Sunday, May 31, 2015

Summer Fashion Is Upon Us!

Spring is melting into summer here in Hong Kong, and that called for a deep cleaning of my wardrobe as well as a transition to some fun new summer clothes!

If you live in Hong Kong, you’ve got to check out ZALORA, an online store with free delivery for any order over 150 HKD. I’ve talked about them before, and just love perusing all their funky tanks and quirky little flats. The boutique Sugarpop has a line of cute, feminine dresses on ZALORA right now that I would love to get my hands on!

Out for birthday drinks with some girlfriends 
wearing my favorite sheer ZALORA top


Of course, Hong Kongers also have to take advantage of our tropical setting. When I was back in the US for spring break I picked up some new bathing suits for those impending junk trips and beach days.

My favorite one piece from ModCloth-
Looks great with jean shorts and works 
as a Minnie Mouse costume in a pinch!

Fun new ASOS bikini

Another option is to throw a frock swap. I got together with some girlfriends a few weekends ago, and we each brought a bag of clothes and a brunch item. We dug through each other’s secondhand clothes whilst sipping on some strawberry mint juleps and everyone went home with a couple of cute new outfits. The leftovers were donated to Friends of the Earth, a local Hong Kong charity with environmentally friendly initiatives. One lady’s trash is another lady’s treasure, am I right?

Everyone's favorite item at the frock swap

It’s that time of year when I break a sweat just walking to my bus stop, so I’ve chosen to embrace it and dress for the occasion. Lots of flouncy sundresses, miniskirts, and strappy sandals can make the summer heat more bearable, and turn some heads along the way as well ;)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spring Break in the States

I try to make it back to the States once a year, and last year I chose summertime for my return to Florida. Huge mistake! Summertime is the wooorrrssstt when your hometown is basically a swampland on the Gulf of Mexico. To avoid the oppressive summer heat, this year I headed back for spring break. April in Florida is ideal- hot enough for beach days, but not so hot that you burn your feet on the sand.

Some Florida thunder clouds rolling in

My Dad and I grabbing lunch in a marina

My trip took me to Georgia as well to spend time with some family. Everything looks picture perfect and Southern hospitality sure does sound as sweet as iced tea in Georgia. We took a back road to get to my uncle's house that made us drive for an hour through rural neighborhoods and historic downtown districts and it was like stepping back in time.

My brother and I in front of a Cracker Barrell

Typical Georgia home

After a weekend in Georgia, I ended up in Chicago with my girlfriends from college and we decided to take a big step in our sisterhood. Can you say friendship tattoos?! Whatup! The design we agreed upon was an intricate compass, because we have all travelled so much together and independently, and yet ultimately always find our way back to each other.


A grand reveal of the matching tattoos


Out in Chicago later that night

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Camping on Grass Island

In Hong Kong, there are loads of islands and remote beaches where you can go camping, and a few weeks ago, I went with some friends to explore one island in particular- Grass Island. Our initial plan was to rent kayaks to get out there, but when we realized a kayak tournament meant they were all rented, we caught a ferry out to Tap Mun (Grass Island) from Sai Kung. 

Our camping crew for the weekend

The docks at Tap Mun

Riding on the ferry boat and arrival at the campsite

 I was a bit worried, seeing as my idea of camping is to pass out drunkenly on the beach only to be woken a few hours later by the Coast Guard shining a light in my face. That counts, right? Lucky for me, camping in even the most remote locations in Hong Kong comes with some basic amenities. There were a couple seafood shacks on the island so we never even needed to use the gas cooker we brought out. 

There are a couple little seafood restaurants 
right near the water on Tap Mun

It was really refreshing to escape the city for a day and spend some quality time with my favorite people. We didn't do anything in particular, but just hung around the campsite playing cards, reading Harry Potter out loud to each other, jamming on the ukulele, walking some of the island trails and checking out the rock beach below. 

Joep dominating everyone at cards

View of the fishing boats around Tap Mun-
I've gotten so used to harbours like these, 
I need to appreciate them more!

Tap Mun is a great island for camping, as long as you are cool with cows wandering into your campsite at all hours. Seriously, these things were assertive. Hide your food and slap them on the ass to get rid of them, is what we learned. You could almost always tell when cows were coming your way because you would hear shrieking from nearby campsites. Ha!

The coooowwwwwwwssss

 Camping in Tap Mun can be as wild as you make it. Yes, there were toilets somewhere, but we designated a certain patch of bushes to be our toilet. Yes, you can eat at the local seafood restaurants (salt and pepper squid!) or bring your own cooker. You can make camp in the main stretch of shoreline, or get creative and walk a bit further for some privacy. I actually wish we had stayed two nights rather than one because I had such a good time. I'm already looking forward to a potential kayaking and camping trip later in the spring.

View from our campsite-
Can you imagine pirates here in the 1840s?

The people next to us had the coolest tent

Monday, April 13, 2015

Filipino Birthday

This year, I had a really special birthday party in Angeles City with my family. This was my third time going to the Philippines and it grows on me with each visit. My aunt and uncle were in town, and it just so happens that my uncle's birthday is two days before mine, which meant we could celebrate together. My aunt said she would throw us a little birthday gathering. 

My aunt and uncle on the family property

Me with some of the relatives

Playtime in the cubo!

'Little birthday gathering', my ass. She invited all of her 11 siblings and their kids and there ended up being dozens of people in attendance. In true Filipino style, there was a feast to be had so we cooked all day. My aunt and her sisters went to the market at 5 AM to stock up on groceries. They threw together a huge pot of spaghetti sauce in honor of me and my uncle's Italian American heritage, which was super sweet. On top of that, there was an epic buffet with fresh grilled meat and seafood and salads and salsas and the list goes on. 

I'm an unsuspecting victim of toddler attack 
while helping prepare potatoes

A Filipino feast with some crabs and sisig 
(chopped pig's face)

Fresh tilapia and mussels from the market

Apparently a Filipino house party is only a success if there is a karaoke machine, so my aunt rented one with a massive sound system you could hear around the whole neighborhood. Her family raged from the afternoon til one in the morning when everyone passed out all over the family property amongst piles of empty Red Horse bottles.


My aunt's brother and his ridiculously cute grandson

Me with just a fraction of my Filipino family


As someone who can be introverted amongst large groups, it was a really overwhelming night. On the one hand, the party was a blast and I got to meet so many relatives of my aunt's. On the other hand, I felt so drained from introducing myself to so many people and trying to shout over the sound of the karaoke machine, that by the end of the night, I crashed long before the last cover of 'Gangnam Style' serenaded the party. A Filipino backyard barbecue puts an American one to shame, that's for sure. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Breathing Contraptions

Air quality in Hong Kong sucks. Not as bad as Beijing, but it sucks nonetheless. As a lifelong wheezy asthmatic mess, it's particularly hard on my overall well-being. My health history is basically a list of upper respiratory tract infections, walking pneumonia, asthma attacks, bronchitis, hives, sinus infections, allergic reactions and real pneumonia. Good fun! I'm also highly allergic to pollen, mold, dust, dyes, perfumes, mildew, trees, grass, and cute fluffy animals, which is normally manageable with daily anti-histamines and occasional injections of steroids to the ass when I have an allergy attack.

I identified with Chuckie Finster as a kid-
We both lack a sense of smell

I've been going through a hard time this last month as I had what I thought was a cold that basically shut my body down, sent me to the hospital, and made me miss a week of work. I couldn't get better! I scrubbed every inch of my apartment and kept finding little bits of mold growing on book covers, spice bottles, shoes, jewelry, clothing, and furniture. The combination of Hong Kong humidity and filthy air was too strong a foe for my feeble attempts. No matter how much I sterilized surfaces, mold kept popping up. I knew what I had to do.

Look at my sad face during my recent lungpocalypse

Even though I dropped a shit ton of money on an air purifier earlier this year and strategically hid dehumidifying pots all over my apartment, it clearly wasn't enough. I went ahead and bought a dehumidifier as well. Lo and behold, the mold stopped. I can now sleep through the night without waking up in coughing or sneezing fits. My apartment has become a little sterile bubble. The downside?

THIS MEANS I HAVE NOW SPENT OVER 1,300 US DOLLARS ON BREATHING CONTRAPTIONS. (Not to mention all the hospital and pharmacy bills I now have).

What in the name of fuck. To breathe like a normal human being, I had to drop an obscene amount of money. Hong Kong needs to get its shit together.

My air quality control officers

These machines are bulky (which is not good for a small HK apartment), loud, and annoying. I have to dump out the water tray in the dehumidifier at least once a day and who knows what sort of effect it is going to have on my electric bill. Aren't more appliances actually contributing to the pollution problem? Oh, the irony.

This is a photo I took of the harbour on my way home-
at 4 in the afternoon, fully light out

Over 3,000 people in Hong Kong die every year from pollution related illnesses. It's a vile environmental hazard. The University of Hong Kong created this cool interactive website tracking daily drawbacks from the terrible air quality. The number of people visiting the doctor every minute is especially telling. The economic and health implications of the air quality is real, and I am a living example of that.

Victoria Harbour on a good and bad day

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Attention: Solo Female Independent Travel Twenty-Something Expat Blog

Is this how I want to be advertising my blog? Well, sorta. Bookworm Vagabond, and a lot of my other favorite blogs as well (such as Adventurous Kate and Young Adventuress), would be labelled this way without any second guessing. But it's a description that only blogs written by women could use. Imagine if my life were exactly the same, but I was a man. A twenty-something, white, American man living in Hong Kong and working as a history teacher. How ridiculous would it be to label my blog in that way? ‘Solo male travel with safety dos and don'ts’, ‘An independent man and his adventures’, or ‘Twenty-something man, young and single and taking on the world!’ It’s not an accomplishment for a man to be independent. A man doesn’t need to boast that he is doing a courageous solo trip around the world, because that’s not really a big deal for a dude.

Age plays a role in what I am trying to get at as well. Only women would advertise their blog as being for 'twenty-somethings.' A 26 year old man doesn’t need to reinforce the fact that he is still a twenty-something, and therefore relevant. He's young! He's hip! Ha! I can't think of any travel blogs written by men where they would use that label 'twenty-something.' When I turn 30 in a few years and I drop that label, will my blog suddenly become a little less attractive?

Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins do NOT approve
of being boxed into a label, thank you very much

Men my age who are doing the exact same things and blogging about it don’t have to label themselves in any way. They get to be nomads, adventurers, vagabonds, and their stories are universal. It would be absolutely ridiculous to think that their writing was only for men of their age, and yet so many female bloggers my age label themselves in exactly that way, myself included. Women read travel blogs by men and watch tv shows about men (Entourage anyone?) and read GQ and it’s perfectly normal. Why then, am I supposed to aim for a female readership here? Why can’t my stories be universal?

If Orphan Black was about a group of male clones, 
would more people be watching it?

I am constantly reminded of how different my life experiences are as a woman. Feminism is going to be important to me until people stop looking at me in awe and telling me I'm so independent. I label myself that way too, and it's a problem. Men don’t need to brag about being independent, and yet for women, it’s an amazing accomplishment. When will the fact that I am single, and exploring the world, and adventurous, stop being so impressive because I’m a female, and start being impressive because I’m a person?

Here’s another way my life experiences have been shaped by my gender recently: I was told by a male colleague to be more assertive, to stop apologizing. Men don’t get it, that as a woman, the bigger the personality, the louder we are, the more space we take up, the more we have to apologize for. The world is really hard on girls that like themselves. I feel pressure to complain about my body (even though I love it), apologize for being smart (even though I pride myself on it), and downplay my talents (even though I am a kick-ass dancer, I can hula-hoop and play the ukulele and cook up a feast on a whim). Realistically, if I was as blunt or assertive or non-apologetic as my male colleagues, I would face consequences. I could be labelled cold or intimidating or a bitch. This happens regularly both in and out of work. So for a male colleague to tell me to be more assertive, well, I take that with a grain of salt.

Women are conditioned to be hard on themselves-
This clip does a great job of poking fun at that

The girls of Broad City never apologize
and for that I am thankful

Just in case you aren't entirely convinced yet that women have day to day struggles that men don't have to deal with, here's one more little anecdotal nugget. I recently obtained permission from a movie producer to screen a clip from an upcoming documentary about genocide, which I shared with my teaching team at school. Someone in my department asked if I 'put out' to get the film rights. Seriously?! No, I fucking attended a planned teachers’ workshop and stood out (not put out) by participating in an intellectual conversation with the organizers and asked permission to screen a part of the film in a classroom setting. Would a male colleague ever be asked if they had to hook up with someone for a classroom resource?! That this was even suggested in a professional environment is infuriating to me.

It’s maddening how engrained sexism is in my daily life and how constantly reminded I am of how much further society can still progress. Maybe I can start by getting my guy friends to simply stop calling hot girls ‘pieces’… Piece of art, piece of ass, I don’t give a shit, either way is equating a female to an object to be ogled. I’m not an object. I’m not impressive because I am a female who travels. Maybe I am impressive because I am a person who travels, that's for you to decide.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Weekends in Hong Kong

As much as I love my job here in Hong Kong, I still look forward to the weekend with my friends like any normal human being. While Hong Kong has a lot to offer every night of the week, I'm a bit of a homebody on weeknights partially because of my hermit tendencies and partially because of my early teaching schedule. I save my madness for the weekend.

Friday night family hotpot to get the weekend started right

I love that I can go nuts with my friends at a happy hour and tear up a dance floor in a basement club until 7 AM, or I can take it easy and hit the trails hiking super early on a Saturday. I can hop over to an island for the afternoon and lay in the sand for a few hours, or I can do a booze infused brunch with girlfriends. Where else can you start your weekend with some family hotpot and end it with a dim sum feast overlooking the harbour?

Hiking a bit of the Wilson Trail and stumbling 
across the Iron Man house

El Botell√≥n in LKF amphitheater was a free 
wine-themed block party

My only issue with Hong Kong weekends is that people here hit the bottle hard. Hangovers are all too common, as are scrubbing a passport's worth of stamps off my arm in the morning while cleaning out piles of drink receipts from my bag. It's easy to jump from free flow brunch to happy hour with friends, because life on the island is a non-stop party if you want it to be. And at this point, why not? Most of my friends are still single, and none of them have kids or any real financial obligations (mortgages, car payments, etc.). Might as well get it out of our systems now.

Some of my favorite afternoons have been spent in 
Victoria Park with friends (and my ukulele!) 

Drinks at one of my favorite happy hour joints 
in Hong Kong- Linguini Fini

I've known people in Hong Kong that have tried to stop drinking. Normally they last a few weeks and then give in to the booze infused Central district on a Friday afternoon after a particularly stressful day at work. I like to be clear headed for yoga practice on Saturday mornings, but I also love a Friday night jumping up and down on the dance floor surrounded by friends with no cares in the world, so I struggle to find balance here.

Free-flow brunch with some lovelies 

How do I stay grounded in a grown up's playground of excess and indulgence? I surround myself with good people. I take care of my body while still allowing myself to have fun without feeling guilty about it. I give myself downtime every weekend to curl up on my couch with a cup of coffee and listen to folk music and read books. If I ever start getting the urge to drink alone or rage on a weeknight maybe then I'll start reflecting on my behavior, but until that day comes I'm just gonna keep on following my bliss.

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