Wednesday 15 October 2008


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!

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