Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like...

Today, Mark and I went to church at St. John's Cathedral in Central. Its really only about a 15 minute walk but we were running late so grabbed a taxi. Okay - we weren't sure exactly how long it would take and we were running late, hence the taxi. We figured out the time on the walk back through Hong Kong park.

 St. John's is an Anglican Church, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1847. Both Mark and I enjoy attending services and although raised in different faiths, we have similar beliefs.  Mark had made the suggestion of finding a congregation in Hong Kong in order to meet new people and join in some community activities.  Frankly speaking, we are both rather conservative in our religious demonstrations and prefer a more low-key involvement in the services. There are many, many evangelical churches in Hong Kong, as one might imagine, and although they look friendly and happy, evangelical is just not quite our gig. Can I get an Amen! Just kidding.

Services go all day here at St. John's (isn't it pretty?).  8am spoken services, 9am sung services, a 10:30a Mandarin service, 2pm Filipino service - they really work to meet the needs of all people, and a 6pm Common Worship. They have several community programs, including Help for Domestic Helpers that provides various services, including legal, for Helpers in need. 

We went to the 9am sung service and it was very beautiful. I think there are about 22 people in the choir and their voices were wonderful.  They had a visiting minister - a man who had a medical practice for 40 years during which he attending Divinity School and now works as an Anglican minister. His sermon was good - that is, he kept my interest without raising my ire. Know what I mean? He didn't make any new points I haven't heard but he didn't say anything that made me roll my eyes and starting thinking about a grocery list. Actually, I was thinking about the fact that he was a medical doctor and also had such a strong faith. It made me wonder what he saw in his practice that cemented his belief in a Higher Power.

It was the lyrics of the closing hymn that caught my attention today. Do you remember when I told you about what I liked about Hong Kong and then mentioned one thing I didn't like? It was that cultural difference between myself and the native Hong Kongers - the one that makes them walk down the street and right into me, the one that makes them stare at me while I'm eating (yesterday, in a restaurant, a woman walked by our table, openly staring first at Mark, and then at me - I stared right back - she never dropped her gaze) and all the other Slights - Real Or Imagined. Because, honestly speaking, I start off feeling fine and getting through my day and then as I get tired, the frustration of moving and functioning in a world operating in a different language/culture is a little difficult. Here's an example: walking down the stairs and the two people in front of me just stopped dead, one step short of the sidewalk. I sort of catch my foot as I stop, so I stumble a little, and they still don't budge. Now I'm right there - hello? Not only unaware, but it feels like they don't care. There is no one in the world but them. You can hear me getting pissed all over again. But see - this was in the evening. I'm betting (hoping) if that had been the morning, I would have just gone on my way. 

So the lyrics of the closing hymn are about Jesus and the offering of his life to "rid the earth of torture's terror..."  The final verse reads, "Make in us a captive conscience quick to hear, to act, to plead; make us truly sisters, brothers, of whatever race or creed: teach us to be fully human, open to each other's need."  Very powerful, dear Reader, very powerful. The choir is singing this last verse as they march down the aisle towards the open doors of the church. And the choir is made up of all races and both sexes - a moving, visual example of these lyrics. It sort of stops me emotionally and mentally. I think how small I have acted and how self-centered I have been. Its easy to do when there is only you to worry about! This isn't a confessional and I'm not on my knees before the congregation. These are just my thoughts about this part of my new life that says - its challenging to be a sister to people of my own language and culture, let alone people of a completely different world. 

I have to laugh at myself of course, because in the Walter Mitty world I inhabit, nearly every situation comes back to one of four books/movies: Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, Sound of Music and Pride and Prejudice, okay - sometimes Beauty and The Beast. This particular moment in my mind is played out in a scene between the Reverend Mother and Maria. Maria is protesting her assignment of going to live as a governess to The Captain and his seven kids, and the Reverend Mother turns to her and with quiet exasperation says, "Mariaaaa......" It is this quiet exasperation I hear in my own head and heart when I try to explain away my behavior. "Mary Barbaraaaa...."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And then Julia stopped over

Did I tell you that before we left for HK, Mark's sister, Faith, gave me a birthday present? Julia Child's My Life in France.  During those first blurry days of our relocation, Julia's joie de vivre and absolute love of her time in France encouraged me to tackle my new life with enthusiasm and curiosity. If she ever felt doubt, fear, loneliness or Twilight Zone side effects of jet lag, she never mentions it. Every page is her greeting each challenge with zest and fortitude. In fact, it is during this time in France that she discovers her love of and gift for cooking. What a grand ol' gal she was! What is it like to "think nothing of it"? I wring my hands over the slightest event - lemon or lime? Up or down? Today or tomorrow? Ridiculous. As I have settled into my new world, I have tried to take in her words of wisdom, infuse my mind with her energy, and pray for one ounce of her courage. And, I decided I should improve my cooking. Lucky for Mark.

In considering this post, I decided to take you on a pictorial journey to the store then share some pics of my achievements.

Here, in order, are the steps I take to reach our local grocer, Taste, and a few shots of the Wanchai Market:

 Starting on the path down to Hopewell...
About to walk by St. Francis' school on the left.
This is so narrow only one person fits at a time. So we have to turn and sort of squeeze in when passing. I wish you could see how close the cars come to the fence...
Bamboo. I just love walking by, reaching out my hand, and touching bamboo growing in the wild. Well, as wild as my walk to the market can be.
The mighty Hopewell Center. The very top floor is a revolving restaurant and you can take a "sightseeing" ride in an elevator up to that floor. Our grocery store, Taste, is in the bottom of this building. I walk to Hopewell, go in at the 17th floor, take the elevator down to 3, and the escalator down to 1. Turn the corner and down one more escalator to the store. Coming home, just reverse it.
View from Hopewell, 17th floor entrance.
Entrance to Wanchai Indoor Wet Market. Wet means fresh fruits, veggies, fish, poultry, beef, and pork.
Leaving the indoor market and heading to the outdoor market. That very first stand is where I buy my sai bau (small bag) of dried apricots each week.

Okay- nice tour of the neighborhood! So, what have I made thus far?

I started with making my own salsa. Surrounded by all these fresh markets overrun with every color, size, shape, smell, texture of vegetable and fruit, its nearly impossible not to want to be up to elbows in foods mashed, sliced, grated, and chopped.  And I couldn't find Paul Newman's Pineapple Salsa anywhere. It took me a couple of tries, but one day, I hit on it: that perfect combination of tomato, onion, cilantro (Chinese parsely over here), lime and pineapple. I served it with chicken fajitas and it was amazing. 

Oatmeal Raisin cookies (no picture available, but you can guess what they looked like). I've never made them before and these were okay - not as flavorful as I would have liked, but I stuck to the recipe because, as a newbie, I'm not sure when or by how much I can stray.

Witches Fingers (for Halloween). These are made from an almond cookie dough. I learned a lot while making these little angels. I don't have a real "mixer" (well, I do, but you know that its tucked away until we are back in the USA) so I bought a hand held one. I don't know a lot about the various speeds so just went with it and created a big bowl of dough that looked like cookie crumbs. Threw it in the fridge with hopes of it miraculously adhering together and was not surprised when I came back after the recommended 20 minutes to see it looked the same. Undeterred, I scooped out a few spoonfuls, returned the remaining dough to the fridge and mushed what I had together. It took a few tries and playing with the oven temperature - we work with Celsius here- (notice the crispy brown fingers on the right), but I finally got it! I learned to roll the dough into a ball in my hand and break off sections that I then rolled between my hands like when we used Playdoh to make snakes. At first I made little fingers but as I grew tired of the project, the fingers got bigger. I did try using green food coloring, hence the asparagus-like fingers. The finger tips are sliced almonds held on with red decorating gel. 

Next was homemade pizza - the dough was from scratch, the sauce was not. Mark was able to use his Super Pizza Making Powers to spread the dough evenly in the pan and all the way to the edges. He brushed the crust with melted butter and sprinkled it with garlic powder. I added turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and peppers. The dough was a little bread-y, but good. A winner in the Hanna household!

I made ribs with homemade bbq sauce that used hoisin sauce for the base. A few shots of honey, soy sauce and ketchup blended with the hoisin to create typical Chinese ribs. They were good ribs but the sauce was not quite the sweet/zingy bbq Mark and I enjoy. Will continue trying other bbq sauce recipes - forward yours on if you care to share!

This is Mexican Lasagna. This dish is great for a quick meal on a Saturday night, but not much to write home about....except for in this blog. Put a layer of tortillas down in a lightly greased pan. Add one layer of browned ground beef (or chicken) mixed with browned onions and peppers. A layer of taco shredded cheese, and another layer of tortillas. The last 1/2 of the browned meat, onions and peppers. Another layer of cheese. Bake until cheese is melty. Serve with a side of lettuce, sour cream (we used plain Greek yogurt) and salsa. We couldn't find the shredded taco cheese so used some form of cheddar - I think it would have been more visually appealing if the cheddar was yellow. 

Have I learned anything? Patience, a sense of humor, and a small glass of red wine are key when trying out recipes for the first time. And, if I ever have occasion to say, "Save the liver!" ala Dan Ackroyd/Julia Child, I will consider my cooking education complete.