Thursday, August 28, 2014

[Grandma and Jacki in Asia] Day 9: Charmaine's apartment (Hong Kong)

My sister and grandma came to visit me in Korea during my summer break. We were together from August 8 - 20, 2014. Here are the retellings of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4Day 5Day 6, Day 7, and Day 8.

The three of us took the metro for around 45 minutes to the last stop of a line, where we met up with Charmaine. We got on a local train with her for just two stops, and then crossed the street to her family's apartment building.

The apartment

There are 35 floors in her building, with 10 apartments on each floor. Her apartment building was with a cluster of many other apartment buildings just as tall.

We took the elevator up to the 35th floor just to see what it looked like from way up there.

The number of people everywhere (we were far out of "downtown" out here) was overwhelming. But I suppose that's expected in one of the densest places in the world. Wikipedia tells me that Hong Kong has over 6,500 people per square kilometer (over 17,000 people per square mile!).

I had also read before coming that apartments are very small in Hong Kong, which makes perfect sense because of its density. Charmaine lives up on the 17th floor with her two parents, older sister, older brother, sister-in-law, and nephew (brother's son). That comes to 7 people, and there were only 3 small bedrooms in addition to the bathroom, kitchen, and living room.

Here's a picture of Charmaine and her sister's room:

We were served tea in these tiny cute cups right away, and then Charmaine introduced us to "mooncake". Mooncake is eaten during the mid-autumn festival, which starts on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. They sliced the dense circular cake into pie-shaped pieces for us to try.

We chatted and learned more about Charmaine's family and life in Hong Kong.

I noticed that my hunger for lunch was decreasing when we were then served dragon fruit and orange slices, and of course another piece of mooncake.

Charmaine gifted us a box of four mooncakes and tea, as well as some scrolls written in Chinese. Her father had written one of them, as after retiring he began to study (and now gave classes in) this type of calligraphy/traditional writing - I'm not exactly sure what to call it. He wasn't at the apartment that morning, but he would be joining us for lunch in the afternoon.

After more chit chatting and snacking, we left the apartment and walked to lunch.

The spectacular lunch

Our big round table had a gigantic Lazy Susan in the middle, which was absolutely necessary with how dishes are shared here (as is done in many other Asian cultures). Three kettles of tea were on our table right away, as Charmaine and her family began to order things.

You guys, this food was incredible. The best I've had in a long time, and unlike anything I'd previously eaten. All of the "Chinese" food that I've had in the states is so American Chinese food in comparison to these flavors. Wow.

Charmaine's dad had some brushes along with him in his backpack, as he had class to teach later that afternoon. He passed them around so we could take a look. While admiring his work, the rest of the restaurant was just as loud as the previous night, though the venue was entirely different - much fancier.

In such a full, bustling place as Hong Kong, we quickly learned that efficiency is a high priority. A clear example was in the tables at this restaurant.

The tables were actually much smaller circles than we were eating on. There was a larger circle that is placed on top of the actual table, and it's on top of this larger circle that the table cloth and settings are put. I'll call this piece the "large table circle" in my explanation. Why have the separate parts? Because then, staff can set a "table" in no time, without taking up table space. Let me explain:

The table next to us was set just like ours. And then waiters had picked up another "large table circle" and placed it on top of the glasses of the set table. Then they threw on the table cloth and table settings so they now had two set tables ready. Thus, when a group would finish eating, all they had to do was remove the "large table circle" with dirty dishes, and throw on one of the preset "large table circles". Ta-da! Ready for a new party of 10!

It was around 3 p.m. when we couldn't fit another bite into our almost uncomfortably full stomachs. Then one of us shared out loud that we wouldn't be eating any more today - no way, no how. After all, this is what we'd gotten used to doing in Korea: late lunch and perhaps a snack later.

"Really?!" asked Charmaine, "But we have the barbecue."

"A barbecue?" said Grandma, her tone reflecting the shared thought that eating anything else today was the last thing on our mind.

Charmaine's brother laughed and said that Charmaine had prepared a ton of food for this barbecue that would take place at 6 this evening, in just three short hours.

A barbecue at the beach had been on the schedule, but there were rumors that it was too hot to have a barbecue today, so maybe there wouldn't be one? I'm sure there were some slight ESL/English miscommunications more than once throughout this leg of the trip.

So everyone left the restaurant and split ways; Charmaine's dad went to teach his classes, her family went back to the apartment, and the four of us took a walk to the nearby fish market.

Fish market

The market was a mini version of some of the stand's I'd seen at the Jagalchi Market in Busan. But since there weren't a million people shopping at the stands like the one in Busan, we could slowly make our way down the short strip of tanks.

I really liked looking at all of the water creatures - animals that I never see.

The market was right by the water, so we got to enjoy some nice views before we left the area.

We then hopped on a bus for a few stops to a Yacht Club, whose name I'm forgetting at the moment, though it's on the tip of my tongue.

Charmaine picked up some ice and a few other last minute things for the barbecue, and then the four of us took a taxi to the beach where her brother had set up.

Hong Kong barbecue on the beach

First we had to "clean" the skewers, which reminded me of how chopsticks and glasses were cleaned in tea the previous nights at restaurants.

Charmaine instructed us to remove the tip guards from the new skewers, and then push the skewer ends into the sand. We pulled them back and forth, rubbing the skewer against the sand.

And then the skewers were rinsed off in water (pictured below, right) before we returned to the fire.

Let me remind you that the air was already plenty hot (and still humid). If this were in Wisconsin, you'd think we were crazy to have sat around a fire that evening.

We grilled all sorts of things over the fire; some things whose names I don't even know. Squid balls, fish balls, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, tofu, mushrooms, chicken, prawns, and plenty more.

It was a slow cook, and when things were almost done, you'd slather it in honey with a brush (pictured above, bottom right) and put it back on the fire for just a minute.

We could not believe how much food there was. All of the family members just kept grilling, and grilling, and grilling. Finally sometime after 21:30 we had to start our journey back into the city. Charmaine's family stayed at the campfire to continue grilling and eating.

Charmaine went with us on a bus back to the metro, and then the three of us headed back to our hostel - exhausted and stuffed. An even later night than the previous, we were glad the following day was a blank slate. We could sleep in and take it easy!

> > > Next: Day 10 - Hong Kong Museum of Art
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