Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

March 2019

Spring is here! I’m hoping it stays awhile before the impending doom of Wuhan’s summer arrives and sucks the life and sweat out of me. March has been a month of generally good weather that made it comfortable for going out, especially to view the various types of blooming flowers, including tulips and cherry blossoms. But I’ll write an individual post about the seasons of Wuhan in the future. For now, let’s talk about spring and March 2019!

This month was all about nature and one of my favourite phenomena to observe is dramatic cloud formations. Like THIS. Let’s ignore the fact that Luoyo Road was madly congested in the opposite direction and enjoy the smooth ride on our electric scooter (operated by J, with me as a passenger), against this fabulous sunset hour!

Dramatic cloud formations #2 – at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology campus. Again I was on the scooter and I told J, “STOP! I need to take a photo of this!”

Dramatic cloud formations #3 – enjoying another sunset, before the sun turns into a monster in the summer. The road was rather crowded with people when I was taking this photo, but I was sufficiently distracted by the unexpectedly lovely scenery and wasn’t as annoyed as I usually would have been.

Onto the flowers – first up, white magnolias in the technology park where my company was based. Well, I think they’re called magnolia, as that was what a colleague told me. One day they just appeared out of nowhere and sprouted and bloomed around the park. It instantly lit up my lunchtime stroll and I couldn’t stop myself from taking way too many photos of these beauties ❤

And here’s a collection of the many types of flowers that I noticed during my walks around the park. I can’t name them all or…any of them, to be honest. I’m going to guess the bright red ones at the top right are late-blooming plum blossoms (peak bloom happened about three weeks ago) and the others are various types of peach blossoms. Someone please tell me what they really are??

As I mentioned previously, peak plum blossom season was approximately three weeks ago (early to mid-March). On a gorgeous Sunday, I went to the plum blossom garden at East Lake and it seemed like every resident of Wuhan was also there – it was so crowded! Can’t blame them though, the weather had been so horrendous for weeks prior to that, so even the slightest sliver of sunlight was able to attract anyone to spend the day outdoor. Though crowded, the garden was beautiful and the plum blossoms were magnificent! I might even have to say that they are my favourite March flowers, compared to tulips, magnolias, and yes…even cherry blossoms!

This shy feline friend of mine appeared around my neighbourhood one day and kept trying to run away from me, but stopped to stare every few seconds. It reminded me of the fox who asked the Little Prince to tame him before they could become friends, and if I could have, I would have brought home this little fella with me. I wonder if it’s still lurking around somewhere nearby…

Almost-obligatory-monthly-photo of me and J, this time in a Ferris wheel (which you probably can’t tell). I was smiling but that was to hide the fact that I was hella scared. And J tried to make me look down at the highest point of the ride… not cool at all.

This height-free photo was certainly a lot more pleasant, phew. Apparently in addition to white magnolias, there were also red/rose/violet magnolias blooming in an area around where I live. Here’s a rare capture of a candid (or intentional?!) goofy moment. It seems like my fiancé isn’t all about all that serious research and teaching stuff, after all!

I still don’t like Wuhan but admittedly the city has been made a lot more bearable with nature’s beautiful exhibitions in March. I can’t emphasize enough that I’m NOT looking forward to the arrival of summer, which is inevitable and the single most detestable thing about Wuhan. Summer, please skip us this year??

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My stories 03: The French toast that I never had in Hong Kong

A couple of weeks ago I was in Hong Kong, a place with which I have a love-hate relationship (I might write about that in a future post). I’ve been to Hong Kong plenty of times, discovering a new unique place on every occasion and still not deciding whether I like it or not. It is not a place for the budget-friendly traveler, even for western standards, though I cannot deny its charm and diversity. The most recent trip was unavoidable as it was for work purposes, but I did get a chance to wander around a bit in the midst of the official affairs that I had to handle.

One thing that I make sure I do a lot when I’m in Hong Kong is eat at a “cha chaan teng” (literally translated to “tea restaurant”), otherwise known as an “ice room”. These are traditional eateries that you can find in every corner of Hong Kong, serving a vast variety of items. Baked seafood rice with cream sauce, chicken wings, soup udon, fish skin, steak, baked vegetable, egg and ham sandwich, satay beef macaroni…just to name a few. If you could think of it, it’s probably on the menu. I could eat at an ice room for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all extra meals in between and never get bored.

I am particularly in love with the classic Hong-Kong-style milk tea, an iced one in the summer to refresh the mind and a hot one in the winter to warm the soul. It’s got this unique rough texture that distinguishes it from the rather smooth and sugary powdered bubble tea, which feels overly fake. I couldn’t resist having a cup every morning with my breakfast, before doing any work, and that has become a necessary part of my daily morning routine in Hong Kong.

And Hong-Kong-style French toast. We call it “sai dor see” in Cantonese, which translates to “western toast”. It’s one of those things that I love but don’t feel the need to order every time. One day during lunch, while I was dining at an ice room, the lady with whom I shared a table ordered a French toast, and that instantly triggered my desire for one. With two days left in Hong Kong, I decided that I would certainly have a French toast before I leave. That definitely shouldn’t have been a difficult task, as there are so many ice rooms around.

On my last day, while having lunch right before catching my train, I happily ordered a bite-sized French toast (bonus points!) and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Certainly, this would have ended my short trip on a positive note. A few minutes after I placed my order, the waitress came to my table and informed me that they “couldn’t make” the French toast…what! I interpreted that as they were out of toast or out of butter or out of batter or something…but the fact remained that I wasn’t getting my long-awaited French toast. I was…disappointed, to say the least, but I didn’t have enough time to go to another restaurant, and so I left Hong Kong French-toast-less.

They say you leave a place with some regret so that there’s a motivation of going back. Maybe I’ll make French toast my priority the next time I visit Hong Kong, instead of waiting until the last day.

A very lovely hot Hong-Kong-style milk tea at Tsui Wah Restaurant near Tsim Sha Tsui, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong.

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February 2019

February was a fantastic month not only because I got to spend a couple of weeks at home with my loved ones, but also because I spent several days in Hong Kong and had good fun. The trip to Hong Kong was for work purposes, but I had ample time to explore and see old friends. And as is the case for every visit to Hong Kong, I discovered some unique, less touristy places…

First up: Garden Hill in Sham Shui Po. I had wanted to climb this small hill in Kowloon before but I ended up not staying at the hostel near it as planned, and so I never got around to doing it. It only took around 10 minutes to get to the top, but the view of Kowloon was amazing! What caught my attention were a few trees with these white-yellowish flowers – I don’t know their name (if you do, please let me know!) They were so pretty and smelled wonderful too!

Sunset on Garden Hill, overlooking the high-rise buildings in Kowloon. Hong Kong is so densely populated and smothered with high-rise buildings, and I can’t imagine how many people each one must house, all within ultra-small apartments/flats that are so typical of Hong Kong.

Whenever I take the bus in Hong Kong, if the front-row seats on the top deck are empty, I almost always take one of them. I love the feeling of sitting at the top and traversing through the city with a view in front of me, especially during the night when the roads are not so conested. One evening, I was lucky enough to get a top-deck front-row seat, and off I went into the night!

People like to leave their mark everywhere they go, and someone – probably a heartbroken person on September 23 2017 – wrote this on public property: (translated) “I will not love _______ again” (fill in the blank with the name that is scratched out).

A neat little man-made waterfall in the Nan Lian Garden near Diamond Hill MTR station, on a surprisingly clear and sunny day amidst the rainy days of mid-February. I had wanted to go see the Ng Tung Chai waterfalls, which would have been an actual hike in a natural settings, but decided against it because of the rain and my lack of proper attire. Next time…you’re top priority on my list, Ng Tung Chai!

I didn’t hesitate to eat at many cha chaan tengs (“tea restaurants” or “ice rooms”), and every morning I made sure I started off the day with a nice cup of hot Hong-Kong-style milk tea at a cha chaan teng. Every place makes it a bit differently but I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t taste amazing – or I just can’t tell the difference?!! It matters not, HK-style milk tea will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite beverages!

Time to see some friends! Annie met up with Sharon after a bit more than a year and had a great time catching up over delicious food (not shown unfortunately). Bordeaux days never fade!

Of course, a meeting with Mingming, Captain, and their kid V was in order. They’ve been in Hong Kong so long that sometimes I feel like they will stay there forever. These are people that I’ve known for over 15 years (well, not V…) and I cherish them dearly still today ❤

Finally…a photo taken in Wuhan! Yes, this is the only photo in this batch that was NOT taken in Hong Kong. The new year’s resolution of cooking more has been working out well so far, except it’s almost always J who cooks, and I’m totally cool with that. This meal might have been just a bit toooooo healthy/green, if that’s even possible? Still love my green veggies though!

March started off with promising weather as we’ve seen TWO days of sunshine out of four already – and before that, the sun must have been absent for three months. Let’s hope spring is here and STAYS for a bit before the summer inevitably takes over… >_<

A very Canadian Chinese New Year

In February, I went back home to Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, bringing along my boyfriend (now fiancé) who was visiting for the first time. After around 16 hours of flight time, we landed in Toronto 9 months after I left, with 13 hours of time difference, halfway across the Earth, just in time to catch some freezing weather and a couple of snow storms!

Being back home means lots of quality time spent with the fam and lots of yummy food! Chinese New Year celebrations included one home-cooked meal and another out at a restaurant, but both were perfect because of the company. I especially missed my goofy sister, who is happily in love with her boyfriend. What’s worthy to note is that we actually got a photo of my dad SMILING! *GASP* Now how rare is that!

Ohh yes it was cold. The boyfriend J and I, along with the entire family, visited Niagara Falls for a few days (more on that later) and were welcomed by a winter Wonderland. J’s smile in the top photo was super forced and seemingly conveyed the expression of “I’m only smiling so we could finish taking this photo and get back in the car”. But then J decided to brave the cold and take a walk around the neighbourhood on the coldest day during the two weeks that we were in Toronto (bottom photo). DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. I mean yes I’d love to show you the area where I grew up and my elementary school and all (and we did go) but you could have picked ANY OTHER DAY…but fine. I’m the true Canadian, I could endure the cold, but can you???

One of the highlights of this trip was attending my first ever live NBA game! This was the game between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards at the Scotiabank Arena and it happened to be Jeremy Lin’s first game after joining the Raptors! I never paid attention to basketball, but everyone who went with me did – J, my dad, my sister, and her boyfriend.

And it was so much fun! The live atmosphere was so intense and the audience was extremely energetic and hyped up (I could only imagine a Leafs game…) It was also a close game as the Raptors were behind by approximately 10 points at around mid-game, but we caught up and ultimately won 129-120! Overall this was a fantastic experience and I was glad to have shared my first-ever NBA game (it was the first for all of them as well) with the ones that I love!

Oh yes, Niagara Falls. Referring to J, my dad said, “Who visits Toronto for the first time without going to the Falls?!” Yea, I hadn’t thought of that, but after he suggested we stay overnight at Niagara, I was sold. I got to see the falls frozen AND lit up at night? Sign me up. In the end, it was less about J seeing Niagara than me taking as many photos of the falls as I could. Not only were the falls frozen, so were my hands!! It was cold AND windy, the worst combination, but I couldn’t resist taking some long-exposure shots, this being my favourite one. Such a majestic view, and only we would be foolish to stick around for long as there was almost no one else out that night, compared to the always-jammed-packed tourist areas during the summertime. Worth it? A million times yes!

And this was yet another phenomenal view – barren, skeletal branches of trees along the cliff the next morning. There was a short stretch right by the large Horseshoe Falls where the trees seemed like they had been stripped of life, and as the car passed by I had to say, “Stop! I need to get off a take some photos!” In fact, it was raining that morning, and the raindrops got on my camera lens but serendipitously resulted in a blurry effect. I thought the photo were ruined at first but upon further inspection, I really liked the way it turned out! It was almost intentional, but not. It felt even a bit ghostly and delusional, as if I were dreaming…of running back to the warmth of the car because the rain was freezing!!!

Time to meet with some good friends and the ones I couldn’t miss every time I visit Toronto were Florence and Darwin and their daughter Elissa (my sister tagged along too). Florence was my university housemate for three years and from seeing each other every day, we now only reunite maybe once a year at most, but it’s always the most anticipated meet-up in Toronto. Love and miss you!

Because J is the most unromantic man in the universe (whom I love anyway), I decided to at least try to be a bit romantic and get him something for Valentine’s Day – a cute bear holding a chocolate rose. OK, I admit it, I got the bear because I thought he was too cute. What’s yours is mine anyway, no? ^_^

Finally, another group photo with the fam AND the food that we had for the home-cooked meal. There’s we go, that’s the more typical “dad expression”, which my sister says is like a bulldog. Oh, what a delicious meal and what a lovely reunion with my dearest ones on the entire planet. Chinese New Year is just an official reason to go home but now that I’m so far away from Toronto, any reason to go home is a good reason. Let’s just not mention the amount of weight that I gained from eating so much good food during those two weeks…

My stories 02: Chinese New Year

It is no surprise that the Lunar New Year is the most important event of the year for the Chinese, and growing up in a Chinese family, we observe it every year. We didn’t go all out with the rituals and celebrations, which themselves vary among regions across China. For us, it’s usually just a simple meal with the immediate family. The last time I spent Chinese New Year at home was in 2014, and my dad cooked a huge New Year’s Eve meal. I remember, though, that my mom unfortunately had to work that evening and was absent, so it was a dinner for three – my dad, my sister, and me. This year, however, I was finally able to spend New Year’s Eve with the entire family, after five years.

During the Chinese New Year celebrations, elders are obliged by cultural norms to give youngsters red pockets containing lucky money, or “lai-see” in Cantonese. When I was a kid, I would receive lai-see from many relatives and friends of my parents. What did I do with the money? Well, I’d be lucky if I knew how much money was in the lai-see. Why is that? Well, my mom (and many Chinese moms do the same) would claim that I was too young to spend money anyway, so she would “save up the money” for my future. After that, I would never find out the whereabouts of the lai-see. Another thing is that only married people are expected to give out lai-see – I think this is a Cantonese norm, but I’m not 100% sure. So, even though I’m in my 30s, I still receive lai-see from my relatives and am not condemned if I don’t “return the favour” by similarly handing out lai-see to their kids. I guess that’s another reason not to get married yet…

And then there are firecrackers. Perhaps it’s an irrational fear, but I’m deathly afraid of sudden, loud noises – popping balloons, thunder, and firecrackers. I can’t recall what prompted this fear in me, but I do remember shivering and hiding in the house when the firecrackers were lit in my childhood days. Nowadays, firecrackers are prohibited in many cities in China, but are still a widespread form of celebration in the countryside. It does seem like traditional Chinese heritage is being compromised by the diminishing popularity of firecrackers, but at least it effectively alleviated my pain and suffering from the deafening noises that remain in my memories.

Red pockets containing lucky money, given out during Chinese New Year.

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