Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas in Hong Kong

Feeling slightly gutted I won’t be at home this Christmas. You appreciate the repetition of tradition more when you’re out of the loop, watching it happen without you. Family parties, nights out in Manchester with mates and of course the build up to the big day. I won’t be spending Christmas in Hong Kong this year either: lucky me will be on a beach in the Philippines. But I’ve noticed a lot of things about how they celebrate Christmas here:

The Weather – Because it is much warmer here than the UK/USA (although feels much cooler because of the months of sweltering weather…) I think we miss out on the Christmas feeling when we’re walking around the streets, or in town or at work. I remember shopping in Manchester for Christmas stuff with the house-mates in first year of Uni and (naturally) it started raining so we headed to Starbucks, then Weatherspoons to warm up and get something to drink/eat. As bad as the weather is at home, I guess it really puts you in the mood for Christmas. Especially if it snows. Seeing Heidelberg full on snow a week before Christmas, last year in 2011,  did give you a great Christmas feeling. That’s one thing I’ve noticed is a big gap this year. Not that I’m complaining, I sitting typing here with the door open and just a t-shirt on.

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Weather on December 20th 2012, Kwun Tong, Kowloon.

Decorations – The shopping centres, houses, places of work and streets are all decorated. There’s big lights on some of the skyscrappers on the island and in Tsim Sha Tsui too. If anything, they go overboard with the lights and statues in public places, and they’re really random too – like cartoon characters or carousels or something, rarely Santa or Snowmen or the Nativity. Here are some pictures of the shopping centre near our work, aPM, which had a Carousel, Cello Players and a big throne for kids (and big kids) to have their picture on:

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There is also lots of flowers. Wreaths and mistletoe are popular and surprisingly so are Poinsettias. They’re everywhere! In public, places of work and loads lining walkways. I never knew the name until a few weeks ago. Normally it’s the red plant Mum and Nan always have at Christmas but it’s sprung up everywhere here:

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Some also see it as a way to really demonstrate their artistic skills or how good they are at design, like this Christmas ‘can’ tree I saw:

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The Day – Lots of the students we talk to spend their Christmas like they would a Saturday. They say they will meet up with friends, go shopping or hang out somewhere. Much more about friends than family. The teachers we have asked seem to spend it like a Sunday – Church, family and go out for a walk/hike somewhere. To complaints that there are not too many places around Hong Kong to go hiking, they should think outside the box for a bit because there are loads! Anyway, this really seems like a typical Sunday agenda – especially coming from a town on the edge of the Pennines, where there are so many places to go for a family walk on a Sunday. Maybe it’s just the Chinese culture which is so popular here – they have other festivals for family time, seeing grandparents, eating big meals. Maybe Christmas is just an added day to do these things if they want – not many huge traditions surrounding the actual day. I don’t want to generalise, but this is the vibe I’ve got off people I’ve talked to so far.

Presents – one of the most popular parts of Crimbo at home is the same here but nowhere near the scale we are used to. Maybe one or two gifts is common, while at the staff Christmas Party, everyone got a small gift from the Head of the Language Centre too. I think it really depends on whether people see themselves as more Hong Kong/Christian or more Chinese/Buddhist/don’t care. I’ve come across people at work who won’t speak a word of English to me and get so excited over Mid-Autumn Festival or Chinese New Year who have been acting like Scrooge the past couple of weeks, while some are wearing Christmas ties/earrings and have plans over the holidays. Again, don’t want to generalise, but interesting to see how different kinds of people celebrate (or don’t) the day here. Anyhow, the streets are piled with Christmas gifts in Sham Shui Po near our flat:

IMG_0882At work – Because Christmas was our monthly theme this month, we’ve had lots of fun activities for the students. In workshops, we made paper snowflakes, coloured Christmas cards and made ornaments for the tree (not baubles here, but ‘ornaments’. Cheers, America). We had a huge Christmas party with Christmas songs (had to explain the importance in the UK of a Christmas No 1 Single), Christmas Bingo and Lyric Filling. We also made Marshmellow Snowmen, like Frosty here. Again, it is weird to see 19/20 year olds loving colouring in a card or cutting out paper. Like I’ve said before, you’re best to forget Fifa, beer and pizza for this guys, and instead have a good game of scrabble and do arts and crafts. Cultural exchange at it’s best.

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New Year’s Eve – We’ve seen this on the TV at 4pm on NYE back in Britain, when it is midnight in Hong Kong. They do in style, to say the least. Not as much as Chinese New Year, which I hear is mental! But still a big graft and excellent result. Luckily, cheers to Ian for this, we’ll be on a Junk Boat in the middle of Victoria Harbour to watch the fireworks. This picture was from 2012. Honestly cannot wait.
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Anyway, that’s what I’ve noticed about the Christmas Holidays here. I’ve had a great 4 months here already and wish everyone here are Merry (& Messy) Christmas wherever they are. Also major thanks to people who’ve sent me stuff over – Mum and Dad for the German Stollen, Christmas pudding, advent calendar and presents, Grandma, Nan and Grandad, Auntie Margaret, my bro Tommy, Amy Wareing, Erin too for their cards. Weird how I can send 3 cards to the UK from here for the same price as 1 card can be sent here. Hope everyone at home really enjoys the holidays.

Final shout out to the anonymous students who designed his Christmas Tree Ornament like this. You’ll Never Walk Alone, mate….

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24 degrees in Aberdeen?

Had a slow week at work this week as we’d already had our big monthly event for the kids – the Christmas Party – and the deadline day for the students’ forms (ones that say they’ve participated in English activities with us) had passed too. We’ve been watching films with a brew for days now, which is a great way to spend the last couple of weeks in work before the holidays. The kids (who are 19-21 years old) also really love making Christmas cards and paper snowflakes. I stopped doing this like mid-Primary School, so it’s very very weird to see them getting their kicks out of stuff like this. Just to show how much I’ve enjoyed this week at school, here’s a picture:
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Been a busy week after school preparing for the pantomime which will be next Tuesday, 18th December. So not highly exciting waiting around during rehearsals especially since I’m only in scenes 1 and 6, but we make the best of it dicking around backstage and having a laugh. Wednesday night was good going to Jack, Jordan and Ian’s place for Homemade Mulled Wine and snacks, when we did the Secret Santa for Palawan, as there’s about 16 (-ish) of us going. On Friday night, we went out for Steph S’s birthday – Pub Golf style. Went down as one of the best nights we’ve had here yet – went to a lot of new places, met new people and had the normal Chatteris banter with everyone.  Thanks to Steph for organising it and getting some good drink deals!

598517_10151335858987040_952226682_nSaturday was football training and hangover day, as per. And at night we headed to Molly’s flat for a surprise half-birthday Irish party (we supplied the Baileys), and it was Davis’ actual birthday too. Great night there and although we weren’t on it with the beers to our usual standard it was still a great house party. Sunday was a more lively day. Nat and I went to Aberdeen in the morning to check it out. Not the seaside town I expected, with the main road right next to the harbour, and lots of local boat owners shouting their offers for a boat ride (one even sailing from the other side of the harbour…). Interestingly we saw the MTR Extension line under construction, which will be great when it’s completed. But it balls-ed up access to the famous Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant so we had to get a taxi there. It was 24 degrees there, and I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops…bit different to the Scottish Aberdeen on 16th December.

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Nice place, Aberdeen, but it lacked the charm of Stanley that made me want to stay in Hong Kong for years. So after seeing the sights there, we got the bus to Stanley and its beauty didn’t disappoint again. Awesome views and great vibe there. Even saw some Carol Singers in the 24 degree heat.

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We met up with Adrian there and got some beers to watch the sunset on some rocks, looking out in the harbour. We had bought a fresh young coconut to drink while we walked down there, but to be honest it had one of the rankest tastes ever. Felt I’d drank some medicine and had that strong nasal feeling like you get when you inhale paint or something. So we tipped the coconut milk out and filled it with beer instead. Course we did.
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Me, Nat and Aids

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San Miguel in a Coconut.

We ended the week with a brew and the Stollen Mum had sent me over, watching Pax (Jeremy Paxman’s Empire). Joe would be proud. Another great week.

East meets West

The whole ‘One Country, Two Systems’ ethos of Hong Kong can be hard to get your head around. There’s a bit of a distinction between what is an explicit example of Hong Kongers wanting to appear and live more Western, and anything that’s a colonial hangover or remnant of Hong Kong’s British past. A surprising number of Western companies have a great number of stores over here: including Marks and Spencers, HMV, Pizza Express, Subway, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, HSBC, Barclays, YMCA, Shell, 7-11 and Starbucks. A lot to do with food. There’s also the classy showrooms of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari etc that can be seen in the richer districts of Causeway Bay and Admiralty – Hong Kong is the place which has the largest Rolls-Royce to people ratio…
Anyway, I’ve noticed just some of the many similarities to the West that exist here, and have tried to capture most of them on camera. Here are a few I’ve taken already that I’ll carry on updating. Looking through them all at once, it’s surprising how West this place can seem.

A showcase of the Madame Tussauds at the Shun Tak Centre, Sheung Wan. 196813_10151171892982040_1259647016_n

Christmas Decorations in the shopping mall. DSC08498

Sunday Rugby match near Boundary Street.  DSC08401

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Noel Gallagher performing at Kowloon Bay. Obvious British flags. 401513_10151222081517040_143186124_n

Mini-Street Ambulances on Lamma Island. 404077_10151226429282040_2105468422_n

War Memorial in the Botanical Gardens. 409195_10151254401032040_334033357_n

Western food chains. 426345_10151254393007040_571765703_n

Little Touch of Manchester in the Prince Edward area. DSC08343

Shell Petrol Station. Could be anywhere in the UK… DSC08342

Hard Rock Cafe Hong Kong, in Lan Kwai Fong. 560344_10151213151427040_1783853776_n

A Full English Breakfast in a restaurant on Ladies’ Market. But the beans were cold and they used Condensed Milk in the Tea… 546407_10151222091582040_397348831_n

Could this be any more colonial? 530728_10151254392392040_1924089980_n

Statue of George VI in the Botanical Gardens. 315508_10151254400462040_2040990753_n

Even as far south on the island as Stanley, the F.T. in advertised on parasols. 381787_10151277055307040_1702482901_n

Old colonial-style building in Tsim Sha Tsui. 283453_10151243581617040_1895319572_n

Rolls Royce parked outside The Peninsular Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui. 63094_10151326936347040_879516438_n

This very simple street map shows most of the very British street names that still exist (not that any attempt has been made to replace them). Lots are named after past Governors.Hong_Kong_island_tourist_map

PaulLau.com

Yes. We’ve done it. Hong Kong officially has the worlds best skyline, at least according to Emporis. Though the method is disputed, the acheivement cannot be. And by the looks of it, we’ve won the prize by a mile.

From the SCMP: Dec 29, 2011

HK skyline on top of the world

Hong Kong’s skyline has been crowned the best in the world, beating New York, Singapore and Shanghai, but some claim the ranking is shallow because the criteria is based purely on building heights and floor counts. Emporis, an online database of properties worldwide, compiled the list based on a points system. Every building with at least 12 floors was given a score. The best skyline, in terms of visual impact, was the city with the highest score. A spokeswoman from Emporis said the ranking aimed to assess the “impressiveness of skylines of booming cities around the world using…

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Footy, Carnegies and living the High Life

It’s getting much colder in HK now, down to 16 degrees this week (once it hit 14 degrees) and it felt so cold. Maybe coming to HK makes you a wimp with weather, don’t know how we’d cope in a British winter again. On Monday night, Tony and I went to watch the Hong Kong national team play a home fixture against Australia at Mong Kok Stadium. Tickets were $85 (less than 7 quid, which is unbelievable for an international match). The stadium had been closed for a 2-year renovation but was now a quality ground – not huge but modern enough to be pretty impressive. Weird how so many things were like being at a British footy match – ticket turnstiles, programmes and the Barmy Army all painted red were chanting and drumming the same chants with ‘Hong Kong!’ instead of ‘Eng-land!’. But then you’re reminded that you’re in the middle of Asia when they have Dim Sum Cantonese food on sale at half time. Hardly a pie at the DW Stadium… HK lost 0-1, Brett Emerton of former Blackburn fame scored, but was a great match to watch.
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On Tuesday, it was my co-worker Holly’s birthday so we went for sushi whilst at work and went round to her place for some beers and see a few people, glad she had a good day celebrating. After an open-rehearsal of the Chatteris Pantomime on Wednesday (which went smoothly), we watched a proper traditional British panto on Thursday night, Red Riding Hood. Not seen one in a fair few years but the amount of puns/innuendos in this one was hilarious, thanks to Holly D for organising it and getting us discounts.

The Chatteris Christmas party was on Friday night, so we headed to the South China Athletic Association in Causeway Bay. It was an feast, and we piled up 2 plates each (absolute pigs…) and had a Christmas quiz and karaoke also, with some free beers. After we headed to Carnegies for their $10 a bottle of Corona offer. We pretty much cleared the place out but was a great night – funny seeing everyone in there with our Santa hats…

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On Saturday, it was Nat’s birthday so headed to Concept (nice chain of restaurants here)  for a birthday lunch. Typical Asia – take a perfectly nice spag bol and slap a fried egg on it. Only in Asia. And we wore Angry Bird Party hats I’d bought for Nat, much to the amusement of the locals at other tables. During the afternoon, we had a football mini tournament so out in the sticks it could have been in China. We lost all our games but got progressively better as they went on. First time I donned the yellow Chatteris FC shirt and played at Right-Back but despite the losses it was great to be playing competitively and as a team. That night we headed to Jack and Rich’s for Nat’s birthday night out. Jack’s famous Cam3l Bar was as impressive as ever, and we headed to Red Bar at the IFC on the island for more pre-drinking. We ended up in Carnegies again, which shows our love for the place, and Nat had a great night to celebrate her birthday. And definitely didn’t chunder in the taxi on the way back. Or in the bathroom when we were back. Definitely not.

On Sunday we had a lazy morning but headed to The Peninsula for High Tea in the afternoon. Unbelievably classy. Rolls Royce parked outside all in a line, a huge foyer Christmas tree, attention to detail everywhere, Doormen, smart waiters, a string quartet, a long queue for High Tea and a mood in the place that was so rich and refined. The High Tea consisted of pots of Edwardian style (and probably original) tea pots, with cake stands offering scones, sandwiches, mini-quiches, cakes, cookies, chocolate coffees etc. Boy from Oldham living the high life. Glad Nat enjoyed her birthday weekend, you’re famous Nat, YOU’RE ON THE INTERNET! Also shout out to my flatmate who wanted to be mentioned somewhere in this week’s post. Adrian.

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Finally, to finish the week, I had some great Skype calls from Adrian Ch(ina)urchman and Erin, as well as the family who were definitely more interested in me than the Manchester Derby…
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Black out in a 6-day week

Been a packed week again in HK. On Monday night we went round to Jack and Rich’s place for some beers and Xbox time, which was a great night and had to stay at the girls flat that night, and for a few days after on account of the lack electricity at ours. We had had dinner by torchlight that night and packed our bags for a few days away from our flat. Luckily I sorted out the problem – the previous owner had terminated the connection with the provider as he no longer lived there, and it’d take us 3 months to change the name of the occupier to ours. Our bad. But luckily it was right by Wednesday night.

The house was in mourning for a good 20 seconds again at the death of Shelley on Thursday, we’ve gone through 4 turtles now, so people might start to ask questions of our ability to keep pets alive. Nevertheless, we had bought a new bigger turtle within 24 hours (we’re pretty twisted and heartless pet owners if you think about it), who is currently nameless. Any suggestions are welcome. We also saw Jango Fett (the blue fish) jump out of the tank on to the side, before we scooped him up and put him back. Should have called him Maverick. He did this again during the night and we found him dried up behind the sideboard. Not a pretty sight, surely the bloke would have learned from his first escape attempt. It wasn’t as if we were treating them cruelly or not feeding them, he was probably just a rebel. In fact we should have called him Steve McQueen…

Work’s been busy – in November, I had done workshops on Western Music and Festivals (the concept of sleeping in a muddy field for a weekend was so alien to them), German language and culture (where I was pretty much a German teacher/travel agent) and UK/US Slang. We had Open Day on Friday and Saturday though and the amount of preparation was unreal. Open Day at home would be for students to check out the place, the course, current students work and talk to teachers. Here, it was a carnival/Church Fayre sort of occasion. Minimise info on the course, maximise stalls/game booths, cheap tacky prizes and see the teachers sitting for hours making their own friendship bracelet. Weird concept that took me a while to get. Anyhow, I won an electric fan, a decent enough prize, until I got it home and realised it did this. Mind: blown.

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Sunday was my only day off this week which was a bit shit, but will get the time compensated for Open Day sometime in January. Still Sunday made up for the lack of days off. Nat and I headed to Central for Christmas shopping, and managed to do a little bit more colonial sight-seeing. We checked out the Cenotaph I wrote about in my post about Remembrance Day. It’s a spitting image of the one in London too, with the additional Cantonese translations.cenotaph-statue-sq

 

The most interesting bit of this is its position – below is a photo from 1941, and one that I took on Sunday. Constant land reclamation and building into harbour has moved its relative position from the Promenade front to well in-land, far away from the front now. Makes you realise that the IFC – 8th tallest building in the world, is actually built on water.

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We had a proper Western day after that – Christmas shopping, a hot drink to warm us up in Pacific Coffee Co., dropped into a Carol Service at St Johns and finished off at The Globe in Soho. Another pretty East-meets-West experience at St John’s (imagine a quintessential Anglican Church…with air fans; and people of lots of different backgrounds there), but The Globe’s ‘Beer battered Haddock’ and chips, with mushy peas and 2 pints of Weston’s Cider made you think we could have easily been at home. Bloody miss cider…