Posts Tagged 'chinese'

“But where’s the giant inflatable turd??”

The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy with work and fun stuff happening. Danny had a great time while he was here, with a night out in LKF on Friday, before him ending his visit on Tuesday with a visit to Ozone Bar at the top of the ICC with Nat and me. Like I said in my last post, it was great to see an old Lonsdale mate all the way out here.

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We also had our first Departure meeting at work with the protocols of what to do now we’re a month away from leaving Hong Kong. Shit definitely is getting real now, but we all have some great plans for the next few weeks before May 31st.

On Saturday that week, Rich organised a Scavenger Hunt on the island, which was a good laugh going around everywhere on the island, despite being ridiculously hungover and slow-moving. The Thursday after that Nat made a huge pile of Spag Bol at hers for 10 of us in total, so massive respect for her sick kitchen skills. On Saturday Tony, Aids and I went to check out the M+ exhibition ‘Inflation’ at the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade. There was massive inflatables – a Roast Hog, pair of legs, a bug and Stonehenge bouncy castle with was probably the best bit. The giant inflatable turd was deflated that day, which is a bit shit, but still cool to see them.

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Saturday night we headed out to LKF again and one of the best nights for a long time – Jack’s place first for pre-drinks then spent the night with a lot of people. The night was made better by the fact that we were getting updates of the Newcastle-Liverpool match from the Brewhouse, always better hearing about a 6-0 victory when you’re high on life and out with your mates.

Sunday was a usual hangover day, made better by the massive Full English Jack made us round at his place! Again, massive thanks mate, you saved all of us from a pit of hungover despair…

So that leaves me with 5 full weeks here until I’m on a flight home to Manchester. Weird how fast the time has flown so definitely going to make the next few weeks count.

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Beijing, Xi’an, Zhujiajiao and Shanghai

For the Easter break, Nat, Rich and I headed to China to do what was basically the ultra-tourist trip of the mainland. Figured we’re so close to China we might as well do it properly.

We did far too much to mention in this blog, so here are the Vlogs (Video Blogs, Mum, if you’re reading).  But the highlights included:

– Eating Peking Duck in Peking (Beijing).

– Seeing Tienanmen Square (site of the 1989 protests) and the Forbidden City.

– Seeing the Great Wall of China, getting some epic photos of it, going on the illegal, forbidden bit and definitely Tobogganing down it!

– Travelling on a Bullet Train to Xi’an at 300 km/h

– Seeing the Terracotta Warriors!

– Travelling on a Sleeper Train for 15 hours from Xi’an to Shanghai

– Seeing the Bund and Pedong in Shanghai (Bund is so much like Liverpool)

– Going up the Oriental Pearl Tower and seeing the magnificent views there

– Seeing the beautiful Zhujiajiao, known as the Venice of the East.

Here are the Vlogs:

Mancunians: On China:

Street Beijing:

Exploring Xi’an:

Shanghai Streets:

The Price of Identity

A student came to me a few weeks ago with a problem (as many 18-21 years old have) of money. They were basically in a predicament of having to buy their own passport as a young adult. For Hong Kongers who were born in British Hong Kong pre-1997, they were legally classed as ‘British Nationals (Overseas)’ or BNOs. This was an option available by application and was non-transferable to a different category – the deadline for applications being 31 December 1997.

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The student who had this problem is very interested and enthusiastic about Britain. They ask me a lot of questions about the UK and would like to visit one day, if not study or live for a longer time period. They ended up paying a lot of money to secure their identity as a BNO so they could fulfil their dream.

This got me thinking about the problems people here may face in getting the official identity status that they feel they are.

1) The Practicalities

Dennis Chong  wrote in the South China Morning Post on 15 August 2012 about the threat of cost increases  for HK-ers to apply for BNO Passports. The threat of increases is due to the Coalition Government’s cost-saving measure to close Hong Kong’s British consulate’s passport centre by April 2014. On a pragmatic basis, this means that HK-ers wanting to apply for a BNO passport (renewal or otherwise), will have to apply directly to Britain – sending their important documents 600 miles away to London – and be without them for much longer than if they applied to the office in Hong Kong. This is just one of the forces acting against people here, who want to remain BNOs as oppose to just solely Chinese Nationals.

http://www.scmp.com/article/1003693/cost-fears-uk-passport-office-closure

2) The Cost

This was the main issue for my student. Basically, the cost difference between wanting to remaining  a BNO is astonishing and can be a huge financial barrier to people who want to remain a BNO. 

For a British passport, the current application fees are HK$1,600 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,932 for one with 48 pages.

With recorded delivery postage and other costs after the closure of the British Consulate’s passport centre, this would be relatively higher.

From June 2006, the cost for a HK SAR Passport was HK$370 for a 32-page passport and HK$185 for a child’s passport.

Furthermore, the cost of a straight-out People’s Republic of China Passport is HK$430.

In Pounds Sterling, for an adult over 16 years old, we’re basically looking at:      British Passport: £137     HK Passport:  £32     Chinese Passport: £37

3) The Numbers

Even if you’re the sort of person who gets a passport to keep in a drawer and visiting other places isn’t your thing, the cheaper options are clearly the most attractive and practical to get. We can see this through the statistics. Chong’s article provides some useful information:

  • About 250,000 Britons live in Hong Kong
  • 3.2 million British Nationals (Overseas) passports had been issued (to people who applied pre-31 Dec 1997).
  • The number of Hong Kong SAR passports in circulation by year is as follows:
  • 2010: 4,261,263
  • 2009: 4,088,337
  • 2008: 3,934,288
  • 2007: 3,920,780
  • 2006: 3,670,115
  • 2005: 3,326,200
  • 2004: 2,959,900

 

To summarise, the laws of the status of British overseas citizens are highly confusing: there are so many, their names change and the acts mean different things in different places. The stats show though, how limited the 7 million people who live here, are when choosing an identity. There are people here, like my students, and a colleague of mine (Who once had a conversation with me in his Marks & Spencer’s suit, “I miss Chris Patten!”), who don’t have a huge issue with the cost, as their identity means so much for them. These people are clearly in a minority when it comes to the practicalities of applying for a passport though.

I don’t really know what I think about the topic, as I’m lucky to be a full British citizen with the right to abode in the UK: the biggest issue for me was when my passport photo made me look like a scally. The Coalition Government really isn’t making it easy for people here to be officially a BNO with such costs and impracticalities, which I find the hardest thing to accept. If someone feels they belong to a certain identity, surely governments and the relevant departments should support their choices and make it easy for them to be recognised as it. But then again, the whole area of national identity, passports, visas, immigration is such a complicated area, you can see why it’s so complex. In the end though, if people feel their belonging strong enough, nothing can really stand in their way of it.

Singapura Singapore

I’d heard a bit about Singapore from colleagues or students. Before I went I had the impression that it was a smaller, more expensive Hong Kong – British colonial relics surrounded by newer, modern economic buildings of a Tiger economy, boasting an international population living in harmony.

They were right about the expensive part: Nat and I took $380 between us for the weekend and had $27 left for Sunday! Suppose though that you spend what you want and a day can be as cheap as you like if you’re willing to budget.

Our hostel was in the Arab quarter, an area with short, colonial-looking architecture with bars, hostels, restaurants and shops on the ground floors and a Mosque on the street. A really lively place, and very welcoming – not a closed off region of the city one might get the impression of. The hostel we stayed at was the Inn-crowd Backpacker’s Hostel – lots of backpackers from around the world, and it was reasonably priced.

We visited the Mustafa Centre (a renowned shopping place) which more or less reminded me of TK Maxx or something. I had to buy some shorts there as it was 31 degrees and I’d only brought my skinny jeans for the 2 days, what an idiot. But it was a decent place to buy stuff.

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We then headed to Chinatown, which. despite its name, had a huge Hindu temple in the middle of it – the Sri Mariamman Temple. There was a small ceremony going on when we got there with a guy with all his Hindu gear on throwing sheets of cloth into a fire pit while chanting. Having been surrounded in Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and Taiwan for 7 months, this was a welcomed change in seeing different cultures.

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Of course, there was a huge Buddhist temple down the road too – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is named because it claims to have a tooth of the Buddha in the temple. We didn’t see this tooth, so they may have put it in a statue or urn or something, but was beautiful inside. Again, there was a service on where the monks were spraying the congregation with water from a blessed pot while chanting.


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We headed outside and the famous Chinatown markets were there – old fellas playing Mahjong, stalls selling food and souvenirs etc. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and bought some stuff. We took the MRT (subway) to the Marina Bay area – a new area (clearly funded from Singapore’s recent economic boom) with the Singapore Flyer (big wheel, think London Eye) and the casino/hotel Marina Bay Sands (weirdly designed building of 3 separate adjacent buildings with a long roof garden connecting all 3). We went on the Flyer, took some amazing pictures there, then had a chill in the midday sun in an outdoor Greek theatre with a Tiger Beer, which was proper nice. We check out the Pit Stop for the Grand Prix circuit too – weird seeing this after seeing it on TV for the past couple of years, a definite highlight!


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View from the Singapore Flyer

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Me at the Singapore Grand Prix Circuit

We headed to a place further around the bay, where the canals begin to flow into the city. Here there were an array of old colonial relics, interestingly preserved. One was the Fullerton Hotel by the quayside, the Cavanagh Bridge, Victoria Theatre and Museum of Asian Civilisations.

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We then did, for me, the highlight of the trip – we headed to the tallest point of Singapore – the roof garden Altitude Bar. It’s on the 62nd floor of a bank building and the views were spectacular. S$25 entry, with a free drink – which of course had to be a Singapore Sling cocktail. We stayed from 6pm to about 9pm there so got to see the sunset too with Malaysia on one side and Indonesia on the other – amazing!

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Me, a Singapore Sling and the amazing view

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Altitude Bar

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We headed to our last stop that day, the Sultan’s Mosque near the Bugis MRT stop. It too was an example of great architecture, and showed how diverse Singapore is. Unfortunately visiting times were over but it looked amazing. We headed back to the Arab Quarter and went to a curry house for dinner. I cheekily made sure we went to the one which had the Fulham vs Stoke match on and enjoyed a beer and curry before calling it a day.

On Sunday, we had a a few hours in the morning before we would head to the airport at 3pm for our flight. We headed to the old British colonial centre to check it out. We went through the grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a big white-washed Church with the British coat of arms still on its architecture. Next to that was a rugby pitch with a game on, the Cricket fields with a few guys practising in front of the Pavilion. Next to that was the Supreme Court/Government Building, which was being rejuvenated while we were there. There’s also a war memorial in the spitting image of London’s cenotaph, commemorating Singaporeans’ sacrifices in the 2 World Wars.

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A little further through the grass, English-looking public gardens, Victorian waterfalls and lampposts, we found the famous Raffles Hotel, named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, whose statue had been unveiled in 1887. Definitely had to get a photo with the head porter, although my shirt does look like it’s licking him…

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Our last stop was the Merlion Park – a Fountain statue of Singapore’s emblem/mascot – a hybrid creature of the Lion and Merman. His image is everywhere on t-shirts, models, keyrings and postcards, and tourists love the dude. After a few banter pictures with it, we headed to the airport and headed home with literally S$2 to our name when we got on the plane. Pretty efficient budgeting…

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Overall, I loved Singapore. It was similar to Hong Kong with its colonial parts, which is the bit of history I find really interesting. But also the pace of life was much slower there. Things were open on Sundays but there was fewer people out and about. The MRT was never fulled to the brim like in Hong Kong’s rush hours. 4 of the world’s major religions and cultures lived and worship there – Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist. There’s a pleasant mix of European, Chinese, Malaysian and Tamil cultures in architecture, people and practises. Things are expensive but not extortionate. It was a warmer, slower Hong Kong: a place, which, if I was loaded, could see myself spending a lot of time there. The retired, old expats and younger Europeans looked to enjoy life there, every culture on an equal footing. Definitely the little gem of South East Asia.

And as per, here’s a video I made of Spectacular Singapore:

Sik Sik Yuen Temple

There’s a saying that “Once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all”.

An obvious generalization and unfair summary, but there is some truth in it. If you’re going to Hong Kong for 2 days or 2 months, the Sik Sik Yuen Temple at Wong Tai Sin is the one to go to. Why? It is everything you would picture a Buddhist temple having, and more!

It is right next to the Wong Tai Sin MTR station and dominates the area. In the same way why palaces like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are the most popular in Europe, Sik Sik Yuen Temple is one of the most popular because it is a living, working temple. Some temples you see here can be old, disused, boring-looking, or not tourist-friendly (i.e., they stare you out of the place). Then there’s a few which are catered to tourists – the Man Mo Temple in the Mid-Levels, or Tin Hau Temple at Causeway Bay/ Yau Ma Tei and Sik Sik Yuen is one of these.

Highly popular with locals, it promises to deliver and surpass your expectations of a working Buddhist Temple in Hong Kong. In a place where space is a commodity and so precious, they even have room for a large inner-city garden which you can visit (for a small donation of $2). The temple has statues galore, good wishes in Chinese writing, hawkers selling incense to burn and fruit to offer and masses of worshippers. It’s difficult to do the ambience of the place much justice, so make sure you check the temple out!

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Chinese New Year Lanterns

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Incense Sticks at the Temple

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The Inner-City Temple

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The Memorial Garden

How to get there:

Wong Tai Sin MTR Station, then it’s right there out of most exits. Would be hard to miss…

The Noon Day Gun, Hong Kong

This is one of the most interesting colonial relics that continues to thrive in Hong Kong today. As rare as it is for a 22 year old male to be up and out of the apartment by 11:30am, I found myself at the Noon Day Gun one day.

It’s one of those traditions that comes from some weird and quirky routine that evolved into a tradition. The Jardine and Matheson company which has been on Hong Kong soil since the 1840s, bought this first plot of land at East Point on Hong Kong island – the first of auctioned land to be bought. It was custom for the detachment of guards deployed there to provide a gun salute whenever the head of Jardines (called the Taipan) arrived or left Hong Kong by boat.

The story goes that a senior Naval Officer arrived in Hong Kong, hadn’t heard of the practice and arrogantly banned it without knowing it was one of those quirky routines of eccentric British Imperialism. The decision was reversed by, presumably, someone in love with the romantic side of colonialism and as a punishment, Jardines was ordered to fire The Noonday Gun as a time signal for Hong Kong for perpetuity.

Therefore, it continues to this day, showing how the multi-national company keeps their word and fulfils this eccentric obligation.

Apparently the practice ceased during the Japanese occupation from December 1941. During the 3 years and 8 months of Japanese-occupied Hong Kong, the original cannon went missing. Yet after the liberation, the Royal Navy presented Jardines with a six-pound gun as a replacement – the practice was restarted in August 1947, with it also firing every New Year’s Eve too. That gun was replaced in 1961 after too many noise complaints, and replaced with the 3-pound gun that is there today. I can vouch for its loudness though – that thing is a lot more bloody louder than it seems!

It’s worth it to take 20-30 minutes out of your tour of Hong Kong to go and check out this quirky practice. There’s only usually a small crowd that gathers – mostly tourists, and you can check out the actual guy embankment for 30 minutes after the Jardine’s representative has fired it at noon.

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The Jardines Representative emerges from a small outpost at 11:55, checks his watch frequently before marching over to and ringing the bell before firing the gun.

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How to get there:

According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, alight the MTR at the Causeway Bay Station, Exit D1. Walk along Lockhart Road to Cannon Street. Then walk along Jaffe Road to the World Trade Centre. (Basically walk to the harbor front). You access the Noon Day Gun through a tunnel next to the hotel – it would be easy just to ask one of the concierges or security outside the hotel – the tunnel is hard to find, down an alleyway and under the hotel. In the tunnel you pass 2 long green pipes called ‘Sea Water Supply’ and ‘Sea Water Return’ to the hotel. Don’t worry, I’m sure the security are used to tourists asking by now!

The UntouchableLad

The past couple weeks have been pretty eventful. Work’s been slowly getting busier with kids getting back into the swing of things after post-Christmas exams. We had a big English Ambassador Day Camp at Ma On Shan on Saturday 2nd February – bit out in the sticks but since everywhere is so well-connected it was only about half a hour away from our gaff.

These kids are those with high level English, love to get involved and leave with photos, phone numbers and Facebook requests with/for all us gweilo PCs. I led one of the activities with Nicole where they had to work as a team to make shapes and act out scenarios while being creative. They had drama performances, we played footy at lunch, other team-building and English speaking games etc, so was a great day. Here’s a video from Chatteris, and a photo of me, my colleague Holly and 4 of our students from KT who came to the Day Camp.

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On Sunday I spent the day with Nat, at the Museum of Costal Defence. Sounds like the worst possible thing to do at any time, never mind on a Sunday afternoon, but was pretty interesting. The guns and cannons there were mint. Boys and Toys. And it was funny to see the usual Hong Kong thing of having a hundred security guards stationed every couple of yards, in case it all kicks off. You’d think you were at a Millwall home game or at an Athens austerity measures protest with the amount of ‘security’. Having so many people doing the job that 2 or 3 could easily do is weird, but I suppose it gives some people employment and looks impressive on the front (how things look and presentation being another big HK feature).

 

On Tuesday Nat and I went to see Cloud Atlas at the cinema, which was pretty good. And got to check out the Olympic City shopping mall place where it is – reminded me a lot of Trafford Centre but smaller. In fact you could probably believe you were at the Trafford Centre with H&M, Marks and Spencer and The Body Shop all next to each other there. Anyway, the film was decent and cheaper than other cinemas at only $65 a ticket.

 

On Wednesday Adrian and I went to Happy Valley, and met up with a few of the other CNETs there and saw Steph C for her birthday. I bet around $160 in total and got a winner and a 3rd place. My fav, The UntouchableLad didn’t live up to his name though and only came in 4th. Odds were so low on the ones I won on, I got hilariously pathetic $9 profit from one and $4 on the other (we’re talking 80p and 30p). But like my Granddad, I was appreciating the game and fun of it, not there to make millions. Although millions would have been nice….

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One last thing, it’s getting hotter and more humid here already. There’s been a few days the jacket’s come off – the EAT Day Camp particularly. Not the sweltering paradise I arrived to in August but when I see the snow and ice at home, it is one good thing to enjoy here. Gloves and scarf were a bad investment.