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by Rick Green

Eleven with Malatang IngredientsEleven with málàtāng ingredients.It was a sunny, clear September afternoon in Beijing, defying what I had read so many times about the city's notorious air quality. I was exploring the hutong of the Dongcheng district, in search of some new accommodations. As I walked down one of the ancient alleyways, I came across a local guide explaining the architectural details of a traditional Beijing courtyard house to three foreigners. Interested in this also, I stopped for a moment to listen. After a few minutes, she asked if we had any questions. I then said, "Nǐ yǒu míngpiàn ma?" (Do you have a business card?) She didn't, so I gave her mine and told her to e-mail me.

I received an e-mail from Eleven shortly after she had finished with her group, asking me what I wanted. I told her I was interested in knowing more about her tour as I planned to bring people to visit Beijing. Was she available to get together to discuss it? She agreed to meet me after work – 5:30pm at the north gate of the Drum Tower.

The young, diminutive Eleven rode up to me on a well-used, folding black bicycle. We immediately set off, strolling around the neighbourhood as we chatted about introducing visitors to the hutong and engaging in the typical getting-to-know you banter. A call came on her mobile phone and a long, intense conversation ensued. She apologized afterwards for the interruption – work!

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by Rick Green

Assorted dim sumThere's something infectious about the atmosphere of a European football match or the French Quarter in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Many Cantonese, however, reserve this kind of fervour for dim sum, which can have all the cacophony and excitement of festivals or sports matches.

Dim sum, meaning "touch the heart" or "heart's delight", is the equivalent of Spanish tapas or Mediterranean mezze — small sweet & savoury dishes people order to consume while socializing. Yum cha(literally "to drink tea", but in this context it means going for dim sum), however, is a daytime affair and is most popular with families as Sunday "brunch".

Dim sum's origins are obscure, but it was the Cantonese who began preparing these morsels for teahouses in China during the Sung dynasty. Since the 10th century, a repertoire of around 2,000 varieties of dim sum has evolved. Most are deep fried or steamed (served at the table in bamboo steamers) dumplings, meat dishes, and rice or noodle dishes, but there are also sweet dishes like egg custard tarts, mango pudding, red bean soup, and deep fried sesame balls.

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by Rick Green

Coffee cup and beansA tantalizing aroma wafts upwards, enveloping the senses, drawing my gaze into the shimmering blackness. There was a time when I wouldn't have given my coffee a second thought beyond the first sip. Yet, it represents so much more, which you realize when pursuing the path of coffee.

Most think of coffee as just a cup of joe, but that's as true as saying wine is only red and white or beer is straw-colored fizz. A trip to Germany exposed me to other possibilities and launched a never-ending journey of discovery. Coffee is no longer just regular or decaf, light roast or dark. It's a portal to the world, a gateway to future possibilities.

Sound far-fetched? Consider that coffee is commonly associated with place — Java, Colombia, and Brazil are the most familiar. Antigua, Harar, Kilimanjaro, Mocha, Sumatra, and Tarrazu are others regularly served up by the specialty coffee market — Lonely Planet in a cup.

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by Rick Green

Plover Cove gravesMy stomach tightened. Something seemed wrong. Half-expecting to come across the scene of a horrible crime, maybe even the perpetrator in the act, I was nervous. My rational side said I was being silly, subdued the emotion, and pushed me on.

Looking back, I realize that having grown accustomed to a continuous cacophony of chattering jackhammers, thumping pile drivers, angry car horns, and the multitude of other sounds emanating from the perpetual frenetic din of Hong Kong, solitude was no longer a normal state for me.

Hearing the breeze rustle through the trees, smelling the verdant vegetation, and finding myself completely alone was unusual. But more than an antidote to sensory overload, that first foray into Plover Cove Country Park in the northeastern New Territories was a discovery of the other side of Hong Kong, a side few visitors—and even residents themselves—experience.

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