Sunday, December 30, 2012

An overnight bus later....

My isle buddy
The bus was suprisingly painless.  After some initial frustration (me) of not being able to find a seat next to eachother, Paul and I settled into two seats front to back to eacth other in the back of the bus.  This actually worked out well, but let me first describe the bus layout.  Picture summercamp with bunk beds but on a bus.  There were three rows across and two layers; a top and bottom.  Everyone had their own kind of compartment, feet covered, and then you could lay your seat all the way almost flat- over the person behind you's covered feet compartment.  We were in the back on the bottom which meant easy bathroom (ew) access and we still had window seats.  As with all buses in less developed parts of the world, they aren't filled until you can't possibly squish in one more soul.  We stopped and picked up god knows who, who all lined the floor in between seats.  India style. 

I fell asleep pretty early, and remember waking up at some point in the night and all the isle sleepers were gone.  Another point in the night some guy unloaded what must have been 30 boxes from out of nowhere and pushed them individually down the isle.  Scratch, scratch, scratch for what seemed like several hours.  Back to sleep and we were at our first and only stop at 7:30 am.  And just a short 2 hours later we arrived in grey Hue. 

Hue is a cute little town built around and old Cirtadel which is built around another Citadel; the purple forbidden city.  We spent the first part of the day poking around the Citadels, saw and elephant inside, and then it started raining.  We spent the better part of the second half of the day exploring the local cuisine and then hit up a salon for pedicure (me) and a foot massage (Paul). 
Cutest little baby

Next day was the best day; motobike day!  We hired two motorbikes, complete with drivers (safety first), and head out on a beautifully sunny morning for Hoi An.  This was the first sunny and hot day we experienced and it was just perfect to spend it on the back of a bike!  We stopped by a fishing village, drove through thẻ countryside, stopped for a seafood lunch, drove up a mountain, stopped in the clouds at an old US military bunker, drove down the mountain, stopped at China Beach in DaNang (which is gorgeous!), and finally pulled into Hoi An a mere 4 hours later.  There's just something about being out in the open that makes you feel like you're expereiencing the country that much more than just from a bus window.  And the countryside was absolutely gorgeous.  Green palm trees in front of green mountains, with cows, chickens, ducks, dogs and water buffalo in the mix.  We zoomed past trucks and buses, pased motorbikes carying dead chickens and pigs, and totally loved every rock taken in the eye.  Next time bring sunglasses. 

Hoi An!

Japanese Bridge

New 'Raybans' on the river

As much fun as that was, we were in for such a treat in Hoi An.  It's the 'intellectual, architechtural, and spirittual' centre of Vietnam according to Lonely Planet, and I couldnt agree more.  It's a beautiful old city, still in tact, filled with temples, restaurants, shops, tailors (overwhelmingly so), and tourists.  And it's all based around this lovely river covered in lanters and awesome little junk boats!  Our driver dropped us off at a fine little hotel with pool; had we known it would be so much warmer just 150km south, we would have brought our bathing suits!  We immediatley went to get custom made clothes (says the kid who lives in Hong Kong); Paul a tan sport jacket and me jeans, and then explored the quaint old town.  Shopping, shopping and mỏe shopping!  Love our new clothes and love Hoi An.  If we had to do this trip all over again, I would have flown into Hoi An (or somewhere nearby) rented a bike or motorbike to hit the beach (5km away) everyday, and shop and eat every night.  Then spend a few dáy in DaNang, back to Hoi An and out.  Just beautiful!  And the sun đin't hurt none either!

Sunny when we left Hoi An

Rainy and miserable post tunnel back on the Hue side
1:30 the next day and we bussed it back to Hue where ít has been violently raining and winding ever since.  Today we spent blogging, eating, and wiating for another 11 hour (13+) overnight bus back to Hanoi.  I'm so happy we got to see so much of the country ín such a small time, and even mỏe happy that Paul is totally loving it too!

Had THE best seafood noodles this am for break.  And a donus filled with a meatball.  ha <3 Vietnam

Hanoi or bust!

PS I am rocking the most fantastic outfit today.   The weather has dropped 5 degrees C since AM so instead of changing I just add layers.  Spandex, shorts, flops.  Long sleeve, t-shirt, sweater, vest.  Gonna break out the scarf soon.

I have since added Paul's argyle socks and yellow balerina flats.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hi, from Hanoi!

Merry belated Christmas from Vietnam!  Paul and I are having an amazing time on our tour through the northern half of  Vietnam.  Here we are 8 days in and I feel like we've been traveling for a month; in a good way!

A word of note.  If you see this ứa or this ô; it's because I'm typing on our hotel computer which thinks I'm typing in Vietnamese.  Try to figure it out or move on as ít is incredibly frustrating to fix :) 

Ho Chi Min Mausoleum
We flew into Hanoi last Sunday night, got picked up  ("Paul McPhate" ha) and driven to our hotel.  The hotel was really nice, but not really in the backpacky area which would have been nice.  We had some chick noodle soup (pho ga) and called it a night.  Day 1 full was full on Hanoi.  I think we walked most of Hanoi before dark.  We hit the lake after a rich coffee and street bahn mí (beef/egg/chicken sandwiches that are to die for.  Topped with fresh coriander and veg, they're light, packed with flavor, and on the most delicious French baguettes) for some hot tea with a view.  Brr Hanoi is cold!!  Sure, not NJ cold, but definitely colder than HK.
Paul's first authentic Bahn Mi
Outside the lake

Then we saw the Old Quarter (backpacker area where we'll spend NYE), wandered to the Citadel, Paul got a shave, had amazing beef n veg noodles with ultra cheap (~25 cent) beers, then hit the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum which is conveniently closed on Mondays.  Typical.  Then back to the hotel to unwind and out again for an amazing dinner and drinks in the old quarter.  And then we were spent.

Pagoda at HCM memorial
What really blows my mind is how totally different this is from Ho Chi Min City.  HCMC is run down, has its charm, but is very obviously poor.  Up in Hanoi everything is clean, well kept, and we even saw Gucci and Cartier.  Weird!  This is totally not how I pictured it.  I honestly believe the cooler the climate, the more productive the society.  You don't have to work so hard when there's bananas and a beach!
Street side shave

Lake park

Spring rolls, duck, snakehead fish and beers in the Old Quarter

We lucked out on our first day.  Despite the chilly (probably low 60s ha) breeze, it was mostly sunny and luckily didn't rain.  Day 2 it was greyer but not rainy.  We got up at 7 for a four hour van ride up to Halong Bay for a Christmas cruise.  We were on board a lovely boat, the Papaya Cruise, with 8 others from around the globe; a hippie dude from Santa Barbara with his Taiwanese wife, a young French couple, a couple from Vietnam, an English dude who lives in France and works in Germany, and a guy who spoke no English so who knows.  (Halong Bay photos are all on the camera, not iphone. Coming soon)

We immediately had a wonderful lunch on board complete with fish, spring rolls, meat skewers, soup, noodles, rice, and greens.  It was awesome and a good way to get to meet our fellow cruisers.  Then we got to check out our cute little cabin.  For what we paid it was really amazing and really surprising.  And off we went through thẻ crazy undulating jutting cliffs in the bay.  On a sunny day the pictures would have really popped, but unfortunately it's winter and the sun rarely shows its face.  We stopped and went on a walking tour through a giant cave (touristy and full of you guessed, tourists), kayaked around a fishing village and the bay for a bit, then climbed to the top of a pagoda on a new island for sunset.  It was touristy (ie you were never off alone doing anything) but it wasn't cheesy; everything was really fun and just the right amount of time.  Then back on board for a similar dinner to our lunch, and free time to which our tour guide (Mit #1) suggested we kareoke.  Ummm we all passed.  Then they park in the middle of the bay and we could sit out on the deck in the dark enjoying the solitude (even though there were 6 or so other boats in our vicinity).

Rest stop on the way to Halong Bay
Early am wake up (theme of this trip) and we have a quick breakfast.  I LOVE Vietnam coffee; so rich and strong yet doesn't seem to have too much caffeine.  It's typically served with condensed milk, but I prefer it with whole.  Yum.  Then we sat outside and watched as we cruised through spectacular mountains!  Beautiful!

Then another van back to Hanoi where we were immediately ushered to the bus station for an overnight bus to Hue.  More on that later....

Thursday, December 20, 2012


And I'm still here....still a few hours til 21/12/12 in Mayan land though....

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

One More Sleep

Til vacation!  Well not vacation so much as not working.  This week has been filled with friends and holiday catch up.  Monday we joined Kina for a wine tasting at Linguini Fini.  Ah that place is amazing!!  The food is always awesome, Wahid is the man, and the wines were all spectacular.  Check HOFWs blog for a more in depth look.

Tuesday work was nuts and then I ran out to the Hive in Wan Chai to go to my new friend, Allison's first General Assembly class.  General Assembly is a start up from NYC (where she was working after leaving Goldman!) that in short teaches entrepreneurship classes.  These classes are for both aspiring entrepreneurs and established executives to learn how to think like an entrepreneur.  Totally awesome!

So Allison pitched GA to open up their Hong Kong branch and now she' doing it!  The class I attended was packed and sooooo interesting.  We watched a video from Alexis Ohanian who started and and one other, and now has his hands in over 50 startups.  And he's in his early 30s.  Wow.  His video seminar was so inspiring.  It was the first video Allison saw at GA and was what inspired her to join the GA team.  My other new friend Julia was there with her boyfriend....wait, finance!  So good to see them and congratulate them on a Taiwan proposal!

Wednesday Paul and I met Kina, Will and Sarah, Allison and her boyfriend Michael, for a Christmas dinner at the Globe.  The Globe, other than being my favorite bar, also has wonderful English food. (Oxymoron?)  All the men folk enjoyed meat pies (Paul had kidney- delish!) and we all enjoyed the beer selection.  yey American craft beers. 

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.....

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Partyyyy!

Last I left you we were sipping eggnog, well here we are again Sunday night and Paul's still sipping eggnog.  Thursday we had the HOFWs Christmas party at Factory 99 which was super fun.  30 or so of HOFWs VIPs gathered for wine samples (Chateauneuf du Pape was the best), turkey, truffle pasta, and fun.  But in not so typical HOFWs fashion, we called it a night at 10.  Good work~
Factory 99 pre guest arrival- me opening wine, Greg, and John (owner 99)

Friday Paul and I hit up AWSEC (wine school) for an evening of wine tasting.  The wines were cool, met the ex-sommelier of a bar I used to frequent in Arlington, saw a bunch of friends from class, and got some words of wisdom on proceeding with WSET from the school's founded.  Asa.

Saturday and I had off!!!!!!  Paul had a work meeting (Cantonese only) from 9-12 while I had a call with the GM of a resort in Bali!!  So excited about Komune, and really looking forward to visiting in February!  Then we were off a for a short hike.  Well turns out the hike we wanted to do was not so short.  4 hours in and we still weren't there.  Stairs and stairs and to top it off I'm wearing flip flops, jeans, and it's 75 degrees out.  Not that I'm complaining about 75 in December....

Heading up to Mount Barker from Quarry Bay
We finally made it out of there, sweat soaked and exhausted, hauled it to Causeway Bay to pick up a gift and home to get ready for a pizza dinner at Helen and Dave's.  Ahhh and how much fun!!  We caught up with Helen and Dave, played with (held) 4 month old baby Daria!, caught up with Kina, Andrew, and Bethanny, and met some new friends.  And the pizza was awesome too :)

Sos cute
Today I had to work at the Island East Market.  boooo.  But at least it was with Julia and there was salad, mulled wine, and brownies :)  Twas a pretty long boring day, until....

Punk bank at Island East Market.  ha kid approved
I got the BEST text message today from my new friend Julia (no co-worker.  I should call her NZ Julia).  I had given her some recommendations of things to do in Taiwan, one of which was the hotel we stayed at in Wulai, the hotspring town.  Well, turns out she and her boyfriend loved it...and he proposed!!!! So so so exciting!  They've been dating 7 years, lived in 3 countries, and now just got engaged!!

I'm excited to celebrate with them!  But first it's a Linguni Fini Italian Odyssey wine tasting with Kina tomorrow night.  Can't wait!!  And then saying goodbye to our bestie, Steve :(  Steve's been a friend since he first moved here, he hooked us up with an awesome apartment, and has been a best friend and neighbor ever since. So sad to see him leaving, but I have a sneaking suspicion he'll be back.  I give him 6 months.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Earl- we're here to stay!  You always have a place to stay in HK!

Feeling inspired by the holidays, Paul suggested we spend our Wednesday night in making eggnog, with hopefully a positive result we could bring to our friend Helen and Dave's on Saturday for their Christmas party.  We decided to start small.  Often times (gnocchi disaster night) we make too much.  And then we (Paul) end up eating it for weeks.  Seriously weeks.

Paul's recipe:

4 1/2 egg yolks (we learned we are both pretty fantastic at separating yolks)
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark rhum
whiskey to taste

This made enough to fill a medium tupperware, of which I anticipate Paul will finish off tonight.  I decided to make a slightly less indulgent version.

Lauren's recipe for one:

1/2 egg yolk
2 tablespoons 5% cream (super healthy!)
1/2 cup skim milk
couple drops stevia
splash dark rhum
splash whiskey

Both are delicious.  And one won't totally kill my 'intense' 30 minutes of iron pumping yesterday.  Let's talk about that.  As I mentioned on Facebook, I have belonged to quite a few gyms in my day; including 3 in Asia.  Well never have I ever been so gawked at.  I swear everything I moved machine all eyes were on me.  I suppose I usually have an ipod on and don't notice, but geeze.  AND there was only one other girl in the weight room (others on treadmills/cardio) AND I was the only guillo (whitey).    Looking forward to the new location near my office to open up.

What else what else....

OH YES, last week we had the most fun wine dinner at Ma Maison, a private kitchen.  I briefly introduced the wines before each course for 14 HOFWs fans.  The food was all spectacular, the wines were fantastic, and it made me a little more confident (or was that the wine) in my knowledge and ability to convey it.  Anyone have any pointers on speaking in public?  This is definitely a place I need to focus some attention.

Friday evening Paul and I attended the Golden Gate Wines Christmas party.  It was super fun and the girl FiFi there was ultra informative about several things.  a) where to get a great wedding dress made in HK b) don't waste your money on the AWSEC diploma level WSET course (I'm better off taking it in Singapore and flying to the tests) and c) introduced me to this fantastic company.  Did I mention there was homemade hummus?

Saturday and I had to work for a bit, then Paul and I got the tackiest shirts we could find (his gold chain print, mine pink and sparkly) to prepare for Alicia's Christmas party. Unfortunately, Alicia's toilet flooded, leaving us party goers stranded in Central :)  A few drinks in Soho and these kids turned in.

Sunday was fantastic.  Beautiful blue skies and warm!!  We went through the Island East Market at our doorstep running into friends, sipping mulled wine, and shopping, then hoofed it over to TST to meet Kameron and her boyfriend Charles for dessert.  Amazing place, and it was soo good to catch up with Kammy after so many months!  And her boyfriend is cool to boot.

Then boated to Central for a wine tasting (read all about it on HOFWs blog) at California Vintage.  Monday was another day filled with work, and a night filled with work, but at least there was wine :)  Tuesday was less than exciting and now tis eggnog/christmas card writing night. One cup is enough for this kid.  4 cards down...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


It's been another crazy whirlwind week with no pauses!  Sunday I worked at the HK Country Club with Sean.  Although beautiful, it was boring and I just wished that I was at home doing anything other than selling foie gras. 

Tuesday we had an event at the Peninsula hotel.  There was a luncheon for 120 women, and in the reception a little market.  We of course had a booth, but there was also jewelry and some other interesting stuff too.  We also provided welcome drinks.  In exchange one person got to go to the!  At first this was exciting, but then after sitting down with a bunch of women who didn't want to talk to me, I began to have my doubts.  And then there was belly dancing during the first course.  And then a full on fashion show.  And of course intermittent lucky draws.  And then each vendor had to raffle off a gift.  My god this 'lunch' went on for 4 loooooong hours.  Ohhh and the women!  I'll include some pictures so you can see what I mean....

Anyway, Julia and I FINALLY got out of there (after she had to sit in the lobby and NOT get lunch, poor Julia) and ran over to Admiralty for the Great Wines of Italy tasting.  After the afternoon we had, we jumped right in and drank as much of the fantastic vinos as possible.  Ohhhh there were Barolos, Barberas, Brunellos, Super Tuscans, Chiantis, and of course the whites as well!  Despite the fact I had a big lunch, not having dinner proved to be more influential over my well being.  We walked out of there quite tipsy at 830, and I went home and directly to bed!

Yesterday, despite milld hangover, Paul and I had committed to a wine tasting in Central.  The theme was Warming Winter reds, all of which were quite lovely.  I like the Bordeaux blend from Man O'War from Waiheke, New Zealand, and Paul prefered a smoky Merlot from Meerlust Estate in South Africa.  Was a nice tasting complete with mulled wine and mincemeat pies at the end!  The English know their pies!

Tonight is our second wine dinner; the first at a private kitchen.  This is actually my first private kitchen experience which is hard to believe considering I've been in HK 1.5 years now!  Private kitchens are everywhere!! I will be announcing our Prosecco with the apps, Rose with the oysters (ohhh yes), and Moscato with French pastries for dessert.  Report to come!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Good news from America; Chetta and Ryan are coming!!! And, Chetta, Ryan, Maria, and Dave are coming!!!!! Kind of.

Chetta and Ryan are coming to HK mid March for several days, then we'll all head to Thailand for several days!

THEN, Chetta told me that our friend Kristina is planning to get married in Veneto early Sept., so she Ryan, Maria and Dave will all be going over.  Guess who else is going to Italy this summer!  Me!  Yey, reunion in Italy!  And since it will be the end of August we'll all meet, Paul will have off work as well! Amazing.

In HK news, Paul and I had a quiet Friday night.  Went out for some mulled wine at the bar downstairs, then head home to catch up on Homeland and Boardwalk Empire.  Wooh shit is hitting the fan in both!

This morning I went to my new gym for the first time.  Nice equipment and everything, but NO towels and NO water cooler.  You can pay $20 for a bath towel.  And you can stick your head in the fountain.  But come on?  What kind of gym is this?  Finger's crossed the new one near my work will be a little more amenable!

Came home cooked up a delish egg n kimchi breakfast and head out to work.  Julia and I manned the Island School Christmas Frost Fair, or whatever is was called.  It was pretty boring but at least there was a waffle station, complete with fresh fruit, ice cream and chocolate AND more mulled wine.  Fantastic.  Finished up and I head home for some sushi, wine and Project Runway, while Paul and all of our friends are musicing it up at CLockenflap; a 2 day music festival at the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade.  He says its fun....

Work again tomorrow and then no more Sundayssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!