22 February 2010

Hong Kong: Day Two

Today, JCC program director Mira Hasofer and I discussed identity, heritage and how it impacts "third country" children.

I had also talked about something similar with French native Armelle Sibony over lunch.

Many in the Hong Kong community are expats. Parents come from one country or maybe two, their children have lived in one or more countries from an early age.

The major question is who they feel they are. What are they? Who are they? Where is home? How does where they live impact how they see themselves?

It was an interesting way of thinking about things, and demonstrates how genealogy and family history projects can help Jewish (and indeed all) families focus on what is within them and what that represents and not what is outside the home and where they are living at that particular point in time.

As an expat myself, I understood what Mira and Armelle were saying all too well.

How does one maintain one's identity for the adults, and more importantly for the children. In the case of Jewish expats, being involved in the community is very important for adults and children to strengthen their heritage and identity.

At our dinner tonight, all the women had grown up elsewhere, mostly in the US. Their children were growing up here. All are very involved in the community.

This morning, it was drizzling, but it stopped a few hours later. Here's what it looked like, in the mist, at about noon.

After a nice buffet breakfast, with all the regular items plus some Chinese items and to-order eggs, I went down to the business center to blog - the Internet connection is faster down there.

My schedule was to include the Escalator from Mid-Levels down to Central, lunch, a visit to The Lanes, and a Chinese dinner with community members tonight.

A French native, Armelle Sibony has been in Hong Kong for three years with her engineer husband. She was my wonderful hostess this afternoon. Her family and her husband's are originally from North Africa.

Although we were supposed to take the Escalator down to Central, we took a cab. We went to a wonderful Thai restaurant called Cafe Siam, 40-42 Lyndhurst Terrace. The vegetarian springrolls were delicious - I knew there was a way of making a tasty vegetarian version, and these get a gold star. Armelle had a noodle and vegetable dish with a great sauce, and I had rice with vegetables and coconut served in a coconut. I had it with chicken, but it would have been just as delicious vegetarian.

Armelle's family is from Algeria; her family name - Gueta - is very unusual.

After lunch - we could have sat there chatting for several more hours - we went to The Lanes, a rabbit-warren of two narrow alleys, lined with shops on both sides as well as booths down the middle of it - kind of a bazaar atmosphere and good for chatchkeles and souvenirs. However I did find nearby an interesting shop that sold silk jackets and tops.

What does Central look like? Like any busy downtown in any major city. Lots of people, tiny shops on sidestreets with major stores lining the main road. Wherever you go, there are Starbucks, 7-11s, and every major upscale international brand.

At 6.30pm, I went to Mira's home where I met her two boys and the baby. She wanted me to see a Hong Kong apartment. She and her family will be visiting her parents in Israel for Passover and we hope to get together then.

Their apartment is on Conduit Road; the building has an unbelievably steep, curving driveway as do many buildings on this side of the road. If you think San Francisco has hills, you haven't seen anything yet! Not only is HK filled with even steeper hills than the famous Lombard Street, but also even more twisty roads. Their apartment has very large rooms, huge bedrooms, high ceilings, a balcony, very large kitchen, a utility room as big as an Israeli living room! At about 2,500 sq. ft. it's about the size of a nice-sized house in the US.

From here, I went to dinner - sharing a taxi with Amy Mines Tadelis who lives in the next building to Mira - with Tara Diestel, a liason between the community trustees and the JCC events committee, and five other women at the Peking Garden in Alexandra House.

Each dish was more delicious than the last. Our menu included scallion buns, a kind of fried seaweed with fresh bamboo and candied walnuts, tangerine beef stuffed into little sesame pockets, superb Peking duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce, a definitely seasonal dish of fresh pea sprouts, a delicious white-fleshed fish in orange sauce, noodles and a variety of mushrooms.

At a center table, a noodle chef demonstrated his technique and received applause.

I'm sure I forgot something, but it was all delicious. My dinner companions said they go there often, and it is a community favorite - they seem to have memorized the very extensive menu. Another table was also filled with their mutual friends.<

As expats everywhere, we spent time discussing our favorite items and whether they were available here or not. I felt like I was back in Iran decades ago. Back then, if you were served good tuna salad with Hellman's mayonnaise, you knew you were on the "A" list, as those treasures - among others - were hard to come by.

Tomorrow there's a luncheon at the JCC, and then I'm taking the ferry to Kowloon and back for another dinner invitation.

After a day climbing up and down hills (only the tamer ones!), I'm exhausted and planning to turn in early tonight.

Goodnight from Hong Kong!

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