Sayonara, Hong Kong

When you live somewhere long enough – even if you don’t like it when you first arrive – time has a way of forcing you to allow that place to grow on you. The things that used to drive you mad eventually no longer fill your heart with rage. The surroundings that you thought you’d never get used to start to feel like home. Behavior you used to find strange become normal, every day life. And with a few good friends thrown in the mix and a willingness to try, you not only survive, but thrive in your new environment.

Hong Kong has a way of doing that to people. The common joke is that we all moved to Hong Kong for a ‘two year contract’. Because few stay for only two years. Two become three, the contract gets extended, your job becomes more stable, perhaps you get a promotion, your bank account rapidly starts to fill up, you travel all over Asia and beyond… and suddenly thoughts of leaving start to fade away.

I should know — my two year contract started in 2007.

But friends are what really help you survive and make you feel comfortable. Two nights ago I said farewell (again) to my Hong Kong buddies, the friends who threw me a bachelorette party when I got engaged and a baby shower when I was preggo, the friends who met for countless happy hours after work, who hosted dinner parties, BBQs, and lazy days on the beach. The friends are what you miss the most when you leave a place.

Hong Kong is a great place to live, and work, and explore. But there are three things that my little family and I just could not get past.

1. Housing sucks. Even if as an expat you have a housing allowance. You can pay $2000 US a month in rent and still have a sucky little apartment in an old, run down, mildewed building, with bamboo poles sticking out the windows and granny’s ‘elongated panties’, as my husband likes to describe them, drying in the wind.  We can never afford to own a place in Hong Kong, and even if we had millions of US (which is literally what you need), we would never waste it on these piece of shit apartments.

2. Pollution sucks. This is one thing as a West Indian I’ll never get over. I am accustomed to every day being a perfect, blue sky day. But in Hong Kong, these days are few and far between. When the sky is blue, it’s such an incredible beautiful, lush place. When the mountains have disappeared in a thick layer of haze, it’s revolting. The ocean is filthy and it’s so annoying to live by a beautiful beach where you can’t swim (or at least I can’t, but lots of people do). This is certainly not the kind of environment I want my daughter to grow up in permanently.

3. Crowds suck. My idea of hell is to be stuck in Causeway Bay on a Sunday with all of mankind going out shopping. I’d rather stick pepper-sauce dipped needles in my eyeballs. This is why we live in Mui Wo. I like riding my bike, and having lots of space, and looking out my window and seeing the procession of cows. If I had to live downtown and deal with the MTR, crowded buses, grumpy minibus drivers, and tiny sidewalks, I would either kill someone else or kill myself.

So if your environment sucks, and your accommodations suck and you can’t stand being surrounded by 10 million people stepping on your toes, why do people stay?

It’s partly because of job opportunities, and partly because of friends.

But I think it’s also because the things you used to think were weird or annoying become kind of…. endearing. Interesting. Full of character. There are feelings and sights that are uniquely Hong Kong. The chock-a-block street markets, often filthy, funky, noisy, with big bamboo baskets being hauled through the crowds, flower stalls, butcher blocks, cheap clothing, bent-back grandpas who can fix your shoes or cut your keys, old dim sum restaurants and trendy new bars, red taxis that drive too fast, granny clipping her fingernails on the bus, going up the escalator, running for a ferry, holding on for dear life on a minibus, the brash, harsh guttural bark of Cantonese where you can’t tell if the two people are shouting at each other or commenting on what a nice day it is, the fact that everything works, that people work, that it’s incredibly safe, the cheap beers from the 7-11, the freedom to do what you want and nobody seems to be bothered, the view from The Peak, the wonderful mountain hikes, the absolutely incredible sight of taking the Star Ferry from TST over to Central at night and every single time just thinking ‘Wow…. where am I? How did I end up here?’

And the list goes on.

Hong Kong is a place that takes time to get used to. And then a bit more time to actually like it. If you stay long enough, you find yourself surprised by the idea that it could be a place you stay forever.

Well, Hong Kong, it’s a fun, life changing, and certainly interesting seven years. But, our time has come to an end.

Sayonara to the smallest big city in the world. A new chapter of life begins in Okinawa, now.

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Tai Yuan Market – Toy Street

Once in a while I leave the refuge of Lantau and venture into the city. This time it was to go to the famous ‘Toy Street’ (proper name in Cantonese, Tai Yuan Market) to take a look around and see if I could find some cheap, fake Lego.

Toy Street was, to my surprise, chock a block with people – surprising because it was a Tuesday morning and a normal work day. But this popular market has much more than just toys. It has clothes, food, pig livers hanging up on hooks. You know, all the good stuff that a market in Hong Kong should have!

Here are some of the shots I took of the things that caught my eye. Christmas goodies. Umbrellas. Dried Fish. And yes, fake Lego.

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Dried fish and cured sausage

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Fake jade charms, keystraps, and jewelry

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Lots of Christmas stuff. $10!

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It’s all cleavers and cutlets at the meat stand

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Vertical shot shows how high the skyscrapers are – you can’t even see the sky

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Love the colourful umbrellas

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Yum yum, dim sum!

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Tiny mom & pop shop, the kind that are fast disappearing from the overpriced streets of Hong Kong. Some cut keys, some fix shoes, some even cut your hair. This one had an ancient sewing machine

 

What pollution looks like in Hong Kong

Pollution in Beijing has been a hot topic in the mainstream media for the last week or so, but air pollution is something that affects us here in Hong Kong too, even though we’re quite far away from China’s capital city.

The fact is, China remains the world’s producer of damn near everything, including the plastic keys on my $1000 Macbook on which I’m typing right now, the screen on the Samsung smartphone that I use to take pictures, the jacket that I bought for my daughter for US $6, and everything else you can think of that allows the rest of the world to buy cheap goods.

Cheap goods come at a very high environmental price. And while politicians are meeting in Paris for a climate conference, it’s business as usual in China, and pollution as usual in Hong Kong.

I’m sorry but I just can’t do this anymore. Every year I put up a post called ‘Good Day, Bad Day’ where I show a contrast of two pictures taken from the same spot, on different days, to show what pollution REALLY looks like in Hong Kong.

I simply can’t live with this anymore. And yes I know I’m part of the problem. I’m one of the millions of consumers who buy made in China goods, and contribute to the degradation of the air that I breathe. The air that I inhaled while pregnant. The air that my daughter inhales every second of every day. And now I’m running away.

It’s not China’s fault. It’s the world’s fault. We want cheap goods and we want them now. Because the rest of the world doesn’t have to deal with the effects of industrial pollution from factories.

But in Hong Kong, we see the effects coming from miles away. And there’s no escape. We don’t have factories in Hong Kong, but we’re just across the border, and the pollution travels fast.

So, this will be my very last Good Day, Bad Day post, because we are lucky enough to be able to leave, and move somewhere clean.

The people stuck in China don’t have that option, and it’s not their fault. But they’ll be the ones paying the price.

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Mums & Maids – A Few Thoughts

There is a great video going around online titled ‘Mums and Maids’, and it really struck and chord with me because although the video was filmed in Singapore, it is the same situation in Hong Kong.

The issue of mums and maids and child rearing is something I’ve been avoiding writing about, because it is a sensitive topic. I understand that a lot of people do not have the choice or the option to stay home after having a baby. In Hong Kong, domestic workers allow families to benefit from double incomes in this tiny rock in the South China Sea that just happens to be the most expensive place in the world to live, with the biggest income inequality on the planet.

But nonetheless, I find this Mums and Maids video incredibly sad. Sad that modern life demands two full time incomes and gives such little time off, even after giving birth (in Hong Kong it’s 10 weeks). Sad for the parents who are missing out on such crucial, precious time with their kids… sad for the kids who are more emotionally bonded with their ‘aunties’ than their parents… and sad for the helpers who have left their own children behind to raise yours for less than the legal minimum wage (helpers are not entitled to minimum wage in Hong Kong, due to their 24/7 work environment).

As the video points out, a lot of helpers aren’t even allowed their one day off a week. I can’t tell you how many times on a Sunday — the one day they are supposed to have off — I’ve seen helpers sitting somewhere in Central with their friends, holding a small blond child, fast asleep on their lap.

It’s 3pm on a Sunday… do YOU know where your baby is? No?

(What I can’t figure out is where the hell are the parents? Playing tennis at the country club? Gambling in Macau? Going to one of those free flow champagne brunches? I have no idea. But clearly, mom and dad’s Sunday plans did not include junior. Not even ONE day of the week.)

It only costs about US $500 a month to have a live-in helper in Hong Kong who will do everything for you. In fact having a helper is rated as one of the top benefits of living in Hong Kong.

After having a child, we chose not to have a helper. In fact, it was never a thought. And people around here think I am bat-shit CRAZY for that. Even when my daughter was a few months old, I realised I was the odd one out. The lone white woman taking her baby to the park on an afternoon, surrounded by a dozen helpers. I know them all now, of course, and they know me, and we’re friendly. But many times, I’ve had a complete stranger come up to me and ask, ‘Don’t you have a helper?’, or they say to my daughter ‘Don’t you have an auntie?’

Nope, I reply to them. No helper, no auntie.

Once at the park I started chatting with an expat mom who was there with her 4-year-old boy. Somehow it came out in the conversation that I was a stay at home mom, and she ended up telling me that she had just had a baby girl 8 weeks ago, and was starting back work the following day. All of a sudden she burst into tears. ‘They’re sending me to Singapore, tomorrow,’ she sobbed. ‘How can I leave my 8-week-old baby and go away for six days? I’ll have to pump milk in the hotel room… and I’m so worried about leaving her with the helper. She’s a good helper, but still…’ The tears rolled down her face. ‘I wish I could just stay home with my kids,’ she said miserably.

Since then, I haven’t seen her around. She’s disappeared into the working world. But I have seen her helper with the kids, all the time, taking them to school, playing with them at the park. I know all the kids around here, and their helpers, by name. But I don’t know who their parents are.

I’m no martyr. There are days I want to run out the door and never look back. And there are days when I hire a babysitter for a few hours or leave the kid with my husband. Nobody wants to spend 24/7 with a small child – it’s enough to drive you mad!

 

 

All I can say is, kids change so fast. The first two years are a time of such rapid growth, week by week, month by month. It’s important time you never, ever get back. And although staying home and not having a helper has been challenging, I truly would not change a thing. Because I know that when my child is sick or crying, she isn’t going to reach out for a hug from the nanny and turn away from me (I have seen this happen so many times with other kids). Because I’ll always be there to dry her tears, and tuck her back in her bed, and kiss her tiny forehead. And that, I think, is worth a lot more than US $500 a month.

Why didn’t I take my camera?

It was one of those spur of the moment things, and I ran out of the house with only two things in hand: keys, and child. But why oh why didn’t I take my camera? I missed out on the chance to capture one of those rare moments when you find yourself looking around and saying, ‘wow, where am I?’.

Because as an expat, after a few years, daily life in your strange foreign adopted home just becomes normal. You get into the routine of things, you go to work, you drop kids to school, you do grocery shopping, you lime with friends… It’s easy to forget that you actually are living in a vibrant, interesting foreign culture.

The language barrier doesn’t help either. I don’t speak or read a word of Cantonese, so although I knew that there was some festival coming up, I didn’t know what, or when, or where, it was.

Big pink and purple flags have gone up all around Mui Wo, and the village squares were getting ready for a party. What was the party for? I wish I knew, but I didn’t. The Dragon Boat races were held recently, so it’s not that. A look at the Hong Kong Government website didn’t show any public holidays coming up. My ignorance of the place where I’ve lived for six years was painfully evident.

But…. then there are the drums. The drums, beating that very distinctive rhythm for what can only be a lion dance, the drums and cymbals that you can hear in the distance, tempting your curiosity to come take a look, beckoning you to go and find the action.

We heard the drums last night, and in the distance saw the lights in the village next door, Pak Ngan Heung, a grotty little village nestled at the back of the valley, close to the Silvermine Waterfall. So, I decided to take The Kid to see what was going on. Screw bed time. You only live once so why not go see it while it happens? Bed time can wait.

Kid was thrilled to be leaving the house so unexpectedly and jumping on my bicycle instead of brushing teeth and putting on pajamas. We zoomed up the road and saw huge banners at the entrance to the village, and flags lining the street. The village square had been covered with large tents and tables and chairs set up for a communal feast. All around us people carried trays with bowls of traditional Cantonese cuisine, and enormous numbers of cold Carlsberg beers which I had hoped they might share with me. (The Carlsbergs, I mean, not the chicken feet.)

There was a stage and a small three-man band playing some music, and an impossibly thin Chinese beauty in eight-inch heels and a fluffy sequined white dress. For a second, I thought I was at a ladyboy cabaret in Thailand; it looked so out of place in normally conservative Hong Kong. She finished her number, popped into one of the village houses fronting the square, and came back out in the tiniest pum-pum shorts I’ve ever seen. Every male head at the tables turned and swiveled to take a look. I suppose the female body will always be one of those irresistible things.

Then to our right we heard the drumming start again — it was the lions, and they were moving fast. We quickly tore ourselves away from the party and made a beeline for the lion dance troupe which was heading towards the small but historic Man Mo Temple, at the end of the village. There were three lions dancing; two blue and one pink. The drummers were sweating profusely and so was I. Almost 8pm and still 31’C and 90% humidity. Carrying a 12 kilo hot potato in my arms didn’t help either. The Kid clung to me and put her hand over her face, afraid of the lions blinking their big eyes, swiveling their giant heads from side to side, and stretching out their long necks. I told her not to be afraid, that the lions just love dancing.

The lions went inside the tiny temple and when they came back out again, just like that, it was all over. The drummers and percussionists packed up their equipment and called it a night. The dancers removed the heavy lion heads and lay them down outside the temple, and wiped their sweaty brows. Little kids ran up to the lion heads and dared each other to touch the lions mouth, and ran away shrieking with delight.

The sequined dancers who form the heads and legs of the lion sat on the bench next to me, relaxed, and chugged some cold beer. Some of them I actually recognised from around town as the local villagers who we see every day doing mundane jobs, like packing groceries in the supermarket or doing construction work. It was quite cool to see them performing in these rituals and really enjoying a party.

With the lion dancing done, we slowly filtered back into the square, and began to make our way home. And it dawned on me that such simple moments like these, where we happen to catch a piece of a local festival, are the moments that remind you to open your eyes and enjoy the journey that you’re on instead of just going through the day to day motions. Those simple moments are the ones that give you that old familiar feeling of awe when you realise that you are very, very far away from home, witnessing things that many people will only ever see on TV or in magazines. And for that, I felt very grateful.

But, it also made me sadly, painfully aware that no matter how long we live in Hong Kong, as foreigners we’ll always be outsiders to Chinese culture. Although locals and expats live peacefully side by side, it’s more of a coexistence than a true integration. This is not just an expat-in-Asia thing: Asian immigrants to North America can spend their entire lives in a Chinatown and never learn English or interact with the locals. So I do know that it goes both ways.

I carried Kid back to my bicycle, and we zoomed back down the quiet village road to go home, and I wondered, will she remember any of this? She is only 2.5 years old, perhaps too young to have formative memories. But will some part of her remember the days when she saw the lions dancing? Will she one day hear the beat of the drums and instantly know what it’s for? I certainly hope so.

But I also hope that one day we’ll live somewhere that we can be part of the party, instead of sitting on the side looking in. That we’ll be part of a local community, and not live in an expat bubble. That my daughter can perhaps take part in these kinds of festivals and shows, not as an outsider, but as perhaps a performer.

As long as she’s not the one wearing the sparkly pum pum shorts! Ha!

Date night in Hong Kong

Happy birthday to me! And what better way to celebrate turning 34 than gorging on dumplings?

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Way too excited about these little fatties

Last night we left the lovely sanctuary of Lantau and took the ferry to Central to go out on date night. But the question was where to go?

Much like Tokyo and other mega cities like London and Paris and New York, Hong Kong has an incredible array of restaurants of every cuisine under the sun, and with such tough competition you can be sure that the food will be top notch.

But, as I previously mentioned, I’m not really a fancy kind of girl, and while I did want to have a nice meal in a place with a good view, I wasn’t willing to spend hundreds of dollars to do so. Even on my birthday.

(Yes, I’m cheap! Frugal? No, just cheap. There, I admitted it.)

However, there are lots of fun, cheap things you can do in Hong Kong that don’t cost a fortune. So we had a great. fun date on a shoestring, and got the view to boot.

First we hopped on the Star Ferry, and sat at my most favourite spot in all of Hong Kong — the observation deck outside the Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui, which has an amazing view of the Hong Kong island skyline. It is a popular photography spot for tourists and locals alike, but being a Monday afternoon, it was thankfully not crowded at all. It was an incredibly beautiful day, and as we sat nestled amongst mainland Chinese tourists in frilly lace dresses and expensive Nikons, we sipped on some ice cold beer, did some people watching, and enjoyed the sunset over what I think is one of the best things about Hong Kong — its mind blowing skyline.

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After the beer was done and the sun was down, up Nathan Road we went, seeking out a restaurant in Jordan which I had read about online. It has a really strange name — Osama Tony. The name by itself is weird, but even weirder is that it is a dim sum restaurant that specialises in xiao long bao, these juicy, fatty Shanghai style dumplings that you have to pick up ever so delicately with your chopsticks or the skin breaks and all the juice falls out. Why is it called Osama Tony? No idea. But it was delish.

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Looks exactly like the owner, who was there that day

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Crispy sesame pancake…. divine

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Big fat xiao long bao…… droooool

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Way too happy about dumplings

Then, after gorging on plate after plate of dumplings and meatballs and cabbage and all kinds of yumminess, and feeling fat and bloated like a snake who swallowed an agouti, we took a stroll through Temple Street Night Market which was a stone’s throw away.  Temple Street has all kinds of action going on — stalls selling touristy junk, fortune tellers who have birds that choose cards that determine your destiny, Cantonese opera singers, sex toys, and a jade market.

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Tourists eating crab

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Can you spot the Trini flag?

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World leaders, playing mahjong? Even a ghost thrown in for good measure

When we got tired, we hopped in a cab, went back to the Star Ferry, and headed home to Lantau. It was an excellent night out, and I wouldn’t trade it for all the fancy pants restaurants in the world.

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Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Kung Hei Fat Choi! It’s been a long weekend in this part of the planet as families gather for the biggest event of the year. Forget Christmas, forget New Years Eve… the big party is Chinese New Year.

Even here in this small village there’s been night after night of festivities. People have done major house cleaning, put up loads of decorations, and set off an insane amount of firecrackers at all hours of the night. The smell of charcoal and chicken wings wafts through the air as distant relatives come back to their hometowns to be with family, cook lots of food, and drink Tsing Tao by the BBQ. It’s really nice to see everyone in a really festive mood and very cheerful. Everyone smiles and says ‘kung hei fat choi’.

Little kids get dressed up in traditional Chinese wear (probably reluctantly) and look absolutely adorable. The Kid even got to wear a little China dress to her playgroup and now she is obsessed with it and wants to wear it every day.

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Yat, yee, sam! Smile for the camera!

Kids also get ‘lai see’, or red packets, which contain a small amount of money. Some people take lai see very seriously, and go to the bank to line up and get fresh, new notes to give out, instead of dirty old money. You only ever give lai see to people who are younger than you so for little kids it’s really fun.

But for me, the real excitement was getting to see the lion dance up close and personal. We were in the village next door, Luk Tei Tong, visiting a friend for tea, when we heard the drums start up. Quickly I grabbed The Kid and ran downstairs to find out where the festival was taking place. I’ve seen lion dances in other parts of Hong Kong, in the city, as they often hire a lion dance troupe to come to a new place of business on opening day to bring good fortune. But this was the first time I saw a lion dance in a small, rural village.

The kid watched in awe as the lion, blinking and swivelling its giant head, went right up into people’s living rooms and came back out again. People on the second floor came out on their balconies and lowered a red string with a bundle of lettuce with lai see tied to it, for the lion to try to jump up and ‘eat’ it. The lion went from house to house, all the while being followed by the drummers, who also set off firecrackers.

Of course, I didn’t have my damn camera with me, or even my damn smartphone. Damn, damn damn.

Thankfully someone sent me the video that they took, which I share with you now:

Things That Make Me Happy

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. I’m a very simple person. A boat ride on a sunny day with a cold beer will usually do the trick. But today I had a lot to be happy about.

Not only did all the pollution disappear, revealing a nice, feel-good blue sky, but my husband also took care of The Child in the morning so I could go shake my tail in a Zumba class, and then when I came home he recommended that I go downtown to buy some hot new tight sexy workout clothes so that I could continue to shake my tail in a Zumba class in style. (Do I have the best husband ever, or what?)

So, that’s what I did. I went downtown to go shopping, got my stuff, and hopped back on the ferry.

But there was a lot more to be happy about.

Because the weather was so beautiful, and warm, and sunny, finally it was warm enough to sit down on the outside deck of the upper level of the ferry and enjoy the lovely weather. This made me incredibly happy.

I drank a cold Tsing Tao during the journey, which added greatly to my happiness factor:

I got a really clear shot of the International Commerce Center — or ‘Kowloon’s Raging Boner’, as I like to call it. The ICC is currently the tallest building in Hong Kong, surpassing its rival on Central side, the International Finance Center (IFC). Usually it’s so stink and polluted you can’t get a good shot, so this made me happy.

The ICC…

Versus the IFC

The two raging boners, glaring at each other across Victoria Harbour

Then there was a chick from mainland China who kept taking zillions of selfies of herself during the boat ride, which made me chuckle with delight, because I love observing vanity in its myriad forms.

I love me…. me me me… me me me me me me me me me

Then, when I got off the boat in the blessed sanctuary that is Mui Wo, I got to see a big, fat, mud covered buffalo walk, bold as day, brazen as a sagaboy, straight down the road as though he owns the whole damn place, which I suppose he does, because nobody would dare try to bounce him down.

The road is mine…. The road is mine

Yes… I don’t need diamonds and BMWs and fancy clothes. All I need is a blue sky sunny day, and a cold beer, and a buffalo or two. These things make me very, very happy.

Tai O day trip… ‘Venice of the Orient’, my ass!

Marketing people really know how to make bullshit smell good — that’s what they’re paid for, and I should know, because I once worked in an advertising agency.

The marketing people for the Tourism Board of Hong Kong, however, must really have been scratching their heads when they had to sit down and figure out a good way to brand Tai O, an old fishing village built on the silty banks of a river with hundreds of old rusty stilt houses everywhere.

So, they decided to call it The Venice of the Orient.

“Hmmm… Doesn’t look like Venice to me!” my father said with a chuckle, when I took him there the other day to visit Tai O.

Clearly NOT VENICE

Tai O is actually an interesting place for a day trip, and a really unique little spot in Hong Kong. Located at the very end of the road in the most southern tip of Lantau island, it’s truly got its own little personality.

As you get off the bus, you walk through a lively little street market selling all kinds of local delicacies and a wide variety of dried seafood. There’s also a tiny local museum, which has a lot of interesting artifacts from Tai O’s history, and worth a peruse.

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The stilt houses are all located in one area and it does feel a bit weird walking through these tiny wooden bridges that connect them all, because you can look straight into people’s living rooms and kitchens. I’m sure the locals in the area have gotten used to curious stares from tourists.

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‘I said no pictures, gwailo!’

 

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There isn’t much in terms of restaurants in Tai O but we found a little place that was open and had two big steaming bowls of wonton noodle soup, which is usually a safe bet if you don’t know how to read a menu. You can’t go wrong with noodles and wontons, right? Maybe not adventurous, but it does fill you up. Oh and a few cold beers help too.

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One of the few renovated areas in town

 

There are two ways to get to Tai O — one is a bus from Tung Chung and one is a bus from Mui Wo. But if you have time, I recommend you to take a ferry from Tung Chung to Tai O, which is a really nice ride and more enjoyable than the long bus ride on the vomit-inducing South Lantau Road. The ferry is not that frequent so it’s probably best to take the ferry there and the bus back.

Kwun Yam Temple, Hong Kong

Visitors to Hong Kong are often surprised at how modern and somewhat westernised the city seems, and how much it doesn’t really ‘look’ or ‘feel’ like China. Perhaps they are expecting it to be a bit more like the movie scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with big beautiful temples and pagodas and traditional Chinese architecture. I admit, I too was disappointed the first time I came to Hong Kong, back in 2006, and saw a whole lot of concrete highrises, giant steel towers, skycrapers, McDonalds, Starbucks, Toys R Us, and H&M megastores.

Big beautiful temple complexes, like the ones I’ve seen in Japan and in China, are really hard to find in Hong Kong, largely due to the overall lack of space. Hong Kong is four times smaller than Trinidad and has 8 million people. On top of that, 75% of the land is mountainous, which means everything, and everyone, is really jammed up.

Excuse me… could you get your elbow out of my soup?

Thankfully, I live on Lantau, which is Hong Kong’s biggest and least developed island (at least for now, though this may not last for long if the property magnates like Swire have their way…)

Nestled in the deep, rugged mountains of South Lantau, there are actually lots of big temple complexes, pagodas, monasteries and nunneries hidden away in the bush. It’s just hard to get there, and kind of hard to find, especially if you don’t read Chinese.

The other day I went with my friend Marleen, who has a car, and we drove down the winding South Lantau road to explore Upper Keung Shan and Lower Keung Shan. Thanks to our smartphones and GPS, we were able to find what we were looking for: the Kwun Yam Temple.

‘Now this is more like it,’ we said, as we stood there on a huge pavilion, overlooking the valley, with the unmistakeable red and gold temples and monasteries dotting the mountains in the distance. We looked with wonder — this was right in our backyards, and neither of us had ever been there before.

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There was nobody there — not a soul. No visitors, no tourists, no nothing. We saw one person working in what looked like a kitchen. But other than that, it was total solitude. Which, I suppose is exactly what the nuns and monks want.

It isn’t easy to get to these places in Lantau. The South Lantau road is restricted, which means you can’t drive there without a special South Lantau permit, which only residents of this area can get. The buses are not that frequent, and they don’t announce any stops, so if you have no idea where you get off, you’re really screwed. There are a lot of other places I’d like to go check out on Lantau, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to.

In the meantime, there are a handful of big temples in Hong Kong that I really should go and check out, and they are easily accessed by the MTR (Hong Kong’s incredibly efficient Mass Transit System). Unfortunately, when you live somewhere for a long time, you get a bit complacent, and stop exploring like you used to, and like you should. So I’ll really have to make the effort to get up and go see these places.

A friend of mine in Trinidad writes an excellent blog about precisely that — getting off your lazy ass and going to explore the places around you that you’ve never been to. It’s called Must Be More To This Place and through it he’s seen all kinds of places that I haven’t seen in Trinidad either. Be sure to check it out.

Hiking the Olympic Trail

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She’s always a happy hiker

When the first week of January presents you with 22’C and a perfect blue sky, there’s no way you can spend your day indoors. So we grabbed our Bush Baby (that’s the name of the baby carrier, not our nickname for the kid), filled up some water bottles, strapped on running shoes, and headed out the door to hike the Olympic Trail, which conveniently starts right here, in Mui Wo, practically in our backyard. It ends on the other side of the island in Pak Mong, an old village a stone’s throw from the modern mayhem highrise hell that is Tung Chung.

 

It was a pretty easy walk, starting from behind the Silvermine Waterfall and climbing up into the hills behind Mui Wo, which gave us a beautiful view of our village and the Silvermine Beach.

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Ahh, home sweet home, beautiful Mui Wo.

It was a gorgeous day and a gorgeous hike through mostly untouched forest, though unfortunately the entire path has been paved with concrete, so if you want to really feel the earth beneath your feet, the Olympic Trail may be a bit boring for you. Lots of people were out hiking that day though — mostly old people! — which I suppose is a sign of how user-friendly this route is.

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Passing graves on the way

After hiking for almost two hours we reached a nice little pagoda where we could take a rest and give the kid a snack. From this viewpoint, we could see the other side of Lantau, and all the millions of highrises in the distance in Tuen Mun, on Kowloon side. Lots of planes were also coming in for landing at the nearby airport.

 

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View from the pagoda

After the pagoda, we continued downhill towards the last village on the route, Pak Mong. Lantau is full of indigenous villages where the same families have lived for centuries in tiny, rural communities. But slowly, and surely, as the government moves to ‘develop’ more land, the villagers are trying to fight back. There were signs of protest all over this area of the hike, berating the government for trying to split up the villages and steal their land. But we also came across a lot of abandoned buildings as people move away from these villages to go enjoy the ‘conveniences’ of the city.

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The abandoned Pak Mong school

At Pak Mong village we found a few people puttering around, but mostly it was quiet, and a lot of the buildings seemed abandoned too. A young woman carrying a white Pompek in her arms smiled as we walked through the village square, but other than that we didn’t see any people.

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The guardians at the gate to Pak Mong

 

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The watchtower at Pak Mong, once used to keep away pirates, also acted as a school

The only bad part about this hike is that after going through the beautiful wilderness of Lantau, and listening to the rustling of the trees and the whistling of the bamboo, and taking a peek at the old ways of village life, you then exit the trail and have to cross under the huge highway that goes to Tung Chung and to the airport. From the waterfront we could see loads of machinery in the water, working on the soon-to-come the giant Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which will connect this beautiful island to two neighbouring cities in the Pearl Delta. The bridge comes dangerously close to Pak Mong, and I’m sure the villagers are watching in dismay as this USD $10 billion megaproject spits out Chinese drivers onto a highway right in their front yard.

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The bridge is coming….. and there’s nothing you can do about it

All in all, the Olympic Trail is a beautiful walk through the forests and at just under 6km it’s pretty easy. It’s just a shame it has to end in Tung Chung. Yuck.

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Thank god I don’t live in Tung Chung!

A Very Expat Christmas

Just because you’re a million miles from home with no family around, there’s no need to feel lonely on Christmas day. You simply assemble all the other eager expats and celebrate with your friends, of course!


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Yesterday’s Christmas festivities comprised a happy, hungry, thirsty, noisy motley crew of two Trinis, one Swede, one Dutch, three Chinese, three Brits, and one Japanese….. oh, and a suitcase full of Red Stripe.

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In the food line up, there was a lot of traditional Trini food, including three roasted chickens, two massive macaroni pies, one baked ham, a dozen pastelles, and a tiny but incredibly heavy fruit cake. Oh, and sorrel. Food boy, foooooood! (I was responsible for two of the chickens and the macaroni pies, and let me tell you I am TIRED of cooking!)

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Yum! What a Christmas party. Good times, good conversation, and, the best part, very interesting people. This is one of the great things about being an expat in Hong Kong; you’re surrounded by people doing all kinds of different things, and who have lived all over the world and have lots of stuff to talk about.

Even the little kiddos got along great and had a ball.

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I haven’t done Christmas for a long time, but I’m sure glad I did it this year.

Merry Christmas!

I guess I need to go buy a tree after all

It’s been about eight years since I’ve ‘done’ Christmas. By that I mean put up a tree, hang the decorations, deck the halls and all that jazz. I’ve been to Christmas parties, sure, but have for the most part boycotted the whole damn thing, presents, tree and all.

But now that I have a kid, I might have to shed the Scrooge McDuck disguise and put on a Santa hat instead. Tis the season to be merry, right?

Last night we went to a friend’s place to help put her tree. The Kid didn’t know what to make of it — last year for Christmas we were in Thailand having Christmas lunch with my father and a rag-tag team of retirees and their retired ex-prostitute girlfriends. So this was her first time to see lights, Christmas balls, stockings, and dancing toys that play Christmas tunes. And she absolutely loved it.

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I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas, but I have to admit it was fun helping my friend put up the tree. It might have something to do with the fact that we were blasting parang and drinking Sangria and dancing in the living room. So I’m afraid that after all these years of boycotting all of the bad things that Christmas has become — long lines in the supermarkets, stress, overspending on gifts no one wants, traffic on the roads, environmental waste — I’m going to do a small, minimalist Christmas this year, tree and all.

Share a Coke with Chan Jao-Yiu

There’s been a lot of fuss recently about the Coca-Cola cans that have people’s names on them. According to the Coke website, “the cans feature 250 of the most popular names among teens and Millennials on 20-oz. bottles”. I’ve been seeing pictures all over Facebook of people getting Coke cans with their names on them, as well as seeking them out. 

The can craze has finally reached Hong Kong, but with a twist. Since it would be way too difficult to put Chinese names on the cans — for a variety of reasons which I’ll try to explain later with my limited and probably inaccurate knowledge of Chinese culture — they’ve chosen to go with a ‘Beloved’ theme.

Instead of using people’s names, they’re using the titles of people’s loved ones, whether it be family members, spouses, or lovers.

Today in the supermarket I spotted these:

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They were all shrink wrapped and I couldn’t see what the other Beloveds were, but I’m sure there are aunties and moms and girlfriends too.

I have to assume this campaign was done partly because when it comes to Chinese names there are an infinite number of possibilities and combinations of characters. In addition, Chinese characters often have different pronunciations depending on what other characters they are combined with. When it comes to naming a child, they don’t just choose a traditional or common name like ‘John’ or ‘Mary’, or a made up trendy name like MacKensie or Bladen (ugh). Rather, parents and grandparents tend to choose auspicious characters to make a name, based on the kind of characteristics they would like the child to have, such as purity, strength, obedience, honesty, and so forth. Many even consult Chinese astrologists who look at the day the child was born, and then help choose a name that has the right number of strokes to make up the character.

When our child was born in Hong Kong, we had a hell of a time finding a suitable name that could be pronounced in English (for my family), Japanese (for his family), and Chinese (for the people around us). Finally we settled with Lynn, which in Japanese is pronounced Lin and written 鈴 which means ‘bell’. It works well in Cantonese because ‘Lin’ is a common Cantonese surname – 林 – which means woods or forest. So, everyone can pronounce the name of my tiny beloved.

Anyway, to get back to the Chinese version of the Coke cans, I also thought this Beloved campaign was perhaps a good reflection of the Confucian values still alive and well in this part of the world, where having good social relationships and honouring your elders and family members is more important than being ‘unique’ and ‘special’.

So, forget about sharing a Coke with Emily…. share a coke with your Granny!

Stranger Danger

A few days ago in the Chinese media there was a news article about a foreigner fainting on the subway in Shanghai, and instead of someone coming to help him, or at least going to get help, every single person in the train disappeared like a fart in the wind, leaving the man laying on the floor. The whole thing was caught on CCTV and circulated widely in the news, garnering much public discussion and condemnation.

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People asked, is it just because he is a foreigner? If this happened to a local, would everyone still have run away? Others speculated that they weren’t willing to help because of fears of new disease outbreaks, like Ebola and MERS. But if a Chinese person collapsed, say, on the subway in Toronto, would a similar thing happen? Or is this just par for the course in China?

The fact is, in China getting involved can be risky business. There have been numerous news stories in the past few years about good samaritans who stopped to help a stranger in need and ended up getting forced to pay their medicals bills or even being held responsible, even though they did not cause the accident.

Earlier this year there was a BBC story about someone who stopped to help an elderly man who appeared to have been hit by a motorcycle, and after taking him to the hospital and even paying his bills for admittance, the elderly man’s family began stalking the good samaritan, demanding more money, and harassing him until it got to the point where the good samaritan actually killed himself because he couldn’t take the pressure anymore.

Sounds insane? I agree. But that’s not as insane as the shocking story from October 2011 where a two year old girl got knocked down in the road, and was left there to die while more than a dozen people passed by and stopped and looked. Oh, and to make matters worse, a few of them actually DROVE OVER HER, AGAIN. If you haven’t seen the video, please take my advice, and don’t watch it. Especially if you are a parent. It’s just too disturbing to try to comprehend and will make you sick to your stomach.

These kinds of things don’t only happen in China. There was a very famous case in New York where a woman was getting stabbed in the street and screaming for help. 38 people witnessed it from their windows but none came to help her or call the police. Not to mention a recent story in the news (again in New York) where a man fell on the subway tracks and stood there begging someone to help him. No one did, and the train killed him. But, a freelance photographer did have time to take out his camera and snap a picture. Enough time to take a picture, but not enough time to reach out a hand and save a human being’s life. What is this world coming to?

Some say this is the curse of life in a big city. In a place where no one knows your name and no one really gives a damn, are these incidents more likely to happen?

That may be part of it, but I’m not convinced.  Tokyo is the biggest city in the world with 30 million people, but if you were in the train station carrying a baby, and stood up at the bottom of the stairs with a big suitcase, you would never wait more than 10 seconds for someone to offer their help, guaranteed.

In Japan, I’ve also witnessed the exact opposite of what happened in the train in Shanghai. We were once in a car, sitting at a red light. A mother on her bicycle with a small child in the child seat started to cross the road, and lost her balance. She fell onto the street, and her daughter and her bags went tumbling off the bicycle. Within seconds, no less than four people had jumped out of their cars to help her get up. “Daijoubu?” they all said, helping her up, and picking up her spilled belongings. She looked especially bewildered to see two gaijin — me and an Indian woman — amongst the group of good samaritans, asking her in Japanese if she was all right. But then again, Japan is Japan, and perhaps cannot be compared to anywhere else on this planet.

Here in Hong Kong, there have been many instances where I’ve been absolutely shocked at the general apathy people display towards the needs of others.

Once in the airport, we had one baby, two suitcases, one box, and one fishing pole, all piled on to the trolley. Well, except the baby, obviously, who was attached to me in the Baby Bjorn. My husband went to pop in to the 7-11 to get some cold beers for the ride home, and I kept on walking, slowly, pushing the trolley towards the bus terminal. Next thing I knew, it lost balance and it all fell off on the floor. Lots of people were nearby. A guy on his cell phone looked over, made eye contact with me, and turned around. Another guy who was finishing off a smoke stubbed out his cigarette, stepped around me, and went on his way. Take a wild guess how many people eventually came to help the woman with the baby strapped to her chest? How many? A BIG FAT ZERO. Surprise! Bet you didn’t expect that.

My friend Laura told me she was jogging the other day and took a misstep, and ended up falling flat on her knees on the road. She got quite hurt and was bleeding profusely. “Not one person came and helped me up!” she said incredulously. “Everyone looked and gaped, but nobody came and even said, ‘are you okay?'”  I’m not sure why she was shocked — that sounds like par for the course to me.

And just yesterday, another friend had a similar incident; she exited her office building, but as the floor was wet from the rain she slipped and fell straight on her ass. She said six people were standing there at the exit, smoking, and while they all turned and looked at her, not one said ‘are you okay?’ or came to help her up.

What is it? Is it just a foreigner/local thing? A language thing? A cultural thing? A distrust of strangers? Or do people really just not care? I asked myself, what would happen in Trinidad? I think if someone fell down walking on Frederick Street in Port-of-Spain, a few people would come to help you up, and probably say something funny to you to make you smile, or if you’re cute, maybe give you some lyrics.

I’ve noticed, however, that things are a bit different here in Mui Wo (population: approximately 6,000). The pace of life here is slower, and people get to know you more easily because you see them every day of life, so you’re not just another nameless soul taking up space on the sidewalk.

One night I heard a knocking on the door, and when I went down I saw it was my Chinese neighbour with her six year old daughter, Ella. They were standing there smiling, holding a tupperware container. “I made a Chinese cake,” the mom said, “and Ella wanted to give some to your baby.”  How sweet is that? I’ve never had a neighbour give me cake before in all the places I’ve ever lived. Since then she has also given me fruits and other tasty things to eat, and I’ve given her  many things in return.

In the local wet market, the woman who runs the fruit stand doesn’t speak much English, but loves kids, and insists on giving Lynn a grape every time we go shopping. Sometimes she also gives Lynn a really disgusting tasting cracker, and I simply don’t have the heart to tell her no thank you, so we take it anyway and smile. I suppose in a small town, it pays to be nice to your neighbours.

If you want to read some other bloggers’ thoughts on some of the other things that can make Hong Kong a sometimes unpleasant place to live, be sure to check out HONG KONG SUCKS, a hilarious blog that deals with everything from the treatment of domestic workers to the curiously popular habit of people clipping their nails (and toenails) on public buses.

In the meantime, if you happen to be in China, try not to pass out in public. Remember, you’re on your own!

Basket cases

The saying goes that necessity is the mother of all invention. If that is the case, then there are a lot of very inventive people living in Mui Wo, judging from the weird and wonderful bicycle baskets that I’ve been seeing around.

Most people around here have a baby seat at the back of their bike, for carrying tykes around.

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My rogue rider

But a lot of people also use their bikes for transporting goods, or at the very least, boxes of groceries from the supermarket to their homes up in the villages. And some people live quite far away — a good 15-20 minute bike ride into the hills — so when they go, they really need to stock up.

Anyway, here are some pictures of some of the more interesting bike baskets spotted today around Mui Wo.

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Bucket cut in half

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Just a bucket!

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Dish washing rack from the kitchen

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Vitasoy milk carton

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Another cut up fuel container

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I’m guessing this was custom made? Very metallic

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A big plastic container and a bunjee cord — what else do you need? Also keeps out the rain!

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Hey, whatever works, right?

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Chupa Chups box!? This won’t make it through typhoon season

 

 

Addicted to hash(ing)

What is it about hashing that has gotten me so hooked? I first started hashing in Trinidad with the Port of Spain Hash House Harriers when I was a teenager, but only did a few hashes with them. Then I did a bunch more in Thailand with the Koh Samui Hash House Harriers, usually on a weekly basis. But it’s only since a new hash kennel opened up in my own neighbourhood – the South Lantau Hash House Harriers – that I’ve become full blown addicted.

What the hell is wrong with me? I can’t look at a mountain without thinking about what hidden routes are there, just waiting to be exposed and used on a run. I can’t take the bus up the beautiful, winding, mountainous South Lantau Road without looking keenly out the window for potential trails. And I can’t push the stroller around Mui Wo without peering up at the hills for little paths leading up into the hills, and thinking to myself, hmm, I have to come back and explore this some time.  

Something must be wrong with me! Addicted to alcohol… drugs… shoplifting… porn…. all of these are common addictions… but addicted to exploring the bush? Yup, I think I have a problem.

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So many trails…. so little time

SLH3 did a fantastic hash the other day in Tsing Yi, dubbed the Ten Temples Run. (I am someone who also likes naming things, so I quite like that this hash uses clever names for its runs). All too often we just go about our daily lives, taking the same trains and roads and sidewalks to get from A to B, never thinking about what lies just beyond the train station, the bus stop, the main road. But hashing veers off the road usually travelled, and always exposes something new to you. More often than not you find yourself standing there, sweating and panting, thinking to yourself, ‘where the #$%& am I?’  And, without a doubt, you’ll find yourself wondering how on earth the hares (the people who set the route) found this area!

If you’ve never tried hashing, but like outdoor activities, then maybe you’ll enjoy it too.

Oh, did I mention that after the run you get to drink lots and lots and lots of cold beer?

Yeah.

Here are some pictures from the Ten Temples Run. If you’re in Hong Kong and interested in joining a hash, there are 13 hashes in the fragrant harbour! And literally thousands, all over the world. Even Antarctica!

Rolling in the deep

Yesterday I did something that I swore I would never do — I swam in Hong Kong.

Before you go accusing me of being a snob, I have good reason for wanting to avoid dipping in the salt in the South China Sea.

It’s no secret that the waters surrounding these beautiful islands are incredible polluted. Due to our proximity to the Pearl River Delta — the main river that runs through southern China — we are open to an array of industrial pollutants that get dumped illegally, or perhaps even totally legally, from the thousands of factories that operate in this region to produce everything, from the cheap assed plastic keyboard buttons that keep popping off of this $2000 Macbook to the cheap assed yellow flip flops that I wear on the beach.

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We all depend on China, every one of us. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t enjoy the cheap produce that comes out of China. Clothes. Shoes. Windshield wipers. Toys. Baby books. Hair dryers. Iphones. Toothbrushes. Zippers. CDs. Printer cartridges. And in many cases, food too.

All of these things come at a price. And nowhere is it more apparent than in Hong Kong, where due to our proximity to the industrial armpit of China, we often suffer the effects of the Made In China era.

Many say, however, that it is easy to just blame China. The mainland makes an easy scapegoat. We do have our fair share of domestic pollution, sure. From landfills, incinerators, 35-year-old buses belching exhaust fumes on the road, etc. That is all true.

But when it comes to water pollution, nothing beats the Pearl River Delta.

Yesterday it was a whopping 35’C at 9am. It is fricking hot, yo. And what can you do, if you have a toddler who demands and needs fun things to do? So I attended a friend’s BBQ on our local beach. The beach was looking quite lovely. I asked my friends, ‘how’s the water?’  They replied, ‘Oh just lovely pet! You should go in.’  So I changed into the swimsuits and went in.

Ugggggg.

Ugghhhhh. Eewwwww. Yuccckkkkk. I refused to submerge myself. And no way I was putting my head under that water.

The kiddo loved it, splashing around. Go figure.

But I just couldn’t stop thinking to myself, this is gross.

We didn’t stay in for very long, and the second we got out of the sea, we went straight to the bathrooms to wash off in some fresh water to get all the gunk off.

How is it that people can swim in Hong Kong? I know that Trinidad beaches have their fair share of problems. For example, the Maracas village is not connected to any sewerage line which means that all sewerage and waste water goes into the rivers which then flows right down into the most popular beach in Trinidad. But, somehow, it seems worse in Hong Kong.

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It’s a shame that Hong Kong’s beautiful beaches are so polluted, and that most of it is due to pollution from the Pearl River. But as long as we are happy to keep buying cheap goods produced in China, I suppose that is the price we will have to pay.

Ten Tips for Travelling with Babies

20140526_135117Tiny Winy is 16 months old and has a whopping 12 trips under her belt — proof that just because you have a baby, your travelling days are not over.
Since being born, this frequent flyer has been to four countries: Trinidad via London, Japan (Tokyo twice and Okinawa five times), and Thailand (three times). It’s more stamps than many get in their whole lives!

So after all of these trips, what’s the best way to fly with a wee one? Travelling with a baby is not easy. We’ve all been there, stuck in economy class, cramped up next to some sweaty inconsiderate blob who has decided to own not one but both armrests, and to make it even worse, to rub salt in the wound, there’s a screaming baby sitting in front of you. I’m not sure what’s worse — being the mother of the screaming baby, or being the passenger stuck within earshot of the screaming baby. Both are pretty terrible.

In the dozen trips I’ve done with my little frequent flyer, I’ve gotten a lot of practice in handling babies on a plane, and preparing for trips. And here are Ten Tips for Travelling with Babies that I hope will help you prepare for your own trip.

 

1. Calculate how many diapers you need for your trip, and then pack two extra. I budget one diaper per two-hour period. So if you’ve got a 10 hour flight ahead of you, pack at least five diapers. It’s easy to forget about baby pee when you’re busy and stressed out with catching taxis, checking in, running through terminals, finding boarding passes and what not. Always have more than enough diapers. On a recent flight, the chief purser came to me and asked if I had any extra diapers to give another couple who had run out and was desperate. I was happy to be able to help them out in their time of need.

2. Related to the diaper situation – of course always have a change of clothes for baby, not only a pants but also a shirt. Take the change of clothes in a ziplock bag so that if they do have an accident and their clothes are wet, you can neatly pack the dirty clothes in a storage bag.

3. Babies always cry during take off and landing, but according to a physician I saw when my kid came down with a flu the day we were scheduled to fly, the landing is way worse in terms of the pressure on the ears. Make sure to always have snacks and drinks for them to use during descent. The descent and landing period takes roughly 30 minutes on average so when you hear the captain make the announcement, you know exactly what you’re facing. Don’t give them ALL of the snacks in the first five minutes. Space them out very, very slowly so that the adjustment is very gradual and the kid keeps swallowing and clearing their ears all the way down to terra firma. If you’re still breastfeeding, try to nurse your baby during the last ten minutes of the flight (though this can be very challenging in economy).

4. Ask flight attendants for help. Imagine that you’ve realised your baby has peed and needs a change. So you take them to the tiny bathroom to change them on the fold-down baby changing platform. While in the bathroom your sneaky, sneaky body, recognising the proximity of a toilet, decides that you too need to pee. It is incredibly difficult to hold a baby and maneuver your pants and underwear down and take a pee all while juggling a baby. Make use of the flight attendants. After changing the little one, open the door and ask them if they can hold your baby for a moment while you relieve yourself. Most of the time they are quite happy to have a tiny person to play with. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Yeah, good luck with that

5. If you know you have to fly at a time when baby is usually awake, try to shorten their earlier nap so that they will sleep more on the plane. This might mean waking baby up prematurely (gasp!) in order to get them tired enough to sleep later on while they are on the plane. Mean, but at times necessary.

6. Avoid accepting cups of liquids from flight attendants. If they offer you a drink, try to get it in a bottle rather than a cup. Or better yet, take an empty bottle with you, and just before boarding go into the bathroom and fill it up with tap water. Tiny hands in tiny spaces spill big glasses of juice all over your nice clean jeans. Sticky icky icky.

7. Whenever you go on a trip, take a baby medicine bag with you. It should have liquid panadol and a syringe in case your baby gets a fever (which happened to me the last time I went to Tokyo). Also pack a thermometer to check temperature, bum cream for diaper rash, Vaseline for dry skin, and a small bottle of baby bath soap.

8. Get yourself a baby belt for chairs. It is a lifesaver. When on the go, I’ve found that not all hotels and not all restaurants have high chairs or baby seats, and let’s face it, sometimes you just need to get your kid OFF of you. I bought this chair strap in Japan and it adjusts to any seat and holds the kid in with velcro. Useful in airports and when you get to your destination so you can try to have one civilised meal!

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9. Pack your baby’s absolute favourite book with you. The familiarity will calm them down. I don’t care if you’ve read ‘Goodnight Tiptoe’ every night for the last eight months. Take it with you! If books don’t do it then take a toy or something to keep them entertained. My 16-month-old was quite fascinated with a pack of stickers and that kept her occupied for quite some time. If you’re lucky, you’ll be flying on an airline that has individual entertainment systems for each seat. In that case, let Spongebob do the babysitting for you.

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10. I’ve always loathed the sight of parents with their kids on a leash. But a friend of mine who is an incredibly knowledgable super mom recently told me about the benefits of using the leash while going through airports. It’s great for when you’re travelling alone so that you don’t have to physically hold them in your arms all the time, especially if you are at the check-in counter or need to use a pen. The leash at least lets them stand up or walk a bit without the risk of wandering off and getting lost. I’ve never tried it, but will give it a go this summer when I have to make the painful trip to Trinidad by myself!

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    This will be me some day

In conclusion, travelling is hard and exhausting, and travelling with a baby is doubly so, no doubt about it. But with a little preparation and careful packing, you can hopefully avoid a lot of stress, and try to relax and enjoy the flight. So make your list, check it twice, and don’t be afraid to take to the skies with your wee one!

Well this sucks

99% of the time, I love living in the lush green villages of Mui Wo. But when it’s been raining for ten days straight, and I mean without stopping, I want to stab myself in the face repeatedly with blunt chopsticks from the kitchen.

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How can one achieve anything when it’s raining? Because there’s no car access to the villages, you live your life on your bicycle, or you walk. Wonderful when the weather is great, but a major pain in the ass during ten straight days of non-stop rain.

Getting groceries was a major challenge — I had to get all kitted out in rain gear and go on my bike in the pouring rain to the supermarket, then walk through the freezing supermarket in my wet clothes, and then cycle back home with my bags of groceries in my bicycle basket getting soaked.

Doing laundry has similarly become an endless battle against wetness. A typical Hong Kong home doesn’t have room for a dryer (in fact our laundry machine is out on the balcony, which is also normal). On days of normal weather, we just hang everything up outside and it’s dry by day-end. But due to the rain, our little flat has become a laundromat. Thankfully we have a dehumidifier which has a ‘dry laundry’ function.

But you know what? I can handle biking in the rain… I can handle hanging up clothes inside… but the worst part of this crap weather is that you can’t do anything with The Kid. You can’t go outside, you can’t go hiking, you can’t go to the park or the beach. You can’t do anything, really. Because we can’t just go into our garage and get into our nice dry car and drive somewhere. No. If we want to go out, we have to go by bicycle or stroller. Neither of which is good protection against the rain.

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I never thought I’d blog about something as banal as rain. But when you live deep in the bush, it becomes a major, major issue!

I love my bike. But I’m looking forward to one day having a car. And a garage. And a dryer.

Happy Birthday to Me

It was my birthday recently, and my darling husband gave me the best gift that anyone can give to a woman with a one-year-old child: some time off from mothering. Which could only mean one thing — I was going downtown.

With nothing in my handbag but my money, keys and phone (usually my bag has diapers, wipes, snacks, tissues, a change of clothes, a baby hat, etc etc etc), I jumped on the ferry, and took a leisurely stroll around Central, before meeting some girlfriends at a wine bar.

Ah, the smells of the city. The crowds. The noise. The action. The collective energy of millions of people going to and fro. The crowded street markets. The tiny Chinese noodle shops next to trendy expat boutiques. I love living in the countryside of Mui Wo, but it sure was great to get a shot in the vein of the vibes of the city.

Here are some pictures of my flaneur downtown.

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