Canada is in line with Langham's financial commitment and long term vision for the continent, as North America represents one of the largest source markets for the group's hotels. Travel partners, corporate executives and meeting planners will also benefit from the Langham's expanding global sales and marketing network as well as ongoing support from the group's established regional presence in New York.

About Langham Hospitality Group
Langham Hospitality Group encompasses a family of distinctive hospitality brands which include hotels, resorts, residential serviced apartments, restaurants and spas, located on four continents.

It takes its name from the legendary Langham in London which was opened in 1865 as Europe's first Grand Hotel. For almost 150 years, this flagship hotel has represented sophisticated and gracious hospitality, a philosophy that reflects elegance in design, innovation in hospitality, genuine service and captivation of the senses across all properties.

The brands include the luxurious Langham and Langham Place, the five-star Eaton Luxe, midscale Eaton and the award-winning Chuan Spa.

The Langham is where guests can enjoy service with poise and be enchanted by our innovation and traditions while Langham Place is about living the 21st century through superior design, technology and attitude, epitomising stimulating hospitality.

Eaton, a premium member brand, aims to surprise and delight our guests with a value-for-money proposition that delivers a stylish, modern level of comfort with spirited, can-do service.

Currently 29 member hotels are open or in the pipeline across four continents.

Langham Hospitality Group is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Great Eagle Holdings Limited (Stock Code: 0041) which was founded in 1963 and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 1972.

Reservations for either Langham or Eaton properties can be made by logging onto langhamhospitalitygroup.com
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Bite-Size Review: Cafe Troppo


The first thing I wondered as I approached this corner cafe in Adelaide was how in heck does it manage to survive in this odd, sleepy neighbourhood that's not exactly in the thick of action (or what passes for action in South Australia) and the second thing was, wait, is that Joan Baez I hear over the speakers?  The answer to my first musing was quickly made evident by the amazing selection of fresh salads, excellent (organic and fair trade) coffee and delish baked pastries. And the music thing? Yep, that's Joan all right.  And Fleetwood Mac, Charles Bradley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Pete Rock, all but to name a few on their eclectic  playlist.  As the exceedingly genial staff explained to me, what the patrons get to hear is entirely up to the musical tastes of whomever's working that shift.  Fair enough.  What I was most interested in though was the cafe's sustainable concept, its decor (recycled chic, anyone?) and their meat pies (oh, those pies....) Didn't have the pleasure of being there in the evening, but I hear they roll out the tapas, wines, fresh jams, and live music then.....guess that's when the good times really roll in trippy Troppo.  Peace out.
 


Cafe Troppo - 42 Whitmore Square, Adelaide,South Australia 5000, Australia
Telephone +618 8211 8812
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Walking Tour: Soho Sights in Hong Kong

The Soho district in Hong Kong is one of my favourites for walking tours in this city (the others being Wanchai, Causeway Bay and Mongkok.)  The area is a heady mix of commercial and residential buildings - both usually found in the same structures - historical attractions, modern edifices, and ramshackle stalls, with locals, expats and tourists co-existing more or less harmoniously in the same tight, multi-leveled spaces.  Although attempts have been made to geographically define Soho, most taxi drivers (of whose opinions I hold above everyone else's in terms of where everything is in this town) staunchly claim that this Central area south of Hollywood Road (hence its name) encompasses the Central-MidLevels escalator,  the assortment of bars, restaurants, galleries, alleyways, antique stores, souvenir shops, apartment blocks, and houses of worship along Staunton Street, Elgin Street and even as far north as Robinson Road. 



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Friday, December 7, 2012

Best Meat Pie I've Ever Had

Ok, I'm just going to put it out there and state unequivocally that I had the best chicken pie ever
at this nondescript bakery that bookends the northern corner of a slightly grungy shopping plaza in
 McLaren Vale, South Australia.  According to its posters, signboards and packaging bags, they've won heaps of awards for their pies but they also have an impressive selection of sandwiches, muffins and danish as well.  The pie I had was the regular chicken one with a buttery flaky crust
sprinkled with poppy seeds, enveloping the tasty but scalding hot mushy goodness within. 
Now, as much as I totally enjoyed that pie, I do kinda wish I'd ordered the
chicken chardonnay one, even if it was at nine o'clock in the morning.
After all, when in wine country.......
Fresh Aromas Bakehouse - 130 Main Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia 5171
(located within a shopping plaza off the main street.)  Telephone +618 8323 7476
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