Wednesday, 31 December 2008

If you go to Macau - go hungry

There were only first class tickets available on the Cotai jet ferry to Macau for the price of $236 for a single. Initially I balked at the price and was tempted to wait for a later ferry until Melissa pointed out it was about $40 US. Sometimes where foreign currency is concerned I can be hopelessly slow on the uptake for a trained mathematician.

The fast ferry takes about an hour and soon we’d arrived at the ferry terminal in Taipa, the smaller of the two islands in Macau Special Administrative Region, and hopped on the free shuttle to the Venetian hotel on the Cotai Strip. At the moment the strip is essentially the Venetian and Four Seasons hotels; the rest is still a building site

Melissa told me that China had clamped down on providing permits for the Chinese to visit Macau, the only place in China where gambling is legal, owing to concerns about the amount of money pouring out of China and flooding into Macau’s, often American owned, casinos. Apparently gambling revenue in Macau has been growing at a rate of more than 20% per year and in 2006 overtook Las Vegas as the most profitable gambling centre in the world.

Wow!! Who’d have thought it.

The Venetian hotel is the spit of the one in Las Vegas. Macau’s quite freaky that way as whether you’re visiting the casinos or the old town you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re in China.

After a quick look around the Venetian we took a cab to Senado Square, a pedestrianised hub of activity in Macau lined with beautiful neoclassical buildings.

After a quick pitstop at Leitaria i son for egg custard pudding and red tea with almond milk (strangely delicious) we headed for the Ruínas de São Paulo, the facade St. Paul's Church, which was built between 1602 and 1640 by Jesuits and destroyed by fire in 1835.

After a stroll around the ruins of Fortaleza do Monte we decided to check out the Wynn Casino. Along the way we walked down a street chocka-block with food stores and vendors offering tastings, such as this woman who was snipping off strips of some sort of cured pork with scissors and handing samples to passersby. We were wary of eating samples off the street at first, but took the plunge and were glad we did. It was soooo good!!

Dessert was also on offer in the form of these teensy cookies that Melissa was quite partial to. They were a bit on the dry side for my taste.

On the way to the Wynn we passed the Casino Lisboa, one of the most famous hotel casinos in Macau built in 1970 by Stanley Ho who held a government granted monopoly of the gambling industry in Macau for over 35years. The older Chinese casinos provide an interesting contrast to the newly opened western owned casinos. The chinese casinos were also packed unlike the Wynn, but that could have been because we were there on a Monday or because its probably costlier to gamble at the Wynn than across the street at the Lisboa.

The Wynn in Macau has dancing fountains similar to those at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, with one crucial difference, the Wynn fountains also have fire, or they do when they dance to Bonnie Tyler's "I need a hero". They were pretty impressive as fountains go.

We rounded off our lovely day in Macau with a fabulous dinner at the beautiful Pousada de Sao Tiago.

Hong Kong Part 3: The Big Buddha

The plan for Sunday 26th October, our second full day in Hong Kong, was to visit the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island, so after a hearty breakfast of pork congee and a boiled egg we set out for the subway station to take a train from Causeway Bay to Tung Chung and then a cable car to Ngong Ping, a tourist village in Lantau and gateway to the Big Buddha which was completed in 1993. Apparently at 110feet it’s the world’s tallest outdoor seated bonze Buddha and weighs a nifty 250metric tons.

We arrived at the cable car station just after 10am, paid for our tickets and joined the queue. I was relieved to see the cable cars to Lantau were bigger and sturdier looking than others I’ve endured in the past, so my nerves were much less jangled, but my stomach was still in knots at the thought of those skinny cables ferrying me over jagged rocks and open water.

We shared our cable car with two Italian men and three Chinese, 2 women and a man and I noted in disbelief the sign indicating the car’s capacity was seventeen. Seventeen!!! Ten seated and seven standing.

One of the Italians, the older one, kept standing up to take photos the cable car swaying slightly as he did so. I had to fight a strong urge to smack up the side of the head and tell him to sit down and be still but instead I gripped the bottom of the seat, clenched my teeth and prayed for it to be over.

Once safely at the end of the death ride it was a short walk through the strip of restaurants and souvenir shops of Ngong Pong to reach the Buddha. I had to smile at the attempt by this restaurant to cover multiple culinary possibilities.

There are 268 steps up to the Tian Tan Buddha, but that’s when living in a walk up in New York came to my advantage although there are only a mere 45steps up to my 4th floor apartment. Still I was happy to breeze to the top without too much effort despite long hours at the office having impinged on the frequency of my gym regimen before the trip.

At the base of the Buddha are smaller bronze statues representing the immortals.

The Tian Tan Buddha statue is an extension of the Po Lin monastery which was founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu.

After a stroll along the wisdom walk we'd had our fill of Ngong Ping and hopped on a bus for the 15minute trip to Tai O, a small fishing town on the western side of Lantau Island.

Afterwards we took a bus to Mui Wo on the east coast of the island where we searched fruitlessly for somewhere to eat that looked halfway decent and wasn’t packed to the rafters. We gave up and took the fast ferry to Central for $36.70 where we decided to go with a recommendation from one of my Hong Kong born friend, Christine, and have lunch at Yun Kee restaurant on Wellington St where goose is a speciality. Unfortunately they were all out by the time we arrived around 3.30pm, so instead we ordered the braised pork with rice and mixed meats with tofu.

The pork was delicious, the mixed meats I was less keen on. It included chicken, cuttlefish, mushrooms and a couple of mystery meats that had been flattened and cut into thin slices camouflaging their true identity. I took a smile bite of what I assumed was the abalone as Melissa gauged my reaction.

It didn’t taste of anything much. “It’s okay, it’s very bland” I told her. “Try a bit.”

As she took a small bite of the mystery meat her face froze.

“THIS is not THAT” said Melissa jabbing her chopsticks towards the leftover abalone on my plate.

She looked like she didn’t know whether to spit it into her napkin or bite the bullet and swallow it whole. She went with the latter.

“It had a very strong taste” she said

She didn’t look too well. “Do you want to stop by that bakery we passed on the way here and get something sweet to take the taste away?” I asked.

“Yes!!” she responded with absolute certainty. In fact I’ve only once ever heard her give a more definitive answer, which was to the question ‘do you think Daniel Craig’s attractive?’

My guess is she had a bite of pigeon, it was all over the menu along with goose as one of the specialities of the house.

Mystery Meats

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hong Kong Part 2: Sharks have lips???

After taking our fill of the views from Victoria Peak we consulted our guidebooks and saw that Fodors suggested not bothering with a return ticket on the tram to take us down from the peak, but instead to consider “taking one of the beautiful low-impact trails back to Central” and promising “spectacular views in all directions via the Peak Circle Walk, “an easy-going 2.2 mi (3.5-km) paved trail”

Beautiful yes, spectacular views, absolutely. Easy going? Well the jury’s still out on that one. It was pretty steep in places and not a walk I’d recommend to someone who wasn’t in the best of health or elderly as it was particularly hard on the knees and calves in places. Admittedly Melissa and I are on the wrong side of 35, but we’re both regular walkers and gym goers, in fact while in Hong Kong we walked 12miles per day on average, so we’re no lightweights when it comes to a bit of exercise, so I felt the Fodors guide cavalierly dismissing the walk down as easy going was a bit off the mark.

Nearing the bottom of the peak we passed luxury high rise apartment buildings that appeared to be chocka with western ex-pats and we consulted our map to locate the Midlevels escalators recommended by our numerous guidebooks as a sight worth seeing and described by Fodors as “a practical human mover, this is actually a 1-km-long (1/2-mi-long) combination of escalators and walkways that provide free, glass-covered transport up or down the steep incline between Central and Midlevels.”

It took us a while to find the escalators exactly due to a couple of critical roads being missing from our map, but we finally did and well…call us a couple of jaded New Yorkers if you will, but after the build up from Fodors I was expecting something much more impressive, something akin to the moving walkways at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas instead of something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1970s British tower block. Hardly the 8th wonder of the world ;-)

Photo of escalator courtesy of

After a wander around the Western and Central regions of Hong Kong Island we walked down to Central pier to take the iconic Star Ferry over to Kowloon. The trip takes a mere 7minutes and is as cheap as chips costing something like $2 Hong Kong Dollars for a single trip – about 30cents US. The only grumble for me was that Hong Kong harbour is well used – or it was that day - and so the trip was a bit rocky and despite such a brief trip I was feeling a bit queasy by the time we arrived in Kowloon, but nothing that a 5minute walk along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade couldn’t cure.

Next we hopped on the metro to the Diamond Hill stop to visit the stunning Chi Lin Buddhist nunnery which was built without any nails and instead uses a Tang Dynasty techniques to hold the structure together using wooden dowels and brackets.
Our next stop, the bustling Sik Sik Temple was a world of difference from the beautiful, serene Chi Lin Nunnery, a one stop shop for Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucianist temples where the air was thick with incense.

Next up was dim sum at the Jade Garden located across from the Star Ferry terminal in Star House where we ordered pork buns, taro puffs, shrimp in rice paper (very gelatinous, I didn’t like this one so much), shrimp dumplings, vegetable seafood dumplings washed down with Chinese tea. I couldn’t eat much. It had been 7hours since breakfast at that point and food a bit of a shock to the system.

I probably should have taken this photo before we had eaten almost everything. You can see the gelatinous shrimp in the foreground.

We worked off our late lunch by walking up the Nathan Road - 'miss you want Gucci Gucci Prada Prada. Watches miss, handbags'. Hong Kong eh, it's just like being in Chinatown in New York - to the Temple Night Market where I searched fruitlessly for Buddhist bead bracelet for Catweazle. No good, they were all too girly!!
Afterwards we hopped on the metro back to the hotel in Causeway Bay to shower and relax with a complementary glass of of the delicious Beni di batasiolo gavi wine before heading out for dinner at the Water Margin, a very pretty restaurant on the 12th Floor of the Times Square Shopping Center festooned with red lanterns and decorated with Chinese wood carvings serving Northern Chinese cuisine, where we felt adventurous ordering an appetizer of smoked pork cheeks – small circles of cold pork with 2 sauces that turned out to be disappointingly bland. Maybe we should have gone all out and ordered the marinated shark lips instead - followed by chicken with tofu hotpot accompanied by Water Margin fried rice made with pot end crispy rice. Delicious!!

Not before time: Hong Kong Part I

Ah, I’ve been such a lazy arse about updating my blog these past few months. I thought I’d do better finding the time while staying at my parents’ place in Yorkshire over the Christmas hols, but I’ve been too busy catching up with friends, drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies to bother. I had such good intentions too. I was going to update my blogroll and finally post all about my trip to Hong Kong, Macao and Shanghai with Melissa way back in October which is long overdue. It’s highly unlikely I’ll finish posting about the trip before 2009 arrives, but here’s a snippet with photos.

I slept fitfully the first night in Hong Kong waking up every couple of hours or so and then nodding off again. Melissa and I finally woke up for real around 5am, so we were able to get an early start to the day and set to get the tram up to the top of Victoria Peak, an 1,800+ ft mountain on the western side of Hong Kong Island.

I have to admit I was a bit nervous about the trip up to the peak as Fodors had listed the funicular railway that was to transport us to the top as “the world's steepest.” Urgle!! I’m not the biggest fan of heights and the stomach churning experience of riding the funicular tram up to the peak of Cerro San Cristóbal in Santiago
last November flashed before my eyes when ashen faced I’d clutched the sides of open carriage in a death grip, hid behind much braver small children to shield myself of the view below and tried to assure myself that the tram wasn’t about to fall off the mountain and send me plummeting to my death.

The Fodors guide cheerfully continued “at times they seem to travel at an impossibly vertical angle, but don't fret; it's all perfectly safe.”

Perfectly safe my arse; didn’t they say that about the Titanic?


I can’t say I liked the sound of those ‘impossibly vertical angles’ however The Peak – as those of us in the know call it ;-) - is listed by the guidebooks as a sight not to be missed, so I ignored the butterflies in my stomach, my sense of impending doom, gritted my teeth and bought a ticket.

You cannot imagine the blessed relief when the funicular arrived at the station and instead of an elderly looking open tram as in Chile, it was a relatively shiny and brand spanking new train fully enclosed with forward facing seats up the mountain – to ascend Cerro San Cristóbal you stand up on the open tram looking back on the steep drop below and quietly lose your mind as the safety and security of terra firma rapidly slip away, at least that’s what I did. Travelling up Victoria Peak was a breeze by comparison, because as everyone knows you cannot possibly die if you fall off an 1800foot mountain in an enclosed tram!! Ahem.

I don’t know what it is, it defies rational explanation, but for some reason I feel so much happier about heights when the vehicle carrying me to my destination is enclosed. Clearly I’m no claustrophobe. I have no big qualms about flying for example. Well, no fears beyond the usual ones of extreme turbulence and dying an agonizing death in a fiery crash of course, but that goes without saying doesn’t it. Yup, I’m fine as long as I am firmly enclosed some type of transportation with windows – or even bars – to protect me from accidentally tripping, falling out of an opening and plummeting to my death. That is, as long as the method of transportation isn’t a pigging cable car* swaying ominously over a precipitous drop to rocks or open water below as it does on the trip out to see the big bloody Buddha on Lantau Island, but more on that later.

Anyway, enough of the death chat, check out some lovely, if hazy photos. H
ere's the funicular arriving at the station. Marvel at how enclosed and safe it looks.

A lovely, if hazy view of the harbour from the top of the peak. It's a long way down!! As with many places in Hong Kong you have to walk through a shopping center to get to the viewing platform. They seem to be shopping mad!!

Another lovely and hazy view looking to the East of Hong Kong Island. Spot the funicular making its way up the mountain. It doesn't look so steep does it? My memory may be failing me, but this seems to be about as steep as it got.

Compare and contrast the incline with that of the funicular in Santiago - the non-enclosed funicular - which travels to the top of the Cerro San Cristobel shown below. Doesn't it look steeper to you? It certainly felt steeper.

I loved the coquettish charms of this little fellow. So cute!!

Phew, I'm worn out from posting now. That's what happens when you sit on the sofa and eat chocolates for 2weeks, even the smallest exertions exhaust you. Time for another cup of tea and a Thornton's Continental I think ;-)

*I blame my fear of cable cars entirely on that scene from the Bond movie, Moonraker.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas

I’ve been back in England for almost 2weeks now and am finally getting used to having the obligatory 2 cups of tea an hour (I believe it’s a law) and trying, without success, to make sense of the mother country’s obsession with Cheryl Cole. It’s bewildering I tell you. The last I heard of her she was some northern chav known as Cheryl Tweedy, best known for her alleged assault of a toilet attendant. A few short years later and she’s the nation’s sweetheart, thanks to her turn as a judge on X Factor!! It’s very bizarre.

I’ve been erring on the lazy side since I’ve been back, enjoying life dressed in nothing more glamorous than sweatpants with make up free features and unstyled hair, its bliss not to have to make too much of an effort for a couple of weeks. I did have big plans to go swimming everyday to try and work off a few holiday pounds in advance, but as it turns out the only exercise I am getting is from playing games on the Wii, with my nephew. Turns out I am a whizz at frisbee golf, crap at normal golf and average at 10pin bowling with a Wii age of 58!! Nice!!

Unfortunately I haven’t quite managed to escape work and ended up having to forfeit a few days vacation to enable the smooth transition of Client X’s recently won account to the agency so that we are good to go in January. Nevertheless I didn’t anticipate receiving a call from my head of department yesterday while relaxing at home enjoyng a rerun of Poirot.

Knowing that the agency is rumoured to be letting 200+ people go in January I have to say that seeing his name on my mobile set off a little flutter of panic, especially when I answered and he started the conversation by saying he didn’t have great news about Client X. This is it I thought, they've cut the budgets and I’m being made redundant, but then I’ve always had a touch of the pessimist in me when it comes to my job.

As it turns out Jane, a fellow Brit - who was hired to take some of the pressure off my head of department and lead the teams that Emma and I are in charge of - is no longer going to be moving to New York having found out she is pregnant. Despite being hired about 6months ago, going through the whole rigmarole of getting her visa and getting married to her longterm fiance, Jane and her new husband had yet to move to NYC owing to the fact that her elderly dog, which she planned to bring to New York, was not well enough to travel and was apparently “on it’s last legs” according to the vet, so we were essentially waiting for the dog to die before she could move over. "That dog's been on it's last legs for years" scoffed my friend - and former manager - Miles, who worked for Jane a number of years ago at a different agency, "she'll never move."

Turns out Miles was right. Personally I wasn't 100% optimistic about the situation, however I was hoping it would somehow resolve itself. Until it did Jane was working out of the London office. However now that she’s found out she is pregnant she’s decided not to move to New York and has ended her contract with us, so my boss wasn’t in fact calling to fire me but to ask out if I'd be okay with staying in the UK a little longer than planned in order to meet Jane in the UK and handover the portion of the Client X account that Jane's been running. I’ll now be flying back to NYC in early January instead of the end of December as planned. I'm a bit disappointed not to have a few days in NYC before I start work - I was hoping to be able to invite the girls over to enjoy a traditional glass or two of mulled wine – a festive something I miss when I am in the US - but on the plus side they'll be flying me back on business class. Yippee!!!

Today I let the serious business of the holidays begin. I'd planned to pop out early today to pop into Leeds and pick up some angostura bitters and sugar cubes for champagne cocktails tomorrow. Unfortunately I didn't get up when my alarm went off today at 9am and when I did wake up it was 11.30am!! I am reverting back to my American time as 11.30am/6.30am NYC is the time I usually get up for work. Dad sarcastically greeted me with "afternoon" when I came downstairs for a spot of breakfast. My parents have a cheek complaining about my tardiness to be honest since it’s their damn snoring that keeps me awake half the night. I didn’t fancy getting the train into Leeds at this time and fighting my way through the hoards of last minute Christmas shoppers and didn't rate my chances of acquiring anything so exotic in Normanton (the UK equivalent of Bumf**k, Arkansas). To be honest I wouldn't even know where they might sell bitters in Leeds, although I am sure they do. Maybe I will do that for New Years Day or something instead. My sister, brother-in-law and nephew are having Christmas dinner at my brother in law’s parents this year, so we are doing an American style brunch in the morning with pancakes, scrambled eggs and cocktails. My mother has put my nephew in charge of mixing the cocktails. Erm…mother, he's 12!!! Can you imagine how alcoholic those are going to be? My nephew of course will be drinking lemonade.

Perhaps I’ll save the champagne cocktails for New Years’ Day.

Happy Christmas!!

Carnaby St Snowmen by Jeff Galasso @ Flickr

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Credit Crunch Christmas

Yesterday I had one of those Mondays where I opened my eyes and optimistically thought “Is it Sunday?”

Ha!! Fat chance!!

It was a really bad idea to go out for drinks on a Sunday night. A really bad idea!! I was suffering a little yesterday after a one too many delicious Yellow Fever cocktails with Ash and Melissa at the recently opened Macao Trading Company in TriBeCa. Melissa and I couldn't resist checking the place out after our recent visit to Macao. It’s a nice place, I can highly recommend it and the few small plates of food we had were very tasty.

The photo below is courtesy of Katie Soloker/Gothamist. You can see more of their pretty pictures of the place here.

To be honest I really shouldn’t be drinking $14 cocktails in the current economy, especially given the industry press is gleefully reporting on the rumour that 200+ people will likely be laid off from my company by mid January.

I believe it. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but I’m bricking it even more after seeing it in print. I find out more news about what’s going on in my own company from industry bloggers than I ever get to know about from management and the majority of it turns out to be true.

I know of one department which has been told to cut $1.2million in salary!! $1.2million!!! Whew!!

“There are three very senior people who don’t seem to do very much whose salaries could make up 75% of that,” a disgruntled friend in the know told me over lunch. “The three of them collectively make as much as 24 junior staff members.”

Can you guess which 3 very senior people they’ve put in charge of determining who stays and who goes?
It doesn’t take a genius to know whose jobs are likely to be secure come mid January and which 24 junior staffers are potentially out on their ear.


My boss is optimistic for our team – I’ve seen the numbers and they look okay – but these things are never decided until the last second, so it doesn’t pay to be complacent. The pessimist in me has been sporadically taking personal items home – mostly shoes. I had eight pairs in my office drawer on Monday, now I’m down to two - just in case I need to clean out my desk after Christmas. My colleague Emma thinks I am being ridiculous, but I’d prefer to be prepared.

No more cocktails for me for a while!!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Love this!!

Ladyhawke, My Delirium...

The trouble with Thanksgiving... that luxuriating in the bliss of a 4day weekend means work really does a number on you over when you finally get back to the office.

I am slammed!!!!

I'm so busy rushing to get things done before I fly to England on the 12th for my Christmas hols on that I've barely a moment to spare to update the blog and what not. Sigh!!

Hope you had a good one anyway if you were celebrating Thanksgiving. I had a good laugh with Nigel over lunch who regaled me with tales of his dating life. I hope to post about them soon, but let's just say his stories involve heat packing paraplegics and a snuggie. I kid you not!!

The Friday after Thanksgiving I flew to Austin where I had a lovely time Catweazle. Let's just say that I learned from one of the characters on The Real Housewives of Atlanta that the secret to a youthful complexion is sex three times a day and that Catweazle was more than obliging in helping me test my new skincare regimen ;-) The only thing that didn't impress me about Austin was the weather. Before I left I'd been obsessively checking and Austin was forecast to have sunny days in the high 60s/low 70s over Thanksgiving weekend. What did I get....low 50s, wind and rain!! Harumph. C'mon now Texas, you can do better than that!!

A few pics anyway