Friday, December 5, 2008

Petrol bombs thrown into karaoke bar.

See - what did I tell you?!! From SMH:

Police are looking for about eight men who entered a karaoke bar in the city last night and threw petrol bombs inside the karaoke rooms, before fleeing.

Last night's attack is the latest in a string of incidents at karaoke bars in the city. Police are yet to establish the motivation for the attack, and cannot say whether it was linked to previous incidents.

A small number of patrons were singing inside Karaoke World, on Elizabeth Street, at the time of the attack, but no one was injured, police said.

"About 9pm a number of males have entered into the premises and thrown bottles with accelerant - Molotov cocktails basically - into a number of rooms of the bar and left the area," acting Inspector Leonard James from City Central police said.

Woman swept away by tidal wave during marriage proposal.

This sucks:

NESKOWIN, Ore. - A romantic marriage proposal on the Oregon coast turned deadly for the bride-to-be when a wave swept her out to sea.

Police don't suspect foul play in the disappearances Saturday of Leafil Alforque, Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson said. Thick fog and dangerous water conditions off Neskowin Beach hampered the rescue efforts, and the search was called off Monday.

Scott Napper had a ring in his pocket and planned to pop the question to Alforque, 22, at Proposal Rock, which got its name from couples ready to marry.

Napper said the tide had receded around the rock when the couple began to walk to it, but then a wave around 3 feet high suddenly came in.

"I turned into it to keep from getting pulled under it," Napper said. By the time he turned to find Alforque, who was only 4-foot-11, she had been caught by the receding waters.

"She was about 30 feet away, getting swept away," Napper said.

The 45-year-old Silverton man tore off his jacket to get rid of any extra weight, and when he looked up again she was gone.

"That's the last I saw of her," he said Wednesday, breaking into tears.

You can now carry concealed guns in national parks.

So why exactly is this necessary? From Yahoo:

WASHINGTON – People will now be able to carry concealed firearms in some national parks and wildlife refuges.

An Interior Department rule issued Friday allows an individual to carry a loaded weapon in a park or wildlife refuge — but only if the person has a permit for a concealed weapon, and if the state where the park or refuge is located also allows loaded firearms in parks.

The rule overturns a Reagan-era regulation that has restricted loaded guns in parks and wildlife refuges. The previous regulations required that firearms be unloaded and placed somewhere that is not easily accessible, such as in a car trunk.

Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty said the new rule respects a long tradition of states and the federal government working together on natural resource issues.

The regulation allows individuals to carry concealed firearms in federal parks and wildlife refuges to the same extent they can lawfully do so under state law, Laverty said, adding that the approach is in line with rules adopted by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Those agencies let visitors carry weapons consistent with applicable federal and state laws.

The National Rifle Association hailed the rule change, which will take effect next month before President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

"We are pleased that the Interior Department recognizes the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves."

Man killed for hogging karaoke.

I'm starting a new "Karaoke Kills" tab. Karaoke leads to madness, murder, sometimes even explosions, and these stats need to be tracked! From BBC:

A Malaysian man has been stabbed to death for refusing to stop singing and hand over the microphone at a karaoke bar, police say.

Abdul Sani Doli, 23, reportedly angered some of the customers when he hogged the stage at the bar in Sandakan town on eastern Borneo island.

Witnesses said he was attacked, and the fight spilled out on to the street.

He was punched before being stabbed to death with a knife. His body was found a short distance from the bar.

Paris thieves steal $100m in jewels.

From BBC:

Armed robbers have stolen at least 80m euros ($102m, £70m) worth of jewels from one of Paris's most prestigious jewellery shops, police say.

As many as four robbers, two disguised as women, stormed Harry Winston's store near the Champs-Elysee and stole nearly all its valuables.

They spoke French and another language, seemed well informed and knew the names of some of the staff, police say.

The store was hit by another robbery almost 14 months ago.

Armed robbers then stole an estimated 10m euros ($13m) worth of valuables.

People are happy because of happy friends.

I dunno, I kinda wanna punch my overly-chipper friends in the nose. From Time:
Ever wonder whether happy people have something you don't, something that keeps them cheerful, chipper and able to see the good in everything? It turns out they do — they have happy friends.

That's the conclusion of researchers from Harvard and the University of California at San Diego, who report in the British Medical Journal online that happiness spreads among people like a salubrious disease. Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler studied nearly 5,000 people and their more than 50,000 social ties to family, friends and co-workers, and found that an individual's happiness is chiefly a collective affair, depending in large part on his or her friends' happiness — and the happiness of their friends' friends, and even the friends of their friends' friends.

The merriment of one person, the researchers found, can ripple out and cause happiness in people up to three degrees away. So if you're happy, you increase the chance of joy in your close friend by 25%; a friend of that friend enjoys a 10% increased chance. And that friend's friend has a 5.6% higher chance.

Mom seduces son's jurors.

What a MILHCC (Mother I'd Like to Hold In Contempt of Court). From CNN:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Doreen Giuliano was obsessed with saving her son from a life behind bars after he was convicted of murder.

She gave herself an extreme makeover -- blonde dye job, fake tan, sexy wardrobe, phony name -- and began spying on jurors. She befriended one juror to root out any possible misdeeds at the trial, and for nearly eight months, they drank at bars, smoked marijuana and shared meals in her tiny Brooklyn hideaway.

The juror eventually opened up to her about his time as a juror, completely unaware that this seductive older woman was the same dutiful mother who sat through the entire trial just a few feet away from him.

The bizarre saga has become the basis for a defense motion filed this week demanding that the verdict be set aside, while exposing the desperate attempt that Giuliano made to win her son's freedom.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One in three toys is toxic.

You know, I'm no fan of children but this is downright sinister. The major toy companies clearly think children's lives aren't worth more than the pennies saved by ignoring safety standards. From CNN:

NEW YORK ( -- One in three toys tested was found to contain toxic chemicals such as lead, flame retardants and arsenic, according to a report issued Wednesday by an environmental group.

Researchers for the Michigan-based Ecology Center tested more than 1,500 popular toys for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC and other harmful chemicals. They said they found that one-third of the toys contain "medium" or "high" levels of chemicals of concern.

In February, new regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission will make some of the toys now available for purchase illegal to sell, according to a press release from the group.

5% of US population is chronically depressed.

I guess 5% of the US population hasn't discovered Venture Bros. yet. From EurekAlert:

Though effective treatments are available for individuals suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, very little is known about how often these treatments are used or how prevalent these conditions are among the nation's general population.

But in a first-of-its-kind study, UCLA researchers have developed estimates for both the prevalence of chronic psychiatric illness in the general population and how often individuals suffering from such illnesses receive appropriate treatment.

In the study, published in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal Psychiatric Services and currently available online, researchers found that approximately 4.7 percent of the nation's population suffers from persistent depression or anxiety disorders, with a minority of those afflicted receiving adequate medication or counseling.

Super ants taking over Europe.

Not that Europe isn't easy to invade, but still... From Yahoo! News:

An ant species that originated in the Black Sea region has invaded more than 100 areas across Europe and is moving north. Scientists say if it is not stopped, it will reach Northern Germany, Scandinavia and Britain and could invade the whole world.

The pest, called Lasius neglectus, destroys native ant species as it invades new territory. It has also invaded much of Asia.

[....] "Its rapid spread through Europe and Asia [is] the most recent example of a pest ant that may become a global problem," the scientists write.

Ants thrive all over the world because they are very adaptive. Urban ants, for example, have adapted to the extreme heat of city living. Scientists estimate there are about 20,000 different species globally. The combined weight of ants in the Brazilian Amazon is thought to be four times greater than the combined mass of all of the mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians there.

When they arrive in new locations, ants can be extremely aggressive and very detrimental to local flora and fauna.

Daily News steals the Empire State Building.

Daily News cheekily shows how easy it is to steal property... and explains exactly how to do it. Not cool. From Daily News:

In one of the biggest heists in American history, the Daily News "stole" the $2 billion Empire State Building. And it wasn't that hard.

The News swiped the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper by drawing up a batch of bogus documents, making a fake notary stamp and filing paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property.

[...] The massive ripoff illustrates a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions.

The loophole: The system - run by the office of the city register - doesn't require clerks to verify the information.

Less than 90 minutes after the bogus documents were submitted on Monday, the agency rubber-stamped the transfer from Empire State Land Associates to Nelots Properties LLC. Nelots is "stolen" spelled backward. (The News returned the property Tuesday.)

Not Dead: Patrick Swayze

It's only his career that's dead. Zing! From BBC:

Actor Patrick Swayze has denied US tabloid reports that he is close to death, calling allegations "shoddy and reckless reporting".

The 56-year-old star said reports that he is "on his last legs and saying goodbye to my tearful family" were "lies and false information".

Swayze, who has been filming a US TV drama, said his pancreatic cancer was "a battle, but so far I'm winning".

He was diagnosed with the disease in March and had rigorous treatment.

Nations sign cluster bomb treaty.

US + treaties = lame. From BBC:
The first of more than 100 countries have begun signing a treaty to ban current designs of cluster bombs, at a conference in Oslo, Norway.

Campaigners are hailing the treaty as a major breakthrough.

But some of the biggest stockpilers, including the US, Russia and China, are not among the signatories.

First developed during World War II, cluster bombs contain a number of smaller bomblets designed to cover a large area and deter an advancing army.

But campaigners, including some in the military, have long argued they are outmoded and immoral because of the dangers posed to civilians from bombs that do not explode and litter the ground like landmines.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hong Kong: Kowloon

"Kowloon" sounds like a dusty, poky town where you can spend your tiny gold nugget on a bottle of redeye and a skinny horse with no name. Hong Kong's Kowloon area, a peninsula hanging from mainland China, is anything but. Though you probably could find redeye, horses (at least parts), and whatever else you want there.

Kowloon, a bad transliteration of the Cantonese words for "nine dragons", is the place to go if you enjoy street markets. Want to know a secret about me? I'm all about street markets. If there's a cart with fruits and meats I can't identify covered with flying insects I also can't identify, that's where I want to be. Preferably after a hepatitis A vaccination.

Not that Kowloon isn't metropolitan. Kowloon packs stores, restaurants, shopping arcades, and businesses along its consumer-friendly avenues. Its main one - Nathan Road - cuts vertically through the city and during busy hours looks and feels like a cross between NY's Broadway and Tokyo's Shibuya. The cool thing about Kowloon is that you could traverse south-north through the city either via commercial arteries like Nathan, or by sticking to sparser, concretey suburban areas, or by going through the side streets, which offer nonstop markets and all the junky-but-tasty food you can stomach.

Instead of taking the ferry, Kelly and I took the MTR early in the morning. She got out before me - way north - for her teaching gig. I continued down to most tourists' starting point - the harbour area known as Tsim Sha Tsui, a name that no two people can pronounce the same way.

Assuming I had time to kill, I walked over to the architectural monstrosities known as the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, whose facades have all the splendor and distinction of a community college library, but, alas, I got there three hours before opening time. I then strolled up Nathan Lane, enjoying the commercial street without the throngs of people. That area of Kowloon teems with bakeries and pastry shops, and I popped into three or four to compare various mini-confections, sweet and savory and sometimes both. (I had a lengthy internal debate over a hot dog wrapped in a green tea-flavored steam bun with what looked like strawberry jam, and ended up with a bag of caramel tarts, a little chocolate fondant, and a massive barbecue pork bun. All amazing.)

My face smeared with caramelized pork juice, I didn't go into the world-famous Kowloon Mosque, which, sadly, resembles something out of Kingdom Hearts, at least from the outside (in the next entry, I'll show you pics of a Buddhist temple that brought to mind the Neverending Story). Instead, I went next door to Kowloon Park, the best park yet, but not for long. This Gumby guy greeted me at the entrance:

Given the early morning, the park was overrun by Tai Chi practitioners. They were legion and pesty, like really slow-moving pigeons. There were so many, I sometimes couldn't get by on a path. But of course I couldn't just elbow them in the face to get through, since they're being all calm-spirited and peaceful. Damn you, Tai Chi!

I stuck around and watched for awhile, and it struck me that Tai Chi is nothing more than the Thriller dance in slow motion.

I have to say, Kowloon Park is a damn fine park. They have a hedge maze (no matter how old you get, those things are always gleefully, manically fun), ponds with koi and turtles, and an outdoor aviary that was big enough to not make me feel bad about the birds, of which there were crested mynas, giant parrots, and a white cockatoo I named Coconut. I watched the birds while munching a few stray caramel tarts I found in my pocket.

I left through the northern entrance, which has a World Expo-sized countdown timer to the Beijing Olympics. Sadly, it looked unplugged and forgotten... presumably ever since it reached zero and that doofus Michael Phelps kicked everyone's ass. It made me pensive about larger-than-life countdown timers and how once they reach their goal, they become monuments to disappointing anti-climaxes. I soberly munched another caramel tart.

Crossing Austin Road, I hit Shanghai and then Bowring St. - a great shopping/market area that became the gateway to my morning and afternoon-long market adventures. To list all the streets would be a waste - if you find your way there, just go down all of them.

Weaving east and west in the areas between Joi Wang Rd. and Nathan (known as Yau Ma Tei), I slowly edged my way north, and it was a hell of a good time. It didn't hurt that the markets were still pretty empty given the hour and I kept stopping off at dingy corner shops for pork buns and congee. And, by the way, congee in Kowloon is one of the best deals in the country: $1.50-$2 US for a heaping bowl of rice porridge, ginger, scallions, blackened preseved egg, and unknown animal/fish pieces. Congee is the perfect comfort food that, unlike other comfort foods, can be eaten any time of the day. I challenge you to find a more perfect food that isn't deep-fried or packaged by Hostess.

After Waterloo Rd., I turned east to find a way into King's Park, unsuccessfully. It may be private - my guidebooks don't mention it at all, but it's prominent on my map with an enticing "Meteorological Station" asterisk. Clearly, they're doing secret starwatching or something.

(This is from the Promenade - I get to it later, just wanted to break up the text.)

I walked around Kwong Wah Hospital, another enticing asterisk, but - shock - it was just a big hospital. I really should just stick with the tourist spots. But near the hospital, I found an all-girls college. Hot cha cha! I hovered around like a creep for a minute or two, before feelings of shame and loserdom kicked in. I scarfed the rest of my caramel tarts and shuffled away.

I walked up to the Ladies Market, which had nothing to do with my creepiness. It's so named because the market includes clothes, along with the usual crates of pummelos and dragonfruit. Unfortunately, it was still early and the market was just setting up.

Now in Mong Kok, I walked up to the Flower Market (bypassing the Goldfish Market - too depressing), following the row of florists to Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, otherwise known as the Bird Market.

The Bird Market was terribly depressing. Little songbirds are crammed into small cages, where people buy them like toys. The scared, hopping little birds are considered good luck and you sometimes see older Chinese men carrying around the cages while the bird whistles in what sounded to me like distress signals. I now know why the caged bird sings.

I was there to meet Kelly, and mercifully she showed up before I blew all my money on purchasing and then opening all the cages. And, mercifully, before I could reconcile my sadness for the birds with all the animal flesh, skin, and organs I was shoveling into my maw this trip.

Speaking of which, even though I ate tarts, buns, and congee like it was my job, Kelly and I headed west to find a Shanghai dim sum place I'd read about. Unable to find it in the hustle and bustle of Mong Kok, we settled on a similar place. It was incredible. Beef and pork soup dumplings, think noodles, Chinese spinach with garlic, and about 10 other dishes all vied for room in my crowding gastro-pouch. High on the sweetness of Shanghai-ese food, we decided to walk all the way back down to Tsim Sha Tsui, retracing my steps but also finding new places, like the Jade Market, the Tin Hau Temple (pic below), and the Temple Street Night Market. (We also went to the commercial streets where I found DVDs of the two live-action Death Note films and the L spin-off. Score!)

We also went back to Kowloon Park - really so that I could stop off at a vending machine near the Olympics countdown timer that spits out a phenomenal juice of pear nectar and aloe chunks. Quite possibly the greatest beverage ever, boozy ones included. I drank one and bought three more.

Thinking we should be different, we didn't go down to the Star Ferry/Promenade area first, but to check out the western side of the harbor, known on my map as Harbour City. Unfortunately, it was a humongous mall with no way of getting outdoors, street-level, along the water. Regrouping, we hit the Promenade and its Avenue of Stars - a tribute to HK's film industry with Hollywood-like stars and handprints in the cement.

(Above pic by Kelly A.)

(Above pic by Kelly A.)

Waiting for the sunset for a dramatic Star Ferry ride back to Discovery Bay, we stopped off at one of the touristy waterside restaurants for drinks. Expecting a gouging, I was tickled to receive a bucket-sized vessel of Hoegaarden and I flashed my Eddie Deezen smile.

Stuffed from an entire day of nonstop caramel tarts, pork buns, congee, Shanghai dim sum, beer, and aloe chunks, we skipped dining out. Instead, we stopped off at Discovery Bay's huge supermarket and cooked a feast of ginger steak and sausage cassoulet. I slept that night like a beached whale.

But... somewhere a tiny caged bird sang.


Consumerist: How to file a consumer rights lawsuit.

The Guardian: Gay Bible angers Christians.

BBC: Brazil to reduce deforestation by 70%. US admits 17 Chinese Muslims in Guantanamo should not be held, but refuses to release them.

LiveScience: Clean people are less judgmental.

Apple Trailers: The Wrestler (the buzz-y Mickey Rourke film)

Milk & Cookies: Detective Mittens: The Crime-Solving Cat (from the creators of Charlie the Unicorn)

Uganda's police warn men to keep noses off women's chests.

Booby trap! From Yahoo! News:

Uganda's police warned male bar-goers to keep their noses clean after a probe found a gang of robbers had been using women with chloroform smeared on their chests to knock their victims unconscious.

"They apply this chemical to their chest. We have found victims in an unconscious state," Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) spokesman Fred Enanga told AFP.

"You find the person stripped totally naked and everything is taken from him," he said. "And the victim doesn't remember anything. He just remembers being in the act of romancing."

[...] "It's a serious situation and people have to be aware."

Venice neck-deep in water.

From CNN:
Venice has suffered its worst flooding in 22 years, leaving some parts of the historic Italian city neck-deep in water, reports said Monday.

Water burst the banks of the coastal city's famed canals, leaving the landmark Piazza San Marco -- St Mark's Square -- under almost a meter of water at one point, news agency ANSA reported. Strong winds pushed waters to a high of 1.56 meters (5 feet 2 inches) at 10:45 a.m. local time, prompting the city government to issue warnings to the public, the agency said.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hong Kong: HK Island

New York, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong are in some ways spiritually lumped together, and not just because they're major cities with major economies. They feel connected in some familial way; perhaps London is the stuffy matriarch while New York is the overbearing father. Tokyo is the rebellious, smart-alecky teen son, and Hong Kong is the youngest - an impressionable tyke with an insatiable appetite for pork.

Before I arrived, my ideas of what HK would be like were pretty much based on what I'd seen in 1970s kung fu flicks (non-period), 1980s crime/Triad movies, and Hanna Barbara's Hong Kong Phooey. Some aspects were similar - skyscrapers, lots of people, good restaurants, and dingy areas with weird stores, cheapo electronics, and tasty/creepy street food. There was even a kung fu dog cartoon that I caught on tv, though I think the show was from Japan.

But most of my imagination was inaccurate: I was expecting dark, noir alleys where old men with long, white mustaches would sell me crickets and tell me riddles; women in yellow floral dresses serving tea with soft smiles and low bows; a bustling port city with foreign sailors fistfighting outside of bars. Essentially, I had in mind 1940's Shanghai with some 1930s New York mixed in. (I watch way too much Turner Classic.)

Most of my ideas about Hong Kong are closest to the realities of the Central area of Hong Kong Island, the downtown business district congested with huge skyscrapers that bely a sibling rivalry toward NYC, with buildings being torn down and rebuilt to be bigger and flashier. This was the first stop on Kelly's and my Hong Kong adventure, proper.

We took the ferry to HK Island, then the MTR (subway) to Admiralty, the stop after Central. Our goal was to start off in Hong Kong Park and the zoo/botanical gardens while it was still early and therefore birds may be found (it was on this trip that I discovered that my wife's birdwatching rubbed off on me -- damn it).

Admiralty is more or less an extension of the Central area - a densely packed grouping of skyscrapers with no way of getting around on the ground level, which is problematic.

Let me put it this way - there are two ways of saying "Fuck you." One is to go up into someone's face and say, "Fuck you." The other is to design elevated pedestrian walkways on Hong Kong Island.

The Central/Admiralty area is devoted to cars. There aren't even many traffic signals, as far as I could see. To prevent stupid tourists like me from getting flattened like scallion pancakes, guard rails are set up all along the sidewalk and lane dividers. So if you want to get around on the ground level, you have to walk about half a mile in the other direction until you can find a crosswalk (which likely doesn't have a traffic signal, so your live-action version of Frogger is still in play), or take to the elevated pedestrian walkways.

The walkways serve two purposes: to piss you off and to make you go through one of Hong Kong's five million malls (which in turn pisses you off more). Want to simply cross the street? Well, you first have to go up three flights of stairs, through a shopping center, down an escalator, through another shopping center, up more stairs, and down another pedestrian walkway. Hopefully after that 20-minute excursion, you'll be on the right side of the street. Otherwise, you're even further away.

As if to mock you, when there are signs for a tourist destination - like the goddamn park - the arrows point in two opposite directions. One is toward the park, geographically (presumably for cars). The other directs you to the opposite direction in which you have to go to find stairs and walkways to get you to your goal. Nonstop construction in Hong Kong means further labyrinthine routes.

After dubiously enjoying a lengthy game of chutes and ladders, we stumbled upon Hong Kong Park, a tiny, round oasis with a nice pond. A single sign suggested "Good picture spot," where I took this one:

We then took more walkways and found our way to the trams for Victoria Peak (or "The Peak"), a popular tourist destination that offers fantastic views of HK's skyline. The Peak trams are connected to a Madame Tussauds branch dedicated to HK's film and Cantopop industries. Jackie Chan stands outside, so you can take a pic next to his likeness without paying an entrance fee.

Jackie Chan must be HK's hero, spokesman, and god of all things. As well he should be. A video for The Peak features him, as does most tourism videos. I'm a fan of his work, but the movies I found at the video store that feature him were unknown to me - romantic comedies, dramas, even what appeared to be a remake of Three Men and a Baby.

Anyway, the tram goes up to the Peak, and - after having to go through a mall - you can get to great vistas of the city (see header image).

Instead of taking the tram back, we hiked down the mountain, catching great views along the way and spotting hawk-like black kite raptors. The walk down was a steep and strenuous, but rewarding, challenge. Unfortunately, when we approached the bottom we were back to avoiding traffic and signless, confusing directions. However, we soon found our way to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens. Slightly larger than the Park, it houses some caged primates and birds, the latter featuring some very nice pheasants. It also has this receptacle, which fulfills your desires to shove garbage down a dolphin's throat:

The best part of the Gardens, though, is the Tea Museum's gift shop. The museum itself is a ridiculously large two-floor affair with two wings, but the exhibits themselves are a little sad. A typical exhibit room is huge but features just a couple of teapots and cups of no apparent value. We breezed through the rooms and, hilariously, guards (of which there were many in this tea museum) would be like, "Oh, don't forget this room!" which would inevitably be on how to brew tea using ironwork or what kind of crumpet goes best with oolong.

But the gift shop was stupendous. They had jars and jars of tea of the best quality with samples ones you could sniff. Kelly and I spent at least a half hour just sniffing teas. We got a nice high there.

It was early afternoon, so we walked northwest to the market areas in Central to heard toward lunch. These areas are known as Soho, Noho, and Boho, as they surround Hollywood Street. Like most of the world's Soho's, the area is gentrifying and a neat place to hang around. There are winding streets with nice restaurants and bars (we stopped at one for beer and cider), but the best fun are the rows and rows of markets on the side streets. This is where I got my first taste of the true essence of Hong Kong.

Before the markets, we stopped off on Wellington Street for dim sum. (FYI - many streets in Hong Kong have English names due to being a British colony - HK Island most especially.) We went to Lin Heung, a traditional dim sum place that was featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. I was surprised the namecheck didn't make it a tourist destination - the place was packed, but by native Cantonese. Kelly and I were, in fact, the only white folks in there, and the surprised looks on the staff's faces said we were an anomaly.

As with most traditional Cantonese dim sum places, you have to seat yourself, typically at a large round table with other people. We snagged a couple of seats just as a pair of businessmen left, but had to contend with a revolting table. People at these types of dim sum places spit bones, fat, other undesirables straight onto the table. If you want a napkin, bring your own. We were face to face with what appeared to be the losing side of a pig's colon, smeared across the table. A staff member eventually showed up with a sopping wet, orange-stained rag to half-heartedly sweep off the bones and guts. I bet Kelly a dollar to lick the table. She didn't.

Women rolled around the dim sum on carts, and they largely ignored us. I waved my food ticket at one passing roller-woman, and she shouted, "Not for you! You won't like!" I impetuously waved my ticket again and she exasperatingly handed me some bamboo steamers, which held amazingly delicious balls of beef (I hope), pork dumplings, and shumai. We ultimately asked for a menu and ordered way too many dishes, all of which were amazing. The man sitting next to me congratulated us on our choices, while the woman across expressed her disgust at our gluttony (while spitting her own chicken ligaments onto the table).

We waddled to the markets - Wyndham St., Peel St., Elgin St., Graham St., Aberdeen St., Ladder St., up to Possession St., and then Upper Lascar Row - otherwise known as Cat Street, which used to be a thieves' hangout. Some of the streets were lined with upscale antique and furniture stores; others were pedestrian thoroughways with food markets. Cat Street was the best - it had cool flea market-like trinkets, and I bought one of my only souvenirs there - a reprint of an old advertisement poster for Peiping Beer.

Along the way was Man Mo Temple, one of Hong Kong's oldest and from the 1840s. My pic is a little lopsided and not great, but I was wonky from dim sum overdose.

Having gone an hour or two without booze, we found a great wine bar in Soho, where I got tipsy and tried sounding smart by explaining Irish history from 1620's Battle of the Boyne to 1997 (when the book I just read was published). I didn't make an ounce of sense, but neither does Irish history.

We walked up to the Sheung Wan area, checking out the sights along the way, then took the MRT back east to Causeway Bay. (This is as good a place as any to discuss my love for the Octopus card, but it warrants its own entry.)

Although I knew we'd hit the Causeway Bay area later in the week for the horse races at Happy Valley (held every Wednesday), I wanted to check out the area anyway because I heard there was a good toy market. No, I didn't go to any real museums in Hong Kong, but I did go out of my way for toys. Toys rule.

The Causeway Bay toy market was pitiful and it made me sad. It was mainly three blocks of children's clothes and backpacks made out of plastic and asbestos. Even mainland China is like, no thanks. I think I got cancer just walking around.

We headed back north and stumbled upon a large arena where an amateur soccer game was underway. I liked the arena and the surrounding buildings - it was a nice, laid-back scene.

We headed back west to Central and walked down to Lan Kwai Fong, a bar area popular with ex-pats, sort of a mini-Roppongi. For a Monday night and not too late, the place was packed. We settled on a bar that was nearly empty perhaps due to the happy hour deal that required higher math. (Though all monetary transactions in HK require some mathematics acrobatics - HK $7 is equal to US $1, and 7 is a terrible number to divide by. Dan, who I forgot to mention is a blithering genius, suggested thinking about HK $100 as $13, which confused me even more before it all clicked a couple of days later.)

Dan met us there after he escaped work, and we headed to the Mid-Levels for dinner. Mid-Levels sounds Tolkien, but it's a cool area in Central with huge escalators that branch off into platforms with restaurants and hot nightspots. It actually made HK Island's elevated walkways something cool - almost Blade Runner-esque. A pic of the street from a Mid-Level perch:

We were heading to a Sichuan place, but then I saw it. "KAITEN!" I squealed as I saw the sushi go-round through a window. I've said it once, I'll say it again. All food should be served on conveyor belts.

Sated by fresh sushi, we headed back to Discovery Bay, where I slept soundly, dreaming of Hong Kong Phooey and fish swimming toward me.

Hong Kong: Discovery Bay

Dan and Kelly met me at the airport Sunday night with big grins and "Adam Coozer" welcome signs. The airport is on a small island called Chek Lap Kok, just off of Lantau island, where Dan and Kelly reside. (Regarding Chek Lap Kok, I found a lot of places have "Kok" in the name, which made me blush and giggle like a schoolgirl until I learned that "Kok" is Chinese for "bay").

I should mention here that Hong Kong isn't just isn't a self-contained city, but a country with over 250 islands (most just large, uninhabited rocks, but some big, populated ones) and areas that are extended from China's mainland. Obviously, Hong Kong is a country, but in my mind's eye I had always envisioned Hong Kong as a small downtown and midtown NYC-style city. That's true of Hong Island Island (particularly Central and surrounding areas), which I'll get to in the next post. That said, HK isn't huge. Per Wikipedia, HK is 426 square miles. Rhode Island is 1,545.

Anyway, from Chep Lap Kok we took a 20-minute bus ride to Discovery Bay (alas, just "Bay" and not "Kok"). Discovery Bay is largely an ex-pat community on the eastern part of Lantau with newly built apartment complexes for young, foreign businessmen and their families. Just northeast is Hong Kong Disneyland, which was made to target families from China but - considering the average Chinese income vs. Hong Kong - seems to have better luck drawing in the Discovery Bay crowd.

One of my guidebooks is uncharacteristically harsh (but not wholly inaccurate) in its description of Discovery Bay: "The atmosphere is nightmarish, a too-perfect copy of idealized middle-American suburbia, with happy blonde families zipping about in golf carts, and very few Chinese faces." To be fair to those zipping around, private cars aren't allowed in Discovery Bay, but golf carts can be rented or purchased. Then again, it does cost somewhere around a million Hong Kong dollars ($130,000-$150,000) to secure one. So, yeah, as is the case in the US, if you see someone zipping around in a golf cart, you should throw a brick at them.

Discovery Bay is neat, though. While the atmosphere brings to mind Ft. Lauderdale, the residents are NOT American, but a mix of British, Indian, German, Middle Eastern, French, and others whose accents I couldn't place. The local video rental store has sections for three different regional codes and a dozen different languages. Also great about Discovery Bay is the proximity to the ferry that carries most Lantau residents to Hong Kong Island, as well as a bus terminal useful for exploring the rest of the sizable island.

As you would imagine, Discovery Bay has a large town center with convenient stores (7-Eleven is omnipresent in Hong Kong), a large supermarket, a surprisingly good wine store, and Westernized restaurants. We ate at a Thai place on the water, which was traditional enough to have papaya salad on the menu but Westernized in that its spiciness didn't make my eyeballs explode.

A free shuttle van took us to their apartment building, where we drank wine and chatted. I pretended to not be jet-lagged until I finally passed out cold on the couch and slept like the dead.

Hong Kong: Intro

I quit my job and took another. There was a week in between jobs, so, impulsively, I booked a ticket to Hong Kong - in no small part so I could say to my soon-to-be-former coworkers with an air of world-savvy pomp and mystery, "Oh, tomorrow is my last day here, then I'm off to Hong Kong for a week." God damn, I'm cool.

The less egomaniacal reason for the trip was to visit my cousin Dan and his wife Kelly - two cool cats who moved to HK a couple of months ago for Dan's job. I was envious and impressed that they made the move, which they did with much less fanfare than I would have. (My move would've followed months of goodbye parties, melodrama, and more than one burnt bridge.)

They're also recently married, completely level-headed, don't speak a word of Cantonese, and they're kosher - a major problem if you're going to be living in a place where the three basic food groups are shrimp paste, animal lard, and minced pork. Being kosher (or vegetarian for that matter) in Hong Kong is like being sober in Ireland.

Dan and Kelly are also healthy and athletic - marathon runners to be sure. Another reason why HK was an interesting choice, given that the air is thickly choked with pollution (much of it produced in China and windswept into HK, where it settles). Immediately upon arrival, grit coats your mouth, throat, and sinuses. Dark mucus, dyed by the haze, hardens up your nasal cavities - it's not uncommon to see people on the street hacking up wads of brown phlegm and shoot enormous snot rockets onto the sidewalk (almost hitting my feet on a couple of occasions). My first night at their apartment, I thought their place was overshadowed by another condo complex, given the large, dark wall outside their window. In the morning, when the air was clearer, I was shocked to see they have a beautiful, unobstructed view of hills and mountains.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Technically, Day 1 was spent on a plane. Because of the 16-hour trip (plus 13-hour time difference), I left in the morning on Saturday and arrived late Sunday night. Losing a day sucks, especially in the soul-crushing limbo of long air travel. But it could've been much, much worse - my flight was, dare I say it?, awesome!

I'm convinced that Cathay Pacific Airways' board of directors is a secret cabal comprised of my grandparents, my kindergarten teacher, and other well-wishers who want to take good care of me and keep me cozy and well-fed. The economy seats are ergonomically comfy, spaced apart, and equipped with an entertainment system that kept me away from my iPod and books. I was able to watch all the things I've been curious about but too embarrassed to put on the Netflix queue shared by my wife: The Incredible Hulk, Speed Racer, The Forbidden Kingdom, Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull, Hancock, half a season of 24... I even lingered my gaze at my seatmate's viewing of Mamma Mia. Good times.

I had also never eaten better on a plane: braised catfish with miso paste, deep-fried pork in sweet and sour sauce, tasty desserts, neverending snacks like granola bars and Cup O' Noodles... couple that with all the free wine I could drink (which is a lot) and I was almost sad to disembark.

I'm glad I did finally drag myself away from the plane and onto land. Hong Kong ended up being wonderfully enjoyable and cool, a place that is different and adventurous and yet accessible and recognizable.

Glowing space rock found in Canada.

This sounds a little too close to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" for my liking. And isn't this how War of the Worlds started? From LiveScience:

LLOYDMINSTER, Alberta (AP) _ Scientists said Friday they had found remains of a meteor that illuminated the sky before falling to earth in western Canada earlier this month.

University of Calgary scientist Alan Hildebrand and graduate student Ellen Milley found several meteor fragments near the Battle River along the rural Alberta-Saskatchewan border, near the city of Lloydminster late Thursday.

They said there could be thousands of meteorite pieces strewn over a 7-square-mile area of mostly flat, barren land, with few inhabitants.

Residents in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have been buzzing about the huge fireball that lit up the night sky over the three provinces on Nov. 20. Witnesses reported hearing sonic boom rumblings and said the fiery flash was as bright as the sun.

ZombieWatch: Experimental TB drug EXPLODES bacteria!

Creating a drug that explodes bacteria from within? From NIH:
An international team of biochemists has discovered how an experimental drug unleashes its destructive force inside the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB). The finding could help scientists develop ways to treat dormant TB infections, and suggests a strategy for drug development against other bacteria as well.
And what if it goes out of control and blows up the "good" bacteria in our bodies, perhaps the good bacteria that fights off the zombie virus?

700 Posts!

700 entries on this li'l blog!

Will we reach 1,000? 10,000?? TEN THOUSAND BILLION HUNDRED?!!

Stay tuned!

Heavenly bodies aligning for rare cosmic smile.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

The world may be facing its worst economic turmoil in decades, but the heavens are about to smile on Australia.

A rare cosmic alignment on Monday will produce a smiling face - or an emoticon, depending on your generation - high over the country.

From soon after 8pm until just before 11pm the planets Venus and Jupiter will stare down from the western sky like two brilliant eyes. Directly below, the crescent moon will form a happy mouth.