Thursday, June 27, 2013

Apparently I am Moving On

I have been trying to write this post for a week now, but somehow I keep getting sidetracked.  So here it goes...

Do you have the same routine every morning?  I pretty much do.  Wake up with Paul at 6:30.  Actually, let me rephrase.  Paul's alarm goes off at 6:30, Lauren drags Paul out of bed by 6:40.  Semantics.  I used to go running, but with this ungodly heat and foot/shoulder pain I have kept my exercise to a minimum; doing sit ups and pushups with Anderson Cooper.  Then off around 8am, 30 minutes earlier than necessary because I CANNOT STAND the MTR at 8:30. 

Anywho, get my paper from the same smiley dude with a big 'Josan!', head town and push through the crowds to the MTR.  Try to ignore the masses, make my way out in Kwun Tong where I try not to get in a fist fight with the swarms of idiots trying to smoosh my lunch bag. Down to escalator, give my paper to this cute old lady with a smile and a 'Josan' and then make my way through the APM mall to the street. I'm not joking when I tell you that people queue up for the escalator.  There are stairs next to the escalator.  It's one flight and it's down.  Come on people! 

Anywho, get my $8 water from my newsstand guy who knows I like the warm one out of the box, not the cold one from the fridge (makes my hands cold!) and mosey on through the sport court to my warehouse building.

You know what I'm going to miss about this?  Not a g*#)d)(^& thing.  F-off, Kwun Tong!!

So I guess I should have prefaced all of this with I accidentally quit my job.  I had my 'annual' (one an half years in?) review and as I sat down Greg says, 'We're going to change it up this time, you speak first.' 

So I spoke, 'I think I'm ready to start looking around.'

Blank face.  'Well I think if that's the case, we shouldn't drag it out.  How bout 30 days?'

Wha!?  But in the end it's all positive.  There are no hard feelings and Greg and Sean are understanding and supportive.  This week I met with two companies, one of which has a job ready for me now in Shanghai (with apartment!), but Paul just put his deposit in for school, so we're locked to HK for at least the next 2 years.  Not ready to leave anyway, especially if I never have to come back to Kwun Tong again. 

The other woman is leaving her company for Pernod Ricard (dream job!) and is really pushing for me to be her replacement.  My fingers are crossed because it would be a wonderful opportunity.  I have an interview tonight with a big company, and then 2 Tuesday and one next Thursday.  Also have some other promising leads, so it's looking like I won't starve.  Hopefully.

Last night was my last wine tasting with the HOFWs.  Good times, but definitely makes me realize it's time to move to greener pastures.  Better wine lists.  Wine mentors.  Bigger clients.  Let's hope.

In other fantastic news, I bought my dress!!!!  It went on 50% off, and after trying a myriad of wedding dresses, I decided that a Monique Lhullier evening gown is the one for me!!  I love the simplicity because it means I can get a sick headband.  An across the forehead headband.  Please keep your eyes out!

3 day weekend here!  Saturday some wedding errands and a hike with Peen's ex-gf who's in town for business, followed by a Sunday America junk, followed by Monday beach BBQ.  I shouldn't even mention this but, the sun is shining and forecasted to shine til Sunday!!!!  Bring it!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It Stopped

The rain finally subsided yesterday.  I'm not convinced it won't start again soon....

So much to catch up on.  Here's the not cool things:

I ran last week in my super old sneakers (like 2 years with no soles), was trying on super high heels with wedding dresses, and took one ill fated step at the MTR on one of the blind people bumps on the sidewalk and bruised my Metatarsals bone.  Poor foot.  Read more here:

Then Friday I had to say goodbye to Julia, my colleague and friend for the past year :(  She came as an intern only for 6 months and ended up staying one full year.  But now she's off home to attend to some family matters and figure out what it is she wants to do next.  She thinks South America, but I suspect she'll be back here....I do have a wonderful new colleague from the same Masters program Julia did.  Florian is 24 (babies, the lot of em!) energetic, full of passion and enthusiasm, and I think will make a great addition to the HOFWs team.  Picture coming soon...

So I hobbled around for a couple days and then picked up this lovely sinus infection, to which I will say I had the most pleasant and efficient doctor's visit I have ever had. 
Stupid health expo
Worked all rainy Sunday at a stupid health expo only to wake up with tense and sore shoulders, neck and back.  I feel like I'm 1,000 years old this week!

After chatting with various people I have decided to slow down, relax, and just take it easy for a while, and I must say that today I am feeling much much better.  Although this could also be due to the fact that the sun in finally shining!!!  How do people in Seattle do it?
JUNK.  Sarah, new friend Cass, Me

Onto more fun news.  I've been trying on more and more dresses, and I still keep coming back to the Monique.  I'm hitting an Oscar de La Renta bridal trunk show Saturday morning, and if there's nothing there I'm making a decision.  It's either Monique or get one made.  But I must say I have the sweetest girlfriends here who have been helping me out so much!! Big thanks to Jackie, Laura and Sarah, who come to watch me as I dismiss dress after dress without even a drop of bubbles.  Hong Kong really doesn't know how to do bridal!
Ok la

Last Wednesday we had a public holiday for the Dragon Boat Festival.  It of course rained, and we obviously didn't dragon boat (never again), so we head over to Brad's house with Kenny for a rooftop semi-dry BBQ.  Kenny grilled up some amazing rack of lamb and burgers and then we moseyed over to Central to meet up with Sarah and Will for a pint of cider. 
Pup eyeing Kenny's rack of lamb

So I hear from my favorite bar owner, Toby of the Globe, that cider is all the rage now. He says even in the US everyone's all about the boozy apple punch.  I'm totally into it.  I love me a nice dry cider.   Thoughts?

Happy Birthday, Allison!
Last Saturday we had an awesome birthday junk for Allison's 26th!  We knew a few people (Will and Sarah) and met a bunch of cool new people.  It obviously rained the whole time, so I didn't make it into the water, but it was super nice being out of the city for a day. 

We followed up with a fantastic dinner on Monday.  We met Allison and Michael at Mayta, the newest restaurant from Dining Concepts. It's a Peruvian restaurant which was totally new to me.   Although I don't think the quality of the ingredients was the highest (for the price) the food was still all good.  The service spotty, but food good.  We haven't been out on a proper couple nice dinner date in a while, and we decided we need to go it more often!
ha just for fun
Last night after dress shopping with Sarah, I met Paul and we picked up some new books from a craigslist ad and then cabbed it home.  As we're walking from the cab I realize that my phone had fallen out of my pocket.  Cab gone.  Ahhhhh!  I should mention that the cab was getting a ticket while we walked away for an illegal stop, so we totally booked it feeling at least partially responsible. 

We definitely thought there was no way he would return it, but lo and behold one hour later I had that phone back in my hand.  God bless you nice taxi man!!!  It was just the icing on an already sick/sore/sick of how f8(##(08 crowded Kwun Tong is day.

my nice taxi <3
I've been on leave of all physical activities and decided my body needs some alignment so I hit up a yoga class at a studio that's 2 minutes walking from my door.  I have been toying with the idea of yoga classes for a while, I just can't bring myself to get a membership.  I hate feeling obligated.  Physical, my current gym, would ague that I do not in fact feel obligated- I think I've been once in 2 months.  Worst. Gym. Ever.

Anyway, this was my first hot yoga class and it was surprisingly difficult and hot!  I was sweating like a pig, and so was everyone else!  But it felt so good and my neck has zero pain since. The facilities are amazing as well.   Something to think about....

NOTHING on schedule tonight.  My friend Jon at Cru magazine traded me a wine documentary DVD (Cannubi di Barolo if you're interested) for a truffle oil while I was in a wedding dress (true story), so I think I may cozy up on the couch with a glass of Barolo and watch it as Paul grades.  Grades due Monday!!!

Oh did I mention we're going to Seoul???  August 2-6th! Pajeon.  Galbi. Soondoobu.  Magkeolli.  Daegutong.  Al Tong.  Ms. Han!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Post China Recap

Since China I've been soaking in all HK has to offer.  But when isn't that true.

House warming at Matt's.  Katie, Sarah, Nina, Paul, Kenny and Will
I had my wine test a week ago which I'm hoping went alright.  One portion was blind tasting 3 fortifieds.  There are 25 points; some for appearance, nose, palate, grape (only 2pts), and quality assessment.  Of the 3 I got 2 grapes right.  Who's ever had a Sercial Madeira before!??  Not this kid.
7 hours and 15 wines between Jean and I.  Well done!
Anyway, rest of the week was filled with free Foodie happy hours at Sal Curiousio, followed by Flying Winemaker tasting, Pier Bar tastings, Tastings Wine Bar date night.
Bon voyage duck!  It's off to Pittsburgh!

Saturday we head up to Sai Kung to drop off some books with Ian, then back to TST for an 'Old World Gems' tasting, which was just lovely.  Later on that very same day, we met back up with Csilla and Ian.  Csilla is my Hungarian friend who is just a doll.  She had her own Hungarian wine company and is pretty much the sweetest lady there is.  Her husband Ian is from New York and is equally as awesome.  We've gone out to dinner with them before, and then met up with some of their friends for a Shanghainese meal on Saturday.
Woman drying egg yolks in Sai Kung
Honestly, I wasn't looking forward to it after being inundated with Chinese food the weekend before, but hey.  Turns out Shanghainese is totally better (read less greasy) than Guangzhou food.  We had veg and pork dumplings, tofu green stuff that was amazing, tofu and cashews which was my favorite of the night, stinky tofu which no one really got into except Ian and it actually almost ruined Paul's meal who thought it smelled like 'poop'.  His words.  There was also some sliced pork, which I didn't try but everyone else was super into, and a pork rice noodle thing that was good. The noodles at least.  And it was all super cheap to boot.

Sunday I went dress shopping!!!!  After a super long much needed run.  I always quit my morning workouts before tests in favor of Starbuck's cramming, and it felt sooooo good to get out there again, despite the 8000 percent humidity. 
Looooove this.  Too bad it's blue

Then I met Jackie for some shoppppppping!  The place we initially planned to go turned out to be closed (when does that happen in HK?) so we hit Harvey Nichols instead.  HV is the ultra luxury store, and it was kind of more for shits and giggles than seriously trying to find a dress, until I found a dress!  A Monique Lhullier dress called my name from the rack.  I knew I would love it before trying it on, so I tried it last of 3, and it was totally it.  Just my size, white, fitted, elegant, simple, and would look awesome with a headband, which I am totally into right now.  I'm talking across the forehead headband, not kindergarten girl headband fyi.
Squeezing into Oscar de La Renta. 

Absolutely love this dress.  For the Oscars, not a wedding. 

Then I had found this random wedding place in some magazine so we made a quick appointment and went in.  Woah Chinese wedding shop.  This place was a factory.  You walk in and are 'greeted' and ushered to a chair.  "Which is bride."  me! 'Congrats- now pick what you like from this iPad and I pull for you.'  Ok and we were left to ourselves.

snuck photo.  It was worse than it looks
Woah Chinese wedding gowns.  They were full, sparkley, pink, blue, and all sorts of crazy in between.  It was pretty clear early on that there was nothing here for me, so we picked some of the most ridiculous ones they had.  She came back and pulled them and informed us that these were only for rent.  ~$1,000usd to rent a gown (a ridiculous gown) and tux for 3 days.  What?  Why not just buy  a dres??  Anyway, we weren't allowed to take pictures, because obviously you'd steal their couture designs and run to Shenzen (really, you'd be silly not to), so Jackie snuck a few.  Ferry godmother blue?  Check.  Fake feathers, feather dress?  Double check.  We wanted to try on more but were sternly told that it would cost $500 ($65usd)  per 2 dresses.  Um no thank you.

Not real feathers. I kid not.
Next we hit another high end department store Joyce.  Ohh the dresses!  And the service!  I tried on Oscar de La Renta (beautiful green dress!), Giamberto Valle (Ohhh my favorite red dress ever- $58,000hkd!) and some others, but nothing was really talking to me.

Then went outside and it was pouring.  Again.  We called it a day feeling pretty successful and celebrated with a lovely Jaspas lunch.  I'm going back to Harvey tomorrow after work to try it on one last time and make a decision.  I love it and it's on sale.  What more can you ask?

Today I had lunch with the China crew.  Sean and I met Andy and Anita and her son for a catch up lunch at Oolaa.  I've been dying to go to Oolaa (it's THE Sunday brunch place), and I can see why.  You walk in and your in hipster New York.  Seirously, all white dudes with big rimmed glasses, graphic tees, and women with funky lipstick and hair.  Awesome.  My fish was good, but the salad bar, ooooh the salad bar.  Anyway, we got our salads, and then everyone sat down and got on their phones.  No talking, just eat, text, email, eat.  I don't think I'll get used to this....

Tonight we're having Kina over for BBQ sans BBQ.  We're cooking up Paul's own specially marinated burgers, watermelon feta salad, potato salad, with chocolate chip cookies and Madeira for dessert.   Tuesday is the new Friday because Wednesday is a public holiday for dragon boating.  Who knows?  But it means I can go to the beach and not work so I'm all for it. 
The spiders are back!

Happy Monday!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Oh, China!

What a strange, interesting, and slightly alarming trip to Guangzhou!  It was like seeing all of the clich├ęs I've been hearing over the past couple years come true. 

Enormous booth

We left Hong Kong Wednesday evening with the big boss herself, Anita, her driver, Sean, and Iris, one of Anita's employees.  We get to the border where I am removed from the car and led into a concrete room to wait while I am processed.  My name is Lauren and I am an overstayer.  A quick 3p minute fine and some paperwork later (paid for by Anita thank you) and I am allowed to return to the vehicle. 

SIDENOTE: So I guess I haven't been in a non-taxi/van car for a while and I was super impressed with Anita's car.  It was an Audi SUV and had little trays on the back of the front seats, blinds that you pulled up the windows, and the softest leather I have ever felt in a car. 
cartoons to market wine.  great

Anyway, we finally pull in at 12:30 to middle of nowhere China to this humungo hotel.  I was pleasantly surprised at my room.  Large, clean (although the ashtrays everywhere made me a little nervous), and a huge bathroom with tub.  Well done, Grandly Pacific (my client). 

Wake up ridic early the next day, have a 'Western' breakfast in the 'Western' hotel (I've never seen congee in the breakfast buffet in Gladstone) and were off for the 40 minute drive to the expo centre.  I should note at this point that there are roughly 10 of us.  Sean and myself, Anita, Andy (my client), Darren, Karen, Iris, Michelle, and some other people whos names I never caught from Grandly, and 2 Spanish guys- one a winemaker and one a supplier to Anita's other business, recyclables (that's where all the $$ is from- def not from the wine). 
In casual conversation it comes up that Anita has purchased the dress that Iris is wearing.  Strange.  And then in the car it gets even weirder.  Anita starts talking about how her son (19) asked her for makeup one day for 'Cos Play.'  For those of you not familiar, cos play is when boys and girls (men and women) get dressed up like anime characters, run around the streets, and have other people take their pictures.  I kid you not. Some dude got the idea when he went to a Star Wars movie in the US and saw people in the audience dressed up.  Brought it over to Asia and obviously manifested it x 1,000,000.  You see these people running around Stanley on Sundays....

Anyway, so she didn't know which color foundation to buy for her eldest son, so she just bought one of each, and then gave the leftovers to the Michelle and Iris who are in their early 20s.  I passed piles of makeup from Anita's bag to the girls in the back.  Piles.   I'm beginning to sense an almost Godfather-ness here.

Just one tiny piece of the massive expo conplex
The expo was ridiculous.  This convention plaza has got to be the largest in the world.  It's the size of Giants Stadium x 15.  We finally find our way to the right hall and to the booth, which again is ridiculous.  It's by far the largest booth in the expo, complete with full bar, tables, VIP room, 2 men dressed up in inflatable wine bottles, and 6 models, oh and I should mention like 20 staff in varying outfits from uniforms to truck driver hats and tanks (on the men). 
Me, winebottle man, Sean
No one at this expo except the winemakers and export managers speak English.  None of the people know a thing about wine, and no one wants to stop and talk to me.  I got the occasional photo request, but that was it.  I sort of wandered from the front to the back of the booth about 400 times, and finally Anita told me to either walk around, take a rest, or just take pictures with people.

Whole fish
I walked around and discovered that the level of wines present was very low.  Mass produced bulk wine :(  I had fun talking to the winemakers, even found some Marsala and Sherries, but was overall disappointed at the selection. 
Felix and advertising for his wine at the 'office'

This makes me laugh
Darren, Andy, Sean, Anita
Apparently we did ok.  10 containers sold in one day!  Apparently.  You can never tell who's telling the truth, or what version of the truth is being told.  I should mention we went to get lunch late and as a consequence were left with the shit rice lunchboxes.  Rice.  Slime.  Pork.  I had about 3 bites of rice and quit.  We left the expo at 6, totally starving, and then were told to reconvene in the hotel lobby at 8.  We FINALLY went to dinner, where Anita dictated where we all sat.  Then the food started coming as it was ready.  A soup here, a soup there (to Anita first of course) and then silence except for slurping.  Slurp, slurp, slurp. All I could think the whole time was that my mom would be horrified.  I can't tell you how many times I heard 'stop slurping' growing up.   Then mid-meal, which is a free for all, spin the lazy susan left, then right, then back, etc.  Anita stands up and declares 'Gambe' to which everyone stand up and chugs their beer.  Not a full mug, but a full cup for sure.  Are we at a frat party? PS is this not a wine company?  Why are we drinking 50 cent TsingTao and not wine?  There's a winemaker at our table for crying out loud!
The big bosses 'office'
More office
These are all things I had heard go on in China, but thought were exaggerated and maybe only once in a while things.  No, these are everyday things that happen at every dinner, especially when the big boss is involved.
Fancy dinner
Special Eggplant
Filet cooked in Sake
Don't be fooled, that's beer in my wine glass
The next night was more of the same.  Although first we were made to go on a tour of the 'office' of the local Chinese company's business.  This place was ridiculous.  Marble, gold, ivory, this looked more like a music video than an office.  Once everyone was convinced that we were all impressed we were ushered to dinner.  Same restaurant as the night before, but upstairs to a private room,.  We all had tea and then sat down to an incredible meal.  One thing I will say about Chinese that I don't like is that it all comes at once.  Everything is loaded onto the table and you just go at it.  I kind of like the idea of courses where there's a build up.  What's coming next!? 

The food was all great, but nothing I would really want to eat again except for the salmon sashimi.  Yum.  3 or 4 beer chugs later and it was time to head next door to the kareoke.  This was a first for me in HK/China, and wow.  Everyone was just so happy and relaxed and was genuinely enjoying this totally weird to me environment. 

We're brought to this hige room with chandaliers and big sofas, and we have our own staff who keep refilling the chicken feet (seriously), Budweisers, and screwdrivers.  All the meanwhile people are playing dice and singing to the TV.  Me and the Spanish dudes sat together in awe, and I just kept thinking, 'where is the wine!?'

My new friends who spoke 0 english

Eventually the singing stopped, the music became a little louder, and the lights were dimmed.  Everyone jumped up on a table and started dancing.  Everyone.  Boys with boys. Boys with girls.  Boss with minions.  We had our own private Grandly Pacific club going until the ripe old hour of 1am.  This is a school night!
Karen was the sweetest!  Want to put her in my pocket
7:45 we all meet up the next morning as per the request of big boss.  Why, I'm not sure.  We all sat at breakfast tired.  And sat and sat until about 9:15 when we finally left for the last day of the expo.  Saturday at the expo was dead.  Half the vendors had packed up, so Andy the girls and I walked around trying whatever was left.  Finally we were off to the trainstation for the 3 hour journey home.  One hour to Shenzen. Through customs and onto the MTR for another hour and half until I was back.

Til next time!  Me, Andy, Karen, Michelle

Back in sunny Hong Kong.  How I missed thee,  the land of sandwiches, salads, and good wine.