Wednesday 31 December 2008

Panda nonsense

I came across this while I was looking for a video of one of the Ocean Park pandas attacking a keeper. Please look, it'll make you smile.

Oh yes, one other thing...

A Hong Kong born baby has been infected with H9N2 virus - bird flu. There are more details in the news here. Bad news. Tamiflu at the ready.

(Vis a vis chicken prices: it might help to know that a catty is 605 grams)

Happy 2009!

Now that I have gainful employment, I spend my days in the retail mecca that is Times Square. (I should add that the office is in the building, I don't actually spend all day shopping) It's something of a monolith, here's one of the pics I took of the inside back in February.

The slightly freaky totem pole figures (=Christmas decorations) by Carrie Chau in and around Times Square have been removed, to make way for hundreds of scary-looking crowd barriers and a big stage. Times Square is due to be a big venue for tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations, with a big countdown, and possibly fireworks, not sure. The Standard, a free paper here (roughly equivalent to the London Shite and whatever the other rag was called) has more details here.

We're planning a night in with a friend. Basically now that we have an oven we are hugely over-excited about baking, roasting, grilling, crisping, all those things you can't do on a hob, so we'll be making pizzas. I know that many of you were deeply disappointed by our failure to produce the promised Christmas Pizza, so think of this as recompense. Hopefully we will then go to Carol's friend's office at Exchange Square to watch the fireworks over the harbour. Only 5 minutes long, not a patch on Mod-Autumn Festival's 23 minutes! I think we could probably see quite a lot of the fireworks from our flat - maybe I'll leave the webcam on for your delectation.

Of course 2009 here starts at 4pm at home, so I don't imagine you'll be feeling too festive at that time...however, midnight at home will be 8am tomorrow morning for us. Actually we probably won't be feeling too festive then either.

Monday 29 December 2008

Hiking HK style

We went hiking on Saturday with Elaine, a friend of Ross's from work. We started in Happy Valley, walked up to Wong Nai Chung Gap, and then headed off on Stage 5 and 6 of the Hong Kong trail. It was a seriously challenging climb for poor little me - lots of steps and steep inclines. The tragic news is that I have "flip flop disease" (seriously) which means that I should avoid walking too much. Obviously I'm ignoring that advice! We ended up near Stanley, where we went for yummy lunch.

The other big news is that we bought an oven this weekend, and Ross demonstrated his culinary prowess with a superb roast dinner. It's a super-multi-purpose oven, which can do anything automatically. Steam, crisp, cook, grill, microwave - just press "Go" and adjust the "doneness" buttons.

We started Ross's birthday with the obligatory bacon butties (bacon courtesy of the "crisp plate" in the new oven!), then spent too much money on a new amp and speakers before a Nepalese dinner prefaced by the customary espresso martini.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

White Elephant in the Mouse Pad

Christmas came early to Disney HQ last week. The focus of the festivities was the White Elephant – the idea is that everyone brings a wrapped present to add to the pile. It has to be something that’s new, but you don’t want. So a free bottle of washing up liquid from Watson’s would do, as would freebies from suppliers and unwanted gifts. Being a generous soul, I contributed an entirely unwanted, but pretty high quality gift – the Burberry passport cover that I got free as a “Christmas present” when I worked there. Slightly backfired, as everyone thought it was a Shenzhen rip off.

Anyway, everyone stands in a big circle around the table full of presents, and each person gets a turn to pick a present. However, you can either pick one off the table, or nick something that somebody has already got. Not really the Christmas Spirit is it?! Each gift can only be stolen three times, The most popular gifts were a teddy bear (?!), an X Men jacket (supplier freebie) and a Dior necklace (which was quite likely to be a Shenzhen rip off). It was….an experience.

We also had some amazing home made cakes and cookies, proving that not everyone in Hong Kong is oven-less.


The other Mrs M tells me that the parachute dudes were actually paragliding, which is what the other Mr M does in his spare time. That's just crazy.

Here's a video to demonstrate perfect landing technique (maybe)

Monday 22 December 2008

Crimbo on the Beach

Well, the holidays are here, and thankfully Murray the Ming Aralia has come back from the dead just in time (just long enough?) to serve as our Christmas tree, in the interests of saving us 650 bucks on a freshly-cut US one.

We've decked the halls, in a tasteful manner of course, posted the presents and even sent the cards. All that's left to do now is open 2 more windows on the Advent Calendar, belt out some carols at St John's Cathedral, avoid all retail- (and therefore crowd-) heavy areas, and manage one more day at work. Then we can enjoy Christmas Lunch at the Press Room, before calling you guys nice and early while you are opening your stockings! The Big Man (as Oliver calls him) doesn't know that we don't have a chimney, so we will be stocking-less, if you know what I mean, this year. Actually, FC might be suffering a bit of credit crunch himself. Either that or our tenants will be extra lucky this year.

We spent the day on the beach yesterday, chillaxing. It was about 24 degrees, with a bit of a breeze so there were lots of people hang gliding, or whatever you call it - you know, the dudes who jump off a cliff with a parachute? Anyway, there were lots of those, and quite a few kites, mostly being flown from sticks poked in the sand. Two of the parachute dudes laned on the beach, which caused quite a kerfuffle. Other than watching that, we mostly tried to figure out the rules of the popular ballgame played by all teenage groups at the beach.

Sisyphus, Bauble and Syble are in Oz, Carol's in the Philippines, and Tom & Rachel, Tom & Cathy, Anthony and everyone else we know are currently chasing each other across the skies to get back to Old Blighty for Crimbo. So it'll be something of a lonely one for us, but we hope to have lots of lovely webcam chats so you can admire our decos.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Firstly, an apology. I know you all wait with baited breath for the latest update from the land of deep-fried chicken gristle, but I have been somewhat busy. Secondly, two pieces of excellent news: I have a job, and we have visitors.

The ‘rents arrived on Sunday, and we’ve been trying our hardest to knacker them out ever since! The weather is a bit cooler here this week, but still warmer than London I think. It’s super-nice to have M&D here, every day’s a bit special, and it’s good to re-discover things, and remember how different our lives are here.

Thanks to all of you who sent birthday wishes – I have a splendid day, which started with a bacon butty, and ended with a 7 inch chocolate truffle cake (via Vietnamese chicken salad, deep fried shredded beef with chilli and crispy duck). It’s a hard life….

Work-wise, I now get to watch TV all day in the office, cool huh? Well, that’s not strictly true. I’m working for the company that brings us such televisual gems as Scrubs (appletini!) Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy. Any ideas? Answers on a postcard.

Monday 10 November 2008


We arrived in Jakarta on a Thursday evening, to be greeted by a queue of everyone who had been on our plane, waiting for a visa. That took a while...Then we were introduced to the full force of Jakarta via the many terrifying taxi drivers, begging us to take their taxi into town. The first question, when we had finally negotiated a price, was "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?"

We successfully reached the Novotel Batavia (aka the Omnia Batavia) and managed a couple of beers before crashing. We got up early the next morning, in the hope of buying tickets for the many flights we needed. Back to the airport for a hi speed tour of all the airlines' desks, including many that we read were grounded a little while ago since they posed a threat to safety. Eventually, in possession of a fistful of old skool hand-written tickets, we flew to Jogja.

We spent a few days in Yogyakarta, pronounced Jogjakarta, and more usually known as Jogja. It's a lovely city whose main attractions are the Kraton, and day trips to Borobudur and Prambanan. The differences between the enormous sprawl of Jakarta and the "real world" of Jogja were marked. At first sight, it kind of reminded us of some of the Caribbean towns we've seen, like Roseau in Dominica. There are no chain stores, the roads are in terrible condition, and next to the potholed carriageway you'll find a foot-wide open sewer. The other side of the sewer are the shops - often disproportinately large, with a desk drawer for a cash till. It seems like plenty of people while the day away sitting under trees, chatting and smoking kretek (clove) cigarettes. Jogja is overrun with becacks, little bicycle taxi jobbies. Becak riders spend a lot of the day sleeping in their becaks, which seems entirely understandable when you think that for several hours a day they are ferrying lazy tourists around a bumpy city by pedal power alone.

There's quite a knack to riding a becak. The becak riders' community has somewhat altered the normally accepted rules of the road. It's so bloomin' hot in Jogja that once you have got up some momentum, the last thing you want to do is stop for some pesky little inconvenience such as a red light, or a load of traffic. So roads just gain and lose lanes as the traffic situation alters. If you are turning right onto a big road, but there's lots of traffic crossing your path, don't bother crossing to the other carriageway - just create another lane, and carry on along there until there's a pause in the traffic, and you can push across to the "correct" carriageway. Hard to explain, I hope a video will clarify!

The Kraton is a huge old palace, which is home to the Sultans of Jogja. There's a central palace compound surrounded by a larger walled city, where more than 25,000 people live. At the middle of the compund is the palace itself, currently home to Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X - more on him later. When we went in, a group of artists was performing a leather puppet show, accompanied by traditional gamelan music.

It's a curious place - there is a museum section, but the exhibits range from a pair of gloves, to a photo, to an old coat and so on. They all belonged to previous sultans, but they were terribly unprotected - most of the textiles looked like they were gradually rotting away. However, ther are sections of the Kraton which have been restored. Rather like Topkapi in Istanbul, or the Red Fort in Delhi, the compound comprises many open sided pavilions, as well as other little reception halls and waiting areas.

We stayed at the Delta Guesthouse (aka Duta Garden Hotel) on Prawirotimaran II street (try saying that after a few Bintangs). There are many hotels on the street, as well as plenty of little cafes and restaurants. It's quite a traveller-y area, with a lovely laidback vibe, and lots of hotel swimming pools!

See all our Jogja photos.

Indonesia, October 2008 - Java and Sulawesi

So our holiday involved lots of flights, here's the lowdown:
Hong Kong to Jakarta
Jakarta to Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta to Jakarta
Jakarta to Makassar
Overnight bus to Tana Toraja - shudder
Tana Toraja to Makassar
Makassar to Manado
Manado to Makassar
Makassar to Jakarta
Jakarta to Hong Kong

The most important things to remember about Indonesia are:
1) it's HUGE - nearly 2 million square kilometres. Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world
2) Everything in Indonesia has at least two names - towns, hotels, people (I became Hannah at some point...)
3) It's a foolish person who thinks flip flops are suitable foot attire for the land where the squat 'n' mandi bathroom combo is king
4) By the time you leave Indonesia, you will be in many, many strangers' photos. Hello Mister! People are super-friendly, but it does get a bit wearing after the first hour of saying cheese

Bledisloe again

OK, got the whole Bledisloe thing wrong...I think that any match between Australia and New Zealand (which is not a world cup match) is part of the Bledisloe Cup. This was the first game played in a country other than Aus or NZ, and HK seemed happy to see it.

The Hong Kong Stadium has a capacity of 40,000, and attendance on match day was over 39,000.

It was a fantastic afternoon out - a bit warm (surely the stadium is the only public place on the island without air con?!) but the beer in obligatory slightly floppy plastic cups was flowing and the Aussies and Kiwis sang rude songs. Apparently the match was a bit ugly, but we enjoyed it very much. I've never seen an international before, and the difference was quite marked.

A very big thank you to Belle and Henry, who generously provided tickets. I now have a lovely blue ANZ hand so that I can tell everyone how great ANZ is. It's also really useful for entering the door code downstairs....

...and I can't quite explain why Ross likes it....

Here's another big fan of the rugger:

Here's the hi tech solution for the TV-interview-backdrop-support:

After the match, we had supper in Happy Valley, then went into SoHo, to meet some friends. We had a lovely time, sitting on the steps on Staunton Street, being serenaded by a drunk Aussie who was standing on a postbox singing Waltzing Matilda in Cantonese (for shiz!) We then headed to Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong's infamous party zone. It is a proper expat trap, so accordingly the music is all of the Bon Jovi genre. And there's a bit of Guns n Roses thrown in now and again. It's a pretty scary place at the weekends anyway, so you can imagine what happens when 40,000 people (who've been drinking for a good 4 or 5 hours by now) descend. Here's a video to give you an idea. Be warned - you may be involuntarily transported back to Churchill's / DTMs / Filth:

Friday 31 October 2008

The Bledisloe Boys are in town

The Bledisloe Cup, the annual Rugby Union match between Australia and New Zealand, will be held in Hong Kong Stadium tomorrow. It's just around the corner from the flat, and the pitches in the middle of Happy Valley racecourse are packed with antipodean rugby players today, preparing for the big day.

We're back, and Hong Kong's not happy

We're back in the Big Lychee, arrived yesterday at Chek Lap Kok I think - it was so hazy that I couldn't be sure. It's lovely to be home, and top of my list of newly appreciated facets of HK life are a) clean toilets and b) the ability to pass through a public place without being the unwitting "celebrity" in several lucky bystanders' photos.

However, all is not well here. I met Ross for lunch today, check out the scene that greeted us outside Ross's office when we got back:

It was an orderly but noisy protest, which the police just about managed to control. I even got trampled on by a policeman, how exciting. The procession then headed off down the road to the Standard Chartered building (next to the main HSBC building), led by a big gong and a lady with a big microphone and a bigger issue.

I suspect it's due to growing anger among the citizens who purchased various investments linked to Lehman Brothers - allegations of mis-selling have been levelled at ABN Amro in particular - many of the protestors banners said RBS or ABN (I think they are in the process of integrating here).

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Just for laughs

A few amusing signs for your delectation.

Someone told me that this one was funny, but I don't know why. I'm very innocent you see.

Just in case you can't read this, it's an ad for Lisa Facial Hair Salon. I suspect that rather than whipping your 'tache up into a beautiful little quiff, Lisa offers both facials AND hair services.


It has come to my attention that the blog is rather light on depth if you see what I mean. Like how we feel about the people and place around us, and about being here. I guess there are a few explanations...

1) Everything has become normal remarkably quickly. We've been here for 3 months now, and (slightly sadly) I no longer marvel over the everyday differences between life in the UK and life here. I no longer expect to understand conversations that I overhear on the MTR or on the street, I am well aware that a fair number of the things we buy (particularly food and cleaning stuff) will have labels which are exclusively in Chinese. By the way, about 35% of the population speaks English as a second language. It isn't annoying any more that 3 of the 4 TV channels are in Chinese, and we have got used to reading the subtitled news as we hear it. Even Ross has (nearly) accepted that you can't walk fast, or in a straight line, in Central. And it's just sensible for shops to stay open till 11pm, estate agents to continue negotiating for you until 9pm on Sunday, and the handyman to come round first thing in the morning on a public holiday. Oh, and obviously if there's a hill to be climbed in the city (and there are plenty!) there'll be an escalator within 10 metres. And I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't get into town with a 13p tram ride, on a service that runs every one-two minutes and continues past midnight every night.

2) I am both a bit of a wimp and a monstrously bad judge of character. This combination means that I am simply too scared to make a doofus of myself by making any generalisations about the Chinese people we have met socially, or just encounter day to day. I am sorely tempted, but I think I might regret it later. 3 months is way too little time to really get any idea about the differences in aspirations, priorities and outlook, so for now I will keep schtum. But watch this space, I'm sure it'll happen eventually.

3) I do not have a job. This means that I have myself for company for most of every day, which is not really a terribly stimulating state of affairs. I think you all know that I am doing what I can to remedy this situation. I could also make some trenchant observations about the job market / general misleading / recruitment agents here, but I won't.

4) It's genuinely difficult to find anything new to say. Hong Kong must be one of the most over-exposed cities in the world. You have all seen a thousand images of the harbour (even before I got shutter-happy). You know that it's dense, hot, crowded, busy, incredibly noisy and smelly. For the record, 7m people live in the 426 square miles of the SAR (95% of them are of Chinese descent), about the same number as in the 609 square miles of Greater London. And a lot more of HK's territory is uninhabited, meaning that the residential bits, especially on the island itself, are super-dense. I'm not sure that even Hong Kong's “did you knows” are unknown any more. HK has lots of beaches; some of the landscapes and terrain in the New Territories are absolutely gorgeous; 60% of the island is green; it's remarkably easy to escape the city and get some fresh(ish) air.

I will allow myself one observation about something that amuses a linguistic geek like me. Considering we are in Asia's World city, a place that is often mentioned in the same breath as London, New York and Tokyo, HK is remarkably “small town” in some ways. I guess this is most noticeable in the news (printed and broadcast), and a lot of it is down to subtle distinctions in the use of English. It's a question of register. I just find it faintly amusing to hear the newsreader say that the guy arrested by police yesterday was “drinking from a bleach bottle and puking up everywhere.”. Can you imagine Huw Edwards saying “puking up”?! There's also the “Mr and Mrs Jones reversing out of their driveway” aspect. I like it, it makes the city feel a bit more friendly and inclusive.

What do I miss? Normal Pantene shampoo (not “anti-hairfall” or “straight & weighty”), Vogel bread, anything roasted, knowing about good, interesting books that are published (rather than the just the latest chick-lit blockbusters), halloumi that costs less than £7. On a less materialistic note, I miss a blend of people and place. I miss the routine of work (never thought I'd say that!) as well as my workmates. I am feeling rather nostalgic about long summer evenings, and Barbours, wellies and golden leaves on a crisp, sunny autumn morning. Walks on the North Downs, where Ross and I first talked about coming here, and it all seemed such a remote possibility. Coming downstairs at home with Daddy whistling and Radio 2 blaring. The little dramas of family life – births, marriages and deaths feel rather remote. It goes without saying that I miss family and friends very much, but I hope you will all come and visit soon, so I'm trying not to worry about that yet. It will be Christmas extremely soon after we come back from holiday, then Chinese New Year, then it's the summer again. Hope we will have some visitors for Chinese New Year, the fireworks are guaranteed to be spectacular.

What do I not miss? THE FRICKIN' TUBE! In particular the Victoria line. Commuting for an hour and a half twice a day. Not knowing what to wear every day – will it rain? Will it be freezing outside? Better take a jumper in case it's cold, different shoes in case it rains, and an umbrella. Drizzle.

Hmm, an excellent stream of consciousness post I think. I guess that will be the last one before we head off, see you in November!

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Indonesia, here we come

Just trying to finalise our arrangements for our holiday in Indonesia. Working out prices is rather complex, as we're trying to think in several currencies simultaneously. And since exchange rates are fluctuating quite a lot day by day, it's not easy.

So, broadly speaking:
US$1 = 9,055Rp
HK$1 = 1,265Rp
€1 = 11,500Rp
£1 = 16,700Rp

Alternatively, a million rupiah is US$102, HK$795, €75, or £59. Naturally. So I had lots of fun at Chung King Mansions on Nathan Road in TST yesterday, checking out the rates at all the exchange places (by the way, don't believe the boards!) Chung King Mansions claims on the outside that it is a "de luxe hotel" but in fact it's a complete dump. Loads of hostel-style accommodation, crammed into a rather insalubrious-looking building.

We want to travel around a bit between Java and Sulawesi, and Lion Air has the cheapest fares. However, tickets cannot be booked online, i have called the "friendly bilingual call centre" about 14 times today, and variously had the phone put down on me, got a message in Baha Indonesia, or the line just fizzled out. I can't buy tickets from the office in Singapore, because we need to collect them, there are no Lion Air offices in Hong Kong. Ross got through on the phone, but the only way to pay for your tickets is through an Indonesian ATM. Obviously, there aren't many of those here either. So, we'll just have to hope for the best and book when we arrive!

The idea is to fly to Jakarta, then fly straight to Yogyakarta to see Borobudur and Prambanan. Then we'll fly to Makassar on Sulawesi (oh, another complication, seems like most places in Indonesia have more than one name, or at least two spellings if they only have one name). Bus to Tana Toraja for a few days, bus back to Makassar, then fly to Manado, where we get a ferry to Pulau Bunaken for some snorkelling.

Slimly Cup, Hana Hana et al

City Super in Causeway Bay has a splendid "lifestyle" section, which is well worth an hour's wandering (IMHO). My faves are the Japanese beauty contraptions. Among those I saw yesterday are the "Slim Mouth Piece" made by Noble which is designed to give you a smaller, more refined mouth;

I also liked the Hana Hana, which looks suspiciously like one of those synchronised swiming nose clips, and promises to make your nose slimmer. Then of course there's the Kai Eyebrow guide which you hold against your face so that you can see where to shave (yes, shave) off your eyebrows.

The undisputed winner of the crazy award is the "Slimly Cup". The package proudly proclaims "It is a cupping in the anxious part. Let's beautifully tighten the body". Indeed. The idea is that you squish this thing onto an area of the body that you want to slim (upper arms for example) and then let it expand again, so that it sucks the skin of your upper arm into it. No, I don't get it either.

Haaaaarly vinimous...

Came across our first genuine snake the other day. It was a catchily-named Trimeresurus stejnegeri, known to his friends as Bamboo Viper, or Chinese Tree Snake.

We saw it as we were walking along Bowen Road, which is quite a narrow road above the top of mid-levels. It's a lovely, shady path which is mostly car-less. It's a great place to get an alternative view of Central and mid-levels, the back of all these buildings is arguably more interesting than the front. And you don't see this view on so many postcards! You get fascinating glimpses as you walk along of little colonial relics which have somehow survived - most of them are covered with moss and showing signs of 50+ years of decay in the tropical climate.

Check out the angel holding a basketball:

The way-too-many Buddhas Monastery

So we finally made it to 10K Buddhas. And there are a LOT of buddhas - more than ten thousand in fact.

You walk up the hill (this is possibly the first hill we've actually had to walk up - we were slightly outraged that there was no escalator) and the path is lined on both sides with lifesize golden buddhas, all in different poses. Several are reading, or showing off their lotus flowers, one is riding a crazed-looking deer, another one is surfing on a crab, a few have little kids crawling all over them.

Once you get to the top of the 400 or so steps, there's a large open space, or veranda. In fact, the complex is made up of 5 temples, 4 pavilions, and a pagoda. There was a serious landslip in 1997, so not all of these are open. Here is a choice excerpt from the leaflet for your delectation. All sic, by the way. The squeamish should probably look away now.
"Reverend Yuet Kai, the founder of the monastery, was a saga. He was not only a skilled player of Lyre, but also a talent poet. He was born in a welath family and then studied philosophy in a famous university in China. At his age of 19, he determined to embrace Buddha to consecrate his life to Buddhism, he flamed his small and the next fingers on left hand, and cut down a piece of flesh as big as a palm from his chest to light forty-eight oil lamps in front of Buddha for showing his aspirations [...] Reverend Yuet Kai passed away in 24th April 1965 at his age of 87. After eight months of burying, his disciples followed his will to take his body out from the coffin, unbelievable miraculously, just as he himself anticipation before death, the body did not change at all. [...] Up to now, the immortal body of the Reverend Yuet Kai has still been preserved perfectly and placed in front of the altar in the main temple for people to worship."
Which is nice.

Friday 10 October 2008

Po Fook Memorial Hall in Sha Tin

We went to Sha Tin last week, with the goal of seeing the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. We kind of ended up in Po Fook Memorial Hall by mistake...but it was really interesting, seeing all the many memorial halls, filled with small pictures dedicated to ancestors.

Tradition dictates that when people pay tribute to their ancestors, they burn paper offerings. These paper offerings come in many guises - it's possible to buy banknotes from the Bank Of Hell (usually in outrageously large denominations), but the more unexpected items are quite interesting.

The concept of Hell does not really have negative connotations in Chinese culture - allegedly the word "Hell" was introduced to China and Hong Kong by Christian missionaries, and the Chinese understood that "Hell" was simply the word for the afterlife.

People burn whatever they think the dead will need after life, or sometimes the things that the person had in life. On Queen's Road West, just near Sutherland Road, there are 5 or 6 shops which sell these items. A few examples: a motor boat, mobile phone, suits and shirts, cars, stereos, domestic helpers, plasma TVs and even foot massagers! They're all made with incredible detail from fine paper.

Anyway, after wandering around the Memorial Hall for so long that we ceased to need air and converted to incense-breathing, we eventually found the path up to the Ten Thousand Buddhas.

National Day Celebrations

We headed over through Victoria Park to Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter to watch the 23 minute firework display. It was a great place to see it, we had an excellent view of the fireworks, and of the big power boats that were cruising off into the harbour to watch the display.

The fireworks were awesome, I can only imagine what next year's will be like - it'll be the 60th anniversary of the founding of the nation.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

News from the Ministry of Admin & Civic Affairs

We're looking forward to tonight's celebration of the founding of the Motherland:
Celebrations set for 59th National Day

"A series of activities - including a flag-raising ceremony, a reception, a variety show and fireworks - will be held in Hong Kong October 1 to celebrate the 59th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The flag-raising ceremony will be held at 8am at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai. Chief Executive Donald Tsang will join 2,500 guests, senior government officials, members of the youth uniformed groups and community groups in the celebration.

The public can watch the ceremony at a designated area with a capacity of 1,000 people.

The National Day reception will be held after the ceremony at the Convention & Exhibition Centre's Grand Hall. About 4,000 guests, including members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, consular corps, senior government officials and members of various community sectors, are invited.

In the evening a variety show will be held at 7pm at Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai. A spectacular fireworks display will start at 9pm"

Tuesday 30 September 2008

How we live

View Larger Map

Here's a map showing all the stuff we like here in HK

Mount Austin Road

Gweilo by Martin Booth is an excellent autobiography, which recalls the years Booth spent in Hong Kong as a small boy. It's a really interesting read, even more so once you've spent some time here. I read it on the plane out here, and I think I'll want to read it again in 6 months' time!

On Sunday afternoon we went for a walk up Mount Austin Road, which starts at the Peak Galleria, just underneath this view:

It got me thinking about Gweilo again, as I remembered that he had lived in an apartment on that road. Once we got home, Ross found the bit in the book which talks about them moving to "Mount Austin Mansions", so we tried to find out where the building was. Google Maps weren't very helpful because the buildings have been renamed. However, we did finally work out that Martin Booth must have lived in what is now known as "The Mount Austin". Here's the mildly amusing bit (I know you've been waiting) - The Mount Austin is one of the places I visited with the estate agent dudes a few months back. Cool huh? Here's a view of the complex from above.

Also in the book, Booth mentions a little building the size of a shed by the side of Mt Austin Road where he found a policeman sitting with his cup of tea. I think we walked past it:

If you walk right up Mount Austin Road you get to a park, which is inside the Governor's Walk. Here's a view from there down across the island, with an arrow pointing to our tower.

The park is lovely, and quite unknown. There's plenty of space, and not too many people. You can just imagine it all being laid out as a lovely formal garden by the Governor's wife once upon a time. It's a bit wilder than that now, and feels quite tropical.

Body Jam!

On Saturday afternoon I went to a Body Jam class at mYoga in Causeway Bay, with a friend who is a member of the club. It was hilarious...a great, extremely high energy class with good music. However, there were a few things that took me by surprise. Firstly, the Instructor, along with his 5 sidekicks, did a little dance performance before the class. This provided ample opportunities for the 50 or so people attending the class to take lots of photos of the gang. I was slightly taken aback by the whole 6 instructors thing too - the class was in English, because the instructor had flown in specially from Holland to launch the new class. I was the only other gweilo, so good job he was there or I would have been quite lost. So we had 10 mins or so of this Dutch guy leading the class, then each of the other members of the gang had a go instructing too. The instructors all had a kind of uniform on - a hat or cap (preferably worn backwards) big baggy white tshirt, big baggy white shorts, knee-high white socks and white trainers. Apart from those who had tin foil style trainers. I should probably add at this point that all the instructors were male. We had a little chat with the Dutch guy afterwards, who told us that they've got "a new release coming up" - luckily my friend understood this as Body Jam-speak for "a new class starting soon".

It was rather surprising in many ways, but I really enjoyed it, and got an excellent workout. Think Tim Westwood leading a funked-up, air-conditioned version of the aerobics classes I used to do at Borehamwood Municipal Leisure Centre.

Monday 29 September 2008

Race Night at Happy Valley

We've seen two evenings of racing now, it's pretty exciting! I'm really looking forward to watching it from the stands when someone's visiting us (hint, hint). Here's a vid of what we can see from our flat. You can see and hear the TV commentary at some points! The course is minuscule, and the races are usually just one time round, and last about 1 minute 10. You do hear the horses' hooves thundering as they go past, as well as the roar from the crowd as they approach the grandstand.

The Glasshouse

We went to an unusual restaurant on Sautrday night, The Glasshouse. It's quite out of the way up Braemar Hill Road, but it's a good Chinese restaurant, with a bit of decking, and comfortable space to eat outside (no mozzies and not too many buses roaring past!). They do hot pot, but I'm not brave enough for that yet, I think it involves fish head soup.

Ocean Park

Ocean Park is Hong Kong's most popular theme park. It is currently undergoing serious expansion, doubling the number of attractions, partly to compete with Hong Kong Disneyland which opened in 2005 on Lantau. In fact, Ocean Park is ranked 7th most popular theme park in the entire world, I guess that Chessington World of Adventures occupies the top spot, followed closly by Dreamland Fun Park in Margate.

Apparently we visited Ocean Park back in 1980-something, but I can't say that I recognised anything. Here are my learnings from this visit:
1. The pandas are rather sweet, and you can see why they are so popular. They're kind of like animated toys.

2. Chinese sturgeons are not at all sweet. I think fugly might be a more appropriate description. The info boards told us that they were bottom feeders, so of course Ross wanted to make sure they weren't going to feed on his bottom. Ha ha.

3. Sticking some sturgeons in Ocean Park is not really going to make up for the habitat loss inflicted by the damming of the Yangtze river.
4. Beijing bestowed a gift of 5 sturgeons on Ocean Park in August, to mark the opening of the Olympics (5 sturgeon, 5 Olympic rings) However, the smallest one was found dead the next day, after being attacked by a barracuda. Poor sturgeon! Ocean Park management were criticised for this, but insisted that the two species had been put in the same aquarium on the advice of Beijing experts.
5. The rides look very cool. I think after a few beers they'd be even better. The rollercoaster kind of hangs out over the ocean, nice and scary.

6. The Leafy Sea Dragon has narrowly pipped the seahorse to the post in the race to be ma favouritest sea creature. We saw quite a few of these in the aquarium. Actually I'm pretty sure it's the best aquarium I've ever seen - cow-nosed rays, reef sharks, barracuda, a turtle, banner fish, angel fish, moray eels, loads of fascinating beasties.

(Thanks to Nat Geo for the pic)

Thursday 25 September 2008

First day of term - Riding for the Disabled Association

Today was my first proper day helping out with Riding for the Disabled Hong Kong. I went to a couple of training sessions last week, but today it was for real.

The riding school at Pok Fu Lam is run as a regular riding school by the Hong Kong Jockey Club (them again!), and it is also the base for RDA in Hong Kong. There are two RDA sessions (10-11 and 11-12) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The rest of the time the ponies are used for normal riding school activities. The idea is that a group of disabled riders come along from their school, usually with parents or helpers and sometimes a physio. Each rider is assigned a pony, a leader and a side-helper. Then they take part in an hour-long session, led by an instructor who, in true BHS style, stands in the middle of the sand school and yells instructions (which are then translated into Cantonese - most instructors are Western, and most riders are Chinese).

I arrived at the riding school about 9.30, and tacked up Kimberley and Dimity, two of the little pocket-sized ponies. They have a simplified tack arrangement for RDA; they wear their bridles (with the noseband removed) over a headcollar, and they are led from the headcollar. They also have special, coloured reins which clip onto the headcollar too, so the bit is not really used. We use little toecaps on the stirrups to stop the kids' feet slipping through.

About 6 or 7 children arrived at 10 o'clock with a few helpers and parents. They were 5-6 year olds, with a variety of disabilities. I was side-helper for a little boy with hearing difficulties and Treacher -Collins syndrome. It's easy to forget that many of these children have never seen a horse, let alone sat on one! It must be quite frightening, especially as the children are rather alone all of a sudden, after being used to having carers or parents right next to them all day every day. To get on a horse and be led around by Westerners speaking a language you don't understand is quite a challenge! We spent about half an hour walking around with our little boy and the group did a few simple tasks, like clapping their hands, and holding a toy up in the air - however his favourite thing was to watch himself in the mirrors at the corners of the sand school!

Half an hour in the full sunlight was plenty for all of us. Just time for a quick drink before the next group started. The 11 o'clock group were quite a lot older, maybe 12-15, and we had a fresh batch of ponies, tacked up by the mah fus (sorry, don't know how to spell that, but they are the guys who work full-time at the stables) I was leading Bobby, a rather grumpy mare with a biting habit. The girl riding had Down's Syndrome. She had excellent balance, and responded very well to the instructor's directions. Judging from her huge smile and positive reactions, I think she really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to more next week.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Moon cakes

Now, I know you're all dying to hear about the mooncakes. Let's start from the very beginning....

Traditionally mooncakes are rather pork pie-like in shape, but have a pretty swirly design (usually the Chinese character for harmony or longevity) on the top. However, the folks over at GOD, being somewhat subversive, came up with 4 cheeky (see what I did there?) designs: Spread my Cheeks, Mind the Gap, T-back (otherwise known as G-string) and Full Monty. The joke being that they are all in the shape of, um, derrieres.

We got two, see the vid below for Ross's reaction.

Mooncakes usually have a filling made of lotus seed paste, with a whole salted duck egg yolk inthe middle. This is just the sort of unannounced sweet/savoury juxtaposition that I find so hard to deal with here, but seems completely normal to most Hong Kongers. Flavours are diversifying though, and Haggy D's make some delicious-sounding ice cream ones.

It is said that in the Yuan Dynasty, Ming revolutionaries used mooncakes to co-ordinate their efforts to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China by hiding secret messages inside the dense filing of the cakes.