Friday, January 17, 2014

Live Seafood in the New Territories

For those of you used to dining in the Hong Kong style seafood palaces of the San Gabriel Valley or the San Francisco Bay Area, seeing tanks of live seafood is de rigeur.  But nothing in the good old USA compares to our meal this evening at Chuen Kee Seafood in Sai Kung in the New Territories.  Because while one might end up ordering a few live seafood items as part of the dinner back home, at restaurants like Chuen Kee, your entire menu may consist of live seafood items.  For instance, tonight we had nine courses consisting of live boiled shrimp, salt and pepper mantis shrimp, razor clams in black bean sauce, individual sized South African whole white abalone, whole scallops served in the shell with glass noodles, geoduck sashimi style, geoduck jook, stir friend geoduck with celery, and steamed tiger fish.  Not exactly a balanced meal, but all I can say is "Wow!"  And have you ever seen tanks that look like this?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How I Turned Overnight From Mr. Sickly To Mr. Healthy

While fighting what appeared to be a head cold for a few days right before our currently in progress Hong Kong dining excursion, I stopped to think when was the last time I had been sick.  I think it was probably three years ago when I went on vacation to Nashville and developed laryngitis (and consequently had difficulty ordering at Chinese restaurants since I was unable to ask questions about menu items) and an uncontrollable cough.  Indeed for the past 40 years I’ve seldom caught any illnesses.  It’s been 25 years since I had the flu, possibly just as long since I had a fever, and perhaps I get a cold maybe every two years.

But if you knew me when I was in school you’d be stunned by this run of relatively good health.  I missed nine consecutive weeks of kindergarten, not with a major illness, but rather a continuous series of nagging colds. (However, in the next 10 week period I was only absent 15 of the 49 school days in that segment.)  I missed three consecutive weeks in junior high due to bronchitis, and even two straight weeks in law school due to the flu. 

So what is the reason for my change in health, which essentially turned on a dime in the mid-1970s?   Well it was just dumb luck (or extreme fortune).  I had just started working and one day I found this sheet of paper lying on an unattended desk in the staff room where I was housed.  It was a mimeographed review of a book entitled There IS A Cure for the Common Cold.  It detailed the author’s theory of how strategic use of vitamin C can ward off the onset of illness.  This book did not advocate recurring mega doses of vitamin C,or even daily year round doses of the vitamin, but rather periodic intake of increased dosages of vitamin C upon exposure to illness.  The author recommended just 625 mg of vitamin C every three hours after exposure, though I have altered that to 500 mg every hour.  

From that point I followed that advice and my health turned 180 degrees. I haven’t taken a sick day from work in over 25 years as I just work through the occasional cold.   In all these years I only got sick once from Mrs. Chandavkl (an elementary school teacher who often fell ill to her students’ germs) or my kids, and I think that one time was from shared food.. In more recent years, zinc has proven to ward off illness, so I’ve also added that to my arsenal. I’ve also attributed the few times that I’ve gotten sick to getting a chill, so I’m also paying special attention to staying warm, and also getting sufficient rest..  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Destination Hong Kong

As anybody who follows Chinese food knows, the quality of Chinese food in Hong Kong far surpasses that found anywhere in the United States.  Not only is this the consensus view of almost anyone who has eaten Chinese food both in Hong Kong and the United States, but when one commentator, legendary Chinese American filmmaker Wayne Wang, was quoted as saying the best Chinese food in the world was in the San Gabriel Valley, he was ridiculed from stem to stern.

Like everybody else, I truly believe that Hong Kong Chinese food is superior to American Chinese food.  But the truth is, I cannot say this belief is from personal experience.  And it's not that I haven't eaten in Hong Kong, since I've been there three times.  The problem is we never knew anybody in Hong Kong who could show us around and take us to the best restaurants.  Consequently, whenever we visited Hong Kong we would walk into random restaurants.  The result was Chinese food, that with just a couple of exceptions, was not in fact better than anything we had in the San Gabriel Valley.  I guess the analog would be a foreign tourist taking his meals at McDonalds, Denny's, Olive Garden and Tony Roma's and not being impressed with American food.

Potentially another issue is the possibility that not all categories of Chinese food in Hong Kong are vastly superior to what we are used to.  I've heard it said that while Hong Kong Chinese food at the extremes--high end dining and subway station/street food is greatly superior, that the food at say a mid-range dim sum place might not be.

Consequently, it  is with great anticipation that we're looking forward to our trip to Hong Kong where we will be hosted by people familiar with the local food scene.  You can follow my tweets @chandavkl.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sometimes It's Cheaper To Travel Around The World Than To Stay At Home

Those of you who read my sad tale of not having enough food to eat on last year's Baltic cruise may recall my extended conversation with the Maitre D' at the ship's restaurant.  During the course of the conversation he mentioned one passenger who had sailed on over 200 of his cruises without any complaint about the food.  At the time I thought to myself, "Wow. That must be one rich woman."  However as I have since learned you don't have to be rich to sail off so often, you just have to be flexible as to when and where you take a cruise.

The key to cruising economically is taking advantage of last minute cruise deals where the lines slash prices on upcoming cruises that have not sold out.   At the time of my most recent cruise in June, I  knew little of the specifics--how do you hear about these cruises, how close to sailing date can you make the arrangements, and how about air fares when you book late?

Fortunately a travel agent explained the process to us, so well that I was able to book a cruise for Mrs. Chandavkl and her sister last fall less than a month  before sailing date.  The cruise was a 12 day Mediterranean cruise with stops in Barcelona, Marseilles, Naples, Rome, Florence, Mykonos, Istanbul, Izmir, Venice and Athens.  All for the princely sum of $599 for the base cruise.  That's only $50 a night, and covers your food, your lodging and your travel.  Forgetting the cost of airfare, that's something that almost anybody can afford.

So how do you get these deals?  When we took our Baltic cruise this past June, we had made our reservation in December, and were given until March to confirm our reservation and pay the balance of the cost above the refundable deposit.  As things turn out, for cruises of over a week, 90 days before the sailing date is the cutoff point for paying for the cruise, while shorter cruises give you until 75 days before sailing.  Consequently, at these 75 and 90 day milestones, the cruise lines know how full their boats are with confirmed passengers, and whether fares need to be discounted to fill the boat.  Therefore it is at these 75 and 90 day markers that a particular cruise fare could be heavily discounted.   And given the fact that no cruise line wants a ship to sail with empty rooms, they'll keep slashing the prices until the boat fills up

As for the details of finding these cruises, travel agencies dealing with cruises make it easy.  For example, our cruise agency, Vacations to Go,  has a button on its homepage labelled "90 Day Ticker."  This takes you to a page that lists all discounted sailings that depart within the next 90 days.  The bigger the discount, the emptier the ship.  If you look at the current offerings, you can take a 50 day cruise that sails next week from London to Singapore, stopping in Lisbon, Gibraltar, Malaga, Malta, Turkey, Athens, Crete, Suez Canal, Oman, Mumbai, Goa, Colombo, Phuket, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Semarang, Lombok, Komodo, Ujung Pandang, Java, Surabaya, and back to Singapore.  The cost for an inside room?  Would you believe $2,700?

Of course there are logistics to deal with.  You can't book the cruise until you know you can get a flight to the departure point, but you don't want to buy your plane tickets until you've confirmed your space on the cruise.  Consequently you need to check to see if there are flights available, quickly book the cruise, and then quickly book the flights.  The closer to sailing date, the greater the potential cruise discount, but on the other hand, the great chance of air fares being higher or flights not being available.  But if you can pay $50 a night for a seven week cruise that's a minor inconvenience when your Social Security check will more than cover all your living expenses for that time period.