Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Spring is in the air

Last week, the weather was glorious;warm and sunny with a slight fresh breeze. It was good to go out without a jacket although everyone here carries a scarf shawl or pashmina, just in case! I met with some friends to go to the Andy Warhol exhibition and then we had a drink in the outdoor museum cafe, sittng in the sun until it went down over the harbour, just lovely.We've also held a Burns Supper for our "drouthy neebours" which went down well. Haggis travels well when vacuum packed.
I have attended a book group, a meeting with three writers and another meeting to plan our visits to the school where we participate in the English language programme. I am doing two sessions this term I have no time for more as we are preparing for four months of travel and visitors. It is so exciting! In just a couple of weeks we will be in Cebu then shortly after we have Janie and Peter coming for their second attempt, fingers crossed no one gets ill this time.Next up, three more of my Sisterhood pals will land in April for a week, then we go to Melbourne for ten days, back just in time to prepare for Mabel and Julie's visit at the end of April/ beginning of May.
Meantime, we are starting to get out and about at weekends again, so look out for some picture posts soon.

It's a sign!

All the signs pics were taken on the island of Cheung Chau, about a hour on the ferry from Hog Kong. It is a place that likes to tell it as it is. Some signs are self explanatory, some hilarious! (it might be more than just inconvenient that the shark net has been removed, for example!) If you are a pig raiser or a fisherman, I guess on an island of 20,000 people, you would know where the relevant organisations are and would not need signs, especially not signs in English! By contrast, none of the many restaurants catering mainly for tourists had signs in English!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

San nin fai lohk

Hapy New Year! I know, it is already the 17th January, but as you know, time flies and all that. So, what's been happening since my last post? We went to Scotland for Christmas with the grandchildren which was lovely.We managed to squeeze in an overnight to Eyemouth with them, all to ourselves, great fun! Christmas was quiet...well as quiet as it can be with 2 toddlers around! By 5pm they were surrounded by toys and fighting over two plastic coathangers...
I fitted in a long leisurely post Christmas lunch with The Sisterhood and then we flew off to Dubai for New Year.
Our hotel was in the old part of the city, near the museum and about a five minute walk from the creek, just across the water from the gold souk. On the first day, we explored the local area and the hotel and bagged two sunbeds to have a short nap, which tured into a two hour kip. It was so warm and sunny, just what we needed. Batteries recharged, we had dinner in the hotel. It had 6 restaurants so we were spoilt for choice. Both having head colds, a brutal curry was called for and it was delicious.The next day, which was Hogmanay, we took The Big Bus Tour and it proved to be excellent value for money. It included an hour's river boat cruise, which we didn't have time to use, despite catching the 10.30 am bus! We visited all the main attractions around the city and when we hit a major traffic jam managed to snooze for twenty minutes. Oh dear, we are getting old! However, that snooze meant we were able to stay up until 1.30am to see in the New Year in style. First, though, we ventured into the surrounding streets for dinner. I felt a little uncomfortable as I was the only woman in the place. On exiting we noticed a separate "family hall" where all the couples were. In the restaurant itself were groups of young men out on the town. They all wore gleaming white robes (called dishdash) and Arabian head dress, called keffiyeh. They were eating curry with their fingers and not a drop fell on their white robes, unlike me, I was liberally spattered by the time I'd finished.As Dubai is a Muslim country, no alcohol was served in the restaurant and all the guys were drinking pepsi or fanta. We remarked that a boys night out in Scotand on Hogmanay would have been rather  a different sight!
The hotel DID serve alcohol, (Allah and all the other Gods be praised), so we went to the bar to bring in the New Year. What a spectacle! There were men in white tuxedos, ladies in long gowns, feather boas, party hats and trumpets, starry glitter on the table, the whole works. The live band was wonderful. I have to say, I had not wanted to go, but I am so glad I stayed awake long enough!
On New Years Day we visited the museum across the road and then caught the coach for our dune safari trip. This was a real white knuckle ride, out across the sand dunes in a big 4WD jeep, ending at a Bedouin Camp where we had a camel ride before dinner and the entertainment .We were entertained by a whirling dervish and a belly dancer, I had my hand painted with the traditional mehndi, henna flowers all across the back of my hand. An Indian lady at the next table explained that once it dried, in about an hour, I could scrape it off. It looked quite pale and faded, but she promised me it would darken by morning and she was right! I thought I'd cut my hand in the night. It lasted for about a week, a lovely memento of our trip. The ride back across the dunes was even more exciting; now, as well as no roads, we had complete inky black darkness and other jeeps loomed up beside us and then veered off just in time. It was all quite "touristy" but sometimes it is easier to just go with the flow. As we get older, we don't feel the same need to explore "the places the tourists don't go" We've now actually lived in some of them!
We returned to HK on 2 January with a complimentary upgrade to First Class which was lovely. We took advantage of all the offerings in the first class lounge. I had a massage, Les had a manicure, then we had our shoes shined, sitting up on one of those big chairs you see in the movies. Our breakfast was served in the lounge, poached eggs with Loch Fyne Kippers and champagne. Most appropriate for a Scottish post Ne'erday breakfast, don't you think?
However, I was so full that I didn't eat anything on the flight, though I managed a wee glass or two of white wine, of course!Oh, and a selection of sandwiches and a couple of chocolates.
Since our return, Les has been back to work of course and I have been busy catching up with friends. Two more departures were announced this week, an English lady off to live in Australia and another going back to England. Meantime, I've met another two ladies in the lift in our apartment and become quite friendly with them. We've done various things as a group or in pairs, such as: shopping in Shenzhen, visiting the art museum to see an Andy Warhol exhibition, shopping for a wok, attending a session on the history and traditions of Chinese weddings and also one on how to make a Cheong Sam and knot those little Chinese buttons. I'm a dab hand at that!
I havae also spent a couple of days with my leg strapped up, elevated and with an ice pack to reduce swelling sustained when I fell spectacularly one day last week. It is getting better now, and all my friends have been so kind. One lent me her maid for a couple of hours to do my ironing, another poured me pints of gin (it is so as not to waste the half can of tonic, she assures me,and although it struck me that we could have had a can between us, I was in no position to argue!)
So January is starting out in style! Coming up, my three different book groups will be meeting. We will discuss: The Faith Club, a story of a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim. Then in another, we are reading Anna Karenina, to coincide with the film opening here. In the third, we are reading Middlesex and I have to say it is the one I like the best of the three for this month. It is so beautifullty written; the descriptions of people and places are amazing and the words just fly off the page. A masterpiece.Read it, if you haven't already.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fun with friends

I have been having fun this past week or two! In the company of various groups of friends, I have been up to Shenzhen three times;each trip a load of laughs from start to finish. We've tried on purple wigs and pink feather boas, we've bought bracelets, bangles and baubles and commented on,  encouraged and criticized each others choice of fabric, dress style and fit. We've borrowed and lent in two currencies to the point we almost can't remember who owes who how much in which currency.
I have also drunk wine and coffee, eaten lunch in a variety of locations and attended a concert, with another to come this week. In addition, I've been to a book launch (with free chocolate mmm...) and of course my  regular Wednesday  night poetry club.
Now Christmas is really coming to the fore and it feels strange now that the weather is so hot and sunny! A friend and I attended a carol concert, as a mutual friend was singing in the choir. We had wine and mince pies afterwards. I 've also been offered (and turned down!) mince pies at three other events this week.
Les and I joined two couples for a lovely pre Christmas dinner and today (Sunday) we began packing for the Christmas break. We leave in 2 days and the packing is complex as we need winter clothes for 10 days in Scotland over Christmas,and lighter clothes for 4 days in Dubai over New Year. Life is tough! Les is down at the pool having a quite sun top up whilst I dither about deciding on daft things to pack, like earrings and necklaces.
Tomorrow I will attend a Christmas breakfast party and on Tuesday morning I have my manicure booked. All the pressies are bought and packed but not wrapped and I will finish writing cards on the flight home.
So on that note Havers wishes you all a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
We will return in 2013,

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It's already feeling a little like Christmas

We had our Corona Ladies Christmas Lunch on Monday, the first turkey dinner of the season. It was a lovely afternoon and also a good chance to make arrangements for the next couple of weeks, before everyone departs for the Christmas holidays.It was a busy week for me, with a bookgroup on Tuesday, dentist on Wednesday followed by "Life of Pi" in 3D (more crazy specs?). I loved the book, it is one of my all time favourites and it was the one I picked when I was a World Book Day giver two years ago, so I have distributed 24 of them around the world. At night I went to Poetry Club, so a very busy day. On Thursday I had a blank, yay! and on Friday, I went to a trial session of a new exercise class. Over the years, I've tried going to the gym, aerobics, cycling, yoga, zumba, aquafit and NIA. This one was Wing Chun kung fu. Wing Chun was a style developed by a woman, a Shaolin nun who realised she'd need to use her body differently to win in a fight aginst a taller and probably stronger man. We learned basic posture, how to be "centred" and then the first exercises or "formations" of the discipline. Next we knocked seven bells out of each other by punching and blocking and then kicking using the shin, not the foot. The reason is there are too many small bones in the foot, so the shin bone is bigger harder and less likely to break. All very interesting stuff.
Friday evening was spent with Susie, our Chinese /Scottish house sitter, who is over here for a family wedding. So strange to meet her in Hong Kong, her home city, but where we now feel more at home than she does! Anyway, our house is fine, she tells us and Ann and Robert will be checking things in her absence.We had a lovely evening, drinks, dinner and then back home here for cakes and wine.
Saturday was a quiet day but in the evening we went to a Christmas market, with real fresh trees, mulled wine, egg nog, all under the open skies with tall buildings all around, quite surreal.Sunday I spent the morning cooking, then we went Christmas shopping.
Next week is going to be busy again, with a charity concert on Monday evening, 2 bookgroups on Tuesday morning and afternoon, a book launch on Wednesday evening, lunch out on Thursday and another trip to the tailor in China on Friday. I collected one dress last week but the other one needs a bit of alteration..It's too big!! Woop woop!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Here to there and back again

After our short break in Seoul, we had 4 nights at home in Hong Kong before I set off for Scotland and Les went to New York. I had a fantastic journey, including an upgrade to First Class, with a wee private cabin and champagne all the way.I know you don't get there any faster, but boy does the time fly past quicker! And sleep? Well yes, with my matress, duvet and full size pillow, plus all 3 windows shuttered and my cabin door closed,yes, I did, for about 4 hours.
I had a whirlwind week of meeting family and friends, including 24 hours in Bristol (via Squeezyjet, no champagne this time!Well, not until arrival chez Wheeler, where we did in a bottle before bedtime). All my travel plans worked out well, thanks to my fabulous friends and family who picked me up, dropped me off and ran me hither and thon, thus obviating the need for a hire car his trip. I'm still smarting from the CDW slap on, because I didn't take the extra insurance last trip when some sneaky pig ran into me and drove off without leaving details.
Meantime, across the pond, Les was also lucky with upgrades from business to first ( mind you he had to use air miles, mine was free!) but less lucky with the weather; he arrived just in time for Hurricane Sandy, so spent 3 days holed up in his hotel room with pillows along the window! Anyway, we both made it to Dubai and met up in the lounge just nearby the champagne bar, as you do.
Since coming home, we have hosted some wonderful Australian friends. We first met 6 years ago  and it was lovely to catch up and show them our adopted city. They were great fun and it was sad to see them go on Sunday. On Monday morning, I had another sad farewell, Katrina announced she was leaving HK for England...in 24 hours! So now 3 of my original friends have gone; Sue, Pat and Katrina. But, welcome to Kate, so plus ca change, plus c'est la meme, as they say.
I went up to China to see my tailor (God, how pretentious does that sound!) on Friday and arranged to have 2 winter dresses made for my trip back home in December. Then Les and I were staying over in Shenzhen as we were attending the company family fun day on Saturday. Fun? Well, it depends on how you classify fun...we were collected at 7.30am and finally got into the theme park at 11.30...straight to lunch, so no time to actually see anything. Which was just as well, since, being November, half the rides were closed. Lunch was ...well, different. For a table of 8, we had: a giant bowl of clear soup with tomato halves and scrambled egg floating in it, a washing up bowl of boiled rice, half a chicken, head bones and all, a whole fish (have you ever tried to divide a fish into eight using only chopsticks?), 2 plates of differently flavoured tofu , a dish of cabbage and one of turnip cubes. Plenty of food, for sure, but quantity certainly over ruled quality.
After lunch, we wandered about aimlessly for an hour, feeling like filmstars as many people wanted to have their photo taken with us,  since we were the only Western people among several thousand Chinese. I tell you,a good few of them will know us again, going by the close scrutiny they made of our faces.
Next up, an hour queuing for a cable car, the only means of getting to the next part of the park. If I'd had a sharp stick, it would have been a relief to poke it into my eye. Eventually, we reached the summit, eyes closed, not looking down...then we were told we had to descend three flights of stairs to get to the bus stop.After the first two flights, my legs were jelly and my knees were watermelons, then we saw an encouraging sign; only 135 steps to go !Yeah!
Next up, a bus, then a train to get to the venue for a cultural show. Wow! It was spectacular! Chinese acrobats, ballet dancers, sound, music,copious use of holographic technology, what a show. I loved it. At 5pm it finished and Les colleague kindly drove us to the border crossing, finally arriving home at 8pm.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The airport at the end of the world

Carved and painted roof

Street food stall; a fishy treat!

Old doorway with roof shadow like a frill at the bottom

"38th parallell" bronze statue

Bubbling bulgogi

Les on a B52 flying fortress

Part of the National War Memorial sculpture

Ceremonial tiger drum
Flying into Incheon Airport, Seoul, was a strange experience. We flew in low over great expanses of mudflats, not a building in sight.All around was sea, dotted wth small islands or sand bars. If not the end of the world, it seemed you could see it from there. An hour's bus transfer took me to the hotel. There was a little tent set up out front and loud, rousing military-style chorus music blasting from loudspeakers. All the hotel staff were wearing bright blue waistcoats over their grey hotel uniform. Some had red head bands with Korean writing on in white. All very jolly looking! Turns out they were in protest at the hotel management and within 2 days this had escalated to a full blown strike resulting, on the day we left, in the closure of most of  the hotel restaurants, room service and other amenities! Luckily for us it was on the day we left and the breakfast buffet was still operational.
Seoul was an interesting city. First glance made me think it was flat but on walking out the hotel I realised it was far from it! More like San Faancisco.

I had dinner in the hotel's Italian restaurant (one of about 8 in house)as Les was still at a business dinner. Next morning, it was bright and sunny, so we walked down to the station and caught the great value city bus tour, one of those hop on hop off things. We toured all the historic palaces, with carved roof beams, spent an hour in a reconstructed traditional village and another hour in the artist quarter of Insadong. Having had the luxurious hotel breakfast,  we only had a coffee all day! At night we took the free hotel shuttle to Itaewon, the main tourist shopping and eating area and were spoiled for choice; everything from the various Asian styles, through Russian, Portguese, American diners, French bistros. Absolutely every cuisine imagineable. We settled on a fusion type pace where we were able to combine the salad bar with a hot food buffet and table service, including Asian and Western and both the quality and range on offer were superb.
We were glad we did not have long to wait for the shuttle bus back to the hotel as it was a tad on the chilly side compared to Hong Kong. I wore a leather jacket, 2 layers, a scarf and socks for the first time since January in Scotland.Next day we spent a long time at the Korean War Memorial museum. It was mainly outdoors with scores of planes, tanks, copters, guns and other big grey scary war machines. Les loved it. I was amused, then frustrated then very angry by the behaviour of scores of school children on field trips, ranging from toddlers (what's the point in taking them to a war history museum?They could barely walk!) to teenagers., all roaming around with little or no supervision. Where were all the teachers? The pupils were rude and loud, yelling, running around, pushing past and, for me worst of all, leaving litter strewn in their wake. Of course, I had to act on that one. I approached a group of teenage boys and asked, "Do you speak English?" Proud to show off their language skills, they said they did, so I pointed out their tinfoil lunch wrappers on the ground at their feet and then pointed to the close proximity of a clearly labelled trash can. They apologised, picked it all up and put it in the bin. Success! I felt better after that. In 35 years of taking Scottish kids to libraries, museums and literary festivals, I have never experienced such bad behaviour...well maybe once when a boy in my charge uprooted a sapling in Charlotte Square gardens at the Edinburgh Book Festival... but it wisnae his fault, honest! A big boy dun it an ran away and he was left holding the stump and looking glaikit.
In the afternoon, we wandered round the famous Namdaemon street market, which operates from 11am till 3 am with stalls selling junk, kitchen wares, souvenirs, food to eat and to take home, toys, clothes, shoes...all haphazardly thrown together in no real order. Stalls were sometimes just a tarpaulin on the ground or an adapted motorbike with a fold out table at the rear . We ate at a street restaurant; bulgogi with kimchi and other accompaniments. It was delicious.
After arriving back to a balmy 27 degrees in Hong Kong, we dumped our bags and headed straight back out, downstairs to the club lounge to meet up with some neighbours for a wine tasting. It was nice to chat  and for the husbands to meet, as we ladies already knew each other.
Today it is laundry time, as we need a quick turnaround on warm clothes.I leave for Scotland late Wednesday and Les goes to Maryland, USA on Thursday.