Day 438: That Time I Tried Hot Pot

Last weekend I went out with some of the dads for a night in the city eating at a “good” Hot Pot place.  Super interesting experience overall.

First is that if you do not know anything about hot pot, it’s basically a boiling soup broth with various flavors (usually beef stock, I think, but ours was a “special one” with crab and chicken).  Then you dip your various ingredients in it to cook.  All these things also add to the flavor, so in theory, by the end you have some really good flavors happening.  What is weird about it is everyone is dropping raw ingredients all the time, so the broth is likely always carrying some funk in it 😉

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the famous hot pot!

When I say you drop your ingredients into the pot, I mean things like raw chicken, beef, fish, eel, intestines, fish skin, fried & rolled tofu, and so on.  And when I say various flavors, I also mean to say that they also have levels of intensity in the spice.  We had “medium” and it was so spicy it literally sucked the air from my lungs when I took my first bite.

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just dip the fried fish skins into the hot pot for 5 seconds max, and you’re all set!
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condiment tray – in case there’s not enough spice, you can add it here!

They also had fish and other things that they served cut up and on ice, like sushi.  For example they had Geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), which is about as unappetizing visually as it gets.  And it tastes pretty fishy, kind of like an extra salt-watery oyster.

a few geoducks.  appetizing?  (image from geoduck.org)
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geoduck sashimi

We had a nice meal and a nice evening, and I don’t think we over-drank or did anything too crazy with the alcohol.  But, at about 5 in the morning, I woke up with cold sweats, and shortly after I was in the bathroom.  And let me just say that the spicy food was not pleasant as it forced it’s way from my body for the next day.

It could have been a lot of things – the crab that I ate before anyone else (maybe it was not cooked), the tons of un-sanitary broth that was soaked into the tofu skins I ate, or maybe it was the spices.  The super hot, angry, szechuan spices.  I have found out that as I age, I can’t handle the hot spices as much as I used to, and now that I have the little guy, I rarely take the chance on it.

Two of the guys are from Hong Kong, and they also find themselves getting sick a lot when they eat hot pot.  One guy told me when I was in the throws of the agony the day following that 4 out of 5 times he is in the same situation.  So it’s good to hear it’s not only me.  I’m glad I experienced the hot pot nonetheless, and I would recommend any of those brave foodie travelers out there to go to a hot pot place when you are in Hong Kong.

Day 437: swim clothes for kids

One thing that is way more complicated than I thought it would be is swim clothes for the little guy.

When I was a kid in the ’80s, boys wore swim suits and no shirts.  Girls wore regular old swim suits that girls wear.  So naturally I have been caught off guard this past year as we get swim clothes for the little guy.  After all, I assumed it would be a cute little swim suit, and that’s all.  Ha!

The thing is, we care a lot more about sun protection now.  It seems that in the era we live in, everything is out to get us -including the sun.  And that means we need to buy SPF shirts for the kids, and preferably a one piece swim garment with a zipper up the front.  3/4 sleeve at least.  Imagine a body suit that surfers wear, then make it of spandex, and you have a good idea of what we are talking about here.  Gender can be indicated by pattern and color, I guess.

Then of course there’s the hats.  Sun hats are probably the second ugliest garment a kid wears.  First most ugly is a sun hat for swimming.  They are also made of spandex, and they have a bit of fabric that hangs down to protect the neck.  I hate them.  And my son hates them too. My wife likes them.

There are plenty of other swimming garments – shoes, gloves and so on.  And there are tons of fun ways to spend your money for pool toys, too.  If you have any money left after buying the swim clothing, that is. 😉

Day 436: Shall We Eat Once Again?

One of the funniest things I heard in recent memory was from when my wife’s family visited us in Hong Kong just around a month ago.  It was my wife’s mother, her husband, and my wife’s nephew.

I was busy taking them around the town to the various sites, which is no easy task when you have a toddler who must eat regularly.  Breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, snack, dinner (and maybe a few other snacks in-between).  Of course this is much different from a regular adult’s rhythm, especially those who are on holiday and who maybe do not eat breakfast so early – and it is especially different for people who have not had children for a while.

So, one day when we were on our way in the city, I mentioned that we had to plan where to go next so that we could eat.  My wife’s mother’s husband, a really nice and funny guy who is in his early 70’s, said, “Shall we eat once again?!”  He said this with a little bit of laughter and a little despair, as if he was really torn up that we had to eat yet again, when we had just eaten 5 mere hours ago.

I think it is kind of like this with a lot of things when you are a parent.  People forget or are unaware of what it is like when a child is young.  And it does not take long to forget it.  I could for example forget that a 6-month old needs to eat x number of times and is not on solids yet, even though that was only a year ago for us.  I could insist that we did X or Y regarding something with the little guy but in reality memories fade with every phase, and unless it is something remarkable, it is hard to place an exact age with a phase.

So surely in the future, maybe in 2 years, maybe in 30 years, I will hear myself saying “shall we eat once again?!” and I hope I will remember this first time I heard this with a good laugh 😉

Day 435: Saying Goodbye to Your City

One of the things that is adding to the stress levels as we head back to Sweden is the list of things we’ve got to do before we leave.  You know, all the “favorites” and all the “tourist stuff we never did but now we’ve got to do” – these things that while you are living somewhere, you don’t bother, or you do them right away when you move there.

Of course this means already the remaining few weekends we have are getting fully booked.  Ocean Park, an excursion on a Junk (a rented boat that takes you to cool beaches and so on), and others top the list.  I am trying to take the time to do the things I want to do during the weeks with the little guy so that the things on my wife’s “to do” list can be achieved without mine in the way.

So, off we go into the month of May, already 1/3 over, and already feeling like we will leave feeling like we did not really “do” the city.  But then again, I think it is like this for everyone when the leave a “tourist” city behind – sometimes when there is so much to do and see, it is easy to overlook it until the end.

Day 434: When a Toddler Gets New Teeth

The little guy has just had his bottom canines pop up this week.  Yay!  And Ugh.  It is not a lot of fun for him, and it is therefore not a lot of fun for me.

When a baby starts getting their teeth, it is not much fun.  Lots of crying, sensitivity, maybe some fever, a bit of diharreah, and maybe lots of sleep / extra long naps.

When they get older and advance into being a “toddler,” you have all that other stuff I mentioned, plus the addition of them having an opinion, and a general irritability that is amazing.  Things can go from ok to ABSOLUTELY NOT ok in about 3 seconds.

For the little guy, he is always a bit whinier when my wife is around.  And that has been amplified this week when he has these canines coming in.  Additionally we see that he is so incredibly moody and un-peaceful during times he would normally be just fine, that you can tell he is confused and frustrated about what is going on – maybe he is just as frustrated as we are.

The canines go very deep so it’s not a shock that this one is brutal for him, but it’s how he is handling the discomfort that is really making it hard.  So for now we have lots of tears, lots of whining, lots of rejected food, lots of temper tantrums, and just a lot of everything on top of the stress of our upcoming move.  

I did tell someone that I hoped these teeth would come in before we were moving back, because I figured they would be rough ones.  Looks like I got what I wished for 😉

Day 433: The Smell of Fresh Cut Flowers

Today I got home, and I was hit square in the nose by a wonderful smell: fresh flowers.

My wife had a going away dinner yesterday with her colleagues, and they gave her a huge bouquet of roses, lilies and some other flowers I don’t know.  They smelled amazing the moment she walked thru the door, and after she put them in a vase, the smell started to permeate thru the apartment – when I walked home after a long day away, it was so nice to have this smell to welcome me!

There’s something nice about having fresh flowers at home.  It’s one of those things I think many people say they will do regularly, and then they do it for a few weeks or months, and they stop.  It’s not cheap for one thing.  It probably starts to feel like a chore after a while, too.

We rarely have fresh flowers in our home, so this novelty is something I really appreciate for the moment.  I like the life that the flowers bring, the “pop” they give to the room.  And I love the smell. 

Day 432: Strong Opinions But No Words

The little guy is almost 18 months old now, and one thing is sure: he has strong opinions.  He has opinions about what book he wants to read, about what toys are good or not, about what he wants to eat, when he wants to eat, and how he wants to eat.  He has opinions about being strapped into the stroller, and opinions about how much he likes my hugs.  All-in-all, it’s fascinating, because these opinions are expressed without words.

Imagine you are on the streets of some weird French town where they let mimes walk around.  Take the mimes and allow them to use noises, but no words.  Then, give these mimes bouts of irritability and pain because of teething, and make the mimes have temper tantrums.  It is proper for them to be in France, because you do not speak French, but the mimes do.  That is what it is like with the little guy at this moment.

“Blaaaah!”  he says.  “ok, do you want your water?” -pushes it away like it’s rancid- “ok, do you want some crackers.”  -pushes them away with a strong force – “oh, ok, you are not hungry?  you want your book?”  – pushes it away even more strongly, getting annoyed – “WAAAAWWAAAAA” – big tears starting to fall, crocodile tears.  “Ok buddy, what’s the problem?  You just ate your banana, you don’t want any of the other food, and you don’t want your book, your toys, or your pacifier.  What is it then?”  – CRY, CRY, CRY, CRY, BAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!”  -(hmmm.  what’s this about?)  “ok, we will just go then.”  And he stops crying.  I guess he wanted to go (but we stopped because he was whining to begin with)

It can also happen with good things – like for example last night he crawled up into his height chair when he wanted to eat, and sat there pointing to the kitchen and ordering  food from me.  Also, tonight, we were reading, and he then took a book, walked to his bedroom, and started tapping the rocking chair for me to sit and read to him there (indicating he wanted to go to bed).

The hard part of course is those times when you have gone thru the whole list of things he could possibly want, and you have no idea what he’s trying to communicate and it ends in tears, whining, crying, foot stomping, and a full-on temper tantrum.  It could be (and is most likely) connected to the fact that the bottom canine teeth have pierced thru the gums, and that must be really painful.  And if you combine that with the inability to speak yet (but still having opinions nonetheless), I can imagine everything is just overwhelming enough to turn anyone into an annoyed, frustrated little mime. 😉

Day 431: Daddies in the Playroom

In Discovery Bay there are some play rooms that are part of the clubhouse memberships.  They are different, and based on the age of your child, you will probably go to one over the other.  I have noticed a small trend happening when I am there playing with the little guy: the other kids want to play with us.

It starts with a kid saying to me: “hello, my name is XX.  What is your name?”  And then you are stuck.  For the next hour, that kid is stuck to you like glue.  They want your attention, they want to play with you.  They want you to play their games.  And on and on it goes, tirelessly, until you make your escape.

Meanwhile, where are their parents or their “helpers”?  Sitting on the side, not even in the play area with their child, on their cell phones.  Always.  On.  Their.  Cell.  Phones.  ALWAYS.  So, they are expecting me, and the relatively few other parents or helpers in the playroom, to basically babysit their kids.

Today when we were in there, the above example happened.  And occasionally the mother would look up at me like I was being weird talking to her little girl (as if I had a choice!).  You should not ignore kids when they talk to you, should you?   Anyway, we were there, and then this little girl pushed another kid off a padded pedestal.  The kid cried, and of course that mother came over expecting me to discipline the little girl.  I said, “this it the problem when the parents are not in the play area, this is not my child, so there’s nothing I can say here.”  I’m not going to discipline someone else’s kid who pushed someone else’s kid.  (there’s a mind bender!)

So, all the sudden the helper AND the mom, both of whom were on the other side of the room engrossed in the cell phones, and they did some B.S. discipline that was clearly just as much B.S. to the daughter as it was for them.  I did get some sideways glances as if I was responsible for this.

Later in the day I was venting to some of my friends about this, and a mom said, “ha!  this exact thing happens to my husband all the time, and he is equally frustrated!  I think the dads are kind of exotic in the play rooms, so the kids want to play with them.”  This could be true, after all a lot of the dads in our community are not present because they work so much – so us dads who are in the play room must be a bit of a novelty.  I was relieved that it was not only my plight, but it is still a fascinating thing.

I will say that I have learned that little kids in playrooms are a bit like stray dogs.  If you ignore them, they ignore you.  But once you acknowledge their existence, they will follow you, expecting you to be their friend.  Maybe it’s all a good reminder to anyone who has a playroom in their community that it is best to play with your kid, not use the playroom as a break from your day 😉

Day 430: Starbucks Reserve, Taikoo City Plaza

Today we went with a friend from Hong Kong to his old neighborhood, ate some great food, and went for a nice walk/play for the kids along the waterfront promenade.  If you are ever looking for something off the beaten path, the walk along the water from Sai Wan Ho to Tai Koo is great.  Views of another part of Hong Kong you rarely see, fresh air, and a bit of a different pace.

When we made it to Tai Koo, we were ready to get out of the heat and let the little ones run around in some air conditioning.  So, we went in the Tai Koo City Plaza (mall).  We wanted to have something different than a typical coffee, and we came across the Starbucks Reserve store.

Have you ever heard of the Starbucks Reserve stores?  It’s like this super interesting concept that they must be trying out in Asia, where “exclusive” is super important for a brand.  They have smaller runs of coffee harvests that they use in these shops, and it looked like some bean tastings were going on, so it definitely has that exclusive feel.  Anyway, upon sitting down at the bar (like a sushi bar ambiance), the barista helped us by giving us a menu to look over, which contained all sorts of interesting coffees.  Both me and my friend went with a “cold brewed coffee”, which is brewed using cold water over a really long period of time.

They served the coffee on a special plate with a glass of water to cleanse our palate and a piece of chocolate.  I think the only thing that would have made it more cool is if our coffee came in a glass instead of a to-go cup.  But maybe they (rightly) assumed we would need to go away sooner as we had toddlers who were not as fascinated by the good coffee experience as we were.

And how was the coffee?  Super good.  I normally do not drink straight black coffee, but this was delicious, and absolutely without question the smoothest coffee I have ever had.  It did not have any bitterness, with a bit of citrus notes at the end.  It was a bit more expensive than a regular coffee, but the experience was unique and special, and definitely worth it.

If you are looking for something to do that involves coffee, make a visit – their info is here!

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Day 429: Telling People We are Going Back Home

One of the least fun things to do now is tell people we are going back home.  Of course there are less fun things (like packing and selling things), but telling people we are going back to Sweden is not fun.  The reason it is not fun is because we have good friends here, of course.  And another reason is because people want to know why we would want to move away from Hong Kong.

To many expats who live here, Hong Kong is a bit of an oasis.  It’s this wonderful place where you can live a very expensive lifestyle doing a job that maybe would not give you the same lifestyle back wherever they are from.  It’s a place where you can have a “helper” to take care of your children, your dog, your apartment, and you, so that you can spend more time doing those leisure things you like to do.  You can eat in good restaurants that don’t break the bank, you can do trips to exotic locations, you can shop in expensive shops, and so on.  So when you say you are leaving, people just don’t “get it” about why.

At the end of the day, it’s all about being back in a more “normal” life.  Living over here in Hong Kong is not sustainable for us.  For example,  we don’t make enough money to live here with the kind of lifestyle that would give us a good quality of life (for example eating organic food is out of the question for us here).  It also is not sustainable because of the way childcare works here – if I were to go back to work, we would most likely have to get a helper, and that is not something we believe in or want to do.

Additionally, we are far away from family – and that becomes increasingly important as the little guy gets older.  Family, and having a connection to family members (in this case those family members in Sweden), has an increasing importance because we want him to have other “non-parent” family near him to learn from and be comfortable with.  There is a lot of good that can come from being around cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  Since both me and my wife are from different countries, we need to at least have one set of family around – the answer is not to have neither sets.

All-in-all I think people think we did not like it here.  And that is not it.  We like it here, and there are a lot of good things about Hong Kong (more on that in another post).  But when it’s time to go home, it’s time to go home.  Especially for my wife who has been living here for 3 years, and also for me who really really would like to get back to work for my own mental health.  And also for my son, who I think would benefit from being in Swedish Förskolan (pre-school / daycare).  Lots of good, normal, boring things are ahead, and we are looking forward to it!