Hong Kong at Christmas is exciting. This vibrant city has an added air of glamour to celebrate the holidays. But there are still quiet corners nearby. I enjoyed gorgeous waterfront views where I stayed with my sister and nephew in Sai Kung.
In just 40 minutes we could be in the city. In the days before Christmas we visited the Flower Market where a man bought a bouquet of roses bigger than he was,
and explored a street stocked with every kitchen gadget known to cookdom.
I was amused by the street for home aquariums!
As always, Hong Kong was filled with billboards advertising food and high-end luxury items.
But when I looked again, the graffiti and damage from last year’s protests were everywhere. The government under Carrie Lam allowed the police to commandeer MTR (Mass Transit Railway) train cars or reroute trains so they bypassed stops where protesters planned to gather. Since the young people were being hindered, they decided to prevent the police from moving freely, too. And once this happened, the demonstrations took a turn. Hong Kong’s superb transit system became a casualty of the ongoing unrest.
Ticket machines inside stations were vandalized. Strategic stations have been repeatedly shut down. We passed through the Mong Kok station less than an hour before it was set on fire Christmas Eve. The knots of heavily armed riot police (Popo) we saw ended up in street fights with the Frogs (the protesters).
The Bank of China and the Construction Bank of China continue to be targeted. Their glass facades are smashed, the sidewalks emptied of the bricks used by protesters. In places bricks are now literally glued into the sidewalk.
The protesters have five demands.
For the protests not to be characterised as a “riot”
Amnesty for arrested protesters
An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
Implementation of complete, universal suffrage
Withdrawal of a bill introduced in April of last year, which triggered the first protests. It would have allowed suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China under certain circumstances. The bill was finally withdrawn in October 2019. This has not placated the anger of the mostly young students fighting to maintain Hong Kong autonomy. They want all five demands to be met.
Graffiti and protest signs go up more quickly than the government can remove them. In my next post I have photos of Popo and the Frogs, the police and the protesters, and how they are represented. See you then.
Click here for a complete list of the December 2019 protests on Wikipedia
Tradition is a fine thing. I’ve hung on to Thanksgiving even though I live overseas. Actually, I hang onto the holiday probably because I live overseas. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.
Our traditions include what I grandly call The Annual Eating of the Elk. The Germans involved in this ritual just refer to it as Elchessen, or the Elk Meal. Whatever.
For years, the Spousal Unit spent two weeks out of every single December, January, February and March up in northern Sweden. The Artic Circle in the dead of winter doesn’t offer much in the way of culinary pleasures. The highlights were these:
Going out for pizza in a pizza parlor run by two Iranian refugees who had fled SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and ended up staying. The pizza was meh but every order came with a free dish of cabbage cole slaw. Because cole slaw is traditional? Because cole slaw is Italian? Because cole slaw provides a desperately needed source of Vitamin C?
Fresh reindeer blood, available by the vat in the local grocery store (say Yum everyone!)
White bread that is sweetened
Rumps of elk
It became tradition that my husband and his colleagues always packed German bread and bottles of whiskey in their suitcases before they flew north. Because alcohol is expensive in Sweden, and nights up there are reeeeeally long.
It became tradition that the engineers returned home with packages of elk roasts.
Thorsten, Spousal Unit, Konrad and Gerhard all used to work in Sweden. Only Gerhard still does that gig: he’s now responsible for bringing back the elk. Eventually, this evolved into an on-going 20+ year (!) tradition that Thorsten cooks an entire elk dinner for the engineers and their mates Bettina, Heike, and yours truly. *
It’s almost impossible to find a common weekend free when you’re trying to get a group of Germans together. Those 6 weeks of vacation time they’re famous for getting? Germans take every single minute of that time. Good luck coordinating 7 people’s schedules and pinning down a night when everyone’s available to meet for a dinner. We still talk about the year we ended up eating elk roast in August. It was the hottest day of the summer and over 90° in the apartment. (Thorsten’s kitchen had heated to way over 100°.) The heavy meal and accompanying heavy red wines were deadly.
But, Tradition muss sein.
Thorsten has it down to a culinary science, an art form. He marinates the elk in red wine and spices for days. Then he puts it in the oven to roast until it shrinks to about half the original size. Thorsten serves it with gravy, homemade Knödel and cooked red cabbage.
I asked Thorsten for his recipe and have translated it for you here, just in case you have 5 pounds of elk roast hanging around in your freezer.
20 Teile Baguette (ein Teil etwa so gross wie ein kleines Brötchen) abschneiden. Brot in kleine Würfel schneiden. In warmer Milch einweichen. 5 Eier dazugeben, ebenso 250 Gramm gewürfelten und angebratenen Speck. Ebenfalls 2 klein geschnittene und angebratene Zwiebeln dazugeben. 2 Bund Petersilie kleinschneiden und dazugeben, salzen und Muskatnuss reinreiben. Die Masse gut durchmengen bis ein homogener Teig entsteht. Falls die Masse zu trocken ist Milch dazugeben (Teig muss gut durchgezogen sein).
Tennisball grosse Knödel formen und 20 Minuten in Salzwasser ziehen lassen.
Wer keine Zeit hat kann die Petersilie schon fertig geschnitten aus der Tiefkühltruhe nehmen. Ich nehme immer 2 Becher a 40 Gramm.
20 Bread Dumplings
Cut about 20 small bread rolls into small pieces. Soak bread in warm milk. Add 5 eggs and 250 grams of diced, fried bacon. Add two small diced, sautéed onions. Add 2 bunches of chopped parsley, salt, and grated nutmeg. Mix the dough well; add more milk if too dry. Make 20 big dumplings the size of tennis balls and cook them in simmering saltwater for 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time or can’t find fresh parsley, use 2 packets of frozen parlsey.
2 kg Elch
2 Beutel Sauerbratengewürz anrösten und mit 2l Rotwein ablöschen. Kurz aufkochen lassen, Beize abkühlen lassen und Elch für 4 Tage einlegen.
Elch abtrocknen, salzen und von jeder Seite 1 Minute scharf anbraten. Fleisch aus Bräter herausnehmen. Wurzelgemüse und Tomatenmark im Bräter anrösten. Rotwein-Beize dazugeben und aufkochen lassen. 8 Teelöffel gekörnte Brühe dazugeben. Bräter in den auf 180 Grad vorgeheizten Backofen geben und Fleisch ca. 2 Stunden schmoren lassen. Fleisch herausnehmen, Flüssigkeit durch ein Sieb in einen Topf abgiessen. Sosse etwas einkochen lassen mit braunem Sossenbinder zur gewünschten Konsistenz abbinden. Zum Schluss 150 Gramm crème fraiche unterrühren.
4-5 Pound Elk Roast
Roast two packs of Sauerbraten spices and add 2 liters of red wine (a bottle of red wine is ¾ of a liter). Let the marinade cool and then marinate 4.5 – 5 pounds of elk in it for 4 days.
Remove and dry the meat, salt it all over, and sautée in oil 1 minute per side. Roast some root vegetables and tomato paste; add the marinade and let the mixture come to a boil. Add 8 tablespoons of broth concentrate. Place roasting pan with elk in sauce in a 180° C (375° Fahrenheit) oven and cook for 2 hours.
Remove the elk. Purée the sauce or pour it through a sieve. Cook down the sauce to your desired consistency; add corn starch if needed. Before serving, stir in 150 grams of crème fraiche.
If you make the same dish for the same people for enough decades, one of two things will happen. You become the Master of the Meal known as The Annual Eating of the Elk.
Or you order take-out pizza from the 2 Iranian guys.
I just missed the renewal of the protests last night in Hong Kong. Actually, I literally just missed being stuck in a metro station as it was set on fire.
I’m here with my sister Pam at my nephew Niko’s home in the New Territories. He runs an awesome bar called Momentai – go to http://www.momentai-la.com/ for more info! – and yesterday we headed into Hong Kong for some last minute shopping. This is such an easy region to get around. We simply hopped on the bus from Sai Kung to the Mong Kok district and got out forty minutes later.
Like each day I’ve been in downtown Hong Kong, I photographed the smashed traffic lights and graffiti from the relentless months of protests against the Chinese government. Niko says it’s been quiet for the last month, but he’s been in the city when the air was filled with tear gas.
Hong Kong is always crowded. And on Christmas Eve at rush hour after 5:00 p.m. the crowds are, um, impressive. We wended our way through the Ladies Market and walked from there over to a big store on Nathan Road I visit each time I’m here to buy tea. We made a brief stop at the Harbor City Mall. It was around 7:00 p.m. and time to head home.
We exited the mall where a small and intense knot of riot police stood. We passed a second group 100 yards down the sidewalk. And then a third. And then a fourth.
The policemen’s faces under their helmets were half covered in black cloth and they wore black padded knee protectors and heavy boots, and carried clear plastic shields with Police written in English and Chinese, and batons, and pepper spray, and tear gas cannisters, and gas masks, and thick vests, and weapons. They looked like storm troopers.
This was maybe not the time to take photographs. I left my camera in my bag.
The streets were packed with last minute shoppers and everyone who was now off work and trying to get home. All around us young people wore festive Christmas stockings or reindeer antlers on their heads. We inched slowly along underground with the thick throngs through the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR (Mass Transit Railway), squeezed into the train for Mong Kok, and then caught a bus there back to Sai Kung.
An hour later some of those young people in stockings and antlers were fighting in the streets with the police. The Harbor City Mall was the beginning flash point. Last night the authorities were forced to shut down Nathan Road. Protesters set the Mong Kok metro station on fire. The two MTR stations we’d used stopped running, and the area turned into one gigantic traffic jam.
The most bizarre moment is that shortly before midnight and the beginning of Christmas Day, the protesters stopped what they were doing and wished everyone, including the police force, a Merry Christmas.
I got to boast when 2 of my One Page Plays were accepted for performance! My play Baby You Were Great tied for runner-up as Best Comedy! The One Page Play Festival
So, it’s a wrap…. as 2019 ends, I invite all of you who have read my books to please write reviews for them on Amazon. These are vital to authors. And – if you haven’t read them – please consider buying my books as gifts for yourselves or your loved ones. As always, thank you for following me and being such a great tribe.
I’m sitting down to drink a cup of tea. If you don’t hear from me again, please notify my husband.
I’m going to try dittany or diktamos. The Cretans call it erontas or erondas, from the word eros. As you know, Eros is the Greek god of love and sexuality. The Greek is diktamos (δίκταμος) or erondas (έρωντας).
Diktamos is an herb that grows only on remote, rocky hilltops on the island of Crete. The name comes from the Dikti mountain range in the Lasithi region of East Crete.
The use of dittany goes back into the mists of history. It may be the plant featured in the fresco of garlands at the Minoan palace of Knossos. Hippocrates prescribed it. Homer, Euripides, Aristotle and Theophrastus, Plutarch and Virgil all wrote about the herb.
When Aeneas is injured, his mother Aphrodite (Venus) uses dittany to cure him:
A branch of healing dittany she brought
Which in the Cretan fields with care she sought:
Rough is the stern, which woolly leafs surround;
The leafs with flow’rs, the flow’rs with purple crown’d,
Well known to wounded goats; a sure relief
To draw the pointed steel, and ease the grief. 
Even characters in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows use dittany. The herb is considered an aphrodisiac (okay, maybe not in Harry Potter). Suitors collected the wild dittany flowers and gave bouquets to prove their love. The young men were known as “erondades (love seekers) and were considered very passionate men to go to such dangerous lengths to collect the herb.”  Traditionally, diktamos was given to newlyweds to inflame desire.
It can be used both internally and externally: a poultice, an essential oil, for application on wounds, an herbal tea (my chosen method – I bought a bag of dried herbs when we were on Crete this fall), to disinfect wounds, chewed, or as toothpaste for a sore throat and to clean the mouth and teeth. Dittany is distilled and used as a bitter in vermouth or martinis (for example), and in cosmetics. 
Finally, before I drink my brewed cup, I give you my favorite fact. Dittany/Diktamos is also known as the burning bush. I leave it to you to decide why I’m drinking it.
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“Dittany contains an essential oil called Carvacrol, which is a natural antibiotic, 50 times stronger than penicillin. In the leaves, there is furthermore a substance called Dictamin, which is used for cardiovascular diseases. In all, there are 70 different curative substances in the plant that can be extracted and used for medication or cosmetics.” — ilovecrete.eu
“Compounds of Dittany are powerful antioxidants. The essential oils have also antiseptic and anti-fungal properties and are often used in ointments to treat burns and skin ailments. Tea made from dittany is used to relieve tension headaches and as a relaxant. Dittany is also used to relieve indigestion, colic, stomach cramps and bloating. It is also thought to be a diuretic and to combat fever.” —greece-is.com
I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently here in Stuttgart. I arrived early and sat awhile in the silent cemetery chapel. First, I lit a slim yellow taper in the entrance to the church.
The family is Greek Orthodox. I’ve lit candles in lots of Orthodox churches throughout Greece, and once went to a church service in a tiny church in Thessaloniki that stands on a spot where the Apostle Paul preached.
I’d never been to an Orthodox funeral. Huge wreathes of white flowers bought by the families of her children were arrayed to the left of the altar. Candles in red glasses flickered around a framed photograph of Olga on a small stand; a cake in a white box and a bottle each of wine and olive oil were placed beside the photo.
The priest prayed and sang in Greek; he lifted the icon set on the casket and kissed it. Believers in the chapel crossed themselves at the right places in the text. Later, it was time to bury Olga.
A man played horn music, the priest chanted as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He opened the bottle of wine and poured it, in the shape of a cross, in the grave. Next (after wrapping his long black robes between his knees to keep them from getting soiled) he poured olive oil in the shape of the cross. He took the white box of cake that my friend had carried out of the church with her and, cutting it, spooned some of the cake into the grave as well.
We approached the grave one by one. When it was my turn, I tossed in a blooming flower and then a spade of dirt onto the casket.
The musician started playing Amazing Grace, which almost put me in tears. Some pieces of music transcend time, and continents, and cultures. In any language, for any generation, they bring solace and peace.
Then we went to a restaurant for the Makaria, the “Meal of Mercy” that follows an Orthodox funeral. This one was a German/Greek hybrid of coffee, Butterbrezel (large buttered pretzels), cakes and Greek pastries. My friend went around the long table and spooned out some of that traditional funeral cake onto each of our plates. “My mother used to make this dish herself,” she said. “Koliva. It’s traditional; every Greek family has a recipe. I didn’t have time to make it myself, so I bought one at a Greek bakery.”
I ate the Koliva, a mix of sesame seeds, almonds, oats, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and anise amongst other ingredients…
Sansevieria. It’s almost impossible to kill, produces oxygen like a champ, and has over 70 varieties. Sansevieria is also named the snake plant, or mother-in-law’s-tongue due to it’s sharp, pointy leaves.
I started off with a single snake plant about a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve divided and sub-divided the clumps of stalks every so often. In all this time they flowered exactly once. Heck, I didn’t even know a snake plant got flowers…
One of my oldest and best friends just came to visit. Before Shaun arrived I scurried around with all the cleaning and prettying up tasks I’d put off – one of them being to repot those stressed snake plants. And lo and behold, during Shaun’s visit they suddenly began to send up flower stalks!
These babies grow at an astonishing rate, practically as you watch. The flower stems grow as much as four inches a day! (No joke. Ask Shaun: I made her look each morning.) Even she oohed and aahed in wonder at how fast they rose.
Here are a few photos of the flowering stalks. And they are not slightly out of focus just because I’m a lousy photographer. They are blurry because they grow right before your eyes.
Here’s to flowering plants, Round Two. I hope I don’t have to wait another decade for Round Three!
I was beyond surprised when I got a phone call that Mr. Bond’s ex-wife wanted to me to come over. I put on a skirt (I have no idea why now, but it seemed appropriate to dress nicely if you were meeting royalty). His daughter from a previous marriage met me at the door and led me into the house where the baroness waited. The daughter left us alone to talk.
Baroness U. von O. was elegant, cool, and studied. She wore a dress and heavy jewelry. She’d removed one of her large earrings and clipped it to the matching gemstone necklace around her neck. How did I come to know her husband? She asked more questions. She lived in Paris, she said. Had I ever visited Paris?
The questions confused me. Paris? I was a sixteen-year-old girl who had cleaned her ex-husband’s house twice a week. I wondered why she even wanted to meet me.
Eventually the daughter returned. The baroness stood and shook my hand again. She left the room. Mr. Bond’s daughter took the chair the baroness had been sitting in, and as soon as Baroness U. von O. was out of earshot a very different conversation began.
“We found a drawer full of notes from you,” the daughter said.
I used to bring fresh flowers and harvest vegetables for Mr. Bond. (My parents always grew more than enough to give away – our garden covered half an acre.) I’d leave a note on the counter by the sink to say hello and tell him what was in the refrigerator. I always ended my note with PS: Have a nice day. This was back in the ’70s when the expression became wildly popular.
Mr. Bond had saved all of my notes.
“We found a stack of notebooks, too. Pages and pages in his handwriting,” she continued. “He was writing a book. He already had a title; he was going to call it PS: Have a Nice Day. I think my stepmother was more than startled to learn about you. You see, after she left him and went back to Europe, my father turned into an old man. Your notes brought a little bit of brightness back into his life. I for one wanted to meet you, to thank you for being nice to my father.” Then Mr. Bond’s daughter asked if I’d like something to remember him by. Maybe a nick knack? An object in the house I’d liked?
“Do you have a picture of him I could take?”
She fetched a photo album and removed a photograph. George Bond stands outdoors in short sleeves and a smile. The camera has caught a bright flash of sun, and the air above him is obscured by a ball of light. On the one hand it’s simply a bad photo. But I liked it. I imagined that snapshot captured a bit of his aura, the energy field that surrounds each of us like a protective shield, like a halo.
I’ve held onto that photo. I keep it tucked in an album of my own early memories. Today, for the first time in decades, I took the photo out to examine again. I found myself looking more closely: the tree behind him appears doubled. It’s as if he stands poised at the crack between this world and the next, left and right reflections of one another at the folds of time. If we’re lucky, sometimes we connect with people for brief periods that resonate beyond their life spans. For a short while I knew a Mr. Bond. George Bond. I see him still, an incredibly kind man who saved my notes, his image glowing in a photograph.
When I was in high school, I went twice a week to wash the dishes and vacuum the house of a man who lived a few blocks away from us.
His name was Bond. George Bond. He was a divorced, silver-haired lawyer who lived alone in a beautiful house with a big yard and a player piano.
My parents grew a ridiculously huge garden. Often I’d make up a bouquet of fresh flowers from my mother’s rows of zinnias, daisies, black-eyed susans, cosmos, snapdragon, calendula, nasturtiums, gladiolas, sunflowers and bachelor button. I knew where the vases were in Mr. Bond’s kitchen cabinet, and would place those fresh flowers on a table in his living room.
Throughout the summer and fall I brought him bags of fresh vegetables. I’d put the produce in the refrigerator, and I always left a note for him on the kitchen counter.
He left me notes as well, thank you messages for what I brought (I remember a dry note about how the onions were a bit strong). I doubt he cooked much, but he was always gracious.
Sometimes Mr. Bond arrived home while I was still cleaning. We’d sit and talk. I was sixteen, and he’d ask me about the classes I was taking, my interests, etc. I was mortified whenever our golden retriever Sam followed me over to his house, but Mr. Bond just laughed. He enjoyed my wonder the day he showed me how the player piano worked.
Mr. Bond was a nice, nice man.
A day came when he left me a note that he was going in the hospital for a heart operation, so I needn’t come the following week. But he didn’t survive the surgery, and suddenly I found myself at his funeral. The passing of Mr. Bond was my first experience of the reality of death, and it’s finality.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral service. George Bond was a widely known attorney and community leader, busy with civic and business activities. The church pews were completely full. I had known him only as a kind employer and an adult I liked to talk with.
A few weeks later my mom called me to the phone. A woman introducing herself as his daughter was on the line. She and Mr. Bond’s last wife were in town to close up his house. His ex was minor royalty and had flown in from Paris. Baroness U. von O. of Copenhagen, Denmark wanted to meet me. Why would a baroness possibly want to talk with me? The next day I found out.
I was going to tell you about Malaysian Borneo when I got sidetracked by their neighbor Brunei. Moving on quickly (which is what we did as we flew over the sultanate on our way to the state of Sarawak), we landed in Kuching. What a lovely, lovely city. Kuching should get its own post, and likely will. We roamed along the riverfront walk and slurped down laksa noodle dishes with gusto. Kuching is a great spot to head out to various national parks to see wildlife.
Borneo is home of the native Dayak tribes. Remember childhood tales of the wild headhunters of Borneo? The Dayak call this ritual Ngayau. We visited Dayak long houses. Smoked skulls still hang at the hearth in the central long house.
The most important tribal figure is the head chief, closely followed by the shaman. This medicine man, also known as a balian  is responsible for the health of the tribe as well as interceding between the worlds.
During our time in Kuching I’d been glancing in shops without actually entering any of them. Among the streets of tourist trinkets, one store fascinated me. On the last day I made a beeline for that shop. 
And then I made a beeline for a shelf lined with containers topped by human figures.
Jerry Ang, the soft-spoken shop owner, kindly answered all my questions. He told me these were Dayak shaman medicine containers. The figures are hand carved from polished buffalo or cow bone. A shaman had hand-etched the jar with scrimshaw patterns. Dayak shamans used the containers to store herbs, magic powders and betal lime to make medical potions. Some still contained resins – Jerry and I opened each jar and sniffed.
The carved figure indicates the illness the potion was intended to treat. Some of the figures held their heads (aches and pains of the head) or their stomachs. Some figures even depicted a person crouched over… the traveler’s curse of diarrhea for sure.
My piece has a prawn carved on the back: Jerry thought maybe prawns were one of the main ingredients in the medicine. Or perhaps the prawn indicated the woman who made the potion (he said the figure was female), or an ancestor. An on-line source tells me the scrimshaw work represents animals that bring good luck. If anyone can give me more information, I’d be most grateful!
NOTES:  Balian is the term used for traditional healers on Bali, too. Healing arts are passed down through generations. Twenty years ago I did a massage exchange with the son of a balian there; he had been taught by his father. To learn more about the Dayak shamans go to http://factsanddetails.com. The article gives the following information: “Shamanic curing, or balian, is one of the core features of these ritual practices. Because illness is thought to result in a loss of the soul, the ritual healing practices are devoted to its spiritual and ceremonial retrieval. In general, religious practices focus on the body, and on the health of the body politic more broadly. Sickness results from giving offense to one of the many spirits inhabiting the earth and fields, usually from a failure to sacrifice to them. The goal of the balian is to call back the wayward soul and restore the health of the community through trance, dance, and possession.” [Source: Library of Congress, 2006] Or see Wikipedia: The Dayak People  See also Unika Borneo, the shop where I found my figure. I receive no commission for mentioning the store. I just think they deserve to be mentioned. More figures can be admired at https://borneoartifact.com and https://www.esotericstuff.com