Monday, 26 January 2009

Happy Lunar New Year!

This day trumps Christmas and New Year (as in January 1st) in Hong Kong. Its importance and meaning is probably the equivalent of Christmas and January 1st combined. This is THE day for family reunions (like Christmas) and wishing the best for the coming year (like Jan 1st). I've never seen the campus so... vacant. Since the majority of the students here at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology are local Cantonese, these lucky students have gone home to celebrate. Although I have relatives in Hong Kong (Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins), I don't have a permanent home here and hence live in the now-[close to]-deserted dorms.

Today we visited my father's side of the family to 拜年, basically wish each other well for the coming year. The kids get 紅包 (red envelopes), which have pocket money in them from the elders. I once asked my parents at what age we stop getting red envelopes. Apparently the tradition is to start giving once you're married to those who aren't. However, tonight my Big Aunt (the hostess of today's family gathering) gave my parents red bags too. I guess now, at least in my family, it's more of an elders-give-the-younger. Usually, the envelopes are given in pairs. My sister and I each got an extra one from Big Aunt because we brought presents.

Certain designs of red envelopes should seriously be considered as works of art. Last year, we received ones that resembled intricate red pop-up birthday cards. Okay, not pop-up, but pull-out. I pull this tab and WHOAH! - the money pops out with a four-charactered auspicious greeting. Conventional envelopes simply have a self-adhesive flap for one time use. Throughout the years, I've wondered what to do with these scarlet packets after I've fattened up my wallet. Being environmentally aware (or so I'd like to think), I would love to re-use them. Except the self-adhesive flaps refuse to re-stick. Being artistically-challenged, I can't bear to toss out the pull-out ones or even the vaguely prettier ones. So now, the somewhat seemly ones sit somewhere in some drawer back in Beijing, collecting dust. I wish I could put a better use to them, instead of putting them in my pile of pretty but (let's face it) rather useless STUFF.

So almost all the cousins, uncles, and aunts were at Big Aunt's apartment today, celebrating New Year. Most played majong (very popular Chinese game involving four players, many... blocks??... somewhat vaguely similar to cards) until dinnertime. DINNER WAS DELICIOUS. The most traditional dish tonight was 斎 - a meatless dish. In it, vermicelli, black fungus, this.. plant that looks like the legs of enoki mushrooms, and tofu were braised in a sauce. I'm a failure at describing taste, so I will simply ask Dear Reader to try it yourself. In the more northern parts of China, dumplings are the norm for New Year's dinner.

Dessert was even served. I didn't expect 南瓜糊 (pumpkin porridge)! Honestly, I don't even know if it's a Chinese dish. It was served with 湯圓 (glutinous rice balls with sesame-paste centers), which ARE Chinese. Either way, it was sweet, creamy, with notes of coconut milk. DELISH! On top of that, we had slices of striped pandan jello. Needless to say, I've returned to my dorm with a bloated belly.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Swim Practice

If there is one thing I remember clearly about swim practices, it is the dread. I was convinced that all my coaches were stubbornly sadistic and took pleasure in making practices as painful as possible. Every day, my mind would pluck out a plethora of feeble excuses, hoping to justify a skipped session. When I was much younger, I would wheedle, I would weep. I would go to the changing room as late as possible. Sometimes, that worked to my “advantage” – I could figure I’d be late anyways, so why bother going? Which is exactly what happened today.

Although I am not in the water, I am at the pool though, watching the others swim. Looking down, it really ISN’T that bad. Practice isn’t overkill today. It really isn’t. It is actually quite manageable.

So why didn’t I go? What IS so dreadful about practice, now that I’m not even part of the high school team (I’ve graduated) and it doesn’t matter if I get lapped by an eleven-year-old?
It does matter. The self-centered sore loser that I am is extremely embarrassed for not being able to keep up. Yet I just skipped practice, forgoing another chance to be less slow. It’s a vicious cycle – I dread practice because I don’t want to be seen this slow, so I skip practice. Exactly because I skip practice, I get slower and slower and slower and finally sink. (Kidding – I’m not to the point where I actually sink… yet.)

It's not a moment of epiphany - the obvious has been glaring at me for years. I must put down my ego and put in effort. I will say “shut up” to dread and dive into the water. Tomorrow - I promise.

Friday, 2 January 2009


As promised, I baked without quitting halfway.

Ta-da! Choco Chip Chookies... I meant cookies.

As I was preparing the batter...
Cookie dough ice cream. Mmmmmm.... tempting. However I have read somewhere that cookie dough isn't exactly the most hygienic. "Raw eggs can make you sicker than a dog," apparently.

My picture was an epic failure so nope, I'm not facing that loser picture. Delete! The cookies came out looking undercooked, but that means they should come out perfect - unless I want rock-hard chocochip UFOs. I think the toothpick method work wonderfully on cakes, but it may malfunction on chewy cookies.

Letting the cookies cool and settle.
Very important - as I've learned the hard way. Oh the many times I've cried over a mutilated cookie due to my overzealous attempt to rip it from the pan when it was still a newborn.
Removing the cookies from the pan...
Made loads easier if I had invested in parchment paper.

Serve with milk!

....And I had to remind myself not to finish the entire batch in one go because a) it's selfish, b) it's fattening, and c) it'll make me sick. To hell with the first and second, better listen to the third. Because it happened before. Not cool.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Symbolically Appropriate... 24 hours ago

Happy 2009!
...Except I'm over 24 hours late. I decided that it was appropriate to start my blog yesterday, BUT my wireless internet decided to have its own celebration - a hiatus in internet service for me.

Here is my unpublished virgin blog from yesterday -

Happy 2009!

New Year ’s Day. Symbolically appropriate for starting my blog. I would love to detail all the *AMAZING* things I did today … except I really DIDN’T do anything spectacularly fun. In reality, lazing around today suited my palate quite well. I’m finally home for the holidays and I’ve finally had a chance to take a breath and relax. Not feeling rushed and no ardent need to accomplish anything today, so I can afford to flip through the channels on TV and watch Shrek 3 and an episode of Friends; read a children’s book and not feel OVERLY guilty (or stupid), play Bach’s Prelude in A flat Major and not continue on to Fugue simply because I felt like watching an episode on my laptop.

Hmm. Sounds like today was just an excuse for me to be flippant about everything. For me to act on impulse. For me to start a task and abandon it. Grain of guilt gnawing at me. But! I have started this blog which I have planned to write since…. Let’s stop me from embarrassing myself.

How long do New Year’s Resolutions last? Maybe this year, I’ll finally stick to my resolutions. That is, if I had bothered to make a list this morning. I have quite a number of goals ingrained in my brain right now but… well, honestly I haven’t put them on paper or specified the steps needed to achieve them. I’ll do that after I bake my deliciously 2009 chocolate chip cookies. (How is 2009 an adjective? I do not know. I should be flogged.) Don’t worry – I won’t start this project and give up! Baking is a passion - desserts are not to be joked about. “Nine” in Chinese has the same pronunciation as “longevity.” With some luck and much determination, my Resolutions (yes, with a capital “R”) will last. Will a bit more luck be allotted to me because I’m Chinese?