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Lost in Translation 

With the school term coming to an end, my son's nursery organized an end-of-year picnic for students to attend with their parents.

My son goes to a local nursery where the medium of instruction is Cantonese, which is hands down, one of the best things he's gained from being in Hong Kong because he now speaks Cantonese with native-level proficiency.

Now, all the school memos are in Cantonese, but the school very kindly gives us translated English memos.

This English memo read: "Since we will do some beach activities on our picnic day, therefore beach wearing is required, like short pants, water shoes or sandals. Please don't forget to bring a spade and container for collecting clams."

Naturally I thought they meant collecting sea-shells, and I got us all suitably prepared for a day out on the beach.

Picnic mat for the sand - check.

Spade and shovel - check.

Toy seashell moulds for building sand castles - check.

Beachwear - check.

Not knowing what water shoes are, we wore flip flops instead.

The day started off bright and early with a 9am meeting time. We boarded by the bus loads and headed off to the Lions Nature Education Centre in Sai Kung. I'm unsure what we were supposed to see at the education centre since we spent all our time running after my son, who was preoccupied with running after his classmates. I think I saw some grapes and local vegetables growing in the fields.

Then it was off for lunch at...drum rolls...a Chinese restaurant! it not meant to be a picnic? I had packed turkey sandwiches! Hmm...I didn't think the loss in translation would be on the picnic part.

After lunch, it was announced that we were heading for the beach. We boarded the bus, which drove us another 15 mins or so and dropped us off at a paved road area. We followed the group and walked a short distance till we hit a stream. To cross the stream, we had to walk through ankle-deep water. What we didn't know was that the stream had an extremely rocky bed, with razor sharp rocks. Our flip-flop clad feet were defenseless against these rocks of nature, and we got pretty cut up. Oh water shoes, so this is what you're for! But wait, what are water shoes?!

Once we had crossed the stream and got onto the opposite bank, we had to trudge through thick, sticky mud. My flip flops kept getting stuck in the mud and every time I lifted my feet, my flip flops got left behind in the mud. Having surmounted that, we swished our way through shrubbery and weeds that reached up to our shoulders, before we finally got a good, unobstructed view of the beach.

Only this was no beach. It was all rocks, with not a grain of sand in sight. It felt like a wetlands park, with a rocky shoreline extending all the way into the water. 

They really meant collecting clams!

We gamely dug around for clams of which we found none, and as far as I could tell, neither did the rest of the parent-kid teams. A lot (and I mean a lot) of parents seemed too preoccupied with holding umbrellas over their kids to shade them from the hot mid-day sun. 

We certainly got to experience a part of Hong Kong that we've never been to before, so unexpectedness aside, it was a good day out. 

Adventure - check. 


Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts

As any (ahem!) housewife would know, what gets cooked for dinner tonight is largely determined by what's available in the market or grocery store today (or whichever day you go to the store).

There was a new range of chicken called Lilydale in the store today, which are reared in free-range farming, and kept from having any genetically-modified feed. Enticed by the lure of (kind of) organic chicken, I bought some chicken breasts and set to work trying out a new recipe. 

I adapted this recipe from a few different ones I came across, switching out pepper jack cheese and sour cream for cottage cheese instead. 


1 (10 ounce) package fresh spinach leaves

1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used an onions and chives flavor)

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - pounded to 1/2 inch thickness

8 slices bacon

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. Place spinach in a large glass bowl, and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes, stirring every minute or so, or until wilted. Stir in the cottage cheese.
  3. Lay the chicken breasts out on a clean surface, and spoon some of the spinach mixture onto each one. Roll up chicken to enclose the spinach, then wrap each chicken breast with two slices of bacon. Secure with toothpicks, and arrange in a shallow baking dish.
  4. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, then increase heat to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C) for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to brown the bacon.

With tummies full, we finished off with some dessert wine. Good night weekday and hello weekend.



With so many new shows on TV launching with great hype, only to quickly crash and burn, I'm happy to say I've come across a new sitcom which so far still looks promising 3 episodes in. 

Suburgatory is set in the suburbs, where teenager Tessa has just moved from Manhattan with her single dad George. As the name suggests, life in the 'burbs for her is not unlike purgatory. Not a terribly original storyline but the strong comedic cast more than makes up for it.

Cheryl Hines is hilarious as cougar housewife Dallas Royce, delivering some of the show's best lines with great comedic timing. Her overt advances on George brings many of the show's laugh out loud moments. If you thought she was funny in Curb Your Enthusiasm, she's even funnier here.

Allie Grant from Weeds plays Lisa Shay, Tessa's neighbour and ostracized classmate. She's good at deadpan although I think she nailed in better in Weeds. Maybe she'll find her groove a little later on in the show. I think it's great that she's got a second life in acting after Weeds.

Playing the lead Tessa is newcomer Jane Levy, who's actually really good. She plays her role well, a caustic fish-out-of-water teenager, rolling her eyes at her dad, her neighbours and just about everyone else. She's a fresh spark, not your cookie-cutter type of gal, and I'm guessing Hollywood is sitting up and taking notice. 

Rex Lee also features as clueless school counselor Mr Wolfe, and although not as funny as Lloyd in Entourage, it's still fun to see him in another show after Entourage

SNL alums Chris Parnell and Ana Gasteyer bring the laughs as the terribly intrusive neighbours, Fred and Sheila Shay. Sheila watches Tessa and George like a hawk, determined to brain-wash them into living life the 'burbs way, under her rule.


Out at Stanley

We haven't been to Stanley in probably half a year and were pleasantly surprised to find the extensive refurbishing works on Stanley Plaza all done with, leaving a very pleasant string of new restaurants in its wake.

There's a great open space in the middle, with a pirate-themed playground - very handy for the kids to play around while the parents chill out with a glass of wine or a hot cuppa at one of the many eateries lining the central rotunda.

We stopped for dessert at Saffron Bakery, which used to be a smallish outlet but has since expanded after the refurbishment. 

Old fashioned candies and a New York cab ride for the kids.

At day's end, a quiet moment - sitting on the breakwater, pondering about...I don't know what. 


Downton Abbey

I've just powered through a marathon viewing of Downton Abbey and finished both Seasons 1 and 2 over three days. I just could not get enough of these lords and ladies!

Allow me to quote from the DVD jacket: 

Splendour and passion, romance and heartbreak, scandal and rumours!!! (exclamation points my own)

Downton Abbey is a very English show about the traditional upstairs, downstairs arrangement in the aristocratic circles of sprawling manors and untold riches. Set in the years leading up to the First World War, it depicts a life from over a hundred years ago, the servants who serve the masters and mistresses of the house, and the secrets they carry with them.

Leading the cast is The Earl of Grantham, his wife the Countess of Grantham, and their three daughters Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybill (how Pride and Prejudice is that!) They are served by the family butler Mr Carson, valet Mr Bates (I learnt about valets here!), housekeeper Mrs Hughes and head housemaid Anna, together with an army of housemaids and footmen.

There's also the Dowager Countess of Grantham (the Earl of Grantham's mother), played superbly by Maggie Smith, an absolute delight to watch as she straddles the righteous indignation of nobility with acerbic retorts, and snobbishly upholds the tradition of rules and the proper way to do things. But I like her tremendously for her cheeky ways and her genuinely good heart, evident when she occasionally has the veil lifted from her privileged life. 

Now, a true gentleman of that time does not work. This is an actual line from the show. All the Earl of Grantham does all day is to have lavish breakfasts, lunch (luncheon they call it), dinner, and think about how to keep Crawley Mansion (where they live) within the family. And he needs to be dressed elaborately every day despite not doing anything and having largely nowhere to go. He needs to be in the proper dinner jacket or whatever appropriate attire at dinner, and then some other different attire at lunch, and another one for riding in the car, and so on.

With so much clothing to wade through, how can one get their head around it? Enter the valet, whose job is to help him get dressed. This includes picking out the right attire, and the correct matching cuff links, helping him to put on his jacket (really, all the Earl does is stand there, stretch both arms to the back, and his valet Mr Bates puts on the jacket for him), and brushing off the lint from his jacket.

Needless to say, dressing is an even more important event for the gals of the house, what with hair curling, jewelry adorning, and heavy gowns to get into. Dinner at home requires dressing like you're attending a formal white tie event. Little wonder no one has time to do anything else. Getting primed and ready for eating three times a day already takes up all day. Not to mention taking a bath, which your housemaid needs to run for you and stand by and watch as you languish in warm scent-filled water. Getting dressed is such an important activity in the house such that a dressing gong must be rung everyday (part of the butler's daily to-dos), to signal to everyone in the house that it's time to get dressed.  

When there are guests over for dinner, it's even more demanding, not only do you have to dress like you're at the President's Ball, you also have to make small talk at dinner with people you probably have no interest in. Of paramount importance at many of these dinners is for the ladies to be married off to suitably rich and noble families. There's also the annual season in London, like a debutante ball I would imagine, where the girls are paraded before eligible bachelors. The family sets off to London annually, leaving the servants with nothing else to do but gossip among themselves.

I think what brings the show alive and makes it such a great watch are the servants. They're excellently cast and they inhabit their characters so well. Mr Carson is as real a butler as I can imagine one to be, fiercely loyal to the family, so very proper and indignant, and runs such a tight ship in the house. I want him as my butler!

Mrs Hughes is also a fantastic housekeeper, matronly and proper, keeping the housemaids in check, berating where required, but always ready with a kind word when deserving. She's given up marriage for Crawley Mansion and the family, and sees herself serving the family for life. 

Mr Bates the valet does restrained like no other, so English and so very good, bringing the mystery with an interesting back-story. His love interest is none other than head housemaid Anna, but their love is not without drama. 

And of course there must be some ill-will, brought by footman Thomas and the Countess' housemaid Ms O'Brien. They make a good scheming pair, smoking and plotting away whenever they get a chance.

The show is like a modern day Romeo and Juliet, with star-crossed lovers at the core of the story, and much of the drama centred around inheritance and marriage - who is the heir who gets Crawley estate? Not unlike a soap, there are always new twists and turns - the Countess is pregnant for the first time in 18 years with what could be a new heir! The original heir once thought dead has returned wounded from the war!

But all gets resolved quite easily as the show goes on. Not interested in delving too deep, each new story arc is done with quickly, and the stories tied up neatly in no time at all. A little too all's well that ends well, but a very entertaining show to watch nonetheless. 

Some other factoids:

- I couldn't help but notice that two of the characters in Downton Abbey are also in Game of Thrones, which is also another fantastic show on TV right now. Rose Leslie plays housemaid Gwen who dreams of becoming a secretary in Downton Abbey, and plays Ygritte the Wildling girl in Game of Thrones. Iain Glen plays Sir Richard Carlisle, engaged to Lady Mary, in Downton Abbey, and Ser Jorah Mormont, adviser to dragon girl Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. They both play very different characters in the two shows, but it's still a bit of a double-take because you see the same people, except they're in Neanderthal-esque clothes in one, and 1900's English clothes in the other. 

- The only American actress in the show so far, Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Countess Grantham, and as far as I can tell, has no prior claim to fame before Downton Abbey, was previously engaged to Sean Penn (!) And she's 50 years old in real life (you absolutely cannot tell in the show)!

- Shirley MacLaine will star in Season 3 as the Countess Grantham's wealthy American mother, and looks set to spar with Maggie Smith as the in-laws battle it out.

I can't wait for Season 3 to begin.