Tag Archives: food

Hong Kong shopping

City crowds. This was taken at Causeway Bay. We didn’t take pictures in Kowloon

Years ago what attracted Australians to stay a day or two or three in Hong Kong was the shopping. Sure, it was an accessible way to get a look at the Orient, but mixed with that was the great exchange rate, and the quality goods for sale at substantially less than the prices in Australia. Even when the sales taxes were altered back in the Keating years, you could still snap up a bargain in Hongkers. With that in mind, Pete and I set out after our lunch escapade in search of bargains.

I’ll interrupt that story with a small side arc. The cost of ‘roaming’ on mobile phone plans in Australia is outrageous, but it’s possible to buy ‘roaming’ plans that charge just the cost of a local phone call. Using Travelsim, we put $5 on such a sim and inserted it into a cheap phone, then told a few close friends the number so they could contact us in case of emergency at home. I also downloaded an app called Maps.Me. It’s free and lets you download a functioning map for overseas travel. Yes, Google does this, too, but Google has upset the powers that be in China, and you can’t download Google’s China maps. We put the app on Pete’s tablet, which he always has with him to take photos. Pete fell in love with Maps.Me. You don’t need access to Wifi, and of course the GPS function will locate you on the map. It certainly helps with navigating in foreign parts.

Back on the streets of Hong Kong, we made our way towards the electronics street. We had already discovered that our mate Andy (tour guide) had given us a bum steer as far as directions went. But Pete is quite happy to ask for help, and managed to find an Aussie working in a shop to tell us where to go. So we worked our way across Nathan Road, which runs up the middle of Kowloon, and into the back roads where the shops line the streets.

Hong Kong was always a busy place, and this was the weekend, but the throng of humanity was extraordinary. The streets were sardine packed everywhere. For Aussies, think sideshow alley at the Royal Show on steroids. The demographics had changed, too. Not so many years ago, the crowd would have been mostly Asian, but there would have been a good number of European people. Now, people like us were a rarity. I hate crowds at the best of times. I don’t get anxious or claustrophobic, but I hate the press of people invading my space, brushing their bodies against me as they pass. When I find myself in a crowd I start to move faster, ducking and weaving my way between the people. Where there’s rudeness, pushing, shoving and the like, the nostrils flare, the elbows come out, and although I won’t push first, I’ll shove second. We were both struck by the rudeness and total lack of consideration for anyone else on the street. And we discovered we weren’t the only ones with that perception.

We were looking for a camera lens. We had done our homework at home and knew what we wanted, and what it should cost. I leave all negotiations about price to Peter, who enjoys the cut and thrust, and is very good at it. But while he would have had a lovely time haggling in years gone by, it doesn’t happen anymore. For a start, far fewer Hong Kongers speak English. We would go into a shop, they would wheel out their English speaker, we would tell them what we wanted, and they would give us a price. That was it. No negotiation. Take it or leave it. You can get it for that in Australia? Shrug. In days gone by, they wouldn’t have let you out of the shop, at least trying to sell you something else. That’s how it still is in Singapore. But not here.

What was happening? What had changed? The answers came from our tour guide in Macao, a Portuguese gentleman who had lived in Macao for 33 years. The vast majority of tourists in Hong Kong (and Macao) now are mainland Chinese. They require less personal space and have a different perception about how to behave in a crowd. And they pay whatever the vendors ask. They have money, and they know they will get a quality product in Hong Kong. I have never seen so many stores selling up-market merchandise like Gucci, Armani, Yves St Laurent, and all the other big-name designer brands. Every fifth car (that wasn’t a taxi) was a Mercedes. I must have seen half a dozen Maseratis (I’ve never seen one on the street before) one red one being driven by a kid with P plates, doing his best to hoon around a packed Hong Kong block.  The best-selling item for the Chinese? Tins of powdered baby milk. There is a ration of two tins per person. They also love to gamble. But I’ll leave that to my Macao post.

After a fruitless few hours fighting our way through Kowloon, we gave up and caught a taxi to the star ferry which plies the waters between Kowloon and the Island. It’s a short ride, and not very crowded on this Saturday afternoon. The ride in a lift made up for it, though. The last fellow to insinuate himself in could only just lean out of the way of the closing doors. Now that WAS claustrophobic. I keep on wondering how it would be if the lift failed…

That evening we decided to go out for dinner. I’m not a great lover of Chinese food – I hasten to add that there are very many excellent Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, I just wasn’t in the mood. I love Indian, though, and on the concierge’s recommendation we went to a restaurant tucked away in an arcade in an alley less than 10 minutes from the hotel. We spent a lovely evening there. The menu listed a vast array of dishes, but since the owners were Hindu, not beef. Peter asked the Indian waiter where he came from, which was greeted with a big grin. “I was born here, sir.” Turned out his ancestors had been in the British army stationed in Hong Kong, and had decided to stay. The barman was from Indian, though. He didn’t speak much English, but that was okay. We tried a shot of Indian whisky (better than Johnny Walker IMO) and Pete had Indian beer. I had a glass of house white, which arrived in a bucket (not really – just a very generous serve). The menu included standard combinations, so we picked the ‘Happy Meal’ – tandoori chicken for starters, then lamb tikka marsala served with naan and condiments, sweets and coffee.

We slept well that night. Join me tomorrow for our last day in Hong Kong, pottering around in a different part of the city.

SFRB Summer cafe – pop in for an appetiser #sfrb

Spaceopera1Hi and welcome to the Science Fiction Romance brigade’s summer blog hop. This year, we’re offering a menu of delights guaranteed to pique even the most jaded appetite. This week, the menu is space opera.

But first, let’s talk about food.

Dinner can very definitely be very sexy, a part of foreplay.

Food’s a nice thing to have anyway, isn’t it? So here’s my recipe for my wonderful starter that uses the best of the summer season’s produce in the sub-tropics where I live. Light and tasty for (naturally) two. (Pssst. It doesn’t really look like that – more seafood, less green. But just cross your eyes and pretend. Okay?)

1 avocado
1 mango
8 large prawns, deveined and peeled.
4 scallops
20ml olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1tsp Dijon mustard
20ml honey
several handfuls of mixed leaves and baby spinach

Salad

Peel and chunk the avocado
Peel and chunk the mango
Arrange the leaves on 2 plates
Scatter over the mango and avocado
Fry the prawns in a little olive oil until pink. Sear the scallops for a few seconds.
Set aside to make the dressing – place oil, mustard, lemon juice and honey in a jar and shake well
Arrange the prawns and scallops on the plates.
Top with dressing.
Enjoy.

And now for a reading space opera starter my stand-alone novella – A Matter of Trust

Will the DemoCover of book A Matter of Trustn Admiral protect her from her family?

Princess Amira is ready to start a new life after the death of her husband, but that doesn’t include marrying the man her father picks out for her. Pursued by his agents, she races across the galaxy in a desperate search for a safe haven. Amid simmering tensions at the edge of the Empire, Amira renews her acquaintance with Imperial Admiral Ul-Mellor. Although his detractors call him the Demon Admiral,  Amira finds him intelligent, articulate, and very attractive.

But Ul-Mellor is not human and Amira is a princess – far above Ul-Mellor’s status on his home world. He and Amira will have to overcome a gulf of cultural and class differences if they’re to turn their mutual attraction into a relationship. And what will Ul-Mellor do when faced with a choice – Amira or his hard-won commission?

Yes, they dined together. Here’s an excerpt from that encounter.

____________________________________________

Ul-Mellor ushered her into his apartment, where his steward offered a pre-dinner drink. She sat in a chair, a glass in her hand, her legs crossed at the ankles. He stared at her, drinking her in. Caramel skin, black hair hanging around her shoulders, eyes like dark chocolate, lips like wine. The memory of what those lips were doing last time he saw her throbbed in his groin.

“Tell me what Brom and Ghaurondo had planned. What was that about piracy?”

Ul-Mellor explained the plot. “Brom has no love for the Empire. He blames it for the death of his son. And it’s true the needs of the outer provinces have been neglected.”

His steward caught Ul-Mellor’s eye. He stood. “Dinner, my Lady?”

He’d ordered the finest meal his chefs could produce at short notice, but he hardly tasted what he ate, too busy devouring Amira with his eyes. He memorized her features: the curve of her lips when she smiled, the wisp of hair falling over her forehead, the sparkle in her eyes when she laughed.

____________________________________________

Don’t forget to check out the rest of this week’s menu and enter for this week’s prize.


Enter for this week’s prize

What writers can learn from reality shows

Dessert EmiratesReality TV shows seem to be endlessly popular with the TV viewing audience. They pop up constantly, perhaps with a different name, different skills, but always they’re contests. Big Brother, Survivor, Master Chef, the Block, the Biggest Loser – and my all-time favourite, My Kitchen Rules.

Let me make it perfectly clear that I no longer watch these shows. I watched a couple of seasons of Master Chef because I love cooking shows and Master Chef actually had a few episodes a week where they went into the details of cooking. The rest of it, however, is a cooking contest. Which brings me to My Kitchen Rules. I imagine a similar show exists all over the world. In Australia, one pair of contestants, both amateur cooks, is chosen from each state in Australia. The couples can be married, gay, sisters or brothers, friends or whatever turns you on. The season starts with each couple hosting all the other contestants and the judges, for a dinner party in their own home. The contestants and the judges all score the meal. After all the ‘at home’ meals have been done, there’s an elimination process where some people drop out. Sorry if I’m hazy. You see, I loathe this show. Sure, I was sadly disillusioned to discover it wasn’t a cooking show. I hankered for Nigella, or the Cook and the Chef, Two Fat Ladies, the Naked Chef. What I got was a contrived game show.

In one of my biennial visits to the doctor I came across an article in a women’s magazine (I hate them, too – a doctors’ visit is the only time I ever look at them), a My Kitchen Rules tell-all. Well, gosh, Mouseketeers. Oh you thought the people cooked in their own homes? No.An awful lot of houses in Australia don’t have a separate dining room. We tend to prefer open living. But the home used for the set had to have a separate dining room so the couple cooking could be sequestered in the kitchen while the others talked about them. That, of course, but more pressure on the cooking couple. Unfamiliar kitchen, unfamiliar stove. And you know all that bitchiness and trash talk? The contestants are told what to say! Yes, it’s true. And, I have no doubt the fuck-ups are orchestrated, too.

So what does all this have to do with writing?

Everything, my friends.

I’ve already alluded to the importance of setting. Make sure your setting supports what will happen. Think about how the setting can aid some characters or put others on the back foot.

Choose your characters carefully. In MKR the contestants are selected with group dynamics in mind. Have a look. There’ll be the nice couple everyone hopes will win. The pompous know-it-alls who are critical of everyone else. The bitches (usually women) who often provide the tag lines for tomorrow’s show and who everybody hopes will get eliminated. (Quite often they last a loooong time to keep the tension going.) Then there’s the devious couple who’ll do anything to win, like voting down a spectacular meal so the rival couple’s rating falls. There’s the super confident couple who break under pressure (when the custard boils over or the kitchen paper catches fire in the oven or the lamb’s undercooked). And there’s the couple who come across as irritating or vaguely obnoxious but who blossom and grow during the show.

Tension is a vital component. In every episode there will be a minor crisis (contrived). For example, people having to wait two hours between the entree* and the main course. Or a couple who make cheese on their farm at home, so they cook a meal with cheese in every course. (Needless to say, one of the diners will hate cheese, or be allergic.) Or a contestant more interested in having his trousers pressed than letting his wife get on with preparations for dinner.Later, couples who have been eliminated will return to give their opinions. They’ll be the pompous lot and or the bitches.

Conflict is king. There will be trash talk at the table, conniving about what votes to give… and so it goes. So MKR (like all these shows) is about conflict – which is what good stories are all about. The characters are carefully chosen to show (!) this conflict and given lines to say. Then as the show progresses the tension between the contestants is heightened by throwing in ever-increasing problems, such as the mishaps in the kitchen. Later, the couples are thrown into situations they haven’t encountered before, like cooking for a crowd at a bush fete, or something.

Take note, writers. These shows are enormously popular for a reason. A year or two ago my husband and I were on a small bus delivering people to their cars at the long term carpark. On board was a group who had flown up to Brisbane to watch Big Brother, and they talked about their experience. I could not believe the commitment these people had to the contestants in a TV show. They hated some, loved others, wanted some out. THAT is the sort of emotion you want to get from your readers.

Although, of course, there will still be some people who HATE what you’ve done.

 

* an entree in Australia and most other places is an appetiser. I have never understood how Americans can refer to what we call a main course as an entree.

The picture at top left is of dessert in Emirates first class. It was delicious.