Thinks

My Top Three Reasons to Go to Hong Kong

I really wanted to go visit Anna.  The Russian government, however, had other ideas for US citizens trying to visit Moscow, and the trip was put on the back burner due to the fact that getting a visa was really, really frustrating and expensive.  While this was a huge and disappointing setback, I still wanted to travel internationally this year, and a lucky glance at a discount airfare site and a leftover gift card meant I was going to Hong Kong – for 8 days, for less than a pair of Louboutins – USED Louboutins.

Louboutin

Yeah…airfare was less than that. I shit you not. Image from ebay.com. These also have the potential to live in my closet.

I never had a burning desire to go to to Hong Kong; lots of friends have been/have family there, but I don’t know that I’d have ever said, “YES, THIS IS MY #1 DESTINATION OF CHOICE!”  But it was uncharted international territory, two of my “adventure” criteria, and I was all for it.

After the eight days there (which is just about the right amount of time for a first foray), I now have my top three reasons to visit – for which I’d gladly go back.

  1. The Mix 
    It’s a vibrant, bustling city that has Louis Vuitton, Dior, and YSL on one corner, and cheap eats and chintzy fun stores across the street.  There are hundreds of expats (waaaaaaay more white faces than I’d expected), so it’s not like you’d stand out like the Great White Hope as a visitor from the United States.  According to today’s Google search, it ranks #3 for “Top Financial Centers in the World.”  There’s a rapidly growing, ever-modernizing city, there are quiet mountain tops with panoramic views for hiking (and believe me, it’s a steep elevation change, and not the easiest hike), there’s varied cuisine, there are beaches…

    Those sweeping panoramic views I was talking about.

    Those sweeping panoramic views I was talking about.

    There is literally something to do for every type of traveler.  If you want to be active and explore, there are twisting streets and steep hills.  If you want to relax on the beach, there’s that, too.  There are plenty of bars with actually useful happy hour hours (more on that later), if you want to get your drink on.  Most of the younger generation understands at least a little English, so you aren’t totally lost.  And as a major metropolis, you aren’t cut off from technology, civilization, or (most importantly) indoor plumbing – unless you want to be.
    IMG_20150912_094633908Hong Kong, like the other cities I’ve visited in Asia, is the perfect blend of first and third world, and it’s a great destination for anyone that wants to experience something new, while not being too far away from the west – at least in spirit.

  2. The Shopping
    Ok, ok.  I’m not a shopaholic.  Definitely not.  Aside from the appreciation of the beautiful fashion, I could not relate to this movie at all.  Cher and Dionne would be so disappointed in me – I suffer from buyer’s remorse more often than I actually buy things.

    Image from movieposters.com

    Image from movieposters.com

    That being said, there’s a shopping culture in Hong Kong that will excite even the most reluctant of marketgoers.  Everything you see on Ebay, the super cheap electronics, phone cases, flash drives – it’s all there.  Clothes, trinkets, combs, souvenirs.  Jewelry, scarves, tea sets, journals.  You name it, it’s there.  In some districts, it’s like Madison Avenue on steroids.

    Image from lightuptheholidays.org

    Hong Kong had more designers in a concentrated space than this – it honestly blew my mind.  Image from lightuptheholidays.org

    When you’ve got every major designer in the world, along with four and five carat diamond rings and incredibly opulent jewelry, staring you in the face, it’s hard to not get swept into the shopping culture. I’m telling, you – even Fred Leighton and Harry Winston would have had runs for their money.  And it was everywhere.  The jewels, pearls, jade, gold – it was magnificent. 
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    A small vignette: I was waiting outside a jewelry store, looking through the windows, and a few minutes later, I somehow found myself seated at a counter, trying on diamond rings.  When lovely 1.5ct brilliant cut solitaire with a pavé band was placed on my finger, I told the sales person it was beautiful.  “You like?” he asked, probably hoping to make a sale.  “Yes, it’s gorgeous,” I told him.  “$60,000,” he said.  “Sixty.  Thousand.  Dollars,” I repeated slowly.  “Hong Kong dollars?”  “No,” he said, quickly.  “US.”  I could not take that ring off fast enough. 

    The first time you step foot in the shopping districts on the Kowloon side, it’s overwhelming, but after walking past a few stands, you get the hang of bargaining, arguing with the shopkeepers and walking away when you don’t get a good price. It’s like a game, a battle of wits (which you should never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line).  And when you walk away, and they chase you shouting “Okay, okay, your price, okay!” the feeling can only be described as triumph.

  3. The Food
    Hong Kong food isn’t “Chinese” in the sense that there’s a chicken dish named after the mysterious General Tso, and you’d be hard pressed to find an egg roll in the sense that we’re used to.  Instead, there’s amazing claypot rice, dim sum, and congee.
    IMG_20150909_214454320For those of you who are gastronomically adventurous, and for those of you that would prefer the comforts of home (in the form of burgers, pasta, pizza, and the like), Hong Kong has just about everything.  And if you are just a tiny bit adventurous, and you want multicultural meals every night of the week, Hong Kong has that, too.  Korean, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Nepalese, American, Thai, Italian…you name it, Hong Kong has it.  It’s not as diverse as New York City, in the sense that you have ubiquitous options on EVERY corner – in Hong Kong, it’s only on MOST corners.
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    I’m not ashamed to say I needed a burger fix –  fried onion straws, bacon, pulled pork, and cheese. And a side of thrice-fried duck fat fries.

    There are cured meat stands, fresh fruit stands, food carts, teeny shop fronts with Peking duck and steamed crabs hanging out front.  There are live fish markets, restaurants where you can pick your protein and they will cook it for you, and if you’re looking for something fast, there’s portable dim sum and meat on a stick.
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  4. IMG_20150913_185848630IMG_20150911_085043694
    IMG_20150912_142726927_HDRWhile I did get my fill of Chinese food (please, God, no more grease), the variety made eating more than bearable.  I actually did eat Indian, Korean, and Italian/Asian fusion dinners, and it was all delicious, and a welcome change.  By day 3, bananas, tangerines, and giant peaches were in my hotel fridge, along with oatmeal, dried berries, and walnuts for breakfast.  Yeah.  Just in case you need a bit of digestive help, there’s Quaker Oats there, too.

What began as a “last resort” vacation turned out to be one of the most interesting, most culture-surprising, and rewarding trips I’ve taken in a long time.  Yes, my epic road trip was, in a word, epic, but this is in a league all its own, and it has convinced me that Hong Kong is truly a place to find an adventure around every turn.

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Artificial Ceilings

Recently, I started listening to podcasts.  My two go-tos are Freakonomics and The Tim Ferriss Show, both of which I find incredibly interesting.  Last week, there was a rebroadcast on Freakonomics – an interview with Kobayashi Takeru, the guy that revolutionized the world of competitive eating.  If you’re interested in the whole thing, here is the link.

Image from trendingsearches.net

Image from trendingsearches.net

The idea of eating even more than two (ok, three) hot dogs in one sitting sort of makes me want to yak, so when you say “as many as possible, and oh, the world record is X,” I want to crawl into the fetal position and die.  But it was this talk of the former world record, which was 25 1/8 hot dogs, that really struck me.  He destroyed that record, on his first attempt at the contest, and devoured 50 hot dogs.

Speaking through a translator, Kobayashi explained the idea of an artificial barrier, which is something I think I struggle with on a day-to-day basis:

I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is. They decide I’ve been told this, or this is what society tells me, or they’ve been made to believe something.

Today, I reasoned that perhaps I’d been giving myself artificial barriers.  And I began to think about what might happen if I removed them.

I decided to start removing barriers at the gym.  I had the idea that I could only run at a 6.0 mph pace – maaaaaaybe 6.1 if I was feeling really ambitious.  But my coworker, who also has bad knees and rarely runs, told me that he sets the treadmill at 7.0 mph.  This got me thinking – yes I have short legs. No, I’ve never been particularly fast. But no, I’ve never tried going faster.  I just assumed I couldn’t do it.

Image from amazon.com

Image from amazon.com

And so, tonight, I tried something new for my warmup run.  Instead of starting out at 5.8 mph, I set the speed to 6.5, and ran for 1.5 miles.  For the next lap, I increased the speed to 6.6, and for the last two laps, I increased it to 6.7.  And what do you know.  I did it.

It was a happy moment – I felt accomplished and proud, and I realized that my dream of a consistent 8:45/mile pace is actually closer than I thought.  I am motivated, I am determined, and I now have the confidence I can do it.

Image from simpsons.wikia.com

Image from simpsons.wikia.com

And what if I applied that thought to finding a job?  Usually, it’d be, “I’d never get XYZ position, they never hire people with my kind of experience, I’ve never gotten an interview there before”…but if I bust through that wall and apply, you never know.  What if I applied this to finding a boyfriend?  “That guy would never talk to me, he’s out of my league, I can’t date that far up, I know what my limit is”…but maybe that limit isn’t actually there.

What if we all thought like this.  I realize this is a bit rose-colored (I’m probably still high on endorphins), but blindly accepting what we believe are the limits of our own abilities can hinder us – we stagnate, we don’t grow, we never achieve.  History is full of brave souls and amazingly intelligent individuals, but the only thing that makes them different from us is that they didn’t accept the limits society gave them.   What would we all achieve if we followed their example?

It’s just food for thought, but when your mind starts to wander, and you think of all the great things you might do….it’s a temping proposition to push the limits.

Good Providence

Every once in a while, Rhode Island gets the props it deserves.

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Image from amazon.com. PS – my grandparents’ old house is in this movie!

I’m a proud Rhode Islander – I know how to pronounce Usquepaug, Woonsocket, Cowesett, and Chepachet.  Del’s, fresh seafood from the docks, clamcakes, and parking at The Wall mean summer.  Narragansett Beach – never Misquamicut – is my shelter from the storm, and I drink iced coffee year round.

Family-Guy-Season-6

Image from coverwhiz.com

Seth MacFarlane and Family Guy helped put us on the map, but we get a lot of flack, us Rhode Islanders.  Yes, we’re a small state with enough quirks to fill Texas.  Yes, we think a 30-minute drive is a day trip.  Yes, we are aware that you can drive from north to south in 45 minutes; you don’t need to remind us.

So it always makes me happy when someone else – anyone – notices how great Rhode Island is.  The You Know You’re From RI When lists have been circulating the internet for years.  BuzzFeed took notice in this November 2013 post.  And most recently, it’s GQ.  Check out GQ’s take on Buddy Cianci’s renaissance city. 

Providence is a wonderful city, and I’m happy to call it the capital of my homestate.  If you haven’t visited, you should, and if you have, go get an iced coffee (no matter what the temperature is outside) and sink back into the nostalgia.

Life is a Highway, Part 8: Word Crimes

So….I might be a bit of a stickler about grammar.  This song might have been written for me.

IMG_20150109_092833….ok so I might be a bit more than a stickler.  The conversation above is one that bothers me immensely: less vs. fewer.  (But I still love the person in question – she rarely makes that mistake, anyway.)  I correct it so often, I do it without thinking.  And when it popped up in a recent Game of Thrones episode, I received a flurry of texts and IMs.

I realize that not everyone is as passionate about this as I am.  Maybe it’s because I read so much.  Maybe it’s because I think words are incredibly powerful – especially when they are constructed with impeccable syntax.  Or maybe it’s because I have nothing better with which to fill my time?  Either way, poor grammar is a pet peeve of mine, and it bothers me most when I see it in signs for public consumption.

On this road trip, on the 2459 miles driven, I saw enough of it to drive me batty.  Much of it was contained to what I can only assume were low-wage workers with no fucks given.  But seriously.  Grammar abusers are EVERYWHERE.

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Ignorance breeds ignorance, and believe you me.  There’s more than enough to go around.  But I also realized that there are still a few strong grammar vigilantes left in the world.  Those of us still fighting the Good Fight.  Those that immediately say “fewer” without thinking, when someone around us says “less.”  The accidental proofreader, that edits documents and make corrective notes in the margins without being asked.  The silent educator, that take it upon himself to correct public signs anonymously.

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Here’s to you, my fellow grammar buddies.  You know the importance of an Oxford comma, the dire consequences of improper diction, and the delicate constructs of using a semicolon.  Grammar buddies, I salute you.

Life is a Highway, Part 7: Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Or, you know.  Pine cones and cacti are almost like roses.

My best friend in the whole world (read her blog here!) used to say I hated nature.  I am not entirely sure where she got that idea…It’s true that my ideal jungle is made of concrete, and I’m (literally) allergic to most things that become lovely in spring, but that doesn’t mean I hate nature!

Especially not after this trip.  There was so much to take in, so much flora and fauna.  It would be grey and white, and you’d see green.  Or it would be red and orange, and you’d see a burst of blue or white.  It was a welcome surprise, and it was always beautiful.

And then I got to thinking.  These plants, they are struggling to survive against the elements – freezing snow or burning sun.  Trees sprout, and they’re forced to twist and bend with the winds and the sun to stay alive.  And even though they aren’t straight and tall, they’re still growing.  Those desert flowers have limited resources, they are scorched from the sun and suffer through torrential downpours and gale force winds, and yet, they still bloom.

And so I thought: If they can do it, if they can survive against the odds, so can I.  Bring it on, Mother Nature.

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You Play Ball Like A Girl!

This is one of the best movies in the world.  And this is one of the funniest scenes from the movie (it’s in close contention to when Squints kisses Wendy Peffercorn).  But it got me thinking – when did “girl” become the king of insults?

I’m a girl.  I’m a little girl.  I’m petite and I love sky-high shoes, bags, and sparkly things.  But I also race cars, like beer and sports, and have been known to swear like a sailor.  Even the subjects in school that interested me were more math/science based.  I have fairly thick skin – which means that after a decade of spending my weekends with dirty old men, I am very calloused to the sexist jokes, being hit on, and none of it bothers me.  I laugh it off.  One of my favorite instructors even yelled, “Stop driving like a girl!”  And I laughed and hit cones.  And when I finally got fast, I was “boy-fast.”  So it’s not really a surprise to me when people (read: men) use “like a girl” as an insult.  I just never paid much attention to it.

I realize this commercial had been out long before the Super Bowl, but as I live under a pop culture rock, I hadn’t seen it till then.  I was floored.  There’s so much talk about equality, feminism, independence, empowering women – and then there’s the “like a girl” insult.  I never realized how regressive it was until I actually watched the commercial.  It hadn’t dawned on me just how detrimental this phrase, “like a girl,” could be to the next generation of females.

I think the most positive takeaway from this commercial is that the younger generation, when questioned at the end doesn’t do anything “prissy” or “sissy.”  They just do.  I’ve always just done, and I encourage any of the younger girls that have expressed interest in racing, or stereotypically masculine fields, to follow suit.  I hope one day soon, it won’t be a fallback insult.  But until then, when we’re told we do something “like a girl,” perhaps we should respond with “Thank you.”  Girls are pretty awesome, you know.

Damn the Torpedoes

You know, sometimes, I don’t know why,
But this old town just seems so hopeless.
I ain’t really sure, but it seems I remember the good times
Were just a little bit more in focus.

Normally, for my last post (or first post) of the year, I’d post the song Long December by the Counting Crows, and then recap the year’s events, and my resolutions for the coming twelve months.  This year, I decided to do something different.  I suppose I didn’t have resolutions per se, and I am not entirely sure I need to recap the whole year – in fact, I think if I did, I might want to go drink myself into oblivion and eat a whole cake.

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If I have to eat a cake, it might as well be this one….

 

If you just read this blog, you might think 2014 was a year full of fun – travel, books, racing, oh my!  I went to Madrid, Boston, New York City, Dallas.  I raced all over the country.  I read over twenty books.  I made new friends, visited old ones, and strengthened my relationships, despite hundreds of miles and oceans between us.

It looks like I had a great 2014.  But in reality, it was a really, really tough year.  I almost lost my mom – twice – to GI diseases.  The last bits of my marriage crumbled and ended in a very sad and difficult divorce that took eleven of the twelve months.  I couldn’t eat or sleep (still can’t sleep – working on the eating bit).  Work became so much more frustrating, and seemingly dead end, that I drove home in tears at least a few times a month.  Grad school screwed me over, I was not able to begin my Masters program, and I missed the races I had been looking forward to the most.  I was hospitalized for a week, and then admitted again for two days two months later for an emergency procedure (following the most excruciating diet I’ve ever been on), due to my own GI issues, which continue to plague me and are still of unknown origin.

This is the better graph - other 30-day periods are far worse.

This is the better graph – other 30-day periods are far worse.

I’d like to say, “Yes, I definitely learned something from all my trials and tribulations this year.  Yes, I am a stronger, smarter, and an overall better person from all of this.  Yes, I am viewing the year, despite all the hardship, as something put there so I can learn.”  And while all of that may be true, I also want to say, “Fuck you, 2014.”  Sure, I learned things.  I learned who is truly in my support network, and sadly, who is not (and sometimes, those people surprise you, and it really fucking hurts).  I learned about love, and loss, and what I really need from a relationship and from myself.  I learned that what you don’t say speaks far louder than what you do.  But looking back on the year, despite the lessons being important, I find myself asking, “Was it worth it?” Hmmmm……

Photo by Geoff Yen

Photo by Geoff Yen

I wholeheartedly believe that things happen for a reason, and I believe that the experiences you have and the choices you make shape who you are.  Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  But come on, 2014 – why did you have to be such a jerk?  I’m pretty sure I could have learned those lessons, made those choices, and been just as tormented health-wise without all the backstabbing, lying, stress, and missed hours of sleep.  I mean, come on 2014.  You sort of sucked.  And just when I thought I’d be seeing you out, that I’d seen the last of you, you rewarded me with an trip to the emergency room at 3 am on December 31.  Really?!

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I suppose that for the coming twelve months, I have lofty goals and ambitions, just like I always do.  I have the “read more, eat healthier, exercise more” things to fulfill, but I suppose there are other things I’d not thought about.  I’ve made changes to myself over the last year, that have bitten me in the ass, but have overall ended up better than worse.  I speak up and don’t let things bother me or fester for long.  I am trying to give more people a bigger benefit of the doubt, and taking them for who they are, instead of who I’d like them to be.  I also am trying to let things go and be more positive.  They aren’t easy things to do, but I figure I’ve got a long hard road ahead of me.  What’s a few more boulders in my path?

And who knows what will happen?  Maybe I’ll find a new job, maybe I’ll move to a new city, or find a new love.  Maybe I’ll even buy a new car.  The only thing I know  is that this year has to be better.