Archive for October, 2012

Halloween Weekend

Last week ended on a high, with the official Re-Opening of the CILL on Friday. I was shattered after the party, couldn’t muster the energy for the gym on account of a full day on my feet. The party was a great success though, we had about 100 students in the CILL, with special guests and teachers too. We ran some games and activities, there were refreshments and the CILL was decorated really well.

Like I said though, being shattered after it, I headed home for a regular dinner of BBQ Pork and Rice (Cha Siu Fan) from a place near us and a few brewskis before we headed out to Lan Kwai Fong to a place that Ian found called Valor. It was pretty decent, bit pretentious music with one beat lasting around 20 minutes. Not bad but not my kind of scene where it’s a gig-like atmosphere as you jump up and down to Living on a Prayer in the Carleton, or doing dick-ish dances in Sugar with your hands full with Shaggas.

On Saturday, Nat and I went to the Nan Lian Garden at Diamond Hill in East Kowloon (not far from the old Kai Tak airport). The gardens were pretty sweet, the sort of thing you think when you think ‘Chinese Garden’. 

I headed to Sham Shui Po market after for a Halloween costume – ended up being a zombie but we put a big effort in. We had pre-drinks at our place before heading to Nat B’s gig in Wan Chai at a place called Xperience.

So many weird looks on the MTR. Was pretty sweet at the bar, half inside, half outside meant Club 7-11 was used full and Belbin’s gig was mint also. Andrew passing out before Nat even came on stage was one of the highlights. We headed to Carnegies after that to carry on the party, then Dusk Til Dawn which has proper converted me now. Does exactly what it says on the tin and is open all night, the band that played were insane too, playing a mix of Blur, Nirvana, Chilis etc, more my kind of scene. One of the best nights I’ve had since being here.

On Sunday, we went for a Sunday Roast with Suz and Daisy, a place called Murphy’s in Tsim Sha Tsui. For $140 we got roast beef, mash, Yorkshire pud, spicy gravy and veg with (weirdly) red lettuce and aubergine. But the apple crumble after it topped off a belting meal. Felt so good to not just be having noddles/rice on a Sunday. We went for a look around the Goldfish market in the afternoon before a quiet night in watching Hunger Games.

Epic weekend again in HK and a lot to look forward to this next week.

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Spice Up your Life

This week has been pretty eventful in HK. A mid-week trip to Mr Wong’s place (and a long conversation with him in his limited English about Romney vs Obama) broke up the week, with a rare Friday night in and looking around the Sham Shui Po markets. Turns out we live 3 minutes away from a Subway which will definitely be used more often now. We also went cycling around LOHAS Park on Saturday morning with a colleague from work, Chris the computer tech who always wears a different football shirt every day. Really good cycling place there, with roundabouts, signals and signs etc just for cycling. Great to get out the city for a few hours.

Saturday night was the night of Tony, Suz, Rich and Aaron’s birthday night out in drag. As banterous as it could have been anyway, Tony, Rich, Adrian, Jack and I decided to synchronize our embarrassment and go as the Spice Girls. The Union Flag I brought for our CILL did the job perfectly, with a $28 red wig from the markets too. The girls loved painting us up before we went out too, along to a few Spice Girls tunes on YouTube. Here’s a picture of the finished product.

The night out was well fun too, lots of people wanting photos with us – don’t know if it was because of the Spice Girls or the Union Jack for the British-lovers here. But on Sunday, after nursing a slight hangover, Nat and I went out to the island. We went to the Man Mo Temple – a temple dedicated to 2 geezers called Man and Mo. Lots of incense and offerings to the statutes. We also traveled up the longest outdoor escalator in the world from Central to the Mid-Levels (half way up Victoria Peak). Here’s me at the summit of the escalator:

A short walk away was the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens and Zoo. For a free zoo it was no too bad, saw a monkey fight. But what was interesting was the colonial links there – a memorial to the Chinese who died in WW1 and WW2 in defense of the island against the Japanese and on the Pacific front, as well as a huge statue of King George VI…

We then headed down to see the Duddell Street Gas Lamps – the only 4 gas lamps still working in Hong Kong, before heading to look in the new A&F shop and Marks and Spencer. So weird being in M&S – pictures of Jamie Redknapp modelling clothes, shortbread on sale – we could have easily been in Manchester in there. I got some ginger snaps, proper bread and some Dolly Mixtures and reckon going there will be a routine very soon too. We got the Star Ferry over to Tsim Sha Tsui and finished looking at the Avenue of the Stars, where we eventually found Jackie Chan’s star and the statue of Bruce Lee, as well as the Olympic Torch which was given to HK when it came through on its way to Beijing in 2008. By the time we got there it was night so the view was fantastic.

Monday was a standard day at work but we had Tuesday off due to the Public Holiday. The Chung Yeung Festival is when the Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. They go to their ancestral graves to clean them and repaint inscriptions, and lay out food offerings like roast pig and fruit, burn some incense sticks etc. For us that meant a day off and Karaoke Bar on Monday night for Suz’s birthday. The bar was great – we murdered Spice Girls, played some dice and had a great time at the Open Bar. The pints of whiskey and coke did not end up being great and led to me coming home earlier than everyone else. Still feeling the pains as I write this and its 9pm on Tuesday now…

Hong Kong Culture 3

– Since visiting the Museum of History here, and learning more about the British influence, especially post-WW2 in housing developments, new towns and education systems, I’ve noticed many more links to Britain that remain, more obviously the road signs and markings. At first I took it as standard that they should be like Britain’s. Cars drive on the left of the road, road markings are the same font, size and colour, with Chinese translations (reminds me of Welsh under English in Wales). Police look the same, sirens are the same sound. You ring 999 for emergencies. They have zebra crossings, the same red and green men on traffic lights and the same pavement barriers and bollards. Here’s just a random photo of somewhere near my work that you can see.

This might seem pretty boring but it was only until my colleague Holly asked me what the zebra crossing was and whether we had them in the UK. I realised how much these sort of things were there and we only recognised them subconsciously.

– Bureaucracy – they love their paperwork over here. Had 15 e-mails sent to me with plans, preparations, scripts, agendas and redrafts of all the above, just for 4 groups of secondary school students to visit our CILL in 5 minute intervals. It’s probably a good thing that they’re so efficient but it did feel like I was being spoon-fed a bit. As if it was a fools-guide to introducing people to your workplace. Not the most difficult thing in the world. Elephants do it everyday in the zoo… Thinking about it more though it is probably good for the people here due to the dual-language system probably being a major cause of past cock-ups. But saying that, it’s probably too much stating which specific staircase a group should use to go to the next floor. End result = obvious I’m still getting used to the culture here.

– The Dead – obviously with Chinese influence, the beliefs in respecting your dead relatives is huge here. They burn offerings to their dead ancestors and believe they can influence things back on Earth still. The graveyards here have a weird system. Due to the limited amount of space here, the dead are buried for 10 years for a normal cost (about a couple of thousand pounds) then after 10 years they are dug up and either burned (more popular, and cheaper) or can buy a permanent grave site in a different part of the cemetery for about HK$ 1 million. The system seems to work though, can’t see it working in the UK to be honest.

– The Elderly – it’s weird to see how those pensioners who are very very old keep an active life style here. Every morning, the parks are full of old people doing Tai Chi in groups or just on their own. Parks all have outdoor gym equipment that are popular with the elderly to improve bone strength, particularly wrists and legs. I saw one woman today in a wheelchair still doing stretches from side to side with her carer. When we went cycling last week, Chris introduced us to a friend who was 72, only retired 2 years ago and came to the cycle path every day, did some cycling and power-walking. Said his retirement present was his cycle helmet, costing over $1000 (nearly 100 British pounds). They also like to stay in work as long as they can – some of the doormen we’ve met look way into their 70s and earn a wage of about $3000 a month (400 quid?) for just basically sitting there and manning the foyer with a crossword and a brew. Not a bad job but the pay’s a bit of  a slap in the face. The place I work has a lot of elderly living in it:

– Money – Since getting here, I’ve got into a habit of comparing prices and wages to UK standards but have recently realised that it’s not the best way to compare lifestyles. The wage I am on is above minimum wage in UK but the way it makes up for it is in the proportion of it we spend on rent, bills, travel and food. My daily commute is $20.6 to school and back (less than 2 quid) – about a quarter of an hours’ pay, which is brilliant compared to the UK where you could easily spend more than a hours’ wage on just getting to work and back. Same with food – because it is very much the culture to eat out over here,  meals can obviously range in price but on average can be less than a hours’ wage too. I find locals do not really have to save – they just have their money as savings and little things like travel and food expenses can be just a drop in the ocean. Our wage isn’t really the best either, so it’s pretty mind-blowing to think how much money some big bosses can be earning.

There’ll be swingin’ swayin and records playing, dancin’ in the street

Had another great week here. Work’s going well, CILL nearly completed and got a confirmed Opening Party for it on 26th so a while off yet but it’s coming along well. Auditioned for the Panotmime with Chatteris, which was a right laugh and ended up landing the role of Prince Charming…probably solely due to my audition of him in a thick, dopey Yorkshire accent. But best news is that we’ve been entered in the Hong Kong 10km Run on 25th November. So lucky to be doing this for Unicef, which means it’s for a brilliant cause, and have Chatteris to thank for paying our entry fees. On that note, started going to the gym again to get fit for it. Too much Dim Sum, McDonalds and hangover full English breakfasts have taken their toll on my fitness so will be a bit of a mission to get back to running long distances. The challenge will be worth it though!

On Friday we headed to an organised party on Repulse Bay Beach. It was a good atmosphere there, and headed to LKF afterwards. It ended up being a cheaper night as we found a new system of dancing in the street outside the bars instead of paying to go inside them. Then if the song was crap, move up to the next bar. Fulled by cheap beers from the 7/11 grocery store of course. To quote Adrian’s excitedly-delivered analysis, “the bouncers are so pissed off at us but there’s nothing they can do, we’re on public property!!!” Know your rights…

Saturday was a great day also – Nat and I went to the Hong Kong Museum of History. For only $10 entry (about 80p) it was well worth it. Learnt a lot about the pre-colonial history as well as my favourite bit on the Opium Wars and cession to Britain onwards. The most eye-opening bit was about the Japanese Occupation for 3 years and 8 months from 1941 (one day after they bombed Pearl Harbour) until VJ-Day in 1945. Such an interesting story how the Japanese invaded from the north and practically pushed the British all the way down Nathan Road to Tsim Sha Tsui at the south of the Kowloon peninsula, into boats and back to Hong Kong Island. The suppression of the Hong Kongers was parallel to that of British POWs you read about being heavily mistreated and starved or forced to work in Japan. They even set up new school systems teaching about Japan’s theories of dominating a Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, with compulsory Japanese lessons 4 hours a week. What was scarily serious was how the number of those in education in 1941 was reduced from 500,000 to 4,000 under Japanese rule – something the post-war administrations had to reverse immediately. I suppose the reason why this sticks out so profoundly is that the major expansion and development of the school systems in the 1970s is basically what I am a part of now, trying to seriously improve the education of young Hong Kongers after the sector took such a beating. This is why we love history I reckon, isn’t it Churchman?

On a less serious and more beer-related note, Saturday night we went round to Jack and Rich’s place for a few drinks. Jack’s fixed up a projector screen on the wall so we spent the night YouTubing different 1990s classics, and reminiscing about the decade so much. I remembered that Eiffel 65 – Blue was the first single I ever bought and how it was my 6th Birthday when others came out etc. Would love it to be the 1990s again. Luckily, there’s an opportunity to go back to the 1990s this weekend, but I’ll leave details of that for my next post…

The Last of the Manhattans

On Friday 5th October we headed out to Sai Wan beach village for a weekend of camping, lazying about on the beach and surfing. Friday night we got there in the pitch black, struggled on the 35 minute walk to the village but had a feast set by the 76-year old restaurant owner, Dave (doubt that’s his Chinese name), followed by many beers on the beach near it with a fire. Adrian and I have discovered a hugely cheap alcoholic concoction of Rice Wine (29% alc vol.) with a bottle of Coke Zero. Total cost for the wine is HK$9.50 which is 76p in the UK according to Google Currency Converter. Never known a better alcohol:price ratio than when I first discovered Lambrini in Lancaster. A great alcoholic beverage. Sorry, Mum.

On the Saturday we nursed hangovers on the beach, did some photography of the views and sunbathed as well as swimming in the sea. It was surprising how clear the water was and how the bed was sandy, not rocky or seaweedy – miles away from Blackpool beach. We borrowed body-boards as well and had one of the most relaxing days since being here. Saturday night we had another beach fire and played some drinking games in the group. Andrew conducting ‘Boom-Chicka-Boom’ one of the many highlights. It got pretty windy though, with the smoke at one point blowing pretty much horizontally from the fire but had a great night with beers and great company.

Sunday morning it was my turn to surf. Never surfed before but the training and the conditions were perfect for a first time. I got the hang of it and caught some good waves but the sun-burn on my front and bruises on my knees from made the manoeuvres uncomfortable. Did manage to stand up finally once or twice so counting the session as a win. Some beach football (which we won, followed by a celebratory run into the ocean to cool off/gloat) and a hike to the freshwater waterfalls was the afternoon. Random wild cows were roaming around which I found weird – they’re not bred for food so were unbelievably thin. Leaving the village for the hike back to the bus to take us to Sai Kung (the nearest major town where we set off for the Junk Boat Trip a month earlier), we saw what we did not see on the way there – the proper nice views of the National Park we were in. A nap on the bus home and a Subway meal were pretty necessary after the weekend. As were the shave and shower at home – pretty much that same feeling from returning from a festival back home.

Anyway, it’s been a mega weekend, except for the overnight scare Tony had with the 3 hats we bought on Lamma Island at Mid-Autumn Festival. After Adrian’s loss of his hat on Friday night, Tony couldn’t find his on Sunday morning, making it look like I was the last of the ‘Manhattans’ (the club Adrian called us with hats. Purely for shits and giggles.) Luckily Tone found it to avert what could have been the second major crisis of our household, after the untimely deaths of Squirttle and Donatello. The house was in mourning on Monday when we discovered Ian Brown (the last of the original turtles) had died, leaving Shelley as the one pet turtle we have left. Luckily she’s remained lively so should survive longer. One thing we’ve learnt: don’t let us babysit your turtles. We now have a track record.

Work is going well too. The CILL where Holly and I work is coming along much more now, only a few finishing touches needed before we move out of the staff room (like internet, computers, hot water…) but will be good to be right in the centre of things so the students can come in more often as we’ll be stationed there.

So that’s it. Apart from getting insanely jealous of the photos from Freshers’ Week back in Lonsdale, it’s been a top week. And still baking weather out here!

Mid-Autumn Festival 2012

Had a 4 day weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day this week so was off work from Friday night until Wednesday morning and had some of the best times while being here. On Friday night we went to Gen’s house in Causeway Bay for a flat party and headed out to Carnegies where me and Adrian ended up dancing Gangam Style on the bar. Classy lads, cheesy song. We were talking to an old expat from London for a bit outside a bar, something that regularly occurs when you meet someone from home. Saturday was an equally full-on night going to watch Nat B’s band play in Lan Kwai Fong. Great songs and banter with the Chatteris lot who had come out in full force to support her. I even saw the end of the Norwich-Liverpool match while talking to a fellow fan from Plymouth who teaches English in Vietnam and was over in Hong Kong for the long weekend. Got a contact in Hanoi now which might be beneficial for when we go there, which is great. After the gig we ended up in some more bars and a great outdoor one called Le Jardin which had some top tunes.

Sunday was Lamma Island day – as thanks for coming to the gig, Nat B invited us round to hers on the island for Mid-Autumn celebrations. We caught the ferry (so rocky going there, couldn’t stand up) and headed the furthest south I’d ever travelled. The island was quiet yet you could tell it was still in tune with the rest of Hong Kong. Here’s a weird little ambulance going down one of the streets there:

The Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated on the beaches there – we took down some wood for a fire, some crates of beers and a load of glowsticks and raved on there for a few hours. Getting the 10:30 ferry back to Hong Kong Island, we made a pit-stop call at home before heading to Kwun Tong for an organised party under a bypass. Sounds dodgy but there was a band playing at one end and a DJ set at the other, lots of Hong Kong-ers and Gweilos both drinking and great views of the harbour. Honestly had an amazing time there, mad party atmosphere: people setting fire to moon-cake tins and jumping over them, Andrew and Ian napping on the decking, mosh-pits and loads more. Here’s some photos from the beach party and the bypass party:

 

On Monday, a day of recovery and more partying, we went to Meryl and Tigby’s surprise birthday party – theme was Gangstas or Chavs. I was asked to do the playlist and it was that night I realised I had all the costume (apart from a baseball cap) already and had about 200 tunes that could easily pass as chavvy. Representing my Oldham roots all night. It was a great party there, had a proper good time. Tuesday was saved by Jack W’s big breakfast. Everyone who went looked like they’d never been happier: been so long since I had some proper fried bread and hash browns – 2 very necessary parts of the breakfast that Hong Kong restaurants don’t seem to even know what they are, so massive thanks Jack!!

So that’s it, the holiday that so many Chinese celebrate with their families, getting everyone together and having a great time with food and drink. We did exactly that with our Chatteris family, only the celebrations were alcohol-fuelled and the drink at least 29% volume.