South Africa Part I

Being an expat living in a major Chinese city of millions – with thousands of Westerners within the English-speaking foreigner scene – you never know who you will meet and what part of the world they may introduce you to… particularly when it comes to romance!

As I’ve written about extensively, it just never seemed to work out with me and Chinese girls. I haven’t followed up on those old blogs in a while, but know this of my present situation: I have not been lonely over the past year.

In the summer of ’14, I happened to fall for an artsy South African girl. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say there were some interesting stories along the way. I’m not going to share all those personal stories at this time. Suffice to say it’s been serious, intense, and loving.

I am however happy to share the fact that last holiday (Moon Festival coinciding with National Day) she took me on a tour of her home country. An entire new continent I’ve never been to, a whole other land. I am still in awe of all I had seen.

I must admit, it was a challenge at times. Sad though it may be, at this late stage in my life this was actually the first time I had ever met a girlfriend’s parents! Wow. Really? Well, that’s me.

I was rather nervous. There was, in actuality, the issue of class. White South Africans tend to live in the suburbs, in gated communities, walled off by electric fences. I grew up a step below, and over the past half-decade gotten comfortable living in the lesser developed end of a developed city in developing country.

South Africa in actuality may be one of the most unequal countries in the world, but I’m not saying that my girlfriend’s family are that rich. Just normal middle class. Yet even that is tricky for me to be comfortable with. I liken myself to a starving artist-writer in China mind you, not some trader-businessman.

Really, it wasn’t that bad.

All that said, the country is full of beauty like no other… I can see what people love so much about Africa.

My lovely did an incredible job of planning this trip. (How could I plan? I followed her. And it worked out very well that I did.) Everyday, off to a new place. New sights to see. New wonders to behold.

Off we went.

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Day One

We flew in from Hong Kong. Transferred at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to the view from the aircraft of exquisite waterfalls and Mt. Kilimanjaro. My first time entering the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could have explored Ethiopia more. Next time.

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Though we were tired, I was determined to start exploring right after landing. Being picked up from the Johannesberg airport was almost a disappointment; I’d wanted to learn about trains right off the bat. But it was tiring after the second flight being over ten hours.

The driver took us to the guest house in Melville, the hip part of town. On the drive over I stared out the window and took pictures. The highway only showed what looked like middle-American suburbs. In fact, much of what I would see of the middle-class homes and shopping malls pretty much reminded me of American suburbs.

Melville was awesome. Full of vegetarian restaurants (we ate Mexican food the first night, yum!), used bookstores (I spent way too much money), and most importantly of all a comic book shop. Outer Limits: I got an old Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud I’d been wanting to reread and share for ages.

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They didn’t have the latest One Piece manga volume, but later I did find it at a shop in Pretoria.

And Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture still hadn’t come out yet, always late.

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Day Two

By the second day my ears no longer popped and jetlag not too bad, we hung out some more in Melville and bought vintage clothes at this cool place made out of trucker containers called 27 Blocks. After some errands at the bank, I got a Sim card for my phone. Another highlight was simply going to a grocery store. Again, due to the western context, it was nice to simply be in a supermarket.

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We checked out and took a tuk-tuk driver to downtown Pretoria, at the City Bowl area near the Gautrain station. There, although heavy with all the luggage, we went to yet another bookstore (found a used Warren Ellis graphic novel) to meet up with Eleni –  blogger of Greek Meets Taiwan – who lives in the area. It was tricky to find the time, but small world that it is one might as well take advantage, and had coffee with her boyfriend and talked about education.

A lot of interesting talks showing me how it really is in South Africa…

Running a bit late, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria. This was the moment. My girlfriend’s dad, first time ever in my life to meet him. Although I did talk to him on Skype the week before. It was cool, no big deal at all. Nice man.

The dad and his wife – I would meet the mother later (now that I think about, perhaps divorced parents is one of the things that brings us together) – drove us out for dinner. We stopped by at a hoity-toity golf club where I did not feel comfortable at all. But it was interesting to see their scene. I was treated to an endless array of delicious meals, put on weight, and I’m very grateful he invited me into his home and was so kind.

The house in the suburbs was as suburban as ever. Except as said in South Africa they have electric fences. Stayed in our own guest bedrooms, watched cable TV, and caught up with my online life.

 

Day Three

Already my third day in this land, and then sadly it started to get boring.

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Dad came to visit me!

Previously: Dad is coming to visit me

Well, after years of living abroad, I finally got my dear dad to visit China. He has came and went and I survived. A week and a few days, and I hope I was a good host.

He came to meet him Hong Kong, and we had the whole airport hug moment. Jetlagged, he was somewhat out of it and I led the way by double-decker bus to Causeway Bay. I know my way around there by now.

Actually, I still don’t totally know my way around. There was some initial bickering, I admit. For some reason he thought the hotel wouldn’t be a forty-five minute ride from the airport, and fair enough I did get lost after that…

Carrying all the luggage, trying to figure out the map app on my phone, I finally found the hotel. What a beautiful view from the 37th floor

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I didn’t think the journey to the hotel was that bad, and it was merely the first of several arguments. And yet, the biggest challenge was simply that he’s getting older, and didn’t have as much energy as I’d hoped. If it wasn’t one thing it would have been another.

“I came here to see you,” he kept saying. Then getting mad at me for dragging him around too much. Hey it’s cool!

Also he wasn’t much interested in the food, which makes me wonder what the point is of going to China, but eh to each their own.

 

The next day my tour began with a ferry to Kowloon. Ate Indian food at Chungking Mansions, of course, and starting busying souvenirs.

Unfortunately, modern China is not quite like what he imagined in the Bruce Lee movies. Not so many rickshaws, but here’s one junk.

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There would be lots of Bruce Lee-themed wandering. My dad’s number one interest when it comes to China. Here’s the Bruce Lee statue from the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui.

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Personally I’m far more interested in the installations they set up at Times Square,  Gundams!

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More importantly, back to regular tours, we took the tram up to Victoria Peak. Absolutely incredible at nightfall.

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Again, while China/Hong Kong didn’t have as much martial arts-themed sights has he’d hoped, we did find an exhibition at the Heritage Museum for our last day in Hong Kong.

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When we crossed the border into the mainland — my city of Shenzhen — I realized that on the second leg of the trip we were to take it much easier. More lazing about, less scurrying from one place to the next. I indeed wanted to do more scurrying, but what are ya’ gonna do?

(Just like when I was a kid we’d go on vacation and spend more time watching TV in the hotel room than out and about..)

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An interview with Jocelyn Wong

Today I have an interview with Hong Kong-based food blogger and journalist. Jocelyn Wong.

She writes at the aptly named http://jocelynwrites.com, do check it out for some delicious posts…

 

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When did you first decide that being a writer was for you?

I pretty much got the bug after winning my first writing competition that I entered for fun because I liked the topic. It was something along the lines of Hair Disasters. I shared my experience of getting a bad haircut which ended in tears and getting the back of my head shaved. After that I entered an SCMP writing competition and won. The next step that really solidified my passion for writing was getting a two-week internship with Young Post which got extended to the end of the summer. Afterwards, I got hired as a freelancer for them and everything else is history.

 

Do you find being a journalist to be rewarding work?

Absolutely. Working for Young Post is one of the most inspiring experiences for me. Getting to work so closely with the talented youth in Hong Kong and being a part of their lives — helping them improve their English bit by bit, day by day.

 

Are you inspired by any writers, Hong Kong-based or otherwise?

There are some pretty big names out there that I’m inspired by but for now my aspirations lie in tangent with those of Jason Ng – the SCMP columnist who wrote the best-selling Hong Kong State of Mind and Pete Spurrier – who owns Blacksmith Books. Someday I want to have my own publishing house and discover new writing talent.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Ray Hecht would like to note that his forthcoming novel South China Morning Blues will be published by Blacksmith Books)

 

Being that you have a food-based blog, are you interested in cooking as well as being a foodie?

I have always been interested in baking — so it’s more likely that I’ll end up as a pastry chef rather than a cook. I love just working up a storm in the kitchen with the blender, mixer and flour. Copious amounts of flour and brown sugar decorate the kitchen floor by the time I’m done baking some treat or another; also, I just love the smell that fills up my apartment after I’m done baking. The smell of molten chocolate is absolutely heavenly.

That being said, I do love getting my hands dirty in the kitchen. Instead of making ramen noodles in college, I remember spending the bulk of my free time googling recipes of healthy food, because I couldn’t bear to gain that “freshmen fifteen” if I could help it.

Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I’ve really enjoyed having a full kitchen with proper counter space and international ingredients and spices to work with. Back in my college days, I’d have to do prep in my living room because my kitchen was so small. I think I whip up some pretty good scallop medallions, and I devised my own perfect pesto sauce in my college days.

 

What kind of food did you grow up eating?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a multicultural environment and my parents are foodies as well. Even at home, my mother would try to cook as many different types of cuisine as possible, even if most of it was Chinese. China has a diverse food culture and I feel like I really got to know it as I grew up (since at one point, my father couldn’t bear the thought of not having at least three Chinese meals a week. This is how my mother got creative – by having those restraints).

In terms of eating out, we were regulars at the now defunct Japanese restaurant in the old Ritz Carlton in Central, Tenjaku in Lantern St, as well as Brasserie on the Eighth, Ming Yuen in Parkview and the McDonalds by Repulse Bay just to name a few. I still maintain that Hong Kong has the best McD’s in the world.

When I went to university, that’s when I got serious about cooking. I was also really conscious about staying healthy. That being said, I had my fair share of 2 a.m. pizzas and Timmy’s (surely you’ve heard of our famous Canadian Tim Horton’s doughnuts), but generally I’d say I kept a healthy diet. Within months of settling into college, I really quickly learned how to make healthy and delicious foods like grilled ahi tuna with green and white peppercorns, turkey burgers and bake gluten free cookies (that don’t taste like cardboard).

 

Do you enjoy the Hong Kong restaurant scene because of authentic Cantonese cuisine, or because of the diverse international range of tastes in the city?

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Zhuhai Chinglish!

Happy Chinese New Year!

新年快樂!

I’ve seen a lot of goats lately…

Just got back from Zhuhai yesterday, a tourist beach town not far from here. Bordering the former Portugese colony of Macau, Zhuhai is also a Special Economic Zone but does not equal the hustle and bustle of Shenzhen’s metropolis. We went to a hot springs resort and had a lot of fun.

And, getting out of the big city helps to find a \lot more hilarious mistranslations.

Especially menus. Can’t you just taste that authentic Cantonese cuisine of pig brain and bullfrog?

I remain a vegetarian, more inspired than ever.

Presenting: Zhuhai Chinglish

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Mmm hot dog bowel

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Green hometown is nice

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Bacteria, okay…..

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Germs, appetizing

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Beef balls pee, yeah! Not too mention the rest

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Shenzhen Daily

SZ Daily
Occasionally I write (and edit) for the local English-language newspaper of Shenzhen, the Shenzhen Daily. All very official. The only English daily in South China…

It’s not much in the realm of hardcore investigative journalism, but some fun lite reads herein. Here are a few humble lite posts worth resharing:

Hong Kong ASSEMBLING Art Exhibition Features Shenzhen-based Artists

Shenzhen-Based Artist Wins Award in Hong Kong

Interview/Restaurant Review: Canadian Opens Vegan Restaurant

Book Review: Good Chinese Wife

Book Review: No City for Slow Men

Film Review: The Wind Rises

Futian District: A Holiday at Lianhua Hill

Interview: American Expat to Run Marathon in Australia

Interview: Expat Cycles to India for Good Cause

Interview: American Starting Local Volunteer Group

Editorial: Kimmel’s Apology Merits Acceptance

Restaurant Review: Vegetarian Oasis