Archive for November, 2012

22

As depressing it can be leaving the age of 21, this weekend has truly been epic. Starting on Thursday evening, Nat and I went to Ozone Bar on the 118th floor of the ICC – the Tallest Bar in the World. The views were simply amazing – the best photos I’ve ever taken, showing the entire Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island and it’s infamous skyline, and the Kowloon side. What a place to turn 22.

On Friday I had work but luckily only had one workshop on German language to teach, so went for Dim Sum brunch with Joanne our CCC and Holly my fellow PC there. Joanne insisted on taking a picture of us Westerners with the Cha Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns) which she stands by is the favourite for all westerners. Here we are at the restaurant:

I shot straight home from work to get ready and meet the guys to pick up the Tram we hired for our birthday. Yes, the antique 108-year old tram lines proudly established by our British colonial ancestors played host to our drunken partying for 2 hours on Friday Night. We themed the night ‘James Bond’ due to our love for the films and the recent Skyfall release – Tony as Odd Job and Ian as Tee Hee (the voodoo villain from Live and Let Die) were big highlights. The party on the tram was truly amazing, not experienced anything like it before, major thanks to everyone who came to it! We headed to Lan Kwai Fong after the tram and had another fantastic night out there. Another highlight being Byron and I being interviewed by the channel ‘TVB’ about the Mayan prediction of the end of the world in December “It’d better not, I’ve got a holiday booked…”

On Saturday, to continue the birthday weekend, Nat and I spent the day on the island, mostly knobbin’ about the shopping malls, visiting some sights and getting a coffee from Starbucks (literally a day that had happened often enough in Manchester). Ended up wandering into the General Post Office – so colonial inside and out – and had banter over the fact that they sold action figures of HK Postmen – complete with sunglasses, post bag and gilet. Amazing.

Sunday Morning I was up at 5:30am to get to Disneyland for 7:10am with the Chatteris 10k crew. Overwhelmed to run such a race for Unicef and their good work, not made easier with the worst rain we’ve seen in HK since being here.  Glad to achieve a personal best time and see that area of the region. A brilliant ‘Only in Asia’ moment when some of the marathon runners stopped running to take out their iPhones and take photos of the big Lake and the views. Only in Asia.

After a good lie down and much-needed power nap, Nat, Soph, Tony, Adrian and me went to the Space Museum to check it out, down in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a good laugh there and good to do another touristy thing again. The big dome screening of a film about Astronauts in Space in 3D was pretty good too. The geeks are shown below…

All in all it’s been a truly EPIC birthday weekend. Many thanks to Nat for being ever-enthusiastic and especially coming supporting on Sunday morning, absolute mission. Adrian and I proper enjoyed the Tram Party too and it’s great to carry on living the Hong Kong dream.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

On Saturday we had footy practice again before Tony and I went round Langham Place, dicking around with the Christmas decorations there. It’s weird how like a Western shopping mall that place is – could have been in the Arndale or Oldham Spindles looking at the Christmas gear they had.

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Saturday night was Andrew’s birthday party so we headed to the pre-drinks House Party, got merry and headed into LKF. Great night and great to see so many people there. Sunday was a great relaxation day and work’s been good all week. Excitement been building up for mine and Adrian’s Birthday celebrations on Friday though…

HK Trams

In prep for my birthday celebrations, been trying to find out more info about the Trams in HK. I came across this website that someone’s done about all of the tram stops on the island. Really interesting to see a different point a view from the Tourist Guides and Brochues, looks like he’s done a good job, worth a look.

http://www.hongkongextras.com/trams.html

This is… My Hong Kong

Came across this video that a fella called Gregory Kane did on Hong Kong as a memory video called ‘So long, My Hong Kong’. Possibly one of the more beautiful portrayals of this place and feel pretty lucky that they are in my life right now.

Much love for this, and major thanks to Gregory for this.

1960s Hong Kong

Found a sweet video of Victoria Harbour from the 60s, about the same time my Grandad was here in the army. Amazing to see what it was like then, and the continuities like Star Ferry which are still here today. This channel on YouTube is worth a look too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=5WOYcdwdU1Q

Dragons and Horses

Last weekend was again, pretty fun in HK. On Saturday we had football practise again, which I’m still really enjoying even though it is a lot cooler now than it was in August. After that, I went to check out some of the markets near our place that I’d never been to before. The Flower Market and Bird Garden are very interesting places and typify the organisation and townscape structure here – keep it well organised and altogether so it’s all ‘neat and tidy’. I did a separate blog entry about the markets, so check it out. Saturday night we went round to Jack W and Rich’s place for the try-out of Jack’s new Camel Bar. Really great night, and thanks to Jack for organising it. Didn’t end up going out that Saturday night, shocker, because on Sunday we had a Dragonboat taster session organised by Chatteris. A Dragonboat is like a long canoe with a traditional large dragon’s head at the bow. The rowers have to row in sync to project the boat forward, and has a great story behind it. The Dragon Boatfestival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan (said like “choo wan”), who drowned himself in the 3rd Century BC in protest against a corrupt government. The legends are that the townspeople tried to rescue him by beating drums to scare fish away from eating his body and threw rice dumplings into the river to tempt the fish away from their hero. There is an International Dragonboat Festival at Stanley every year in Hong Kong.

We met at Hebe Haven near Sai Kung, did the usual safety procedures and info about rowing properly and got in the boats. We had a few practises and a couple of races between boats, but it was really interesting and a good work-out. Not sure if I’ll take it up for the Chatteris team, as it was pretty knackering, but was good fun and good to say I’ve tried it out. We got some Thai food for tea and chilled that evening, nursing sore arms preparing for the week ahead.

Monday and Tuesday were pretty standard days at work, but Wednesday Holly and me tried  a new idea called ‘Monthly Cultural Exchange Day’ where we don’t do workshops but go outside in the middle of campus and do an activity. We had a big board about the Harvest Festival, explaining about farmers bringing in the crops etc, and did Potato Prints with the kids. Weird how these guys are like 20 or 21 years old and love doing stuff like this, and do it enthusiastically! One kid also did a picture on the Wars of the Roses, very weirdly impressive knowledge. That seems to be the given thing here, and as Project Co-ordinators, we have to tune in to what they like to do. You can do an awesome workshop on something like zombies, spies or wizards, or even have a film screening of The Tourist or something and they won’t turn up. But when it’s Board Games day, Potato Prints or preparing for job interviews, they come in masses. Guess it’s a big cultural difference. Here’s a picture of the activity.

We also had a Chatteris-organised Launch Party for all our English Ambassador Teams – the guys with better English who help us out around campus. Below is a picture of us all there from around the different campuses…try and spot me. I also got to lead one of the activities – a team-building exercise using pipes, shown above.

After we had that all the way in Po Lam at the end of the Purple MTR line, we took the MTR across to the island to visit Happy Valley Racecourse. Looked like a great place – lots of history and a very modern place. It’s a very British thing to do when setting up a colony I suppose – plant a flag, build a Town Hall, Church, some houses, then comes the cricket pitch and horse field. Bit unfortunate we didn’t see any of the races that night, but still proper mint to see the famous Racecourse. We headed to Wan Chai for a few drinks after that, before heading home. 

Remembrance Day in a Former Colony

On Sunday 11th November, it was of course Remembrance Day. Far away from the traditional wreath-laying, name-reading and silence-observing crowds of the UK, it was great to see how represented this day was, particularly with Hong Kong being a former colony. In a lot of sectors, China is keen to remind Hong Kongers that they are, for the time being, under the umbrella catchment of the People’s Republic of China and any reminder of the old colonial times is swiftly  ignored, put down or belittled, especially if seen to be a potential threat to China’s sovereignty. It was therefore even more poignant to see Remembrance traditions still taking place and strong enough to be continued for the foreseeable future.

Hong Kong has no army. Since the handover in 1997, the battleships in Victoria Harbour have disappeared, the Garrisons in Admiralty handed over the People’s Liberation Army and the RAF Base at the former airport Kai Tak, is now a wasteland waiting for redevelopment. The British Army, Navy and Air force before the handover were mainly responsible for border control, search & rescue operations and anti-smuggling campaigns (as well as conveniently being strategically places in the Far East in case anything kicks off). Border controls are now the responsibility of the Hong Kong Police Force, which is the only reminder of British-esque military style organisation, uniform and presence.

Japanese Occupation 1941-1945

It is one thing to remember the losses of the mother-country annually, but another for a colony to remember its own losses in conjunction with Britain’s. Hong Kong’s main losses occurred during the resistance to the invading Japanese forces in 1941. A day after bombing Pearl Harbour, the Japanese invaded HK on 8th December 1941, heavily outnumbering the British, Canadian and Indian soldiers, as well as the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force. Like I said, HK has never had an army, but the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force was the closest it has, since 1842 when the Crimea War required more British forces to be concentrated there. Here is a picture of the RHKR heraldry.

Invading from north through the New Territories into Kowloon, they pushed the British forces back to the island, and fighting continued until the only reservoir was damaged, left the British with no water supplies and the Governor Mark Young was forced to surrender on 25 December 1941, on what became known as ‘Black Christmas’ at the Peninsula Hotel. To illustrate the harsh and brutal regime of the Japanese, the St Stephen’s college incident (converted to a volunteer hospital) epitomises it best – the shooting of volunteer doctors and bayonettting of wounded soldiers in the beds shows the extent to which Hong Kong was brutally occupied. Here is a picture of the invading Japanese marching after the British surrender in 1941.

Interestingly there were 3 main types of resistance against the Japanese. East River Column – Zeng Sheng organised a group of guerilla soldiers in 1939 which reached a membership of 6,000 in 1941 in China. Their highpoint was rescuing 20 American pilots who’d parachuted into Kowloon when they were shot down by the Japanese. They used weapons abandoned by the British in their retreat and were the main offensive resistance movement.

The Hong Kong Kowloon Brigade was established from this in 1942 with local residents, had 30 machine guns and hundreds of rifles. Operating from Sai Kung (where I went surfing and relaxing on the beach last month) they mainly rescued POWs before being absorbed into the East River Column of guerillas. Finally the British Army Aid Group also rescued POWs and shot-down pilots and assisted in intelligence gathering. Most importantly there was no racial divides in the organisation – a major catalyst to the change from Victorian colonial hierarchies to the equality that was established in the post-war years.

From what I’ve seen from the various military graveyards, there’s probably nearly 3000 people buried in them – so HK definitely has its own losses to remember from both WW1 and WW2.

Remembrance Day 2012

On Sunday morning, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the military graves of the 228 Canadian troops who died protecting Hong Kong from the Japanese in 1941 – buried at Sai Wan Bay Memorial. Here’s a picture from the South China Morning Post and an article from The Vancouver Sun – http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Stephen+Harper+honours+Canada+fallen+Hong+Kong+Remembrance/7533003/story.html

Hong Kong’s Cenotaph is similar in shape and size as the one in London – here it is on the coast in 1930. It is now fairly inland due to constant land reclamation. The Hong Kong Police Band led the service at the Cenotaph doing the usual routine of playing the Last Post on the Bugle, wreath-laying by those in high office in the Government here and marching parades.

In this video, it’s interesting to see so many British flags in the crowds (from 3:10 onwards), especially the old colonial HK ensign, which has been spotted so many times this year in the different protests against Beijing’s attempts to further its influence.

To summarise, the connections to Britain are transparently clear on this one morning of the year. Uniforms, marches, songs and routine are so familiar, while Harper’s visit gives a sense of Commonwealth unity here, despite the SAR not being a member of the Commonwealth. Whatever comes of Beijing’s influence in the future, and even where it stands at now, it would take a lot of influence, control and changing of opinion before this pageantry would stop. After the 50 year period of ‘one country, two systems’ ceases in 2047, we can only hope this Remembrance of those who gave their lives to protect this special place is continued. Lest we forget.