Fresh baked “Fong Bao” from the oven – 方包出爐

Random musings & meditations straight from the oven. Hopefully some food for thought as well…

A night to remember in Vancouver…for the wrong reasons.

June 15th, 2011.

Unless you were in a cave at the time, I’m sure you know what happened by now. It was a mind numbing night on so many different levels.

From the game itself to the Stanley Cup trophy presentation which, for reasons unknown, I decided to watch in its entirety; the live shot of the first car burning outside Canada Post; a dejected couple in Canuck jerseys, holding hands with their heads down, walking quietly down my street as I drove off to pick up a late dinner; a small group of vocal fans leaving the Brighouse Canada Line station yelling “Eff Boston!”; the steady stream of riot pictures being posted on Twitter and shown through live TV coverage. Suffice to say it will take me some time to process all these disappointing and disturbing images.

I honestly thought it would end differently than 94. Sadly it wasn’t the case and a small group of masked, organized vandals and anarchists seized the moment and incited a young, anger-filled crowd to unleash a shameful act of destruction and looting in the downtown core. It was obvious most of these gutless punks who rioted were too young to remember the Robson street riot 17 years ago. What I don’t understand is where the venom came from. They were out of control and had no regard for the authorities.

Like all decent, law-abiding Vancouverites, I was deeply angered, embarrassed and ashamed by the stupidity of the few. (Btw, please have a look at this passionate plead from a friend of mine. I think he spoke for a lot of us.) Not only were our lives disrupted and threatened, our reputation as a city and the goodwill created during the 2010 Olympics had gone up in smoke, literally and figuratively.

And it sickens me when one of these idiots – who detailed his actions on Facebook but had his comments screen-captured and posted on the internet – opened a Twitter account today talking trash, boasting his exploits and showing no remorse. I sincerely hope the authority will (please excuse the language) nail his ass for what he has done.

I hope Vancouver will learn and, more importantly, remember this riot. We cannot let this happen again.

This is what we live for – Game 5 – Western Conference Final

If I remember correctly, the last and only Canuck playoff game I attended was 10 years ago against the then-powerhouse Colorado Avalanche. It was the first time the local team made the playoffs in the Brian Burke era and I can still remember the electricity inside the building. Nobody cared that the Avs had taken a 2-0 series lead over the Canucks because people were just excited playoff hockey was back. Vancouver lost that game in OT – in fact swept in four by Colorado two nights later – but I witnessed my first “Sedinery” moment, live. The twins combined on a cycle and a no-look pass found a streaking Todd Bertuzzi (Yes, him, but in full gear.) down an open wing. He deked and scored a beauty goal which brought the house down. What made it so special was the crowd rising up to their feet as the play develops, realizing what was about to happen. And when it did, bedlam ensued.

And THAT is why I’m always willing to pay money to attend live sporting events.  Like most sports fans, I just crave for those moments where I can tell someone that, “Yes. I was there where so-and-so…….!”

But upon receiving an invite to go to game five of the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and the Canucks, I hesitated for a moment. Not that I didn’t want to go but was surprised that I actually thought about it before accepting. I suppose it had to do with my attitude towards this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. For whatever reason, I decided to stay even keel, especially after that surreal first round series against Chicago. When the Canucks won, I was content. When they lost, I simply shrugged my shoulders & waited for the next game.  Sort of like the old British WWII slogan: “Keep calm and carry on.”

Well, so much for that on the day of the game. As time slowly ticked away at work, my anxiety level would increase accordingly. Next thing you know I bolted out the door when it was time to leave and my heart was racing as I drove into downtown.

I met up with Dr. B (THANK YOU!!!) outside the CBC building where someone brought in a life-sized plastic /foam/whatever-the-material shark for display. It garnered a lot of attention as fans lined up to take funny pictures with it. Right next to the shark was the public viewing area the CBC had set up to screen the broadcast and it was 80% filled just an hour before face-off. Numerous street food carts also made their way across the closed-off street to take advantage of the crowd. Dr. B and I grabbed a quick dinner from one of the carts and eventually made our way into Rogers Arena.

As we settled into our seats up in the nose bleeds, the folks sitting around us made their way up the stairs. After one quick look at them, Dr. B & I figured the night would get quite interesting. Reason? Each person was holding 3-4 cups of beer.

Without getting into too much detail, the following, in no particular order, happened as the night went on: One guy wouldn’t stop bragging about the fact he caught Kesler’s game tying goal on his camera; Someone sitting behind Dr. B spilled some beer on him, twice; a mouse the size of a chicken McNugget made a short & sweet appearance in our section; The dude on my left got drunk and started talking gibberish while I tried to watch the game; That same dude (and his friends) all stood up during both OT periods forcing me to do likewise; AND THAT SAME DUDE literally grabbed me by the waist and picked me up to celebrate the winning goal…….Yeah, it was a memorable night alright……..

As for the game…….

Despite the 54-saves performance, I couldn’t get over the fact how poor Luongo looked on those two San Jose goals.

The officiating was a joke and everybody in the building made sure the referees knew how we felt.

I might have witnessed the most dominating playoff performance by the Sedins, to date.

I don’t think I’ve ever screamed as loud or jumped so much like an idiot as when Kesler tied the game. That was until Bieska scored.

The game winning goal was still a blur to me. All I remember was: 1, A bunch of people behind the net; 2, The puck went missing; 3, Bieska winding up and 4, Seeing the puck in the net & everyone inside the building going nuts.

I’m not sure if there’s anything more I can describe about this game given the context and how it unfolded at the end. Suffice to say I’ll be hard pressed to find another one that’s as dramatic and memorable as this one.

Going Through Hong Kong Withdrawal

It’s been almost a month since coming back from Hong Kong yet a part of me is still going through some sort of withdrawal. Interestingly, many people I know who went and came back as well shared the same sentiment.

If I were to summarize my trip it is one of “surprise”. Without the need to catch up on 18 years of progress and memories I was able to enjoy Hong Kong on my own terms and was struck by an unexpected appreciation for certain aspects of life there (relative to Vancouver): the efficiency of the transit system; the variety of dining and shopping options; the quality of museums (!); the cheaper prices, to name a few.

That being said, they are noticeable from a non-resident’s perspective. It is one thing to visit Hong Kong for pleasure, quite another when you have to live and work in the city. Let’s face it. I don’t think I can survive the hot, humid summers anymore, let alone the pace and demands of the work culture. So I’m very content to stay as a visitor.

There weren’t as many takeaways from this trip compared to the previous one but we were able to re-connect with our roots, something that’s becoming more important as we age. And in Pie Pie Lo’s case, some long lost friends. The re-connection and the reconciliation which followed were very encouraging and heartfelt and I’m very glad that it happened.

I also came to realize, in some ways, Hong Kongis like the old, forgotten cassette/CD/DVD/book/comics/whatever collection in my house. It’s there. Has been for a long time but is packed away in boxes somewhere in the garage/attic, neglected. At times, the thought of digging it out would cross my mind but rarely carry out. Yet when I do, I’m always surprised by what I find and the emotions that go along with it:  The joy of seeing old favorites; Giddiness over discovering the new or the never-knew-existed; Appreciation for the irreplaceable; Resignation over the loss of certain things and conditions; and disappointment of putting everything away once again. Hong Kong will always be full of these wonderful nuggets.

And if I have my way, it’d be nice to dig into them more frequently

This is what we live for

* = Lingo alert

Cheering and keeping up with your favorite sports team(s) while away on vacation is a neat experience. Last April, Pie Pie Lo* & I made a sojourn – with Little Drumstick* & family – toDisneylandduring the first round playoff series between the Canucks and the L.A. Kings. We couldn’t fit a game at theStaplesCenterinto our schedule but was quite happy the Canucks prevailed before we headed home. Interestingly, the decision was made to travel once again – this time toHong Kong– before the start of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. With a +15-hour time difference, watching Canuck games live was not an option as there were things to do in the morning.

Thank goodness for technology – iPhone and Twitter in particular – as Pie Pie Lo and I kept up with all the joy back home after Vancouver took a 3-0 series lead against Chicago. It also became a topic of conversation when I met up with friends – who used to live inVancouver- as they were all excited about the prospects of a post season break thru. I wore my Kesler tee inHong Kongwith pride whenever the team played thus I didn’t feel as out of touch as I first thought. Like many, I honestly expected the series to be over long before the end of our vacation.

Of course, we now know what happened in games 4 and 5. While waiting to board our flight home, I could only think of two things: 1, It’s going to be hard switching back into work mode after a wonderful vacation, and 2, I actually get to watch game 6 upon my return. The flight touched down shortly after12pmand by the time Pie Pie Lo and I got out of YVR, our taxi had the Canucks “pre pre-game show” on the radio. It was fascinating to hear how ecstasy has turned into angst in the span of six days.

Game 6 was a very good game to watch but I found it hard to stay awake as jet lag was setting in. Funny enough, the Canucks scored every time I doused off. How I wished I had slept during overtime after the Blackhawks potted the winning goal to force a game 7. At that point, the frustration, negativity and self loathing Canuck fans have come to expect all surfaced: Our boys are on the verge of blowing a 3-0 series lead – after the greatest regular season (EVER) in team history, no less – against their playoff nemesis.

Inconceivable at first.

Yet a distinct possibility.

An unbearable thought, for sure.

My first day back at work was the day of game 7 and the tension in the city was palpable. You can hear it from the callers of sports-talk radio and you can see it on the faces of pedestrians – a lot of them in Canuck attire – walking the streets. Expectations of my work colleagues all varied but one thing was certain: No one has any idea how the game will turn out. It’s a massive contest that will either electrify or ripe the heart out of this town.

As much as I tried to relax and simply enjoy the thrills of a game 7, it was easier said than done. It’s foolish, I know, to think certain “gestures” have an effect on the outcome yet I found myself sitting a certain way and laying out the remote controls towards a certain direction, like I always do when my favorite teams play important games. As the night went on – with the Canucks clinging onto their slim 1-0 lead – I was practically frozen on my couch, fearing that any sudden movement would trigger something negative.

Despite the jet lag I was glued to the telly* as this game was eerily similar to the Olympic gold medal final in terms of intensity and drama. So when Alex Burrows scored the winner, I was finally able to exhale with a loud “YEAH” and a fist pump/wave. It felt great knowing: 1, The Canucks exorcised their playoff demons; 2, It was a much needed wake up call for the team; 3, The quest for 16 wins is alive & well and 4, No riot on Robson street.

But the best part?

I was so exhausted emotionally and physically that I slept through the night.

Isn’t that what we live for? A good night sleep after a Canuck victory?

Item du jour

During my recent trip to Hong Kong I found this street in Wan Chai. Sadly there’s no 14 Burrows Street. After that OT winner, maybe the city should name a street after him.

Airline Food Memories

Airline food, for some reason, holds a strange appeal to me ever since I was a kid. Back in my youth in Hong Kong, our family would travel twice a year – usually long haul to Vancouver and the U.S.– and during those flights I always look forward to meal times with anticipation. Some of you may wonder: “Who in their right mind would eat, let alone clear a tray full of saucy, high sodium, overcooked of…whatever???”

That’s a valid question.

Back then it was a case of eating something I usually don’t get at home and without a point of reference I simply ate up what was offered.  It didn’t help that I liked my sauces so the beef tenderloin gravy often vanish without a trace. A flight attendant once marvelled at how clean my dish was.

The presentation – if I may call it that – also captured my imagination.

I liked how food of different shapes – cubed meat, potatoes in little spheres and various veggies in their unique likeness – are packed neatly inside a little ceramic dish. A principle I took heart when packing my pencil case for school.

That was my response then.

But as I stared into this latest tray of un-loved protein, carbs, etc, I came to realize that airline food was a reminder of those precious times when my family traveled, ate, spent extended time together. People often talked about how certain things invoke memories of their childhood. Who knew that airline food would be one of those for me.

The Red Wagon Cafe – New kid on the Hastings Corridor

Ever since I started splitting my work week between Commercial Drive and Hastings & Nanaimo some 6 years ago, I’ve often, unfairly, compared the food selection between the two areas. While Seri Malaysia and Koko have been, in my opinion, beacons of light in Hastings-Sunrise, I didn’t find other noteworthy establishments until recently. And in between the likes of Bo Laksa King and El Barrio stood The Red Wagon.

One day last October I walked out of the office to grab lunch and noticed the mom-and-pop diner across the street had closed down. In its place a Radio Flyer was painted on the side wall and a new red canopy was put in place. The joint was aptly called The Red Wagon – a greasy-spoon style breakfast/brunch joint located on the SW corner of East Hastings & Garden Drive, one block west of Nanaimo. After reading some recent reviews I decided to sample there offerings, in particular the confit pork belly breakfast a lot of diners have raved about.

Before my first visit I had assumed – incorrectly – that all menu items were offered all-day. It turned out there was an 11:30am cut-off time so it was no pork belly for me. Staring at the two-page menu, I knew I didn’t want the standard breakfast spread. And even though the pulled pork was another supposed specialty, I wasn’t in the mood for some, let alone having them layered in between three buttermilk pancakes. (Yes, you read that right. They do offer pulled pork pancakes.)

Hoping for some inspiration, I turned my attention to the kitchen counter and the dishes that were coming out. The burgers and sandwiches all looked good but I just wanted something different. Blessed my server, she recommended the lunch special which I ended up ordering: Home-cured porchetta with a fennel-arugula salad sandwiched in a warm, lightly-toasted ciabatta bun, with a side of fries served on a classic Chinese oval-shaped plate. (Which I had to mention because I got a kick out of seeing that).

The porchetta was not salty, had a fairly even fat distribution yet wasn’t too oily. In some ways it reminded me of the cured meat in a Vietnamese sub but only way fresher and better in quality.  As explained by my server, all the meat served at The Red Wagon are organic and free range, which you can certainly taste the difference.  As for the salad, it added a nice crunch to the sandwich as well as balanced out the fattiness of the porchetta.

Not a bad first impression but I vowed to return.

*******

So that’s what happened about a week later as I ordered what I wanted all along. Confit pork belly served with two eggs (poached was my choice), home fries, griddled tomatoes, salsa verde, hollandaise and toast. For someone who’s been mindful of portion size, it was just right for me. At the same time, I felt like I got what I paid for.

As I dived into the pork belly – never thought in a million years I would have it for breakfast – I was pleasantly surprised by how light and crispy the skin was. Combined with the smokiness of the meat and a thin, flavorful layer of fat, the taste rivals some of the best Chinese roast pork I’ve eaten, but more refined. Towards the end, I found myself chewing slowly while savoring the last morsels.

Pork is, indeed, wonderful.

Overall, I would definitely recommend The Red Wagon as they served quality organic and free range ingredients at a reasonable price.

IMHO, if Sophie’s is the hip breakfast joint on the west side, the Red Wagon has the potential to become the east side version.


The Desire to Re-connect

(Lingo Alert = *)

Last Saturday night amid a rare, late February snow “storm”, I had a nice gathering with some old friends.

There was The Fish Monger, who came back from Hong Kong for a visit with his family. I haven’t seen him for a long time but managed to keep in contact through the magic of social media. And then there were the Laser City Sisters (or in Chinese, Chok 樣姐妹花) whom I tried to avoid as much as possible…….

Ha ha, just kidding!  Please don’t send me any hate mail.

All joking aside, we talked about quite a few things that night and it dawned on us that – with the exception of “Bruno” (YES! You don’t look a day past 27. There, my good deed for the day.) & “Nate” (what do you call those who were born this past decade? 00後? The post-zeros?) – as part of the post-70’s (70 後) generation, our appetite for thrills or the definition of it is vastly different from what it was 10, 15 years ago. Things we used to get excited about are now met with a “Seriously! Why do I want to do THAT?” reaction. I suppose that’s part of “feeling our age” (By the way, I had my passport picture taken the other day and MAN….do I look…….)

I was also surprised to find out The Fish Monger was a colleague of my cousin Canuck Jay in Hong Kong. (Who, I was told, would wear his Canuck gear to work during the Stanley Cup playoffs! That’s dedication.)

Walking out of Boston Pizza that night, I came to realize that: 1, I seem to have difficulty maintaining relationships/friendships and 2, I’m at a point in my life where there is a desire to re-connect with those whom I’ve lost touch with. Don’t get me wrong, my goal is not to gain back every lost relationship – because that’s just unrealistic – but to simply express my appreciation and gratitude to those who were part of my life and development as a person; in particular relatives and elders (friends of my parents) whom I haven’t seen for many years due to some major circumstances that happened in my life. At the very least, I want to know that they are doing well.

Baring the unexpected, Pie Pie Lo* and I will spend most of April in Tokyo and Hong Kong and a chance to meet up with a couple of my cousins whom, you’ve guessed it, I haven’t seen for awhile. As well, there is the usual cast of characters awaiting us. I’m really looking forward to it. As well, now I have an excuse to visit 長洲(Cheung Chau).

P.S. Back on Saturday night, The Fish Monger and I shared about our struggles in updating our respective blog these days. Time, as usual, was a major culprit but the need to be “in the moment” and just “write” was equally important. Looks like I managed to find that “moment” with this loaf*.