Tuesday, August 30, 2011

All about Jamie

This blog is not really about Hong Kong; let me introduce our brand new grandson, Jamie Lewis Barnes born Monday 29th August at 14.59pm weighing 7lbs 8.50z.
We are looking forward to our trip home on Thursday so we can give him a cuddle...and a cuddle for big brother Callum too!
On Tuesday evening my lovely friends Sue, Pat and Lesley met me for cocktails to wet the baby's head. It was a happy hour event, 5pm till 7pm so our menfolks joined us as soon as they escaped from work. The 8 of us had a great time drinking cosmopolitans, champagne, Long Island ice teas and chocatinis ( a potent chocolate alcoholic drink so thick the straw stood up in it!) The venue serves complimentary filet mignon mini baguettes so it was dinner for free! Well not quite, for being gluttons for punishment, Les and I passed a pizza shop on the way home. Actually, we didn't pass it at all, we went in as we are indeed gluttons. Before I knew where I was, I had pizza and salad in front of me, and a glass of wine in my hand! Happy Days!
Today insead of housework and packing, I met Elaine with Hannah and we went baby shopping.
Now I'm home and I really must finish packing!
No more havers for a while as I'll be back in Scotland, then in Vietnam. Hong Kong Havers will resume mid October.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My week in words (no pics this post)

On Monday, Les took a holiday, his first day off work since Easter, so much needed. We went to Tai O, the village on stilts and had a leisurely time there, strolling around and having lunch. No pictures this time as you've all already seen it!
Tuesday was my Cantonese lesson and this time Stanley brought me a cup of "yuen yueng" which is a strange and potent mixture of iced coffee and iced milk tea. It's a typical local drink. It wasn't unleasant, but I think it had a lot of caffeine in it! He says people drink it to wake up. Maybe he hoped to increase my capacity to learn, but anway whether due to the lesson or the drink, I had a pounding headache for the rest of the day.
On Wednesday I met a friend for coffee and some shopping...then lunch. She took me to a Vietnamese retaurant so I could try pho, a typical dish which she says we should try when we go to Saigon next month. It was delicious; very hot chicken broth poured over sliced veg and shredded chicken with noodles to make a light yet filling soup. Apparently it is eaten, with variations, for breakfast lunch and dinner. Poetry as usual on Wednesday evening, whilst Les and Lola toiled over his Mandarin lesson.
Thursday I had ...er....another coffee morning and met some new ladies. In the afternoon I received the most wonderful news...2 of my bestest, closest friends, Jean and Susanne, have booked flights to come over here in November! Woo! So exciting! I'll need to warn the locals of this development as I'm sure we three will get into some scrapes or get lost or lose something during the two weeks.Actually I should probably warn the British Consulate too, just so they are ready when we need them! I'll be able to try out my tour guide skills, as they've said they want to see things rather than buy things.I've told them to pack comfortable shoes as we will be walking a lot, not to mention all the steep hills and stairs on the island!
Les had a couple of evening conference calls this week, so I caught up with some emails to the UK to set things in motion, alerting people to the imminent invasion of the Scots from Hong Kong and Australia.
So now the weekend approaches and today's agenda includes housework :( and deciding on a dinner venue :).
On Saturday evening, we are going to Lamma with some friends for dinner in the famous Rainbow Resaurant where I had lunch with Doreen, Elaine and Hannah in June.
Sunday as usual will be our day of rest, we'll probably stay around the local neighbourhood and then sit by the pool. We had heavy rain yesterday and it is a bit overcast this morning (it's Friday, no matter what the post date says at the top here!). However the weekend forecast looks to be sunny. Whatever the precipitation, one thing is for sure, it will be hot, hot, hot; and humid. Squelch.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kung Fu and Lion Dance

Two older ladies performing a Tai Chi type dance exercise using fans

The Lion ready to dance

Today we were in Kowloon Park watching the weekly display of martial arts, traditional dance manoeuvres and a spectacular lion dance, all for free! It lasted two hours but as it was very hot we moved on after an hour. The park was very busy; groups of people dancing, maids having a picnic on their day off,multi-generational families enjoying ice cream. A great place with a great atmosphere!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Eating out and eating in

Chan dan mien
Dong naaih chah
Temple street cafe

We eat dinner out at least once a week; because we also love to buy food and cook, this is less that most of our friends, some of whom eat out five or six times a week. On Thursdays, we eat somewhere "local" which means a pavement place with plastic stools, a roll of toilet paper in lieu of napkins and excellent food. Our favourites are clams in black bean sauce , spicy prawns, green veg with chilli or with garlic and spicy noodles. The custom here is to share all the dishes and eat them as they arrive. They usually bring the clams first, then the prawns and veg tend to arrive together, then the noodles last of all.This is washed down with a big bottle of beer. There is no lingering; eat and go is the rule. If it is a Friday or Saturday, we often look for somewhere serving lamb or fish, because we eat a lot of chicken and pork in the house.Squid is a popular starter and something I wouldn't attempt yet at home, because I'm not sure how to remove the clear "plastic" bone in the middle. I once watched fishermen doing it in Africa but haven't done it myself yet. Anyway, these tend to be Westernised places and we usually order a dinner each, as is the Western custom. However, we need to get in the habit of sharing as we always have way too much food and last time brought enough lamb home to serve next day! Desserts, we don't do other than ice cream at home. As for home cooking, I like to use my traditional wok and bamboo steamer most nights. However, Les eats rice every day in the canteen, so I only serve it once a week. I like to try buying things from the street markets as they are so cheap and fresh compared to supermarkets. On Saturday, we bought 50p worth of lettuce....she shoved 4 enormous heads into a bag. What to do with 4 lettuces? Make lettuce soup, of course. It was green. Very green. But tasty!
Ice cream flavours have included the usual vanilla, almond fudge and also the more exotic purple yam or tropical fruit with mango, guava and watermelon.
On Tuesday, my Cantonese tutor took me out for a typical Hong Kong Breakfast which I had to order in cantonese. I practised the menu all morning then we got there and he said, "Oh, no, I don't want pork today, get me beef instead, you do remember the word for beef, don't you?" Uh oh. So I gamely ordered " yat won chan dan mien, yat won dan nghou mien, yat bui dong naaih cha, yat bui dong gafee syu tim" She read it back to him....AND IT WAS RIGHT!!! Yesss. If you are interested, I had a bowl of noodle soup with a fried egg and some kind of pork luncheon meat floating in it. He had the same kind of thing, only with beef. He had iced sweet milk tea and I had iced coffee with a little sugar. At 10.00. am. Yes, for breakfast. Hmm. But I tell you what, I only ate a banana for the rest of the day. Until the lettuce soup at dinner, of course.

Monday, August 15, 2011

USS Ronald Reagan

USS Ronald Reagan arrives in Hong Kong
The USS Ronald Reagan is in town, with a flotilla of smaller vessels. It is a huge aircraft carrier with thousands of personnel on board and they have been away from their base in SanDiego for a long time. On Saturday evening, an American friend hosted a BBQ at her home for a few of the young sailors and we were invited. We met about 18 of them, including five women. They enjoyed a fabulous steak and chicken dinner (and so did we) and we really enjoyed meeting them and hearing a little about their lives at sea and back home. I spent a while chatting with a young woman who lives on Coronado, San Diego where we did a home exchange some years ago. She knows the exact house we exchanged to! It is one of only 2 tiny bungalows left on a street where all the houses now are glass millionnaires palaces, so it's quite distintive. What a small world we live in.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Kilted Callum

Jen sent it from her phone, they are going to a wedding and she was trying on his outfit to make sure it fits. Imagine; he's not yet 2 and this is his second kilt! Also check out the feet, Les bought him the timberland boots in the US last year and they only now fit.

What's on in Hong Kong this weekend?

Well, for a start, my weekend began on Wednesday evening at the poetry club,with readings, chat and a few glasses of wine! Then on Thursday after a late afternoon laze at the pool, we went to Temple Street Spicy crabs for dinner. It's Friday morning here and I am off out to a meeting about the education programme I'm volunteering with, then meeting friends for coffee. After that, I need to get a manicure and pedicure.Tough life,eh?
Tomorrow we are going to look for a shopping mall in the shape of a big boat. We don't really need to buy anything, but it looks crazy so we want to find it. We have been invited to a BBQ in the evening and will meet up with my Australian friend and her husband there. An American ship is in town and an American friend is organising the BBQ for some of the ship's company. Sunday we plan to laze around at the pool, so necessaire after such a busy week, non?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

China Tee Club

Since 1932, this HongKong Institution has been a central meeting and eating place for all sorts of people. It is a members only club and yesterday I was privileged to be invited there for lunch. It has fabulous tiling on floors and walls, period light fittings, potted palm trees, marble tables and overhead fans. It is truly magnificent and I am so glad I got to vist...because at the end of September it is closing down. The historic building in which it is located has been bought over and is to re-open as... Abercrombie and Fitch, of grungy tee shirt fame. What a travesty! No-one seems to know what the future holds. The other businesses in the building will probably relocate elsewhere, but how do you recreate such period authenticity elsewhere? I think it's impossible, any other location will simply be a pastiche. A real shame.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Shopping; you either love it or hate it! I usually enjoy shopping, but here, it can be very frustrating.
It isn’t easy! With no car, we need to think about what we buy: can we carry it? Will it fit on the crowded subway? Will it fit in a taxi? Should we have it delivered?
Last week I spent over half an hour having the benefits of 2 printers explained to me. I finally selected one. "Oh, we don't have that one in stock" says he. Ok, I'll take the other one, it doesn't really matter. Off he goes to the stockroom. Ten minutes later, "We don't have that one either"

In clothes shops, the assistants follow me around, trying to be attentive but making me feel like a master criminal. I'm honestly NOT going to steal that teeny weeny size 6 dress! I feel like shouting "Boo!" really loudly as they creep up beside me. The market traders are not so silent, they force goods onto likely (and unlikely) customers, frantically gesturing and reducing the price until it would seem like a kindness to relieve them of that bolt of best Irish pure linen, special non crushing variety, or extra special Dead Sea face cream at special price just for today only. My particular pet hate is the Indian street hawker, smartly dressed, offering copy handbag, copy watch, tailor made suit ...but only ever accosting white people . Isn't that some kind of racism?

Now a go at the supermarkets...

We get used to a brand of teabags in a red box, but after buying them twice, they suddenly don't stock them anymore! " Only yellow box or green box now, sorry.
Tuesday, I might see prawns, scallops, and clams aplenty, but I may already have bought pork chops. So I think, I'll get them tomorrow, do a nice seafood linguine. Wednesday, none. Zero. Zilch. Hastily rearrange the menu in favour of oh, lets say tilapia, which they didn't have on Tuesday. On Thursday, I go for milk...shelves GROANING with....prawns, scallops and clams. Still, spontaneity makes for interesting menu planning. Dinner is often concocted out of a motley selection of items like the bag of food at the end of "Ready Steady Cook". One thing is certain; rice is always available, in supermarket sacks the size of coal sacks, in scoops from an open sack at a street market, vacuum packed, in boxes; white rice, pearl rice, glutinous rice, black rice,red rice, basmati rice, imperial banquet rice, Thai rice, Korean Rice...........

I will stop now as my Cantonese tutor will soon be here for lesson 4 and I still have some homework to do. I used a little bit yesterday, to give a taxi driver a street number. He answered in English, but at least he understood my attempt to say No. 188.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kowloon Walled City Park

For a hundred years, Kowloon walled city was one of the most lawless, insanitary and downright scary places in the whole of Hong Kong. Buildings were erected with no planning permission, no sanitation and no regard for things like access to daylight,views or anything else that makes a place to live half decent. During WW2, the Japanese knocked down some of the walls surrounding the "city" to allow better access to the nearby airfield. After the war, thousands of immigrants, legal and otherwise, made their homes in it's dank alleyways. Doctors, dentists, most of them unlicensed, and other trades carried out their business there. It's said that Chinese Triads and other gangs and criminals were active there. Images of it's buildings were used in the PS game "Call of duty; black ops". Finally, in 1987, the whole area was demolished, it's citizens rehoused and a beautiful park was created. We went to visit it for our weekly tourist jaunt. It was a fascinating place. We took 2 trains and a bus to get there, only to discover one bus would have done the job!It was an easier journey home!

Some of the Chinese zodiac animals in the sculpture garden; Rabbit (Les) Snake (Me) and Dragon just because I liked it!

Some of the reconstructed buildings now used to house audio visual exhibits.

A man plays his flute, taken through a trellis wall

Pomegranites grow along side the path.

An old man goes through his tai chi routine outside a pagoda . I took this from the other side of the pagoda through the round doorways.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Back to work!

It felt like I was back at work this week!
On Tuesday I met with 2 of the women on the committee organising mock interviews for school leavers in poor areas of Hong Kong, mainly in the New Territories. I was tasked with producing a handout for the schools to reproduce to give to pupils. It's the kind of simple thing I did regularly when I was at work, but boy did it take me some time! I had to re-learn adding and text-wrapping illustrations and also setting margins and columns for the text. But I got there in the end and the draft has been approved. It was hard work for my rusty brain! My Cantonese lessons continue, more hard work, but I can now ( in theory anyway) ask directions to major buildings and transport facilities. Actually, whilst out with a friend on Wednesday, I did have occasion to ask where the bank was and when he told me, I was able to elaborate buy asking, "left or right?" We were en route to the Afternoon Book Group which looks like it will be fun, a nice crowd, but I will be in Scotland and will miss the first discussion. At the poetry club on Wednesday evening, one of the regulars, a several-times published poet and prose writer, asked me to look over his latest manuscript, a novel-length prose poem. That will be more work! I went to my chat group on Thursday then on for lunch. Today I really need to do some housework, but I've been putting it off as I really hate it, especially in this heat. Instead, I have been checking the UCAS status of the GHS pupils who have just had their exam results..another work-like task! Then I spent an hour looking in books and on the web for something cool to do at the weekend and had decided on a boat trip round some of the islands, but then discovered it only runs September to February, so no decisions yet for our weekly tourist outing.Tonight we will finalise our October holiday booking. We are going to Vietnam; a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City with a visit to the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi and then a day cruising on the Mekong Delta in a sampan. Unusually for us, we are going on an organised tour, albeit a very small one; we get a car and English driver/guide which is important, especially when we are going outside of the main city area. It's not for safety, it's quite safe there, it's just that we don't speak the lingo! Ok, that's another hour almost over. It's now lunchtime and I still haven't started the dusting, vacuuming or the dreaded ironing. Must go!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tai O trip Part 2

This interesting poster was on the wall behind a dried fish stall
A dried shark skin
Fish being air dried
Statues of Gods on the Temple roof
Air dried fish fillets

Tai O trip Part 1

This quaint fishing village is built on stilts. It's called The Venice of Hong Kong" and I visited there today with Elaine and Hannah. It takes a while to get there, I took 2 trains to meet Elaine and then we took a half hour ferry ride through waters famous for sightings of Chinese white dolphins, though we weren't in luck today.
Some years back, the villagers were given the option to be relocated to government flats; most declined and instead opted for their dwellings to be upgraded. Most of them have aluminium cladding and metal window frames now, as well as electricity for the TV and ubiquitous air con units. Other than that, I guess their lifestyle isn't much different from their ancestors, who, despite being fisherfolk, had a dislike of the water so built their homes on stilts and made their living from fishing then selling the dried results of the catch.

The hills in the background reminded me vaguely of Scotland; except it's sunny here!