Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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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…

January 2019

Yes, I know that there are only 9 days left in February and I am only posting the January 2019 summary now. To my defense, I was in Canada for two weeks for Chinese New Year, during which I was in constant jet lag…or maybe I just fell into the indulgence of catching up on sleep, you decide 😛 In any case, it’s not a “new year” anymore, but let’s see what happened in Annie’s life in January!

I attended my first wedding in China and was beyond joyful and honoured to be part of the big day for my good friend Shengwei and his bride Yi. The day was so lovely with the first sunshine of 2019, so much so that our eyes were all blinded by the light!

One of the first meals of 2019 was hot pot at home with the boyfriend J. It looked great but it was also then I found out that J actually did NOT like hot pot…hmph! Why’d you suggest having hot pot in the first place if you didn’t like it?! Well, I know better from now on…

At work, everyone was told to write down a summary of 2018 and/or resolutions/wishes for 2019. Here’s a rough translation of what I wrote: “I wish for world peace; I wish for my love, my family, and my friends to be happy and healthy; I wish to maintain a sincere and simple heart and find true inner peace in a world full of conflict and anxiety.” Cheesy and cliché, perhaps, but every bit was written from the bottom of my heart.

One practical resolution of 2019 is to COOK MORE AT HOME and we took the first step by making this meal. Well OK, J cooked almost everything. The mixed salad (bottom right) was pre-prepared, but he made the spinach, beef and lotus root slices, and broccoli and pig ears (which has become my favourite dish made by J!!)

Another home-made meal – mapo tofu by me, and spinach (again) and chives omelette by J. I wasn’t too impressed with the tofu because the meat wasn’t of the greatest quality. There’ll be room for improvement next time!

This bakery emitted a heavenly scent as I passed by and it was so irresistible that I just HAD to go in for a look. In addition to the freshest smell of bread and cakes that I could ever imagine, the items on sale were rather aesthetically pleasing and creative. I would like a “Pharaoh” (top left) the next time I visit 😀

A bookstore in K11, a fancy and artsy mall that was recommended by my supervisor. Everything is expensive, as expected, but it is a nice place for a quiet stroll and some window shopping. I gotta go back and explore more when I feel like I need a dose of inspiration (AKA pretending to be all hipster…)

I finally got a chance to escape Wuhan and visit the adjacent province of Anhui, which was a much-needed break. Here is Hefei on a foggy day, after a hike on Dashu Hill.

Of course, I had to include a photo in my “Food and the Hills” series during the walk on Dashu Hill. For this one, I brought a salted egg yolk pastry (which was ridiculously delicious, by the way) with me.

2019 started out with a blast and February has been even more eventful, starting with the trip back to Canada, which was my boyfriend’s first visit. More to come about this trip soon!

November 2018

As I was walking this morning I thought, “The only time that I liked the city that I live in now was when I didn’t live here.” Sounds pessimistic, I know, but the air this morning smelt disgustingly of grease and gloominess (was it smog?) to the point where I wanted to puke, and at that moment I couldn’t gather up any pretension to say that I liked the city. Oh well, it’s the end of November, and it’s been a tough one, but we got through it safe and sound, thanks be to God! One more month till 2019…let’s go for it!

Third time in Macau. Away from the casinos and central tourist spots, Macau has maintained its history and traditions in hidden alleys and little-known districts. The red sign with the golden words says “Back in the day” in Chinese.

Annual chrysanthemum festival (one of the locations) in Wuhan, where the flowers bloom for weeks in the autumn. Such beautiful colours!

An insect on a leaf, caught while I was taking a stroll outdoors after lunch. Little details like this remind me of how much I loved taking photos of random things, the process during which I could sharpen my senses toward the world around me.

Sumptuous buffet in Macau, courtesy of my local friend and her family. Unlimited servings of lobster, scallops (and other types of seafood), sashimi, sushi…among other varieties of delicious food – indulgent and luxurious!

Another meal in Macau: traditional dim sum (or yum cha, as we call it in Cantonese). This famous family-owned restaurant, Long Wah, is well known for its cha siu, or roasted pork (red in the center). Of course I also had to order my favourite, steamed spare ribs. You could never get too much dim sum!

Speaking of ribs, another spare ribs dish that I love very much is the garlic deep-fried spare ribs. I don’t know what the secret is to this dish, but the first time I had it in Glasgow, it was instant addiction…and it tasted even better in China!!

Movie night with the boss and the colleagues at a mini private theater. Good company, good times, good evening 😛

My company during the Macau day trip, TK (local friend) and LS (friend living in Zhuhai, which is literally right next to Macau). Bus selfie, cheese!

I love this man so much and I would go to the ends of the Earth for him – literally, because Toronto and Wuhan almost couldn’t be farther apart as they’re almost on the exact opposite side of the Earth as each other. It’s not been an easy month for him but we’re still fighting together. 明天加油!

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