Monday 28 July 2008

The Peak again

After all our flat-viewing on Saturday morning, followed by a bit of deliberation at Moon's Kitchen in Happy Valley, we decided to head out to Stanley to sit on the seafront and drink beer. However, the bus to the Peak arrived first, so we went there instead. Managed to take a little video on the way back down - the first part is pretty rubbish, as I am continuing the Wyatt tradition of movie-making, but towards the end you get a good view of Happy Valley, including Race Tower, where we will (fingers crossed) be living. You'll see the big green bit with pitches and tennis courts on it, and our building's right on the edge of that. Daddy will be disappointed that we're not on the top floor...However, we did see an apartment in the same building on the top floor on Saturday. It was a proper bachelor pad, complete with mirror glass walls a la James Bond (so you can't tell where the doors are), and a glass shower cubicle in the middle of the lounge.


We went to Lamma yesterday. It's the third largest island in Hong Kong, and it has quite a hippy, laidback feel to it. There are lots of beaches, a few cafes, various trinket shops, and a great big coal-fired power station.

We had quite a chillaxing little break on the Power Station Beach (that's actually what it's called) and even went in the sea. I didn't like it all that much because there's a load of crap in the sea, so stuff keeps brushing up against your legs, which I HATE. But apart from that, the sea was nice and warm but refreshing. There seemt o be almost as many dogs as people on Lamma - they are mostly of the yappy lap dog variety, and are all forced to swim / nearly drown, as their owners look on and giggle adoringly.

Serious risk of heatstroke

Today is the hottest since we arrived - 36 degrees. with a "feels like" temperature of 45.9. It reminds me of Times House actually, all I need now is a little trip down to Tesco with Sukh to stand near the fridges.

It's also high to very high on the pollution scale. The air felt very different this morning, and it felt a lot cooler (don't know what happened since then!) but it's seriously hazy - Tsim Sha Tsui , on the tip of the Kowloomn peninsula bout a mile away, is shrouded in mist today. Feels ok though - my eyes have stung a bit today, but breathing seems ok so far....

Actually, the pollution levels on that day were the highest ever recorded in Hong Kong. The light was a bit weird all day, and as the sun set (through the brownish haze) I took a couple of pics to show the strange colours.

Flats, flats and more flats

After seeing about 40 flats, we have finally plumped for our favourite, and had our offer accepted. I've signed the preliminary agreement, so we just need formal agreement from the landlord now. We managed to bargain a little bit on the price, but we also got 10 days free, hurrah! The bad news is that our vessel, the OOCL Atlanta, which is carrying our stuff, has been delayed. It's due to arrive on the 15th August now, a week late. But that shouldn't be a problem, we'll have a few days crossover when we'll have both flats.

The flat has a wonderful, expansive green view (across the race course) which is a pretty rare thing in HK. More to follow once the deal's done!

Friday 25 July 2008

Batman descends on Hong Kong

The SAR is split between two obsessions at the moment - no, for once I'm not talking about Hello Kitty - firstly the Beijing Olympics, and secondly The Dark Knight. Lots of Batman was filmed in HK.

There is a 10-second cameo appearance from local start, Edison Chen - you may remember that Ross and I first encountered him back in February, where we saw him making a live public apology for his behaviour after some incriminating photos of him and various pretty Hong Kong starlets found their way onto the Internet. Doesn't seem to have harmed his popularity!

Lifestyles of the rich and famous (or, how I came to be viewing flats on The Peak, cruising around in an air-conditioned BMW, listening to Cantopop)

One of the biggest property websites here is called Go Home - a pretty off-putting message for those immigrants among us. I have no idea what it's called in Chinese. I hope it's not meant in as negative a way as it sounds...

Today has turned out unexpectedly diverting. And I mean that both in the Jane Austen "To-night's ball was excessively diverting!" sense, and also in the getting-lost sense. I headed to Repulse Bay this morning - the weather here is absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately I got off the bus about 20 minutes too early, so I was glowing a bit after my long walk! Here's a view over the beach.

I saw a ground floor flat in Repulse Bay, which was quite nice,
but a bit dark, and had a delightful view from the bedroom window of next door's cars. (One doesn't use public transport when one lives here). So then the agents had the bright idea of showing me another flat over in SoHo (South of Hollywood Rd). as long as I didn't mind tagging along, as they had to go and photograph a couple of places on The Peak, which had just come onto their books.

The first one we saw, a house, was 10 times our budget! Quite amusing though, as the maid and caretaker thought I was looking round as a prospective renter, so I felt I should make appropriate comments like "Hmm, the pool's a bit small really. And using this whole room for one mah-jong table seems like a bit of a waste".

At the next set of flats we went to, there was a maid sitting out in front of one of the houses blow-drying a big Golden Retriever! It's nearly 7pm now, and it's still 33 degrees. Don't think I would have wanted to dry my hair outside today...Unsurprisingly, all of the flats were rather loverly. One of them had a brilliant view of all the tourists gawking down the hill from the Peak Galleria.

We eventually made it into SoHo ( bit like London's Soho, loads of bars, tiny little streets, pedestrians weaving between all the traffic)to see a flat in a walk-up (=no lift!) building. It was nice, but very overlooked. The bedroom had an en-suite of sorts - it basically amounted to a hole-in-the-floor loo in a cupboard! Weird.

More viewings this afternoon, which takes the total this week to 36. Phew.

Oldies at the bar

We went out with a few of Ross' colleagues last night to the infamous Lan Kwai Fong area. Here's a snippet from the website of the bar we went to:
If you want to be in a busy bar with extraordinary live music to spend your night out or just drink till you fall over you’ll find yourself in good company in insomnia. It is one of the busiest and best venues in Lan Kwai Fong for an out and out crazy night.
Sounds good, no?! Well, we didn't do any falling over, but the music was pretty cool. So far the music we've heard in bars here seems to split into two categories. There's always the same mix - half early 90's (REM, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morisette, possibly a bit of Oasis) and half 70's (the Eagles, Bread, Stealer's Wheel, stuff like that). Which seems weird until you look around at the clientele - they cover that period and more. Punters in your average HK bar range in age from about 21 to 55. We discussed this last night with one of Ross' Chinese colleagues, and she asked where the oldies go in London - I guess they are more likely to go to pubs, rather than noisy bars. But there are 4 or 5 pubs here and maybe 400 or 500 bars!

I saw 20 flats on Wednesday, and now I have a shortlist of 4 for Ross to see tomorrow - all right for some! Two of them have lovely race course views, but a tiny bedroom, I'll hae to gloss over that.

Ross found out for me yesterday that the guy who interviewed me last week at EBay has now left the company, so that changes things a bit! More news next week I hope.

I'm off to Repulse Bay now to see another flat. Repulse Bay is a beautiful stretch of coastline on the south of the island. It's well-known as a favourite of true ex-pats ie the ones who don't pay rent, so don't mind the astronomical prices! It's also a bit out of the way, but much more peaceful.

Monday 21 July 2008

St Andrew's Church

On Sunday afternoon, after our search for flats in the morning over in Happy Valley, we popped down to the ferry terminus in Wan Chai. The Star Ferry is famous for plying the waters between Central and TST in Kowloon since 1868, crossing around 500 times a day for about 15p. There are a number of lesser known routes - one of which is between Wan Chai and TST. This is very handy for us, and it's also very photogenic. The viewon this route is much better, as you get to see all of the buildings of Central in one sweep with Victoria Peak just perfectly framed behind.

Once over on Kowloon-side we managed to avoid going up Nathan Road, which is just far too busy and full of tailors and watch salesmen, and headed up to Kowloon Park. It's a lovely spot in the centre of TST, with fountains, banyan trees and lots of benches. It's also got a swimming pool at the top end which we haven't yet figured out how to use.

Opposite the swimming pool is St Andrew's Church, the target of our journey. This is the church where great-grandfather Norman Pope, Granny's father, was vicar and where Granny herself was born. The church is still there, an oasis of calm in otherwise frantic TST, and is a very active Christian centre with services in English, Cantonese and Filipino (excuse my ignorance, perhaps their language has another name?).

The Old Vicarage is known a Fellowship for Phillipino Christians, where they can bring their children while the parents work during the day, and where they can otherwise meet and take courses.
It's a pity Granny can't remember anything of that time; she left when she was just 18 months old after her father died of Peritonitus. He was clearly well-loved and had a lovely plaque in a line of three along the back of the inside of the Church. I hope we find his resting place in Happy Valley in the next few weeks.

Is it actually October?

PS thought you might like to know about the free gifts. There are convenience stores everywhere here - mostly 7 Elevens and Circle Ks. With so many stores around, they have to differentiate themselves somehow so they give away stuff. Mostly it's little packs of tissues, or Hello Kitty toys, or fridge magnets. But today's gift was.........a halloween lamp.

It's 33 degrees outside, with a "feels like" temperature of 40.5. Pretty sure it's still July.

Taming the dragon

The weather on Saturday morning was pretty bad - lots of rain and thunderstorm warnings. However, it cleared up late morning so we got the (sloooow) tram to Shau Kei Wan, and got on the bus towards Shek O. We got off a few miles later, near the mini-roundabout, and headed off along a truncated version of the Dragon's Back, a mini-trek down the spine of the Shek O peninsula. It was quite easy walking, quite a few steps, but nothing too bad. However, in the sunshine it was very tiring, and I got a bit of a betty on to be honest. Well, a lot of a betty. But at least I didn't look as silly as Ross.

It took about two hours in total, and we were rewarded with a little rest on the beach at Shek O, with some scrumpsh spring rolls to get our strength up again. And an ice cream. Obviously. Here's a shot looking down on Shek O from the end of the Dragon's Back.

Then headed back to town for drinks at a trendy wine bar, 1/5 Nuevo, up on Star Street. They have Torres Esmerelda wine, which is what we had at our wedding, yummy. Then supper at Bodega Riojana, a Spanish style tapas place - nice to have something European, but it was a bit overpriced I think.

On Sunday we saw about 10 flats in Happy Valley, which varied a lot. One quite small and old one, which had a fantasic view of the racecourse through 2 patio-type windows; a couple of really nice ones with unusual (but nice!) decor, but very little in the way of views. So I hope we can find a compromise. Will just have to keep looking!

Friday 18 July 2008

I went to Shek O yesterday, a lovely little beach in the Southern District of the island. You get the MTR or tram to Shau Kei Wan, then Bus 9 to Shek O. It's a long, winding road to get there, often with precipitous drops straight down enormous cliffs. The beach was quite busy for a Thursday afternoon - lots of skiving students I think! Also quite a few kids. It's all about the inflatables, there are loads of them, and everyone is within the buoyed shark net, so it looks like a slightly comedic corral of blow-up animals and boats.

Here's a little vid of the beach:

Shek O is a tiny village by HK standards, and it feels completely different from anywhere else here. There are no recognisable stores, which is very rare here. There are plenty of little stalls lining the beach and the road by the bus stop, but they don't have air conditioning - in fact the old boys keeping shop use an old plastic tub and an abacus as their tills. The village is primarily made up of small, single storey Chinese houses, which are usually pretty small, and very neat. There are often a few clustered together around a little courtyard, which looks very sociable! More photos on Facebook.

If you walk up the hill out of the village you start passing the rather more upmarket dwellings, called things like "Cot by the Sea" (?!) Eventually you get to the top of the hil, where the road ends, and the view looks like this:
You climb down the steps, and cross a little footbridge to the rocky islet just off Shek O, which is called Tai Tau Chau - it really reminded me of that walk we did on Norman Island in the BVI. It was incredibly hot, and smelt of warm sand and the scrubby plants. An old guy doing some kind of weird ritual warned me about the snakes further along the path, so I turned back there! You can see all the way to the New Territories, directly north of the island.

We went out for beers last night ($25 a pint, or about £1.60), then went to a noodle bar for supper. I ordered something in "superior soup" (but declined the "strange sauce") and I actually couldn't eat it, I think it had offal or bone marrow or something in it. So I went to Maccy D's instead. I know, I know, wrong on so many levels....and breaking the habit of about 5 years. Sorry.

Thursday 17 July 2008


Land reclamation has a long and illustrious history in Hong Kong, and it continues at an incredible rate. There is quite a logical reason behind it. Taxes here are unusually low - no one pays more than 16% (I think that's it) so the government doesn't actually receive a lot of cash. However, it is and always has been reliant on the revenue generated by land sales to go some way towards bridging the gap. However, if you create new land, then you don't have to buy it from the Government, and you can sell it at a premium as (at least temporarily) harbour-front property.

I've found some interesting maps about this - here's an excellent animation from Wikipedia, which demonstrates how Wan Chai has developed. Luard Road is between 3&4 on the map.I also found a very old, incredibly detailed map from 1909 (here's the original). It's a map of the territories leased to the UK by China under the Convention of Peking on 9th June 1898, above a google map today. The north coast in particular has changed a great deal, as well as Tsim Sha Tsui, which is the area at the southern tip of Kowloon (at the top of the map).

Should we make TV a bit more rubbish in the UK?

I found some super-dooper shops yesterday, with some properly tasteful items for gifting. Here's a sneak preview of someone's birthday present.

I think last night's supper had lots of MSG in it - something of a hazard here. As a result, I had lots of surreal dreams, including one about the roof leaking at Old Stores, just outside Oliver's bedroom...

The Fan fans started early this morning, there's a daily practice session on Southorn Playground, which is just outside the flat.
Southorn Playground was opened in the 20's by Lady Southorn, the wife of the then-Colonial Secretary. She wanted it to be forever protected as an open space where children could enjoy themselves in the sun. Sadly, part of it was lost when the Wan Chai MTR station was built. However, it is used a huge amount - I think the only time it's quiet is about 3-4am. And even then there are people walking across it! It's interesting after a huge rainstorm to see people arrive in the morning with huge squeegee-brooms to sweep the courts dry.

I dearly hope that the fan twirlers are in rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, but sadly I think I will have to admit that although they show admirable dedication to the cause, they're just not up to scratch. I think the youngest participant is about 103 years old. However, it is quite rousing to wake to the strident tones of Chinese classical music.

So, a propos this playground, it occurred to me that perhaps it's always busy because TV here is so lamentably poor. Well, of course I can't speak for the Chinese channels, but there is simply nothing on except BBC World, and once you've watched that for ten minutes, you need not switch it on again for at least 48 hours. I did watch one news update, which is how I know that the pesky Belgians are causing a serious threat to European harmony (the irony! what with the parliament being in Brussels and all) Sort it out, Isa! Anyway, I digress. The point is that people do not seem to spend much time at home here. I guess there are a number of reasons - the weather is a bit more bearable in the evening, there's nothing on TV, everyone lives in shoe boxes, restaurants are cheap and plentiful, and lots of shops are open till 10.30 in the evening.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Spent the whole day yesterday looking for and applying for jobs, which was pretty soul destroying. However, as a result of my efforts, I had an interview with eBay today, over in Sheung Wan. It seemed to go pretty well - watch this space.

Ask anyone who's lived here "What's so great about Hong Kong?" and they'll pretty much all reply that life is so easy here. It certainly seems true so far (except for our disastrous attempt at going for a run last night!) and here's one of the reasons.

Public transport is cheap, clean, fast and reliable. The tram costs $2, about 13p, regardless of how far you go. It's also supercute!

It takes Ross 12 minutes, door-to-door to get to work - what could be better? That's pretty much how long it took me to get to Sawbo station in the mornings, let alone the train from there!

Tuesday 15 July 2008

HK may not be malarial, but it sure ain't short of mosquitoes...

Woke up this morning with very itchy mosquito bites, grrr! I have stupidly spent far too long in two infested areas - Happy Valley Colonial Cemetery and the Lugard-Harlech Road trail.

We went to the cemetery on Sunday afternoon, after visiting friends' apartment in Happy Valley. Peggy told us that her father, Ross's great-grandfather died in HK (between 1916 and 1918 I think) and is buried in the cemetery. We hunted for quite a while, but no sign of Norman Christopher Pope. I think we'll go back another time and try to get a bit more guidance!

I got bus 15 to the Peak yesterday, it goes up Stubbs Road right past the top of the cemetery. The graves are all crammed in on terraces get tinier and tinier as you climb the sets of steep steps. Here's a vid of part of the journey - you can see the HV racecourse.

Happy Valley is now a very relaxed-feeling, villagey area, with a good mix of residential blocks (often with long, green views of the racecourse), shops, cafes and poodle parlours. However, back in the day it was one of the first bases for troops of the British Army. It was quickly discovered that many of them were succombing to a mysterious fever - now recognised as malaria - so the barracks was moved. Most of the swampiness was done away with, but the name Happy Valley, a euphemism for cemetery, remains.

Find out more about Happy Valley on Wikipedia

Just in case you were wondering, I have found rather a lovely pic of exactly what yesterday's lunch looked like. Of course, Hello Kitty is Japanese but hey, I'm not the only one. The good news is that there might be a Hello Kitty theme park soon!

We went to a great noodle and dumpling place last night, Zhing Nong on Jaffe Rd, next to the Fortis Bank Tower. Getting used to all addresses being part of a tower - even Ikea is part of the Park Lane hotel tower!

Monday 14 July 2008

We've arrived

It's hard to believe that today is only our third day here - I've already been to Ikea and got a mobile, it feels like home already!

Our serviced apartment is in Wanchai, which used to be known as Ha Wan. The district has been developing fast recently - some have compared it to the rejuvenation of New York's meat packing district. There are loads of bars and restaurants here (not to mention the euphemistically-named "girlie bars", and a few "boy bars" too).

The apartment is perfect, quite spacious for an HK flat, very effective air-conditioning and a wonderful location. There's not much in the kitchen, hence the trip to Ikea - I don't think even I could survive for 6 weeks without a peeler! I've mastered the laundry, but have now worked out that it'll be cheaper to get it done round the corner.

I've been up to the Peak today - it was a lovely clear day, after lots of nighttime thunderstorms in the last few days. I paid $20 to go up to the viewing platform in thePeak Tower, which was a waste. At least it's only £1.20 or so. I followed the path along Lugard Road and onto Harlech Road which has stunning panoramic views - much better than from the Peak. For free.

Best of all, you can see all around the island - the main viewpoint from Peak Tower just looks north east over Central and Wan Chai to North Point.

Off for a drink and dinner with Ross now.